Foolish Brilliance

This is massive news: Starwing Paradox might be the real deal.

For more than a decade, if you walked into any substantial Tokyo arcade you would see rows of giant white plastic pods. If you climbed inside then you could sit in a pilot’s seat and operate two joysticks and two footpedals to drive a mecha around a battlefield shown on a spherical projection screen. This was a piece of hardware so ambitious in its sense of fun that it still captivated in 2018 – having first graced the arcades in 2006.

That was Bandai Namco’s Gundam: Bonds of the Battlefield. It took more than a decade for it to fall our of favour, but it did. Sad thing was, a big arcade gap that would have housed 4 pods came instead to house about 16 terminals for games like Dissidia Final Fantasy or Wonderland Wars. These run on generic hardware, primarily distinguished by flamboyant plastic marquees. The play experience can be and is substantially recreated on mobile phones, whence cynical monetisation models have come to squeeze out the honest coin-drop of the old-days arcades.

So long, then, to the audacious thrills of mad hardware, attraction-type experience design and console-deep gameplay. So long, in other words, to the sit-in.

Sit-ins have their most famous roots in Yu Suzuki’s 80s Sega masterpieces: Space Harrier, Out Run, Rad Mobile, After Burner, etc. The closest contemporary descendant of those is the racer. Modern racers are good, but they too run on generic hardware. The cabinet for Sega’s brilliant latest, Sega World Drivers Championship, for example, is still just a reskinned Initial D, with a flat plastic cover where the gearstick would be. It’s great, but it just seems a bit… economically viable. SWDC is the kind of game you could describe to a room of suits and have everyone nod at financials. To Bonds of the Battlefield they’d have said “It’s HOW big?!” That’s the kind of stupid game that has made Tokyo arcades the stuff of legend.

So get ready to drop to your knees, weakened in the hallowed glow of Starwing Paradox. This is the saviour of sit-ins. This is a game as stupid and as brilliant as Gundam: Bonds of the Battlefield. It takes up loads of expensive space, it surely costs a bomb, it has thoroughly dedicated hardware – a fully pneumatic tilting seat with safety belt and panic button; a secondary touchscreen monitor for tactical management and gameplay instructions; footpedals; multiple sticks – it is networked, you practically need a driving license to play it, and it’s like a dream come true.

You pilot a flying mecha, your seat flinging you around to simulate the g-force. Multiple weapon types, satisfying lock-on mechanics, headset communications, thumping seatback speaker, networked team-based battles…


Arcade Tokyo lives!

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