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?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Retro Game Shopping in Nagoya Part 2: Osu Mandarake

 Part two of my posts on retro game shopping in Nagoya brings us to the Nagoya branch of Mandarake.  Nagoya`s Mandarake is also in the Osu neighborhood and is actually just a couple of minutes walk away from the game shops I visited in my previous post.   

It is a bit tricky to find though since it is on a side street, basically when you are walking down one of the arcade streets and you get to about here (the Ameyokocho building, which is also definitely worth checking out):

You turn onto a side street and blammo, you are right there:

I give the shop a score of minus 1000 in terms of its external appeal.  Whereas pretty much everywhere in Osu is vibrant and colorful, Mandarake is located in the only bit of grey dreariness in the neighborhood, surrounded by ugly parking lots.  And the building itself is an ugly grey blob.  But once you get inside its a different story.

In terms of stuff they have about the same type of selection as the Fukuoka Mandarake that I have featured on here numerous times.  The first floor is video games and comics, while the upper floors are toys and cosplay stuff.

Their Famicom selection isn`t as good as that in the Fukuoka Mandarake (which is surprising given that Nagoya is more than double the size of Fukuoka).  They keep all the loose carts in this basket here.  The prices are probably the best you will find in Osu, though that isn`t necessarily saying much.  They are fair and you might find the odd bargain in there.
 The glass case has some impressive stuff in it, although the selection there also isn`t quite as good as the Fukuoka Mandarake.  They have 3 copies of Gimmick! (12000 yen each, with a note saying they are a bit dirty) and 3 copies of Hitler no Fukkatsu (3800 yen each).  In the back of this photo you can see they have some really rare stuff, but this photo is pretty much everything they have in terms of higher price loose rarities.  Impressive, but not quite as varied as the Fukuoka Mandarake.
 Their valuable CIB stuff is kind of the same.  Again they have 3 copies of Gimmick (42000 yen each) which right there makes up half their selection of CIB stuff.  Actually  going to this store really makes me question just how hard Gimmick is to find if one shop can have six copies of it.
 They did have a decent selection of lower priced CIB Famicom games on a shelf which I wasn`t able to photograph.  The one area they did beat Fukuoka Mandarake on was selection of games for older consoles like the Epoch Cassette Vision and Sega Mark III, which they had a good variety of.  The prices here for most stuff are reasonable so if you are in Nagoya I would say this is probably the best place to visit if you are determined to spend a bit of money!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Retro Game Shopping in....Nagoya! Part 1 Osu

 Nagoya is not generally known as a major tourist centre.  That is because it isn`t one.  Its an industrial city that was heavily bombed during the war and thus doesn`t have much in the way of traditional sites that most visitors to Japan are looking for.

It is, however, the third largest urban centre in Japan (technically the fourth largest `city`, but the number 1 and 2 on that list, Tokyo and Yokohama, are more or less one massive urban blob), and as such it is one of the few cities in Japan - in addition to Osaka (Den Den Town) and Tokyo (Akihabara) to possess an actual gaming/otaku neighorhood of its own: Osu.  So this will be the first in a series of two posts in which I take you through the retro gaming haven of Nagoya`s Osu neighborhood.

 Osu is a fairly large neighborhood comparable in size to Osaka`s Den Den Town.  From a retro gaming perspective though I would rate it a bit lower.  Den Den Town is primarily an electronics and gaming neighborhood while Osu, in terms of shops, skews a bit more towards the manga and cosplay end of the Otaku-verse. Nonetheless it does have a few worth taking in.

Most of Osu is made up of a series of pedestrian only streets covered by arcade roofs.  These are a lot of fun to walk around, filled with tons of neat shops, arcade centres and pachinko halls.
The retro gaming shops however are mostly centred on a street without an arcade roof, called Akamon Street.  It is easy to find with its red gate (Akamon means red gate).

 The street has a fair number of neat shops selling random used stuff, a lot of them computer or gaming related.  The first one that has Famicom stuff you will come across is called K-House
 It has a bunch of CDs and other stuff piled out front on the sidewalk, you can see some SFC and Famicom games crammed in the back:
 They have a pretty sizeable selection of gaming stuff (they also sell DVDs and CDs) inside:

The prices, however, are among the worst I have seen anywhere in Japan.  This shop gouges so badly I would describe them as approaching Toronto levels.  These red and white Famicoms for example (modded for AV) are priced at 7200 yen (about $75 US) each, which is way more than what they should be priced at.

 The Super Famicom controllers in this box were 1200 yen (12$) each, about double what I would describe as a fair market price for them.
 And the Famicom games were just indescribably overpriced.  The only good thing I can say is that at least they had a decent selection of them.

Leaving K-House about 100 metres on the ssame side of the street you will see some N-64 controllers lying causually about getting a tan:
 These are hooked up to a TV so you can play Smash Bros. on the sidewalk, which is without a doubt the coolest thing in Nagoya.  This shop is called Meikoya, located in a small building whose second floor is a shop dedicated to Korean pop idol goods:

This is a much much better shop than K-House.  The prices are generally in the `slightly high but still fair` zone, like what they are asking for these Rockmans here:

Or 3780 yen for Contra, which is close to what that goes for on Yahoo Auctions

They have a pretty decent pile of AV Famicoms in there

And their game selection is pretty good:

 They had one thing which caught my eye, a cart for the Famicom Karaoke set.  I have the microphone for this but not the cart (which has the music).  At 3490 yen I decided to give it a pass, but I thought it was cool that they at least had it:
 Those are two of the main retro gaming shops on Akamon street.  In the next post I`ll look at the biggest in town: Mandarake!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Stuff you Might Find in a Lot of Games Bought Off Yahoo Auctions: An Autographed Copy of Takahashi Meijin Bouken Shima!

I bought a lot of about 70 Famicom carts off of Yahoo Auctions a few days ago and they arrived in the mail last night.  Sometimes lots of games that you buy there will turn up unexpected treasures like a copy of Battletoads or Gimmick, especially when it is someone who doesn`t necessarily know much about games and is just selling off a big pile of them which they found in a closet or something.

This lot turned up a little treasure of its own which I have never seen in a lot like this before.  A copy of Takahashi Meijin Bouken Shima (Adventure Island) autographed by Takahashi Meijin himself!

I`m not an autograph expert, but I looked around Google and this does indeed look like his autograph.  Its possible that it is a forgery, but a few things suggest it is real.  The first is that if you were going to forge his autograph you probably wouldn`t choose this cart, which is fairly beat up.  The second is that the seller didn`t even mention there was an autographed cart in the lot, and this cart wasn`t even in the main thumbnail photo on the listing, which you would expect someone trying to rip people off to do.  And, like I said, it looks like his autograph. 

Anyway, assuming its real I think this is a pretty amazing addition to my collection.  Takahashi Meijin is probably the most well-known face associated with the Famicom from its heyday in the 1980s.  There are of course a lot of Nintendo people (Takahashi worked for Hudson) who were more important, but as recognizable personalities they have a lot less recognition than Takahashi, whose face was plastered all over advertisements, was featured in five games (not including the SFC and Gameboy ones) and even had his own TV show.  Probably Arino from Game Centre CX is the only person to give him a run for his money as the most recognized Famicom personality in Japan, but he only became in that regard years after the Famicom`s peak popularity.

Actually now that I have this I am wondering how easy it would be to meet the man and maybe get him to sign a copy of Takahashi Meijin Bouken Shima II.  I love that pink cart and it would look amazing with an autograph on it.