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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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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Matsuno Family Double Whammy: Osomatsu-kun (Megadrive)

With the good comes the bad, I suppose…

So hey, I just wrote an anime review about Osomatsu-san, the recent reboot of a classic gag manga/anime that was a massive hit overseas. Remember how I mentioned that there were two Osomatsu-kun anime series before it, one from 1966 and another from 1988? Well, as you might already know, 1988 was the launch year of the Sega Megadrive in Japan. The console launched in October of that year with Space Harrier II and Super Thunder Blade, impressive renditions of popular arcade titles, while a very faithful port of Juuouki/Altered Beast followed soon after in November. But here’s a factoid for you: the fourth-ever Megadrive game, released a little under two months after the console’s debut, was a licensed game based on Osomatsu-kun.

Titled Osomatsu-kun: Hachamecha Gekijou (“Nonsense Theatre”), the game features a bunch of familiar series characters: the Matsuno brothers, Totoko, Chibita, Iyami, Hatabou, and so on – in new and bizarre roles in a strange-as-hell series of fantasy settings.

It’s also an astounding pile of garbage. And I played all of it.

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The 2015 Gaming.moe Waifu Awards

Ah, yes, it’s that time again – 2015 has shuffled off into the history books, and the majority of 2016 lies untold before us!  Which means it’s also time for a now-annual Gaming.moe tradition – the Gaming.moe Waifu Awards.

In case you’re wondering – no, we’re not awarding awards to our favorite game waifus, because I’d have the same winner every year. It’s a name we adopted in the general spirit of the site for non-traditional year-end awards. Rather than doing typical categories like “Best Graphics,” “Best Fighting Game,” and the ever-argued-over GOTY, we give awards based on weird, arbitrary categories based on noteworthy happenings of the previous year. (You might want to check last year’s awards to get a better idea, as I explain the concept a little more in-depth there.)

2015 was a very good year for gaming as a whole. We got lots of fantastic new releases, juicy industry drama, and promising new projects. Of course, not all noteworthy happenings were the stuff of major hashtags and gaming news site headlines. Let’s celebrate the best (and worst) Waifus of 2015! Continue reading

Arcade Road Trip: Grinkers Grand Palace (Eagle, Idaho)

I’ve mentioned Game Center CX more than a few times in my writing, and for good reason – it’s a fantastic show that everyone who enjoys older games will appreciate. But while the most popular segment of the program among most fans is the Arino’s Challenge portions, I personally enjoy the “Tama-ge” bits a lot more. In these parts of the show, Arino travels to visit various arcades, large and small, across Japan. It’s a wonderful combination of travelogue and nostalgia, showcasing the (sometimes very odd) places where arcades turn up, the games and atmosphere that make that particular arcade experience interesting, and the people who maintain these game centers. It’s both inspiring and a bit depressing, as the number of mom-and-pop arcades in Japan has been plummeting over the last decade. Oftentimes, it feels like Arino’s travels are an attempt to encourage people to help preserve a dying cultural institution (the segment’s title means “You should visit this game center sometime”).

When I was a teenager, I used to love doing what Arino did during my family’s trips across the country – looking up arcades in the area, visiting them, and seeing what they had to offer. (I was especially devoted to this when Virtua Fighter 3 was really, really hard to find in North America outside certain urban areas – my hunts were often targeted towards finding that particular game.) Nowadays, this is hard to do, because the state of Western arcades is utterly miserable. Most arcades these days – the ones that are still around, anyway – are parts of massive “entertainment centers” that make far more off of redemption games than dedicated video cabinets, and what they do have for games is often old and suffering from disrepair. But there are enthusiasts out there trying to find ways to preserve the more traditional, video-game-focused arcade experience: one of the more popular modern concepts is the “barcade,” a combination of pub/eatery and retrogaming arcade catering to an older clientele.

Generally, most of my experiences with said “barcades”1 have been kinda blah – the alcohol part doesn’t do much for me since I’m one of those irritating teetotalers, and the game selection is generally pretty similar across many of these establishments: Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, Galaga, a bunch of Donkey Kongs, some Space Invaders, probably a Tapper or two to fit the bar theme, Robotron 2064, and a Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat to get some 90s kid cred. These are good and all, but they’re also pretty easy to find. What I’m interested in are titles that you don’t see everyday, particularly Japanese games from the mid-late 80s – stuff that came out after the crash-correction of the Western video game market in the earlier part of the decade and is considerably less common as a result.

I discovered one such arcade on a recent trip. While I spent most of my life in Iowa, my parents retired to the Boise area in Idaho a couple years ago, so I went to visit my parents there over Mother’s Day weekend. My dad suggested stopping by a few arcades while I was there, and one of them was a place called the Grinkers Grand Palace in the Boise suburb of Eagle. It’s nestled into a corner of a strip-shopping center that doesn’t look like the kind of place that would host a bar-arcade. When I stepped inside, however, I knew I had found someplace very special. So today, I’m going to imitate our beloved Kacho Arino and tell you: you should go to Grinkers sometime!

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  1. Note that I’m referring to the “barcade” as a concept – there is an actual chain of these sorts of places called Barcade in the NYC area, which I hear are pretty awesome. Don’t confuse the two!

Awesome(?) 90s gaming hip-hop music

Ahh, the early 90s. It was, indeed, time for Klax, but also time for a sharp rise in popularity of rap and hip-hop music. Anyone who was a kid watching cartoons on North American TV during the late 80s and early 90s was well aware of how companies quite cynically exploited hip hop music and culture to look “cool” and “with it” to the youth. We got all manner of terrible faux-rap theme songs, new and improved character designs with backwards baseball caps, and some of the most hilariously awful commercials ever transmitted through the airwaves.

Game companies were no exception when it came to utilizing hip-hop’s popularity for commercial means, with predictably bad results.

(To be fair, Nintendo would eventually improve Zelda rapping significantly.)

Making a commercial with a rap theme song was one thing, but taking inspiration from hip-hop and combining it with game music was something else entirely. The rapidly improving sound quality of VGM, bolstered by the introduction of CD-ROM redbook audio, gave enterprising game music composers the ability to implement things like samples and voice into their songs, allowing for them to create original rap and hip-hop tunes for games. The songs were still predominantly hilariously bad, of course, but there’s a weird and lovable kitsch to them that makes them incredibly fun to look back on. Most of them, anyway.

So today, we’re going to be looking at several of these awkward game-related attempts at jumping on a musical fad. I’ll be leaving out one really obvious track – the Street Fighter III Third Strike character select theme – since we featured it previously. (I’m also leaving out Parappa because it’s just too obvious.) Everything else on here should hopefully either jog memories or be completely new to you lovely readers. So put on your Reebok Pumps and bootleg streetwise Looney Tunes shirts, and get ready for a game music time warp!

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Obscure gaming anime: Virtua Fighter Costomize Clip

A lot of folks are aware that I am a giant supernerd for Sega-AM2, and their fighting games in particular. Besides owning entirely too much stuff related to Virtua Fighter and Fighting Vipers, I collect various factoids and trivia about the games in an important area of my brain most people would reserve for something like remembering the names of their relatives. One such factoid has been the existence of a Virtua Fighter OVA released in 1996 by Production I.G., a 30-odd-minute outing that’s completely separate from the more well-known TV VF anime by Studio Pierrot. Called Virtua Fighter Costomize Clip, it was released in 1996 in very limited quantities, and it’s so unknown that even Anime News Network’s otherwise comprehensive catalog lacks any information about it.

I’ve been actively seeking a VHS copy out for a while (along with more chapters of Virtua Junky, a mid-90s manga about people playing Virtua Fighter 2), but actually obtaining a copy, even through a proxy, has proven extremely difficult. However, it was recently brought to my attention that the whole thing is now up on Youtube in a VHS rip. I’m not quite sure how I missed it for so long (maybe because I was looking under what its correct English spelling should be, “Customize Clip”?), but what matters now is that it’s found and oh my lord is it ever a nostalgia trip to the height of VF’s mid-90s popularity.

Let’s watch it together, shall we?

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Play it Again for the First Time: Buster’s Hidden Treasure (Konami, MegaDrive, 1993)

An experience I think many have had is revisiting a game that we had memories of playing in our youth. While we all had those games that we had essentially memorized – I know stuff like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Sonic 2 so well that the ten-year-old me in my head gets actively angry when I see people not taking bonus-optimized paths through them – there are others where the memories are a little more vague. We enjoyed them at the time, but we’ve essentially forgotten the vast majority of the experience, to the point where replaying the games is like enjoying something completely new. Sometimes it’s a harsh lesson in reality, as you find out that game from your youth was utter garbage you liked because you were young, dumb and ate up anything with your favorite characters on the box. Other times, you find yourself rediscovering what you enjoyed so much, and perhaps even appreciating these titles in a brand new way through the eyes of experience.

So there’s a series of podcasts and media under the collective banner of Laser Time that I’m fond of. Most of the folks doing shows and articles there are previous or current employees of Future Publishing (whom I’ve done a fair bit of professional work for), who run the show as a way to talk about interesting pop-culture things and their own subjects of interest with friends they came to connect with through work. Laser Time manager Chris Antista recently did some stuff about Tiny Toon Adventures videogames, highlighting the many titles Konami (and others) published with the license. Among them is the Genesis/MegaDrive entry, Buster’s Hidden Treasure.

Buster’s Hidden Treasure was actually among the first games I got for the Genesis, and I remember spending way too much time defending it against my SNES-owning friends who insisted on the superiority of Buster Busts Loose as a game. It wasn’t uncommon in the 16-bit era for different platforms to get entirely different titles in a franchise or license, and Konami in particular made very, very different games for the SNES and the MegaDrive. So since you couldn’t argue over which had the better framerate or textures, you had to fight over what game was actually better, and boy did I fight tooth and nail for this one. But was I actually right, or was I just doing my duty as a pre-adolescent console warrior?

I wanted to find out. I played Buster’s Hidden Treasure again, and I’ve got a fair bit to say about it 20-some years later.

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Game music highlight: Outrun and Turbo Outrun

So the time change happened here in the USA this weekend, and like many folks subjected to Daylight Savings Time, the combination of bio-schedule disruption and winter shift to having less sunlight during the day makes me rather moody. Not to mention how cold it’s suddenly getting! Fortunately, we all have videogames and their blue, blue skies to make up for the seasonal loss of sunlight, and there’s no bluer skies than those of Sega arcade games! And what Sega arcade game is filled with blue skies, sandy beaches, and hot cars? All-time classic Outrun, of course!

The recent announcement of Outrun coming in the second wave of North American 3D remastered Sega classics put a big smile on my face, because now I’ll be able to go for joyrides wherever I want in beautiful stereoscopic 3D. Not only that, but I’ll have yet another outlet to listen to Magical Sound Shower through!

Outrun, along with Space Harrier and After Burner (II), is one of the all-time classic soundtracks from the old Sega S.S.T. Band (now called H.). Hiroshi Kawaguchi was the maestro behind all of these scores, and he’s still kickin’ it as the veteran of Sega’s sound team.

Personally, I put Outrun’s tunes into two tiers: “Magical Sound Shower” and “Other Songs That Are Pretty Good I Guess But Why Would I Choose To Play Them Instead of Magical Sound Shower.” All of the songs from the game have been remixed and redone over time, most notably getting a modern makeover in the recent arcade and console updates for Outrun. These are all pretty fantastic, as well, but only Magical Sound Shower got the Hatsune Miku treatment in the Project Diva titles. It’s probably my favorite version of the tune.

One of the game music trends that I’m really, really sad kinda died around the early 90’s was the existence of named company music teams that would put on live shows and events. You had Zuntata (Taito), the JDK Band (Falcom), S.S.T. Band (Sega), Alph Lyra (Capcom), Gamadelic (Data East), and others that are probably skipping my mind. JDK Band is the only one that still really exists in a form like it used to have – most of the old Zuntata crew went off to do solo stuff, Alph Lyra just kinda petered out, and Gamadelic died along with Data East. While you still have some live game music events, they’re usually either medleys or planned for a composer or series rather than encompassing the works of a whole company with a rock-concert-like flair.

Why am I talking about this? Because I want to show you this awesome clip of a live S.S.T. Band performance of Magical Sound Shower from 1989, that’s why! Get a load of that atmosphere and the enthusiasm. I really, really feel like I missed out with never having had the opportunity to go to one of these.

EDIT: GSK linked me to a video of the late, great Kenji Eno, along with Sega musicians Tomoko Sasaki and Naofumi Hataya, performing Magical Sound Shower at WARP’s booth at Tokyo Game Show 1997. It’s really, really good, to the point where I’d be remiss if I didn’t add it in! (Also awesome: Jun Senoue was the guy who provided the upload!)

So yeah, Magical Sound Shower is great, a true classic piece of game music. But you know what? It’s actually not my favorite piece of Outrun music. Yeah, it’s my favorite piece from the original Outrun, but my personal most-beloved Outrun tune actually comes from 1989’s Turbo Outrun. Rush A Difficulty is a tune with a delightfully memorable Engrish title that plays for the first portion of the game, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Why do I like it more than Magical Sound Shower? Well, I think it conveys actual the feeling of racing and speed more effectively. You hear this and you know damn well it’s videogame driving music. It’s fast, it’s upbeat, and it’s got a catchy but complex melody that gets you pumped just thinking about it. Now that’s what I call game music!  Alas, it’s a lot harder to find alternative/remixed versions of this song, but I’m still pretty darn happy just having the original to listen to. Maybe we can convince Takenobu Mitsuyoshi to slap lyrics on it someday. Ah, a girl can dream…

Moe Gaming Anime: Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls

I must admit, when I first heard the news that the KEI-designed Sega Hard Girls were getting an anime, I was not terribly enthused. Not because I didn’t like the designs – hell, when I met KEI and was offered a sketch, I requested Saturn instead of the obvious Hatsune Miku – but more because the quality track records of game-themed anime and corporate-made material featuring moe anthropomorphics are pretty abysmal. Strangely, when I heard later that the show was being made in Miku Miku Dance – an inexpensive piece of CG animation software used primarily to create visuals for short music pieces – I became a bit more intrigued. After all, the delightfully absurd show gdgd Fairies had put MMD’s low-budget glory to utterly spectacular use. I said something on Twitter (which I can’t find – thanks, terrible Twitter search engine!) to the effect of “I would be perfectly okay with it if the Sega Hard Girls anime was just gdgd Fairies with old game jokes.”

Little did I know that that’s exactly what Hi-sCoool! SeHa Girls seems to want to be.

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