Saturday, December 29, 2012

New Year Update: Retro Gaming Withdrawal Symptoms

 As I mentioned, by way of explanation for my four month absence from blogging, I had a big move/ job change back in October.  Sadly, since that time, I have been almost completely out of my beloved retro gaming loop.  I just plain don`t have the time that I used to back in good old Fukuoka.  Moreover I don`t have the good Famicom shops conveniently located right next to my place.  Oh Omocha I do miss you!

Our new apartment is really great, but sadly I have had to put most of my retro gaming gear collection - the Intellivision, Super Famicom, PC Engine, Color TV Game 15, Sega Mark III and about half a dozen other vintage consoles - into storage due to lack of space.  The only thing I was able to salvage was my AV Famicom, which now sits in a little piece from IKEA, and about 200 of my favorite Famicom carts.  Yup, that means that even the bulk of my Famicom collection is in storage too!

Sadly this also means that my much beloved Famicom cart shelf fashioned out of dish drying racks that I was so proud of a couple years ago also is no more.  We had to make some hard choices while packing up and this was placed into a box that was carted away by a truck headed to a recycling centre a couple days before we left.  It did, I should say, prove its usefulness for those two years so I stick by my original post in which I recommended putting one of these together.
On the plus side, not all is lost.  Today I received in the mail a copy of Maniac Mansion, the first new cart I have added to my collection since the summer.  So I am slowlygetting back on the horse.  Once again my resolution for the coming year is to get a few carts closer to that goal of collecting them all:)

Happy New Year everyone.  And a belated Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Blog is not quite dead yet: Nintendo Hanafuda Cards Arrived in Mail

It has been about four months since my last post, how has everyone been doing?  Well I hope.

Unfortunately this is more like a visit than a resumption of regular content.  Work and family commitments have me so swamped that I no longer have time to play old video games, let alone write about (or, perhaps more importantly, shop for) them!

Still, I did snag one neat thing on Yahoo Auctions the other day (online shopping I can at least spare a few minutes for from time to time) and thought I`d resurrect the blog to make a little post about it. 

What I picked up was a box of old Nintendo Hanafuda cards.

As everyone with an interest in Nintendo knows, before it was a video game maker, or even a toy maker, it was a playing card maker.  I had been wanting to find an old set of Nintendo playing cards for a while and when I found these, complete with the lovely (if worn) little wooden box I couldn`t resist.

I see reprints and modern, Mario-themed Nintendo hanafuda cards all the time on Ebay and Yahoo Auctions, but the actual vintage ones are a bit harder to come by (though by no means impossible).

The little red imprint on the upper right of the box says Nintendo (任天堂) using the older style kanji that were in use before the war:

These seem to be post-war cards though, according to the seller they date from the early 1950s.  Open the box up and voila:

A very colorful bunch of cards.  It is a pity that I have no idea how to play:

Anyway, that is that.  I`ll try to make it less than four months before my next post!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

More Famicom Erasers

As I mentioned in the previous post, I picked up a lot of Famicom erasers last week. They are pretty neat little things, basically mini versions of Famicom carts.

I am pretty sure these were released by Amada, the same company that made the Famicom Mini cards in the mid-80s. I`m not sure how many they made but I have Donkey Kong Jr, Exerion, Ninja Kun, Urban Champion, Mario Bros, Dig Dug, Tennis, Formation Z and Galaga.

They are quite a bit smaller than the original carts and not quite the same, as a comparison of Galaga cart and eraser reveals:

One of them, in a Mario Bros box, contained a mini Family Computer, the Eraser Computer rather than a version of the game`s cart:
It doesn`t have the controllers but it still looks kind of neat:)

Friday, August 10, 2012

A Famicom cart that fits on your fingertip

Behold, the smallest copy of Wild Gunman you are likely to ever find. About one-tenth the size of the regular cart:
I just picked up a set of Famicom erasers and this was by far the smallest one in the lot. Back in the 80s collecting erasers was pretty big with kids here in Japan. Actually I remember it was big in Canada too, in the 3rd grade way back in 1984 I had a few cherished erasers shaped like various things that I kept in my desk at school.

Here you could get them out of those Gachopon vending machines. Wild Gunma here is so small that the eraser is basically just a generic rectangle that looks nothing like a Wild Gunman cart:
The larger ones though look pretty cool and the erasers themselves are miniature versions of the cart, like Dig Dug here (next to a regular Famicom cart for scale):
I got about a dozen or so of these in the lot, they are all games released early in the Famicom`s life so I think these probably came out in 1985 or 86 at the latest. A very neat little thing that I will never ever in a million years be using to actually erase anything.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Yahoo Auction Treasures: Epoch TV Vader

I think I need help, I`ve been buying stuff like crazy on Yahoo Auctions for the past month. There is just too much good stuff to stay away.

The latest piece of vintage Japanese retro gear to arrive on my doorstep all the way from Osaka is the above Epoch TV Vader console, complete in box.

I have wanted one of these for a really long time but I have never been able to find one in the wild. When I found this on Yahoo I entered a pretty low bid not expecting to win, but was pleasantly surprised when I did!

I`ve mentioned on here before that in the late 70s and early 80s Epoch was Nintendo`s main competitor in the Japanese home gaming market. When Nintendo was releasing its Color TV Game 15 and other consoles with single games hardwired into it, Epoch was doing the same.

TV Vader was released in 1980 and, as you can probably deduce from both the name and packaging, contains a Space Invaders type game.
I just plugged this sucker in and it works great. The TV Vader doesn`t exactly have a Space Invaders game, but rather a close copy. Everything is the same except for the number of enemy ships coming at you and the fact that every time you shoot them instead of exploding you just knock them further up the screen. After you`ve shot an enemy five times he finally explodes.
Its a pretty cool variant on Space Invaders and there are four different levels of varying difficulty.

The main reason I wanted this wasn`t for the ability to play Space Invaders per se, but because of how cool the console itself looks:
Joystick and Missile button. The controls could not be simpler, or cooler. The best part though is that artwork on the top with `TV Vader` and a bunch of space invaders on it. This is a very interesting blip in the history of video game console design as it is one of the few that actually put artwork beyond the console`s logo directly onto the console.

`TV Vader` is also an amazing name for a console.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

My New Holy Grail: 1968 Nintendo N&B Block Leisure House

My interest in pre-Famicom vintage Nintendo stuff began a couple of years ago when I found a boxed Electro Safari SP light gun target set from 1970 on a shelf at the now-defunct Omocha Souko.

It was further piqued when Erik V started his absolutely amazing Before Mario blog in which he introduced to the English speaking web his amazing collection of pre-Famicom Nintendo stuff. That blog is cool not just because it allows him to showcase his personal collection, but also because it is pretty much the only comprehensive resource on this rather interesting subject out there. Even in Japanese there isn`t anything comparable.

So over the past couple of years I`ve been slowly picking up little pieces here and there wherever I can find them. Unfortunately most of the stuff is hard to find and expensive when you do.

So I was pretty excited last week when I stumbled upon the above item on Yahoo Auctions: a complete Nintendo N&B Leisure House Block Set!
Back in the 60s Nintendo released its N & B block series, which were very similar to Lego sets. The Leisure House (what a name) was released in 1968 as the instruction manual shows:
It came with a pretty cool full color booklet that included various instructions for making stuff other than the leisure house with the bricks:
This one I got is not only complete, its still sealed:
44 years and still nobody has put this house together. Normally I think nothing of opening sealed stuff but when it is something this old and hard to find....I`m not sure what I will do about that little layer of plastic.

I absolutely love this thing. I was a big Lego fan when I was a kid and even though this is a few years before my time it still reminds me of some of the sets I had as a kid in the early 80s.

These old Nintendo Block sets are pretty hard to find. I have never seen one `in the wild`, even at Mandarake which has a huge selection of vintage toys. Since I bought this one there are now a grand total of zero of them on Yahoo Japan Auctions. Interestingly there is a seller on Ebay who specializes in old Nintendo stuff and is offering the same set here for $399. I did get into a small bidding war on mine and I did pay quite a bit for it, but not that much. I really have no idea how much these things are actually worth, they don`t seem to come up often enough to get a good feel for what they usually go for.

Anyway, I now have yet another `holy grail` for my collection that, unfortunately, I have no adequate way of displaying properly. Someday we are getting ourselves a bigger place if for no other reason than to store all this stuff:)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sharp Donkey Kong Jr/ Donkey Kong Math: The Famicom`s first Multicart

One of my recent Yahoo Auction purchases was the above little footnote in the Famicom`s history, the Sharp Donkey Kong Jr/ Donkey Kong Math multicart.

This is a pretty hard cart to find but it has an interesting place in Famicom cart history. This was never sold individually but came as the pack-in cart with the Sharp Famicom TV, a TV that came with a Famicom built into it (in other words the most amazing TV ever made).

Since I already have both of the games I mainly just wanted this for its interest value. Its a real conversation piece. Well, actually no I suppose it isn`t. I don`t think I`ve ever had a conversation about Famicom collecting with anyone before, save online.

There weren`t a huge number of Sharp Famicom TVs made so these carts are among the harder to find ones out there and usually retail for about 3,000 yen (40$) or so.

I suspect that the creation of this multicart may have been the result of Sharp getting the license for Donkey Kong Math, then suddenly realizing that nobody would ever buy the TV if it only came with Donkey Kong Math. They then entered some marathon all night negotiations with the folks at Nintendo, begging them to let them include a real game - ANY real game - alongside the crappy one that no kid ever wanted to play. Nintendo eventually gave way and let them add Donkey Kong Jr to the cart.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Crisis Force for the Famicom: Somebody got a Bargain

As I have alluded to in previous posts, I have been doing a lot of shopping on Yahoo Auctions recently. I`ve been buying mainly stuff in larger lots since the per-cart cost is pretty cheap when you do that. The only downside being that you end up with a lot of mahjong games.

Usually the lots I bid on will have a crown jewel or two that is what I am mainly after. One lot I got recently had the above CIB copy of Crisis Force as its piece de resistance.

Crisis Force is a shoot-em up developed by Konami. It is a massively popular game among Famicom collectors for three reasons. First, it was only released in Japan. Second, it is awesome. Third, since it came out towards the end of the Famicom`s lifetime they didn`t sell too many, making it, if not super-rare, at least hard to come by.

I already had a loose copy, but I thought a CIB one for a good price would make a nice addition to my collection so I got it. I did get a pretty good deal on it, but when I received it I discovered that someone else at one point had gotten an even better deal on it:
Its a little annoying when good games have price tags right on their precious cardboard boxes like that. What makes this most interesting though is the price, 380 yen is only about 5$.

Just for comparison, I did a quick Ebay search. The cheapest CIB copy of Crisis Force I could find had a BIN price of $128.88. The cheapest loose copy I could find had a starting bid of $49. It is, in other words, one of the more expensive Famicom games out there. Not quite gold Punch Out expensive but getting close.

Unfortunately the price tag doesn`t have the store`s name on it as I would love to go there for some browsing if this is what they price things at. In all likelihood though this price tag is probably 15 years old and predates the development of a collector market for this game. Mandarake in town for example has a CIB copy going for about 80$, so it is usually an expensive game in Japan too (though not quite as expensive as Ebay).

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Precious Namcot games.....Precious....

Some new `pieces` for my collection: the first four games Namcot released for the Famicom complete in box!
I`ve been wanting to get a set of the first 18 Namcot releases (they are numbered) complete in box ever since Bryan over on the Gay Gamer picked up a few of them a couple years back, the pictures he put up just knocked me out. I love the boxes on these, they hit all the right buttons for me: small, cardboard, colorful and with great, evocative imagery on the front.

I already had a couple from this series CIB but they are in the kind of `B-grade` level of games - stuff like Star Luster and Pro Wrestling. These ones however include Pac Man, the one I wanted the most! YES!

I found these on Yahoo Auction in part of a larger lot of boxed games. They set me back quite a bit, but I was massively impressed when I received them. Most of the other games in the lot were in beat up condition but these Namco ones are like new:
They only have some tiny wear on the flaps but other than that they are in perfect condition and look like they could have come directly off a department store shelf from 1984. The photos in the auction weren`t close up so I wasn`t expecting them to be this nice. In fact I was in a bit of a panic when I realized how beautiful they were as these are way too good to just casually toss on a random shelf with the rest of my games where they will get all wrinkled up (what I normally do with games). I had to empty out a plastic bin to put them in for safe keeping.

So my collection now has some showy mint stuff in it. I will not be putting these into hard plastic containers for disply or anything, but I will be keeping them in that plastic bin until I find some safe way of storing them.

Next on my wantlist for this series are Battle City, Warpman, Sky Kid and Burger Time - all of which have awesome cover art. And are probably going to cost me a bit of $$.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Losing my Yahoo Japan Auction Virginity: Better than Losing my Actual Virginity

I finally did it. After years of procrastinating the closure of Omocha Souko finally forced my hand: I got myself a Yahoo Japan Auctions account.

The fact that I no longer have a decent Famicom store nearby has been a bit of a bummer. If I want games I now have to travel long distances to get to the nearest shops, which can be a brutally antagonizing experience if, upon arrival, you find that the shop doesn`t have anything that you want (which seems to be happening more and more these days). When you, say, ride your bike for nearly an hour to that Hard Off location way out in the suburbs only to find boxes full of stuff like this:
It can be quite disheartening (fellow Hard Off junk bin lurkers nod in agreement).

So I`ve been faced with the hard reality that if I want to continue my collecting at its previous Omocha-Souko induced pace (which is like collecting Famicom stuff on Jose Canseco levels of steroids) I would need to do something drastic. That something was getting off my ass and making a serious effort to figure out how to use Yahoo Auctions.

Ebay is not a big thing in Japan, Yahoo is the dominant player for online auctions over here. The basics are the same, but there are some details that are different. Obviously it is all in Japanese. Also you have to pay to become a full `premium` member, 346 yen (about 5$) a month. You can sign up for a regular account free of charge but you are limited to bidding on stuff under 5000 yen, meaning that even if you only buy one thing over that a month it is probably worth it to get the premium account, which I did.

I have been spending a ton of time on there because there is just so much Famicom stuff, a lot of it selling for quite reasonable prices, it is like having Mandarake in my living room. Like the title says, this has been way better than losing my actual virginity. Well, actually it has been quite similar in some ways - lots of awkward fumbling around at first until I familiarized myself with all the accepted protocols, the instillment of a conviction that this is an activity I would like to engage in on a regular basis, conflicted emotional responses and so on. In other ways though it is quite different: there is very little chance that my Yahoo Auction account will end in a messy break up that results in me getting beaten with an umbrella for example.

I signed up about a week ago and I`ve already spent way more than I can afford on stuff. Like, no kidding, I have bought about 600 Famicom games this week. I need help, I just cannot stop bidding on stuff! Argh!

Well, I should get some perspective here. It is good but its got its downsides too. Like Ebay the prices are hit and miss, people price gouge here too. But the auction stuff (rather than the Buy it Now stuff) can go for pretty decent prices, at least if you buy in large lots.

The upsides I think outweigh the downsides. Because almost everyone uses Japan Post transfers for payment there is no 3.9% paypal fee to deal with like on Ebay. Shipping is crazy efficient and cheap too, I`ve already started receiving stuff (like the box at the top of this page) that I only won 2 or 3 days ago.

And getting a box full of 100 Famicom carts in the mail is friggin` great.

Sniping also seems to be less of a problem as I found in one competetive auction that I eventually won. If someone outbids you at the last minute they extend the auction for a few minutes so you can respond (as can the other guy). I would have been sniped on one lot had it been on Ebay but after upping our bids by about a thousand yen I eventually won it.

Anyway, I`m going to be doing some posts about my new acquisitions because I`ve gotten some cool collection additions either here or on the way!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sega My Card: Hero

One of the things that I picked up on my recent trip to Mandarake was my first Sega My Card. The game is simply called Hero. It is a pretty good game, Simon over on Red Parsley did a mini-review of it (along with a few other SG 1000 games) that is worth checking out here.

Technically this is an SG-1000 game, but it can also be played on the Mark III. I have both so its no biggy, but I tried it out on my Mark III for a few minutes. I love the graphics. Very cool.What I love most though is the box it came in. Sega My Cards I think have the best box design of any retro game out there. The cards are about the same size as PC Engine HU cards, but they didn`t use those boring CD cases. They went cardboard, which I love. It is like a little book that you open up and you are presented with the game and its manual:
The cover art on Hero is really great too, in fact it is one of the main things that attracted me to it. At only 525 yen (about $7) it was a really good deal, mainly because the box is pretty worn out, but I don`t care much about that. The cover still looks good and that is enough for me.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Free Stuff: Why I have been drinking so much tea lately

The above is how I have decided to pimp my ride. Yoshi style. Old school.

When I walked into a convenience store a few weeks back I discovered that the beverage companies were doing another one of their promotional giveaways. Buy a bottle of tea and you get a Super Mario 3D Land toy:
They do this sort of thing sometimes and it is always awesome. The best was the Famicom themed Mario bottlecaps they did a few years ago, but this one is also acceptable.

Normally I don`t drink this kind of tea, but for the duration of this giveaway I have decided to do so. It is impossible to resist. I mean, look at the above photo. Three kinds of tea. The kinds on the left and right come with nothing but tea. The one in the middle comes with tea and a little plastic toy. They are all the same price. They are all varations of the same thing (really bland Japanese tea). Which one would you pick?

I have about a dozen of them now, all of them characters from some 3DS game that I will probably never play.

I chose Yoshi to be the masthead for my bicycle, mainly because he is yellow and so is my bike. Also he is in a running pose so it is sort of like he is running ahead of me while I ride. We`ll see how long he manages to stay there before the little chain rusts through and he falls off.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Japanese Game Shops: Service is Second to None

I was reminded recently of one of the other great things about Japanese game shops: the customer service is incredible.

As I recently posted about, last week I went to Kitakyushu to do some game shopping. One of the things I picked up at the Mandarake there was a loose Sega Mark III console.

The console was in their glass case right next to another old, obscure console - the Bandai Playdia. The cables for each console were in plastic bags seperate from the console.

After returning home the next day I decided to plug in the Mark III to test out a Sega My Card game that I had also purchased. Only when I went to plug it in I discovered this:
A Bandai Playdia AC adaptor!! The horror!

It was a pretty simple and honest mistake, when the staff member took out the Mark III console he accidentally grabbed the Playdia`s cables instead of the Mark III`s.

If this had happened at the Mandarake here in town it wouldn`t have been a problem as I could just go in and exchange it. Since it happened at the one in Kitakyushu though I sure wasn`t going to spend the time and money it took to get out there just for some cables.

So I looked up their website, found an email address for the Kokura store and sent them an email explaining the situation and asking if they could do anything.

Shortly thereafter I received a lengthy and apologetic email with a promise to mail the Mark III cables right to me.

Actions of course speak louder than words and sure enough, the VERY NEXT DAY a delivery man arrived at my door with the cable! They had gone to the expense of sending it courier rather than regular mail!

When I opened the box not only did it have the cables well-packaged in tons of bubble wrap (pictured above) but it also included a one-page letter of apology. This wasn`t a form letter either but one that had been personally written to me by one of the store`s staff.
Gotta love the customer service here. If this had happened in North America I can`t imagine the difficulty I would have had in getting this sorted out.

So that is another big thumbs up for Mandarake!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

A Million Euro Collection on Ebay that Might Actually Be Worth It

The craziest thing ever on Ebay: a video game auction with a million Euro buy it now price that might actually be worth it. Well, its hard to measure how much something like this is actually worth, a million might be a stretch but its definitely worth way more money than I have.

The guy has a full set of Famicom games, both cart and FDS, all CIB! Plus full sets of about 20 other systems all CIB - Super Famicom, Mega Drive, PC Engine, etc etc. I`ve never seen a collection that extensive before. If only I was rich....ah, but its funner to collect these things bit by bit rather than getting them in one shot. Still, massively impressive, I wonder who the seller is...

Cheers to Famicom no Neta for first reporting this!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Top 80s Movies that Would have been great in 8 bit

Part of my love for the Famicom is probably dervied from the fact that there are a lot of Famicom games based on 80s movies, which I love. These generally fall into a few categories:

Good movies made into good video games: The Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, Batman, Gremlins 2, The Goonies, etc.

Good movies made into bad video games: Ghostbusters

So-so sequels that were made into good video games: Ghostbusters 2

Terrible movies that you cannot believe were made into video games: Hudson Hawk, Iron Eagle 3

Movies that don`t exist but were made into decent video games anyway: Goonies 2

Good movies that were made into bizarre video games: Predator

I`m probably missing a few categories and games in there but you get the general idea. Despite the great number of movie tie-in video games released on the Famicom (and NES) there were still a ton of great 80s movies that never had video game versions made of them back in the day. I`ve here put together my top ten list of great 80s movies that would have made for great Famicom (or other 8 bit system) games but, sadly, never were. In no particular order:

1. The Naked Gun

The whole game should just be based on that opening sequence where Frank Drebin takes on the Ayatollah, Idi Amin, Arafat, Ghadafi, Gorbachev and all those other bad guys. Tranquilizing an overweight woman in mom jeans onto Reggie Jackson would also make a very good challenge bonus stage.

2. Romancing the Stone/ Jewel of the Nile

Both of these would have made awesome platformers. A lot of people prefer Romancing the Stone but I`ve always had a soft spot for the sequel.

3. The Burbs
Probably the most under-rated movie ever made. They could make this a cooperative platformer in which the main characters snoop on the Klopeks while trying to avoid admonitions from their wives. Bonus points when you get Corey Feldman to cheer you on. Also whenever you lose a life the game should say `There go the god damn brownies`.

4. Police Academy 2The showdown at the Old Zoo with Bobcat Goldthwait`s gang would make an awesome level in any game.

5. Arthur 2

Just to demonstrate that even Dudley Moore`s worst movie would still make a good video game.

6. The Ice Pirates

This would work as either an RPG or an action platformer game. Angelica Houston`s best role to date.

7. My Dinner with Andre
An existential discource between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory over dinner at a fine restaurant? Need I say more? Hours of RPG fun in there.

8. Ferris Bueller`s Day Off

This one is too easy and requires no explanation. Rooney as the final boss?

9. Commando

I know that they made a game for the NES called Commando (and for the Famicom), but I don`t think it was based on this movie. I say this because at no point in that game do you get to play with one of those rocket launchers that is, like, four rocket launchers. In one!! This totally needs to be in a game.

10. The Breakfast Club
Two John Hughes movies in one list? It is a bit gratuitous, but a game with Dick Vernon as the final boss would be pretty cool.