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

 

 

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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.

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/ CR