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.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Oddball finds: Famicom Label Error Carts

 Notice anything odd about the above cart?

I was just sorting through a pile of random Famicom carts and did a bit of a double-take when I saw this copy of Oukon Densetsu.  I have never seen this before, but somehow Bandai managed to put the label on upside down!  Only on front though, the back label is normal:

They must have had a sheet of labels get inserted into the labelling machine upside down or something.  It is kind of a neat find, albeit on a game I have never played.  Anybody else ever find something like this before?  I can imagine that the Nintendo, Jaleco and most other carts would have been vulnerable to the same type of problem, though with Konami carts it would be hard to do given the fact that the label extends over the top. 

Edited to add:

This cart has gotten a bit of attention over on Famicom no Netta.  I did a little further research to try to figure out exactly where I had gotten this cart (I had kind of forgotten, it was just one in a large lot that I had purchased at some point) and was able to trace it back to this lot that I picked up on Yahoo Auctions last month:

The seller didn`t mention the error cart and I didn`t even notice it in there (I mainly was after that copy of Samurai Pizza Cats)!

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Random Question: What is the deal with 17?

Just a random thing that has been puzzling me for a while.  Have you ever noticed how a lot of Famicom carts have the number 17 on the back of them?  Right there in the upper left hand corner of the back label?

Whats up with that?

Not all carts have the number 17, a lot of them are just blank.  But there are no carts with, for example, the number 15 on them.  Or 16.  Or 4.  And so on.

So I was just wondering about that.  Why 17?  Anybody know?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Question: Are video game carts cooler than discs?

This morning I read this article by Andrew Leonard about vinyl records and CDs and it got me drawing some of the obvious parrallels between collecting music and collecting video games.  The point that he makes begins with the observation that there is still a lot of demand out there for vinyl records.  In the American market last year saw the biggest sales numbers for vinyl in over 15 years, with the few factories that still press records ramping up production in response.  In Japan I can say that a similar trend exists, there are tons of record specialty stores in most cities (the Osu neighborhood that I featured last week has at least half a dozen record stores stocked with tons of vinyl). 

Music CDs, on the other hand, seem unlikely to see a similar resurgence of interest.  Vinyl`s resurrection from obsolescence lay in the fact that the physical act of playing a record on a turntable is significantly different from that of listening to a digital audio file.  It is also kind of cool.  CDs on the other hand don`t really offer that distinction.  Vinyl is analogue.  CDs are digital - too similar to the technology that replaced them to really offer someone an incentive to maintain a large collection of them. 

This got me thinking about the video game connection: are carts like records?  Does that make them cooler than disc based games?  Are people therefore more likely to collect carts than they are disc based games?

In some ways music and video games are similar  Carts are analogue (edit: actually they are digital, but they kind of `feel` analogue).  They offer a different physical experience to CDs - the feel of the plastic in your hand, blowing on the connectors, trying to get the thing wedged in correctly.  Its all different in ways that make them kind of cool.

Carts also seem to lend themselves more easily to being collected than discs.  Really what you are mainly after if you are collecting disc based video games is more the box and manual with the artwork rather than the disc itself.  A video game disc on its own is almost worthless (well, its worth whatever the game itself is to play, but not much more).  The CDs just don`t display the cover art of the game very well and you can`t handle them in a carefree way like you can with carts. 

There is also a bigger generational factor at play with video games than there is with music.  An album released on vinyl was probably also later released on CD. The Beatles for example released all their albums years before CDs even existed yet every one of their albums (and more) have been released on CD. Anybody collecting albums though is going to want the vinyl version rather than the CD, thus making the CDs redundant from a collector`s point of view.

With video games though you don`t have as much cross-generational releases on different media.  Most Famicom games were only released on cart based systems and never got released as disc based games (save on various collections, which don`t really count).  So the medium is more readily tied to a specific generation than with music.  Also, most disc based games (unlike music originally released on CD) can`t be retroactively released on a cart based system due to the technological limitations of that medium.  I can get a copy of Nirvana`s Never Mind on vinyl even though it was originally released on CD, but I`ll never be able to get a copy of any PS4 games in cart form.

So while there is a similarity between carts and vinyl, there are still some differences between video games and music which make the carts/vinyl analogy a little problematic.  Still though, I think carts are way cooler than discs.  Anyone agree?  Or violently disagree?