Tokyo Game Centre #04: Astro City

Tokyo Game Centre series

You Won’t Believe What Kanye Thinks of This Arcade Cabinet!

Having started this series with three glamorous arcade superstars, it’s time to get the flavour of the day-to-day, courtesy of the lowly Astro City cabinet.


Sega’s Astro City cabinet

Astro City is not a game, but a line of standard arcade cabinets in Sega’s City series, of which you’re pretty much guaranteed to find a collection in any game centre. They’re sit-down cabinets, so you’ll also find a collection of stools.

The Astro City first launched in 1993, with revisions in ’94 and ’95 that tweaked its “Aero Dynamic Shape”. (One of the standard button panels actually says that.) Inside is a JAMMA interface for easy game board swapping and wide compatibility. (However, Jeremy Parish’s recent in-depth review of the state of Japanese gaming — which is awesome — captioned a picture of some Sega City cabs with a note that most retro games in Japanese arcades are emulated now. There are certainly plenty of threads about Astro City MAME boxes. Who knows what’s inside a modern Astro City? Anyway, I digress.)

The original 1993 Astro City cabinet pictured here seems to be most commonly configured with a pair of classic knob-headed joysticks (technical term), which are 8-way digital and accompanied by up to six buttons apiece. The sticks are precise, responsive, just a tiny bit clicky, and judging by the apparent age of many of these cabinets, they’re either very hardwearing or very easy to replace. (Page 11 of the service manual. Looks fiddly to me.)

You can also see a single-player configuration on Sengoku Ace (that X-Wing-like shooter) at the front of the top picture, and some kind of special control config in the cabinet at the front of the picture below.

That’s the original   Mr. Driller   in the middle, by the way

That’s the original Mr. Driller in the middle, by the way

That one’s some kind of card game type thing. I tried to find it by searching for a character name I saw onscreen. I found pictures of that character, but she was not dressed in all of them. I stopped searching. It’s some kind of card game type thing.

The display is a 4:3 ratio, standard-def (NTSC obvs), 29-inch CRT. When you’re sitting up close, that’s big. It can also be configured vertically for bullet-hells and the like, as you saw at the top. This is a perfect display for classic gaming, even in a modern arcade. Since there’s no upscaling and the colour depth and black levels show pixelated 2D graphics in their best light, there’s no better, newer alternative. Even relatively modern editions presented in these cabs take on a classic glow. Responsive screen plus fast sticks keep any game nice and tight, too.

The speakers are set above the monitor and pointing over your head. Since we’re usually talking chip-tunes here, audibility is more crucial than fidelity, so as long as they’re set nice and loud they do the job — albeit while broadcasting into the rest of the hall. Contributing to the communal cacophony is part of the pleasure of feeding hundred-yens into these things, I guess.

In so far as this makes sense, it’s not completely accurate, but I can’t argue with the spirit of it.

In so far as this makes sense, it’s not completely accurate, but I can’t argue with the spirit of it.

Arcade Otaku  has a whole pile  of the original graphics from the cabinet

Arcade Otaku has a whole pile of the original graphics from the cabinet

In short, Astro City cabinets are just fun to play on. Add in their compact size (note how the monitor’s nearly edge-to-edge), long life, and presumably low cost and you can see why they — or their City siblings — are a mainstay at just about any game centre. You can also see how Sega continues to hold mindshare with Japanese gamers when they’re filling every arcade from the blockbuster cabinets by the doors to the dependable sit-downs in the back corners and smokey basements.

Finally, a quick word of thanks to Andy from Electric Phantasms for the headline at the top. I expressed doubt that my profile of a 1993 arcade cabinet would have a readership. He’s a pro; he knew what to do.

Next week’s postcard will be a game in a very popular genre, but from a series that’s fairly niche and very Japanese, and has only briefly shown up in the West. See you then.

(See all postcards from the game centre here.)




Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people