As the popularity of games arcades dwindles in the West, it’s a culture that’s becoming exclusive to Japan. So where better to experience this phenomenon than Tokyo?
Setting foot in one of Tokyo’s many arcades is a special experience.First to overwhelm your senses is a wall of noise, then a blast of cool, stale air, and finally bursts of movement and colour in front of a wall of almost motionless players.
I could go on about Tokyo’s futuristic, neo-dystopian aesthetic or its ultra-high-speed, adaptable culture of unprecedented diversity. But frankly, I bet you’d rather just hear about the video games.
1. Super Potato
Super Potato is an epic, retro video game store in the district of Akihabara. Levels 3 and 4 are filled to the brim with a treasure trove of classic video games, many of which are no longer available anywhere else. Once you’ve navigated through these levels – which could take a while – you’ll reach the fifth floor, where there’s a vintage video game arcade.
Take a moment to swoon over their 70s-style, glass-topped arcade cabinets, then sit down with a bottle of pop, start feeding in your coins, and sit back and enjoy the experience. If you do get bored of the games (although, how?), you can browse the vast array of manga comics. If you’re feeling weary, have a seatin an armchair made entirely from Nintendo game cartridges.
Also in Akihabara, the Hirose Entertainment Yard, a.k.a. Hey!, is a multi-levelled wonderland of arcade games with every type of game you could ever wish to play – making it an essential destination for everyone from the casual to the hardcore gamer.
The second floor is a dark place, filled wall to wall with bullet-hell shooters like the notoriously stress-inducing Mushihimesama. Whereas if you’re here to practise your fighting skills, head to the third floor. But beware, while Hey! caters for all, the third-floor regulars are not there to practise – they’re there to show off. So be careful who you challenge, otherwise your ego will shrink faster than a deflated balloon.
Tokyo Joypolis, in Tokyo’s beautifulOdaiba Bayarea, is more than just an arcade. Operated by SEGA, it’s the largest gaming centre in Japan and, since its redesign in 2012, is more of an indoor theme park, with rides that are also fully fledged arcade games.
This futuristic centre is filled with cutting-edge technology, arcade games and sit-in rides located over three floors, with lots of exclusive merchandise to buy. One of the most popular attractions is the Veil of Dark ride which has a shooting element to it, inspiring players to repeat the ride until they achieve their desired score. Another feature is the Half-Pipe ride where gamers are strapped on a platform in a standing position, controlling a board by their feet and trying to perform tricks. The centre also features haunted house attractions and live action stage shows.
4. Game Bar A Button
Back in the gaming mecca of Akihabara, Game Bar A Button is the ideal way to wrap up a hard day’s gaming – by playing retro video games accompanied by a nightcap.
The décor is a mix of old and new. Walls are draped with retro and rare video games and memorabilia, while a giant high-definition TV hangs over the bar, hooked up to several games consoles. Hardcore gamers and people who work in the gaming industry mingle here, drinking draught beer and large bottles of sake. Just the place to tuck in to a feast of delicious Japanese bar food, while drinking and playing video games. A gamer’s delight.
Getting to Tokyo
There are regular flights from the UK, departing London Gatwick and London Heathrow. Both airports have excellent long-stay parking options for the duration of your trip, which you can see here and here.
Flights arrive at either Haneda or Narita International Airports in Tokyo, from where you can catch one of many frequent train or coach services into the city.
Tokyo is a gamer’s paradise with a wide variety of arcades from old-school retro to futuristic wonderlands. If you’re a keen gamer, this is one place you have to visit.