Three years after the coronavirus pandemic hit Japan, resulting in the closure of hundreds of arcades nationwide and even SEGA selling its chain of game centres to Genda, you’d think few companies would be willing to invest in new arcade software and hardware.
Yet here we are with Chase Chase Jokers, a brand new release from Konami which recently hit arcades a few weeks ago, right at the end of 2022 (December 21st, to be exact).
With the game’s release coinciding with a trip to Japan, I managed to hands-on a number of times with Chase Chase Jokers. To my surprise, it ended up being one of the biggest video game surprises of the year, a compelling multiplayer game that feels very much at home at the arcade.
In a way, Chase Chase Jokers brings to mind the asymmetric multiplayer madness that defined the Wii U in its early years. Two teams of three players battle off against each other to collect keys to drop them off at specific zones in hope of getting an energy metre up to 100%, allowing them to dash to the exit to be declared victor.
Only it’s not actually that simple. You see, only one team – let’s call them Team Human – can actually collect these keys and drop them off.
They face off against Team Oni – Oni being the Japanese word for an evil spirit – whose job it is to chase down Team Human and reclaim their humanity, hence the name Chase Chase Jokers.
If Team Oni tag members of Team Normal three times, the roles switch and they finally get a chance to scoop up those keys, drop them off at the zones, and get a chance at dashing to the central goal to claim victory.
Each round takes place in an obstacle course filled with narrow openings to slide between or jump over, items to pick up, and traps to activate. It’s the combination of all the aforementioned factors that makes for a really frantic and moreish multiplayer game.
There’s a constant back-and-forth as your team, desperate to drop off keys without being caught, gets pulled into the Oni side at the worst possible moment. Every time you’re turned into Oni you know you’ve conceded any chance of making progress. The pressure only rises as the opposing team’s energy metre gets closer and closer to 100%.
The stakes culminate when both teams hit that full energy goal. It’s then either a mad dash to the exit as Team Human, or a scrambled defence at all costs of that very exit as Team Oni.
Being aware of the playfield in Chase Chase Jokers as extremely important – the on-screen map is vital since it displays the locations of Team Oni, and a trackball handily operates the camera, letting you spin your view as quickly as you can spin a globe.
It’s all topped off with stylish presentation that calls to mind games like Splatoon and Jet Set Radio with its graphic design, urban setting and an irritatingly infectious soundtrack. Despite these nods to, Chase Chase Jokers is – crucially – very much its own experience.
While the game didn’t wear out its welcome after over a week of daily play, questions do hang over its potential longevity. There’s currently only a limited number of arenas to play on during this launch period. The game’s balancing seems a little dubious too, with some character abilities having a clear advantage over others and the game’s 100-yen-a-piece gacha rolls spitting ability-enhancing cosmetic items.
This is for Konami to answer via content updates, of course, but until we see these updates roll out it’s hard to tell what the future will bring for the game.
There’s also the question of cooperation. Unless you’re in a group of three at the same arcade, you’re going to be matchmaking with players around the country online instead, and while this functionally works just fine, Chase Chase Joker’s messaging options aren’t really tailored toward fostering rapport between players.
Unlike a game like Splatoon where you can signal to players with a quick “to me!” ping, there’s no equivalent to voicing out strategies or highlighting things the team could be doing. Sure, the game’s rules are clear enough that there’s common language in play, but I regularly stumbled across teammates falling into perilous situations which could have been avoided if these pings were more useful.
Despite these questions, Chase Chase Jokers remains a lot of fun. The game’s qualities aside though, it’s really just encouraging to see that Konami still believes in the future of the arcade, the game centre, a unique space that continues to occupy a part of urban Japan.