Obscure Arcade Game History: “I’m Sorry”

On another one of my commute-in gaming sessions, I played one of my favorite obscure and very weird arcade games, “I’m Sorry” by Sega. Chuckling to myself as much as ever as I played, I realized I needed to share this with you guys. It’s such a brilliantly ridiculous game, and it needs to be given some spotlight.

There are not many political satire-based video games out there. In fact, I’d challenge you guys to think of some to post in the comments. “I’m Sorry” stars a real-life Japanese prime-minister as the main character, Kakuei Tanaka, who served in 1972 and again in 1974. During the 1980’s, he was also an extremely influential member of the Liberal Democratic Party. It was during this time that he was embroiled in an infamous lot of scandals, prompting the subject matter for the game itself. The name of the game itself is a play on words, since the Japanese word for prime minister is “Sori”. Pretty clever.

Aside from some of the obvious innuendo in the game which pokes fun at Tanaka’s greed (grabbing gold bars around Tokyo and breaking into safes, etc) there’s also some very bizarre stuff going on that is absolutely unexplainable.

Essentially, “I’m Sorry” is a Pac-Man style game, where you maneuver Tanaka around mazes (which are actually various locations in Tokyo) avoiding various enemies who give him constant chase. You’re able to punch the enemies or jump, and in some levels, you’re required to jump over barrels (which cannot be punched) or avoid water traps. After you have collected the gold bars, you need to return them, or “cash them in” at what appears to be the Japanese National Diet Building at the top of the screen.

The truly bizarre aspect of this game is found in the enemies themselves. You are chased by famous Japanese comedian Tamori, Carl Lewis (yes, the olympian), Michael Jackson, Madonna, and the late Japanese professional wrestler, Giant Baba. What sort of beef these guys have with a corrupt politician is beyond me, but the hilarity only compounds from here.

If you are caught by Tamori, for example, Tamori suddenly is wearing an S&M bikini, while he whips your crying protagonist on the back…who is now wearing a diaper. Somehow I don’t think this actually happened in real life. The other characters also prompt their own custom animations, but this one is certainly the most remarkable.

With this much pure political satire and cultural reference, you’d assume that there was no way this strange arcade game would have ever made it to America. But, believe it or not, it actually did! It was released in a very limited run in the United States with localized written language only. The game is still called “I’m Sorry”, and only a few instances of Japanese language are localized into English. However, every other aspect of the game remains unchanged. It’s inconceivable what some unsuspecting arcade goer of the 1980’s would have surmised this game could have possibly been about, especially at a time when there was no internet and no means by which to get quick answers on something so obscure. The American release is listed as an extremely rare machine with virtually no owners known.

“I’m Sorry” is one of my favorite weird old arcade games. The music is just so fun, and the gameplay is actually pretty solid. Plus, playing the game always elicits a little chuckle or smile. I can only surmise that the developers were quite politically-minded people and must have really been irritated with Tanaka’s shenangigans enough so that they’d go through all the trouble of developing an entire video game that takes the piss.

Tanaka died in 1993, though his daughter Makiko Tanaka is a very active figure in Japanese politics to this day.

For more information, check out the Wikipedia links contained in this article.

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