Retro Game Master: Game Center CX out in English, on DVD

by John "ANC" Barnes on

Game Center CX is a now-long-running TV series in Japan with a simple premise: a Japanese comedian of average gaming prowess by the name of Shinya Arino is challenged with completing old and difficult video games in a time limit.

That simple premise, with just a modicum of dressing up and some amusing related segments, has formed the basis for about 150 episodes, numerous DVD collections, several books, and two Nintendo DS games, the first of which was localized for North America as Retro Game Challenge and was for the longest time the sole glimpse of the show to reach these shores (and which, incidentally, I finally finished yesterday evening.) Last year a fistful of episodes from the show proper were licensed, rechristened under the Retro Game Master banner, hurriedly translated, and thrown up on Kotaku, and while it was nice to see the show get some recognition most people respectfully registered some grievances with the way the releases were handled. Last week, courtesy of Discotek Media, the show got its second chance in America with the release of Retro Game Master: The Game Center CX Collection on DVD. I don’t yet own it, but I’ve still managed to see some of the show.

A bit more on Game Center CX itself before talking about the DVD set (or what I know of it from the Internet) in particular:

The original premise of the show saw Arino as an employee of the eponymous “Game Center,” being promoted or demoted within the faux company based on his performance in the game challenges, but that device appears to have been dropped quite a while ago. Now, it’s all about one man’s quest to conquer old games, battling through their obtuse puzzles, clunky controls, and unfair enemy respawning with only the game manual to guide him… at least at the outset. Because it’s not that entertaining to watch someone fail over and over and never win even with clever editing, Arino sometimes gets help in the form of hints or handing the controller over to one of the show’s assistant directors (ADs), who become de facto sidekick personalities. Help comes in other, more exotic forms as well, but those surprises are better left in context. Let’s just say it often comes from ADs modifying the gaming environment in some way.

The entertainment comes from a few sources: the small and large victories and defeats Arino achieves or incurs; the inherent and editing-enhanced tension of these victory-or-defeat situations (God bless whoever came up with the “freeze frame/dramatic note/fade-to-black-and-white/zoom” device in TV editing); the surprise moments often found in games and Arino’s reactions; the commentary from Arino, the staff, and the straight-faced dramatic narration; and eventually the running themes and gags or references to previous episodes. The overall feeling becomes that of hanging out with buddies and gaming, a feeling which the developers of the DS game ran with, as the premise has you being sent back in time to play games as a kid alongside Arino as a child. It’s a very warmhearted atmosphere, refreshing against all the cynicism and sarcasm that permeates most gaming-related entertainment in the US. After a few episodes you really get caught up in the low-key thrill of the challenge and start rooting for Arino to succeed. The four disc DVD set contains the dozen episodes previously licensed by Kotaku and retains the English dubbed narration as an option, but also features subtitles re-translated by an avowed fan of the show who had previously translated many of the episodes in a… uh, less-than-official-but-widely-seen-and-respected capacity (and who also did the artwork on the inside of the tray.) There are two additional newly-licensed episodes that come without a dub, bringing the grand total to 14. In their original broadcast format each episode lasts just under an hour without commercial interruption. Due to the vagaries of licensing or marketing, however, all DVD versions (even in Japan) have most of the non-challenge segments removed, a minor shame since they include things like trips to Japanese arcades and dramatic readings of dialogue from old games, but they’re replaced with extra footage of the challenge itself to form a “director’s cut” of the episode… thus, they still run just under an hour. Typically one game is featured per episode, and that’s the case with the 14 cherry-picked for this collection, which includes the following:
*Ninja Gaiden

Super Fantasy Zone

Bonanza Brothers

Solomon’s Key

Clock Tower

Mighty Bomb Jack

The Mystery of Atlantis


Battle Golfer Yui

53 Stations of the Tokaido

The Wing of Madoola

Golden Axe

Shiren the Wanderer

Ninja Gaiden 2*

All told, a decent crop of games both familiar and unknown (and sometimes unreleased) to the average Western gamer, focusing on the NES, Genesis, and SNES (well, Famicom, Mega Drive, and Super Famicom, blah blah blah.) Seeing Arino struggle with a game you’ve played is always fun, but being as surprised by a game as he is is its own category of entertaining. It’s a shame no Nintendo first-party titles are featured in this collection, as those represent some of the most widely-shared experiences among anyone who has played games at some point, but Golden Axe and Ninja Gaiden come close and may be good ones to share if you’re looking to entertain or interest non-enthusiast friends. If you’d rather not jump right into a $50 purchase, there are a ton of unlicensed episodes and segments available online, translated and untranslated, and a good place to start is with the SAGCCX translation team’s Facebook page, or just search “Game Center CX” on YouTube. Once you get hooked, though, you’ll probably want to spring for the DVDs on the official Discotek Media site or Amazon or some other retailer who may carry them. With any luck they’ll do well enough to make further volumes a reality.