New arcade games have been announced via the IAAPA 2023 trade show, so it’s time to digest what is headed to venues for you to play. As mentioned previously, instead of lumping all of the companies and news together over the course of a few posts, I’m going to keep most IAAPA coverage focused on the manufacturers and distributors themselves. It will take some time to get through all of it, but it should keep things easier to search. Next up is Sega Amusements International by Kaizen Entertainment.
A little note on that last part – by how I understand it, Kaizen is the management/holdings company ran by long-standing company CEO and former COO Paul Williams that licenses the Sega name, branding and properties from Sega Japan, who of course wholly owned SAI as a subsidiary for nearly 40 years until the April 2021 management buyout. This is the first time that I recall them mentioning the Kaizen name at a show, which was on display in a few small places but perhaps I missed that in the past.
The Sega Booth
If you couldn’t make it to the show, here’s how Sega organized their booth. They crammed in quite a few games for the space, while allowing for a meeting area that you’ll see below (having meeting areas is pretty normal so that sales people and such can discuss business without prying ears):
For me, the star of the booth was Sega’s upcoming racing title, Apex Rebels. Set to launch around January 2024, this game is a fun racer with some interesting touches thrown in that one might not catch if they are a casual player. First, when a race starts, you’re given an actual gauge to where you can rev the engine for a ‘rocket boost.’ This sort of thing is usually hidden in most racing games (e.g. Mario Kart), where players can press the gas when the countdown timer reaches ‘2’ or similar. Here, it works like its own little mini-game – much like some reload features in certain console shooter games.
The game also features a boost upgrade system, where by driving through colored rings will change how one boosts. The boost is controlled by a lever on the right – I was thinking it would feel better if it was a spring loaded lever but that might put its cost too high. A puff of air does hit you when you boost, which is always a nice touch. As mentioned before in our initial report, this title is developed by 3MindWave (VR Agent, ATV Slam) on behalf of Sega, who can collaborate with them via Oga-Shi, one of the latter’s key game designers since the 1990s (Gunblade N.Y., Jambo! Safari, Mission: Impossible Arcade).
I had the chance to discuss the deeper mechanics with one of the developers from 3MW, a few of whom were on hand at Sega’s booth. He explained how the game adjusts the player’s driving apex on the fly, even showing me a map of the titular apexes, and how they can be used to the drivers’ advantage on corners. I won’t pretend to understand how all that works (here’s a link that explains the apex in terms of racing) but suffice it to say, the game learns how you drive and adjusts the difficulty accordingly. This is so it can play well for both casual and ‘hardcore’ players, in spite of the lack of a manual gear shifter.
I also have to appreciate the classic Sega references found in the game, as seen in the first video above – see if you can spot them all, as there’s a good few. They wanted to refer to three different Sega driving games on the official poster, but unfortunately that couldn’t be approved. I did see said poster which referenced OutRun, Sega Rally, and Daytona and it looked rad. At least there’s a few more indirect signifiers left in-game, as well as a Back To The Future reference when one activates the Aero Drift.
A note on the motion base – it is not pneumatic as originally claimed in the press release. It uses an air bladder system, which most motion games naturally use nowadays. I wouldn’t mind seeing a non-motion come along at some point though, just to help bring the price down. That said, motion-based drivers always out-earn non-motion ones by a fairly wide margin. Perhaps one day I’ll get to give it a try on-site. Pricing hasn’t been finalized yet, but it might be around $18k per seat on the 65″ model.
Keep in mind that all video from the show demonstrates this game at 70% completion. A lot of things can change in that last 30%.
For a different kind of racer on Sega’s booth, there was Hyper Cross by IGS. This snowmobile racer is a bit more casual than Apex; I say it feels like Super Bikes 2. There’s nothing wrong with that, however there are a couple of big differences – one would be how the handlebar controls work, and another would be the game’s QR code system allowing players to save scores onto a worldwide leaderboard. This is a nice touch, although it will only be functional permitting operators connect it up. The graphics are also much better and the wind effects more noticeable than they are in Super Bikes 3.
It comes in a great looking twin cabinet, and can link two twins together for up to four players. I just would like to see a software change where it gives you a little more time to select both your avatar overlay and racer (this may be configurable in the operator settings, though I did not confirm this). The under 10 seconds window seen here at the show and in the above video is just too fast… maybe fast enough for a certain hedgehog, who was on Sega’s booth too in statue form, but not for me.
Zombies! Ready, Deady, Go!
I think I’ve only once tried a classic electromechanical derby game, and it was ages ago. Regardless, Sega is updating the old concept with ZRDG, as I’ll call it. This keeps how a derby game works intact, unlike Sega Japan’s Derby Owners Club and Starhorse games, but it does replace the mechanical horses with a video display… and, obviously, swaps steeds for the undead. As pointed out on the AH Discord, digitising this concept has been done before with Photo Finish Racing but I’m surprised that it hasn’t been tried so much beyond these two games.
This game is best played with a friend or three but it is well done and fun regardless. The live-action commentary of the race is a nice touch in both gameplay and the attract mode. I always appreciate a game that has a little fun with itself. I couldn’t manage to get the ball into the Super Bonus mouth though…maybe next time. From what has been said about it by Sega, this has been doing very well on test – which I can easily believe considering the apparent continued popularity of the old electromechanical-style versions in their UK homeland.
New Redemption Games
For those who are into redemption or operate, Sega had plenty to offer there, from ZRDG above to Ballzania, Sync Pong, Polar Slide, Power Roll, Jumanji, and the new Bop It! Battle. Out of those, I would go for ZRDG if I were on the redemption market, followed by Bop It! Battle (if I had the floor space). Power Roll is also a great one to have had already, from what I hear. I didn’t ask how all of these pieces are performing on location or test however.
Attendance numbers just came out from the show and it was a record breaker. I think that Sega’s product offering and position at the show put them in a very nice place going into next year.
Which game from Sega left the strongest impression with me? Definitely Apex Rebels, although that was closely followed by ZRDG. Pricewise, the former is competitive with both Fast & Furious Arcade DX and NFS Heat Takedown DX, and the graphics on it are fantastic. I’ll have to wait and see though if an SD model for Apex comes along at some point.
If you attended the show, what impressed you the most from Sega’s booth? If you’ve been watching/reading from afar, what stands out?