Not-quite-live from Japan’s Arcade Operators Union Entertainment Expo

[This past weekend, the Arcade Operators Union Entertainment Expo — one of the largest gatherings of arcade manufacturers in the world — swept Japan. Our extremely-part-time Japanese correspondent 50ft. Samurai was on hand to check out the action … and take pictures of girls.]

The Arcade Operators Union (AOU) Entertainment Expo is the largest gathering of amusement device and arcade manufacturers in Japan. Seeing as how my beloved childhood arcades are all but dead in every other country, one might be able to say it’s the biggest in the world.  It at least has the hottest booth babes of any trade show! And … that’s about it, really.

Taking place at Makuhari Messe — the same place as Tokyo Game Show — AOU is less about making news and more about introducing the newest in dedicated game machines, with a healthy dose of new standard cabinet games thrown in for good measure. 

The show this year was pretty conservative, with no major new announcements meant to bring people in droves to the arcades. Big arcade operators like Sega, Taito, and AMI seem to be focused on retaining their shrinking customer base with refinements to existing series.      

Sega had one of the bigger booths at the show, with the majority of it devoted to their new first-person-shooter inspired mecha shooter Border Break. The 20-person network arcade game uses Sega’s new Ringedge board and features a touch-screen for communication between players. The design is very Japanese, with manga-like character and robot designs, but the over-the-shoulder gameplay has its roots in games like Battlefield 2, according to the game’s director, Takehiko Mikami. 

Instead of a keyboard and mouse, players use a joystick to control movement and a round, throttle-like control to look around. The movement is fast and smooth, and feels closer to something like Halo, and less like Virtual On. Players can try the game themselves at several locations around Tokyo starting next week, with a wide release planned for September.     
Both the Taito and Namco booths were mostly focused on medal, music, and dedicated cabinet games. Both companies seem to be focusing on younger players, hoping to lure in preschoolers with games that feature famous anime characters.

Taito had an interesting “game concept” buried in the back of their booth.  With a large vertically-oriented monitor embedded in a fake tree trunk, Midori no Osewa has users touching parts of the tree, and answering short questions to plant and grow a virtual tree. Trees can be decorated and pruned to the user’s preference, and there is a plan to allow users to transfer their trees to a mobile phone. There’s no real way to “lose” at the game, so the whole thing comes off as more of an interactive educational tool. A portion of proceeds from the game (if there are any-Taito wasn’t sure if there will be a fee to play) will be given to ecological charities. 

Namco’s booth didn’t really have anything that grabbed my attention, the only big crowd there gathered for an update to the Gundam: Senjou no Kizuna franchise, the massive, spherical, 180-degree monitor featuring network battle game that costs about 6 bucks a pop to play.
The only other highlight at the show came from the AMI booth, which featured a bevy of 2d fighting games, the standouts of which were Blaz Blue from Arc Systemworks and Daemon Bride from Examu.

Blaz Blue is simply gorgeous, the sprites large and full of animation. While the version being shown was identical to the already released fighter, the game has been localized, so if you still have an arcade near you, there’s a chance you could get to play it. 

Daemon Bride is from the same people that brought you Arcana Heart. It feels a little cheap compared to the other fighters, but the character design kinda resonated with me, and the gameplay features both dash and projectile attack buttons, making for some tactically exciting battles even without knowing the character’s special moves. Speaking with the company president, Koji Takaya, plans for a home version are being looked at, so hopefully those outside Japan will get a chance to play.
A throng of young people were gathered at Konami’s booth. The biggest crowds were queued for updates to the Beatmania and DanceDanceRevolution franchises. Rock Band and Guitar Hero be damned, the Japan-centric tracks lists and spastic gameplay of the series continues to pull in fans. A smaller and slightly younger crowd was wowed by the new Quiz Magic Academy game, an interactive, networked quiz game where players use a touchscreen to answer questions.

The rest of the show was mainly pachislot and pachinko operators, medal games, and mahjongg games. Most of those booths were dead, but sometimes the smaller companies would wheel out a hot booth babe, and the otaku blogger crowd would surge in to take the most perverse pictures they could manage. 

Speaking of perversion, while the aforementioned booth babes were as hot as ever, there weren’t really that many of them, and their outfits weren’t as appealing as usual. Special shout out to Capcom, though, who decided that the hotpants needed to be extra tight this year and thus, featured a straight up see-through thong party.  Yes, I got some perverse pictures.

Nick Chester