You pogo’ed your way… right into my heart.

Spotted at Sega Joypolis at Odaiba: “Hopping Road”, which could well be called “Pogo: The Video Game”.

I know, reducing the chance of serious injury seems to completely miss the point of pogo-ing, but these kids seem to be having a blast:

I, of course, am far too dignified to play such a silly game… while anyone else is watching.


The wacky table wacky game

Last time I checked, video game arcades in the West were more or less dying, unable to compete against home consoles.  In Japan, however, game companies are constantly finding new experiences for gamers that they just couldn’t get at home.  For example, I don’t think we’ll be seeing this game on the PS3 or anywhere outsides of Japan any time soon.  It’s translated as “Super Flip The Table Over!”.

The controller you can see is a table, which you can hit with your palms as well as lift up.  The basic idea seemed to be that you are placed in a variety of maddening social situations, like your wife nagging you at the dinner table, your boss is drunkenly telling you off at a work party, or your  kids are misbehaving.

As your in-game character’s stress rises, you start hitting the table in anger to earn points.  When things reach a point of high tension, you can grab the table controller and fling it over.  The table in-game flies across the room, everything that was on it goes everywhere and carves a destructive path through decorations, furniture and diners alike, racking up points.

I really wanted to give this a go, but I’m wondering if it’s a sneaky test to see who is most likely to scale a clock tower in the near future.

See it in action:

They pulsed with the might of the almost psychic

In Akihabara (a.k.a. electronic geek heaven) last weekend, the following interesting assembly could be spied in front of Yodobashi Camera’s flagship store: about 30 people standing in a loose mob playing their Nintendo DSes.

I wish I had brought my DS with me to see what they were doing.  I tried to surreptitiously look over the shoulder of multiple players, but the glare off the screen defeated me each time.  There were no signs advertising what they were up to, or even if they were playing the same game.

There’s something intriguing about seeing such a large number of people wordlessly sharing the same experience.  Once we can embed something like a DS in our brains, enabling us to communicate thoughts instantly over wireless protocols, the creation of a psychic class of humans will be complete.  Likewise, a non-psychic class will also be instantly, unwillingly created.  Those who don’t have a DS-like implanted chip will be forever on the outside, knowing that whatever we can’t join in with must be totally, life-changingly amazing.

For now, our crude psychers have to stand around on the street, leaning against trees and trying to look nonchalant, manipulating their thoughts over the air with cheap plastics, electronics and manual dexterity.   It will have to do for now.  Sigh.

I believe that’s mate in… roku

It’s Golden Week in Japan, which has an important significance: 4-day weekend!  It’s a holiday when people will take time off for the whole week and visit their hometown or other popular tourist spots.  Tokyo is a virtual ghost town during this week (at least, it’s just “crowded” instead of “extremely crowded”), so even if you don’t go anywhere, you still get to enjoy bearable crowds on the train and the novelty of going places where you’ve got the luxury of space.

As part of Golden Week, one of my co-workers and his wife invited me to stay at her parents house about an hour from Tokyo.  It was a fantastic and rare opportunity to experience Japanese home life firsthand – home cooking, tatami matting, futons and the works.  Since her parents didn’t speak any English, my Japanese really got a working over.  The Japanese spoken in homes is also different to those in business.  Of course, the vocabulary used is different, but the means of conjugating verbs is different too.  Instead of saying shimasu (to do), you say suru.  Instead of saying ikimasu (to go), you say iku.  In spite of the challenges, I learned lots of things, and one of the first was this Shogi.

Shogi is Japanese chess.  The rules and objectives very similar to chess, in that you’re still trying to checkmate the king.  There’s lots of differences to ratchet up the difficulty, though.  Firstly, when you capture a piece, it can come back into play under your control.  So, capturing pieces not only makes your opponent weaker, but it makes you stronger, too.  You can drop this captured piece almost anywhere on the board, including right into the middle of your opponent’s pieces.  So, not only do you have have to calculate all the moves the pieces currently on the board can make, but also the effect of your opponent dropping a captured piece of their choosing on to the board.  As if chess didn’t hurt the brain enough already…

Overall, the pieces have more restricted movements than Western Chess.  There’s no equivalent Queen piece, and there’s only one rook and one bishop.  Pawns can only capture forward, not in both diagonal directions.  Knights still move in “L” shapes, but only forwards, not sideways.  There’s a four “Generals” which can only move one square like the King, but in restricted directions.

If you can get any of your pieces into one of the back three rows of the opponent’s territory, they are promoted to upgraded versions.  At this point, the possible moves of the piece sometimes changes completely – rough for a beginner!  It was a tough time remembering which piece was which, and what it did: the main way to distinguish them are somewhat elaborate kanji printed in a calligraphy style on them.

The combined effect of all this: I got my ass handed to me.  Which proves that at its essence, yep – it’s still definitely chess.

Behold, the distant present!

One of the cool things about living in Japan is how much earlier all the games come out here. Decades earlier. So get ready to suffer in your jocks: I’ve got Mario Kart!

What’s that? You already have Mario Kart? It’s out everywhere around the world already? Well… okay then, smart guy, is your “Mario Kaato” box in Japanese?

So, I believe that puts me 318 cachet points up for the all-important win. And just to pile on a few more points, rather than a steering wheel, the Mario Kart accessory is interestingly called a “doraibingu handoru” (driving handle) in Japanese.

At any rate, I’d been hanging out for this version of Mario Kart for ages, trying to recapture my misspent youth with the original Super Nintendo version. Unfortunately, my nostalgia gland omitted to remind me how freaking frustrating Mario Kart can be at times. Still, it’s great to justify playing games as Japanese study, even if the only words I really need to know are “last lap”, “you lost”, and a healthy sailor’s vocabulary.