I finally got my hands on some well preserved pamphlets for the Taito X-55 home karaoke machine which allowed, for a pretty penny, connecting trough a landline and receiving karaoke data at home to sing your favorite songs (among a selection of 10.000+ tracks) and receive much love from your neighbors. You had to pay a fortune for the machine itself, then a monthly subscription, then a small fee per each song. I am not sure it was that successful, but they eventually branched out the system to small businesses and hotels. Launched in the fall of 1995 with the support of Taito’s then mother hen Kyocera, the service ran for years and eventually got spun off to Joysound shortly after Square-Enix bought Taito. It was only shut down a few years ago.
That’s all swell, but you might wonder why I cared so much to track down these pamphlets featuring then 18 years old nymphet Amuro Namie (I actually got them from a bulk paraphernalia purchase off an Amuro fan’s hands). There is a bit of information here and there about the X-55, but what is sorely missing, as far as I can tell, is proper online documentation and archiving of the X-55’s elusive game library. Yes! The « ekusu go go » is (also) a game machine, and probably one of the more esoteric ones out there.
Possibly learning form their experiments with the canceled hardware project WoWoW, Taito also used the network to provide a few video games for download on the service. The first two games, Space Invaders 1995 and Cleopatra Fortune, came out around Christmas 1995 if Taito’s advertisements are to be trusted. In fact, this is the very first version of Cleopatra Fortune, even before the arcade port a few months later!
This Cleopatra Fortune anecdote is pretty much the only thing you can find online about games on the X-55, and it’s what had sparked my interest in the first place. But as I said, no comprehensive info online, no recorded play session, and everything has been shut down. Unless some miracle happened inside Taito’s archives, those games are probably lost to time. So the only potential resource of information would eventually be printed promotion for the device and service, but who the hell has kept that around all this time?
Fortunately, by some twist of fate, the flavor du jour teen idol their marketing team picked as their image girl turned out to become one of the biggest pop stars in Japanese music history. And so I gathered — correctly in hindsight — that where Taito and game historians had failed us until today, crazed Amuro fans would be able to lend a hand, and I started bidding for collections of Amuro Namie-related advertisements, flyers and pamphlets. More should arrive in my mailbox very soon but, joy oh joy! The first package was already a winner. I’d like to share on this topic what I found out so far, and what I might find out later.
Here was the entire software library available circa 1996:
- Space Invaders 1995
- Cleopatra Fortune
- Quiz Monoshiri Ichizoku – Yoake Maki
- Quiz Monoshiri Ichizoku – Yūyake Maki
- Puzzle Bobble
- Honkaku Mahjong Kōshi – Mahjong Company
- Royal Golf
- Puzzle Bobble EX
- Honkaku Gomokunarabe – Goshasei
- Honkaku Shōgi – Kishinsen
- Othello Game
Based on the copyright lines, there are some “third party” games, kinda, although they all seem licensed to Taito who probably took care of the development. I do wonder who actually developed all these games. Taito themselves? TOSE? Another big mystery is the hardware specs and performance. The games seem around the visual performance of top 16-bit generation hardware. One can briefly see Space Invaders 1995 — unfortunately one of the least impressive titles based on the screenshots above — in action in this TVCM campaign from Christmas 1995:
If you check back on the second photo I shared, the older pamphlet (the red one), printed around the launch of the X-55 and therefore before the first games were made available, shows a tiny screenshot from what appears to be a racing game but I suspect it’s a mock-up; even the Cleopatra Fortune screenshot pasted on the TV monitor is bullshit. The text mentions other genres of games scheduled to release on the X-55 but missing from the twelve confirmed released games above: Role-Playing Game, Track & Field-style olympics, adventure, fortune telling, shoot’em up, baseball, football/soccer, “simulation” (strategy? dating?) and horse racing. I hope we can one day shed a light if any of those eventually came out.
To play these games, one could use the remote, or a controller sold separately:
There are two models. The X-Gamepro JP-W1 is a wireless controller, requiring its own batteries or to be plugged to an electric source via its own power cable, and exclusive to the first player. It connects to the X-55 through the same IR port as the remote. The cheaper X-Gamepro JP-E2 is intended for the second player in simultaneous multiplayer games. It must be plugged serially to the first controller via a cable — if I remember correctly, the 3DO worked the same way. Note that, based on the twelve games shown above, I am not even sure if any of them had simultaneous multiplayer. They might all have been turn-based anyway.
Software was not purchased on the X-55. Rather, each play cost ¥50 (compared to ¥30 for a karaoke song), directly charged on your phone bill.
I will try to scan these properly if I ever see my office’s scanner again…