Thursday, September 6, 2018

Sony PS2s can no longer be repaired by Sony: Meanwhile millions of Famicoms continue to hum along

I just read that Sony has announced it will no longer repair PlayStation 2 consoles .

That is the end of another era, I can't believe the PS2 is nearing its 20th anniversary.  Its actually older now than the original Famicom was when the PS2 came out!

I wonder what future the PS2 has though, as the "retro" console that I think it can now clearly claim to be.  This curiosity is spurred not just by the announcement that Sony will stop repairing them (how many people are still sending them in for repairs anyway?) but rather by concerns about the survivability of the console itself.

The Famicom is now 35 years old and even the oldest units generally still work or can be repaired without too much hassle by someone with limited technical skills.  The pain-in-the-ass factor associated with owning and maintaining a Famicom is extremely low, which makes the hobby very accessible to a lot of casual gamers who just want to play games on original hardware but don't want to invest too much of their time in learning how to carry out complex repairs.  Its a pretty simple machine without any moving parts to wear out (in contrast to the FDS for example) so its just a remarkably long lasting system that you can buy with confidence and just enjoy.

I can't say the same about PS2s though.  I've owned two of them over the years and both of them ultimately kicked the bucket after just a few years of use in a way that made repairing them uneconomical.  I'm no expert on the internal workings of the PS2 but do know that they are a lot less simple on the inside than a Famicom.  When a Famicom stops working I just crack it open and, despite having very limited technical knowledge or tools, can usually get it working again (half the time it seems just dusting off the motherboard does the trick).  A PS2 repair on the other hand isn't something I can handle, and I am guessing that most people who own one are in the same category.

This explains why I never bought a replacement for my last PS2 after it broke about 6-7 years ago.  When I look at PS2 consoles on Yahoo Auctions I just don't feel confident that the thing that I would be buying would last very long, a feeling that I have never felt when buying a Famicom (or Super Famicom, N64, Mega Drive or basically any other cart based system).  So I have a huge pile of PS2 disks lying around in a box somewhere that I have sort of written off ever trying to play again (even though I like some of them quite a bit).

This leads me to ask what kind of market there is going to be for PS2 consoles in the future now that even Sony itself won't repair them.  There are 150 million of them out there, or at least there were that many sold, but the number of them actually left working is likely to succumb to higher and higher attrition rates as the years go by and more break down in ways that are not cost effective to repair for the average gamer.  By the time it reaches the Famicom's current age (in 2035) I can't imagine there being more than a tiny fraction of those 150 million still left out there.

This is a concern entirely separate from the fact that the discs the games are on themselves seem to have a very finite life expectancy. which kind of acts as a double whammy.  Carts are also prone to wearing out over time since they have connectors that get worn down over time, but theoretically a cart that is well taken care of and not constantly inserted/removed can last for a very long time since there is no cart equivalent to "disc rot".

Any PS2 collectors out there have worries or thoughts about this?

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Went back to Fukuoka, Did some Game Shopping

 I was back in Fukuoka for a few days for some work related stuff a couple weeks ago.  I love that city so much, I can't believe its been 6 years since I left. They added a Godzilla to Canal City since I left:
Of course I had to check out good old Mandarake, which is located in a trendy neighborhood near Akasaka Station:
I got there at about 11:50AM, which is 10 minutes before they open so I had to wait outside the entrance for a bit.  I've never understood Mandarake's ridiculously short operating hours, they are only open 8 hours a day (12 to 8), which rules out both morning visits and late evening visits.  Its not like they are a little mom and pop shop, they are a huge chain with lots of employees!  Open up more!
I couldn't take any pictures inside but it was basically the same layout as I've detailed in previous posts here, which was nice.  The prices, as everywhere, have creeped up to levels much higher than they used to be, which was expected.  I was able to score one game I needed off my Famicom want list though: Star Wars!  Not the Namco version, which is one of my all time favorite Famicom games, but the other one put out by Victor.  Though not quite as quirky as the Namco version, I have wanted the Victor one for years.  I got their version of the Empire Strikes Back at Omocha Souko very early in my collecting days and I loved the game play on it.  But for some reason it took me a very long time to get the Star Wars version.  This is simply because it is a hard to find game (way rarer than the Namco version, which itself isn't super easy to find either) and I couldn't find any good deals.

So when I saw it on Mandarake's shelf for only 2700 Yen (with tax) I jumped all over it!

That would be my only game purchase in Fukuoka on this trip, but I also went to check out the Book Off in front of Hakata Station.

This was actually an unexpectedly pleasant surprise.  In 2011 I wrote a post about that location in which I basically savaged it for having bad games badly priced.  So my expectations were low going in.

Much to my surprise I found that they had completely changed the layout of the place and significantly expanded their toy/game section.  They have a decent little pile of Famicom carts in there, which is increasingly rare to find in Book Offs these days:
There weren't any particular bargain finds in there (oh how I looked) but the prices weren't outrageous either.  And they did have one Famicom bargain, a boxed AV Famicom for only 6300 Yen, which is a really good deal (I didn't buy it so if you are in Fukuoka and looking for one, get over there if its still available).

Anyway, I would add this as a place to check out if you are in Fukuoka since they might update their game pile every now and then and you might catch a deal.  They are right in front of Hakata Station so its pretty easy to hit (which is why I went there)!

Unfortunately I wasn't able to check out any of my other old haunts in Fukuoka to see if they were still in business.  Mainly this is due to my being public transport bound when visiting and a lot of those places need to be reached either by car or bicycle.  Maybe some day!

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Cleaning Poo the Famicom Way

 As the father of a baby I often find myself looking for stuff to clean up baby mess when I go shopping.  As a Famicom fan I often find myself looking for Famicom stuff when I go shopping.  Never before have these two activities overlapped.  Until today. 

Let me introduce the new Famicom product that is going to change your lives forever: 99.9% pure water Wet Sheets!  With a Famicom style package!  And Super Mario Bros. cart on the side

I have no idea why these things exist but they do, right in the baby section where they have all the wipes that are mainly for cleaning poo, an activity not generally associated with the Famicom in any way that I know.

I did not buy these because once you've settled on a wipe for cleaning poo, its very hard to change that.  Also these cost more than the ones we use.  And other than having a Famicom on the packaging which will just become garbage once you open it, they seem to be nothing more than generic wipes.

So I just thought I'd pass that find along to the internet for information purposes, these things need to be archived somewhere!

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Famicom Menko are so Cool!

 Menko are cool.  They are cards made on thick cardboard and designed to be thrown at the ground.  You win the game if you can use one menko card to flip over another one.  They were extremely popular during the post war period, though by the 1980s their popularity had declined quite a bit from its peak as kids had a lot more toy options available.

Despite this, there were also some Famicom menko released during that decade and they are awesome.  I already had a few that I bought four years ago but last week I bought a decent pile of them off of Yahoo Auctions to add to my collection.

They feature images of games from the first few years of the Famicom's lifetime - Wrecking Crew, Front Line, Super Mario Bros., Front Line, Combat and Lode Runner being among the games featured.
 The backs of the cards feature another game kids could play - baseball.  You would flip one card over and it would tell you what you got (hit, stolen base, double play, strikeout, etc).

They are really thick:
 This is my new stack in all its glory:
I'm not sure how many of these were made but I hope to put together a complete set someday!

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Most Expensive Famicom Games at Super Potato

I made a trek out to Super Potato in Nagoya the other day.  I love Super Potato even though I don't buy a lot there, its just such a beautiful shop to stroll around in and gawk at the amazing stuff they have.  If I ever opened a game shop, I don't think I would do anything differently from what Super Potato has done with theirs.

I brought my camera along and in addition to the obligatory pictures of rows of Famicom games on shelves:
And stacks of Famicom consoles:
I also took some pictures of the glass case in which they store their most valuable Famicom games and thought I'd share with you the most valuable stuff they have.
The CIB stuff is, predictably, the most expensive.  Some of the highlights here include:

Battle Formula: 128,000 Yen
Over Horizon: 49,800 Yen
Gimmick!: 69,800 Yen
Adventure Island IV: 49,800 Yen
Metal Storm: 29,800 Yen

Also visible in the foreground is an oddity - the Gradius Archimendes version, which was limited to 4000 copies given out to consumers of ramen back in the day.  They want 59,800 Yen for it, which is in the ballpark, but its odd because the box is a regular Gradius box.  The Archimendes version has a distinctive label across the upper right corner which is missing on that one (otherwise it would be much more expensive).
Right next to them is the most expensive thing in the store, though I think it is a pricing error.  A CIB copy of Recca Summer Carnival 92 for 778,000 Yen (that is about $7,000 US).  That is definitely a valuable and rare game, but CIB copies usually go for about 100,000 Yen on Yahoo Auctions (and in fact there is one there now at that price).  Super Potato's price tend towards the high side, but not THAT much, so I think this must be a mistake and maybe somebody accidentally added an extra zero to the price tag.  
More goodies here, including Moon Crystal (64,800 Yen):
Battletoads (21,800 Yen) and some Rockmans with prices falling into reach of mere mortals:

A few more beauties in the 10,000-20,000 Yen or so range:

The cart only selection is also pretty impressive. Tailor Made by Bridgestone (49,800 Yen, the one with the cyclists on it) is one of the holy grails of Famicom collecting.  It was distributed only to bicycle shops and allowed customers to choose custom parts for their bicycles, thus making it one of the rarest games out there (though also one of the boringest).  Recca Summer Carnival 92 is available for the same price and is a lot more well known, though it seems to be a lot easier to find.

One of the more surprising things I noticed was actually that, impressive as this selection is, its nowhere near as awe-inspiring as it once was.  A few years ago a trip to Super Potato would inevitably turn up some hyper rarities - like my visit to the Osaka branch a few years ago where I found copies of the gold Rockman 4 (only 8 ever made) and the gold Binary Land (only about 200).  The hyper-rarities like those ones seem to have disappeared from the market as they never turn up on Yahoo Auctions anymore either.  Games like Tailor Made and Recca are certainly impressive, but they don't really feel up to the task of headlining a Super Potato glass case.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Oh No! Japanese Retro Video Game Bars and Cafes are Getting Shut Down by the Fuzz!

A few years ago I wrote about what I thought was one of the coolest things in Japan: Famicom bars.  Basically these are bars or cafes which cater to retro gamers.  For an hourly fee they allow customers to sit at a table and play a Famicom (or other retro console) while having a drink.  Its a very similar business model to internet cafes which are everywhere in Japan.  I'm not sure when the first opened, but some have evidently been around for decades.  Some of them are really great places with really knowledgeable owners.

Or, at least that is how they were until today.  Police in Kyoto and Kobe have just arrested four individuals who ran retro game bars (Game Bar Clantz in Kyoto, Equlit in Kobe, and two others which aren't named in the news reports).  Their crime?  Allowing customers to play games produced by Nintendo and Capcom without permission from Nintendo and Capcom.

If you want to see something really surreal, check out this news clip about the arrest.  The police seized more than a thousand game cartridges (mostly Super Famicom) and several consoles, including a red and white Famicom.  They laid it all out for the press to see, the same way they do with piles of drugs and cash seized from drug kingpins.  Its weird.

The legal problem is that charging the public to play on games licensed for home consoles is a violation of copyright law, since the owners of the copyright (Nintendo, Capcom and other game makers) only license those for non commercial, domestic use.  In other words, the entire business model of Famicom bars is basically illegal. According to this report, the police action was launched in response to complaints from Nintendo itself (along with other game makers).

While it was only four retro game bars that were targeted in this raid, this basically means that all of them are illegal and I doubt any will stay in business after today at the risk of the owner being arrested.  I just discovered that the link to Famicom City in Shibuya, a major retro game bar that opened in 2015 which I wrote about in my earlier post on these stores (from which the photo at the top of this post comes), is now dead.  The only way for these bars to go legit is either:

A) get permission from the makers of each game they offer to the public to do so (highly unlikely, given that the makers obviously can and will refuse such permission), or:
B) Remove all home consoles and replace them with arcade cabinets (which are licensed for use by the public and thus not illegal to use in a bar).  This is do-able, but of course arcade cabinets aren't ideally suited for cafes (except the table top ones) so doing so would really change the nature of places that do this.

This is really sad, since retro game bars were one of the coolest elements of the Japanese retro gaming scene.  It also feels quite petty  on the part of Nintendo.  While I appreciate that legally they are in the right, I don't see what purpose is served in shutting these places down.  The games involved look like they were mostly over 20 years old, so its hardly like they were eating into Nintendo's profits and turning a blind eye to technical violations of copyright undoubtedly had the benefit of throwing a lot of good will from the gaming community to Nintendo (and Capcom who were also behind this).  I think they deserve to take a hit to their reputation for this, how about you?

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Last Famicom Game: Adventure Island 4

This week I scratched another game off my Famicom want list - Takahashi Meijin's Adventure Island 4!

It was released 24 years ago this month (June 24, 1994) which gives it a distinguished place in history as the last game ever released for the Famicom.  This also makes it one of the hardest to find since it simultaneously falls into several categories that make it a high-demand item:

1. Late release with very limited sales/production making it a rarity
2. Game featuring a popular character
3. Game never released outside of Japan
4. Game generally well regarded as a game

I have wanted a copy of this since the earliest days of my collection.  Its every Famicom collector's white whale since the existence of the other Adventure Island games (all of which are much easier to find and cheaper) in your collection constantly remind you of its absence.  Its something about the numbering that plays on whatever elements of an obsessive compulsive personality lurk in your psyche - 1, 2,3.....where is 4?  Its an itch I need to scratch!!!

So I am relieved to have this in the collection now, though once again I find myself regretting not having purchased it a few years ago when I had the chance.  I distinctly remember holding my finger above a Yahoo Auctions BIN button for a nice loose copy at a price of 8200 Yen about five years ago and for whatever reason (hubris?  arrogance?  sheer stupidity?) holding fire in the mistaken belief that a cheaper one would magically appear.  I paid just under 14,000 Yen for this one and counted myself lucky.