Have you been to Akihabara before? Well Akihabara better know as Japan’s “Electric Town.” When you walk the streets of Akihabara, it’s hard to walk for ten seconds without seeing some type a major Japanese electronic store chain or an electronic mom and pop shop. There are stores that sell, plugs, connectors, and just about any electric device known to man. Akihabara is also famous for anime-related shops, maid cafes, and video games. Often the closest I get to Akihabara is going to the JR (Japan Rail) Akihabara Station to change trains somewhere; Akihabara is popular JR train station hub. But over the weekend I took some time to actually walk around in Akihabara just to clear my thoughts for a bit.
I’m walking alone, with no destination in particular. Just walking by myself, with the tune of “You Belong to the City” playing in my head…no ipod whatsoever. As I continue to walk, in the distance I hear the sound of Nintendo music coming from…somewhere. The tune is easily recognizable as the Legend of Zelda, but it’s not a rendition of the Nintendo music, it’s the actual music. You know, that unmistakable 8-bit, simplistically brilliant music that the old game systems were famous for. I let my ear guide me. As I would go in one direction and the music would become fainter, I would retrace my steps. Eventually, the music starts to get louder and louder until I get to this store that doesn’t really look like a whole lot. There is a cool sign on the top floor of the building, though. On this sign there are video game characters like Donkey Kong and Mario, and underneath the characters I can make out the colorful Katakana logo that says “スーパーポテト,” Super Potato. I was drawn into this unassuming building to see why I was hearing video game music. The first three floors of the building are dingy, quiet and creepy. I keep walking. As soon as I get to the third floor, and I see video game posters everywhere! There is a small door in front of me, and I hear the delightful dissonance of many video game themes playing in unison.
I walk into this small shop and all of sudden I feel strange. My clothes feel super baggy, I touch my head because I feel euphorically woozy. When I touch my head I realize that I my hair has grown back all in an instant. I walk by a store mirror and I realize that my facial hair is also gone! I’m not 31 anymore, I’m 13 years old and I’m in video game heaven. There is something from just about every retro system I could hope for is here: Sega Mega Drive (Genesis), Super Famicom (SNES), The Virtual Boy, Famicom (NES), even Atari! I browse and find titles galore: from the Goonies to the original Metal Gear, from Rockman (aka Megaman) to F-Zero, From Galaga to Splatterhouse. There were all types of consoles you could play and everyone in the store seemed so happy. I have to admit, it was hard to fight the urge to grin.
My mind was instantly flooded with memories of playing Super Mario Brothers with my older sister, jumping on that turtle shell to glitch our way to an incomprehensible number of lives. I remember playing Battletoads with my brother and my cousins and being ready to almost fight each other. Somebody knows exactly what I’m talking about…one person accidentally gives his fallen, toad comrade a gigantic boot to the face, and instead of fighting the Dark Queen and her minions, your sole mission becomes to kick your partner’s toad ass! I remember when Street Fighter II came out on the SNES and one of my buddies brought the instructional manual to school. For that moment there were no bullies, bad kids, or nerds. Everyone just wanted that freakin’ game. Or how about the Konami “up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start” code? Or getting to Mike Tyson for the first time in Punch Out. Remember when he’d wink and then give you the uppercut from hell (much like in his heyday)? Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong, Jr., Strider, Pitfall…yes, YESS, YESSSS!! I think I need a cold shower.
In addition to having this huge selection of retro games, the best part of the shop is the VERY top floor, the retro arcade. Granted it’s not very big, but it’s gaming culture at its finest. I sat down at one of the Japanese style, sit and play machines. I held down the 1st player and weak punch button to toggle the menu and I was shocked at how many great titles they had. These are very same games I was playing with my little brother, Derrick, and my best friend, Danny when I was like 9 years old (right after we moved back to America from Germany). Tell me if you’ve played any of these titles in the old school arcade (I’ll give the English names):
-The Simpsons (Arcade Version)
-Double Dragon the Revenge
(Did you know there were five Samurai Showdown titles created in Japan?)
-Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
-Ghouls and Ghosts (Or was it Ghosts and Goblins?)
-Street Fighter 2
-Street Fighter Alpha
-Marvel vs Capcom
-Mario Brothers (not Super Mario Brothers, I’m talking about that old mo’ fo’)
-Ms. Pac Man
-Golden Axe 2
-Indiana Jones & the Temple of Doom
-Dig Dug 1 & 2
-Final Fight (with Guy)
-and soooooooooo many more
Walking through Super Potato was like being in a time warp. I spent a few minutes in the store, but when I left I realized it wasn’t a few minutes at all, but a couple of hours. If you go, try not to get stuck in there.
I would tell you to say “Tell ‘em Donnie sent you.” but they’ll probably respond in plain English with “Who the f*** is Donnie?”
Until next time