In the Japanese Arcade Jungle series, Around Akiba will delve into the world of Japanese arcade games with Tim Taylor as our guide. 

Not just a plethora of bleeps and bloops

The idea of an “arcade” may evoke quaint images of retro 80s games and a plethora of bleeps and bloops in the minds of most modern gaming denizens. But, the same cannot be said in Japan. Far from a relic of the past, the arcade (known in Japan as a ゲームセンタ, a “game center,”) continues to thrive and produce elaborate and enjoyable coin-operated experiences. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wide variety of rhythm games available to Japanese audiences. Many of us may be familiar with DDR, the most popular export from this category. Yet, the breadth and depth of Japanese rhythm games far exceed that famously addictive dancing game.

Break a Sweat with MaiMai

MaiMai is among the most popular of the rare beasts that are Japan-exclusive rhythm games. Like most rhythm games, the premise is simple. The game cabinet presents the player a circular screen and 8 buttons around the circumference. Icons appear in the center of the screen and move outward to the buttons. Players then hit the appropriate button in time with the music. One notable wrinkle: the screen is a touchscreen. Occasionally patterns force players to trace their fingers on the screen with one hand while the other continues to frantically hit buttons.

Photo: Tim Taylor

Though simple in concept, MaiMai becomes difficult fast. Watching someone who is actually good at MaiMai (as most people who are brave enough to step up to the plate in a Japanese arcade are) could cause bystanders to break out in a sweat. These experts have not so much hands as afterimages. Serious players wouldn’t be caught dead touching this game with their bare hands Almost everyone wears gloves to minimize the friction between their hands and the screen. Some arcades even sell thin white gloves at 300 yen a pop at the front counter, specifically to cater to the MaiMai crowd.

Still, don’t let the gloves and afterimages put you off should you encounter a MaiMai cabinet in the wild. It’s addictively fun no matter what your skill level. Being internet-enabled, as most arcades in Japan are, MaiMai’s music selection is vast, constantly changing, and guaranteed to have songs even a casual Otaku will recognize. Additionally, the game features many unlockables, so an investment in a Banapass or Nime Pass (an NFC tap card used across many arcades to store save data) is advisable if you plan to play obsessively.

Stay tuned next week as we continue our deep dive into the rare beasts that are Japanese arcade games!

Tim Taylor

Tim Taylor

Tim Taylor is an otaku and cosplayer with aspirations toward working in Japan as a game designer. He owns every commercially popular game system from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo Switch, and can often be found dancing to ParaPara music in his spare time.

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