Insert Disk collects Namie Amuro: Digital Dance Mix for the Sega Saturn.
Today’s retro game review is Namie Amuro: Digital Dance Mix for the Sega Saturn. This retro gaming classic was a tech demo from AM2 and led by Yu Suzuki. Still interested in the Sega Saturn’s gaming engine the live rendered graphics, sound, lighting and texture mapping provided a unique demo with based on the Japanese Queen of pop. Featuring “Chase the chance” and “You’re my sunshine” the demo disc is a notorious collectors item in Japan but almost never hear of outside the region.
Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. I’ve got something a little bit different for you today. Strictly speaking you would be hard push to call today’s entry a game but rather a public demonstration tool. Join me this week as I take an intriguing look at Namie Amuro: Digital Dance Mix for the Sega Saturn. Now, if you live in the North America or Europe you may not have heard all about Namie Amuro. If you live in Japan well then you already know about her and why wouldn’t you. She’s one of the biggest selling female Japanese artists of all time in addition to being commonly referred to as the Queen of Japanese pop. Just to catch the rest of the world up though… She has had… 12 studio albums, over 14 tours, 10 movies roles, Has been recipient of awards at the World Music Awards, Japanese Record Awards, Japan Gold Disc Awards and sold over 38 million records in Japan alone. At one point her debut solo album Sweet 19 Blues even held the honour of being the best-selling Japanese album of all time. Her career has included, singing, dancing, acting choreography, writing music for TV and movies. In short, she’s a very big deal in Japan. You name it, from traditional J-Pop to electronica to ballad, she’s done it all. Just by visiting her Wikipedia page you soon realise just how influential she is and how many citations were needed for a simple biography.
Still, not familiar with her work, well she was responsible for “Toi et Moi” ending theme for Pokémon: The Movie 2000. With the amount of work she’s put out over the years its highly likely you’ve heard some of her work before even if you don’t know it. Now, I’m sure that you’re thinking, what on earth does Namie Amuro have to do with a retro gaming channel based in the UK? Other than the narrator is slightly obsessed with all things Japanese. The simple answer is that Namie Amuro was the perfect crossroad of where Sega’s AM2 Research Department met the pop music industry. Now, we know AM2 as the developmental arcade wing of Sega Japan and founded by the legendary producer Yu Suzuki. Think, Hang-On, Out Run, Space Harrier, After Burner, Virtua Racing, Virtua Cop, Fighting Vipers, the Virtua Fighter Series, Daytona USA 2, Shenmue 2 and many many more. In short, some rather classic games. So what was AM2’s interest in Namie Amuro? It turns out that Namie made an excellent muse for Yu Suzuki’s research team. You see classic games like Virtua Fighter and Outrun don’t just come out of nowhere. Behind the scenes you need a concept but just as importantly a way to technically deliver the concept.
By 1997 the Sega Saturn was not exactly failing but sales outside of Japan were far from desirable. Sega and Yu Suzuki were already planning software for the next generation of hardware.
1996 had seen the launch of Virtua Fighter 3 in the arcade with a wider release by 1997 running on the impressive Sega model 3 hardware. What if Virtua Fighter 3 could be converted to run on a Sega Saturn and brought in to the home though? The Dreamcast had already been slated for a Japanese home launch for the following year of 1998. However, AM2s research wing was still very much interested in the Sega Saturn’s game engine. Could it do more than they realised. What they needed was something that would test simultaneous audio, 3D model movement, texture mapping and real time camera and lighting effects for their engine. 1996 had been a massive year for Namie. The release of her second studio album “Sweet 19 Blues” enjoyed strong sales. The single from the album “Chase the chance” was her first to sell over one million copies in the country. As with so many perfect alignments in history, this peaked at the perfect time for Yu Suzuki and AM2 to develop an engine to test out the Sega Saturn’s abilities. With permission to use the tracks “Chase the chance” and “You’re my sunshine” along with permission to use Namies image Sega could create what was essentially a tech demo. Whether this would ever see the light of day or not is unknown but what we do know is that with all fandoms there would be collectors of pretty much anything with Namies face on it. The end result was this disc.
So, what exactly do we have here? Well, I’ll start with the weaker parts of the disc. In the Presents menu you receive 4 games. Chase the dance, door my sunshine, sweet 16 cards and a walk in the maze. Chase the dance is a very simple rhythm game where you push the corresponding button on the pad as found on the stave. Its not particularly impressive but the anime version of Namie is a cute addition. Door my sunshine is, well it’s just a case of picking the correct key to open the door. Sweet 16 cards is a simple case of matching pairs. Match the cards as quickly as possible to reveal the image. Oh look, its Namie. A walk in the maze is perhaps the strangest mini game. Simply walk in the maze to find Namie. Its another one of those “Only in Japan” moments. You can also check out a profile of Namie as well as enter a sound check to test the sounds within the game.
The real purpose of the disc though can be found in the Digital Dance menu. Here’s where the tech demo really begins. You can choose from a range of costumes, backdrops and the two music singles. Sort of a pick and mix of elements to test. By default the camera will pan around the action and show off the live rendered lighting effects and texture mapping of the engine. Interestingly you can also change Namies costume colour on the fly as well as adding strobe lighting effects. If you aren’t content with the camera you can always take control yourself by panning around, zooming in and out. You can even adjust the cameras focus of attention. Overall its impressive as there’s several elements being rendered live, some with transparencies. With the camera being free to manipulate it is a very decent proof of concept that the Sega Saturn really could handle technical elements at a very decent frame rate without slow down. It’s at this point I’d like to say that the quality you’re seeing here isn’t as good as what I’m seeing here in the original. Due to the way I’m capturing the footage and the inevitable compression by YouTube. The live version looks very smooth and with really great visuals.
Once you’ve had your fun with being camera operator for the day you can always relax with the Sing It portion of the disc. No Japanese experience would be complete without a karaoke track. So, there you have it. The unlikely result of when Sega’s AM2 met the Queen of Japanese Pop. From my research its thought that the disc sold more than 100,000 copies which is a staggering amount considering that this is essentially just a tech demo. Now for collectors the physical disc is very much sought after. For a full edition you will need to obtain the registration card, the spine card, the manual and of course the game disc.
There are a couple of notable elements regarding the presentation. First of all the AM2 Technical Research department logo. Now we’re all used to seeing the AM2 log on Sega games but the “Technical Research” logo is one that is very rarely seen on commercial products. Secondly, some have pointed out that the manual that doubles up as the front cover lacks the Sega Saturn stripe on the left hand side. For Japanese releases this was very much a standard. The spine card is of course included and the left background logo is still present. Namie Amuro’s cover artwork omits the stripe in favour of a full page image of Namie. I’m not sure if there was a significant back story to this but it is always interesting to see an oddity in packaging design. Everything here is well presented. For Namie Amuro fans I’m certain that this of one of those items that is collected for those with an on-going fascination with this pop star. For collectors like myself I can help but be slightly obsessed by all things Japanese. When it comes to things that are Japanese, Sega, Retro and a tech demo you can be certain that I’ll be on the front row. So, you may be thinking. What happened to Namie Amuro? Is she still about, is she still making music?
Well, the sad news for fans is that on September 20, 2017, Namie’s 40th birthday, she announced that she would retire from the music industry. However, that wouldn’t be until in September 2018 and guess what, its 2018 and she’s touring! The Finally Tour has been announced. From Aichi, Fukuoka, Hokkaido, Osaka to the grand finale at the Tokyo Dome it all ends 2018. The last planned concert at the time of making this episode is June 3rd 2018 so you’ve still got time to see Namie on the big stage one last time. It was an announcement that shot her official fan site in to the world top 100,000 ranking and amongst the most visited sites in Japan. As expected Google was hit hard with searches for her and its clear that all over Japan interest is building for the final tour. So, just to add to those website visits I headed on over to her official site.
In preparation you can buy just about everything in the store, a biscuit tin, zodiac sign key ring, dinner plates, you can even buy a plastic bag for 500 yen. It’s safe to say that Namie has got this one covered. The video promotion has gone in to overdrive with promotional movies, merchandise and documentaries. You can’t help but feel that this is a really grand send off for a career spanning 25 years. I may even now be in the fan club. So there you have, a very brief look back at the Namie’s encounter with AM2, an unexpected tech demo and the end of an era. In some small way this unlikely pairing helped lay the foundations for the Sega Dreamcast and proved that the Sega Saturn’s hardware could be pushed further than expected. Right, I’m off to buy that limited edition box of zip bags. I’m not even kidding, 1000 yen will get you some of those bags you store left over food in the freezer. Namie really has though of everything. Until next time I’d like to say a special tank you to Japan for your never-ending culture of delights.