We’re definitely not gambling this Famicom Friday
From a young age, video games have covertly been teaching me to gamble, which is funny because I don’t. I think my parents took me to a casino for my 19th birthday. I won $300 on a slot machine and decided to never gamble again. That means I beat the system. I beat it for $300.
I think video games have just taught me how boring gambling is. Why leave winning up to random chance when I can use my big beefy thumbs to take me up gratitude lane? Even games that mix in some skill aren’t that interesting when I can play against Sam from Sam & Max in Poker Night in the Inventory. Oh, I guess you can’t really buy that anymore. Okay, then against bikini’d women in Xtreme Beach Volleyball 2.
I digress; video games have been at it essentially since video games became a thing. It was no different in Japan, except they also had Pachinko games. Take Mezase Pachi Pro: Pachio-kun for example, which is potentially the cutest way to feed a burgeoning addiction.
If you don’t know what Pachinko is, I’ll tell you this: it definitely isn’t gambling. Gambling is illegal in Japan, after all. No, this is nothing like it. You win balls, not money, then you take those balls and trade them for a special token. You can then take that special token somewhere else (completely unrelated to the pachinko establishment, I assure you) and sell it for money. See? Nothing like gambling.
Despite not being gambling, a not insignificant percentage of Japan’s GDP is generated by Pachinko and Pachislot. It’s rooted in the country’s culture, and like gambling over here, it’s ruined some lives.
So here’s Pachio-kun to teach you the basics. Like in, say, Casino Kid, you roam the parlor as an anthropomorphic pachinko ball. There are rows of machines – 72 in all. Only three machines are really unique, but each has different angles for its pins, affecting how the balls bounce. Your goal is, I’m told, to drain all those balls. Each machine has a set amount, and you need to suck them all dry. Listen, it’s very monotonous, and my brain had ample time to start thinking up juvenile analogies involving balls.
You adjust the strength that the balls are ejected, then you just… hold the button down, making small adjustments and trying to get them into the machine’s various holes. Because of the various ways that the pins are bent, it’s impossible to just find the right vector and stick to it. Even after finding a vague spot where you find consistent success, the lever loosens over time, so you have to stay awake and just keep moving it back to where it was.
You can inspect the pins, and maybe that will give you some way of strategizing the quickest way of defeating the machine, but this is an 8-bit system. Chances are that lever has 255 settings, and most of those are too strong or too soft to really matter. It is not difficult to find a sweet spot, and then it’s just a matter of keeping your eyes open to keep the balls flying to the right place.
There were at least twelve of these Pachio-Kun games: five on the Famicom and three on the Super Famicom. On top of that, there were another three on the PC-Engine CD and one on the PC-FX. That seems a little excessive, but at least on the Famicom they’re cheap and fun to collect.
They’re also interesting for maybe ten minutes, and after that, if you’re still playing, it’s probably for that constant endorphin rush of seeing numbers go up. I guess some people have more desire for that than I do. Games that are entirely just slot machines are still created to this day, and those just involve pressing a button and passively awaiting the results. At least Pachio-kun lets you annoy the other patrons.
Speaking of which, there’s a shocking amount of text in Pachio-Kun, but I think most of it is for flavor. I looked for a translation and found hints that one was being worked on but couldn’t find the finished product. Still, it’s perfectly playable without needing one. The language of balls is universal.