I've always been fascinated with the video games that have come from Japan and it's no secret that I play a lot of the imports (good and bad) and even in Tokyo, well take some time playing at the video game arcade machines at the local arcade or on the second-story of a grocery store in the middle of nowhere.
When you're in Japan, may it be at Sega Joypolis or a dingy arcade, you can't help be mesmerized by the various types of machines available for people to take part in. The types of games that are attracting various gamers and there is just so much available, to cover the various machines would be a major task.
That was until I read "ARCADE MANIA!" by Brian Ashcraft (with Jean Snow). I'm literally in awe of how much coverage was featured in this book. The first thing that caught my attention was the hip layout but most of all, the people featured in the book and the history behind the various arcade machines.
Brian Ashcraft's work for Kotaku.com and Wired Magazine is well-known, along with Jean Snow who also writes for Wired Magazine's Game|Life blog. Both men delivered in what probably is one of the best written books on video gaming.
Chapter 1 features "CRANE GAMES". I have to admit that when I'm in Tokyo, I spent a bit of money trying to get some of the items at these various crane games. Because the prizes offered are not always stuffed animals but some prizes are just rare items specifically for the crane game (or UFO catcher). And in Japan, when you think of crane games, you think of Yuka Nakajima.
Just reading this chapter and reading the interview with Yuka Nakajima giving her game tips, seeing the various photos of UFO catchers and also the competition between Yuka Najajima and Aya Toyoda was surprising to find its inclusion in this book but immediately, I liked where this book was heading.
Chapter 2 then goes into sticker-picture machines aka Purikura machines. If you are into Japanese pop culture, may it be a trip to your local Japanese mall in America or somewhere in Japan, it's quite fun to get a group of friends and hit the purikura machines. But what was cool about this chapter was the interview with Sakurina, a model for "Koakuma Ageha" magazine who was discovered by a scout because of purikura and now she's featured outside a variety of those machines.
Chapter 3 goes into rhythm games and its history in Japan and an interview with Aaron Chmielowiec who scored a AAA on "Dance Dance Revolution" and his ability to remember patterns (including the algorithms of "Pac Man" when was younger). This chapter was pretty cool because it features quite a bit on various rhythm-based machines including "Taiko no Tatsujin" and "Rhythm Tengoku".
Chapter 4 features shooting games (aka shoot `em ups or shmups). From the history of "Space Invaders" to "Ikaragua" to the "Shmups skills test". There is a lot of cool information on the genre in this chapter and I really enjoyed the interview with Kenta Cho who is known for his doujin software such as "Gunroar" and "Tumiki Fighters".
Chapter 5, my favorite chapter, covers fighting games. From "Street Fighter II" to SNK games and the popular PC game "Melty Blood", I just felt this chapter was well-written. And there was one key thing that definitely caught my attention in this chapter and that was the interview with Daigo Umehara and also a piece on his battle with Justin Wong at EVO 2004 (Evolution is a competitive fighting tournament that primarily featured fighting game competitions at the time).
I was at the event to interview Daigo (and the other Japanese fighting game competitors) at EVO 2004 and was also to see that comeback against Justin Wong which was detailed in the book. It was one of the most impressive competitive battles I have seen in my life and both Daigo "The Beast" and Justin Wong are two competitive individuals. To find that certain match included in this chapter was truly awesome. Wasn't expecting to see it mentioned at all but just shows how thorough Ashcraft and Snow's coverage was in each chapter. Awesome!
Other chapters include "Games of Chance" (for those who love mahjong games), "Dedicated Cabinets" featuring specialized games from gun games to driving games and a cool interview with Sega's Yu Suzuki. There is a chapter on "retro games" and a cool interview with Goichi Suda (Suda 51) of Grasshopper Manufacture fame. And a well-written in-depth chapter on "card-based" games
I can't tell you how impressed I was with this book. Brian Ashcraft and Jean Snow have done a great job with this book which was well-researched, good selections for their interviews and just a wealth of information that this book has... I'm very impressed of how well-written and well-researched this book truly is.
I've read a good share of video gaming books and to have one written about the Japanese arcade game industry but also how it seems to crossover to the video game console systems, I have no doubt that people who are fans of Japanese video games of various genres will surely find this book, not only just a good read but it's absolutely fantastic. Definitely an A+!