In 1978, everything changed as Space Invaders enthralled the country – and the rest of the western world – spawning a slew of arcades and players dedicated solely to the new game.
The game's release came just as Star Wars was hitting Japanese cinemas – and the timing could not have been better. Thanks to Space Invaders, for more than a decade Japanese arcades were dominated by shooting games, something that would not change until the release of Street Fighter II in 1991. Like Space Invaders, Street Fighter II, with its colourful characters and engaging gameplay, set the theme for the decade: if the 80s was about shooting, the 90s were for fighting.
Complex dance performances were performed on DDR machines, and arcades started to feel more like dance clubs. In Shibuya, Tokyo's teens line up for blocks just to squeeze into clusters of photobooths with their friends – the images can be digitally customised after they're taken, like a touch-screen Photoshop. Japanese arcades are constantly evolving as the games change.
Guardian's Tokyo City Guide proudly presents you here: the most influential games in the history of Japanese arcades – click on the links below to play them.
The game that started it all. Space Invaders wasn't the first ever arcade game, but it was the first to capture Japan's imagination, as dedicated arcades, called "Invader House", sprang up all over the country. It was so successful that it triggered a national shortage of ¥100 coins as kids queued up to slot money into the new machines. Space Invaders inspired games like Galaxian and Galaga. Play Space Invaders here.
The game that made Nintendo a gaming giant, featuring, among other innovations, the first appearance of Mario, then dubbed Jumpman. While other game companies were feverishly trying to emulate Space Invaders or clone Pac-Man, Nintendo released something totally different – even if Universal Studios unsuccessfully tried to sue for ripping off King Kong! This is the first video game to feature a story, movie-style cut scenes, and the subsequently much-imitated "rescue the girl" motif. Play Donkey Kong here.
Sure, this classic run-and-gun game (you run, you shoot) aimed to capitalise on Hollywood action flicks like Commando, but it did it so well. Notoriously difficult, the game allowed two players to play co-op together, ushering in a wave of multi-player shooting games that currently dominate computer consoles. The Nintendo home console version had the infamous Konami Code, a secret code that could be entered to give players much-needed extra lives. Play Contra here.
Street Fighter II (1991)