Densha de D Lightning Stage: Ride the Lightning [Stage]

Have you ever finished a gaming session grinning from ear to ear? Or replayed the same stage over and over again just because, yes, that really did happen and you’ve got to experience it one more time, like a kid racing up and down their favourite slide?

That’s what a quick go on Densha de D: Lightning Stage, the unlikely, yet also perfect, mashup of the cast and style of the super-cool Initial D manga and the not quite as cool but still brilliant Densha De GO! series of train sims will do to you.

This 2010 game’s based on the successful manga of the same name, and lifts its high-speed scenarios directly from the fantastic stories illustrated within. The manual even includes the complete first chapter at the back (or the front, depending on how you look at it), just so you can enjoy comparing and contrasting the original work and your own playthrough of Lightning Stage’s opening race.

And as for every other race in the game? Don’t worry, they’re a whole heap of fun whether you already have some idea of what’s to come or have never seen a train drift around a bend at impossible speeds in your life.

Mastering the art of multi-track drifting is the key to racing success, as hopping across two railway lines allows your train to keep or even safely increase its speed around the many tight corners found in these fictionalised takes on small stretches of Japan’s rail network. It’s a satisfying technique to pull off; taking a side-on stance as the bend comes into view, correcting yourself on the straight so you’re ready for the next corner, quickly dancing between the lines to avoid an incoming obstacle while keeping the needle at the very edge of the speedometer’s upper limit.

There’s no need to worry about all the usual rules and regulations that define a typical train sim experience either, although instead of this apparent simplicity turning the game into a glorified slot car set Densha de D instead uses this opportunity to bring vibrant texture to other areas, giving the game depth in a different way. Inclines make a palpable difference to your train’s speed, naturally needing a bit more oomph to go up a hill and gaining speed—whether you want it to or not—on a downward slope. Sudden changes in the track—two lines converging, an upcoming station, your opponent catching up at exactly the wrong moment—can turn the perfect drift into a race-ending nightmare.

But most importantly of all you need to really control your speed on the corners if you don’t want to wobble off the rails, either dramatically losing speed for a short while or leaving the track entirely.

The good news is all the information you need to keep your train hurtling along at top speed is on the screen and ready for you to use. The top of the screen plainly shows the current status of each individual carriage, ranging from blue (drifting), to a dark red, which means a carriage has completely detached (this is “fine”, so long as it’s not the driver’s carriage). Between those extremes you’ve got green (normal), orange (watch out), and red (you’ve lost control of the carriage and will just have to hope it’ll dramatically pop back into place, cartoon racer style). The animations of trains themselves also accurately reflect their current state, and with practice it’s possible to learn the difference between “Wooo~! We’re going so fast!” vibrations and “This is dangerous, I need to ease off” shaking, which gives you the chance to focus on the race itself rather than keeping one eye on the UI, and also feel like a master train driver who just instinctively knows how to push these locomotives to the limit.

But what happens when you get used to all of that and perfect a race on a set track with one opponent? Is that it?

No, because Lightning Stage is as much an interactive manga simulator as it is a racing game. Every semi-exciting event will dynamically trigger an interactive cutscene with you as the star. Pass an opponent’s train when there’s barely inches of track between the two? There’s probably an excitable voiceover and matching artwork to go with that. Have you just slid through a station? Make sure you enjoy the hand-picked camera angle on your reckless dash past the platform. This is honestly the best manga-style presentation I’ve seen in a game since Capcom’s fabulous EX Troopers. The overlays and framing—mostly lifted directly from the original Densha de D manga—really do make it look like you’re personally participating in the latest chapter, and the exuberant voice acting that goes with it only makes the whole experience feel even more thrilling. Even the relatively realistic 3D models help, the lack of cel-shading or other obvious graphical filters giving them a special sort of “ordinary” ridiculousness that contrasts well with the speed lines and constant stream of gorgeous manga panels, like a kid secretly playing with their parent’s model train set and skidding a die cast train around the bend by the model tea shop or making them jump over a resin-filled pond. There’s some sense of reality creeping into the races themselves too—the Oyamazaki Corkscrew that plays a major role in the unlockable Plus chapter is a real stretch of train track (definitely not taken at the speeds encouraged by the game!), something you can watch videos of on YouTube, and the other train stations and track segments are often hazily reminiscent of their real-world counterparts.

Playing through your speakers while all of this is going on is the most perfect Eurobeat-via-Japan soundtrack ever to reach your ears. In fact it’s so effervescent and positive that even if you’re sure you don’t like Eurobeat, you’re bound to fall in love with the genre after playing some Densha de D.

And you’re sure to become very familiar with the game’s soundtrack because you’ll keep coming back to the game even though there are just four standard stages (these must be tackled in order), and three additional races to unlock. Each one contains some fantastic quirk to them that only makes you want to dive straight back in for another go, eager to unleash Lightning Stage’s energy and joy one more time.

As far as I’m concerned, Densha de D is the raw spirit of gaming pressed onto an unassuming CD. It’s proud to be fun and funny, and it sincerely wants the electric thrill of its openly daft idea to reach right down to your core (and a friend’s too, thanks to the local split-screen versus mode), set your heart alight, and make you believe that not only can a train drift, but it’ll also be the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen.

Dying to climb aboard? You’re in luck! You’ll find  Lightning Stage’s official playable demo here: (the 179MB link at the very top), and the 541MB patch to bring the full game up to the final v1.02 release is the next link down the same page.

You can even buy digital copies of every game in the series and their soundtracks (yes, they take Paypal) on DLsite.​

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