JAEPO 2017 and Maximum Tune 5 Thoughts

February 20, 2017

Arcade Heroes covered JAEPO 2017 a few weeks ago, and we got to see a lot of really cool games. Unfortunately, this event is something that I would never be able to go to, given that it’s all the way over in Japan (naturally). However, since I know what’s coming out and I’ve read and seen quite a bit about these games, I’m going to give my impressions of this year’s JAEPO. Also, my apologies for being so late to the punch with this news commentary. I just really like posting on Mondays, ya know?

            I’d like to thank Mr. Adam Pratt of Arcade Heroes for always keeping us up to date on the arcade industry so that I can even begin to write these commentary pieces in the first place. For the original articles that I referenced, refer to the following links:

JAEPO 2017 Day 1

http://arcadeheroes.com/2017/02/09/jaepo-2017-begins-bombergirl-konami-soul-reverse-sega/

JAEPO 2017 Day 2

http://arcadeheroes.com/2017/02/10/jaepo-2017-day-2-new-arcade-videos/

Maximum Tune 5 Info

http://arcadeheroes.com/2017/02/15/bandai-namco-begins-shipping-maximum-tune-5-locations-us/

 

Attack on Titan Team Battle

Based on the insanely popular anime, this Capcom title looks pretty darn awesome. As the name implies, you play as characters from Attack on Titan in a battle arena, working together to take out all of the Titans before time runs out.

            Besides the fun concept and gameplay, there are quite a few elements of this game that I like. For one, the music is the Armored Titan theme, which is nice to hear while you play. More importantly, the cabinet and controls are really stellar. They’ve sort of mimicked the 3D gear in a way, and the two handheld controllers look like stubby guns, each with two triggers and one analogue stick.

            One of my favorite features is one that we still need on U.S. arcade games—headphone and microphone jacks. It’s no secret that arcades are noisy places, full of the sounds of other people and other games. Believe me, I love that experience, but sometimes you just want to hear your own game. With a headphone jack, you’ll be able to hear the music and sound effects much more clearly. And with the microphone jacks that Attack on Titan Team Battle has, you’ll be able to communicate with your team a little easier, too.

            As with so many other modern Japanese arcade games, there are collectible data cards with Attack on Titan characters on them. Is it just me, or does every Japanese release have collectible cards? Maybe I don’t follow them enough to have a representative sample size for observation, but it seems like the bulk of the releases do.

            Speaking of secrets, it’s also no secret that a lot of these unique Japanese games are never going to see the light of day in the U.S., unless some random local operator imports one. However, I do think this is one game that could actually survive in the U.S. market. Attack on Titan is a huge property no matter where you go, so American distributors don’t have to worry about selling an original IP. Also, I simply refuse to believe that modern players are incapable of understanding a game with more than one button and free movement within levels, as many modern releases have led us to believe (literally all rail shooters and racing games). This is absolutely, 100 percent a game that could bring in older anime fans to the arcade, especially since many of them flip out over any cool new Japanese releases.

            Then again, how long will hardcore players support this title? If they bail quickly, the duty to support the game once again falls on casual players. Would they understand this game? Surely, they would. They play stuff like this on consoles all of the time! However, if the idea of trying to sell such a “complex” game to U.S. arcades scares distributors, I believe this game could be reworked as an on-rails title for our market, perhaps with a control scheme similar to that of Star Wars Trilogy Arcade. Actually, that’s just a great localization idea in general. Seriously, if developers just reworked a few of their games to use a Star Wars Trilogy joystick, we’d at least get to see these unattainable Japanese releases in some capacity.

            Beyond that, though, there is the concern that this title would be too violent for American markets. The Walking Dead just came out, so this could be a “competitor” of sorts. I’ve always wondered why this is even a problem. If the game is too violent for your Chuck-E-Cheese or something, just change the violence settings. They put them there for a reason! Then again, maybe the Attack on Titan property as a whole would just send the wrong message in a kid-friendly FEC.

 

Bombergirl

We’re getting two Bomberman titles from Konami! First Super Bomberman R, now this! Once again, this looks like a solid title. Similarly to Attack on Titan, multiple machines are linked together for multiplayer, but Bombergirl is competitive rather than cooperative. For whatever reason, the characters are all anime girls now, but it works.

            The controls are simple yet cool. I’m guaranteed to like almost anything with a joystick, because there’s been such a drought lately in American arcades. The Bombergirl joystick is more of a flight stick of sorts. There’s also a button beneath the monitor that pops up at the end (of the match, I guess). I guess that in reality, these aren’t really super-innovative and unique. However, the button popping up at the end is a fun little touch, and I always like it when developers find something unique to mess around with, even if it is a simple gimmick.

            How does gameplay look? Well, I’ve never played a Bomberman game, so I’m not entirely sure what to look forward to. Just watching gameplay videos, it looks like a lot of fun, and I get the idea of taking out the other team’s base before they take out yours. Beyond bombs, you also get to use special abilities. Everything looks fun, and there seems to be a good amount of content, with many unlockable characters.

            The graphics are simple but nice, creating a very effective chibi aesthetic. Watching gameplay videos of these Japanese games made something occur to me: Japanese arcade games have considerably better graphics than American games. Seriously, arcades never lost their edge in graphics—we just lost developers that could deliver.

            Unfortunately, since I don’t know too much about Bomberman, I can’t really provide adequate commentary on many aspects of the game. However, I can tell you one thing: Should this game come to U.S. arcades? I’d like yes to be the answer for every Japanese release, but that simply isn’t the case. Bombergirl, however, seems like a pretty great match for American arcades. Unlike Attack on Titan, it’s not violent in the slightest, so it can go ahead and populate FECs everywhere. Also, as far as I can tell, gameplay looks really simple, and it’s multiplayer, two big bonuses for us in America. Furthermore, this is a beloved classic franchise, people! They can bring this back to American arcades with fanfare, just like Cruis’n and Daytona came back!

            Then again, the sheer Japanese-ness of this game could keep us from an American release. Instead of the usual cartoony Bomberman, we now play as a bunch of anime girls, and I don’t see that going over incredibly well in the U.S. Like with any game, will keep our fingers crossed. Any time something like this makes it to America, it’s great news.

 

JAEPO RPGs

JAEPO provided us with two RPGs this year: Soul Reverse (SEGA) and Lord of Vermillion (Square Enix), and since I’m not too well-versed in the world of RPGs and reading Japanese, I’ve shoved them both into one section. They’re RPGs, so yeah…don’t expect to ever see these.

            All joking aside, this is a big problem that plagues the U.S. market. Given the complexity of RPGs, we may literally never see another one in our arcades again (but never say never). I personally am pretty bad at RPGs, so perhaps I’m part of the problem. But then again, I’d probably still pump cash into these things.

            I don’t entirely follow what’s happening in either of these games, because I can’t read Japanese. I did, however, notice that the graphics were just stellar beyond belief. See, I told you all that arcade hardware still had its edge!

            Soul Reverse seems like a fairly standard RPG. One thing I noticed was the controls. They’re not unique or anything; it’s just that I hadn’t realized that a lot of Japanese games had dropped traditional joysticks. The game instead utilizes a handle with an analogue stick on the top. I suppose that provides more precision controlling, but I really had no idea that arcade games had switched over to analogue sticks like this. Where have I been the past few years?

            Lord of Vermillion, on the other hand, is a little different. First of all, like I said, it’s Square Enix. Even if it wasn’t an RPG, we still wouldn’t be getting this game. I can’t really say anything more about it than that. I suppose I could explain the game a little bit, though. Basically, it’s card-based (and aren't they all these days) and feels like playing a trading card game, based on the description.

            If you don’t quite follow, I mean that you place cards on a surface and the game reads them, so the layout is like a traditional TCG. Anyway, I seriously don’t know anything about these newfangled JRPGs. Don’t expect it in the U.S., people.

 

VR Happenings

I’m a bit mixed on virtual reality at this point. On one hand, the hardware is cost-prohibitive and lacking in real content, so arcades could be the perfect way for players to experience meaningful content in a slightly more cost-effective out-of-home environment. On the other hand, well…it has its share of roadblocks to say the least. The need for an attendant, especially on more complex VR experiences, drives up costs for operators and thusly drives the cost per credit up for players. Also, wearing a VR headset worn by hundreds of other people seems a little, you know, iffy on the hygiene side. I suppose the attendant can wipe it with a disinfectant wipe or something.

            Anyway, this column isn’t about my thoughts on the future of arcade virtual reality—it’s about current arcade virtual reality that JAEPO 2017 blessed us with. This year, we have Namco’s VR Zone Project iCan, Koei Tecmo’s VR Sense, and UNIS bringing their Omni Arena to Japan.

Apparently, the Omni Arena has existed for a while, but I literally had no idea. It’s quite a shame, too, because the setup is positively wicked. Seeing this game was positively mind-blowing, because it helps me remember exactly what makes arcades so awesome—you can’t get the same experience at home        

            The UNIS Omni Arena is a virtual reality game in which players walk or run on an omni-directional treadmill (in a harness, of course) and move around in a first-person shooting game. Seriously, this stuff is absolutely insane. I had no idea arcade VR had already gotten to this point, and I really want to get my hands on this wicked piece of tech. Unfortunately, the 5-player setup is $70,000, and I’m sure the 2-player setup isn’t much better. Where can you even find these beasts? They’re so, so wonderful!

            Next up is the VR Zone Project iCan, which features a number of cool games, rather than a single cabinet. For one, we have VR skiing. There’s also the plank concept, which seems like a tight wire walking simulator. I can’t wait to see more of what Namco is doing with VR, because it seems really fun, unique, and just plain cool. I do, however, wish these concepts could be a little more in-depth than what they are. Namco’s individual VR games seem like their main appeal is simply how novel the hardware is, rather than how much depth is in the game itself.

            VR Sense from Koei Tecmo is also pretty neat. Some of my favorite aspects are the pod design and 5D effects. However, I’m rather disappointed that VR Sense is just a PS4 Pro and PSVR shoved into a arcade cabinet with some added physical effects. Yes, it makes the VR and 5D experience much, much cheaper for the consumer, but it also loses some of its luster when you know that you very well could get the same thing at home. Then again, you can’t get those 5D effects at home. Still, I wish the pod had been something more…original, ya know?

            Do I see Japanese arcade virtual reality coming to the U.S.? I’m not entirely sure. UNIS (as far as I know) made it work with their Omni Arena, but I haven’t seen and don’t really see American operators being pumped up for the extra costs and maintenance that comes with VR. Also, the average American consumer would probably rather stay home and drop $1,000 on a high end VR setup of their own. Unfortunately for us, virtual reality was hyped up for PCs and consoles, not arcades, so consumers are looking forward to that home experience to come first.

 

Namco Ticket Dispensers

Though there are more games I could have covered, those were the only that I felt like I could write about. I seriously don’t think there’s anything impactful that I could have said about something like Densha De Go!! (a train simulator) However, this is one more thing that I just had to talk about: Namco TICKET DISPENSERS—in Japan.

            What has this world come to?

            No, no, it’s definitely not that serious. I just find it rather unfortunate that our Western world of redemption games is being brought over to Japan. Japan has a thriving industry for traditional arcades, yet Namco wants to bring over our kid-friendly gambling? No way, dude!

            Eh, I’ll survive.

 

Maximum Tune 5

 This wasn’t a JAEPO reveal, but I really wanted to give my thoughts on the game and Namco’s recent decision to give it a full release in Western territories. I’m so, so happy to hear that there will be a location finder website (like with Pac-Man Battle Royale and Star Wars Battlepod), because I want to get my hands on one of these. Also, it’s always nice to see arcade developers acknowledging consumer needs for once, as they’ve spent so much of their history focusing only on distributors.

            The reason I bring up the release of Maximum Tune 5 is because the game is much, much more technical than what we’ve come to expect in arcade racers that come to America. I always wonder why developers are afraid to release something like this, given the popularity of series like Gran Turismo and Forza. Then again, those series are console exclusives, so those players might not migrate to arcades for something like this.

            I’m especially excited because of the possibilities this game could open up. If a technical racer does well in the U.S., couldn't other more complex games start popping up in our arcades, like anything that isn't a rail shooter or driving game? It’s quite a longshot, but I can’t help but get my hopes up. I kind of see kids driving like it’s Cruis’n Blast or something and hating it immediately, though…

 

Conclusion

So, what do you think of all this fantastic news? I know that I, for one, am quite excited for the many fun titles being released, even if I’ll never in a million years get to play them. Maybe we should start writing Japanese developers to try to get these games released in the U.S.!

 

Here's a variant of today's banner in case you like Bombergirl better than Attack on Titan:

 Have a nice day, everyone!

 

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