Mention the word “Nintendo” and you can bet the headlines will raise ears and eyebrows. Considering the gradual rebound of the Wii U, a now-promising lineup of content, and effervescent rumors abound for their upcoming “NX” console project there’s plenty to discuss about how the company plans to reinvent themselves yet again.
But I’m not here to fanatically throw out speculation on those matters (we used to have a guy for that stuff), what I’m talking about are arcade games, more specifically, Nintendo and arcade games. It’s an area that like the state of coin-ops itself is niche and relatively low on the radar for many, but the business model continues to be feasible in Asia where the experience is more social and public. Certainly a unique segment that westerners are usually deprived of nowadays, save for the occasional pop-up gallery that primarily caters to the retro crowd.
The 2015 JAEPO Amusement Expo, this year’s annual gathering of all-things-arcade in Japan, was held earlier this year between February 13th – 14th. A lot of arcade goodness was covered during these two days, showcasing everything from rave/rhythm smashes to RPGs that integrate with smartphone apps, even the likes of Square-Enix teased some notable titles (Dissida Final Fantasy) and Capcom making a showing after a couple years’ absence.
All this is well and good for the amusement faithful, but Nintendo had a surprisingly nice blend of established titles and franchises brought to a different, and seldom tapped, medium. This brought us F-Zero AX and Mario Kart Arcade GP from former rivals SEGA and Namco, and going as far as creating the appropriately-named TRIFORCE; a GameCube-based arcade board.
The first title is Luigi’s Mansion Arcade, a ‘light gun’ game by SEGA (and co-developed by Capcom) that takes everything you enjoyed about the green plumber’s haunted foray and condenses it to its more pure ghostbusting form. With vacuums that look like Dirt-Devils connected by Super Scope handles it looks as if Mario’s brother will be sucking in spirits rather than shooting them down, with branching paths and plenty of bosses. Additional details were scarce except the tentative release schedule of this summer.
Pokkén Tournament was another title that got plenty of attention when revealed out of nowhere last year and then played in advance by Famitsu in January. We’ve learned that Bandai Namco and producer Katsuhiro Harada of Tekken fame is handling the project, and that the game will be a 1-on-1 arena action game. In an effort to make the game more accessible they’ve even gone as far as to utilize console-style controls rather than a traditional joystick/button layout, a ideal setup that even casual gamers can quickly pick up with ease. All these touches are welcome as the roster (currently six are confirmed: Lucario, Machamp, Blaziken, Suicune, Gardevoir, and Pikachu) go head-on with special moves, mega evolution attacks, and even assist character (Emolga, Fennekin, Snivy, Frogadier, Eevee and Lapras) happening during rounds.
At JAEPO, game cabinets were playable as people finally got their first taste of the fast-paced Pokémon spin-off. The impressions have been receptive and the summer debut couldn’t come soon enough; however, information such as overseas and a potential Wii U release are yet to be announced.
As someone who’s enjoyed the environment only an arcade can provide, it’s become clear the scene is still relevant, at least in Asia where the social element of playing in person remains intact. Without appearing too zealous, it’s always nice to see a market like this thrive despite the common parroting from the “arcades are dead” crowd. More importantly, this could be seen as a cycle of willingness for Nintendo, a company who’s been weathering the turbulence of changing tastes and the assumption that existing results would still provide the same amount of dividends, mostly against the advent of cheap gaming for touchscreen smart devices.
With these titles and a official entrance into the smartphone market these changes represent an interesting attempt by Nintendo to ‘divide and conquer’ in Japan. If you’re lucky and fortunate enough to live near an modern arcade then you might be able to enjoy these games too. The rest of us will have to keep the faith and hold out for console versions in the near future. If ever.