Tokyo Game Centre #10: PunchMania

Tokyo Game Centre series

PunchMania: Fist of the North Star

The arcade cabinet stands about 6'2" tall, 34" wide (when facing the machine), and about 4' deep. The monitor is recessed into the cabinet a fair distance, and in the front of the cabinet are six orange, sturdy punching pads with red LED lights embedded near their hinges. The pads are at rest along the inside walls of the recession of the cabinet, lining the monitor. There are also two black plastic “special gloves” that rest in pockets on the front of the machine, which are normally tied with rope or chain to the arcade cabinet to prevent theft. The player is to wear these gloves while playing (although it is also common practice to play without the gloves, though this can scrape the knuckles).
Thanks, Wikipedia.

The gameplay is not all that complex. Pads pop up: punch the pads. While you’re punching — and for lengthy cutscenes in between — the screen shows characters from the anime Fist of the North Star. They seemed to be constantly bloody talking while I was trying to concentrate on punching. Seems like Konami really milked the license.

What first intrigued me about this cabinet was the “Mania” in the title. I thought it must be another game in Konami’s musical Mania series: Beat, Drum, Keyboard, Dance, and, err… Punch. An interesting direction to take things.

It’s not a rhythm game, though. Or is it? Is it just a move-your-hands-hit-the-buttons rhythm game like maimaiPara Para Paradise, or Jubeat — only without the music metaphor? Well, I found out the hard way that a rhythm game without the music is just Whac-A-Mole. Maybe rhythm games are a descendant of Whac-A-Mole — they’re Whac-A-Mole with a script, so you know what’s coming. That would be a cool way to play Whac-A-Mole.

If my earlier game centre subject Speed Basketball could only dubiously be called a videogame, Whac-A-Mole is surely even more dubiously included, and PunchMania, despite it’s disguise in a standing cabinet with a monitor, must be treading the same fine line between videogame and something else. It’s a fascinating line, though. Making sense of things is often about finding the edges, and you don’t know you’ve found them until you go over.


Nothing to do with videogames

I gather Fist of the North Star is about a guy who, in a post-apocalyptic future, develops a fighting technique which enables him to strike his opponents in just the right place to make their guts explode everywhere and their heads fall off and so on.

At university, I had a friend who was an advanced practitioner of several martial arts. He studied medicine into his fourth year before dropping out and re-enrolling in philosophy, to supplement his study of hand-to-hand combat. Soon after, he began to be taught drunken style kung fu, against his own knowledge, by a small Chinese man while high on LSD at an industrial techno nightclub in Birmingham called the House of God. After several meetings, the man asked him if he would like to learn kung fu. “Yes,” said my friend. “Good. I’ve been teaching you for six months.”

On my friend’s fridge, attached with magnets, were three photocopied charts, each showing an outline of the human anatomy. One was from a martial arts gym around the corner: it was a chart of five or six pressure points to force opponents into submission through extreme pain. One was from his old medical textbook, which he had annotated with dozens of similar pressure points which I presume he had identified himself. The third chart was from his kung fu instructor, now teaching him outside of the nightclub: it was a chart of hundreds more pressure points. This last chart was for acupuncturists — showing which exact regions of which organs, bones, and nerves could be stimulated from the surface of the skin, and which other body parts could be so affected.

I lost touch with my friend, but I heard that — in the interests of disciplined practice and thorough research — he worked for a while as hired muscle for a drug dealer, so that he had a ready supply of test subjects. The reason I’m relating this story is that if anyone was going to make someone’s guts explode everywhere by punching them in the right place, it was this guy. I heard no such reports, so I can only conclude that this North Star business is a bit far-fetched.

(My friend is now a chiropractor and masseur. Visit him at your own risk.)

(See all postcards from the game centre here.)




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