All About Japanese Arcades

I LOVE the arcades in Japan!  And arcades are everywhere, so wherever you are in Japan, you're probably within walking distance of an arcade.  For those of you who've been, you know what I mean, and for those of you who haven't been, I'll try to tell you all about why we love 'em so much!  There's a lot to talk about, so I broke this report down into a buncha different sections.
In Japan, arcades are called "game centers" ("geemu sentaa"), and they're a lot more diverse than arcades I've seen in other places around the world.  Of course you've got your typical arcades machines (fighting games, puzzle games, etc.), but then you've also got lots of big gimmick games (racing, music, light gun, etc.).  Many arcades also have a large section or entire floor dedicated to prize games (toys, dolls, keychain holders, etc).  And there are almost always gashapon and card machines as well.  A few years ago, purikira machines (photo sticker machines) were everywhere, but nowadays they're not as common, but you'll still see them around.  Some of the bigger arcades even have gambling games as well (slots, pachinko, etc.).  Anyhow, I'll talk about all that stuff and more in the sections below...
Arcade Games
Normal arcade games typically cost 100 yen (about 95 cents), but you can find arcades where games are only 50 yen (about 45 cents).
For me, the best thing about Japanese arcades are the fighting games.  I'm actually not very good, but there are always a buncha great players who you can watch.  And what's great about Japan, they don't just play the easy & popular characters... they play all the characters!  In the USA, if you watch a Capcom fighter, 90% of the time it's Ken vs Ryu vs Akuma.  In Japan, you'll see Cammy, Rolento, Zangief, Rose, and all the other characters go at it.
Fighting games typically make up a big chunk of the arcade, and there are always multiple copies of all the popular games.  For instance, there were almost always about 4 sets of Guilty Gear XX #Reload, Virtua Fighter 4 Evolution, and King of Fighters 2002.  And they usually keep a good stock of older games as well... KoF '94-'01, SSF2, Capcom vs SNK 2, Darkstalkers, Soul Calibur 2, Tekken 4, Tekken Tag, etc.
arcade-tn.jpg (3216 bytes)What's also cool about Japanese arcades is the setup of the machines.  They're almost always back to back and connected, so if you're playing KoF 2002, you can play on one side while your opponent plays on the other side.   It's a lot more comfortable when you're not standing shoulder to shoulder and banging elbows.  All Japanese arcade machines are also sit-down machines, and that's much more comfortable as well.  Plus, there's usually an ashtray and a spot for you to put a drink, so you can relax and enjoy yourself.
Aside from the fighting games, there are many other sections of different games.  Puzzle games like Puzzle Bobble & Mr. Driller are always very popular (especially with girls).  There are also a lot of shooting games like Metal Slug and Shikigami no Shiro 2.   Some arcades even have a section for adult games.  The adult games are usually some kind of puzzle game where you win pictures or videos of naked girls (anime and real)... nothing too racy.  I gotta admit there's one adult game series called Gals Panic that I do like a lot.  It's a puzzle game, but it's kinda hard to explain.   Basically you cut out pieces of a silhouette and try to uncover a picture of a cute anime girl.  The game is actually a lot of fun... and the girls are a nice bonus.
All in all, there's a whole lot for people to choose from.   No matter your style, mood, or skill, there's always something for everybody to play.  Even if you don't wanna play, you can always buy a soda or some ice cream from a vending machine and have a snack while you sit back and watch.
PS - for the first time I noticed that a lot of the new arcade machines have high-definition screens.  I saw a copy of GGXX#R on HD next to CvsS2 on a normal screen, and the difference was absolutely stunning!
Gimmick Games
"Gimmick Games" is my own term... I don't know if there's anything else.  When I say that, I refer to the big specialty games like Dance Dance Revolution, Time Crisis 3, Initial D, etc.  You know, big game machines made specifically for only one game.  Those kinds of games usually occupy the entire first floor of an arcade (probably because it's hard to move those big things around).
champ-football-tn.jpg (3404 bytes)Racing games have always been popular, and you'll find those in every arcade.  Same with light gun shooting games.  Various music and dance games have become very popular as well.  And recently, HUGE gimmick games have become popular too.  The most popular game of that sort in the last year has been World Club Championship Football.  Click on the picture over there to the right to see what it's like.  There are also a number of similar horse racing games as well.  Sometimes these kinds of games can take up half of an entire floor of the arcade!
The Diary Corner
notebook-tn.jpg (2271 bytes)You might have heard a lot about Japanese arcades from other places, but I but I doubt you've ever heard about this little feature.  They're not really called "Diary Corners"... I don't know if they have a name... but that's basically what they are.  It's one of the things that I think illustrates perfectly how incredibly cool the fan community note-book-wall-tn.jpg (2708 bytes)is in Japan, and how great it is to be a fan in Japan.  In a lot of arcades, you'll find a little table with a few notebooks.  Sometimes they're back by the vending machines (so you can sit down and relax), and sometimes they're just back a remote corner.  The notebooks are there simply for people to write in little comments or draw pictures.  It sounds kinda boring, but there's always a lotta cool stuff in those notebooks.  I've never stolen one as a souvenir, but I've REALLY wanted to!  If you go to Japan, be sure to look for the notebooks... they're very easy to miss.  To the right are 2 pictures - one shows what you'll typically seen in a notebook, and another shows a place that had so many cool pictures sketched into the notebooks over the years that they started hanging some of 'em on the wall.
Arcade Prizes
Arcade prize machines (there are a bunch of different kinds) usually occupy their own floor as well.  The most common game is the crane game where you try to move the crane so that it picks up a prize.  Unfortunately, the crane almost never grips hard enough to lift anything up, so it's a rip-off (about $1.00 per try).  There are other games with pincers, pokers, and hooks that work just about the same way.
Arcade prizes machines are cool because there are always SO many different things you can win, and there are always new things being released.  On top of that, they're not generic prizes... you can win cool & original stuff that you actually care about.  A lot of the toys in my collection of Cammy things were arcade prizes.
prize-fork-tn.jpg (3826 bytes) ufo-nakoruru-tn.jpg (3572 bytes) ufo-dog-tn.jpg (3398 bytes) ufo-idols-tn.jpg (3654 bytes) ufo-chips-tn.jpg (3995 bytes) ufo-catcher-lobster-tn.jpg (3364 bytes)
Above are a few different examples of arcade prize machines and the different things you can win.  These are the most common types, but there are lots of other gimmicks.  Anyhow, the first one I call the "fork game" because you have a little 2-prong fork that you move up and then over, and then it moves forward and tries to pull the prize down.  It's the one game that I can usually win at.  The next 3 are your typical crane games. One has a great new Nakoruru figure, one has The Dog series (very popular), and the other has some silly idol stuff (clocks & talking statues).  Usually there are tons and tons of very interesting prizes, but sometimes you'll see some really silly stuff, like the big bags of potato chips in the 5th picture.  And then to the far right there's the all-time strangest crane game EVER... the one where you can try to catch a live lobster!   I would have never believed it if I hadn't seen it myself, and I knew nobody would believe me if I didn't actually have a picture of it.  ^_^
And below are some of the cool and goofy things that I won on this trip to Japan.
tissue-mask-tn.jpg (3712 bytes) This strange prize is a tissue holder shaped like a pro-wrestling mask.   You pull the tissues out through the nose.  I just had to try to get one of these, and I did it on the first try! prize-ffx-2-tn.jpg (3034 bytes) This is the coolest prize I got.  I tried to get others in the set, but I never could win again.  I won the first time, and then lost about 15 times in a row...  >_< prize-chobits-tn.jpg (3179 bytes) I got this for some friends of mine who are reading Chobits.   Pretty cool, huh?
A few years ago gashapon figures were just getting started, and now it's a huge industry.  Some of these figures now sell for a whole lot in stores.  I was quite shocked.  But there are thousands of 'em, and they're incredibly cool (and getting better all the time), so I can understand why they've become collectors' items.
Anyhow, for those of you who don't know, gashapon are little figures that you get out of vending machines.  Usually they cost 200 yen (about $1.80), and you get one random figure in a plastic ball.  The figures are in little pieces, so you have to put 'em together yourself, but it's nothing too complicated.  It's pretty much that simple!  And here are some pictures to help you understand what I'm talking about...
gashapon-tn.jpg (3284 bytes) These are gashapon machines, and you'll see them pretty much everywhere.   Here you see 10 different machines, but in this room there about 100 total!   The basket to the left is where you can throw away your plastic balls. gashapon-parts-tn.jpg (3055 bytes) Here's what a gashapon looks like before you put it together.  Some gashapon come with extra pieces... this Cammy came with an extra hand so you could have a different pose. gasha-cammy-tn.jpg (2989 bytes) And here's the greatest gashapon of all-time! ^_^ She's about 10 cm (4 inches) tall.
Purikira Machines
Purikira machines are basically specialty photo booths that print out sheets of stickers.  You can pick from all kinds of boarders & backgrounds.  Sometimes, there are even costumes available!  In the mid 1990's, purikira machines were HUGE!  The moment school let out, every schoolgirl ran to the nearest purikira machine to take pictures with her friends!  Nowadays, they're not nearly as common, but there are still a lot of fans (99.999% are schoolgirls), so you'll definitely see some around.  It's usually fun to go to the purikira section because there are stickers EVERYWHERE!  People who get their pictures taken usually leave behind a little souvenir, and it's interesting to go in and check it out.  And if you've never done it before, and you can figure out how to use the machine, go ahead and give it a try.
What's Popular Now  (Spring 2003)
I've already mentioned a lot of the popular games in Japan, but here are some more games and some more info on the games I've already mentioned.
Guilty Gear is ALWAYS popular in Japan.  Gee, I bet all those guy at Capcom who thought the 2D fighting game genre was dead feel pretty stupid.  I know they look stupid, especially since they're not trying to fix their mistake of dropping out of the market.  Grrr... >_<  Anyhow, the newest version of Guilty Gear is GGXX #Reload which is a small upgrade with 2 new characters.   Every arcade in Japan always has people lined up to play GG.  If you haven't played GGXX yet, you're really missing out!
My favorite arcade did have a pretty big group of SNK vs Capcom 2 players, and I'm happy to announce that Cammy was on almost half the teams!   Surprisingly, Sagat was maybe the most popular character.  On the SNK side, Iori, Hibiki, and Ryo were most popular.  But outside of my arcade, the game didn't seem to have much popularity.
Time Crisis 3 and Virtua Cop 3 just came out before I arrived in Japan.  I never played VC3, but I played a ton of Time Crisis 3!   It's more or less the same old Time Crisis but the ability to switch weapons (pistol, machine gun, shotgun, & grenade launcher) gives the game a totally new feel.
The shooting game called Shikigami no Shiro 2 that I mentioned before was also extremely popular.  By the way, Shikigami no Shiro 1 was released in English under the name Mobile Light Force 2.  It's got a TOTALLY generic cover that has nothing to do with the game, and all the storylines have been edited out, but if you like shooting games, it's the best.  Aside from that, the other 2 big shooting games where Metal Slug 4 (I love that series!) and Ikaruga (just released for the Gamecube in the USA).
I never play racing games because I'm too tall to fit into the seats, but the most popular games I saw were Initial D Special Stage, and Battle Gear 3.
I played a lot of puzzle games because they have so many that we don't have in the US.  Of course I played the Gals Panic series that I mentioned before.  I also played a lot of the Azumanga Daioh Puzzle Bobble game.   Anybody who knows puzzle games knows Puzzle Bobble (called Bust-A-Move in English).   This version was based on the popular Azumanga Daioh anime, and it made a tired old game very fun again.  I also played an interesting game called Gunbarich.  It's based on the Gunbird series from Psikyo, and it plays like breakout meets pinball.
Anyhow, I think that's about it.  I've told you about a lot of different things, but I know there are a lot of things that I forgot to tell you about.  So what you gotta do is just go to Japan and see for yourself!   ^_^