Battle Gear 3
Arcade racing cabinets seem pretty universal: very accessible, easy to export around the world. But here’s a series that’s very particular in its appeal, and hasn’t (properly) made it outside Japan.
The Battle Gear series began as Side by Side in 1996, and focuses on touge racing. “Touge” is Japanese for “mountain pass” and, apparently, racing down them is a thing. You get to pick from a bunch of real cars — all Japanese — which you can see listed on the cardboard stand above the cab.
So it’s a Japanese racing style with Japanese cars. On top of that, add real-life track locations which are also all in Japan. (Included is the picturesque hot spring resort of Hakone, which is where I took this picture.) All in all, it’s very Japanese, so it’s understandable that when Battle Gear 2 made one brief, budget-release appearance on PAL PS2s in 2002, it was rebranded as Tokyo Road Race. Understandable, but somewhat inaccurate, since the races aren’t on Tokyo roads.
Even more Japanese
But apart from the content, there’s one other thing about Battle Gear 3 that ties it to Japan. As far as I can tell, this is one of the very earliest games to make use of Taito’s NESYS networking system for arcade cabinets. You can see the branding on the back of the headrests. BG3 was released in 2002, and the only earlier game I can find that used NESYS is some mahjong thing in 2001.
As I mentioned in my maimai ORANGE post, it’s not uncommon now for Japanese gamers to use smart cards to save their details and game stats, to play online, get on leaderboards, share stuff, and so on. For Battle Gear 3 the card was actually a mock car key, and you can see the slot to insert it on the dashboard (with a red semicircle around it). That sounds quite cool — it looks very cool. I don’t have one of those keys, but I wasn’t even able to find any reference at all to online features in-game on this cabinet. Japanese Wikipedia says the NESYS service has ended for BG3, but perhaps it was never even set up in this remote location — more on which below.
So with Japan-wide head-to-head racing on Japanese tracks in Japanese cars, feeding off the burgeoning (in 2002) Japanese arcade custom of registering smart cards, this is a very Japanese affair, and, I thought, worth describing in a postcard.
One last note
I suggested the European Tokyo Road Race name was inaccurate because the races aren’t in Tokyo. To be fair, my post title is also inaccurate, since I’m putting this in the “Tokyo Game Centre” even though this game centre, too, is up in the mountains outside the capital.
What you may not know is that this arcade is clearly not a Tokyo game gentre — not a typical one, anyway — and it’s obvious just from looking at my picture. Let me explain.
First hint is that the lighting is too bright. Even the most brightly lit entrance floors of a typical game centre aren’t so harshly fluorescent. Second, the games aren’t nearly as crammed-in as you’d expect from a Tokyo establishment that exists only for games and makes all its money from games. Third — and this is the real giveaway — the games are way too old, and all drastically uncool.
I mean, the 12-year-old Battle Gear 3 — since surpassed by three sequels — stands out as being pretty snazzy. Yes, that is a Mario Kart next door (from 2005, also since superseded), but on the other side we have a Rail Chase 2 with a back-projection screen so pathetically faint that it’s washed out to near blankness by the piercing white light of the room. And the Suzuka 8 Hours at the back is so old — 22 years — it could be a legitimate “retro” feature for a modern arcade. Except it’s not. It’s just really old. Behind all of those is a print club. I’m not au fait with purikura trends, but I bet that’s a shitty old one, too. What a lousy line-up.
Alright, I should come clean: despite the tone, I love all these games (because I’m drastically uncool, too, I guess). But this is just so far off the cutting edge, and the machines are of such oddly varied vintage, that it’s blatantly not a proper game centre. You will not see a room like this if you go into a dedicated arcade in Tokyo.
However, having pointed that out, I hope this still reveals — at least by contrast — a little of Tokyo arcade life. And maybe there’s some value in a little snapshot of these old games, frozen in time in a corner of a mountain-resort family leisure centre complex.
Next week we’re back in Tokyo, to see a very familiar collector’s piece in an ostentatious “Retro Corner”. Sound a little shallow compared to this real-life old-school? Well, wait till you see what it is — and where it is. See you next week.
(See all postcards from the game centre here.)
Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people