Label Art Work["I often import games from abroad and play them. On such occasions, my imagination is sometimes stimulated more as I don't understand the language.” – Fumito Ueda, creator of Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. 'The Gaijin Restoration' is a weekly examination of underappreciated Eastern games that never cross to Western shores. This week's title is Konami Computer Entertainment School Osaka Laboratory's Team Wife of Estate's Chair Chasers [UPDATE: Here's the download link], which was made available on the interweb in 2002 for the PC and is a mouthful to present.]

You Had Me At Chair

Nintendo has Digipen. Their students slave away each year, and maybe we'll get a Rumble Box or two. A nifty aesthetic, a cool idea, a winning design; but I ask where's the heart? It's in Japan. Konami has their Osaka school, whose tutelage berthed The Time Wife of Estate, a most excellent moniker, and an excellent developer with the vision to bring the world the much needed Chair Chasers. A lengthy, narrated tale unfolds of a slain CEO, a battle for power, some sort of tie in with ancient Egypt and a simple warning that one's butt must not leave the chair. From there the game let's you choose from several protagonist - elderly salary man, secretary, company mascot, etc, and it's off to race!

Ancient Egyptians made the pyramids because they were in a congolmerate.  And they sat on chairs

Now to be fair, the narration is muted (and spoken with an odd, effected English,) the story ridiculous, the textures simple and the game short, but like a three legged canine at a dog show, this baby's got heart. In spades.

When Feats of Strength Are Not Enough

chair5.jpgChair Chasers is to be taken at face value: a kart racer, a student project made with love and polished with apple sauce for the teacher. With games like Stretch Panic being called glorified tech demos, I'm not sure how to pigeonhole something like Chair Chasers. It's very short at three tracks, but each follows golden threads of game design, adding more complexity and perfect little moments, that will bring back the smiles. Level one is fairly simple and lets you get used to the control for your character, as their feet kick around corners, and race towards power-ups including homing AIBOs, force fields and fan propulsion systems. The second stage features the dreaded staircase. The butts don't leave the seats, but each character has their own unique and humorous way to make it up the flight. Level three, the final race, is labrynthine in design and nefarious in implementation, with office doors blocking paths, shutting and opening at random. The highlight is a massive ramp that gives way to a 180 degree camera sweep as the avatar and competitors take to the air and strike some poses, with chair in tow. It's reminiscent of Sonic Adventure's first level race with the whale. Non interactive, but seamlessly intergrated, quick, and overly pleasant. Again, I'm smiling.

Each would-be CEO has a unique control scheme. Some make wide turns, others stop on a dime. Some clamber up the staircase fast, others plod on. When they wipe out, get pummeled by an exploding poodle or what have you, they each act accordingly, my favorite being the mascot having to make like the exorcist girl, and turn his head completely around. It's these little touches that we take for granted in big studio developed games. There is a near Miyamoto-esque attention to wonder.

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Still, In The End...

...it's a little game about racing chairs. While I still marvel at all the little touches, and how it just makes me smile. It takes a certain type of PC game to really feel console-y, and a lot of them are Japanese games. The consummate Cave Story, another Japanese developed PC game, is the last one that truly gave me that feeling. There's something accessible, and magical. When was the last time you actually thought about how down right weird Super Mario Bros. was? On the reverse, a lot of US developed console games are starting to feel like PC games. Did anybody play Sudeki? Well, no matter.

[UPDATE: Thanks to commenter Trifle, we've found a download link to grab Chair Chaser. In addition, we also have a video containing an edited open and some gameplay, as well as the CESA info page for Chair Chasers, a game that guarantees a smile and the obvious wtf.

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[Ryan Stevens is the associate producer on the various Cinematech shows on G4TV, which showcases many of the games written about here. He's been known to do the collaborative blog thing at That's Plenty.]