When you think of “video game shows” a few, sometimes very versatile, TV shows may come to mind. There was Nick Arcade that aired on Nickelodeon at the unforgiving hours on the weekends during the 90s. The main focus was answering trivia questions while moving little avatar “Mikey” across a map to reach his destination, but the contestants do actually play arcade games for thirty seconds while you yell at the screen at how lousy they are at playing Sonic The Hedgehog. Oh, and at the end of the show the team with the highest score would go inside a game themselves!
For a show with the concept of kids playing video games, it was actually really well done. Now, compare that to another show where the focus was on the gamer. G4 thought it would be a good idea to bring in “clans” to their set, have them play competitively in a first person shooter, say, Counter Strike, and then the excitement will shoot out the screen and into your eye sockets! That wasn’t the case here with Arena. While the gameplay might be intense to play, the footage shown didn’t show that at all. The players are as interesting as those glass drinking birds with the top hats. Granted, they’re just regular dudes like you and I, so what else is there to expect? Still, what’s the excuse for the hosts? To be fair, they didn’t have much to work with being on a network like G4 and all, but if WWE commentator Jim Ross can make middle-age wrestlers struggling to do a powerbomb seem exciting, what’s to hold you back from a glitchy generic shooter game?
Since then, we have gotten a steady stream of TV shows that involve video games in some way. Some quite hilarious like Code Monkeys, and sometimes you get something like Cheat! that kind of puts your brain through a meat grinder. Looking through them all, I noticed that none of them really involve the interaction between of the player and the game itself.
As dedicated game fans, we love being able to give a response from a video game. Let’s be honest, as much as we like to enjoy a game, we don’t mind coming across the bad ones once in a while that pushes us to the point where we’re clutching tightly to controller ready to slam it across the room to watch plastic bits scatter to show our frustrations. We can all relate with a story to tell. Someone in Japan had the brilliant idea to film this concept for broadcast on TV.
Enter Game Center CX!
Arino Shinya is the star of Game Center CX. The premise is that he is an employee of a fictional game company and his job is to complete games from back in the day. Sounds simple. That is, until you remember how many hours it took you to beat Metroid, the days where you felt stuck on Mega Man, or that level in Sonic that you wasted all your continues on. Arino only has a handful of hours to complete a game. Being a kachou (section chief), if he does well he gets promoted. If he continuously fails to complete a game he gets demoted. Why have him suffer through mindblowingly difficult games for hours on end? To see him in complete agony, of course!
Arino is actually a popular comedian, so his personality is well suited for television. After hearing about the premise people often draw comparisons to The Angry Video Game Nerd. Arino doesn’t get too angry, though. He’s acts like a dork most of the way through a game, even when he’s clearly exhausted. For instance, Arino puts on cooling pads on his forehead when things get really intense! The viewers may get start to feel his exhaustion as well when they see him having to start from the beginning of a game for the nth time after so many tries, even coming so close to the end. Then, you wonder if he can really do it. Behind that goofy smile, maybe there is something here. Something that has what it takes to beat a game that I haven’t after so many years and so many attempts. Let’s see!
Curiously enough, the North American title for the show is Retro Game Master. Arino does indeed play games as far back as the Super Famicom (and arcade cabinets for segments when he’s off on location), but a “master”? The truth is, Arino is not a skilled player. Not at all. Not in the slightest. Actually, he sucks! Sometimes, when he gets really stuck during a game, an assistant comes in and helps him beat a boss or level. There are times when several assistants sit next to Arino and try to help him complete a game. On top of that, Arino even uses cheats and special controllers to make the progress a little more quick.
Then, I remembered I wasn’t watching just to see someone beat a difficult game. I started watching because I wanted to see someone beat themselves up over it. Yet, after a while, I would feel I’ve had enough. Some of these games were as big as cheaters as Arino was! I started to remember all those jumps where I should have landed on a platform. I remembered those hits where I killed a boss, but since I died, too, I had to start all over. And least not forget those moments where we got a “game over” and after all that progress you have made, unless you saved shortly beforehand, meant you lost whatever you have accomplished, no matter how much time you spent getting there. Now, I wanted to see Arino win. As the narrator says in Arino’s darkest hour:
We all want one thing; the moment of victory. We all believe that Arino triumphs. Unless something happens, Arino’s win is inevitable. His skill have improved enough to beat The Devil King.
We don’t need surprises.
We don’t need any more drama.
WE JUST WANT HIM TO WIN!
After watching Arino I went back to a few of those older games that I couldn’t beat myself. I figured if he can do, then so can I! I never did complete my playthrough of Ghosts ‘n Goblins, but because of Arino I have went a lot farther with myself then I ever thought I could. Arino isn’t a “master” because of his skills or knowledge of a game. It’s his abilities to embrace the game. It is yourself who you have to challenge in a game sometimes. As Racer X said to Speed in probably this generation’s most underrated film:
You don’t get into a T-180 to be a driver. You do it because you’re driven.
Watch Retro Game Master on Kotaku!