Friday, August 17, 2018

Telenet Japan's Tropical Funhouse

Telenet Japan logo (Source: Telenet website)
Some avid game players during the 16-bit era may remember a company called Telenet Japan. They, along with their various divisions and subsidiaries such as Wolf Team, put out cult favorites like the Valis series, Granada, El Viento, and Gaiares. But after cornering the sword-wielding schoolgirl game market with Valis, Telenet felt the need to take on the arcade business. Not arcade games, entire arcades.

More accurately, they were "amusement centers." In the early 1990s, Telenet planned to develop 10 of them overseas. They decided to build their first in Hawaii, hoping to attract 500 of the state's many Japanese tourists a day.

The new game center opened in early 1992. Called Cosmic Fantasy (presumably taken from the RPG series of the same name), it was officially referred to as a "restaurant & game resort," something along the lines of a Dave & Buster's. The architectural firm of Ferraro Choi and Associates was tasked with designing the 17,000 sq. ft. facility, located on the second floor of the Kalakaua Center in Honolulu. In addition to the games and the restaurant, there was also a bar, karaoke rooms, and even a radio studio, according to Ferraro Choi's website. (Ferraro Choi won an Award of Merit from the Honolulu chapter of the American Institute of Architects [AIA].)

Telenet apparently felt they needed cute mascots. Rather than come up with new ones, they rummaged through their back catalog, and all they could find was the dinosaur couple from Dino Land, a pinball game by Wolf Team. The two dinos adorn the tokens (see right). It's unknown if they were used on anything else.

Unfortunately, there's not a lot of other information about this venture like how successful it was, or when it closed, or if it served Dino Land Dino Burgers in the restaurant. It cost $2 million to develop, though, and it was blessed by Rev. Abraham Akaka, "Hawaii's official blesser," on January 17, 1992.

There's no evidence Telenet opened any more of these places, or that they had any game centers in Japan. However, articles about Telenet closing in 2007 mention problems with a U.S. subsidiary's game center(s). A check of Telenet's old website turns up nothing. Was Cosmic Fantasy a drag on the company for years to come?

A vintage Usenet post by someone in Hawaii mentions an article on Cosmic Fantasy in Famitsu. One of the highlights was Sega's R-360 cabinets, which were $3 a play. A home movie uploaded to YouTube (below) shows an R-360 in action and plenty of Street Fighter II and pinball tables.

Credit: Marc Orbito