I’ve looked at lots of racers in Tokyo Game Centre, but I’ve featured no light gun games so far. This is one of my favourites, which is still hanging around in a few centres in Japan, had an international release, and even got a nice Dreamcast port.
A brief, off-the-cuff history of the most arcadey arcade games
Like racers, lightgun games are perfect arcade showpieces:
- Intuitive specialist controllers that are not standardly available at home
- On-rails or with limited perspective, allowing the flashiest possible graphics
- Accessible and extended multiplayer
- Good to watch
However, the two genres have grown apart in terms of their status in the arcade. Since turning 3D, racing games have shown themselves to capture almost limitless depth and variety of gameplay, from obsessive simulations to finely tuned fantasies. Light gun games, meanwhile, don’t appear to have broken much significant new ground since Time Crisis and Virtua Cop.
Racers in the arcades have been influenced by the ascendancy of racers on home consoles, helped largely by analogue controllers having become the standard. Although the Dreamcast version version of Confidential Mission allowed you to move the crosshair with a thumbstick, that’s a painful comparison to the Crazy Taxi port, for instance, which even without a race wheel was a delight. Driving fits so naturally onto a modern controller that just about any game can throw in a racing segment now, be it formal GTA road races or informal Warthog races in Halo. In contrast, the time when a Zapper or Phaser needed to be available for a console is long gone.
So racers are thriving at home, but still dominate the arcades too. The simple differentiators I bulleted above don’t really hold so much sway now, and the main selling points for racers in the arcade have become in-person competition or upgraded input hardware. That seems to be enough, though: in Tokyo I would often see a row of four seats hogged by a crowd of boys and girls for a whole evening.
Lightgunners, by contrast, have not thrived in homes, and so those simple arcade differentiators have become even more stark. They pretty much exist only in the arcade now, and are still represented in absolutely every game centre, but they don’t have the depth and subtle variety to suck in the hundred-hour devotees, and I’ve certainly never seen a queue for them. Maybe people play them while they’re waiting for the racers…
A good one, though
Confidential Mission really is a good one. It came out in 2000, rounding off the exciting early progression of seminal 3D lightgunners: Virtua Cop (1994), Virtua Cop 2 (1995), Time Crisis (1996), House of the Dead (1996), Time Crisis II (1997), and House of the Dead 2 (1998). All those superstar franchises wound down over the course of a decade or so, but still stand out as some of the most appealing shooter cabinets in arcades today. Which fact is telling, I think, of the dearth of invention in the genre.
(Having said that, Time Crisis 5 just popped up with a more complex cover system, due in Japan next month.)
Confidential Mission manages to combine the environmental variety of Time Crisis II with a gleeful camping up of the apparently accidental silliness of the Virtua Cop series. There are some smart set pieces and funny twists to the presentation, along with fantastically daft writing, beginning with the male protagonist’s inexplicable bowtie and not letting up until the unfathomable final quip exchanged in the speedboat escaping the exploding island:
CLIFFORD (suggestively): Howard, got any plans for the holidays?
GIBSON (sighing): It’s a CONFIDENTIAL MISSION!
I haven’t seen a light gun game that does much better in the ensuing 15 years.
Interestingly, the deluxe cab for Confidential Mission was a sit-down version inside a booth. I’m not aware of any proper light gun games that went for this setup until much later, such as in House of the Dead 4 Special’s double-screen rotating-seat arrangement (2006), or last year’s Lost Land Adventure, which houses a massive “spherical screen”, like a Gundam pod big enough for two.
I’ve seen lots of other shooter booths, going way back into the 90s, but as far as I can remember they’re all joystick-tilting fixed weapons as in The Ocean Hunter, Jurassic Park, Let’s Go Jungle, etc., and not actual light guns. Can’t see why that is — seems like a cheap and easy way to upgrade from “game” to “attraction” and jack credit prices. They must be out there somewhere.
Anyway, enough for today, but since we’ve finally broached the topic of gun games, next week we’ll check out another. Thanks for reading; 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