The secret games of Dubai's mega-arcade

Game journalists have an odd kind of geographical tunnel vision. As far as many are concerned, there are only three or four areas of the world. There’s North America, with its relatively cheap prices and FPS games galore. There’s Europe, which has a proud PC gaming tradition. Then there’s Japan, the mythical land of gaming milk and honey. For a few hardcore individuals, there’s Korea with its free MMOs and StarCraft obsession. The rest of the world might as well not exist. China? Who cares about the largest nation of gamers on the planet? Eastern Europe? Who needs ultra-hardcore FPS games? The Middle-East? They play games over there?

Above: Yes. Yes, they do

The fact is that a huge number of gamers in the world live outside of Europe, Japan and North America, and some of them have games you’ve never dreamed of. Not boring garage games either, but real hardcore arcade games with cabinets that would make you drool. Just look at the United Arab Emirates: It’s a young country located on the Persian gulf, filled with pristine beaches and fancy hotels. It also happens to host a theme park that is every gamer’s dream.

Located in the largest mall in the world, which happens to be in the shadow of the tallest building in the world, the Sega Republic is an indoor theme park filled with rides and versions of the latest Sega games that you’ve probably never set eyes on – like this amazing Afterburner Climax cabinet:

Designed as a throwback to the original tilting and tumbling Afterburner unit, the seat rumbles and delivers the same exact experience as the home version, only complemented with all the hydraulics of your old-school memories. Let’s face it: the original Afterburner, hydraulic or not, doesn’t hold up that well. However, this new version plays like you remember it.

Above: The path to the park

Sega Republic is a bit hard to find. Like we said, the Dubai Mall is the world’s largest. Its 12 million square feet feature over 1,200 stores, an aquarium and underwater zoo filled with sharks and exotic fish, an indoor ice-skating rink (in the middle of the desert), a 22-screen megaplex, and of course, Sega Republic. Finding the park in that maze is a bit difficult. Thankfully, helpful signs are posted all over the mall.

Once we’d finally located the park, we bought a 100-Dirham (about $27) Sega Republic pass card and made our way through the turnstiles into gaming nirvana. The first thing that caught our eye was the Sonic Hopper. Ever wonder how Sonic feels after bouncing off spring-loaded platforms all day? Here’s your chance to find out. The Hopper throws its passengers up and down in an dizzying ride that culminates in a 30-foot drop.

Above: The first floor of the park, featuring the Sonic Hopper

Next to the hopper is Storm-G, a game that at first glance looks like a pretty standard futuristic racer. Thinking we were in line for a ho-hum F-Zero clone, we were a little weirded out when the park attendant asked us to empty our pockets into a convenient locker.

Hopping in the giant two-person, double-decker seat, we were ready to show the other players who was boss – that is, until we came to the first loop-de-loop in the track. No sooner had we started into the curve than we found ourselves spinning upside down and hanging on for dear life. The seats in Storm-G flip around, just like the in-game vehicles. To make things more exciting, spinning is a handy way to build up speed in the game. Our dozens of trips upside down left us in last place and more than a little dizzy.

Above: Storm-G’s Japanese trailer

Not 10 feet away from Storm-G is an Initial D game. Each player gets their own car, the interiors of which are utterly realistic and convincing.

Above: The immaculate and detailed interior of the Initial D cabinet

While the game looks like a standard racer, the cars swing around to replicate the feel of drifting on a narrow Japanese mountain road. Despite all our time in Japan, we’ve never tried such reckless driving in real life, and it’s a good thing, too – drifting is hard.

Above: I guess we need more practice on those remote Japanese roads