In the latenight smokehole that is the Game Spot 21 arcade in Shinjuku, two racing games sit back-to-back: Initial D Zero and Sega World Drivers Championship. Initial D is having a ball, powersliding, laughing. It waves you over: come and join in! Sega World Drivers Championship frowns. It’s concentrating.
SWDC was released exclusively in Japanese arcades in March 2018. Based on the Super GT touring car circuit, it’s macho, it’s serious and it glamourises hard expertise.
So it’s easy to be intimidated. I climbed in nervously and posted my 100 yen. Initial D lets you choose an automatic gearbox for a simpler game so I thought I’d ease in that way. No. SWDC offers either full manual control or a kids’ mode illustrated with a feeble baby, legs dangling short of the pedals. Manual it is.
“The eighth rule of Fight Club: if this is your first time, you *have* to fight.”
The game is networked, but I thought I’d learn the basics with a CPU race to settle my nerves. Nope. In SWDC you can’t just race your pal or the AI. Hit start and you’re matched nationwide with whoever else is hands-on-wheel. Players in the same arcade are prioritised, but it’s still a public race.
It’s a rolling start in a tight pack and the headrest speakers are screaming ten engines around you. You floor it on the signal and second gear wails to its limits. An LED array below the screen shows your revs flashing red and a number 2. Right paddle knocks you to 3 and the LEDs run green, yellow, red again. 4. 5. Slam the brake, drop the gears; your screen is full of the car in front. Slip out and overtake. It’s not 1995. This isn’t Rave Racer, where you tick off 40 computer opponents like a to-do list. That was a real person you just overtook – and they’re coming for you, howling at the back of your neck.
I’m not normally a fan of such straightfaced racers, but I was hooked. Sega World Drivers Championship is thrilling and addictive – old-school Sega in full flow. It’s immediately rewarding, but you can also save your progress to a card and climb levels to race better competitors and unlock advanced options.
In Game Spot 21, SWDC has little plastic boxes stuck to the dashboard. What are those? I asked. They’re for ¥100s. Is that so the next player can show they’re next – put a coin down? The clerk points to a sign on the marquee: “unlimited play”. People can wait all they want – those boxes are just for one player and they hold ¥5,000. If you raced every 5 minutes, you’d be racing for 4 hours. Do people really do that? If you played it, you’d believe it.
SWDC is still settling into the arcades but experienced players – addicts guaranteeing its financial success – are growing in numbers. I’ll be astonished if it doesn’t stick around for years and years. Full-on Sega: a must-play.
Photographer and writer covering Tokyo arcade life – the videogames, the metropolis and the people