Back in August 2018, I came across an interesting title on BumbleBear Games’ website that was, at the time, available for preorder at a discounted price. This game, from the developer of Killer Queen, proclaimed to be all about speed, death, and…well, Japanese psychedelic rock. Its name was Black Emperor—and it’s here.
Though in that preorder status for quite some time, Black Emperor was made available for full release just this March. Even better, the game was shown off at Amusement Expo 2019, meaning arcade operators are much more likely to be aware of its existence. (Here’s hoping they pick up cabinets for their locations.)
Black Emperor, for those who don’t know, is an endless, single-player motorcycle “runner” with the goal of surviving as long as possible and achieving a high score. Inspired by bosozoku motorcycle culture and boasting a stunning art style, it’s a title than can certainly be dubbed unique.
And from what I’ve seen, the gameplay seems pretty kickin’, too. This is a modern-day “high score chaser”, meaning there’s no foreseeable end but your own skill ceiling. And to spice things up even more, levels are procedurally generated on a weekly basis. (Good to see that concept has graced arcades.)
The moment-to-moment interaction is actually quite simple. Players are provided just two controls—a vertical spinning wheel and a push-button accelerator—used to guide their little motorcycle dude along the winding road. Black Emperor is a classic case of “easy to learn and difficult to master”.
Believe it or not, I find myself very enamored by the controls. The spinning wheel—like a steering wheel, light gun, or dance pad—is tailor-made to the software experience. That, to me, is crucial in an arcade environment. Sure, you could use a D-pad or analogue stick on a controller at home, but would it really be the same? I think not.
While I was initially hesitant toward the game’s endless nature, I’ve since warmed up to Black Emperor completely. Not every title needs to have a definitive ending, and that’s okay. Black Emperor is the kind of game players will spend countless coins mastering until they can eventually nab 20 or more minutes on one credit. A very “old school” experience, if you will.
Lately—and this is gonna sound super corny—I’ve been picturing the moment I finally get to play Black Emperor. How it’ll kick my butt the first round. How I’ll play again and get a little better. And how, hours later, something will click, and I’ll kick the game’s butt right back. For me, Black Emperor is like a brand-new Gun.Smoke or Shao-lin’s Road.
Apart from some redemption pieces, this is not an experience we’ve seen in arcades in many years. Most current releases either have set resolutions (with a continuation feature) or are paid for on a per-round basis. But I like it, ya know?
Naturally, I’ll have to try the game for myself before I lay out any conclusive thoughts, but for now, I’m really digging what I see. General player reception, too, has been just as positive. But whether Black Emperor will earn well on location, only time will tell. I’m remaining eagerly optimistic.
Admittedly, the one bit I’m kinda leery on is the $6,000 price tag. While I’m sure Black Emperor is a superb release, the entry fee seems pretty steep compared to other indie offerings like Skycurser or Rashlander, which both clock in at $3,500 for their dedicabs. But hey, it’s way cheaper than the $15,000 drivel major manufacturers keep pumping out.
At the very least, I’ll say this: I cannot wait to get my hands on Black Emperor. I’ll be watching BumbleBear events and crossing my fingers a cabinet lands in my area. And one of these days, when I finally secure the capital to purchase new releases, I’ll add the machine to my coin-op route.
But in the meantime, I’ll just be over here, you know, obsessing over the game. And of course, I want you all to stay tuned to Wilcox Arcade for the latest Black Emperor and arcade industry news.
Because that’s very good.