Train love is disconcerting at the best of times. Admiring steam engines with their majestic plumes of smoke puffing through rustic vistas is just about understandable, but it takes a real sick cookie to get enjoyment out of the Japanese bullet trains ripping through mile after mile of cold, empty tunnel. So with this latest installment of the popular Densha de Go! arcade train experience focusing on the Sanyo Shinkansen, the bullet train from Osaka to Fukuota, it’s with some degree of apprehension that we don our driver’s cap and yell “all aboard!”
From its first arcade outing in 1996, the Densha experience has been as fixed as the prices in a railway station café. Controlling acceleration and braking, the aim is to get your train into the station - as in not 10 meters past the platform - and on time. Realism comes courtesy of unique Densha controllers - in this case two levers on a clunky plastic base - but the Wii’s is disappointingly tacky, with the LED speedometer of the PS2 version replaced with a sticker that has you zipping along at a steady 268 KPH at all times.
The game is arcade-y in feel that rewards lightning fast journeys but punishes rough rides. This is brought about by Automatic Track Control slamming on the brakes if you exceed the speed limit, pissing off customers left with laps full of burning coffee and children/elderly folk rolling down the aisles. Even more annoying is the passengers’ eerie ability to perceive the smallest of speed drops, and making a stink if you travel even 5kph below the limit. Irritating stuff.
Considering the fixed track nature of trains, speed is the only variable under player control and so the game becomes a simple task of watching the speedometer and track distance meter - the reasonable 3D construction of the passing world mere screen filler. A better move would require players to attempt to read the physical world and pay attention to passing signs, or follow the instructions that the deep Japanese voice yells out of the remote speaker on regular occasion. We hate to admit it, but this just isn’t pedantic enough for our tastes.