Consoul's Blog Consoul Games: Densha de Geek

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Densha de Geek

Mobile Train Simulator + Densha de GO! Tokyo Kyuukou Hen (PSP)

Ever wanted to give up your day job and become a train driver? No, me neither, though the thought of getting paid to drive a vehicle that you don't even have to steer doesn't sound too bad. Add to that the ability to sound a mighty airhorn every so often and the slight possibility that you might derail or otherwise smash into something with an incredible amount of momentum and it all starts to seem more attractive.

Apparently the prospect of driving a train is a great deal more appealing to the people of Japan. No doubt this has something to do with their incredibly efficient rail system. Evidently train driving is popular enough in Japan to support its own genre of games, dominated by the long-running Densha de GO! (Let's go by train) series. There have been over twenty different variations of the Densha de GO! games in arcades and on consoles since the original 1997 title. (Like Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter, it appears that last year's Densha de GO!: Final was not as final as the title suggested.) Getting a train from one station to the next doesn't sound like a great basis for a game, but it's not quite as straightforward as it sounds.

What challenge could such a simplistic gameplay concept offer? Well, I'm glad I asked. There are really two parts to the Densha game mechanics: driving and stopping. Precision control of the throttle and brakes is what the whole game is about. Your ability to control the train is reflected in your score. You have four levels of throttle and seven levels of braking at your disposal, as well as the emergency brake and the ability to throw the train into neutral.

The challenge of driving is to make it to the next station on time while obeying the signals and staying within the speed limits on each section of the line. Sounds simple in theory, but the forces of changing track gradients, varying signals and the sheer momentum of tons of moving steel mean that you'll be constantly tweaking the controls to maintain the optimum speed required to stay on time. And then there's stopping.

Stopping is the real challenge. You're going to need to start breaking hundreds of metres before you even see the station, and then you'll need to smoothly slide in to stop the train dead on the mark. The precision of your stopping position is measured in centimetres. Pull up too late and you'll overshoot the platform. Pull up too early and the doors won't open. Mastering smooth accurate stopping takes a lot of practice. I don't know how many times I've started braking too late and had to resort to slamming on the emergency brake to try to salvage the stop. This inevitably leads to my passengers falling over and my train overshooting the platform anyway. Result: complaining passengers and loss of points.

As it's title suggests, this latest train game on PSP brings together Taito's Densha series and Sony's Train Simulator series in one package, and covers at least three complete lines from Tokyo's Kanto region. You can play in either series' game modes, though the differences appear to be are mostly cosmetic (the HUD is displayed differently). The Train Simulator mode also allows you to sit exams and unlock new lines.

At a glance you'd be forgiven for thinking that this game looks better than Gran Turismo 4. It looks absolutely realistic, because it's graphics are in fact real footage. The entire length of the train lines has been captured on video. The game speeds up and slows down the footage to reflect your speed. This works surprisingly well, rarely looking obvious or choppy. Where previous Densha games used 3D graphics, this game lets you take in the real scenery of Tokyo, and being able to watch the traffic on nearby roads, the live people on the platforms, or other trains passing by, adds enormously to the game's appeal. It looks fantastic on the PSP screen, though some of the subway (ie. underground) sections are admittedly less than awe-inspiring. Games based around live-action FMV are usually an absolute disaster. Not so in this case. This genre couldn't be more perfectly suited to it, and it's been implemented very well. It's all the more impressive to see it in action on a handheld console.

All the sounds of the Tokyo train system have been faithfully reproduced and there's plenty of speech in there too, including on-board announcements, complaining passengers, and tips from the anime conductor girl. You can sound the horns, though depending on the game mode, you may be penalized for improper usage. The game becomes increasingly difficult and throws in new elements (such as level crossings and trackside works) that you'll need to adapt to. While it's quite jap-heavy, it's still reasonably import-friendly to pick up and play. The database sections are full of technical detail on all the different trains and the intricacies of the signal system, though these are totally unintelligible to the non-jap fluent (like myself). Chances of an english language release are slim to nil.

So it looks great, sounds good, and the gameplay is actually challenging. There's just no getting around the fact that this game is extremely geeky. If you can handle that, then you might enjoy this opportunity to see the sights of Tokyo without flying over there. The ability to drive the 8:00am train to Shibuya while you commute to work on the other side of the planet has gotta be worth something.

I'd give this niche title a solid 8/10. It's not for everyone. Hell, it's not for the vast majority of people, but what it sets out to achieve, it delivers with flair. Only you can decide whether this unique PSP title is just your ticket or too off-the-rails. Could this be PSP's first sleeper hit?
(Sorry, couldn't resist.)

I highly recommend watching the official (and superbly zany) japanese promo videos for this game here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This game is great i just got it today if anyone have a savegame on it that will be nice to put it online because unlocking is hard

greets marco

6:03 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i cannot beleive i found this site. and whats even more amazing is that i found a review of this game in english.

here is my story, i am australia also, and going to japan on the 17th april. im going to tokyo actually. and i planned on buying the psp from tokyo. and i saw this game from the japanese website, and thought it looked like alot of fun. but like you, i speak little japanese. very small amount. i was worried about it being in japanese and not really understanding it, but i love tokyo and cant think of a better game than driving a train around tokyo. so i was quite excited but also worried that it would be a waste of money. and here i find a australian site with a review. fantastic. does the train go along a train line called "yamanote" line? i would love that as its the main city circle there, and i know it fairly well. i would love anyone to email some more information on this game, and also about buying the psp from japan. is there any problems? will all the settings be in japanese and hard to understand?

i would really appreciate any other info you can tell me about the psp japanese model and about this game. as it was going to be one of the games i really wanted to buy.

thanx heaps !

damon -

5:53 pm  
Blogger Robin said...

Hi Damon,

As far as I know the Yamanote line is not included in this game, though it did appear in at least one earier Densha game. There was some other good info (and translations!) for this game available on the psinext forums, though they're offline at the moment. Buying a japanese PSP is no problem. You can set them to English. Just be aware that all UMD movie and audio discs are region coded. Games are not region locked. See my PSP Lowdown post from few months back for more info.

11:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This game is great fun! I speak Japanese, however I let a friend play it who doesnt speak any Japanese whatsoever, and he figured it out and was really enjoying the game after a few minutes - in fact it was a struggle to get my PSP back off him :-)
It doesnt have the Yamanote line, but if you want that you could get the aforementioned Densha de GO! FINAL which is available for Japanese PS2 and also for PC. There is also a PS2 game called "The Yamanote Line" which uses FMV like this PSP game, but is for, as the name suggests, the Yamanote Line.

BTW I have a Japanese PSP (got it on launch day in Japan) but live in the US. It plays US games fine, but it would not play the Spiderman2 UMD movie disk distributed with the US PSPs.

5:24 am  
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12:40 pm  

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