Saturday, September 28, 2013

Warehouse Find? An Unopened Case of Famicom Choujin Ultra Baseball!

Just a couple of weeks after complaining about how Yahoo Auctions no longer has any deals I find myself in the awkward position of having a deal that I scored on Yahoo Auctions to report.

My score was the following box, full of the above pictured copies of Choujin Ultra Baseball!!

This is a fully intact factory case of Choujin Ultra baseball containing 20 brand new copies of the game.  Back in 1989 when this game came out this is what the clerks at Japan`s department stores pulled the games out of when they put them on the shelf.

It is exceedingly rare to find intact cases of Famicom games like this, I suspect that someone must have found a few gathering dust in a back corner of some store`s warehouse because cases of a few games have popped up on both Yahoo Auctions and even Ebay recently.  Anybody fancy a case of Super Chinese 2?  300$ on Ebay right now!

Anyway, open that case up and presto!  20 beauties all lined up in a row.

It is cool to have these because you can line the individual boxes up to recreate a 1980s store display atmosphere in the comfort of your own living room, like so:

The seller I got this off of actually had cases of 3 or 4 other titles, like Super Chinese 3 and Fighting Wars which I could have chosen from.  I zeroed in on Choujin Ultra Baseball though.  If it had been any other baseball title - or sports title for that matter - I probably would have gone for Super Chinese 3 instead.  But as I wrote about in a post a couple of years ago I absolutely love the cover art on Choujin Ultra Baseball.  I think it is far and away the best cover art on any sports game ever made - the colors are fantastic and it has a kind of pop art look to it which just really appeals to me.  10 Yard Fight is the only sports game I can think of which gives this one a run for its money.  Also just look how determined that batter looks

The case itself is also pretty neat.  It is of course just a cardboard box, but in addition to the cool FF Famicom Family logo on the top it also has the game logo on the side.

I am really curious about how this (and the other games which have unopened cases showing up on auction sites) survived so long intact.  There are a couple of things that puzzle me.  I would have expected that any dead stock Famicom cases would have been either: 1) games which there are a ton of (like Family Stadium or something) which they may have produced too many of, or 2) games released late in the Famicom`s lifetime when the system`s popularity was plummeting as the next generation Super Famicom took over the market.

Choujin Ultra Baseball doesn`t really fit into either of these categories though.  It wasn`t an overproduced game - loose carts pop up in game shops here and there but I`ve never seen them in bulk like with other Famicom baseball games.  Also it was released in 1989, a year before the Super Famicom came out and when the Famicom was still the king of the consoles in Japan.  It is a bit of a mystery.  I assume, as the title of this post suggests, that it was part of a warehouse find that somebody stumbled across.

Anyway, it is kind of a neat thing and I`m not exactly sure what I will do with it.  I definitely will NOT be breaking it up.  This sort of thing just demands that it be kept together - the whole is worth more than the sum of its parts.  Still, what do you do with 20 copies of the same game?  I mean, other than playing 1980s Japanese department store with them.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Retro Find: Frogger Handheld by Konami/ Gakken!!

Frogger is one game that I have a lot of fond memories of as a kid.  I had a big floppy disk version of it for my Apple IIC back in the 80s and it was one of my favorite games.  I remember sitting at that computer in the basement of my childhood home with Airwolf on TV in the background and sneaking some snacks before dinner while playing it for hours on end.  The good old days.

Sadly Frogger is one of those smash hit arcade games from the 80s that, for whatever reason, never got a release on the Famicom.  Q-Bert is another one in that category that I really wish they had released on the Famicom so I could play it.

Anyway, I`ve been wanting to get a vintage copy of Frogger for something for the longest time and today I found it: an original 1982 Frogger handheld produced by Gakken, a subsidiary of Konami.

It is a really awesome machine.  The gameplay is a very faithful reproduction of the original, a bit better than my Puckman handheld that I found last year, which isn`t quite the same as the Pacman arcade game.

This one came with the original box and manual, which was a nice touch. 

The controls are pretty simple, I like the fact that this one lets you turn the music on and off.  Puckman and my Game and Watches all make a bunch of noise that you cannot turn off, meaning you can`t use them in some situations.

I also like the yellow plastic and the distinctive Frogger logo I remember so well from my old Apple IIC floppy disk:
 It was a pretty good deal for about $50, my wife was actually nice enough to buy it as a gift for me.  I checked on Yahoo Auction and there are a couple without boxes with buy-it-now prices well above that so I think it was a good deal.    

Frogger is also an awesome game because of the fact that it was a central plot element of the best episode of Seinfeld ever:

 Total classic.  I will play this game until I best Costanza`s high score.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Yahoo Auction Price Explosion: Woe is me

It has been a little over a year since I first started buying Famicom games on Yahoo Auctions.  It was so awesome at first: tons of Famicom games selling for bargain prices.

In the past nine months or so Yahoo Auction has gone from being a good place to buy cheap Famicom stuff to....a good place to buy much much less cheap Famicom stuff.

As someone who follows the auctions there pretty closely I can say that prices for Famicom lots have increased by at least 50% over the course of 2013.  I still enter bids on stuff once a week or so but I haven`t actually won - or even come close to winning - an auction in months despite the fact that I have increased my maximum bidding strategy from what it was last year (in 2012 I would win about half the auctions I put serious bids on).  Every time a decent lot of Famicom carts comes up there are tons of people bidding for it and the prices are going through the roof.

The main explanation  for this would seem to be the exchange rate.  The Japanese yen has lost about 25% of its value against the dollar over the same time period, meaning that it is that much cheaper for overseas buyers bidding through proxies to buy Famicom stuff priced in Yen.

The problem with that is the exchange rate change (25%) can only account for about half of the overall increase in prices (about 50%), which leaves the question of where the other half came from.

My theory on that is that prices last year were just insanely cheap because there were fewer overseas buyers bidding on stuff.  With the increased number of bidders entering the market as a result of the lower yen competition for the stuff available has also increased and these bidders have forced the prices up well past the exchange rate difference.

This kind of sucks for me since my salary is in Yen, meaning that the lowered exchange rate didn`t increase my purchasing power by 25% like it did for overseas buyers.  I am forced to recall with rose tinted lenses those glory days of 2012 when I went on my first Yahoo Auction buying binge.....oh how glorious it was!

Combined with the fact that I moved last year and have no retro game stores near my new place this means that my Famicom well has more or less run dry.  I bought tons of Famicom and other retro game stuff last year but to date this year I have purchased exactly three games which altogether cost less than 1500 yen (about 15$), which works out to less than 2$ a month.

I know all you Famicom collectors in the US will hate me for saying this but.....I really hope the Yen goes up in value again soon :)

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Kansai Retro Game Shops 4: Mandarake in Osaka`s Amerika Mura

The final retro game store I got to check out during my trip to the Kansai area was Mandarake in Osaka`s Amerika Mura neighborhood.

Amerika Mura is kind of a neat area.  It mainly has clothing shops (the name Amerika Mura comes from the fact that stores selling American style clothing were centred in the neighborhood back in the day) and a lot of them are pretty hip.  

Mandarake used to have a store in the Den Den town area where all the other retro game shops are but about 5 years ago they closed that one down and moved it to Amerika Mura.  The two neighborhoods actually aren`t far from each other and you can walk from one to the other, passing by the famous Dotonbori area with its Bladerunner look (at night at least) on the way:

It actually kind of makes sense that Mandarake relocated given that it sells a ton of clothing (cosplay stuff) as well as games and toys.  Anyway, this is what it looks like outside:

The games are on the first floor.  The first thing I noticed was that their Famicom shelf also sported a few NES games, which I have never seen in a retro game shop here before:

Their selection was actually quite underwhelming.  The Mandarake in Fukuoka actually has a much better Famicom section which is surprsing considering that Osaka is about three times bigger than Fukuoka. 

I think the reason for that is Mandarake actually has two stores in Osaka, the one in Amerika Mura I visited and another one in Umeda.  Unfortunately I didn`t have time to check out the Umeda one (presumably it has a lot more games). 

This brought to a close my Kansai area retro game shopping.  It was mostly a window shopping trip as I ended up spending less than 1,000 yen (about $10) on retro games, my only purchases being a CIB copy of Sky Destroyer for the Famicom (I love the box are on it) and a loose copy of Fantasy Zone for the Sega Mark III (which I got at this Mandarake).  In general the prices were a bit higher than I was used to in Fukuoka but there were a few reasonable places.  Not a place for bargain-hunting but I had a really great time looking at all the pretty goodies!