In 10 Words or Less
As entertaining as watching someone playing video games can be
Loves: Old video games
Likes: Weird Japanese TV
Dislikes: Watching others play games
Hates: Bad dubs
I've never thought much of the idea of watching someone else play a video game. Whether standing at a cabinet in an arcade or watching a console game from a basement couch, I'd much rather have the controls in my hands than someone else's. Apparently I'm in the minority though, as YouTube and other streaming sites are flooded with gameplay videos, and the recently-announced PlayStation 4 counts sharing gameplay as a core selling point. Japan seems even more enamored with the concept. as they have a popular TV series built around it, Game Center CX, which has been on the air for 10 years. Fortunately, it's a bit more than just gameplay, but if you can't cope with watching video games be played, you may as well tune out now.
Like many of Japan's wonderfully odd endurance games, Game Center CX stars a comedian, the unassuming Shinya Arino. Stuck under the sway of the whims of his "company," Arino is tasked with defeating various old video games, normally in one marathon gaming session, which take place in a nondescript office with a small monitor and a supply of snacks. The thing is, Arino isn't exactly a gamer, so these games are a real test for him, forcing him to spend many hours, and in some cases days, learning to master them (while providing some entertaining commentary along the way.) The company isn't as cruel as those in some endurance games, so when Arino hits an unbeatable obstacle, he's often given a reprieve, allowed to rest and return to the game refreshed. It would have been great to see him half-asleep, struggling to play, but then episodes would likely never end.
Though it can get a bit slow watching Arino slog his way through a tough game, like the frustrating herding of the little-known SNES-game S.O.S., his comments and reactions are relatable and often pretty funny (though something has definitely been lost in translation (especially the frequent mentions of Japanese pop culture.)) It's also pretty interesting to see how he develops his strategy for beating the games, as he puts genuine thought into the best way to succeed. He also has a good deal of assistance, in the form of helpful peripherals, cheat codes and a crew of experts who are prepared to jump in and help, either with advice or by taking the controls, when Arino is particularly stuck. That Arino is not the greatest at playing these games enhances the experience, as there's a sense of drama as to whether he will succeed, and there are times that he doesn't. Of course, when he's playing a game with difficult continue policies and he's forced to play large sections of the game repeatedly, you'll probably wish he just quit.
This is a best-of collection, gathering what someone considered to be the top 14 episodes of the show. It's hard to say why these were the ones selected, but it's easy to wonder why a selection of games that was friendlier to U.S. audiences wasn't chosen. Sure, getting to see unique games is a treat for hardcore gamers, but having an understanding of the game just makes the episode more entertaining, which is why the two Ninja Gaiden entries are amongst the most interesting to watch (and about six episodes in all likely to be familiar to U.S. gamers.) Perhaps there were copyright issues, but leaving out titles like Mega Man, Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zekda for Battle Golfer Yui and The 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô probably hurts the show with U.S. viewers who would have felt more connected to games they knew better. Here's the rundown of the episodes included:
- Ninja Gaiden (Famicom/NES)
- Super Fantasy Zone (Mega Drive/Genesis)
- Bonanza Brothers (Mega Drive/Genesis)
- Solomon's Key (Famicom/NES)
- Clock Tower (Super Famicom)
- Mighty Bomb Jack (Famicom/NES)
- The Mystery of Atlantis (Famicom)
- S.O.S. (Super Famicom/SNES)
- Battle Golfer Yui (Mega Drive)
- The 53 Stations of the Tôkaidô (Famicom)
- The Wing of Madoola (Famicom)
- Golden Axe (Mega Drive/Genesis)
- Shiren the Wanderer (Super Famicom)
- Ninja Gaiden II (Famicom/NES)
For completists, these episodes are not the original versions that aired in Japan, as they only feature the game challenges, where as the originals aired with a variety of segments that broke up the gameplay (though in some cases you might say they just padded out the episodes (something Arino actually makes mention of at one point.)) A change of pace would certainly be welcome in some of these episodes, like the infinite challenge of the 90-minute Shiren the Wanderer episode, but the segments were often pretty interesting as well, so their absence is not welcome. Also different with these episodes is the option to watch them with an English narrator (on 12 of the episodes), which, depending on your tastes is a boon or an unnecessary feature. Similar in tone to the English dubs on Unbeatable Banzuke, the narrator is a bit more energetic than really necessary and makes the show feel cheesier than it should. Of course, you can just choose to stick with the Japanese.
The 14 epsodes in this collection arrive on four DVDs in a double-width keepcase with four hubs, so they are in a slightly overlapped configuration. Behind them though is the dual-sided cover which features an awesome illustration of the Game Center CX crew (and it looks pretty nice reversed. The discs feature slightly-animated anamorphic widescreen menus (based on '80s video games) with options to play all the episodes, select a show or select your languages. You can choose from English and Japanese Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks.
These episodes are taken from across several years of the show's run, so there's some very slight improvement in the quality, but since it's all pretty recent, nothing looks too bad. The majority are presented in full-frame format (with the final two episodes in anamorphic widescreen (though the gameplay is column-boxed.) The level of fine detail is rather high and the color is impressively rich (though the gameplay can look slightly dull in earlier episodes.) Black levels are nice and deep and there are no real issues with digital distractions, making for an overall impressive presentation.
The audio is clean and free of distortion, allowing the crew and the game sound to both be heard clearly. The English narration is strong (as is the Japanese, though without fluency in that language, I can't speak to its clarity.) There's nothing dynamic about the mix, which is as straightforward as it gets.
Nothing extra to check out here.
The Bottom Line
This is certainly a niche title, certain to appeal to hardcore gamers or fans of strange Japanese TV, but outside of those groups the appeal is severely limited. If you do like it though, there's a ton of material to enjoy, nearly 800 minutes in all, and it looks and sounds good, but there's no extras to enjoy. If you're unsure, check around YouTube to see a few of the episodes available online before diving in, as this is unlikely to be everyone's cup of tea.
Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.Check out 1106 - A Moment in Fictional Time or follow him on Twitter
*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.