In the past, arcade games were about cutting-edge technology and superlative graphics. But now that home consoles and PCs match them for speed and quality, they've lost much of their appeal - especially since arcades games cost at least pounds 1 a go.
Konami's new games lean towards gameplay rather than technology. And because they provide as much fun for spectators as players, they're also more social than your average man-against-machine action thriller. Launched in Japan last year, these games were a huge hit: now they're in the UK - so we sent a DJ, a guitarist and a dancer to check them out.
Beatmania is a DJ simulation game with a keyboard of buttons and a turntable. A series of notes appears on the screen and the player must match the patterns by hitting the corresponding key, or "scratching" on the deck. Players choose from different types of music (everything from house to reggae) and several levels of difficulty. A virtual DJ is on hand to let you know how you're doing, and if you're faring badly the power gauge drains and you won't make the next level.
Saul, a London DJ who has done parties for the likes of Prince and Madonna, at first found it seriously challenging: "I'll have to rethink my career options," he joked. Like the rest of our experts, though, he soon felt that the game was pretty unlike real life - especially as it only offers one deck.
Guitar Freaks works in a similar fashion except this time you pretend to be a rock'n'roll star. This is a one- or two-player option, and each player has a guitar with three keys on the neck. As notes appear on the screen, the player has to push the corresponding keys and strum in time on a "picking lever". If a guitar symbol appears on-screen then it's time to do the Hendrix thing and raise the guitar neck in the air to claim your bonus points.
Vicki Churchill, singer and guitarist with the band Sweetie, thought the game easy but unrealistic. "You definitely don't need to be able to play a guitar," was her verdict, "although a bit of rhythm will help."
Dancing Stage provides the greatest scope for unbridled exhibitionism. It's got halogen lights and neon tubes and pumps out beats like any self- respecting disco. Players groove on a dancefloor of pressure-sensitive pads, following the commands displayed on the screen. It might sound easy, but the tougher modes demand multiple sequences that will keep you on your toes and work up a real sweat. Marc e.t., choreographer and World Freelance Dance Champion, decided that the game just wasn't hard enough.
In his real line of work, following predetermined moves isn't the point: you have to throw in a few jumps and spins for variety. "It's easy enough to score well," he said of Dancing Stage, "so I ended up turning it into entertainment, to make it look as fun and exciting as possible."
In Japan these games have become highly competitively. If players are good enough, they receive a password from the game which can then be used at an Internet site to receive a ranked position. But bear in mind that the top score for Dancing Stage stands at 475,585,400 - serious John Travolta stuff.
The rankings have proved so popular that Konami is considering a similar service in Europe. It's also developing other, and as yet secret, simulation games. Maybe the time will come when arcades are again regarded as glamorous night-time destinations
For further information and the locations of Konami music simulators, visit the website at www.konami.co.ukReuse content