Taito's Densha de Go! is a series that has always fascinated me. It's a name that kept cropping up as I explored the world of Japanese videogames.
All I knew about it was it was a game featuring train driving. Deciding to explore further, I imported Densha de Go! Pocket: Osaka Kanjousen Hen on PSP from Japan around three years ago to see for myself what the game was about. Since then, I've become something of a Densha de Go! nerd...and I'm not even vaguely interested in trains!
The common misconception is that Densha de Go! is a strict train driving simulation. In actual fact, it's more of an arcade game with simulation aspects.
Basically, the aim of the game is to get passengers to their destination on time. When you are driving, you must obey speed limits and ensure the passengers are safe and happy.
As you journey along the route, marker points are set out. These require you either reach a certain speed or pass the marker point at a certain time on the clock.
When you approach a station, you must bring the train to a gradual and gentle stop within a set zone. Failure to do so will anger passengers and you'll be docked points for sloppy driving. At the end of the route you are given a score and graded, and the aim is to get a gold star rating.
Not only does the series feature different trains, the game also takes place at various times of the day and night. Densha de Go! also features weather conditions such as rain and snow, which affects how quickly you can stop the train.
Densha de Go! has been released on various platforms, including the Game Boy Colour, Dreamcast, PlayStation 2 and even in Japanese arcades. However, it has never - as far as I'm aware - been released in the West.
Densha de Go! Final on PS2 - in my mind the best version of the series - introduced a new scoring mechanism where you would accumulate ‘chains’ depending on how well you had driven the train. Final also features the most comprehensive amount of routes and really is the definitive version of the series.
Despite the fact the graphics are looking slightly dated, driving at dusk in the rain is very atmospheric and some of the lighting effects are very nice, too.
The other version I have on PS2 is Densha de Go! Shinkansen, which gives you control over the famous Japanese bullet train. Unfortunately, due to the high speed and space between stations, it can get a little boring - although you can unlock pictures of Japanese landmarks, sweets and what Japanese train drivers eat for their lunch!
When the PS3 launched in Japan, one of the first games you could get was Railfan. It uses Blu-Ray footage of actual train lines in Japan and Chicago. While it's fun, it doesn't really capture the charm of Final on PS2. In fact, I haven't played it recently, so I should really dust my copy off and take another tour around Chicago.
Densha de Go! is definitely something of an acquired taste, but it's pretty straightforward to play, and the language barrier shouldn't throw up many problems. It's great fun, strangely compelling, and has become one of my favourite series from the Far East.
For people interested in importing, the Densha de Go! Pocket series on PSP is the best place to start. As the PSP is region free, it's probably the most accesible way for Western gamers to experience the series.