Another arcade legend. Let’s get the basics out of the way: it’s a 1987 side-scrolling shmup in the vein and from the era of R-Type. Distinguishing features are: one, a long screen made with three 4:3 19-inch monitors and some mirrors (Wikipedia explains how it works); two, branching paths, each taking in seven of 28 stages; three, huge, mechanistic, fishy bosses; four, a big long bench across the front that two players can sit on (with room for a spectator in the middle); and five, rad music. (Open this in a tab, click play, and come back.)
What Wikipedia doesn’t say
Maybe everyone knows Darius, but here’s some stuff I haven’t seen mentioned about it. Firstly, that long screen has unusual implications for two-player gameplay. Two players sitting on that long bench will not have the same view of the action. The screen is not symmetrical in terms of the mechanics because you’re going left-to-right the whole time. That means someone’s sitting at the front and someone’s sitting at the back. I’m not aware of the game having been designed to encourage strategy on this basis — with a front player and a back player — but it seems it would be a natural consequence of that long (4:1) display. (Taito’s 2011 April fool’s joke has fun with the idea.) This has to be one of the earliest examples of asymmetric co-op. So it’s not just a big-screen gimmick: it means something.
Secondly, although that music (which I hope you’re listening to) gets a good little write-up on Wikipedia, I don’t believe it mentions the “Bodysonic” (ボディソニック) seat. According to this Japanese game catalogue, there’s a subwoofer in the bench which “gives a terrific sense of actually being there”. Actually being where exactly, I’m not sure — actually fighting a gigantic robot fish in space? — but you get the idea.
And finally, continuing with the music and sound, there are stereo headphone jacks on both sides of the cabinet. Wherever it feels like you actually are when you have headphones cranked up, your backside rumbling to that awesome music, and a friend at the other end of that glowing Frankenstein CRT, I guess it must be a pretty fantastic place.
Back to modernity
And because I like to give you a hint of the background of these cabs, a flavour of the real Japanese arcade, I’ll tie that headphone jack up to the present day. This machine was in a Kawasaki game centre modelled after the now-demolished Hong Kong slum / architectural curio, Kowloon City. This place has been blogged plenty of times if you have a search for it, and I’m saving my take for another postcard, but for now I’ll just note that shortly before my visit, the game centre proudly tweeted that having finally got round to Pop’n Music, they have now installed independent headphone jacks on all their music games. So I guess Darius was way ahead of its time.
Next week, a favourite that I’ve actually played many, many times — but does it even count as a videogame? 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