<Editor's note: the AOU stands for the All Nippon Amusement Machine Operators' Union, and this is the yearly showcase for the newest in stand-up machine technology.>
The AOU show is about Amusement, not Arcade. It's about the
games as well as those other, lesser things that keep the
operators in cigarettes, and surly instead of outright mean. If
games could pay a hundred percent of the bills you'd better
believe the AOU would be all about them, but as a true
reflection of the industry the AOU show had sadly little to do
What games were on show weren't new. Nothing much was
announced or shown for the first time at this show, the closest
attendees got to a new product was a 60% finished version of
Chaos Field, a new vertical shoot-em-up from Able
Corporation. You've never heard of Able before I'm pretty sure
- their other products on show included a miniature bowling
alley that looks like it would be most at home near the food fair
in a shopping mall, a me-too selection of crane machines filled
with stuffed animals, and a twin-cab version of EA's Need for
Speed, which looked for all the world like a re-badged San
Taito was making a lot of noise about Zoids, a Virtual On clone
of some description, and they also had their arcade port of
Success's ZOOO (And I wonder why Success didn't do this
themselves, since they already have an arcade presence with
Psyvariar 2...) and Eolith's Chaos Breaker. This latter title looks
great, visually a blend of WeaponLord and Guilty Gear. Glorious
2D sprites and smooth action with great looking backgrounds.
I much prefer this kind of burly-man beater to the effeminate
skinny-boy crap most games seem burdened with these days...
There were lots of Taito-branded cranes.
<Editor's note: Chaos Breaker is a retitled Dark Awake; Eolith's first 2D fighter since they broke from SNK.>
Konami had only one new game - another gun game with dual
screens and four ridiculous rifles - and a handful of Bemani
game sequels: Pop n Music 11, Guitar Freaks 22, and
BeatMania 2nd Coming 3rd Mix Final Edition plus Alpha. They
also had some fanciful gambling games, with pretty lights and
neon-pearl dragons, as well as a wrestling-themed collect-em-
up multiplayer card and video game.
Poor old Capcom didn't bring anything to the party, just a tiny
selection of redemption machines and a kind of apologetic
"Just wanted to show we're alive" look on the faces of staff.
Namco was all about Bayside Midnight Maxi Boost, and some
gambling game or other. Also, cranes. The Namco women
were very friendly but didn't want to be photographed. Maybe
they were embarassed that Dragon Chronicle and Taiko no
Tatsujin were still being shown so long after release.
Sega had a lovely black stage with flashing blue lights, but for
the hours I was there nothing happened on it. Two enormous
motion cabs were showing off the aged F-Zero AX, and in the
back Ollie King was present. The NetCity cabs look nice
painted over in black and yellow, with speakers bolted to what
used to be the control panel. No doubt loaded with paid-for
advertising like Top Skater, money which Sega won't use to
reduce the price for struggling operators... In a weird fit of japanese
lunacy they also had a 'no pictures please, it's not quite done'
foot-massage thing which would show a palmreading-style
image of your foot while it relaxed you. I took a picture of it
like the sneaky corporate spy I am. They also had cranes.
Sammy is a real mystery to me. They were the only company
excitedly presenting new gear, with a line of Atomiswave
branded sit-at cabs for the asian market and uprights for
overseas, and a bunch of new games to run on them. Rumble
Fish looked great on their astonishing high-res four-foot-tall
clearer-than-your-TV monitor. The rest of their library
consisted of the older Atomiswave releases, and some new
stuff: Driving Game, Gun Game, etc. While I was yawning my
way through their booth and weaving around the sweathshirt-
wearing boothbabes I noticed they have been putting their
Sega IP to good use: Sonic Pachinko machines. The idea that
gambling and kids' characters should be kept separate doesn't
really have a lot of weight in Japan.
Sammy seems to be very hit or miss, with no middle ground.
Their games are either exceptional and advance the genre -
Guilty Gear, Rumble Fish - or stale imitations of games we've
seen before, like Dolphin Blue and whatever those driving and
shooting games were. So incredibly unremarkable I don't know
if they even had names. They are the company to watch for
sure, in these dark days they're the only company actively
expanding their arcade offerings. I want to laugh at them for
being such useless bottom feeders, but no one else is even
trying, so I feel they deserve my support... Such a quandry.
<Editorís note: the driving and gun games are made specifically for wal-marts in the US, which should tell you something.>
Sammy also didn't want anyone to take pictures of their gear,
which seems odd at a show designed to get exposure. I was
politely stopped after taking about 20 shots in their booth.
Attentive they're not, but neither am I - I didn't notice the
Sanwa and Seimitsu both had lovely arrays of buttons, sticks,
trackballs and adaptors on display, and in a surprising twist
they were available for sale as well. If I'd realized how much
cheaper the show prices were than their online ones I'd have
bought a lot more than thirty buttons, I assure you!
Why this event is open to the public is a mystery to me. The
best theory I can come up with is they had to pay for three days
and while they can justify the third day for packing up and
going home, the second day is just wasted. A show this small
wouldn't take a blind man two days to sort out, so I'm sure
legitimate businesses would be done twice over on day one. So
why not open it to the public? The hall was fairly crowded with
families lining up to play the free crane games and take home a
stuffed animal or six. The poor guys running the lock+key
stand were grimly standing at attention trying desperately not
to look like they weren't planning the pack-up-and-go-home
phase in their heads over and over.
As a public event it's kind of a waste of ten bucks but maybe
the kids get to press their nose against a display of stuffed
animals from a prize distributor. As a video game event it's
pretty depressing to see how small a priority video games
actually are for the operators. It was worth it for me to see Chaos
Breaker and buy some buttons, but I'd suggest anyone thinking
to attend an AOU show in the future consider Disneyland
instead. Or even staying home.
Lawrence is scared of clipboards.
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