February 1, 2023

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Take the A-Train, or how I fell in love with a hardcore accounting sim

You’ve heard of Super Potato, I’m sure, but a couple of blocks down from Tokyo’s renowned gaming superstore you’ll find what I’m convinced is the real prize of Akihabara. Follow the muffled din of bleeps and clicks down a narrow flight of stairs, and you’ll find Beep in all its glory. In the corner’s a thrum of rarified machines: a stack of assorted MSX units, while switched on is a pairing of Sharp’s MZ-2500 and X68000 plus a pristine FM Towns 2 with matching monitor. Lean in and you can hear the hard drives whir, the monitors hum, their pleasant harmony ringing softly throughout Beep’s well-stocked shelves of immaculate, oversized and breathtakingly illustrated game boxes.

1980s Japanese PC gaming has never really been as widely fetishised overseas as its console counterpart, which lent my first trip to Akihabara’s Beep a couple of years back the thrill of discovery. It’s my first encounter with so many of these games, though even if you’re a veteran of the scene you’re bound to be surprised by what’s in the doujin section, where you’ll find self-published efforts from hobbyists, often complete with self-penned covers. For all that, it’s a game I had heard of before – albeit dimly – which grabbed my heart.

Glimpsed running on a NEC PC-9801, A-Train 2 is the 1988 instalment of Artdink’s civic transport simulator looking both bewildering and bewitching: there’s a whole world going on inside that monitor, presented in crisp isometric view. I spend a couple of minutes pondering its menus and marvelling at all that teeming life implied within its pixels before moving on, but it’s stuck with me ever since. Just like the games I used to pore over in the pages of Mean Machines that I could never possibly afford, it’s something I’ll return to occasionally in the small arcade in my imagination where all the other games I’ve yet to play reside.

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