The January trade show season is always exciting, isn’t it? New games, lots of people, general excitement. For a few days, a part of London is all about the amusement trade. This year, however, was particularly exciting for me. Not just because of the games I was looking forward to, but in part due to what I had recently been playing. Dive Alert. Remember it? I thought not. It’s a fiddly, technical submarine combat game with an awful lot of dialogue, and it was only released on the Neo Geo Pocket Color. The whole thing is played on a radar-style display. Trust me, after a few hours of that you absolutely need a show full of flashy, exciting thrills.
The show itself was just as pleasant as last year, with easy entry and an in-hall cloakroom allowing me to get straight into the action. Of course I headed straight up, having checked out the floor plan to see exactly what was where. Head straight forward, Bandai Namco’s stand is on the left, and Electrocoin is a bit further up on the right.
Of course, the first game I actually sat down to play was Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing Arcade. With the 20th anniversary of the famous mascot fast approaching, Sega Amusements Europe secured a version of Sumo Digital’s rather lovely consumer game. There’s a lot to like about it in an arcade setting, too. As well as the most popular Sonic characters, famous characters from other series such as Virtua Fighter and Crazy Taxi get in on the kart racing action, and the tracks are similarly themed.
The theme provides a wide variety of bright and attractive locales for racing on, though the game doesn’t look quite as smooth as other recent Sega racers as it’s running on Ringwide (a first for Western developers). Still, the game runs at the same 30fps as the home version, and the cabinet itself does a lot of work in attracting players. Beside the expected array of colourful characters, the machine itself features colour-changing seats and side panels.
As well as a fun atmosphere, the game provides a bit more to involve the player than similar games such as Mario Kart Arcade GP. The drift pedal allows players to slide through corners and perform tricks in the air, charging a turbo boost. Meanwhile, the full range of items is available to each player, and includes the usual projectiles as well as shields, speed boosts and even a horn which knocks out nearby racers.
To make the learning curve more accessible for the arcade market, certain drift-heavy courses from the console game (particularly those with a Super Monkey Ball theme) have been omitted, and the modes stripped down to Single Race, Time Trial and a three-race Grand Prix.
Perhaps the most exciting news for operators is that the game is set up for ticket-based redemption, which combines well with the family-friendly characters. While tickets can be earned in the single player modes, the biggest prizes come from multiplayer races, with more tickets per player up to the game’s limit of 8. Multiplayer is particularly strong as you might expect from the genre, and I’m personally looking forward to seeing this in the wild to challenge my Sonic-loving friends.
Hit the post break for much, much more on everything at EAG!
After the end of my grand prix, I sat down with Patrick Michael and Shinichi Ogasawara to discuss Sega’s range for the show, which had the dual themes of promoting Sonic’s 20th anniversary and a continued drive towards a diverse product range. In particular, there was a much greater crossover between the company’s traditional video output and redemption, as exemplified All-Stars racing and Super Monkey Ball: Ticket Blitz.
I’ve never been the biggest fan of redemption, but I couldn’t help getting rather excited by the surprise appearance of Super Monkey Ball at IAAPA a couple of months back. A large part of this is that the game retains the core play mechanics of the earlier games in the series. You control your monkey with the large trackball on the cabinet, collecting bananas while rolling through a tricky stage (randomly selected each play) against a time limit. If you’re successful, a bonus game is then played for extra points, in which you attempt to propel your monkey into a large hoop.
The game uses the nice stage visuals from the Wii versions of the series, and comes in both sit-down and upright cabinets. While the game is shorter and a little less challenging than the Monkey Ball games of old (there’s nothing like the dreaded Expert level 7), it’s pitching to a different audience and works with that in mind.
Moving away from redemption, Golden Gun was a game that I’d seen but not yet played. My first look at the game some time ago didn’t fill me with confidence, but the game has actually improved a lot since. The game was developed in China under the supervision of an experienced AM1 hand, and the game carries a distinctly Chinese flavour – local cities and mythology are used to great effect.
The game itself is based on the House of the Dead 4 engine, which shows through a little in a couple of the enemy animations. It shares a few other things with that series, too, mostly the tendency towards crazy B-movie dialogue and voice acting. The male and female protagonists* share some awful banter, and the non-player characters are equally as amusing. In a particular stand-out moment, the players chase a ghostly woman through an inner-city riverside, with the male protagonist trying to hit on her the whole way through. There’s no “would you like” – you’re just having cheese with that.
*Side note: This whole male and female protagonist trend is upsetting for fans of manly duos like G and Rogan from the original House of the Dead. That’s… actually not much of a bother. As you were!
Anyhow, the game is quite a bit of fun. There’s no need to reload the guns, the game provides a number of hidden items and appropriate rewards for skilful shots, and multiple routes through each stage. In a novel touch, players are able to trade their accumulated points for power-ups in an item shop, with anything from missiles to extra lives available. It’s also a pretty attractive game, with a more colourful approach as compared to the recent House of the Dead games.
Speaking of colourful, Let’s Go Island! was on show again following its appearance at Sega’s private show in September. The game is now available in extra cabinets, a deluxe non-motion version with a 52” monitor and a smaller stand-up cabinet (not shown on the day). Similarly, GRID was on show again in new cabinet configurations. The game’s success has warranted the production of a deluxe non-motion 52” model. Better yet, Sega’s own Stig was on hand to thrash all comers (including yours truly) in a series of challenges throughout the day.
While I’m not the best person to comment on new music games (largely due to an extreme lack of skill), Andamiro’s Pump it Up Pro 2 was available to play too.
Elsewhere on Sega’s stand were promotions for Sega Prize Europe and Sega Total Solutions, the redemption and repair specialist branches of SAE. In addition, a range of other video, redemption and novelty kit was shown. Particular favourites included:
– Sonic Quad Air, a frantic air hockey game for two to four players, featuring that speedy blue hedgehog again. This one also vends tickets.
– The Sooty Show, a prize vending machine featuring beloved children’s icons Sooty, Sweep and Soo, who will be returning to UK screens this summer. The characters perform a song before vending a small prize. I totally geeked out when I saw this!
– Game Gate Kinect, the old Game Gate VU set-up with added Kinect support. This was demonstrated with games such as Dance Central.
– Faulty Repair Shop, a large interactive shooting gallery with a run-down backwoods feel, by Pan Amusements.
The Bandai Namco / Brent Sales stand was filled up with goodies too, including the highly anticipated Pac-Man Battle Royale. This new twist on the old formula visually resembles Pac-Man Championship Edition, but the actual play is very different from either of the C.E. games. Each of the four possible players controls a Pac-Man, and play proceeds as normal with a couple of extra twists. Every time a power-up is eaten, the dots on the playfield refresh themselves. If two players collide, they’ll rebound away from each other. However, if a player eats one of the power pellets, their Pac-Man will double in size and gain the ability to eat the other players (as well as the more traditional ghosts). As yesterday’s video shows this game can inspire some great contests, and I found it to be a lot of fun.
I spent a fair amount of time playing Raw Thrills’ Big Buck World with a Sega staffer. I’ll admit now that the series has never really grabbed me, as much on a thematic level as a mechanical one (I guess the whole hunting thing just isn’t for me), though its popularity shows that I’m not typical of the market. Still, the competitive aspect of the game provided some laughs, and the bonus games were actually more fun than the main attraction.
More Raw Thrills action awaited, as The Fast and the Furious: Super Cars was also new to me. This one is much the same as previous versions, including previous courses and such while adding some new features. The game retains the longevity-boosting option to upgrade your car, with upgrades including crazy body modifications that made the cars appear as if they had X-Wings strapped to the back.
Raw Thrills have kept to a formula that has proven very successful, but I can’t help having the same problems I had with previous games in the series: the obstacles are largely insubstantial and the game feels just a bit too easy. Also, those digitised sprites! Still, I’m sure this will be an earnings monster as the original and Drift were before it.
Other games on show had been seen before, at the private show in September. Deadstorm Pirates is still a lot of fun, and Dead Heat Street Racing impressed me all over again. Super Bikes 2 is another Raw Thrills racer, and my impressions on that haven’t changed. However, the company’s ever-popular Terminator Salvation has newly impressed me, after an unfortunate experience with a faulty gun on a cabinet in the wild. Important psychological note to be had, there – rightly or wrongly, we players will associate a game with the negative feeling of losing money. The game is another earnings monster so I’m sure you’ll all have well-formed opinions on it by now.
Redemption-wise, the stand offered ICE’s Go Ball-istic, a rather neat little redemption thing which involved chucking soft play balls at a large touch screen. Lots of fun is there to be had over five different mini-games. The one I played involved thwacking beavers, in an odd throwback to my shooting of gophers on Big Buck World. The stand offered a great deal more too, as you’d expect from a company with Namco’s market presence, including video game Tank! Tank! Tank! and a wealth of other redemption options.
We’ve been following the development of Friction for some time now, and it made an appearance on the UDC stand in what looked to be the same upgraded Time Crisis II cabinet from IAAPA. This one was another pleasant surprise for me, being both affordable and fun. The game offers a very interactive environment (almost everything will react to being shot) and well-paced action, with frequent movement and abundant power-ups. My only gripe is that it’s not always fully obvious when you’ve taken damage, though I do like the use of a damage bar.
At the nearby Electrocoin stand, I found my biggest surprise of the entire show: Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition! After failing to find any fighting games at last year’s show, this one was a big shock. The game is exactly as good as you’d expect, but the set-up at the show left something to be desired – with only a single player cabinet set up but the second player autostarting, attendees were left to beat up on poor old Hakan with the fighter of their choice.
Pentavision’s DJ Max Technika 2 was also available on the stand, which pleased me greatly – the original was one of my favourite games of ATEI 2009. I’m still rubbish, though. Also up on the music side of things was Konami’s Dance Dance Revolution X2. The game features a very extensive song list (going well back to the beginnings of the series, to the point where even I recognised some). Also from Konami, GTI Club continues its trade show run, but there was no sign of Road Fighters or Metal Gear Arcade.
Oh yeah, and I braved the possibility of incredulous stares to play Taito’s Hopping Road. It’s a lot of fun, isn’t it? It’s quite easy, but also attractive and novel. Panic Museum was still on show in various cabinet forms, and Elevator Action: Death Parade was also on show, still in a cabinet which is my favourite design in a very long time. I first encountered the game at the Trocadero, and while the shooting action isn’t quite the best out there, the elevator gimmick genuinely adds something to grab the casual passers-by. Battle Gear 4: Tuned 2010 was there too, and that’s not bad either! No sign of Darius Burst, sadly.
InJoy Motion Corp. was showing Power Boat GT and Top Gunner over at Electrocoin too. Both were quite popular, and it proved fully impossible for me to get on the rather neat motion cab for Power Boat. Rassen’s Vulcan M was on show again, and Incredible Technologies’ popular Golden Tee Live was also on the stand, amazingly beating out every Raw Thrills game for most gratuitous use of modelling budget. To be fair, it was also popular enough that I wasn’t able to get too close.
To finish off the Electrocoin stand, it played host to Stern’s new pinball machines. Usually I gloss over these, but not this year! I patiently waited behind a good player for a go on Avatar, and promptly occupied the machine for all of a couple of minutes. Apparently, my “mad skillz” (such as they were) rusted away. Oh well! Also seen was the Rolling Stones machine, which is sort of an odd choice but does break the stream of film and TV licensed stuff.
Speaking of pinball, I came across the video pinball tables at the Bifuca stand. They appeared to have an impressive range, and I certainly got on well with the machine I played. Purists will argue that video pinball could never replace the feel of an actual machine, and I would side with them on that, but these certainly weren’t bad. The table designs were a bit simplistic though, and one of the advantages of video pinball is that you can do physically impossible things with the table. I’d love to see some of that potential exploited in the future.
Over at PMT Sales, the UNIS range of redemption machines was being displayed, as well as a banner advertising the Cooking Mama redemption machine. That’s the kind of thing that works very well with my sister in particular. Unfortunately there was no sign of Crazy Speed, which I had been looking forward to playing. Opposite this stand was Mega Stacker, a giant version of the ubiquitous redemption hit. I had to stand back a fair bit to get the picture!
Lastly, at the JNC Sales stand, I came across NASCAR Team Racing. The game has been updated, added to and rebalanced, and I certainly felt that while playing. Boosting seems a bit less powerful but quicker to charge, and team mates are now highlighted in the running order. Other than that, it’s very much the NASCAR you know and love.
At this stage, it is worth pointing out that while we often run stories about the 3D video games in Japanese arcades, none of them were shown at EAG. Operators have limited budgets and can be risk-averse (particularly at present), but it shouldn’t be forgotten that people come out of their homes to see things they couldn’t see there. Where there is entertainment technology that doesn’t have a widespread domestic audience, the amusement industry should be looking to capitalise in any way it can.
The overall theme for EAG in 2011, other than the continuing dominance of redemption, seems to be a return to old favourites. While arcade offerings during these economically unstable times have been fairly conservative, this year has shown some manufacturers trying to reinvigorate old staples. We’ve seen the first Sonic arcade game since the 1990s, and an exciting new take on Pac-Man. In addition, Elevator Action, Street Fighter, and GTI Club are still out there, Frogger is back in redemption form, and we’ve even got a pinball table about a band, with classic-style artwork. Getting the fundamentals right is definitely always important, and it’s great to see innovation in areas as well-explored as air hockey.
Many thanks for reading this report, we’re eagerly awaiting your impressions of the show in the comments and on the forums. Also, please remember to check out our video of the show!