Inside Game Center Mikado: One of the Best Arcades in Japan

Arcades may have died out in much of the world, but in Japan, arcades are still a huge part of gaming culture. One of my favourites is Game Center Mikado in Tokyo – it’s a great place to dive into legendary fighting games and retro classics in a relaxed atmosphere.

Mikado is a couple of stops from Shinjuku in Takadanobaba, a district that’s famous for being the place that Osamu Tezuka chose for his iconic character Astro Boy to be “born.” JR trains play the theme song when they stop at this station, and there are a couple of large murals of Tezuka’s work outside the station.

Game Center Mikado is just around the corner, on an unassuming alley that runs along the train line. This two storey arcade has been one of the central locations for Tokyo’s fighting game scene for more than a decade (it was opened in 2006 but has been in its current location since 2009), playing host to regular tournaments and known for high level play. It’s also – unlike the many Taito Game Stations and Club SEGAs around the country – privately owned.

The top floor is dominated by fighting games – mostly CRTs in the iconic back-to-back configuration.

As you might expect from its status, the top floor is dominated by fighting games – mostly CRTs in the iconic back-to-back versus configuration. If you want to revisit Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike or Vampire Savior: The Lord of Vampire on a CRT this is the place to do it. There’s also an extensive SNK fighting game collection – as you’d expect – through to more modern additions: flat panels hosting Guilty Gear Xrd or running Nesica, allowing you to choose from a range of titles.

3D fighters are also well represented, with Virtua Fighter 3tb and Virtua Fighter 5 Final Showdown both hugely popular, alongside more niche curios like Street Fighter EX 2 Plus.

Glorious CRT.
Glorious CRT.

SEGA, Namco and Capcom Classics!

Moving downstairs, Mikado has an absolute treasure trove of retro titles. Want to play 1985’s Space Harrier in its original moving cabinet? You can. But why stop there? There’s a whole host of classic SEGA titles to play through. Move a cabinet across and you’re back in 1986 and fanging along in the original OutRun. Then you could try the little-remembered SEGA kart racer from 1988, Power Drift, and move on to Daytona USA from the mid 90s before leaping ahead to the turn of the millennium with Crazy Taxi and ending on 2003’s OutRun 2. That, right there, is a full retro meal.

Oh yeah.
Gaming history.

You could do something similar on this level alone with Namco titles. Start out in 1984 with Tower of Druaga, a maze-based role-playing game, then on into shooter territory, with Galaga ’88, which was released in – you guessed it – 1987, then Metal Hawk, an awesome top down helicopter shooter from 1998 which let you fight it out at different altitudes; dropping down to sea level to take out targets or staying up amongst the clouds.

Then you’d check in with Dangerous Seed, a relatively traditional vertically scrolling shooter from 1989, before hopping across to the decidedly non-traditional (for the time) Starblade. This 1991 space-based shooter was an early example of polygonal graphics and its sit-down cabinet has a display that’s projected onto a concave mirror to create a sensation of depth and immersion. And finally on your Namco tour, how about a high speed palate cleanser in the form of 1995’s arcade racing icon Rave Racer?

Starblade is on the right.
You can see the Starblade cabinet is on the right.

From there you could jump across to Capcom and the side-scrolling beat ‘em up era. Start out with 1989’s Final Fight – still awesome – then move on to 1991 with Captain Commando and the genre-pushing The King of Dragons.

Retro fans could easily spend a day in this arcade alone, and many of the older games are 50 yen per play as opposed to 100.

After that? How about shmups? If you head back upstairs you’ll find a number of Gradius titles, as well as a good selection from Cave, one of the most iconic bullet hell studios. If you stay downstairs, there’s a great selection from the 90s, starting with Thunder Dragon 2 and Raiden 2 from 93, then on to Raiden spin-off Viper Phase 1, as well as Shienryu and Strikers 1999.

Retro fans could easily spend a day in this arcade alone, and many of the older games are 50 yen per play as opposed to 100. In many ways Mikado feels less like a business and more like being given access to someone’s private collection. The upper floor feels delightfully ramshackle in places, with amps stacked along one of the walls and a number of CRTs that have seen better days. Every corner has something to discover – oh look, a Rival Schools 2 cabinet with attached Dreamcast controller, oh hey – Vs Super Mario Bros with an NES controller, check it out – pinball machines!

Street Fighter.
A little SFIII 3rd Strike action.

There’s one final aspect of Mikado that’s central to its success and status. This arcade is super community-focused, with a packed schedule of events and tournaments each month.

This arcade is super community-focused, with a packed schedule of events and tournaments each month.

You can see what’s coming up on the official Twitter account, and events are typically streamed to Twitch, with VODs to follow on YouTube. Heading to the arcade during scheduled events will see it at its busiest, and is a good opportunity to see some really high level play in games like Guilty Gear Xrd, The King of Fighters 95, Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike and Virtua Fighter 3tb. Mikado also runs with some pretty fun concepts, like its Galaxy Fight tournaments where the clock for each round is set to one second.

Game Center Mikado is obviously doing something right in the face of a slowly declining arcade scene – there’s even a second location in Ikebukuro now. So what are you waiting for? Get over to Tokyo and check it out!

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