Japanese Gaming's Greatest Ambassador

It's over. That's what people say about Japanese gaming. While there are bright spots in Japan, Western games (and gamers) now rule the roost. It's easy to forget just how great Japanese games used to be.

One man is here to remind you of that. His name is Shinya Arino.

Shinya Arino is the host of Retro Game Master (Game Center CX in Japan), a reality program in which Arino plays through retro games until he finishes them. He typically has a day to clear the game, and the show ends up being a marathon session. Old games can be trickier than today's hand-holding titles, Arino gets gameplay tips from guide books and the show's crew. It's an endurance test, made more difficult by the fact Arino's love for video games doesn't match his skill at playing them.

The show has a cult following in Japan and in the West. Part of the appeal is that Arino is a good natured guy. Even after he dies for the umpteenth time, he keeps going. "I don't throw a fit and smash my controller," Arino told me back in 2007.

"Since the staff cheers me on, I hate it when I mess up. Like when I die, I can sense the mood in the room change, and I feel awful." Arino said when he gets home, he just kind of sits there, zoning out and wondering why he couldn't beat the game.

Back in 2007, I visited a Retro Game Master taping for Wired Magazine. The piece was short, but it was also the show's first major Western coverage. You read the piece here, along with the set visit here.

"I hate it when I mess up. Like when I die, I can sense the mood in the room change, and I feel awful."

That specific episode happened to be filmed at Namco Bandai's headquarters, because of the show's Nintendo DS game tie-in. Not all episodes are filmed at Namco Bandai!

What impressed me most about the show was just how barebones the staff was and how much they love Retro Game Master. The guy who produces the show, Tsuyoshi Kan, is a big time Japanese television producer. He also directs the incredible Himitsu no Kenmin SHOW, a program that explores Japan's regional differences, and Vs. Arashi, a variety show with the popular boy band (and Nintendo spokespersons) Arashi.

Part of the comedy duo Yoiko, Arino is also a well known funny man. What makes Yoiko such an interesting comedy duo is that unlike many groups, it doesn't have a straight man and a funny man set up. Both members, Arino and Masaru Hamaguchi, can end up playing the fool. Yoiko also appears on Mecha Ike, which might be best known to Westerns as that show with the "Hot Mario" guys in it.

Even with this big time talent, Retro Game Maser has a charmingly at-home, low budget even, feel to it. Seeing the good-humored Arino play through old game after old makes for great television. And showcasing those old games shows not only our video game roots, but just how far we've come. I can't think of a better spokesperson for Japanese gaming. If Japan can create games that still hold up twenty years later, it can create games now.

Retro Game Master is a reminder of what Japan can do when it doesn't cater to popular tastes or trends. Retro Game Master is a reminder of what Japan can do when it doesn't worry itself with what Westerners want. Retro Game Master is a reminder of what Japan can do when it tries.

Starting June 23 at 8PM EST, Retro Game Master will air exclusively right here on Kotaku.

Culture Smash is a daily dose of things topical, interesting and sometimes even awesome—game related and beyond.
(Top photo: Sky Perfect)