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Review/Build: Sega Astro City 1/12 cabinet model by WAVE

“Candy cabinets.” It’s a catch-all English term to refer to Japanese-style sit-down arcade cabinets where you can fairly easily switch the games contained within. There seems to be a bit of speculation as to where the term came from… though I’d wager the most obvious source is the Neo Candy cabinets, which commonly housed Neo-Geo MVS units.

There are a lot of different models of “candy cabs” out there, but to many, the de facto candy cabinet is the Sega Astro City, a model you’ll still see around many a Japanese arcade in this day and age. Countless matches of Virtua Fighter 2 were played on these machines back in the day, and their versatility and adaptability have made them a popular choice for retrogaming setups to this day.

Yes, the Astro City is practically synonymous with arcade games to many Japanese arcade fans. Which is why we all exploded with glee when we found out that model maker Wave, who had previously made replicas of modern Vewlix cabinets and the riding Hang-On cabinet, was going to make an Astro City model.  This was gonna be great!

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And yes, it is a pretty spectacular kit! It’s not too tough to build for the beginner, but offers a lot of potential for customization if you really, really want to create the miniature arcade machine of your dreams. In my case, I wanted to put a very particular game inside one of these cabinets. But I wanted to build it together with you, my dear readers – and that’s exactly what we’re going to do today!

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Gamest’s Favorite Character Rankings from 1987 to 1991

Hey guys, it’s almost election day!

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Yeah, that’s more or less my reaction to the shitshow of US politics, too. But instead of depressing ourselves, let’s look at the polls of yesteryear that truly mattered. I am, of course, talking about the favorite character polls published in seminal Japanese arcade gaming journal Gamest from 1987 through 1991.

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Gamest, for those unfamiliar, was an early Japanese game magazine whose focus was almost entirely on the culture of arcade gaming. The magazine was founded in 1986 and enjoyed plenty of success, going from bimonthly to monthly issues fairly quickly thanks to strong fan response. When Street Fighter II rolled around and became a phenomenon, however, the magazine became even bigger, eventually going biweekly at the height of the fighting game boom. Bolstered by the strength of arcades in the mid-90s, the publisher, Shinseisha, expanded briefly into spinoffs like Gamest EX (console games) and Comic Gamest, and even had a store focused on selling arcade game-related merchandise called Marugeya. But everything ended rather abruptly in 1999 with Shinseisha’s bankruptcy, killing off the magazine and other business operations tied to it. (Several former Gamest staff migrated to publisher Enterbrain to create Arcadia magazine as a successor, which would encounter its own abrupt death many years later.)

The magazine had a ton of passionate, talented writers throughout the years: as the Japanese Wikipedia article on the magazine notes, many of Gamest’s early writers came from VG2 and VG3, early arcade gaming doujinshi publications that were the contemporaries of Satoshi Tajiri and his Game Freak doujinshi. Graphic artist Han, who’s best known for his work at Treasure, was part of their writing staff at one point, and artist Mine Yoshizaki cut his teeth doing various art pieces for the magazine.

Amongst all of the strategy guides, interviews, reports, high score tables, and special features, however, every Gamest issue would contain a section called “Gamest Island,” which was dedicated to reader submissions. In early 1992, Gamest collected all of its Island sections up to that point into one giant book, called Gamest Island Mokushiroku.

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One of my current fixations is trying to snag cheap Gamest issues when they pop up for media preservation purposes, as the Japanese arcade scene of the 80s and 90s is a fascinating subculture that the West knows next to nothing about. When I saw this book for a good price, I jumped on it — and when I got it, I wasn’t disappointed in the content. This tome has 500-some pages of reader submissions that give a candid look into the Japanese arcade culture of the late 80s and early 90s from the very people who were the most passionate about it. There’s tons of art, plenty of letters, lots of terrible jokes, a bunch of reader-made “How much of a gamer are you” polls, parody game ideas, and even odd bits like someone’s Night Striker fanfiction. There are early memes and trends that show up, heated opinions (you start seeing some anti-Street Fighter II art and sentiment after the game blows up in popularity), and even in-column conversations between readers: one issue features a woman writing in to complain about men treating her badly at the arcade, the next issue has a guy sending in a drawing he did to support her, and the issue after that has her replying with more art as a thank-you. (It really seems charming and quaint compared to internet interactions today, especially since nobody got called a beta cuck.)

Every year Gamest would also hold reader polls on various subjects — and among them were various “favorite character” polls. From 1987 onwards, Gamest would have a reader-voted “favorite character” poll, along with rotating sub-polls in various other character categories. The results of each of these are also published in this book, and how the votes played out is pretty amusing: there are clear winners, some head-scratchers, and some utterly bizarre picks that appear to be ancient memes and jokes from a bygone era in Japanese gaming. Let’s take a look at how the polls went!

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An overly elaborate and painstakingly detailed account of the events of Arcade Superplay Expo 2016

I first heard rumblings in some of the Discord channels I hang out in that Twitch was planning something interesting in the fall. It was going to be a charity marathon, but with a twist: a focus exclusively on arcade games, a segment of gaming that didn’t really get much exposure outside of a few select streamers and the occasional arcade game run at a GDQ. I received a message from Romscout, Symphony of the Night speedrun superstar and Twitch charity event manager. Was I interested in helping out the event in some way?

I swiftly answered. Yes, yes, a thousand times YES. Jeez, you had me from the words “arcade event!”

The idea was a 48-hour marathon to raise money for Save the Children, to be held in October. The event would have players showcasing both classic and newer arcade games, from Donkey Kong and Track and Field to things like Tetris the Grand Master, some modern pinball games, and Beatmania IIDX. I wanted to at least help promote the event and get the word out, but I wondered if there was anything I personally could run at the event…

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Oh, right. There was Raimais, a game I had spent a month writing a novella’s worth of text about. But despite having written extensively about it, I had yet to actually complete a single-credit clear (commonly referred to as a 1CC). There was a little over a month until the event. Could I manage to not only juggle work and site responsibilities, but also route the game and master a path that would take me to the end with as few deaths as possible?

It was a daunting proposition, but after proclaiming so much love towards this obscure little Taito game, I felt like I had to carry its torch at what came to be called Arcade Superplay Expo.

“Put me down for Raimais,” I told Romscout. From that point on, I was officially committed.

It definitely wasn’t an easy task: for the first week or two I was diligently making notes, drawing powerup locations and scribbling level notes in a small Ubisoft notebook I’d been given for being runner-up in PAX West Jeopardy. When Jed from our discord channel showed me a custom Raimais level viewer he had whipped up, I was floored and overjoyed. This was going to make the process so much easier!

Finally, after hours of diligent practice, I got my first Raimais 1CC a week before the event was set to start. Now I had to find a way to try and make it consistent for my run, which had been slotted in at a risky 3:20 AM PST timeslot in the schedule. (It was originally set for around 7 AM, but I felt it would be better to try and stay up late than attempt to wake up early.) The event was fast approaching, and I had a review of a big-name JRPG on my freelance plate at the same time. There was so much going on, so much to do… and I couldn’t have been more excited for what was to come.

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Figure review: figma Akira Yuki and Sarah Bryant from Virtua Fighter

I knew the day would come where I’d be reviewing a figma on this site — Max Factory figmas, along with Bandai’s Tamashii line, are essentially the standard for Japanese pop-culture action figures in terms of size, quality, and price. There are a ton of figmas based on a wide spectrum of anime, manga, games, and the occasional real-life figure, all recreated in 1/12 scale with a good amount of articulation. Of course, not all figmas (figmae? figmata?) are made equally: some are clearly better-made and more interesting than others, but generally, the quality baseline for them is pretty solid — the “bad” figmas aren’t so much poorly-made as they are a bit on the dull side in terms of playing with them.

I was actually expecting the first figma I’d review here to be Kazuma Kiryu from the Yakuza series, as he was due out in August, but he got hit with a serious delay, pushing him all the way back to a December release… which makes me think that the manufacturer discovered some horrible engineering flaw as they were wrapping up production and they needed to redo the whole thing. It’s okay though, we have something that’s just as blue-blooded Sega as our hot-blooded ex-Yakuza pal: Virtua Fighter figmas!

If you’ve been following the site for a while, you probably remember me being really excited about these back when they were first announced at Wonder Festival a few years back. Hell, I’ve been a VF fan for most of my life, why wouldn’t I lose my mind over VF characters finally getting the figma treatment? Sure, they were the polygonal VF1 models and not the slick, realistic models of VF5, but at least they were something! And let’s face it, there’s something really lovable about that flat-shaded model 1 look.

But enough talk. Let’s review some plastic! Ready… GO!

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Interview: Suda51 of Grasshopper Manufacture

I’ve interviewed a lot of folks over the course of running this here website, but I feel like this man probably needs very little in the way of introduction. Goichi Suda (known as Suda51 – it’s Japanese goroawase, y’see) is an interesting, free-spirited, and somewhat enigmatic individual whose games are delightfully eclectic, mixing Eastern and Western humor, visual styles, and character tropes to create titles that are truly unlike anything else out there.

I had the opportunity to sit down with Suda51 at PAX West this year to talk a bit about The Silver Case, a remake of Grasshopper Manufacture’s very first game that will be launching on Steam next week. I wanted to dig a bit into his development background and how the game came to be — we’ve always had a bit more of a historically-minded slant on this site, and with this game being an important part of Suda51’s history, it only seemed fitting to focus heavily on that. We also go a bit into his wild No More Heroes design sessions and his modern development philosophy.

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The Nintendo 3DS Streetpass Games, ranked from worst to best

As some of you may be aware, I recently attended PAX West to give a panel on kusoge. PAX, along with any other nerd convention in the country, is prime territory for racking up 3DS Streetpass hits. Nintendo, in a move that seemed extremely cognizant of this fact, put out four new purchasable Streetpass Plaza games just before the convention started. I eagerly grabbed them before I went on my whirlwind tour of Seattle and Portland, and spent time not fretting over every tiny detail of the panel and/or playing indie games going through the newest batch of Streetpass stuff.

Then I thought to myself, “Boy, there sure are bunch of these paid Streetpass games now! If you hadn’t bothered with them before, where would you even start? After all, some of them are super good, but others are really not worth time or money at all… I know! I should totally review all of the paid Streetpass stuff, because nobody else seems to be bothering with looking at these games beyond a surface level glance!”

So that’s exactly what I’m doing! I’ve ranked every paid 3DS game here from what I feel are worst to best, categorizing them in five different ranks. (Find Mii 1/2 and Puzzle Swap are excluded since they’re already part of the 3DS package, and technically, you can get either Market Crashers or Slot Car Rivals for free as well.) I tried to go a bit into why I ranked the games why I did, though if there’s not much to a game, I probably have a lot less to say about it than something with meatier mechanics.

DISCLAIMER: If you live someplace like rural North Dakota where you’re not getting Streetpasses regularly, then even the best of these games are tough to recommend. Them’s the breaks, sadly.

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Raimais (Taito, 1988)

(Updated 10-29-16)

Raimais is a special game to me.

A constant throughout my life is loving the hell out of games that few other folks seem to. No, I’m not talking about kusoge, here – I’m talking about games that are actually good, but which are unknown and unpopular. Case in point: my enduring love affair with Fighting Vipers 2.

That’s far from the only obscurity that really stokes the flames of burning game love within me, however. Over the years, I’ve come to have a deep appreciation for Taito’s late-80s and early-90s catalog, with a few titles in particular standing out as treasures that have gone most unrecognized by even devoted retro fans. But while one of my favorite unknown games, Night Striker, has seen a recent resurgence in popularity — well, on the Japan side, anyway — there’s another Taito title that wormed its way into my heart that remains mostly buried in Taito’s sprawling back catalog: Raimais.

Raimais, at first glance, doesn’t seem like the sort of game somebody would develop a deep affection for. It looks like a fairly standard-issue dot collection maze game  — a genre that had mostly fallen out of favor when the game hit in 1988 and seems even more dated now. But there’s a lot about this game that’s interesting, from how it aims to modernize one of the earliest gaming formulas to its rather unusual-for-the-time cutscenes and surprise ending… along with how its tendrils crept into another Taito title we’ve covered on this site. Not to mention its strange console offshoot…

Yeah, there’s a lot to cover here. So much, in fact, that I’ve actually had to separate this into several smaller pages. (Yes, the biggest article on gaming.moe so far is for a Taito obscurity that even Japanese players don’t discuss much. Is that really a surprise?) So, without further ado, let’s brave the labyrinth!

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Mspaint Rika and Organizer by Ant.

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Art by Nina Matsumoto

Send me more Rika fanart! I’ll post it here!

Special Thanks to: Zekuu, Ant, Tom James, mauve

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The Problems with EVO 2016 (and how it can do better next year)

As you are more than likely aware, EVO happened this month, and it was a pretty big deal! It was undoubtedly the biggest the event’s ever been, both in terms of attendance and presentation, with a split venue of the Las Vegas Convention Center on Friday and Saturday and the Mandalay Bay Event Center on Sunday. It was also the first time EVO was broadcast on national TV through ESPN2… well, the Street Fighter V part was, anyway. It was a weird transitional year, as EVO experiences the growing pains of wanting to both serve a grassroots fighting-game community, and dealing with the reality that… well, like it or not, the FGC is #esports now.

And, like any year of transition, there were issues. Don’t get me wrong, I had a great time at EVO this year! I did a lot of work for Red Bull eSports that I’m really proud of (check out this KoF feature in particular), saw a lot of friends, and watches some really cool stuff go down. Of course, I also didn’t see certain friends for long enough, didn’t get to set up Fighting Vipers 2 and other obscure competitive games I like, and missed a few legendary matches for the ages. But that’s more personal gripes: this year’s EVO had some more pervasive issues that I heard a lot of folks grumbling about. I’d like to get some of those complaints off my chest here. (I know the folks at home had issues with some of the streams, as well, but since I didn’t see many of those until after the fact, I feel it’s better for me to address the issues with physically attending the event.)

As an FYI: This article’s gonna be rather picture-light, mainly because I’m not about to rip off TempusRob’s great pictures like so many others folks like to do. Go visit him if you want rad EVO photos, because we’re here to talk.

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The Gaming Figures of Summer Wonder Festival 2016

While SDCC was happening last weekend, there was another big nerd event going on an ocean away: Wonder Festival, the show for high-end figures, toys, and collectibles by Japanese companies. While half of Wonder Festival is dedicated to limited-run garage kits (which are cool, but exceptionally difficult to obtain and build for all but the most devoted hobbyists), the other half is about figures that, while still limited in run, will be a fair bit easier to get your hands on. Many of these figures are based on games we know and love, so I’m here to chronicle everything cool that was showed off at the event!

I’ll be honest, though: this particular WonFes was disappointing for me. There weren’t any huge surprises like the Virtua Fighter figmas or the Iron Fossil this time, though there were a few retro-themed bits and bobs here and there. I think what got my motor running the most was this assembly-required Night Striker resin kit (see what I did there? Ho HO!) that’s coming from RC Berg:

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I suppose having less “shut up and take my money” is good in the long run, and we did get a color version of Iron Fossil and Jet Set Radio Beat, so there’s that. As usual, I’m focusing more on stuff that has a fairly limited figure presence – stuff like Fate/Initials and KanColle and Tony’s Sameface Shining also fall into the “games” category, but have spawned so many high-profile figures that you can see on any other WF roundup that I’m specifically excluding them. Obscurity is part of what this site’s built on, after all! We’re also focusing on stuff that is newly announced has has advanced since it was last shown (i.e. a color prototype), so things you can pre-order are

Anyhow, onto the image galleries! Images are primarily sourced from WHL4U, Figsoku, and Dengeki Hobby. They’re organized by manufacturer, with the exception of Nendoroids and Figmas, which I’ve put in their own categories. Click on any of the small images for a bigger view!

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Why I love short games

Summer Games Done Quick is a thing that’s happening right now, and I can’t help but find a bit of irony in the fact that, in the quest to be able complete games as quickly as possible, a lot of these runners have poured hundreds of hours into individual games. Many of these titles would be considered “short games,” things you’d wrap up nicely in a couple of hours with some adequate gaming skills if you were playing “casually.”1 Being short, however, is often considered a detriment to a game’s quality. Even with our massive backlogs of unplayed Steam Sale acquisitions and potentially ill-advised Amazon purchases Cheap Ass Gamer alerted us to, we still somehow view not getting a long game as a detriment.

But you know what? That way of thinking is wrong. Short games are friggin’ fantastic and I want more of them.

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  1. I kinda hate that “casual” in speedrunning lingo refers to “not playing for speed.” Under that logic, a crazy max-level all-skills-learned RPG run is “casual.” I don’t get it.