Ok, it’s an Initial D post and if you’re not a fan, then don’t worry – you’re probably here because you like either; A) Japan, B) Cars or C) Cool Shit; and you can see the photos – so you already know this is going to be awesome.
Initial D Arcade Stage games have been a ‘thing’ in Japan since around 2001. Rarely seen outside of Japanese waters, you will find the odd, older English/American machine (single seat and screen combo) come up for sale now and then, but the hardware is so old, you’re probably buying a nice cabinet – rather than a decent gaming machine (in fact, most of the cabinets are junk these days too). You will NEVER find anything like this for sale.
Despite being able to play the newer, more technically advanced Initial D Arcade Stage 8 in other Japanese arcades, Joypolis (in Odaiba) offers a gaming experience like no other. Initial D Arcade Stage 4 Limited may sound like it’s four generations (and 7 years) older than the current version found in the local arcades, but this ‘Limited’ version is something more, much more.
The 1:1 scale cars are ridiculous. The interior is straight out of the stock models, so you feel like you’re stepping into Takumi’s Trueno, Keisuke’s FD or even Bunta’s Impreza (not sure why it wasn’t Takeshi’s R32 GTR). None of the gauges work, the interior is just for show; but once you’re rolling, you’ll never look at them anyway. Someone asked me if the handbrake works in the cars, but I didn’t use it (I’m in an Impreza); however, I can confirm that you don’t have a clutch pedal, so for all the ‘Sim Racers’ – this probably isn’t going to get your juices flowing quite so hard. Belted in Bunta’s Impreza (just a lap belt, not harnesses), I cycled through Arcade Stage 4’s standard menus (using the steering wheel and gas pedal, like most arcade racers) until I was happy with the settings (manual shift and a decent opponent on Akina, obviously), and then you’re off…
As the car squats and launches off the line at the start, you realise that this actually holds some genuine force-feedback to the experience. I was expecting a bit of soft, arcadey fun – but this not only had a greater scale of movement than I assumed (after watching people play before me), it also responds as rapidly and as violently as you can drive it. Braking hard into the first tight corner on the course, the car dives and you slide forward in your seat, bracing yourself on the steering wheel. As it turns out, you needn’t brake that hard! Whilst recovering my seating position and wondering what damage this machine will do to my already damaged lower back (the racing driver excuses are out already), the Team Emperor’s Evo flies past me on the inside and now I have to chase.
The Impreza understeers like an Impreza, so Scandinavian-flicking it like a hero is the only way to drift it. This not only looks ace, it feels great (except on my back); however, it does slow you down. When you’ve paid ¥600 ($6 or the best part of £3.50) to play a game that has a time limit – which will run out and end your game if you don’t hit the checkpoints – less drifty, more speedy is required. With the pedal to the metal (or fibreglass as it may be), I sussed out the arcadey handling and pushed on. This game isn’t about realistic handling or system busting graphics, but what it is, is unique – and a must do if you’re into gaming and cars.
Joypolis is located in Odiaba, an island famous for the ugly Fuji TV building and the Statue of Liberty (no, seriously). You can reach it in mulitple ways, but my favourite route is via the Tokyo Waterfront railway from Shinbashi. If you get off at Odaibakaihinkoen Station, you’ll see signs for the Decks Mall and Joypolis as you exit the platform. From Joypolis, you can also walk around to Diver City and see the “life-sized” Gundam statue – with its lame ‘light-up and slightly awkwardly move its head’ show.