Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Cool World of Chirashi (Famicom and Movie Mini Posters)



One of the types of Famicom ephemera which I enjoy collecting the most are chirashi (mini posters/ flyers) that were handed out back in the day to advertise upcoming game releases. 

I like them mainly because they look cool and are the sort of thing that look good when framed and hanging on your wall.  Like my Gyrodine and Sky Destroyer ones, which have awesome artwork on them:

 I picked up a small lot of them off of Yahoo Auctions the other day that just arrived in the mail.  I`m pretty happy with them.  Most of them were actually Famicom Disk System games, like Metroid here which is probably my favorite of the lot:


And Super Mario Bros 2:

 Zelda no Densetsu:

 And a few others.

The only thing that I dislike about collecting Famicom chirashi is the price - they are pretty hard to find so the prices likewise tend to be on the high side and bargains are few and far between.  Still though its kind of worth it for the cool artwork.  They also have cool stuff on the back, like this one which explains how you can re-write games on disks:


 Collecting chirashi is actually one of my main non-Famicom collecting pursuits too.  In addition to advertising video games they are also used for a lot of other things, including movies.  Japanese movie chirashi are actually in some ways even cooler than  the Famicom chirashi.  Japanese movies almost always have unique paintings commissioned for them which are reproduced on the chirashi.  The artwork, which often combines familiar scenes with bold looking kanji, make them look pretty awesome.  Like this poster from You Only Live Twice, with the 007 in big type, with the title in kanji below.  Totally epic:

 Same with this old school Battle Star Galactica from the 70s:


 Mega Force!!!  If you haven`t seen this film, you don`t understand early 80s culture at all:
 Ditto with Mr. T in DC Cab.  Having him yell at you in Japanese is pretty priceless:
  I keep some of my favorite movie ones on the wall in the same room with the Famicom chrashi.  They are actually a bit smaller than the Famicom ones (B5 vs A4 size).  Bonus points to anyone who can identify the 5 films in this photo:
 The other cool thing about movie chirashi is that they are generally a lot cheaper than Famicom chirashi. I`m not sure why that is, but I guess there are more of them out there than the Famicom ones.  I think people have been collecting movie chirashi since the late 60s/early 70s so there are a lot of them that have been preserved, which probably helps to keep the prices reasonable.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Interesting Famicom Stuff: The Kid who Designed Brightman and his Gold Rockman 4 Cart



The man in the centre of the above picture is Yoshitaka Enomoto.  He is standing next to the host of a TV show called Nandemo Kanteidan, which is kind of a Japanese version of Antiques Roadshow.  It is a lot more flamboyant than the English version, but I watch it a lot.  Mostly people bring stuff like old samurai swords, paintings, bits of pottery, etc in to get told it is either worth a fortune or completely worthless.  The host, who is a comedian, cracks jokes throughout the show.

 Anyway, the particular episode that Mr. Enomoto appeared on was broadcast on Tuesday this week.  He brought an interesting bit of Famicom history and an interesting story with him.  The antique that he brought with him to have appraised was this (pardon the photo quality, I was just aiming my camera at the TV while the show was on):


A gold copy of Rockman 4!

If you aren`t familiar with hyper Famicom rarities, the gold Rockman 4 is probably the rarest Famicom cart out there, only 8 copies of it were ever made.  I have seen one in the wild once and posted about it here, at Super Potato in Osaka last year.

The carts were made as prizes for a competition that Capcom ran to have fans design the boss characters in the new Rockman game.  They received over 70,000 entries from fans across Japan, most of them little kids.  Only 8 were chosen and each of those 8 kids got a special gold copy of the game when it was released.

Its rarity means that it is super valuable and, as with a lot of these gold/silver special carts, it is pretty easy to fake (all you have to do is paint a regular Rockman 4 cart gold, though an expert would immediately recognize it since the underlying plastic is a different color from regular carts).

There was no danger that this one was a forgery, however, since Mr. Enomoto as a junior high school student back in 1991 was one of the lucky 8 winners of Capcom`s contest.  His design?  Brightman:


It was pretty neat to see that at least one copy of the gold Rockman 4s remains in the hands of the actual kid who won it back in the day.

The show did a little segment about the history of the Famicom, which was interesting but if you are reading this blog you probably already know the details so I won`t recap what they said.

 The segment ended with the show`s antique experts examining the game to make sure it was the real deal and see what condition it was in:
 And then they gave their opinion on its value.  In keeping with the greater flamboyance levels of the Japanese version of the show, they reveal this on a set that looks like it was borrowed from the Price is Right circa 1992.  They told him it was worth 400,000 yen (about $4,000 US).
 That sounds like a lot, but I was actually expecting them to say it was worth more.  The copy that I saw in Super Potato last year had a price of 628,000 yen (about $6300 US) on it, and this one looked like it was in every bit as good condition.  Maybe Super Potato is a bit overpriced?  Or the experts on Nandemo Kanteidan don`t quite know as much as they let on?  I guess it is hard to put a price on something so rare, they must hardly ever pop up for sale.

Its also interesting to wonder how many of the other 8 are still in the hands of their original owners?  Obviously the one in Super Potato isn`t, but what of the other 6?

As an interesting point to end the post on, the experience of designing Brightman as a kid seems to have had a major influence on Enomoto.  He went on to become a professional illustrator and has worked on a lot of animated TV shows and Manga!




Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Original Mach Rider

 Despite the Fact that I am desperately trying to make some more living space in our apartment, every once in a while I find something so neat I cannot resist the temptation to splurge.  My most recent purchase: the original 1972 Mach Rider!

As usual, Erik over at Before Mario has beat me to writing a post about Mach Rider by about 3 years and I recommend checking his post out for the full scoop on the toy.  Just to recap the highlights here: It is based on a toy originally released by Hasbro under a different name.  It came in 3 colors (I got the yellow one, but I guess the photo gives that away).  Its basically a racing car that will fly at high speeds off a jump ramp.  It is awesome.

The box mine came in is a bit beat up, but its awesome nonetheless:

 Inside, its got a pretty cool control platform (the dials are stickers, but its got a gear shift that actually shifts):
 I don`t have the batteries or the floor space (or as Erik`s post suggests, a lack of pets) so I haven`t given it a try yet.  I`m satisfied for the moment to just look at it.  Mine came with an interesting bonus goodie, a chirashi (flyer) advertising Nintendo`s mini game series, which was being released at the same time.  Its a pretty neat piece of Nintendo history:
 And best of all, it came with the decals still unapplied.  I`m very tempted to use some of these on my bicycle that I commute to work on, but I won`t.
I`m pretty happy to have this in my collection, its one of the more colorful and neat toys (among many) that Nintendo released in the 60s and 70s which are pretty hard to find today.

Before finishing this post, I have to put a little plug in for a friend of mine over on Famicom World, Dire51 (aka Rob Strangman) who has just put out a book about retro gaming entitled "Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman".  If you are looking for some light retro game reading, give it a look!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Retro Game Collectors: Why Don`t We Collect Rookie Games?

Something kind of odd I have been noticing about retro video game collectors is the fact that, unlike other types of collectors, we don`t seem to place much importance on the `rookie games` of major characters.

By `rookie game` I basically mean the game in which a major character made his/her/it`s first appearance.

In baseball cards, for example, a player`s rookie card, like this 1951 Bowman Willie Mays, is considered really valuable and everybody wants it.  Willie Mays is of course a popular player so all his cards ae popular, but his rookie card in particular is the one that everyone places the highest value on
In comic book collecting too the first issue that a major character appears in is always sought after and way more valuable than other issues.  Like issue 27 of Detective Comics here featuring Batman`s first appearance
In video game collecting though we don`t really seem to attach a great deal of importance to the question of whether or not a game features the first appearance of a major character or not.  Value seems to be determined solely by how rare a game is and how popular/fun to play it is.  We don`t even  have a word in our collecting vocabulary to describe the concept (`rookie game` is just something I made up and probably doesn`t work too well).

Its a bit odd given that we can easily identify which carts feature the first appearance of a given character.  Like Antarctic Adventure here features the first appearance of that penguin:

 Probably the most impressive `rookie game` would be Donkey Kong, which featured the simultaneous first appearances of both Donkey Kong and Mario, arguably the two most famous video game characters of all time. 

I have pictured the Donkey Kong Famicom cart at the top of this post, but if we are going to be strict, I don`t think that would count as a rookie game.  The Colecovision cart was the first home port of Donkey Kong, so I think the Colecovision Donkey Kong would be considered the true first appearance cart of those two characters (I find it kind of interesting that Nintendo`s two most famous characters didn`t make their home debut on a Nintendo console).  Technically of course the game was featured on Arcade cabinets first, but I don`t think those count (or, more accurately, they do count but would fall into a different category since collecting arcade cabinets is a whole different ballgame from collecting carts).

Anyway, those are just some thoughts I had about that.  I wonder why we don`t collect video games in the same way that comic book or sports card collectors do.  I guess part of it might have to do with the fact that video game carts are tied to specific consoles and most of us collect games for whichever systems we have or like rather than just collecting carts for collecting carts` sake (which is kind of what baseball card collectors do).

It would make for kind of an interesting approach to collecting.  Some systems definitely have a lot of important characters first appearance, like the Famicom (Zelda, Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest characters, etc). 





Saturday, July 5, 2014

Getting Used to the Top Rider Motorcycle Controller is Something you Need to Devote, like, a whole Weekend to.


I have added another oddball Famicom controller to my collection: the Top Rider inflatable motorcycle!

This is definitely one of the most interesting Famicom controllers ever made.  It is about what you think it is - an inflatable motorcycle that you ride on.  The handlebars, which are removable, are the only actual functional controller, with start/select buttons and the gas/brake control built into the handles themselves.

Its actually a pretty cool controller, hooking it up it reminds me a lot of motorcycle games that I have played in arcades.  The controls work pretty smoothly.

There are, however, two caveats.  One is that it is a massive pain in the ass to actually blow the thing up, especially if you aren`t used to doing so like me.  I thought I was going to pass out by the time I got it fully inflated.  Therefore this is one game that probably isn`t going to be played with very much in my household, neat though it is.

The other thing is that this controller was designed for 7 year old Japanese kids rather than 37 year old, 6 foot tall foreigners.  If you fall into the latter category, this is what you will look like when riding it:

For comparison`s sake please note the similarity:

It is massively uncomfortable for an adult to use the controller as a result, which is too bad. Of course it is possible to use the handlebars without the motorbike so I might stick to that.

Its kind of a must-have item for anyone collecting oddball Famicom stuff.  It was never released outside of Japan, and even in Japan it is a hard one to find (this is the first one I`ve ever seen, I won it on Yahoo Auctions).  This one doesn`t have the box which made it within my price range, with it I don`t think I could have afforded it!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cool Finds: Famicom Lunch Box

 I got an unexpected surprise last week.  I had bought a small lot of about a dozen Famicom carts off of Yahoo Auctions and when they came in the mail I discovered that the sender had used the most awesome packing box ever - a vintage Famicom lunch box!

This thing is totally awesome.  Released in 1985 it features the usual round up of figures from popular early Famicom releases on the front - Ice Climber, Super Mario, Wrecking Crew and Clu Clu Land.  The art looks awesome close up
Both the top and the bottom have that same, colorful artwork on it.  On the side it just lets you know its a Family Computer lunch box
While the other side has some blue colored characters from Super Mario Brothers:


This must have been a pretty awesome thing for a kid to carry his or her lunch to school in.  It brings back fond memories of my own Empire Strikes Back lunch box that I used to lug around in the early 80s.  I`m not sure if this Famicom one came with a thermos or not.


Sunday, June 15, 2014

Famicom Bars: I want one.

Famicom City in Shibuya

Famicom bars and cafes are one of the few remaining awesome bastions of Japanese retro gaming culture which I have yet to try.

If you don`t know what they are.....well, basically they are about what you think they would be after hearing the phrase "Famicom bar" or "Famicom cafe".  Bars and cafes at which customers can play Famicom and other retro games.  There is a good write up about some of them in Tokyo over on 1Up here.

My main reason for not having ever been in one of these places (there are even a couple not far from where I live) is, I`m ashamed to admit, that I`m a bit of a cheapskate.  The problem is that most Famicom bars/cafes have a pricing policy that is significantly different from most bars and cafes.  They aren`t places where you can just go in, order a beer and casually down it at your own pace like at a pub.  Instead they charge by the hour, usually with a minimum total charge of 2000-3000 yen.

Given that I can actually buy a Famicom for about that much, I`ve always balked at going to one.  This is horribly cheap of me, I know.  You are paying for the experience of sitting in an interesting environment and playing games, so comparisons with the price of an actual Famicom are kind of meaningless.  Nonetheless, my mind works in mysterious and not always rational ways like that.

When I think about though I totally understand why they price things that way.  The Japanese otaku crowd is, to be gentle, renowned for not being short on people who like to linger.  Open a business specifically targetting them and not charging by the hour is an invitation to have your business swamped by people ordering the cheapest thing on the menu and then sitting there for 9 hours playing Dragon Quest 3 over and over again.

Anyway, what I really like about this kind of business, in the abstract anyway, is that it has always been a secret dream of mine to open up a bar when I retire and these places give me lots of room for daydreaming about what kind of a Famicom bar I would open if I ever got the chance.  I think I would introduce a twist on the pricing policy.  I would have a two drink minimum to avoid the lingering otaku problem, but with each drink you would get one game to keep when you leave.  So the menu would have two columns, one with a type of drink and the other with a list of games, and with each order you would have to choose one of each.  The price of the drink would largely depend on which game you wanted to go with it (Gimmick and a beer would be very expensive, Golf and a beer would be very cheap).  It would be kind of combining drinking and video game shopping in one experience, which I think would be a lot of fun.

And of course the best part about opening a place like that would be decorating it.  I would like to have one entire wall basically wallpapered with Famicom carts.  I think that would look awesome.  I would also cover the counter tops and table tops with a solid surface made up of Famicom carts too (covered with a bit of plexiglass).  They look so awesome, I`m surprised none of the existing places have done that yet.  The one photo (in the top of this post) is from one in Shibuya where they tried to do the decor in red and white Famicom colors.  I do not like the look of that one at all.  It just doesn`t have the right vibe - it is too clean and orderly and looks more like a generic fast food restaurant rather than a cool place with some character.  And using identical flat TVs is a big no in my books - my place would be decked out exclusively with old-school cathode ray TV sets.