Taito X-55: Go! Go! Kill your phone bill with Ms. Amuro!

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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.

https://youtu.be/9kjS0AAv9UQ

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](https://computer.fandom.com/wiki/Taito_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!

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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.

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Here was the entire software library available circa 1996:

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  • * Space Invaders 1995

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  • * Cleopatra Fortune

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  • * Quiz Monoshiri Ichizoku – Yoake Maki

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  • * Quiz Monoshiri Ichizoku – Yūyake Maki

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  • * Puzzle Bobble

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  • * Shanghai
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  • * Honkaku Mahjong Kōshi – Mahjong Company

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  • * Royal Golf

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  • * Puzzle Bobble EX

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  • * Honkaku Gomokunarabe – Goshasei

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  • * Honkaku Shōgi – Kishinsen

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  • * 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:

    https://youtu.be/jkQV72-6j4c

    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:

    [upl-image-preview url=//i.imgur.com/45QP1IK.jpg]

    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...

    Holy crap! What a find - I really had no idea this thing even existed. Has there been another taito multi-game console, not counting their changeable arcade stuff? (or the wowow?)

    Well, I want one, but even if you got it, do you get the impression games would be stored on the platform or be purchased anew each time?

    Right, my understanding is that you cannot play games offline at all, even after downloading them. My understanding is each game was downloaded then cached into a dedicated memory space, replacing the previously download game each time. You then had to call the server to be allowed into the game (and billed accordingly).

    I’ll share more in future posts but there was a succession of home karaoke devices using the same service over the years. It is possible some of them stored game data in a different way that would allow preservation through hacking of some sort, but I am rather pessimistic.

    hmm, yeah, the main place they‘d be would be taito’s servers, and who knows whether they got wiped (odds are yes, and even if they were still there, who could get to them).

    Well, this form of preservation is cool anyway!

    I do wonder whether takai shokai has a unit at least. Dude hasn't replied to an email since I didn't manage to get a business deal going with him on SNK 40th though.

    Amazing! Surprised to see that MobyGames has a couple of the games listed. It has release dates of December 24 1995 for both Cleopatra Fortune & Space Invaders. They were only added to the site in March.

    https://www.mobygames.com/browse/games/taito-x-55/

    interesting! I wonder who added those… and what they used for credits proof??

    I believe these were the only two games “known to exist” online until now. We knew there was a port of Space Invaders thanks to that commercial (notice how the Moby Page entry does not properly call it “Space Invaders 1995” yet), and the trivia about Cleopatra Fortune comes out when you look for information on the game on Japanese pages such as its Japanese Wikipedia article.

    Now that I have the identities of the other games, I have been trying to find more info on the service through them. One music track from the Puzzle Bobble port had been made available as part of a 2007 soundtrack collection called [Puzzle Bobble Variety.](https://zuntata.jp/ztt/ztl09.html)

    A bit of extra info! I guess games debuted 2 months after release, and they released a second version called the media box, adding internet.

    https://twitter.com/Youlouto/status/1259012620197269508?s=19

    And some more Cleopatra fortune info from the dev himself
    https://togetter.com/li/664375

    And this
    https://twitter.com/Zerochan/status/1236217459251638272?s=19

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    @exodus#1425 they released a second version called the media box, adding internet.

    Yes, I will share more on this later. Mediabox is not the name of the new machine (M-88), it’s how they rebranded the entire service. The original X-55 is also connecting to the same contents (minus internet browsing) so the game lineup should remain the same. The second pamphlet I shared is from the Mediabox era.

    The really nice info from that Game Machine article is that it confirms the first quiz game came out day one. So the twelve games from the pamphlet seem to have been placed in their order of release, from left to right.

    That Crescent Tale game looks amazing! Also it might actually allow simultaneous multiplayer? Although the screenshot seems single player only. I wonder when it came out.

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    And some more Cleopatra fortune info from the dev himself

    > https://togetter.com/li/664375

    I guess that’s where the Cleopatra Fortune trivia seen on other pages originated! If the limit for game data ROM was around 700kb, I wonder how they expected to fit an entire RPG in there. Then again, he seems to (understandably) misremember some details such as saying each play cost ¥100, so maybe the 400kb〜700kb size estimate should only been taken as an indication and the max ROM storage capacity of the machine was a bit higher.

    He‘s clearly actively interested in talking about it (he retweeted my mention of it) so we can ask for more info! It seems from that thread he also did the quiz game, so was requested to do a puzzle game, and Cleopatra fortune is what he came up with after being influenced by Sega properties like Puyo Puyo and columns. That’s neat!

    I couldn't quite tell, but it seemed like he might also have been responsible for crescent tale? I'll ask on Twitter!

    We should follow this potential angle as well: https://twitter.com/klarkashton/status/1259068327055388674?s=19

    Also! Here's someone with both boxes to potentially bother! https://twitter.com/raidaaaa/status/1259071896596779008?s=19

    Great to hear. I have been frustrated with the stuff I have received recently, nothing really worth writing a follow up post yet. In fact, Taito severely reduced the promotion on the gaming features shortly after the release of the Mediabox version.

    Would you care to share what’s incorrect in the original post? Do you have any further info or documentation regarding games that came out after the ones mentioned above?

    Yeah, go for it? Sorry you didn‘t like the Ketsui review, but that sure was more than 15 years ago. We later discussed that the dip switches on the version I played were set to lowest difficulty with some other oddities which I couldn’t have known at the time. I like Ketsui fine now!

    Thanks for taking the time to share some corrections and insights on many points.

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    @JAPJAC#1901 ‘Here was the entire software library available circa 1996:’ - Inaccurate. There were more.

    Can you share some titles? Are we talking a few missing titles or dozens of them? Every catalogue I have (that includes promotional flyers I have not shared here yet) only include these games or fewer, but I struggle to find later printed material addressing games in an extensive way.

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    @JAPJAC#1901 False. This racing game was released, I know the title of it and the game plays amazingly.

    Good to hear. What's the name of this game?

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    @JAPJAC#1901 A big factor for the release of the M-88 to replace the X-55 was to eliminate piracy! The infamous Japanese magazine ‘Game Labo’ published a guide on how to hack/modify the X-55 to allow users to keep the games the same way as songs could be kept. Luckily, I bought mine hacked so that is why I can enjoy so many of its games!! Apparently some shops in Akihabara used to sell such X-55s during this time.

    Thanks, this is very valuable information! I had not considered that Game Labo would cover the machine. I will try to track down that issue. But the best news here is that X-55 could be hacked and therefore that there some machines might potentially still host the games.

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    @JAPJAC#1901 ‘Mediabox is not the name of the new machine (M-88), it’s how they rebranded the entire service.’ - Completely wrong.

    Hmm how would you say this is wrong? They definitely shifted the entire branding towards the Mediabox name in 1996 when they starting promoting the M-88. Before that, X-55 and Data-Net Station were the two brands pushed in front. Same goes for your comment on game promotion: any later documention material I got severely reduced the scope of game-related information but maybe you have more info on how they adapted their strategy to promote games on the service?

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    @JAPJAC#1901 to anyone that truly understands value of the Yen, especially in the 90s, and compared to other home entertainment products, the X-55 did not cost a fortune, and obviously the following M-88 was even cheaper.

    Well, I guess this is more of a personal appreciation situation, depending on your means and upbringing, but that will be the one item about the X-55 where we'll need to agree to disagree. I get your point about spending power which was still indeed very high, but Japanese consumers in the 90s were already, from my own experience, more conservative on how to spend their money. I had family living in Japan during the entire 90s and come from a relatively comfortable middle class environment but they would have crucified me had I asked for a ¥65000 entertainment machine at Christmas in 1995. Also the quick turnaround and nearly 40% off price cut of M-88 suggest Japanese audiences found the offer not worth the value asked by Taito originally.

    Great news to hear you are helping someone preparing a video on this topic. I am going to assume you are sarcastic about Donald Trump’s relation to fact-checking, in true British tradition.

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    @JAPJAC#1904 Do you finally understand?

    Thanks! Yes I understand better what you mean now. Please pardon my poor English. I took "service" as a denomination for the entire business but I understand now the proper English wording should have been to differentiate the branding from the infrastructure, and that "service" in this case is understood closer to the infrastructure related to the machines. In that case, I agree with your categorization of each trademark: the product line was rebranded as Mediabox and the machines used the same X Data-Net Station service.

    >

    @JAPJAC#1904 Excellent affordable value for money.

    Fair enough, and I guess that was their thought process as well. Evidently history proved them wrong either from a business or a marketing standpoint, but I see why Taito believed in this project and mistakenly assumed they could reach a million sales rather than a tenth of that.

    >

    @JAPJAC#1904 TBA.

    Alright! I always appreciate the time taken by anyone on this topic, and its not an urgent matter, especially after so many years without any significant information reaching a broader audience. I hope this will covered in that mysterious Youtube project you are teasing!

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    @JAPJAC#1904 No sarcasm based on a racist stereotype of my nationality here regarding Trump-kun sorry. Stop all racism now.

    Sorry, my bad! It was actually meant as a compliment but I see that I should always be careful about how what I say can be misinterpreted, unintentionally hurtful to others, or needlessly antagonistic, especially in a different language. Thanks for the good reminder on the danger of stereotypes among different cultures, specifically. I take both your comment and the recent atrocities commited by government-sanctioned officers and guards in the US as important reminders of the constant efforts I should make to better understand and acknowledge my privilege, the class issues tied to racist and pseudo-segregationist policies and the poorly regulated economic systems in place, especially under the current US presidency. I would also interpret your request "stop all racism now" as an encouragement to stop (impeach? vote against?) Trump but maybe I am misunderstanding once again. Communication is hard! I will take your advice and _ganbare_ on all the above.

    Well I guess I have to say officially to @JAPJAC that if you want to participate in this forum you‘ve got to be nice, and a lot of your tone is pretty confrontational and dismissive of what others are trying to do here - not everyone is aware of everyone’s history researching games et cetera, it would be impossible to know everything. So keep that in mind when replying to folks, and try to be kind.

    The other thing is, this is 100% a left wing space, run by left wing folks, and populated primarily by left wing people, so keep that in mind too.

    All the information is valuable, just think about the confrontational tone, we're all just trying to have a fun time uncovering game history.

    ah, well. probably not the forum for you!

    Since they decided replace all their posts with spam I just marked them as a spammer.

    Hey guys what's up I was busy creating my own nation-state on the U.S. West Coast this week so I missed all the fun and drama but I am sure some interesting and not very smart things were said.

    I've taken the time to check those old issues of Game Labo released in the first half of 1996. There is indeed an in depth look at the machine in the April '96 issue, released mid-March. The article is interesting as it highlights the role of each chip on the motherboard so I will try to scan and share it here for reference. Unfortunately, that issue does not make any mention of a game backup method and in fact it explains why it would be very hard to do so. I am rather confident a trick was eventually found, as those things always do in one way or another, but certainly not quickly enough for piracy to be the reason why Taito started developing the Mediabox version in time for a late 1996 release, as previously claimed by our promptly banned fellow. It's therefore most likely the disastrous sales of the X-55 during the 1995 Christmas season, mentioned in the Game Machine issue shared by Youloute on Twitter (see above), that caused the Mediabox to happen.

    I am a bit busy these days but I will take the time to check if the August or October issues of Game Labo do include an article about X-55 piracy.

    Guy I knew in Japan had one of these and had the games saved. Have not talked with him in over a decade but I will see if I can get back in touch to get more info.

    @chazumaru unfortunately your nation-state got renamed in the interim ;_;

    Definitely interested in seeing anything more that comes up about this - @Fishie if you can try to get more info here, that'd be cool - it seems that getting the games saved would have been quite the feat, but if your friend did indeed somehow manage it, that'd be a step toward preserving them. So definitely give them a mail!