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100 yen: the Japanese arcade experience - documentary review

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100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience

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100 Yen: The Japanese Arcade Experience is a documentary that highlights the evolution of the Japanese arcade industry. An industry that draws parallels to the Western domestic market in that addressing the pain points of generating revenue and retaining customers are top priority.

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Due to the immense popularity of gaming at home, Western arcades have diminished to the point of near non-existence, save for the Family Entertainment Centers such as Dave & Buster's and Chuck E. Cheese's. Those that survive do so mainly with machines that reward gameplay with tickets and "tried and true" arcade approaches such as driving and shooting games that exploit popular franchises. So how is it in Japan, that despite the higher quality of home console hardware and PCs, does such an antiquated ritual of going outside to play video games still remains feasible in this day and age?

Arcade culture and its social accessibility is one of the main differences between Japanese and Western markets. 100 Yen begins by introducing some of the more "hardcore" aspects of Japanese arcade gaming, history, and their communities: Shooting ames or STGs (a.k.a. shoot-em-ups, or "shmups" for short), Fighting games and Rhythm and Music games. From the underpinnings of Space Invaders to modern day "danmaku" shmups (a.k.a. curtain fire; literally, a wall of bullets), from Street fighter to DDR and jubeat, these genres, these disciplines, tie together quite nicely in that each requires dedication, determination, and a lot of practice, in order to be best. As a spectator, watching these high-level gamers is often a sight to behold.

As time goes on, however, some of these niche genres struggle to retain footholds the ever-changing arcade climate. 100 Yen presents to us accounts from industry greats such as Kiyoshi Ishikawa from Taito, former Sega sound desginer Hiro Kawaguchi, fighting game communnity giants Daigo Umehara, Justin Wong, and Seth Killian, Arron Chmielowiec of DDR fame and many others their early gaming experiences and takes on where the industry is headed.

An interesting divisive point is made on how gaming centers in Japan are structured, as opposed to Western markets, to capitalize on quick-flow foot traffic and make the most efficient and appealing use of space. Casual, colorful and flashy games, prize crane games (sometimes generally referred to as U.F.O. catchers, named after the U.F.O.-styled claw mechanism that Sega popularized), and photo booths take up much of the ground floor space. Music and rhythm, driving and card games, as well as other popular domestic fare fill the second floor. While the upper floors have selections that cater to the die-hard gaming crowd. The fighting games, shmups and classics are found at the highest levels of the arcade. A hierarchy, subtly dictating the assumed level of gamers that peruse these arcade towers as the more experienced gamers, the more hardcore gamers, would ascend higher higher up these floors to challenge each other, challenge the machine, or the challenge the world.

While age of traditional arcades of yesteryear are long gone here in NYC, Playland, Station Break of Penn Station, The Broadway Arcade, and to more recent venues that have passed such as LazerPark, XS, Broadway City and Barcode/Galactic Circus, the arcade business model in recent years has been transforming itself for a new generation. Christopher Laporte's Insert Coins Videolounge Gamebar in Las Vegas, as observed in 100 Yen, is one of many such venues in the country that is bringing arcade gaming back. NYC, of course, has seen it's share of arcade bars with Barcade and Two Bit's, and along the same lines is the pinball scene seeing a resurgence with Reciprocal Skateboards, Jack Bar and Modern Pinball NYC.

Overall, 100 Yen: the Japanese Arcade Experience is a quick glimpse at how the Japanese arcade industry still thrives amidst the ever-changing entertainment climate. Whether it's shooting at the core of a gamer's drive to dodge bullets like a god, playing for the crowd with a mesmerizing DDR routine, maintaining a double digit win streak over all comers, or simply bookending a perfect date by winning cute prizes and taking a photo memento, 100 Yen uniquely captures the feeling of the embedded gaming culture that we can only expect from a techno-massive environment from Japan. Yet, here we sit in awe and wonder as we watch, why can't we have some of these awesome games, too? Also, depending on your personal gaming level, you may or may not wish more examples would have been shown of the individual games themselves, or more recounts from the arcade scene of the good old days.

100 Yen: the Japanese Arcade Experience is available on DVD or for digital download on iTunes, Amazon Instant Video, XBOX Marketplace Video, and Sony Entertainment Network

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