Inside Game Center Mikado: one of the best arcades in Japan

Arcades may be gone in much of the world, but in Japan arcades are still a big part of gaming culture. One of my favorites is Game Center Mikado in Tokyo – it’s a great place to immerse yourself in legendary fighting games and retro classics in a relaxed atmosphere. Mikado is a few stops from Shinjuku in Takadanobaba, an area famous for being where 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 some large murals of Tezuka’s work outside the station.Game Center Mikado is just around the corner, down an unassuming alley that runs alongside the train line. This two-story arcade has been a focal point of Tokyo’s fighting game scene for over a decade (it opened in 2006 but has been in its current location since 2009), hosting regular tournaments and known for its high level game. It’s also – unlike many Taito and Club SEGA gaming stations around the country – privately owned.
The top floor is dominated by fighting games – mostly CRTs in the iconic back-to-back configuration.

As you’d 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 collection of SNK fighting games – as you’d expect – down to more modern additions: flatscreens hosting Guilty Gear Xrd or running Nesica, letting you choose from a range of titles.

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

Glorious CRT.

SEGA, Namco and Capcom classics!

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

History of the game.

You could do something similar on this level alone with Namco titles. Started in 1984 with Tower of Druaga, a maze-based role-playing game, then in shooting territory, with Galaga ’88, which came out in – you guessed it – 1987, then Metal Hawk, a super shooter 1998’s top-down helicopter ride that lets you battle at different altitudes; descend to sea level to eliminate targets or stay among the clouds.

Then you check in with Dangerous Seed, a relatively traditional vertical-scrolling shooter from 1989, before moving on to the decidedly non-traditional (for its time) Starblade. This 1991 space shooter was an early example of polygon graphics and its sitting cabinet has a screen that’s projected onto a concave mirror to create a feeling of depth and immersion. And finally, on your Namco tour, how about a high-speed palate cleanser in the form of 1995 arcade racing icon Rave Racer?Starblade is on the right.

You can see the Starblade cabinet is on the right.

From there, you can move on to Capcom and the era of side-scrolling beat ’em ups. Start with 1989’s Final Fight – still great – then jump to 1991 with Captain Commando and the King of Dragons pushing the genre.

Retro fans could easily spend a day at this arcade alone, and many older games cost 50 yen per game instead of 100.

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

Retro fans could easily spend a day at this arcade alone, and many older games cost 50 yen per game instead of 100. In many ways, Mikado feels less like a business and more about collecting access deprived of someone. The upper floor looks delightfully run down in places, with amplifiers 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, look at it – pinball machines!Street fighter.

A bit of SFIII 3rd Strike action.

There is one final aspect of Mikado that is central to his success and status. This arcade is super community-focused, with a busy schedule of events and tournaments every month.

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

You can see what’s going on the official Twitter account, and events are usually streamed on Twitch, with VODs to follow on YouTube. Heading to the arcade during scheduled events will see it busiest, and it’s a good chance 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 works 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 about a slowly declining arcade scene – there’s even a second location in Ikebukuro now. So what are you waiting for? Head over to Tokyo and check it out!

While you’re here, check out our profile on Taito Hey in Akihabara:

Cam Shea is Editor-in-Chief of IGN’s Australian Content Team. If you’re thinking of taking a trip to Japan, check out these 20 essential travel tips. He is sure Twitter.