Friday, May 22, 2020

Extremely Valuable Used Ice Cream Wrappers and a 1986 Famicom Contest I Never Knew About

There was a very interesting thing that sold the other day on Yahoo Auctions: Super Mario Brothers Ice Cream Bar Wrappers.  Without the ice cream.

According to the listing these were originally sold in 1986 and were produced by Yuki Jirushi, a famous Japanese maker of dairy products.  There are two of them, which originally had peach flavored ice cream bars in them. Actually I'm not sure if they were ice cream or maybe more like a popsicle, the product is called "Famicom Ice" which could go either way.

They cost 50 Yen back in the day, but now two empty wrappers sell for:

Wow, that is about 90$ US!  Kudos to whoever had the foresight in 1986 to eat two ice cream bars, look at the empty wrappers and think "Hey, these might be worth something 34 years from now, instead of throwing them in the trash, I'll hold on to them!"

I've never seen these before and its kind of interesting to know that this product existed.  I am curious if they only came in Super Mario Bros wrappers, or with other game art.

One really interesting thing is that the blue starburst in the side panel says that there is a game contest associated with these in which you could win either a Nintendo game cartridge or a Joyball controller. The text along the top says that the contest would last for 6 months, with 1,000 prize winners per month (for a maximum of 6,000 total).

The back panel above gives you a list of the games that you could win.  These included Super Mario Bros., Mach Rider, F1 Race, Ice Climber, Baseball, Soccer, Tennis, Golf and Spartan X.

 There is a little mushroom logo you can see, you had to cut that off and send it in to the company to enter the contest.

Anyway, that is kind of interesting stuff, isn't it?  When I first saw the auction with a 100 Yen start bid I threw a bid in just on a lark to see if I could win it for 100 Yen.  I was blown away when I saw how high it actually went for (needless to say I didn't win).  These might be the only copies of these still in existence though so I can see how to a hard core Famicom collector they would be seen as a must have item.

Edited to add:

Adori 12 on Famicom World showed me a commercial of these very things.  Very cool and worth a watch!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Super Mario Kart Race: Suburban Japan Edition

My kids are really getting into Mario stuff since I introduced them to the Famicom a couple weeks ago.  The characters have gone from zero to the top of their "childhood fascination" list at break neck speed, displacing Pokemons who were briefly at the top of that list until the beginning of this month.

So I've started to do something I haven't done in years: look for Mario related toys.  Only not for me, but as gifts for them.

 I stumbled across a cheap (800 Yen)  bag full of used pull back cars featuring Super Mario Kart characters at a Hard Off the other day which I thought would be the perfect thing, since they both like toy cars too. (Side Note: our state of emergency was lifted, so shops are open again. Japan has gotten off very lightly with Covid 19 so far)

These were originally released back in 2008 in connection with Mario Kart Wii.  On a side note, its kind of weird but that means they are about as old as this blog is, so stuff that would have been "new" when I started this thing have now moved into "retro" territory.  I've come full circle!
 There are actually Karts from two sets in here, both from 2008 and both produced by a company called "Nihon Auto Omocha" (Japan Auto Toys).  The ones that have a kind of hot rod or racing car shape (like Wario, Donkey Kong, Mario and the Princess) are from one called "Wild Star" which you can see pictures of here, while the ones shaped like Karts are from this set here.  According to the articles I've read these were not sold in stores but rather given out as prizes (I didn't play Wii back then so I wasn't paying attention to this sort of stuff).  I don't quite have either set complete, though I have at least one of each character.  Oddly, neither set included a Luigi for some reason.
 Anyway, I like these a lot and hope my kids will too. Before giving them to them I thought I'd take them for a little race through suburban Japan and take some picture of them to share with the kids too.  Hence this post.
 They are kind of photogenic.
 I had a tendency to put Yoshi in the lead in most of these since he is my son's favorite.  The kids have never played any version of Mario Kart (they only have the Famicom and SMB and SMB USA so far) but he has seen the character around and, since he is a dinosaur and my son loves dinosaurs, he is the best.
 I quite like the hot rod style ones, Wario and Donkey Kong are my personal favorites.
 This truck (which was parked when I took these pictures!) kind of reminded me of one of the ones from the highway level of Mario Kart 64.
I think the kids will have fun with these. I won't give them to them all at once, but rather one at a time as presents for various good behavior.  If they like them I'll have to chase down the ones I am missing from each set!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lego Mario and Ice Climber

I was playing Lego with my kids on a rainy day over the weekend when I decided to try out an idea I had been toying with for a while: making Super Mario Brothers characters out of Lego blocks.

I wasn't sure how it would go, but its surprisingly easy to do if you have a massive pile of Lego bricks lying around.  I just did a Google search for some 8 Bit Mario pixel art grids and then went to town recreating them in Lego.

I went with 2x2 Lego Bricks = 1 Pixel as a scale for Mario, the first one I did.  The bricks aren't quite square so it gives him a slightly chubbier appearance than normal, but its close enough.  The Cheep Cheep and Goomba I did the same for.

Ice Climber was the last of the three and you'll notice he looks a bit taller and skinnier than the Mario ones. That is because I went with 1x2 bricks = 1 pixel for him, mainly because I was running out of bricks by that point.

My son went crazy for these things, which made me really happy.  Super Mario Bros and Ice Climber are his two favorite Famicom games.  He's been carrying them around everywhere with him, which gives me that "I did a good dad thing" feeling, which I really like.  I also made a Yoshi for him, which was his favorite, but by the time I took these pictures it had been broken and put back together so many times it no longer really looks like Yoshi so I decided not to put him in the picture.  Of these Mario is the least sturdy, his arms, nose and legs get knocked off real easily but unlike Yoshi its pretty easy to put him back together so he has survived nonetheless.  Cheep Cheep originally had a more elaborate tail, which is long gone but the remaining bits are sturdy!

The one thing that sucks about Lego though is that pink bricks are hard to come by.  I wanted to make a princess one for my daughter (who is absolutely mad for all things pink these days) but didn't have any pink bricks to make that happen. D-oh!

Anyway, if you've got a combination of Kids at home + they like Mario or other video game characters + a ton of lego bricks handy, this is a pretty good project to keep them happy.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Putting the Family in Family Computer

 Hope you all are doing OK out there. I’m doing fine.

We are under a kind of light lockdown here in Japan now. No school and I’m mostly working at home, and glad to still be working!

On a lighter note, the greatest Famicom related thing that has happened to me since i got my first one almost 12 years ago occurred over the weekend.  I introduced another little human being to my Famicom.

Its hard to believe but the little baby boy that I wrote about on here back in 2014 is now a wonderful little kid who'll be starting elementary school before too long!  He's even got an awesome little sister now too.  

I have only sparingly had time to play games since he arrived and had held off on introducing him to video games.  But with the lockdown and everyone home with little to do, and him being old enough to handle it, I decided to bring my Famicom down to the living room and hook it up to the TV for him (and for the whole family really, but mostly him).  It helped that it was a rainy weekend and we couldn't even play in the yard.

I brought a few games down that I thought he would like.  SMB, Ice Climber, Donkey Kong, Son Son, Galaxian, Antarctic Adventure and a few others.  And I just plugged it in and said "Lets play!"

And my son got about as excited as he gets on Christmas morning, it was great.

We played SMB a lot, my wife (a Famicom fan from her own childhood and my partner in Famicom gaming until parenthood made both of us, but especially her too busy) showed him the basics.

We played all afternoon. It is really fun watching a little kid play the Famicom for the first time. They move their entire body along with the controller.  So while playing Galaxian whenever he moves his ship to the left, he runs over to the left side of the room.  Then when he moves his ship right, he runs over to the right.  I had forgotten that such behaviour once seemed natural as a child.  It was so great to be reminded.

Son Son was my favorite, since its got a cooperative 2 player mode and we could play together at the same time.

At the end, he said the Famicom is now his favorite thing in the world.  Which was great, but also concerned me that I had accidentally rendered all of his other toys obsolete.  We noticed he was rubbing his eyes a lot that night, they got dried out from playing too long, another thing that I had forgotten happens to kids.  So we've instituted strict limitations on playing time after that.

One thing that I liked about it was that the Famicom is 37 years old, but he doesn't know that. For perspective, this is the equivalent of giving a kid in the early 80s a World War 2 era toy.  Weird.  Anyway, he doesn't care whether or not its old, he just knows it is fun, and his excitement is genuine and so great to behold.

I don't know how long it will last, but I hope to keep it going.  I haven't told him that I have like 800 more games for it (they are mostly in boxes stored in a closet right now).  Or that I have like 7 or 8 other consoles with hundreds of more games for them too.  For the time being the handful of games that I brought out are officially "The only ones we have" as far as he is going to know. And maybe I'll pretend to bring a new one home from work every once in a while and ask if he wants to play it with me.

Then maybe a year from now I'll pretend that they released a new version called the "Super Famicom" and pretend to bring that one home with a copy of SMB World, and hook it up and start again.

Anyway, this was kind of a fun distraction which I thought worthy of a blog post in the middle of this stupid pandemic.  I needed a pick-me-up, and this brought me one!

Stay safe and hope you are all doing OK. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Famicomblog 10th Anniversary

Holy crap, I just realized that last week was the 10th anniversary of my first ever post on here!  Time flies when you get old!

I haven't really been keeping up with the blog so much lately.  By which I mean the last five years or so. I've become a father twice over during that time period and I haven't even touched a retro video game in two years.  Not because I don't like them, I love them now as always, but parenting (and full time job-ing) is busy work.  I like to flip through the old posts from the heyday of this blog about 7 or 8 years ago and reminisce about what having free time to play games and blog about them was like:)

Mind you, my oldest is now five years old and getting to that age where I'm thinking I might introduce him to the Famicom, which might give me something to write about on here again!  Or not.  The weird thing about becoming a parent is that you start thinking like your parents used to when you were a kid.  I'm wrestling with all sorts of angst about whether I even want my kid playing video games.  Of course the ones I had when I was a kid are great, but what if this is some gateway to him getting his face glued to a screen 24/7 like all them other young folk are?

I feel so old!

Anyway, hi everybody who is still out there!  Hope you have a merry Christmas and happy new year.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Horrible Things are Happening in Nagoya's Osu

 I made a pilgrimage out to the Osu neighborhood in Nagoya, which I've highlighted on this blog before.  It is Nagoya's version of Akihabara in Tokyo or Den Den Town in Osaka - full of electronics, toys, cosplay, manga and other shops including of course retro games.
 I fell in love with the place on my first visit almost 7 years ago, but yesterday I fell out of love with it.  Terrible things are happening there.  The worst of them here:
 Mandarake!  This used to be the best place in Osu to buy retro games.  It never quite matched the shops I visited in my Fukuoka days (during the golden age of cheap Japanese retro game hunting that lasted until about 2012), but I picked up quite a few things there over the years.  They had a cool basket of Famicom carts:
 And back in 2014 this is what their glass showcase had -  loose copies of Gimmick for 12,000 Yen (about 120$) each!  I wish I had bought those!  And in the back you can see the hyper rare Bridgestone and Yasuda Seimei carts.
 They also had beautiful CIB stuff!
Basically until Super Potato opened up 5 years ago, Mandarake was the best place to look for rare and valuable Famicom games in Nagoya (the centre of the Chubu metropolitain area with about 9 million people, this is a big city).

So imagine my dissapointment when I visited yesterday and discovered - Mandarake was still there but their retro games weren't!  They had completely removed their retro game section!  All the Famicom carts from the best store in town gone!  They had expanded their manga section to take over the space formally taken up by retro games (the showcases in the above photos now have vintage comics in them) and they now only stock current generation video games.

This is a huge blow to the Famicom collecting community and I'm not sure if this is limited to the Nagoya Mandarake or if they have stopped stocking retro games at their other locations (if any readers know, please comment!)  I especially fear for my beloved Mandarake in Fukuoka, which I still visit once a year or so when I'm down there and have such fond memories of!

So I had walked into that Mandarake yesterday with a wad of cash that I hoped to spend on some Famicom games for my collection, and devastated by what I discovered I walked out the door, rounded the corner and went straight into the loving arms of Nagoya's Super Potato which is almost next door.  Fortunately they still have retro games (it is basically what they exist for after all) but I was very disappointed by what I found there too.

A Famicom collector never goes into a Super Potato expecting to find bargains, prices there have always been on the high side for Japan.  But you go there for the amazing stuff that you can only find in Super Potato - the hyper rarities and other stuff.  Their showcases are almost like museums.

Or at least they used to be.  I was shocked by how picked over their high end stuff was.  I had noted this in a post I did after a visit a year ago, but its gotten worse since then with a lot of the higher end stuff I noted in that post having sold and not been replaced by anything of similar stature.  Where Super Potato showcases once had stuff like Gold Binary Lands (200 known copies in existence) or Rockman 4s (8 copies), they are now full of a lot more mid-level stuff like CIB copies of Contra or Rockman which, while great, aren't particularly rare or exciting to see.  They didn't even have any copies of Gimmick! or Punch Out Gold.

This is kind of weird.  On the one hand, rare video games are flying off the shelf at Super Potato so fast they can't re-stock them.  On the other, for some reason Mandarake (which had way better prices on retro games) has thrown in the towel on them.  The end result though is that Osu just isn't anywhere near as good a place to hunt for retro games as it was even as recently as a year ago.  Which is really disappointing!

So if you are thinking of coming to Nagoya for some retro game hunting, be forewarned that the pickings continue to get worse and worse!

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Fake Famicom Games? The Curious Case of Gradius Archimendes.

One of the more popular holy grails out there for Famicom collectors is the Archimendes version of Gradius.  It was released in 1985 as part of a promotion by Otsuka Corporation which sold a cup ramen called Archimendes ("men" is the Japanese word for noodle so its a sort of word play, I see it accidentally written "Archimedes" in English a lot).  Here is an absolutely fabulous 1980s commercial for the cup ramen (which doesn't relate to the game at all but is worth watching because holy 80s is that ever 80s)!

Customers who bought the Archimendes cup ramen could enter a contest to win one of 4,000 copies of the Archimendes Gradius Famicom game, which was not available in stores.

On the outside the cart and box is just a regular Gradius game with a distinctive triangular Archimendes sticker on the upper corner of the front.  The manual is the same too, though the Archimendes version also came with a special insert that had a serial number on the front, so each of the 4,000 copies was individually numbered.

The game play is basically the same as Gradius, the only difference (which is kind of awesome) is that the power ups in the Archimendes version are shaped like Archimendes cup ramens.

The game is massively popular among Japanese Famicom collectors (less so it seems with foreign collectors, I was surprised at how little has been written about it on the internet in English when doing background research for this post).  It is among the most expensive Famicom games out there, I've seen loose copies for sale in the 50-60,000 Yen range at Super Potato, and complete copies with the serial numbered inserts are more in the "If you have to ask, you can't afford it" price range.

I've wanted one for a long time and have scoured Yahoo Auctions listings for a decent copy at a decent price for years, but thus far it continues to elude me.  What this experience has done for me though is to question the legitimacy of a lot of the copies of the game I see in those auctions.  I'm pretty sure that half of them that I see are fake.

Fake Famicom games are actually pretty rare.  Since video game collecting has taken off as a hobby companies in China have been cranking out fakes of expensive NES titles which I see on Ebay all the time, but I hadn't been aware of any similar Famicom ones.  Of course there are boatloads of pirated Famicom carts out there, but here I'm talking about ones that are designed to look like the real thing and rip off people who think they are buying a real version of an expensive game.  I'm pretty sure the same producers making NES fakes are now making fake Archimendes games.

My suspicions - and at this point they are just that, I don't have a fake game in my hands right now to prove it - are based on two things I've observed.

First is the fact that of all the expensive Famicom games out there, Archimendes is probably the easiest to fake (except maybe the gold versions of Rockman and Binary Land which can of course just be painted that way).  Regular Gradius carts and boxes are extremely easy and cheap to find and to make a physically convincing fake all you need to do is print a couple of stickers and you are done.  So you can avoid going to the expense and time of trying to produce the cart and box, which is the most difficult part.

The fact that the game play is different from the regular Gradius adds a twist, but its actually also easily overcome since they've been making boards for pirated games for decades now all they have to do is make some for that and slip them into a Gradius cart and boom - you've got a convincing fake that could only be detected by someone actually opening the cart up and looking at the insides, something most owners would be reluctant to do with such an expensive game.

A good point of comparison in this regard would be the Punch Out! Gold cart, which is also a Famicom collecting holy grail.  Producing a fake of that would be way harder since the regular version of that game is in a completely different cart with a completely different label.  I'm sure a dedicated faker could with enough time and money produce a fake Punch Out cart, but it would be way more difficult.  Getting the cart to look right, with the right plastic, the exact right color, the exact right texture and then doing the same with the labels is not only time consuming but also opens you up to leaving tell tale signs of the cart being fake with everything you have to reproduce just right.  Having the legit carts already made for you, as with Gradius, reduces your workload and odds of detection by 95%.  Punch Out! Gold is also complicated by the fact that it has an unusual cart shape, which most other Famicom carts didn't use.

Second is the fact that Gradius Archimendes seems to show up in Yahoo Auctions listings way more often than any other similarly rare and expensive (but harder to fake) game.  Most of them with the same level of rarity aren't usually available on Yahoo Auctions at any given time and only pop up every once in a while.  But Gradius Archimendes is almost always available, and often both CIB and in very nice condition, which is extremely unusual (with most other rarities its way more common to just find them loose rather than CIB and with a bit of wear).

Again a comparison with the hard-to-fake Punch Out! Gold cart is useful.  10,000 copies of that cart were distributed back in the day as a prize, so there are more than twice as many of that game in existence as there are for Archimendes.  You would thus expect it to be about twice as easy to find.  But it isn't.  I've been watching both for years and usually Archimendes is as easy or easier to find on Yahoo Auctions.  Right now there are two copies of both games listed, but both of the Archimendes ones are CIB, while only one of the Punch Out! Gold carts comes with the box (but no manual, the other is completely loose).  This could be coincidence, but actually its pretty much always like that, despite being rarer its much more common to find complete copies of Gradius Archimendes than complete copies of Punch Out! Gold on Yahoo Auctions, which makes no sense. Since the beginning of this year there have been 11 recorded sales of Archimendes on Yahoo Auctions, 8 of them being CIB, and 10 of Punch Out! Gold , only 4 of which were CIB, so Archimendes has been slightly more available loose and much more available CIB despite there being 6,000 less copies of it out there.

Lets take a look at those two copies of Archimendes available now, because they both raise eyebrows. This one here ends in a few days and bidding is already over 50,000 Yen.  I find it quite suspicious:

It is complete and the cart is in perfect condition.  OK, you might say, that in and of itself isn't suspicous since there are probably at least a few copies of this game which have survived in mint condition.  But there is a red flag to be found in the insert containing the serial number (this is in the lower right of the four things in the photo, I put a larger close up of the photo from this listing at the top of this post).  It looks legit except for one thing: no serial number!  The serial number is supposed to be stamped on the bottom of the yellow portion,  Super Potato put a photo of one they had on their Twitter feed a couple of years ago and you can see the serial number stamped on it here. The missing serial number isn't conclusive evidence that it is a fake, I've seen it suggested on Japanese sites that ones without the serial numbers may have been given out to employees as gifts, but comments like that are always very speculative and nobody ever cites a source for that rumor.  At best I would say it is possible that this is legit, but the lack of a serial number (and also the lack of close up photos) would make me very reluctant to bid on this one.

The other auction is this one here.  Like the above one this one is in perfect condition - the cart, box and stickers all look brand new.  So having two copies of an extremely rare game that are both in perfect condition available at the same time is itself suspicious.  This one doesn't have the serial numbered insert at all, which is a huge red flag to me - if all the easily faked stuff survived in perfect condition, why didn't the serial numbered one?  The fact that putting a serial number on it could reveal it as a fake (since a legit copy with the same serial number might exist) makes me think that is the reason why this one and the above one either don't have the insert, or have one without a serial number stamped on it.
The other suspicious thing is that this seller only has 46 feedbacks and yet with such a short history of sales has already been called out for selling fake games!  The buyer in that case had purchased a copy of Magical Poppun, a very rare game for the Super Famicom, within the past six months and left the following feedback:


"Today I took the game to a game store to have them take a look and was told that it was a reproduction. The seller refused to provide a refund, saying I had not checked adequately, so I am leaving a negative feedback."

In the polite world of Japanese feedback that is a very stinging rebuke.

So the long and the short of it is that I do not have a lot of confidence that either of these copies of Archimendes is the real deal (though again I stress this opinion is expressed without the actual games in hand), and the same can be said for many of the other copies of the game I've seen up for auction on Yahoo over the past couple of years.  This is one of the main reasons I've been reluctant to pick of a copy of this game for my collection.  And my advice to anyone out there looking for one is to exercise extreme caution and be on the lookout, there be fakes here!

Postscript:  Another Famicom game that I think raises the same suspicions, and which there are documented fakes of, is the Recca Summer Carnival 92 cart.  It also shows up on Yahoo Auctions a lot, often in mint condition and, being housed in a standard black cart that there are millions of out there, isn't too hard to fake (though a bit harder, since the box is unique and it requires a label, which is where you can usually spot the fakes).