Friday, December 27, 2013

The Famicom Exodus: Will Japan ever Repatriate Them?

 A very brief history lesson: in the 19th century after Japan opened up to the West, Europeans became very interested in Japanese art.  Woodblock prints like the one above, for example, became highly sought after and art collectors from Europe and America bought them up like crazy, to the point that by the 20th century many of the finest examples were only to be found outside of Japan.  They were able to do so in part because the Japanese themselves didn`t place a very high value on those prints and thus works that would later be worth a small fortune were sold for mere pennies.

After Japan underwent its high growth era in the 60s and early 70s the trend partially reversed itself, with newly affluent Japanese seeking out and repatriating some of the nation`s antiques and artwork that had been sold abroad in earlier times. Of course in doing so they were paying thousands or even millions of dollars for things that had left Japan decades earlier for almost nothing.

This overly-simplified story of an episode from Japanese art history got me thinking about Japan`s retro video games.  In part this is because almost anything gets me thinking of retro video games, but also it is because there seem to be some parrallels in the modern day flow of Japanese collectible games.

The basic trend that I have noticed is simply that foreigners (like myself, though I do live in Japan) seem to be buying a lot of Japanese retro games, particularly for the Famicom.  The reverse, however, does not seem to be happening: there seems to be very little market in Japan for vintage games from outside of Japan.

As a random test of this I just did two searches.  First I went to American Ebay and did a search for “Famicom”.  That gave me 29,628 items for sale.  A lot of those would be Super Famicom stuff, and of course there would also be a fair number of pirated games from non-Japanese sources like China.  But just a casual scroll through the results indicates that about half of it is actual Famicom games, consoles or accessories originally marketed in Japan.  So I would say there is probably close to 15,000 Famicom items available on Ebay at the moment.

In short, while this is by no means a scientific survey, I think it can safely be concluded that there is a reasonably big and active international market outside of Japan for vintage Japanese video games.

The second search I did was to try to find out what the flow was going the other way – in other words, how much of a market is there in Japan for foreign retro games?  I did a few searches on Yahoo Auctions (the Japanese equivalent of Ebay) to try to tease out the scale.  First I did a search for “NES”, the term which is also used in Japan to describe the American version of the Famicom.  That turned up a grand total of 92 results in the gaming section, some of which were actually Famicom games.  I also did a search for that other colossus of American retro gaming, the Atari 2600, and only found 19 results, all but one of which were actually Japan-released Atari 2800 games.  “Colecovision” turned up zero results, while “Intellivision” only turned up 18 – all of which appear to have been games released for the Japanese Bandai version of that console.

This indicates that in terms of scale there seems to be a much much smaller market for foreign retro games in Japan than there is for Japanese retro games overseas.  While large numbers of Famicom games are leaving these shores for lands far away, the Japanese don`t seem to have much interest in vintage foreign games.

This is understandable given the fact that while Nintendo was a massive cultural hit abroad, creating a natural interest in the Famicom among people who grew up with the NES, there was no equivalent American or European game maker back in the 80s or 90s which similarly impacted the Japanese market.  The Atari 2800 and the Intellivision were both massive flops in Japan and after that generation it really wasn`t until the XBox came along that a serious American firm entered the console wars as a major competitor.

But that aside, the interesting question to me is what the long term effect of the seeming exodus of Famicom games from Japan will be.  On the one hand, there were millions of Famicom games produced back in the day whereas there are probably only thousands of games being exported, so in terms of overall volume the effect might not be so big (though over time it might add up).  

On the other hand though, it is really obvious that international demand for certain games is having a big effect on the Japanese market.  Gimmick, for example, has exploded in price over the past year to the point that it is impossible to find loose copies going for less than about $200.  The main reason for that isn`t because Japanese Famicom collectors suddenly had a heightened interest in the game, but because it is one of those games that was never released in America and is immensely sought after by folks over there.  

I hasten to add that there is nothing wrong with that, its great that people around the world have an interest in the Famicom.  I just think it is kind of interesting.  It also makes me wonder if, a few decades from now, Japanese Famicom collectors will have to start buying the best games off of Ebay from American buyers because there are so few copies left in Japan, as Japanese woodblock print collectors once had to do.  Food for thought anyway.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

I`m a Gambling Man....with my Nintendo Electro Roulette

I got a roulette set in the mail last week.  I don`t play much roulette but I like this one.  Its electric and it says Nintendo on the wheel.!

This is one of those light gun games that Nintendo made back in the early 70s.  It is called Electro Roulette, and I do like that name.  Putting the word "electro" before anything makes that thing better. As you can tell from the box cover, in this one you shoot the target (the middle of the roulette wheel) to make it spin.

The gun was sold seperately back in the day so this only includes the wheel.  As luck would have it, I actually own the light gun that goes with it, which I did a little write up about here.  Unfortunately my six shooter doesn`t work and is for display only, so I`m not sure if this roulette wheel is still functioning or not.

I also have another one of the targets, the Electro Safari set, though I kind of like this roulette wheel better.

Anyway, open it up and this is what you get:

A roulette wheel and some chips.  I am guessing that there might have also been a ball originally packed with this, but I am not sure.  Normally a roulette wheel would of course have a ball, but this one mainly functions as a target intended to be hung on a wall vertically, which would have made a ball impossible to use on it. Instead of a ball it seems the number was to be indicated in this little window on the top:

The chips are pretty cool.  They have the old Nintendo logo that the company briefly used in the early 70s (and which looks nothing like `Nintendo`) stamped in the middle of them:

The best part though, as with so many old Nintendo things, is the box itself.  The cowboy on the front is pretty iconic:

And they have a completely different cowboy on the side.  The blue and white star border with an orange brick background really make it look cool too:

Normally when I do a post about one of these pre-Famicom Nintendo finds I reference Erik`s fantastic Before Mario, but I was surprised to find that he hasn`t gotten around to dedicating a post specifically to the Electro Roulette yet (though he does have a post which overviews the Electro series and mentions the Roulette wheel).  This is the first time since I got my Electro Safari that I have been able to introduce an old Nintendo thing which wasn`t already out there, so I feel kind of cool.  Erik`s blog is a bit like the Simpsons for Nintendo collectors, every time you think you`ve found something new, you discover he already has it (and I mean that as a compliment of course)!

Friday, November 29, 2013

My New Sqoon: Missing those Lovely Irem LEDs

One of these things is not like the other....

Actually wait, both of these things are unlike the other.

Yesterday I got a copy of Sqoon in the mail.  I already had a copy of Sqoon, which is a really cool game, but the copy I got yesterday was missing the little red LED. This actually pleased me.

When Irem released its first series of games for the Famicom - including Sqoon, Spelunker, Spelunker 2, 10 Yard Fight, Zippy Race and Mashou - they included a little red LED on the cart that would illuminate when the Famicom was turned on.  This was a pretty neat innovation given that on an original red and white Famicom it isn`t always obvious if the console is turned on or off from a distance.  These may have been the only cartridges in video game history to have such a feature.

Unfortunately they also cost money to include on the carts and didn`t really influence people`s decision of whether to buy them or not (a decision most people make based on the game`s quality rather than whether or not it has a red light on it), so when they later released a second run of some of the games they eliminated the LEDs from them.

As you can see from my new copy of Sqoon, while they eliminated the LED they kept the rest of the cart exactly the same, including the very conspicuous triangle where the LED was supposed to go.  So the carts without LEDs look a bit awkward.

Despite their awkward appearance, the versions of these carts without the LEDs are worth way more than the ones with LEDs.  Apparently by the time they re-released them these games were already yesterday`s news so not many people bought them.  They are pretty rare today, much like the `Kung Fu` version of Spartan X. They were even featured in that Famicom antiques road show/ price is right TV show I posted about last month, which used the Spelunker version as an example of a rare and valuable variation of a Famicom cart:

Not all of the games have both versions.  Spelunker 2 and Mashou apparently weren`t popular enough to begin with so they never got no-LED versions of themselves.  As far as I can tell only four - Sqoon, Spelunker, Zippy Race and 10 Yard Fight - exist in both versions (see here for pics of them).

Interestingly one cart exists in only non-LED form, Yan chan Maru (visible in the above photo, back row far left).

That game was apparently a sort of transition cart.  The design is basically identical to the Irem carts which had LEDs, except that it is missing the LED and doesn`t have the little triangular space for them carved out of the front label.  After that, Irem started issuing games in carts that looked more like the standard Famicom carts.

Anyway, there you have it.  Another little piece of Famicom collecting lore explained through the power of Sqoon.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Game & Watch Goodies

I`ve been collecting Game & Watches for a few years now, but I still don`t have too many.  I really like them though.  I never owned one as a kid, though I did have some generic-brand handhelds which were nowhere near as cool.  

Anyway, this week I acquired four more Game and Watches all in one go through a trade with Whatsupchang over on Famicom World.  I sent him a package of Famicom games and he sent me these beauties:

Gold Cliff, Donkey Kong II, Donkey Kong Jr and Mario Bros!

Actually, Donkey Kong Jr and Mario Bros I already had copies of which I bought at Omocha Souko in Fukuoka a couple of years ago, but Donkey Kong II and Gold Cliff are completely new to me and are really great.  Gold Cliff in particular I had never heard of before but it is kind of a neat game - you control an adventurer and have to get him up to the top of the dual screen to collect some stuff.  Basically the same gameplay as all Game and Watches and I like that.  It also looks pretty good, I like blue stuff!

This is actually my second Famicom-for-Game and Watch trade that I have done on Famicom World.  About a year ago I did a similar trade for the red Micro vs system boxing one, which goes well with my Donkey Kong Hockey here:

There were three of these vs systems made, all I need now is the green Donkey Kong 3 and I will have the whole set!

So my Game and Watch collection is now on the grow again. 

I just love these things!  If anybody else has some Game and Watches they want to trade for Famicom carts, just let me know! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Breaking Famicom News: Lost Love and A Fake Famicom Cart? The Gold Binary Land Scandal.

The Japanese language internet has been abuzz over the past few days with speculation about the origins of the gold Binary Land Famicom cart, seen in the above photo selling for 84,800 yen (almost $1,000) at Super Potato in Osaka.  I figured that since nobody seems to have picked up on this bit of gossip in English I would do the honors here.

I`m getting my information on this from the excellent Famicom no Netta blog, which did a post on the scandal here.  By way of background, there is a very romantic story about the origins of Binary Land, which is fitting given the romantic theme of the game (which, I have to add, is a really fun one to play).  The game was developed by two employees of Hudson Soft, known as Kiku and Megu.   If you turn the game on and, while the title screen is showing press down on the A and B buttons on both controllers and press reset, a hidden message saying KIKU MEGU LOVE STORY! will appear.

When Kiku and Megu got married, Hudson produced the special gold version of their game to give out as gifts to wedding guests. There were thus only a couple of hundred made, which explains why it is such an expensive game.  It has been featured on TV shows like Tameshi Ka (website here and you can also see a post I did a couple of years which mentions the show here) and sometimes pops up on Yahoo Auctions, always selling for tens of thousands of yen. 

Basically the doubts about its authenticity seems to have started on October 30 when Sakurada Meijin, a former employee of Hudson and a disciple of Takahashi Meijin (BTW, I love the fact that in Japan Famicom game players even have disciples) noted something really interesting: the wedding at which this game was allegedly distributed back in the 80s never took place! Kiku and Megu never actually got married!

Further in a different tweet he noted the fact that if you look at different copies of the gold Binary Land cart they have stickers which identify them as the wedding version.  But these stickers aren`t the same on all the carts, they are in different sizes, different locations and with different lettering, leading to suspicion they may have been added at a later date by different people.

Doing a bit of further research he determined that the source of the story that the cart was distributed at Kiku and Megu`s wedding may have originated with the man himself: Takahashi Meijin.

 Looking back at the record though, it seems that Takahashi Meijin never actually said it was a wedding version.  He actually said something like "I think it was something like that (a wedding present)..."

Looking further at a cached comment by Takahashi Meijin on his blog from 5 years ago in which he discusses Binary Land, he says in response to a question about the gold version that he had forgotten about it.

At any rate, the mystery continues.  Is the Binary Land gold version cart a fake?  Or is it legit, but made for the wedding of someone other than the star crossed lovers Kiku and Megu?  My impression is that the latter is a more likely explanation. The story has spread quite a bit and perhaps somebody will dug up the truth!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Famicom Cart Storage the Saga Continues....

In the five years or so since I started collecting Famicom games I have been through a wide range of storage and display options for them.  For the first couple of years I mainly just shoved them in boxes or stacked them on shelves like this:

Then about 3 years ago I tried my hand at DIY Famicom cart shelf making with some dish drying racks I bought at the 100 yen shop.

Thos actually worked really well, they looked OK and it allowed for easy finding of games I wanted to play without having to knock over stacks of carts:

Sadly when I left Fukuoka last year, I had to get rid of these for space reasons.  I say it was sad because these really were a good solution to the problem, I used those shelves for a couple of years and they worked great.

A few months ago I had a try at making some new shelves with postcard holders, also from the 100 yen shop.

Those looked good, but unfortunately they could only hold 4 carts each, which is way too few for this to be an effective solution.

The other day I was at Seria, another 100 yen shop (there are several chains of 100 yen shops) and I came across these:

They are basically just generic little shelves.  I bought ten of them and tossed them up on the wall to see how they would work:

They aren`t too bad. They hold more carts than the postcard holders (and even the dishracks) did, which is good.  They don`t look too bad, which is also good.  The only downside is that they aren`t ideal for quick game identification like the dish racks, which had a little space between each game so you could see the front label. Still though, because they aren`t in stacks it is pretty easy to flip through them.  So this is my new Famicom rack in the living room.  I might get a few more and turn this into a floor-to-ceiling sort of thing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Famicom Price is Right/ Antiques Roadshow Japanese TV Program

When I was down in Fukuoka earlier this week I was flipping through the channels on the TV in my hotel on the first night and happened to stumble onto a variety show that was featuring Famicom games. It was kind of a cross between the Price is Right and Antiques Road Show.

This was actually one of the more interesting Famicom-related show I have seen because it was specifically about the collectability of Famicom Carts.

They had an expert from one of the big retro game shops in Tokyo (I missed the first minute or two of the show so I didn`t catch which one he was from) and he explained a little bit about the Famicom collector`s market and what it was that made some games valuable.  He divided them into a few simple categories to explain their value.  The first were games from popular series like Rockman, Final Fantasy and Puyo Puyo:

And then there were games that were released late in the Famicom`s lifespan, meaning that there were only a few released like Gimmick and Recca:

And games that had appeal because they were unusual, like Spelunker or Takeshi no Chosenjo:

And games that were really limited edition ones, like the green Kinnikuman and Silver Hot Scramble Z:

They explained some of these in detail, like the fact that the Spelunker cart came in two versions, one with a red LED and one without.  The one without the LED is worth more (there were a few of those Irem games released like that, I have seen Sqoon without the LED too):
And the Green Kinnikuman cart, which was originally given out as a present and not sold in stores:
 And Takeshi Chousenjo, which as the writing at the bottom of the screen says is called a `kusoge-` (crap game) but its difficulty has led to its re-evaluation and its achieved a sort of cult status:

 In the second part of the show it became a kind of price is right type of game show.
 Then the battle began.  The challengers were:

Some guy (on the left) vs Manabe Kaori (on the right), model and actress who is still hot even though she is well past 30:
 They basically had to choose which game was the most valuable out of a small selection of the ones pictured at the top of this post.  In the first round they looked at the really expensive ones:
 Then they had this rotating number thing which would eventually tell them how much the game they had chosen was worth:
 70,000 yen!  Very good Kaori!  Other guy might have won this round because I think Hot Scramble Z silver cart is worth a bit more than that CIB, but still.  Way to go!
 And don`t worry, in the next round the choices were like this.  Rockman 6 worth more than Summer Carnival 92?  Other Guy, what were you thinking? 
Anyway there wasn`t exactly a lot of suspense in watching these unfold since as a collector I already knew which ones were worth more.  Still though, it was awesome to see Other Guy choose the Takeshi Chousenjo game as the most valuable only to be told that it was only worth a few hundred yen. 

It was really fun to watch the show anyway.  When you are part of a hobby that is somewhat limited in size it is always really exciting when you see it mentioned in the mainstream media.  Unfortunately this was just a one-off program and not a regular thing, at least as far as Famicom games are concerned.  At the end they said in next week`s episode they would be doing the same thing only with baseball cards. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Return to the Fukuoka Famicom Shops

I just got back from an overnight business trip to the place where this blog began: beautiful Fukuoka!

I was there for a couple of meetings on Tuesday, but Wedensday morning and early afternoon I had to myself and decided to drop by good old Mandarake to see how things have changed there since I left.

I would have loved to have been able to do a thorough revisit to all the Famicom shops I described in loving detail in numerous posts on here back when I lived in Fukuoka but it wasn`t possible to do so with the time I had.  Sadly my favorite shop that I used to visit 3-4 times a week, Omocha Souko, went permanently out of business last year so the one place that more than any I wanted to see on my return could not be paid a visit.

Another issue was simply the fact that as a visitor to Fukuoka I did not have a bicycle, which was really instrumental in allowing me to visit all those awesome retro game shops, many of which were not easily accessible by public transport.

Anyway, I made sure that I would at least visit my favorite surviving Fukuoka Famicom shop on this visit and even booked a hotel (the Green Hotel if anyone is interested) that is literally next door to Mandarake.

Despite their no-photography policy I decided to take a few pics this time since even if they kicked me out its not like I visit there that often anymore.
Wall to wall CIB Famicom goodies, no other shop in Fukuoka comes close to matching this.  The blue sign there says they will pay 50,000 yen for a CIB copy of Kung Fu.

A few copies of Thunderbirds and Tomato Princess in the Salad Kingdomthere:

Oh and what is that at the end of the aisle?

Get a little closer:

The glass case with all the good Famicom stuff in it!!

About half of this stuff I remembered from my last visit, loads of CIB games for the Famicom and Super Famicom.  They have a CIB copy of that really rare silver Hot Scramble Z which they are selling for about 900 bucks.

Basically all that stuff was out of my price range, but I did pick up a few Famicom games. Mandarake generally has pretty good prices, at least at their Fukuoka branch, so I am always glad to walk out with a few new purchases.  I picked up CIB copies of Binary Land and Highway Star, which will go nicely with my collection.

The only other Famicom-related place I got a chance to visit was a Book Off next to Hakata Station.  I had actually profiled that one on here a couple of years ago in a post that consisted mainly of complaining about their outrageously high prices.

I was hoping they might have changed that problem and got a bit excited when I saw that they had moved the `old soft` section (which is where all pre-PS2 era games at Book Offs are kept, if they have any) and tidied it up a bit:

Unfortunately despite the facelift the prices were the same as usual.  They even still had the exact same copy of Devil World priced at 1550 yen (about 2-3 times what its worth) that I had complained about in that post 2 years ago:

That will probably always be there!

Anyway, it was nice to go back to Fukuoka, I really do miss the place. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

Yahoo!! A Red Lefty RX!!

After taking my broken old blue Lefty RX on an awesome tour around town last week I decided to do a little online shopping to see if there were any available as I didn`t have a complete, fully functional one.  And I found one!  A red one!  Complete in box!

I entered a bid and long story short it arrived a couple of days later.

It is sooooo smooth.
 The controller is pretty nice too.  One button is all it takes.
 This thing was really complete in box, even with the vintage 1972 batteries still in there.
 It also came with the fuel pit refuelling station:

 And the decals still haven`t been applied.
Far and away the most interesting thing though was this advertising flyer for Nintendo toys from 1972.  This is awesome.
 It is full color on both the front and back and has prety much all the toys that Nintendo was trying to sell back in the early 70s.
 They were selling my Ultra Machine for only 1480 yen back then:
 My Electro Safari SP and SP light gun were also on there:
I`m quite happy with this new acquisition, I now have a blue, gold and red Lefty RX (though only this red one is CIB).