Finishing my shift at 7pm tonight, I wandered aimlessly around Akihabara. Schoolgirls in maid outfits lined the street handing out fliers to maid cafes. One of the girls, who was tall, confident and strikingly fair-haired (perhaps she`s a half), was brave enough to try to solicit my custom: “Ikanai?” (Won`t you come along?)
Twenty metres from the maids, three salarymen stood outside, wrapped in thick black coats, chewing doner kebabs.
My eyes were busy, furiously scanning the jigsaw of neon signs above me. My eyes were not hunting anything specific, although I hoped they would find something lively to warm a cold winter`s night.
In the distance, about 20 metres up a yellow wall, my eyes zoomed in on a sign advertising the Retrokan (The Retro room). Retro? Well, I suppose at 34 now I am ready for retro.
The Retro room advertises itself as an old-style amusement arcade. A tiny elevator took me up to it on the 4th floor. Inside was dark and cold, the room ringed with 30 game stations – all black, bulky cabinet-style machines.
I had been nervous going in, half-expecting a horde of salivating, hyper-ventilating gamers. As it turned out, the stumpy stools in front of all the machines were empty. Tonight, the Retrokan was all mine.
Parking my broadening behind on the cold seat, I began with a couple of games of Burger Time. This game, for the poor few who don`t know, involves running away from monsters while filling a bap with beef-burger, and lettuce, and cheese too – the game has real depth. Within minutes I was back in my old jig with the joystick.
No mucking about here, BURGER TIME IS A BLOODY GOOD GAME! But, in truth, it was not the best game of the 1980s. The best would have to be something like, oh what was it called? That game where you race an amphibious animal across a traffic-filled road and river?
The bleeps and blurps of my game aside, the Retrokan was silent. If rooms have moods, it was in a foul one. Perhaps it was in mourning – for itself. In other circumstances, it could have been a deeply depressing place.
I pressed a white button in the middle of the machine. A menu of different games to play appeared on the screen. About 50 games were listed; I am not really sure of specifics though. My memory of what happened next is blurry, like the recollections of a sweet dream.
I can vaguely remember narrowly avoiding being crushed by a car, only to be squashed by a truck. Minutes later, I think I leapt off the end of a long log – and drowned.
After a 20 year absence, I had found Frogger again, a simple but truly wonderful game. Frogger, first released in 1981, has sold over 20 million copies worldwide. Have a go here.
Playing Frogger, the arcade version anyway, requires nothing pretentious, just a sure hand; nothing fancy or technical like button-pressing is involved. It is pure skill, just you and your joystick – and the frog.
I started with a one hundred yen coin in the slot, 7 more soon followed. Then the owner tapped me on the shoulder. “Sorry mate, we close now.”
Pretty shambolic really, kicked out of the Retrokan on my first visit. I am not worried though, not now I know their opening hours.