Spot On: The 2006 AOU Show

Japanese publishers showed off their latest, greatest, and soon-to-be-released titles at the annual arcade expo last week in Tokyo.


TOKYO--Arcade game publishers throughout Japan assembled on Friday at the Makuhari Messe convention center in Chiba prefecture to show off their latest and upcoming titles at the Arcade Operator's Union (AOU) show, which took place February 17 and 18. GameSpot brings you an overview of what was shown at this year's AOU.

Virtua Fighter 5 was Sega's eye candy. While the game wasn't much different from its beta test, it included a new female character, Eileen, who was shown only in trailers up until now. Eileen fights using a Chinese martial art called Kouken, which imitates the movement of monkeys.

Sega revealed new details regarding the various services it will provide to make Virtua Fighter 5 a truly next-generation experience. First off, Virtua Fighter 5 will feature a movie-making service. Players will be able to save their favorite matches, transfer the files to Sega's VF.Net network service, and download them onto their own PCs. It will be the first time that an arcade publisher is officially implementing a system that allows for the creation of movies.

Sega has more planned to make things convenient for arcade-goers. The company introduced a machine called the VF Terminal, a device that can be installed by arcade operators and that lets players customize the look of their characters and to set up their ring names and profile comments. Up until now, character customization could only be done by users via either a mobile phone or a PC. But with the introduction of the VF Terminal, anyone can create a character, as long as they're willing to pay a few extra yen to purchase an IC card for data recording. What's more, the VF Terminal can also reissue an IC card if it gets lost or stolen, a first for the Japanese arcade business.

Sega also unveiled a drastically different version of The House of the Dead 4. The new game, titled The House of the Dead 4 Special, plays inside a huge cabinet with two 100-inch screens, one in front and one in back. The machine is for two players who are required to seatbelt themselves into rotating back-to-back chairs inside the booth to fight off zombies that attack from the front and back screens. The cabinet features five-speaker surround sound so that zombies can be heard from all directions. The House of the Dead 4 Special puts emphasis on smaller details as well: The players' guns vibrate when shot to give the feel of a real machine gun, the seat shakes when players get grabbed by zombies, and there's a blast of air when the zombies attack.

While Sega had two anticipated games on exhibit, it was also missing two major titles: Burner Climax was only shown in the form of a short trailer, and Yu Suzuki's Psi-Phi wasn't present in either trailer or playable form.

While most of Sega's anticipated titles were games on the Lindbergh platform, the company also had some major titles to announce for other platforms. Virtua Striker 4: Ver. 2006 was playable, and a sequel to the popular Sangokushi Taisen real-time strategy card game was announced.

Namco Bandai showed off Time Crisis 4, which runs on a new arcade board known as the System Super 256. The game adopts the same system from Time Crisis 3 where the player can freely switch between four weapons, and it takes advantage of the new arcade board to display more enemies than in previous installments. Namco had four cabinets running Time Crisis 4, and one of them was in English, meaning that the company is already preparing the title for overseas release.

Namco had a number of cabinets running Soul Calibur III: Arcade Edition, a port of the PlayStation 2 game released last year. Soul Calibur III: Arcade Edition features 27 characters by default, meaning that the hidden fighters from the PS2 original are selectable from the start. The game features three modes: standard mode, where players can go on a time trial through nine matches; training mode, where players can practice their moves during a limited amount of time (100 seconds during the AOU show); and legend mode, where players can grow a character and turn it into a boss that will appear in that particular arcade cabinet. When players clear through the legend mode, they're given a password and a barcode symbol that can be captured with a mobile phone's camera. By doing so, players can participate in a mobile phone Web site game called Mobile Conquest.

In terms of more family-oriented games, Namco had Taiko no Tatsujin 8, better known in the States as the Taiko Drum Master series. This latest installment features a total of 90 songs, which is the largest number included in the series to date. The songs included in Taiko no Tatsujin 8 range from the latest J-pop to Ozone's hit song "Ma-ia hi." Namco has also collaborated with Nintendo, Square Enix, and Taito, and the game includes a number of their tunes. Gamers will be able to drum to the tune of the Super Mario Bros. theme.

Konami's booth featured a huge lineup of music games, all of them sequels to its hit franchises. Dance Dance Revolution Supernova, Beatmania II DX 13 DistorteD, Pop'n Music 14 FEVER!, Guitar Freaks V2, and DrumMania V2 were among the games playable at its booth. The library of tracks included in each of the games continues to grow larger and larger. DDR Supernova features 300 songs, the new Beatmania features 400, and Pop'n Music 14 FEVER! includes more than 540 (with 40 all-new tunes).

Aside from the music games, another major title on exhibit was Winning Eleven 2006: Arcade Championship. Similarly to previous installments, Winning Eleven 2006: Arcade Championship allows for real-time matches against players in other arcades via an online connection. The machine runs on a cabinet with a slot for a PlayStation 2 Dual Shock controller, giving players the option to bring their own joypad or use the cabinet's built-in controller.

Konami's booth didn't just stick to traditional games. The company had a number of new original titles on display, one of them being a new gun shooter named Copper 9. While Copper 9's gameplay was relatively standard, it featured graphics that looked like something right out of an American comic book, and the game featured comedic situations and reactions, giving it a unique atmosphere.

Many arcade publishers are using of touch-sensitive screens, and Konami seems to have found a new way to make good use of the technology. The company had a new amusement machine named Toukyuu Oukoku Gashaan on exhibit. That title roughly translates into English as "Kingdom of Throwing"--and that's pretty much what the player is supposed to do. Balls get dispensed to the front of the cabinet, and they're used to throw and hit various objects on the screen. For example, one mission calls for players to smash a bunch of bottles that get displayed on the screen, while another calls for players to destroy showering meteors before they fly down to earth. The game can be played with up to four players.

Most of Taito's booth was used for promotion of Half-Life 2: Survivor, an arcade port of Valve Software's hit first-person shooter for PCs. The game plays in a cockpit cabinet that features a 32-inch LCD monitor in 1360x768 resolution and 5.1 channel surround sound speakers. As is common for arcade games, the machine uses an IC card for players to store their data. While the PC version used a keyboard and mouse for controls, the arcade game uses two differently shaped trigger sticks. The left trigger stick is used for movement, and it also has a button for sending short messages to team members. The right stick is used for attacking, and it has three buttons: one for attacking, one for selecting a weapon, and one for using alternate attacks. The cabinet also has two foot pedals: one for ducking and the other for jumping.

Half-Life 2: Survivor is network-enabled, so players in different arcades will be able to play matches with each other. While the game also features a single-player mode, the AOU show version was limited to multiplayer so that expo visitors wouldn't have to wait too long for their turn. The game was extremely popular at the AOU show, with a crowd of people constantly waiting in line to play it.

Taito also had games other than Half-Life 2 at the show, but the games that caught everyone's attention were those that weren't playable. During its stage presentation, Taito announced that it's currently developing a sequel to its classic 1988 car game Chase HQ. The game is titled in Japanese as "Chase HQ: Nancy Yori Kinkyuu Renraku" (Chase H.Q.: Emergency Contact From Nancy). Taito showed off a brief trailer of the game, which revealed that it plays with standard 3D graphics, but it uses cartoon renderings for displaying the characters on the screen. The trailer will be posted on GameSpot shortly.

The second major surprise at Taito's booth was the presence of a Capcom game. As it turns out, Capcom's latest arcade title, War of the Grail, plays on an upgraded version of Taito's Type X arcade board, named the Type X+.

Capcom held a short presentation for War of the Grail at its booth and showed off some new footage. From what's known so far, War of the Grail is an action game where players take on loads of opponents, much like Koei's Dynasty Warriors series.

As the title suggests, the characters are fighting to get possession of a Grail with ultimate power. Players can select to fight as one of the many characters in the game, which are based on myths and history. Among the characters revealed so far are King Arthur of Britannia, who fights with his sword Excalibur; Pallas Athena, a female soldier from Greece; Asterios, a minotaur that fights with two huge axes; and Gargantua, a colossal cyclops.

War of the Grail is said to play over the network and features the use of trading cards, but no specific details on gameplay were revealed at the show.

Banpresto has announced a new Gundam game at the past few AOUs, and this year's event was no exception, The company showed off a new installment in its 3D action series Gundam Seed Destiny: Rengou vs. Z.A.F.T. II. The company also had a quiz game named Quiz Mobile Suit Gundam: Tou. Senshi, which will feature a range of questions based entirely on the Gundam series.

Aside from Gundam titles, Banpresto also had a 3D fighting game based on the MUSCLE pro-wrestling manga series. The game features 14 selectable fighters based on the original episodes from the 1980s, including popular characters such as Terry Man, Robin Mask, Wars Man, Ramen Man, Buffalo Man, and Brocken Jr.

One peculiar thing about this year's AOU show was the absence of 2D fighting games. The show usually has two or three new titles by Arc System Works, Dimps, or SNK Playmore, but none of the developers were present at this year's show.

On the other hand, shooting games seemed to be making a comeback. After being in development for over a year, Taito's Castle of Shikigami III finally appeared in playable form. The general public won't have to wait too long to get their hands on the game, either--it's appearing in arcades this week.

Game studio Warashi had a new shooter named Exelica, which is running on Sega's Naomi platform. Exelica features a unique new system in which enemies can be captured by an anchorlike device and thrown around the screen as a weapon.

Finally, shooting game powerhouse Cave exhibited Pink Sweets, which is the sequel to its hit 2005 title Ibara. This time, players take the role of members of the Rose Garden, which are the enemy characters from the original installment.

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