Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Famicom Cart Storage: My Long Nightmare is Finally Over

Finding a good way to store my Famicom carts has been a problem that has vexed me ever since I got my first carts. My general way of keeping them has been to simply stack them on shelves like this:
This looks good but is wholly impractical. For starters I have no way of determining which game is which. The lack of labels on the sides or top of the cart is probably the only area where I think that NES carts (which have them on the top) are superior to their Famicom counterparts.

A second problem is that even if I know which game I want, if its on the bottom of the stack I've got to move all the other ones to get to it. About 1 time in 5 I'll end up knocking a whole bunch of them off the shelf in the process, resulting in the issuance of a stream of profanity unfit for the dignity of these lovely carts.

Long have I dreamed of a better way to keep them. Imagine me, looking pensively out the window on a rainy day, scattered pile of recently knocked over Famicom carts littering the floor behind me. An 80s love ballad plays softly in the background. My gaze wanders upward to the sky as I wonder: Will there ever be a rainbow (of Famicom storage)?

Yesterday, my dreams were answered. As usual, inspiration came at a time and place you'd least expect it: while wandering the dishes section of a 100 yen shop. My eyes alighted upon a vision of excellence: Dish drying racks.
A bunch of these were haphazardly piled on a shelf under the cold glow of fluorescent light, just below the placemats. I realized at once that these things were exactly the right size to hold a Famicom cart.

I bought a basket-full of the things and headed home to make my Famicom cart storage dreams a reality.

They required a bit of alteration before putting them up. I bought a pack of skewers at the same 100 yen shop:
And glued them to the sides of the racks to prevent the carts from falling off once I put them on:
Then I just hung them on the wall and put my Famicom carts on them. Simple as that:
These things are perfect. At a stroke they instantly took care of all my Famicom cart storage problems. Take a look. The pegs are spaced apart the exact right amount. Just enough so that you can see the front label of the game, but not so much that it would constitute a waste of space:
And whenever I want a cart I can just pick it off its little shelf without disturbing the rest. Its the perfect solution.
I was so impressed that I went back and bought a few more to put my favorite Super Famicom carts on:
In addition to their convenience, I think they look good too. In the past I've seen racks made of plastic that could have fit my Famicom carts, but I don't think they would have done a good job of displaying the games in an attractive way. These wood racks are perfect. They are small and unimposing enough that you barely notice they are there. The carts themselves dominate the visuals, both at night with the lights down:
And in the light of day:
My living room is transformed:
Of course I've got way more carts than can fit on these shelves. But I keep the ones I like to play a lot on there. I can now calmly approach them on a quiet evening, glass of brandy in hand, and peruse the selection without the headaches. My dream come true.

So if you are in Japan and wondering how to store your Famicom carts, get your ass over to your nearest 100 yen shop ASAP!

I would be remiss if I didn't take the opportunity to end this post by noting the passing of opera legend Enrico Pallazzo yesterday.
I take solace in the comforting thought that somewhere up therein that crime scene in the sky he is backing over drug dealers with his car.

Related Posts:
- Famicom Cart Storage Mark II: The Kitchen TV
- Wall of Famicom

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fukuoka Famicom Shops IV: Flea Markets Brought to You by the God of War

I suppose a flea market technically isn't a shop, but whatever. I make the rules around here. You can buy Famicom games there so it qualifies for the purposes of my Fukuoka Famicom shop series.

My wife and I were cycling in to town yesterday afternoon when we passed by Hakozaki Shrine, dedicated to Hachiman, the Japanese god of war. Sounds like a good name for a video game, actually. Anyway, its a fairly impressive shrine:
Every month they hold a flea market there on this really long tree-lined avenue leading up to the Shrine. Its one of the largest flea markets in western Japan, with a couple hundred vendors.

I'm reminded when I read Famicom Freak's blog that in North America flea markets seem to be a pretty good place to find bargains on retro gaming stuff. In Fukuoka though this isn't really the case.

Yesterday though I did find what has to be the most awesome retro-game find ever. OK, I say that a lot, but really I mean it this time.

I won't skip directly to that, but instead take us on a little build up as we walked through the vendors, perusing their wares and making the obligatory non-gaming purchases of gifts for relatives that happen when one is shopping with a non-game collecting spouse.

There was some pretty cool stuff out there. One guy had a booth entirely filled with vinyl:After finishing up with this Famicom collecting thing I think I'm going to get an LP player and move into that hobby. They looked pretty awesome.

There were the odd vendor with a smattering of Famicom games, like this one, whose selection was lovingly wrapped in a paper bag along with some Super Famicom carts. I love the fact that they tucked these away just in front of their used jeans and shoes section:
The prices were reasonable (100-300 yen each depending on the game) but they were all games I already had, so I couldn't get any closer to my collecting goal at the market.

Other vendors had some really cool retro home electronics and furnishings. I would really love to get a TV like this one to hook my Famicom up to. Actually its a bit too retro for a Famicom but still, I dig its style:
The most amazing thing at the Flea Market was at the last stall in front of the shrine. I almost did a double take when I saw them. Nestled behind a bunch of boxes of clutter and junk sat these three beauties:
These are three really old-school arcade pachinko type machines that you could play for 10 yen each. I saw something similar on an episode of GameCenter CX once. Look at them close-up:
The one of the left is called "The Mutant Robot", the one in the middle is "The Universe" and the one on the right is "W Attack".

"W Attack" you will notice is a Star-Wars rip-off, so I'm guessing these date from the late 70s. The artwork is lifted directly from the Death Star battle scene:
The artwork on the others is sweet enough to also merit extreme-close-ups:
I wish I could say that these, or at least one of them, now grace my living room, but alas I cannot. One of the disadvantages of being bicycle-bound is that large purchases that don't fit into a basket are hard to make. Or, to put it delicately, hard to convince your non-game collecting spouse to let you make. Believe me, I tried. Oh, the undignified scene I made. Reminiscent of a child in a department store crying to her mother for candy. All to no avail.

So these things are still out there, loaded onto to the back of a truck at the end of the day. I hold little hope that they will still be available by the time of the next flea market in December. Actually, they didn't have prices on them and I didn't ask so it is entirely possible that they are completely out of my price range anyway. I'm glad that I at least got to see them though.

I did get one massive consolation prize though. My super-awesome wife, perhaps sensing my disappointment, took me to Mandarake later in the day while we were downtown. While there she allowed me to choose my Christmas present out of the (drum roll please): glass case of retro-game collecting legend. It was the most beautiful moment ever, my first time to actually get something out of the glass case where they keep the best games at the best game shop in Fukuoka.

She was a figure of semi-divine beauty. Calling over the staff in the voice of Sirens:

"We want something out of the glass case."

Thus beckoned, they brought out from behind the counter the most noble tools of their most noble trade: The store's set of master keys.

Unlocking the shrine's outer door the staff member turned and in verse befit of a Homeric epic inquired:

"So, uh, which one do you want?"

In silent beauty my true love extended an index finger in the direction of a box on the middle shelf.

And the transaction was all but complete. Whisked off to the cashier she paid the bill and we were on our way, retro game treasure in tow.

What did I get? Stay tuned to this space. Like I you will also have to wait until Christmas for the grand unveiling.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fukuoka Famicom Shops III: Mandarake

Today's events saw me in the middle of downtown Fukuoka in the middle of the afternoon with a bit of time to spare so I took the opportunity to drop by the next shop in my series on Fukuoka Famicom stores: Mandarake.

Mandarake is the most famous game and general-otaku goods store in Fukuoka. Its the only one of the "big" Japanese retro game stores that has a branch here. Super Potato for whatever reason has given this burg a miss.

Mandarake is pretty well-known among those of us who are trying to put together the whole Famicom collection because a couple of years ago they put together a complete set of all 1051 carts and offered it for 650,000 yen at their Tokyo main shop.

Unfortunately they've never done that at the Fukuoka store, but nonetheless it is definitely the most prominent Famicom shop in Fukuoka. I love 007 and Omocha Souko, but Mandarake really just blows them out of the water in a number of ways, as I'll show below.

Before moving on, I have to apologize for a bit of a dereliction of my blogging duty. Mandarake is a twin-headed beast for those of us bloggers who like to put a lot of pictures in their posts. It has far and away the biggest concentration of eye-candy for nerds in all of Kyushu. Floor after floor of the stuff, all beautifully laid out in glass showcases and neat shelves. It also, however, has a strictly enforced no photography in the store policy. Signs are everywhere, posted in Japanese, English and Korean. And they have way more staff than most shops and those staff roam the aisles, so it is extraordinarily difficult to sneakily take pictures when nobody is looking. So I have to admit that my photos don't come near to doing the place justice, but that is really their own fault.

I hope you'll all appreciate the fact that I did at least make some effort to surreptitiously photograph the Famicom excellence that was on display.

Anyway, lets start at the glass showcase where they keep all the valuable games. This is located in a corner near the escalators in a bit of a blind spot so when nobody was around I was able to get a few photos of it:
They had some pretty amazing stuff in there, like a CIB Recca for 39,900 yen (top row, second from right):
And a CIB Gold Punch-Out for 23,000 yen (next to the orange boxed Hyper Shot):
They also have a selection of expensive loose carts in the 3,000 to 10,000 yen range, with a Gold Hot Scramble cart for 44,000 yen mixed in with them. I only have 4 of these games. I can tell this is going to become an expensive quest when I start having to actually shell out serious money for the really rare ones:
I've never bought anything out of this glass case, but I do like to have a look at it every time I hit this store. Its the stuff dreams are made of. If you look really closely you can see my reflection in the glass in the above photo. Note the stream of drool seeping from my mouth. That is how much I like this case.

That glass case is one of two things that really separates Mandarake from the other shops in Fukuoka. Its the only one that has a ton of the real "holy grails" of Famicom collecting. 007 has a small number and Omocha Souko really doesn't have any these days, though it used to have a couple.

The other thing that sets Mandarake apart is its non-glass case Famicom stuff:
They have an absolutely insane quantity of boxed stuff. All the games in the shelves in the above photo are Famicom games, the Super Famicom and other ones are elsewhere.

I really wanted to get some close up shots of the above, both the boxed game section and the loose cart section, but they are located right next to the cashier with a ton of people moving about. I became conscious of the fact that my loitering around with an odd look on my face while whipping something (my camera) into my pocket every time someone walked by probably looked exactly like the type of behavior a shoplifter would display, so I decided to call it quits with the pictures then. As you can see, though, they have quite an impressive selection.

Anyway, the outside of the store is quite impressive too:
They've got posters up advertising all the stuff they want to buy:
I don't know what any of that stuff is, but if you've got it, they want it.

Feeling a bit guilty about having thumbed my nose at their no-photography rule, I resolved to buy something from them as a means of atonement. I went over to their video game book/magazine section to see if they had anything interesting. I was pleased to discover that they had a few Famicom guide books, so I picked up this baby for 315 yen:
Famicom guide books are extremely hard to come by in Fukuoka, this is the only shop that I've ever found them at. I should note that this isn't the instruction manual, but a guide book originally sold separately from the game. Most shops have shelves overflowing with guide books for Super Famicom, Playstation and other later model game systems, but I guess the Famicom had its heyday before these things became massively popular here.

They had a few Famicom ones, but most of them were over 1000 yen. I guess the 1942 one might be relatively easy to find. It is also really short, only 32 pages.
Anyway, I really like "1942" and thought the colorful cover of this one was too good to pass up for that price, even if the internet has made these books completely obsolete. I mean, check this out: I now have a 1942 "set":
Anyway, you might remember from my first post in this series that I intended to compare prices between shops. Generally Mandarake's prices for loose carts are reasonable, but it isn't the type of shop like Omocha Soko where you'll find some amazing deals. The boxed games are insanely awesome and priced in a way that reflects the fact that they are aware of this.

I found 5 of the carts I was comparing and this is what they wanted for them:

Game Title


Super Mario Brothers 3

840 yen

Donkey Kong


Spartan X

1260 yen


630 yen

F1 Race

210 yen

Moero Pro Yakyuu

105 yen

Basically SMB3 is cheap, Spartan X is a bit on the high side and the others are about right.

There you have it, Mandarake in Fukuoka. Now I'm off to read my new guidebook and try to top 2 million points on 1942:

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Back in the USSR: That's where Famicoms Are

Its been suggested that I include some posts about actual Famicom games on here, and seeing as how this is a blog about the Famicom I think that is sound advice. So here is my first post specifically devoted to a single Famicom game (I did do one on Star Wars games, but that was about 3 games really): Gorby no Pipeline Daisakusen.

I'm not very good with reviewing games from a game playing perspective so I won't do that here. This guy already beat me to it anyway, seems like he's got it all covered. So, you know, just go over to his sight to read about the contents of the game itself. Basically its a puzzle game in which random pieces of pipe fall from the top of the screen and you have to match them up to create a continuous pipe across the screen.

The only thing by way of review of the game that I'll add is that I hate the fact that it doesn't have a multi-player mode. It is the type of game that would have been ideally suited for it (a la Dr. Mario).
Anyway. If I had to rate my favorite media appearances of Gorbachev's birthmark, I would rate his appearance on this cover at number 3, just slightly behind its appearance in his official White House photo from 1987:
And a million miles behind its appearance in the opening sequence to the Naked Gun.

Still I like its appearance on this game's cover a lot. I was a bit intrigued by it, in fact. How on earth did a Soviet leader get a video game made of him in the evil, capitalist West while he was still in office?

The Japanese Wikipedia entry for the game offers some guidance. According to that, during the Perestroika period Gorbachev became something of a pop idol in Japan, and the word "pipeline" was used in relation to the diplomatic strengthening of Moscow-Tokyo relations. So they decided to make a game using both concepts: Gorby and pipelines. The game is about the construction of a water pipeline, which had no parallel in actual Soviet-Japanese relations.

According to the entry, in order to use Gorbachev's likeness the game's makers had to apply to the Soviet embassy in Tokyo for permission. In a frustrating example of how unreliable Wikipedia can be, this assertion isn't footnoted so I can't go and read more about that. I think it would make quite an interesting story.

I did some perusing of Japanese blogs, but they more or less say the same thing as whats on the Wikipedia page. I did like this blogger's use of the phrase "ソビエチックな雰囲気" (which I'll translate as "Soviet-ic aesthetic") to describe the kind of Russian-themed puzzle games like this one and Tetris though. So it wasn't an entirely wasted effort.

There is another somewhat intriguing element of the cover of this game. Hidden behind the game's title is what looks to be a Space Shuttle rocketing through the skies:
This of course has nothing to do with the game, which is about making a water pipeline. I seem to remember reading somewhere that during the 80s the Soviets had made a copy of the Space Shuttle, but never actually flew it, so maybe that is what it is? Strange thing to just pop in there though.

The other cool thing that I like about this game is that it was never released in the USA. Why it never got released on the NES, I have no idea.
Oh, right. Them. Poor souls missed out on a good game though.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Fukuoka Famicom Shops II: The Decline and Fall of the Famicom Empire

This morning I had a bit of free time and was able to go around to a few more Fukuoka Famicom shops. The three shops I visited today all had one thing in common: their Famicom sections are in horrible states of neglect. In my last post I highlighted the beauty of a Famicom section that is well managed, at 007. This post deals with shops that have gone the other way: decline.

The first shop I took in was Hard Off. This is the store I bought my square button Famicom at back in May.

I have to say that I hate going to that Hard Off and today was probably the last time I'll make the trip. Its about a 40 minute bike ride from my place through some of the most unattractive urban and industrial sprawl imaginable. And when you arrive you are greeted by the soul-crushing expanse of asphalt that surrounds it:
The shop is that building with the arched roof barely visible in the distance.

Anyway, I've been willing to put up with the brutal ugliness and inconvenience of the place in the past because I've found a few good deals in the massive junk section in the back of the shop. They've got blue bins on shelves stuffed with games for all sorts of systems:
This one (on another shelf) had the Famicom games:
Next to the software: the hardware. A few decent looking Famicom consoles for 525 yen each sit casually awaiting purchase among the Famiclones and PlayStation peripherals:
Much more numerous piles of Super Famicoms, GameCubes, PSs and N64s line the shelf below them:
And a Power Glove sits nearby with a price tag of 2650 yen:
I really wanted a Power Glove when they first came out and I saw "The Wizard". I found one a few months ago for 100 yen at another shop but decided against it. The rubber part looked like it had not aged well and the whole set up looked like it would be way more trouble than it was worth for a device whose only useful purpose was to make the antagonist in an 80s pre-teen movie look like more of an ass hole than he would have with a standard NES controller.

But anyway...

I was pretty pissed off to discover that the hypothetical clerk that I refer to as "employee 3" had been doing all the pricing recently and everything they had gotten in since my last visit a few months ago was ridiculously overpriced (except the Famicom consoles, which at 525 yen were quite reasonable). Like they had a crapload of not-in-demand-at-all Mega Drive games (baseball, racing, Tennis, etc) for 525 yen each. This is about double what those games go for in the good sections of most game shops. Yet here we are at Hard Off in the JUNK section (ie where everything is supposed to be cheap because they don't check it) and they are asking these prices. Can you feel the indignation? I'm putting it out there pretty strong.

They also had this beauty priced for 1050 yen:
You might think "Hey, 1050 yen for a boxed Disk system, that isn't a bad deal, even if it hasn't been checked."

And you would be right of course. If there was a Disk System in that box, which there wasn't. Picking it up I found it to be suspiciously light and on opening it realized that it only had the cable that connects the Disk System to the Famicom (about a 300 yen item at most shops).

Anyway, I apologize for the rant about prices, I realize that it doesn't make for good reading. I just bring all this up to make a point. I don't mind paying more for games on occasion if doing so means supporting a nice, independently run game shop that puts some effort into it. Like 007, which I make a point of buying games at even though I can sometimes find them cheaper elsewhere. I realize that fun shops like that won't exist without people buying stuff from them so I make a point to do so.

But brutally ugly stores that exist in the middle of brutally ugly suburban sprawl and which unceremoniously throw their games into ugly plastic bins on soul-less metal shelves completely bereft of any decor or pomp? Screw that. If I'm going to shop at a place like that I expect things to be dirt cheap, not MORE expensive than the nice little shops. Its the equivalent of going to a McDonald's and finding everything on the menu costs more than the restaurant downtown that has 3 Michelin stars.

So don't go to Hard Off is all I'm saying.

Anyway, after that I pedaled back into town and went to my next stop: Omocha Souko.

If you've been following this blog, you might be surprised that I include Omocha Souko in a post dealing with shops with neglected Famicom sections. It is where I have had some of the most amazing shopping experiences ever, finding amazing deal after amazing deal on Famicom and other retro game stuff (see here and here for example).

And it is true, it remains an amazing shop. From its flashy, welcoming entrance:
To the aisle upon aisle of video game awesome-ness:
To the stacks of retro consoles lining the wall:
To the ultimate shrine to Famicom beauty: the consoles that are so pristine that they can only be displayed behind a protective layer of glass:
It really is a great store and I love it so.

BUT having said that, I have to further say that all the great bargains they have held over the past year have taken a dreadful toll on their Famicom game section.

When I first visited Omocha Souko about 2 years ago they had the biggest Famicom game section in all of Fukuoka. They must have had close to five or six thousand carts back then. And they didn't just have huge numbers of baseball and Mahjong, their selection had depth too. All of them were lovingly packaged individually and adorned with the cute handwritten signs like the ones that I noted at 007 in my last post. In the early days of my collection (at a time when I didn't think of it as a collection) my wife and I would drop by there on the way home sometimes and just spend our time rummaging through the massive numbers of games looking for ones that looked good. It was great fun. Buying a 300 yen Famicom game was actually cheaper than renting a DVD and could provide roughly the same amount of entertainment, so it was a cool way to spend an evening.

All of that is pretty much gone now though. For some reason they decided they wanted to dramatically shrink the size of their Famicom game section and thus they have had numerous blow-out sales over the past year that has seen probably about 90% of their Famicom games go (many to me). So its kind of a pathetic sight to see now:
Yup, that is it. That one rack is all that remains of Omocha Souko's once mighty selection of Famicom games.

It is such a shame. I mean, look at that awesome strobelight. Isn't that exactly what a Famicom game section needs? And there it is, they've got one! And they play this funky techno music that really facilitates one's desire to shop. But they have nothing left to buy! I mean, look at a close up of the selection here:
Basically all they've got left is a few hundred copies of Baseball and Majhong games that nobody wants to buy (and a few Mega Drive carts accidentally squeezed in there). The handwritten signs are all gone too. Its such a pitiful sight. I wish I had photographed the place as it was when I first went, it was so awesome. You'll just have to take my word for it.

Anyway, just to round out this post I stopped by another store in decline: GEO. GEO is actually a huge chain DVD rental store, but they also have (or had) large retro-game sections in most of their stores. As I noted in a post a few months ago though, GEO is getting out of the retro game business entirely, at least at their seven locations in Fukuoka. They started by putting their entire stock at half price about 8 or 9 months ago. Then they gradually reduced the price further and further until a couple months ago when they marked all their Famicom, Super Famicom, N64 and Game Boy games down to 50 yen each:
Of course by the time they brought the prices down that far everything had been heavily picked over.
What were once several rows of retro game awesomeness has been reduced to the above selection of Majhong and Pachinko games. This is pretty much the same at every GEO location in Fukuoka. I got some good deals at earlier parts of the sale, but still I felt kind of bad to see that they were getting out of the business.

Anyway to end this post on a high note, GEO did have one boxed Super Famicom game that I thought looked so awesome that I had to photograph it:
Bass fishing in the US. Looks like a shitty game, but wow, what an awesome cover. So much wrong with it but it just seems so right. The haircut on the guy giving the thumbs up. The scantily clad race queen hugging the guy holding up the bass, who for some reason is dressed like a race car driver and not a bass fisherman. I mean, did people actually buy this back in the day? Or was this game specifically created to be marketed at future generations of hipsters looking to make ironic gag purchases? Either way, I like.