Japanese game shows are legendary for being more extreme (and absurd) than their American counterparts. Chris Farley immortalized the concept in a classic SNL sketch, and MXC and Ninja Warrior have both achieved great success dubbed and subtitled on American television. A big part of their appeal is how demanding they are compared to U.S. game shows. Only a few people have actually won Ninja Warrior in its 23 seasons on the air, and MXC is a constant comedy of failure and pain.
Retro Game Master has that appeal in spades.
Unlike most game shows, Retro Game Master's host is also the only hapless competitor—Kacho (or manager), played Shinya Arino, half of Japanese comedy duo Yoiko. Arino acts as the manager of a gaming company, where his sole job is to play video games. No... it doesn't make sense.
In each episode, he's given a different retro Japanese game (usually for Famicom/NES) that he has to beat. The trick is that he hasn't played any of them before—and that he has to try and beat them in one just sitting. In keeping with the corporate theme, he plays the games while seated at a desk, wearing one of those ubiquitous Japanese engineering uniforms. Arino also has a team of assistants who can help him out of a jam when he gets stuck, and they're much better gamers than he, leading to some hilarious nerd vs. professional comedian exchanges.
The show has aired for 13 seasons in Japan and recently came to the United States for the first time—in a rather unconventional way. The rights to broadcast the show in North America weren't given to a television station like G4, but to Gawker Media. Every Thursday night at 8 p.m. (EST) on Kotaku, they stream a new re-edited episode with the narration dubbed in English, and the host and his aides subtitled. You can also see past streamed episodes here.
Rather than starting from the beginning of the series and going in order, they're cherry-picking the good episodes to translate, which is smart, since many of the Japan-only games Arino has played would appeal less to the American audiences who've never seen or heard of them before.
Retro Game Master isn't the only show out there about video games. There have been countless others in Japan and even a couple here in the States, but none of them have celebrated games like RGM. About forty percent of any given episode shows the game itself in full screen, music blasting.
And this isn't a G4 show with attractive hosts talking smoothly about big-budget new releases, but a show where sweaty, uncomfortable Japanese men play games in an unadorned office, fighting through brutally hard games and laughing at the wins and losses endured. They deal with glare on their screens, fatigue, and that special kind of elation that comes with trying to make the same jump 80 times in a row in rapid succession and then finally getting it right. Even the massive pile of snacks Arino keeps on his desk should be familiar to anyone who has stayed up all night beating a game.
This is the first show I've ever seen that's about gamers playing video games together like normal gamers. I love it.