Tokyo Game Centre #12: Mario Kart Arcade

Tokyo Game Centre #12: Mario Kart Arcade

Tokyo Game Centre series

Mario Kart Arcade GP 2

[NB: Last time I promised a game of “literally idiotic simplicity”. Due to a clerical error, I forgot about that and did Mario Kart instead. It was going to be a game about hitting an octopus with a fan. I’ll do it another time.]

This machine has been released all over the world and is into a third version now, so I have to assume it’s been a great success. I’ve seen it in just about every game centre I’ve been in. But I’ve never seen anyone playing it.

Mario Kart Arcade GP was developed by Namco in 2005. GP 2 followed in 2007, and GP DX in 2013. Namco development gave Nintendo the priceless opportunity to welcome the huge family of adorable and iconic Namco characters to the Mario Kart series. There’s Pac-Man, there’s Ms. Pac-Man, there’s err… one of the ghosts out of Pac-Man…. Finally something to flesh out Nintendo’s meagre collection of plumbers, princesses, and gorillas that no one’s ever heard of! Oh, wait: I forgot the tamagotchi guy with the sticky up blue ears. Namco got that one when they acquired Bandai, I guess. Move over Toad.


A sit-in cab

I think going with a typical sit-in was a boring decision. Imagine something in the vein of classic “party”-type racers like Super Off-Road or Super Sprint, but modernised. It would be fun just to crowd everyone together in a tight space. You could use a variation on the split screen you have at home.

Playing Mario Kart with a steering wheel doesn’t work for me either. The series started with a fantastic implementation on the SNES D-pad, and even though the controls have got sloppier since then, a wheel is a step too far. The only way I could imagine a wheel really working is with a very low steering ratio and a strictly limited rotation. Unfortunately, the controls feel flimsy. 



However, MK as series has always thrived on multiplayer fun more than on tight controls. The wishy-washy laws of the MK universe let weaker opponents stay in the race, and give ample opportunity to make up for errors with a little run of luck on the last lap. As such, the two-player setup seems a little impoverished, and a two-cabinet/four-player version makes much more sense.

There’s a delightfully Nintendo-like approach to identifying other drivers in the race — rather than just a “PLAYER 2” floating over the car, the game starts by taking a snapshot of each driver, optionally dressed up with character accoutrements such as Mario’s hat, nose, and moustache. It’s a gimmick, but it does help make it obvious, amid the potentially confusing bells and whistles of a Mario Kart race, that you’re playing with your friends.


Raison d’être

I think my experience with MKAGP2 could explain why I see it everywhere but never see anyone playing it. It has a great initial appeal: a famous franchise; accessibility and familiarity exceeding other arcade racers; a sense of fun more than seriousness. But when you’ve played it once, you’ve got the measure of it — and it doesn’t even give much playtime for your coins.

I’m left with the sense that it’s a cash-in. It smells like a business deal, like synergising, leveraging, and maximally monetising. In that regard, it looks like a good move for Namco, but do Nintendo really want to base their racer on the decades-old IP of a fading giant?


Next week, Namco sticking to what it does best.

(See all postcards from the game centre here.)




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