The Aladdin’s Cave of Retro Gaming

Down a narrow walkway filled with neon lights and maid cafe waitresses, in the streets of Akihabara, Tokyo, lies a small stairway that leads into the glorious past of retro gaming. Super Potato is renowned throughout the retro gaming community, with stores in Osaka, Kansai and Tokyo, with the latter serving as the flagship store. I couldn’t visit Akihabara without paying a visit to this illustrious store that holds some of the world’s greatest video games.

Video game artwork from past and present adorned the walls and stairway upon entering the first floor of the store. It was like stepping into a museum, each item inside enriched in history. Across three floors a treasure trove of hidden gems from the 80s and 90s onwards, comparable to the gaming equivalent of Aladdin’s Cave.

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Losing myself in aisles of Super Potato – “The Aladdin’s Cave of Retro Gaming”

There were games I’d never seen before, rare titles – some still sealed in pristine condition. Famicon cartridges decorated the walls like an artist’s canvas bursting with colours, entwined with one another but holding consistency, similar to a Jackson Pollock painting. Every corner of the room just oozed with memories from my childhood, remembering back to when these retro characters and games were once more popular than the giants of today. Each one instantly triggering that nostalgic feeling.

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There were rows and rows of wondefully coloured Famicon boxes along with single cartridges, each one meticulously ordered throughout the store.

The Japanese versions of each game, in terms of packaging, seemed to be of a different calibre of what we are used to in the west. I’d never noticed that Japanese Gamecube games came in individual sleeves that featured full artwork, some with extra detailing such as textured raised spot glass accent to specific areas of the sleeve. Super Potato also sells pre-loved games and it just shows how much the locals value their possessions. The used games were in such pristine condition they could have been mistaken as brand new.

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The sleeve design and box artwork from the Japanese Gamecube games was a lot more appealling than those in the west. 

Not only does this condensed retreat offer games from the past, it also has a small selection of more recent releases, although they aren’t the stores main focus. Every side of the room features some form of popular gaming protagonist. There’s merchandise, gaming peripherals, home consoles and more, all of which are purchasable unless otherwise stated.

The highest floor of Super Potato is abundant with Arcade Machines that give prominence to the golden era of gaming. On approaching the top level of the store you are instantly hit by that vintage, retro beat from gaming’s past, like a waterfall of sound hitting your ears from the open doorway. Local folk can be seen spending their evenings in a pixelated universe, escaping the day to day mundane before heading back off into their daily lives. Luckily we managed to visit during a weekday so avoided the boat load of attendees we were told visited after working hours.

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We managed to visit the arcade mid afternoon on a weekday, avoiding the truck load of people who visted after working hours.

The pure excitement etched on people’s faces as they first stepped inside was shared among others as an instant reflection of those from the past. The first time we acquired the master sword in The Legend of Zelda, Defeated Bowser in Super Mario or stepped away victorious from the elite four in Pokemon. The Christmas days of way back when that saw us tearing open the newest home console, now housed on the walls similar to a video game museum. It’s the facial expressions in these memories and moments that was plastered on the faces of those arriving for the first time, the memories not only seemed to flood back to me upon entering but many others too.

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Although my girlfriend isn’t the biggest fan of gaming she certainly developed an appriciation for the place, especially after meeting the giant Super Mario at the entrance of Super Potato.

I for one had become extremely jaded with how important this era of gaming was, however, for many years I’d took it for granted. This gaming pilgrimage to Akihabara made me realise that this foundation of classics, that was built up so long ago, was the building block that allowed gaming to thrive today, becoming a behemoth of the entertainment industry, and for that, I am truly thankful.

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/ CR

 

 

Club Sega: A Step Back in Time

The first place I just had to visit when I arrived in Akihabara was Club Sega, known as Club Sega Akihabara (クラブ セガ 秋葉原) in Japan. Whenever anyone mentions Akihabara or makes reference to the Electric Town of Tokyo, the first thing that comes to mind for me is this neon-lit street that houses these Sega-branded Arcades, right in the heart of Akihabara. The area in which I visit contained three buildings all of the same style but are counted as three separate entities by Sega, despite being within walking distance of each other.

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The entrance to one of the Club Sega buildings, Akihabara, Tokyo.

As I approached what is known as the “Main” building I was in awe how something as vast as these arcades still existed this day in age. Back home in the UK, it’s lucky if you see any arcades at all, never mind something of this nature. What was even crazier was the fact that people were queuing up before the doors opened at 10:00am, more than likely to secure their favourite arcade cabinet in order to play with friends or reach a new high score. The same for the western world may have been apparent twenty to thirty years ago, but it’s something that has almost died out completely, that certainly wasn’t the case in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo. It was like stepping back in time.

The first floor contained mainly claw machines in where an array of prizes was showcased at the back of the machine with one prize teetering on a ledge, ready to fall, playing it’s part in luring you in. Most people know that these are a game of chance and luck, the claw mechanism fails to grip the prize until a certain amount of money has passed through the machine. Meaning you could spend an ungodly amount or win the prize on your first go. That didn’t stop the other half diving in with a handful of change.

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The ever alluring claw machine that the other half spent all of her change on.

The next few floors above contained various other prize winning games, but what I was really there for were the arcades. As the elevators opened to the next floor, it was apparent why many people still come here to play these games every day. The music blares out from the cabinets as you step back in time to a place where Arcades were as popular as ever. The neon glare from the machines captures its players in a daze. Cheering spectators crowd around popular players, ones who are exhausting their change in order to reach the highest score possible. Some people were even queuing up to play some of the most popular games. It was certainly a sight to behold.

I managed to snap a few pictures of locals playing their favourite games, one hand moving in a lighting quick manner to register the button presses as fast as possible, while the other hand raised a cigarette to their mouths to take another toke. Public smoking is still prohibited in these arcades and the second-hand smoke can still be seen lingering in the air as the neon lights from the arcade machine cut through it. I never expected these Arcades to be as popular and alive as they were, but that’s Japan in general for you. It strips every expectation you had of the place and presents something new.

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We spent a few hours in Club Sega in which most of the locals stayed glued to their seats.

I wasn’t looking for another arcade cabinet in particular but while advancing through the many different floors we did manage to stumble across a number of Pokken Tournament cabinets. This is where the Wii U title that released earlier this year was ported from. I stood in line to wait until a fresh set of competitors were brought up to the table. You can see why Nintendo wanted to get this game on a home console, some people were laughing and having fun, while others remained calm, focused and collected as they faced off against other competitors.

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This was actually my first time playing Pokken Tournament. I loved it so much that as soon as I got home I picked up a copy along with a Hori tournament controller.

Before we left we noticed a wall where many had shown their love for Club Sega, leaving their mark in the form of manga sketches, appreciative notes or just a general message stating who they were. My girlfriend decided to add a note to the wall in order to commemorate our visit to Club Sega. The place itself is a spectacle, I expected something different, wrongly comparing the place to the arcades back home, where in reality, the place thrives with people from all ages and walks of life. If you are visiting Japan and are in Akihabara, this is definitely worth a trip and somewhere I wouldn’t think twice to visit again if I were to return to Tokyo.

To see more pictures from my recent trip to Japan, follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

/ CR

I’m going to Japan!

After months and months of saving and planning, in just under two weeks time I’ll finally get to tick “Travel to Japan” off my bucket list. It’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to go. From a very young age, I developed an interest in Japanese culture without even realising.

It all started when I got a SNES for Christmas, back in the early 90’s. I was brought up on Nintendo – Super Mario Bros. being my introduction to Video Games. My collection included classics such as – The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Street Fighter II, Star Fox, Donkey Kong Country and much more. These games were my bread and butter and I sunk countless hours into them as a child. Through my friends, I got introduced to Pokemon, which was a complete phenomenon through the 90’s.

I have vivid memories of how it literally swept the nation and the world for that matter. It was incredible. Everyone was collecting and trading Pokemon cards, watching the TV show or playing the games. I used to watch Pokemon every Saturday morning and weekday nights along with Dragonball/Dragonball Z. I picked up a Gameboy with Tetris, which I still have to this day. I remember the day I got Pokemon Yellow, I went into town with my Mother and little brother. We bought it from a now discontinued gaming store. I came home and spent the rest of the day playing it until the batteries in my Gameboy died. Such great memories.

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Nintendo and PlayStation are my go to platforms when it comes to gaming.

As I got a little older I transitioned to PlayStation, although I still held a strong love for Nintendo. Video Games began to get a little more mature and I began to realise that games weren’t just a pastime for young children. Metal Gear Solid was the game that brought me to that realisation. The story gripped you, the character arcs were incredible and it felt like more than just a game. Final Fantasy VII evoked the same emotions. It was my first introduction to a deep story-driven JRPG, and I absolutely adored it.

You may begin to see a pattern starting to emerge – all of these Video Games, TV shows and various popular culture originate from Japan. This was something I wasn’t aware of at a younger age. The same pattern continued throughout the PS2 era and around the dawn of the PS3. I started to become aware of just how much of an influence Japanese gaming had on me. If it wasn’t for all of these games, I may have never been into gaming as much as I am now. I never knew that I was a fan of Anime, or that I even used to watch it and as I became aware of it I began to watch more of it. The older I got the more I developed a love for Japan, along with its history and culture. It soon became the country I wanted to visit most but it always seemed like a pipe dream. A few year ago my girlfriend and I conceived the idea of visiting Japan through the form a guided tour, but the price just seemed inaccessible and my dream of visiting Japan seemed to wither.

Luckily things changed, we decided to scrap the idea of paying for a guided tour and plan things ourselves. Finally, the dream of the Video Gamer pilgrimage to Akihabara was alive and well. Apart from the usual tourist destinations, Geek culture wise, I plan to visit the Pokemon Centre(s), Animate – The 8-floor Flagship store for everything Anime and Manga related, Nanako Broadway and many others. I’m open to any other recommendations as to where to visit if there are any readers who have visited Japan before or have heard of anywhere that’s recommended?

I’ll be documenting my trip through photography, blog posts and youtube videos. All of which will be done when I get home. Although I will be live updating on Twitter and Instagram while I’m there, if you’d like to follow those feeds. I have a lot of content planned with this trip in mind, I know I have a large number of followers who share this interest of mine so I hope you guys look forward to what will be coming to WhatRhinoSaid over the next few month.

/ CR

Oh, How ignorant I’ve been…

The older I got, the more I seemed to neglect and avoid the typical Anime styled Japanese video games and media. Regardless of how good the they were said to be, if the artwork was mainly based around a Manga and Anime theme I would tend to completely disregard it. I can’t really put my finger on what it was I didn’t like and growing up I loved Pokemon and Dragonball. I played nothing but Nintendo and loved countless Japanese Video Games. Maybe it was the big doe eyed characters, crazy hairstyles, drawing style, goofy mannerisms or the cutesy expressions that put me off or maybe it was an age thing? Whatever it may have been, It just didn’t jive well with me at all.

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Typical Japanese art style that is featured across Anime, Manga and Video Games

The ‘User Interface’ design of most old Japanese games are something that I just couldn’t abide by either, the UI just wasn’t as appealing as most western games, although they do hold up well or in fact suffice most western games in user experience. Personally, I feel you can usually tell where most games originated from due to their UI.

Eastern and Western style games differ greatly in this area and most still do to this day. It didn’t help much that I actually went on to become a UI design so maybe the gripe stemmed from wanting to always improve the cosmetics of the interface.

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An example of eastern User Interface design.

Now don’t get me wrong – I love LOVE Japan. It’s my favourite country. The rich history it holds, the culture, language, food, traditions, values etc. All amazing. I’m even planning a trip to tour the place come 2016 if everything goes accordingly. The one thing I just couldn’t get away with was Animie, Manga and that traditional video game art style from games such as Persona, Valkyria Chronicles, Dragon Quest and many more.

But, until I sat down and thought about it, I never realised how much of a fan of Japanese video games I actually am. Going way back to the ripe, young, age of 4. Super Mario on the SNES was the first game I ever played. This was a series that stuck with me for the rest of my life. I was brought up on Nintendo; Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Mario Kart, Star Fox, Street Fighter and loads more. Each one sharing a common trait – They were all created in Japan. At that age you don’t care much for who made the game or where they originate. The game itself is what draws you in – the colours, graphics, game play, music etc.

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The Playstation 1 came at the perfect time and appealed to a more mature audience. Although the transition from Nintendo was made, I was still a huge fan of both companies.

Growing up my transition from Nintendo to PlayStation came about when the PS1 first launched, along with getting my hands on the new console I also picked up titles such as SoulBlade, Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil and Gran Turismo along the way. Again usually oblivious to where these games and their creators came from. As I got older and started to appreciate games as more of an art form, rather than just a form of entertainment, I took an even bigger step away from these Manga styled games.

Stupidly, I continued to judge books by their cover or in this case, video games by their art style. I’d turn away from story, characters, gameplay, everything, and all because of this unique and distinctive art style. It wasn’t until I realised how many Video games I played that were created in Japan that I decided to re-consider my actions.

I’m a huge fan of the Metal Gear Solid series, with Hideo Kojima becoming my all time favourite Video Games Designer. I love Street Fighter, Tekken, Pokemon, Animal Crossing, Final Fantasy etc I was brought up on Nintendo and PlayStation and have continued to buy products, both hardware and software, from both companies. This led me to thinking, surely if I love all of these games that were created in Japan, there’s got to be something there, something behind the art style that was putting me off? So many people can’t be wrong, can they?

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Metal Gear Solid 1 was an unforgettable experience and a game that introduced me to my favourite series of all time.

So I decided to look towards my Vita as a starting point – I’d heard so much about Persona 4, a game that was highly influenced by the traditional Japanese Manga style. I also knew about its rising popularity with the Japanese audience, it’s something I’d wanted to like for a while but couldn’t seem to ever get past the art style.

Anyway, I threw caution to the wind and picked it up.. I think it’s safe to say I did not regret my choice. As soon as I started it up I already found myself sucked in to the story, the characters, the gameplay, the voice acting – I began to love absolutely everything about the game. The weirdest thing was, I appreciated the art style the most. Did I miraculously change overnight? Have I lived in denial all this time? Persona 4 quickly became one of my favourite games and I can’t wait for the fifth instalment to be rereleased.

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Persona 4 Golden; A game I avoided for so long, after finally giving it a shot, I couldn’t believe just what I’d been missing. Definitely a must for any PS Vita owner.

This then brought me to thinking, if I like Persona then why not give other games with this style ago. I picked up Ni No Kuni and was absolutely astonished at how good it was. It also had one of the best UI and UX I’ve ever experienced within a video game. The Art Style was beautiful and the animations were flawless. From this I began to dig a little deeper, stumbling across the name ‘Studio Ghibli’. Loving the art style of Ni No Kuni, I decided to give them a shot.

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Ni No Kuni; A beautiful art style that will definitely appeal to JRPG fans. Shares similarities to Pokemon and The Legend of Zelda.

I recognised the name of one of the films straight away, which is one I’d watched as a small child and loved – ‘My Neighbour Totoro. Not knowing the studio behind it at the time, but now becoming intrigued to find out more about them, I looked into other films they’d created. An extensive back catalogue of deep, rich and meaningful stories with jaw dropping animation lay await and I instantly fell in love with the work of Hayao Miyazaki.

The next step was Anime. This was a whole new scene I barely knew anything about. I wasn’t a fan of Manga styled video games, never mind the Anime that ran alongside it. I didn’t have a clue where to start, but ‘Attack on Titan’ and ‘Sword Art Online’ were ones that seemed quite prominent when I searched – Wow, was I in for a shock. I took the art style with a pinch of salt and within a few episodes of each I’d already become hooked and ravelled up in the story.

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Attack on Titan; Such a gripping story which has left me hooked and wanting more.

It made me realise that all this time I was turning away from amazing experiences all because I was judging books by their cover. Not only did I realise a valuable life lesson, but also I’ve opened up to all kinds of Japanese style video games, Manga and Anime.

For those of you have gotten through this post, first of all thank you and secondly, I’d greatly appreciate it if those who have a lot more knowledge than I do, based within the different mediums I’ve listed, to recommend as many Japanese video games, anime and Manga that I shouldn’t miss, new or old. And remember; don’t judge a book by its cover. You won’t know what’s inside, until you look.

/ CR