February 16th, 2014, 21:32 Posted By: wraggster
The arcade is dead. It's not even a statement to be contended any more. The London Trocadero's Funland pulled its shutters down two years ago, and late last January, Goodge Street's Casino, a yellowing warren that once housed an eclectic and exciting array of cabinets, gave up on arcade gaming altogether. It's not a phenomenon exclusive to the UK capital, either: in Tokyo, the 50 yen arcades synonymous with the rose-tinted view many have for the Japanese scene are dwindling in number, with Shibuya's finest example shutting its doors for good last year. There are the occasional havens - Acton's Heart of Gaming is a destination as thrilling as any arcade that's gone before for the real aficionado - but they're museums, preserving a moment of time and tenderly suspending it in stasis.Arcade games, though, are doing great. At least that's what a Tuesday afternoon stroll around the amusement and leisure show EAG International would suggest, where you're met by a large hall within London's Excel Centre buzzing with the noisy energy of slot machines, toy catchers and over-sized video games. It's an odd event, where the trashy flotsam of seaside resorts is polished up and presented under the stark light of an exhibition centre, and where kids' kart manufacturers go head to head with their knock-off Ronolt and Bull Dog F1 cars.Yet despite the end-of-pier atmosphere, it's still the biggest names commanding some of the biggest floor space. Bandai Namco bosses the centre of the hall, spearheading this year's renewed focus on its most recognisable mascot with a dizzying array of Pac-Man products: there's Pac-Man Ghostly Bowling, Pac-Man Ticket Mania and Pac-Man Basket, as well as a genuinely brilliant branded air hockey game Pac-Man Smash, which floods the play space with dozens of pucks at set points during a match.The stuff of nightmares. Where's UK Resistance when you need it?
There are more traditional games, too. New, brasher and bolder configurations for Dead Storm Pirates, an on-rails shooter on the grandest imaginable scale that's a distant successor of 1991's Starblade, or a four cabinet set-up for Mario Kart Arcade GPDX. There are new games, too, such as Raw Thrill's Batman, a punchy romp around an open world Gotham City in the Batmobile that's housed in an exquisitely showy cabinet, or Super Alpine Racer, a towering remake of the original complete with a 55-inch vertically mounted screen.Towards the far corner of the hall, Sega Amusements has set up camp. It's an odd outfit itself, or at least one that's not widely understood; originally set up as a local distributor for Sega Japan, it soon became a wholly-owned subsidiary that would import over cabinets or components for assembly from its Cardiff base. Over time Sega Amusements has become much more, though, branching out to develop its own games as the global appeal of the arcade waned."I think it's really because in Japan the core demographics changed for amusements," Patrick Michael, Sega Amusements' head of local R&D, tells us of the shift in arcade appetites. "The arcade market in Japan is to a certain extent a lot older - there's a lot more repeat business, and it's a much more social thing where people go after work to play a game for maybe an hour. They're more expensive games that require a lot of commitment, or a save game with an IC card - they're big, expensive things. Like World Club Champion Football, which is a football management title - that 8-player cabinet is £80-90,000, and that's a big investment for a European operator who has a more casual player-base who perhaps go to a location once a month."A trip to any popular Japanese arcade would bear that out, where salary men recline in expensive multiplayer set-ups for sports management games, while elsewhere younger players flock around mech battlers spun out from Mobile Suit Gundam, or Sega's own Border Break. They're titles alien and most likely impenetrable to western audiences, making translation for local audiences improbable or even impossible.Two men about to share a Special Dream in Dream Raiders, a motion cabinet that offers a lightly interactive ride. It's proven a hit for Sega since its release in 2012.
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