Call it going full circle. Back in 2004, a Japanese game show called Run for Money appeared on FujiTV. The show had flourishes of The Matrix and a central premise that seemed more like a video game than a game show. Now in 2012, Run for Money has finally been turned into a hit 3DS game. As logical as a video game version sounds, the concept wasn't initially a no-brainer.
On the original show, contestants tried to stay hidden in a real world map—usually an outlet mall or a theme park—and avoid black suit-wearing "Hunters", which were clearly ripped straight from The Matrix. The Hunters even run like Matrix agents and have the same preppy hairdos! On the show, the Hunters are unleashed, and every minute you stay undetected, the amount of money you can win increases. If this sounds familiar to you, that's because Run for Money was adapted (and apparently reworked) into a Sci-Fi channel show called Cha$e.
Run for Money has numerous game mechanics, such as special weapons that are dropped throughout the map. The weapons have unique properties like "freezing" the Hunters for a few seconds. These gamey mechanics were not lost on the show's producers, who turned Run for Money over to Bandai to make two board games.
This summer, Namco Bandai released a 3DS version of Run for Money. It looks to be a hit, shipping over 300,000 copies in Japan. One of the big reasons why this video game adaptation has been successful isn't just the intrinsic video game quality (though, that certainly helps!), but rather, its appeal to grade schoolers. Some kids actually play a version of Run for Money in lieu of tag and sans money.
The game's producer, Maya Ito, told Famitsu in a recent interview that the idea for a video game version actually came from her son. Before that, she didn't know it was so popular with Japanese kids. "I thought, 'This is great!', and the game version began to come to life."
Much of the popularity with Japanese kids is also rooted in the people featured on the show: the original Japanese game show stars the same celebrities—comedians, models, singers—you nearly always see on Japanese TV playing for money. Usually Japanese game shows feature celebrities playing for cash or prizes, instead of Joe and Jane Q. Public. The thinking is that it's more interesting to watch famous people, because they might say or do funny things, and probably more importantly, they are familiar faces. There have been exceptions to this general rule, such as the Japanese version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, which featured regular folks. And who wants to watch normal people run for cash on TV when you can play video games with them after school for free.
Run for Money was released in Japan on the Nintendo 3DS on July 5.