CR Fever Densha de Go! SP
CRフィーバー電車でGO! SP  (CR Fever Densha de Go! SP)
Sankyo - Tatsumaki (Tornado) Frame, 2000

I think everyone in a hobby that has an aspect of limited availability has at least a couple items they passed up on and have been unable to find ever since.  In the early 2000's pachinko and pachislo were everywhere in the United States, as there were a number of importers who had massive inventory and excellent customer service.  These companies were Big Bear, Stealth Home Amusements, Slot USA, and a few others.  Even if you never did business with them, you probably have a couple pachislo medals embossed with their names.  The most over the top and intricate pachinko machines ever produced came out around this time, filled with crazy animatronic playfield gimmicks and extremely varied theming.  During both this golden era of pachinko design and American-based importers, you could purchase pretty much any machine for between $200 - $300.  Pachislo was even less, with Stealth in particular having crazy sales where you could pick up three machines for about $100 each, and they'd often toss in a ton of free medals as a courtesy.

Although I had the means and money to buy machines then, I erroneously figured they'd always be around and would always be a couple hundred bucks.  Of course that wasn't the case and many of these machines disappeared almost completely, let alone stateside.  I totally blew my chance for pachislo such as Carnival Night, Ward of Lights, Super Bunny Girl, Tomcat, King Camel and other contemporaries.  Even worse the chances of finding pachinko such as Bunny Girl, Indiana Jones, City Hunter, Rocky, and the subject of this page - Fever Densha de Go! - became slim to none.  Densha de Go! is a series of train driving video games developed by Taito, which became a bit of a gaming phenomenon in Japan.  The Densha de Go pachinko machines were released at the peak of the series' popularity and have since become a prized collectible for fans of the games.

I still kept the search up, now and then, but even in Japan a couple of these were hard to come by - namely Bunny Girl and either of the Densha de Go games.  In fact the only PachiTalk forum thread I kept up every now and then was a "want to buy" thread inquiring about a Bunny Girl pachinko but I only logged in rarely.  Getting into pachislo with my Ultraseven machine lead me back to PachiTalk and to becoming more active in the community.  To that end I created a couple fresh "want to buy" threads for CR Bunny Girl and CR Fever Densha de Go.  There are a couple different versions of each machine, which feature different odds and gameplay tweaks, but I wasn't going to be picky - especially if someone was local to me.

CR Fever Densha de Go! SP in the Tatsumaki frame (left and center), a CR Fever Densha de Go! EX cell (right).

Following my history of "should have bought it when I saw it years ago, now it keeps passing me by," a long time forum member had recently offered a CR Fever Densha de Go! SP model, in addition to the sequel game.  The sequel was picked up pretty quickly as it has always been in higher demand but he had since elected to hold onto his machines and the original game was no longer being offered.  I chalked it up as yet another missed opportunity and this time all because I wasn't as active in the PachiTalk community as I should have been.

About a month later however, the stars finally aligned for this machine.  The forum member once again offered a few of his machines for people on PachiTalk who would take care of them and could pick them up locally.  While I wasn't exactly local, the extremely fair price and couple hours round trip were easily worth it, especially for a machine I had been trying to find for years.  So one early mid-September morning in 2022 my wife and I set out down the coast to chase a grail of mine.  I met up with Rich of the PachiTalk forums, took at look at a few of his machines, talked a bit about pachinko and the community, and picked up a machine I thought I would never have.  Thanks again Rich for kindly allowing me to bring this Densha de Go home!

The machine once transported home, in excellent condition with a beautiful orange Tatsumaki frame.

Giving the game its first play after a quick wipe down and cable reseating after transport.

As it was a game that I knew I was going to play quite a bit, I wanted to build an enclosure that would allow me to use it with minimal setup and to protect it while moving it about my apartment to play.  My approach to building enclosures is to make them as compact as possible, with the ability to add on later - although I've only ever built a few.  This is to allow the machines to be moved easily as I don't have a specific space to have everything set up at this point.  A permanent extended hopper can just be added to the top and a drain compartment can just be added on the bottom if those are desired later on.

I start at the bottom with a runner that is deep enough to fully contain the entire machine with a bit of extra clearance, and wide enough to accommodate the vertical boards of the enclosure so everything rests atop the new base.  I have the boards cut to length at the hardware store and do the fine finishing work myself.  The idea isn't to make it perfect, it's to protect the machine and give it a larger outer frame.  It will also make the game more stable to stand on its own and allow it to be pushed back flush against a wall.  I also make the enclosure reasonably easy to remove, as it is secured to the outer pachinko frame with wood screws and a bit of wood glue but nothing excessive.

The machine upside down with the bottom runner secured and right side panel being fitted.

Once the bottom is attached and I'm satisfied with its positioning, I then attach the sides and level them off as needed.  The top piece comes last and for a modern machine I drill a large hole in the top panel above the hopper, to allow the machine to be replenished with balls from the outside.  A temporary or permanent extended hopper can simply be attached up top with a drain pipe or tube down into the machine.

It's not always perfect and in the case of this frame I needed to add a couple of shims to make up some distance on the top.  It's important to ensure that both the playfield access door and the full machine frame swing out can clear the enclosure without binding or knocking into anything.  In the case of this machine the bit of extra space at the top was necessary to allow it to open smoothly.  This isn't surprising since the machine wood frames aren't always exactly square after years of being moved around outside of a parlor installation.

The ball catch tray shown here was only temporary.

The back of the enclosure also needs to have adequate clearance so that none of the boards or harnesses foul where an eventual back panel will go.  It's also important to ensure that everything back here can clear the enclosure when the frame is opened, which can sometimes be an issue with complex machines.  In the case of Densha de Go the wiring harnesses that curve around the outer edge have to be tucked in just right to ensure they don't catch on the frame when swung open.  I also relocated the transformer to the base of the enclosure since it will allow for better ventilation instead of being tucked under the ball races and board stacks.  The back panel is simply a sheet of thin plywood that is secured with screws so that it can easily be removed if necessary.

When deciding upon a color to paint the enclosure I settled upon gloss white as I thought the orange frame would look good surrounded by it.

An individual enclosure means there's space for a bit of extra fun, so I decided to make cabinet graphics for the sides.  I found the tiny little promotional image that Sankyo used on their website two decades ago, and was able to remake the game's logo using another Densha de Go flyer scan and added the "FEVER" text to mirror it.  Amazingly I was able to recover this game's chibi version of Tetsu-chan (the series mascot) from the promo image.  I was going to do a full redraw and make it smooth but I like the pixelated result I got initially, as it mirrors her appearance in the game, and decided to go with that.  I also grabbed a Sankyo logo.  I printed them on adhesive vinyl and then used adhesive laminating sheets to protect the vinyl and ink after it dried.  Nothing fancy here, just home inkjet prints.

I was surprised with how much I like the look of the finished side graphics I came up with.  I think it almost looks like something that would be on a trade show demo or the like.  I've since had minor issues with the stickers wanting to peel away from the gloss painted sides but this was remedied by using a bit of extra adhesive.

Pachinko machines absolutely need an aftermarket volume adjustment installed of some kind.  While the machine will generally have a volume adjustment built in, it usually moves between "loud - louder - loudest" as it is extremely noisy in a parlor environment.  For audio adjustment on this machine I went with the larger 500 ohm potentiometers as I like the ease of adjustment they provide.  Not wanting additional wires running around the cabinet, I elected to mount them on the back of the game right on the top.  The leads run through to the speakers on the front via a wire pathway at the top front door hinge, where there's plenty of clearance.  They're then spliced into the speaker wires at the front.  The heat-shrink is a bit singed as I use cheap heat-shrink for low voltage.

Volume adjustment pots are mounted on the frame itself to allow adjustment to easily be made when the machine is open.

The wires run through an access channel by the hinge and are cleanly spliced into the speaker lines.

The other side of the cabinet has an oblong hole to reach in and trip the door release latch.  The large opening at the bottom is to drain out captured balls.  The base board has a bit of a channel I cut into it that directs balls to roll out the side of the machine and into a catch bin I set beside it when playing.  I know it's not a setup many people use but for my current situation it works great.  If down the road I decide to build a capture box beneath the cabinet, I can simply drill a hole in the bottom enclosure board and install a pipe to divert lost balls down to it.

The tray at the bottom is open on the right side, which allows the balls to fall out into a captive area and roll down a beveled slope to exit the machine.  I eventually replaced the cardboard guides with some heavy cardstock glazed with wood glue to make a more solid pathway out of the machine.  The tray can easily be replaced with an unmodified one or removed to allow a direct drain beneath the cabinet at a later time.  I also redid the transformer connections to ensure they were wrapped and insulated properly.

Up top the enclosure has a large hole to allow the hopper to be refilled or for an extended hopper to be connected later on.  Presently I use a large plastic rice chest as an extended hopper, with a flexible tube connected to it that sits down inside the machine to prevent the internal hopper from overflowing.  It looks small in the picture but I estimate it can hold around 8,000 balls without becoming too heavy.  I also use another of the same container, unmodified, to catch the balls as they fall away from the drain at the side.

Everything works great with this setup and I've had no problems with balls refilling or draining out with no stray balls in the machine.  Hopefully one day I'll have a more dedicated spot for my pachi games and can add permanent extended hoppers to my machines but this is a great solution for the time being.

The frame speakers illuminating while in jitan mode.

I really love this game and how much it is tied into the earlier era of the Densha de Go franchise.  I know everyone is always looking for the sequel machine, which is in the highly desirable Lumina frame, and while that machine is insanely cool with all the playfield gimmicks and enhanced modes, it has a very modern visual motif.  This first game really feels ripped out of the early arcade and PlayStation games, even if it makes the over all presentation simpler.  I'm actually a really big fan of the Tatsumaki frame, especially the orange version, and it can do some pretty crazy things during fever reaches and special modes.

The machine along with Ultraseven pachislo in the corner of the dining room at my previous apartment.

I feel extremely fortunate to have this machine in my collection as it really does cross over between a lot of my different interests.  It's also just a ton of fun to play and is very engaging for a machine of its era.  The only minor issue I've had is there is a line near the bottom of the display that doesn't illuminate.  I opened up the panel somewhat to check for a bad trace or connection and everything checked out okay, so it may simply be burned out along that line.  It really isn't a big deal because it's so close to the bottom and I'm just glad it isn't across the middle or something.  The little screens on these machines weren't designed to be working for so long and it's not uncommon for them to go out - I'm just glad it works.

Again, a huge thanks to Rich at PachiTalk for allowing me to acquire this machine and being an all-around helpful regular in that community.

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Gameplay Sequence and General Payout Information

I thought I would explain the gameplay sequence on this machine and provide some basic information on general things that apply to this era of pachinko.  First off is the "CR" designation that features on most modern pachinko machines to this day.  CR stands for Card Reader and was a system developed to better audit the cash flow of pachinko parlors.  Rather than using cash to directly purchase balls for play, cash would instead be used to purchase pre-paid value cards.  A card would then be inserted into a ball loan machine, usually located between pachinko machines, which would then dispense balls into the ball tray.  Eventually this was changed to simply using the machines themselves to dispense purchased balls, with the ball loan machines replaced with a card reader device connected to each pachinko machine.  This facilitated adoption of an industry-wide standardized interface for card reader enabled machines, hence the CR designation.  For home use this connector is usually simply overridden via a bypass dongle that allows the machine to operate, but solutions such as Pinball Dave's Card Reader Emulator allow for parlor-style functionality in a home environment.

For all gameplay information specific to this machine, I'll be referencing the playfield as seen below:

Playfield of a CR Fever Densha de Go! SP.

The playfield door has been opened in these pictures to allow for clearer pictures.  As you can see in the upper left of this machine, there is information showing the machine's name, its payout amounts, and jackpot odds.  This is standard for most pachinko machines manufactured since the early modern era.

Information in the upper right displays game name, odds, and payouts.

The machine's name is shown as "CR Fever Densha de Go! SP" with the odds probability of 1/315.5 reel spins resulting in a jackpot / fever, with a follow up variable bonus rate of 1/2 for consecutive fever spins, and no limit to how many may possibly occur.  I can speak from experience that this machine can be very stingy while on the other side of the coin it can also pay out like crazy.  If you are in the market for a machine that has different versions, pay attention to what the fever odds are, as that's generally the biggest difference.  Machines that hit something like 1/900 can become extremely boring in the long run.  The numbers "5 & 12 & 15" above denote how many balls the machine will pay out for each ball that enters a win pocket.  In the case of this machine it means the start chucker will pay out 5 balls, the four win pockets at the bottom will pay out 12 balls, and the attacker will pay out 15 balls for each ball that enters.  Start chucker?  Attacker?  All will be explained below!

The goal of pachinko is to shoot balls into the machine, have them enter win pockets, which will then pay out even more balls.  This is accomplished by entering jackpot rounds, called fevers, where the most valuable win pockets will open up and allow the largest payouts.  On many machines this state is entered by matching combinations on slot reels, which are spun by getting a ball into a specific win pocket known as the "start chucker."

The start chucker on Fever Densha de Go! features game series mascot Tetsu-chan.

Targeting the start chucker should be the main objective for every ball fired into the machine, as the more times the reels are spun, the better the odds of hitting a fever become.  There is usually a preferred path that cascading balls can be directed along to bring them toward the start chucker, and finding this sweet spot is one of the keys to pachinko.  In the case of Fever Densha de Go the start chucker is locked beneath the reel display as a small tulip with the mascot of the series, Tetsu-chan, on it.  Additionally on this machine the recessed area in front of the reel display will usually allow balls to bounce in and give them time to settle before rolling off toward the start chucker.

The reels on the display at the center of the machine, these spin when a ball enters the start chucker.

When a ball enters the start chucker it will cause the reels on the screen to spin.  For this machine a matching sequence of three of the same numbers across the center will result in a fever.  When two numbers match, the machine will often enter what is known as a "reach" and a video mode will play as the final reel continues to spin.  These are a big part of the visual flare of pachinko and are designed to engage the player and pump up emotion that they may hit a fever.  Most of the time a match isn't made but a lot of the excitement and tension of the game is created by these sequences, especially when a machine keeps hitting.  Additionally special bonus modes may start up from time to time that act as mini reaches but will result in a fever if they hit just the same.  Fever Densha de Go has reaches that are themed after Japanese commuter rail operations featuring comedic characters, in addition to events those familiar with the games will recognize, such as stopping a train at the station properly.  These modes all play out automatically with no input from the player, it's all chance and luck.  Additionally every ball that enters the start chucker will pay out a few balls as the reels spin, as explained earlier that payout on this machine is 5 balls.

If a reach results in a combination and a "fever" mode begins, the door beneath the start chucker will open.  This door is called the "attacker" and is how the biggest payouts in most games are earned.  For many years conventional pachinko design had the attacker door at the bottom of the machine but as video displays began to get bigger and take up most of the playfield, many modern machines moved the attacker over the right side of the machine.

The attacker door will open once a slot combination is hit during a reach.

Once a fever mode is entered, every ball should be aimed toward the attacker door.  In the case of Fever Densha de Go, every ball that enters the attacker will pay out 15 balls.  Each fever mode comprises fifteen rounds, with each round advancing after nine balls enter the attacker.  This means a completed fever mode can pay out a whopping 2025 balls across the fifteen rounds.  This is also why it is recommended to have 3000 - 4000 balls for each modern machine you own, with an absolute minimum of 1500.

While each ball that enters the start chucker will spin the reels, there is a maximum to how many spins can be banked at a time.  Every ball that enters will still pay out 5 in return, but only four pending spins can be banked and this status is shown above the reel display on this machine.

In this case, two reel spins are banked to occur after the current spin completes.

The four lights across the bottom of the train above the reel display will illuminate to correspond to how many spins are banked.  Once a reel spin is banked the reels will spin and complete their sequence faster than a single spin, preventing too much of a backup and loss of additional spins.

There is also a modifier that makes the start chucker easier to hit, although targeting it is a bit out of the sweet spot path for the start chucker in my experience.  This is called a sub-roulette and is something common on machines of this era and style.  It is activated by passing a ball through the "GO" target on the upper left of the playfield.

The GO target on the upper left of the playfield, just out of the best path for the start chucker.

The GO target doesn't award any balls, instead it starts a countdown.  After about half a minute it will cause the start chucker tulip to open very briefly, just long enough to have it open and close.  This makes the start chucker a larger target and a couple extra balls can bounce into it while open, but this moment of improved odds is very brief.  As with reel spins, the sub-roulette can be banked up to four times.  These are shown in the same area where the banked reel spins are shown.

In this example there are three sequential countdowns for the sub-roulette active, sub-roulettes also cause the train lights to flash.

The signal lights to the left and right of the train above the reel display denote how many sub-roulettes have been activated.  Each one will start a silent countdown that will cause the start chucker tulip to open and close quickly.  While the opened tulip isn't something that can really be targeted since it is open so briefly, keeping the stream of balls in the general vicinity of the start chucker will still take best advantage of it.  A strategy is to bank sub-roulettes by changing the ball force just a bit, then returning it to target the sweet spot once they are lit, moving back and forth during the game flow.

The final targets on the machine are the "DEN-GO" and "IN" pockets at the bottom left and bottom right of the playfield.  While these will flash and light up during normal play as various modes are entered, they are static win pockets that will pay out 12 balls for each ball that enters one of them.

DEN-GO and IN targets on the left side.

IN and DEN-GO targets on the right side.

As these targets are so far away from the general path of the sub-roulette and start chucker, they often only have a ball enter them by chance.  They really aren't worth specifically targeting because the payout in the long run will always be far smaller than aiming for the start chucker and entering a fever mode.  It's still a nice little bonus when a ball enters one, especially the left side IN pocket which sometimes will catch a ball between fever rounds when the attacker is closed and resetting.

While most of the detail of this play information is specific to this machine, many pachinko machines will operate in a similar fashion, especially those manufactured around the same time.  Finding the sweet spot, adjusting your targeting to activate modifiers, and enjoying the excitement of reaches and special modes are all things that make pachinko fun and engaging.

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A Few Things in Detail

I mentioned above that I replaced the temporary cardboard ball guides at the bottom of the enclosure with a more permanent solution.  My original intention was to build them out of some hobby wood but I realized that was overkill for what I needed.  Ultimately I decided to use thick cardstock glued into place with wood glue.  This is an old model railroading and crafting technique I've used in the past, and with proper reinforcing struts it is surprisingly strong yet easy to remove if desired later on.  Even in my case this solution is intended to be reasonably temporary until I have a more dedicated space for my machines and can add a proper drain compartment to the bottom of the enclosure.

The guides made out of cardstock are as strong as hobby wood but easier to remove.

Balls that exit the machine fall into the plastic container, which is angled to have them roll out the side through a large opening and down a level to where the guides seen above are.  The guides keep the balls funneled toward the beveled slope that allows them to roll out the side of the machine, where they drop off into a catch container I place below and beside it when playing.  I have had zero problems with balls rolling stray or not exiting the machine since going this route.  Again, having a direct drain compartment beneath the machine is a better solution but until I have my machines in a more fixed location I'm happy with how this works.

As I also mentioned previously there is a bad line across the bottom of the display, which has been like that since I first saw the machine.  The screens don't last forever (these machines were only designed to work for two years or so originally) and it looks great otherwise so it's not a big deal to me.  Just to be sure it wasn't something simple like a pinched connection, I did open the panel and all the ribbon cables checked out.  Their connection points also checked out fine and I didn't want to dig any further, so who knows where the problem is.  Even when the video cable is disconnected and only the backlight is illuminated, the line across the bottom persists so I don't think it's a signal problem.  I'm just glad it's the only issue with the machine, is at the very bottom, and is something I can absolutely live with.

The reel display up close with a single pixel line that is out near the bottom.

In regular gameplay, depending on how you sit at the machine, it kind of blends into the bottom edge of the display feature so it's really not even apparent until I point it out to someone.  Aside from that the display looks beautiful and is bright and clear without being washed out.

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Last updated 09/28/2023
If you have questions or comments about pachinko or pachislo, you can contact me here.

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