Tokyo Game Centre series
Golgo 13 (ゴルゴ13 / Gorugo 13) is a sniper game released by Namco in 1999, based on the Golgo 13 manga series about a hired assassin. Wikipedia tells me that’s the longest running manga series that’s still going (having started in 1968) and the fourth biggest selling ever. Superficially, Golgo 13 seems very similar to the Silent Scope series, which Konami launched in the same year. However, Namco’s Golgo 13 never made it outside Japan, where it later spawned two sequels, and beyond the appearance of the cabinets, the games are wildly different.
The cabinet features a positional gun mounted at shoulder height in front of a fairly small CRT. The rifle is weighted and, according to the Namco marketing copy, close to life-size, with the aim of “realising the weighty response and exquisite balance of the gun’s heft without becoming a burden for the player”. They’re not messing around — it’s heavy.
Whereas Konami’s Silent Scope featured a small display inside the scope, showing a targeted close-up of the main screen’s action, Golgo 13 actually has a real rifle scope (made by Tasco) mounted onto the cabinet’s gun. Of course, if all you had was a strong optical magnification then you would just see a load of pixels, so the scope offers only modest magnification and is accompanied by an on-screen zoom, activated by a proximity sensor on the top of the gun. So when you put your eye behind the scope, the screen zooms in, then the lens gives you a slightly finer aim.
I was always excited to play Silent Scope as a kid, but in hindsight, fun as it was, it was really just another gun shooter: you moved on rails, you picked off multiple targets in different parts of the screen (you looked at women in bikinis through your long-range to get extra lives…) — it was Virtua Cop with a bigger gun. Golgo 13, on the other hand, while it tests patience, certainly stands out as something a bit different.
Each level is a job for you as the assassin. There’s a specific target in a specific location, and you’re there to get the kill cleanly and quietly before moving on. Levels start with lengthy cutscenes of comic strip panels (which my Japanese struggled to keep up with) introducing your target and setting the scene for the kill shot.
Then, somewhat suddenly, you’re dropped into the action. You’re in the sniper’s perspective, with only the briefest opportunity to make the shot. By the time you realise the cutscene’s over, you may have missed your window.
It’s a strange rhythm of doing nothing at all for most of the time after the ¥100 drops, then getting ten seconds to try and manipulate the unfamiliar hardware. Somehow, it’s appealing, though, leading you to imagine a single, perfect, effortless shot — your lethal contribution to a complex story.
The zoom mechanic works really well here, too. The combination of actual optical magnification and “fake” on-screen zoom sort of simulates realistic visual acuity (like the zoom feature of the Arma series), but with a bit of added oomph to give the player an appropriate superpower for a manga assassin. (I’m talking superpowers in the videogame sense.)
Since Golgo 13 was Japan-only and stands out with distinctive hardware and unusual pacing, I’d say it’s a must-play if you get the chance. If nothing else, it’s interesting to see how much game they get out of pressing a single button once every couple of minutes.
In the meantime, Games Database has a short video of what looks like the attract mode, which sums up what to expect, minus the waiting.
Next week, something even more Japanese, and even more impenetrable. I’ve got research to do…
(Tokyo Game Centre is a weekly series. See previous posts here.)
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