Thursday, March 31, 2011

Super Mario Brothers Bottle Cap Collection by Pepsi

I don't like Pepsi much. I'm more of a Coke kind of guy. On occasion though Pepsi does come up with some promotional stunt that will cause me to join the herd and buy their inferior, too-sweet-for-my-taste soft drink over Coke.

When I first came to Japan way back in the 20th century, Pepsi was experimenting with a new promotional tie-in called Pepsi Man. Basically, they strapped one of these to every 500ml bottle you bought:
They had a few Pepsi Man related promos like this, usually involving Pepsi Man getting into amusing or scandalous situations. The character was way too self-indulgent to ever be popular though so they eventually stopped using him.

The idea of giving away bottle caps with characters on them proved to be popular though, which makes sense. When I'd go to the convenience store at lunch, I'd look at the soda bottles. The Pepsi one had a little bag on it with some prize in it. The others usually didn't (though Coke also sometimes runs these giveaways). Being a sucker for free stuff, I'd grab the one with the bag, even though I knew it was just a stupid Pepsi Man bottle cap inside.

It wasn't long before they were moving on to different kinds of bottle cap giveaways. Many of these were tied into movies and other stuff like these guys:
Between 1999 and 2005 each of the awful Star Wars prequels got a line of bottle caps, as did the equally awful Planet of the Apes movie. I have quite a few of these from my lunches back then. Ichiro also got his own line, as did the Peanuts characters. The Gundam one was my favorite, even though I don't know anything about Gundam and have never seen the show (they have a show, right?) The robots look pretty cool in bottle cap form anyway. The Adidas running shoe ones were probably my least favorite. I mean, really? Shoes? Why? You were giving us these amazingly intricate mini robot statuettes last month and now you expect us to buy bottles with these stupid shoes on them?

I digress.

These things were relatively fun to collect. At least they were if, like me, you are the type of person who enjoys collecting random stuff just for the sake of collecting random stuff. The bags they came in were not see-through so you didn't know which one you would get, adding a sense of mystery to an otherwise boring, run of the mill soda purchase. I never succeeded (or really tried) to collect any entire series of the things, but I probably have a couple hundred of them scattered about here and there.

In 2005 I left Japan for a while and missed out on what would be the best of all the series: the Super Mario Brothers Series. These would also turn out (along with the Star Wars Episode 3 ones) to be the last of this kind of Bottle Caps Pepsi would ever release as they stopped making them that year. End of an era, fun while it lasted.
Anyway, while these things were massively collectible back in the day, their allure has worn off with the passing of years and now pretty much every junk shop in town has some, usually for pretty cheap. I bought a big bag of them a while ago for old time's sake. They were cheap, can't remember how much though.

Inside the bag I bought were a bunch of the Super Mario Brothers ones. I really like these things. It is quite impressive to see the 8 bit pixels rendered in a three dimensional medium:
There are 30 in all. I don't quite have all of them.
I think these were a tie in for the anniversary of something Nintendo-related. I'm not sure what though. Were there any important anniversaries in 2005? Super Mario Brother's 20th maybe?
The details on some of these are quite impressive for something that you got for free. You can see the fear on the face of the red blowfish:
And Luigi looks like he is having a hell of a time getting up that vine:
I am also particularly fond of this juxtaposition between the facial expressions on a Koopa and the flying turtle. The Koopa looks brooding and angry. His single eyebrow just exudes frustration and annoyance with the world around him. The flying turtle on the other hand is smiling like an idiot. He is completely oblivious to the world around him and innocent as to its goings-on. You know if these two ever got together in a social setting the flying turtle would just annoy the crap out of the Koopa. If they ever make a buddy cop film based on Mario characters, these two would be perfect:
The Hammer Brothers one also looks pretty cool:
I leave you with the coolest bottle cap of them all. Lando Calrissian. Oooooh yeah:
Related Posts:

Planes, Trains and North Korean Propoganda: Tour de Super Mario Brothers 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

M.U.S.C.L.E. Men and the Famicom: Kinnikuman Muscle Tag Match

bowl of muscle men
the sun's rays they do ponder
silent as they wait

- M.U.S.C.L.E Man Haiku #47 by Sean

I was at my favorite store the other day when I saw a clear bag on a lower shelf that was bursting with color emanating from within.

I stooped down for a closer look and was immediately taken back to a feeling I had not had in a long time.

The summer of 1987 was the time, a newly opened Exchange on a United States Army base near a small West German town was the place. The Famicomblogger as a 10 year old spotted a colorful box on the shelf. It was rectangular with a plastic window on the front revealing a couple of dozen molded plastic figures in a variety of vibrant colors.

Mesmerized he took the box off the shelf. Three dollars if memory serves. The rest is history.

1987 was a fun year, nearing the end of my childhood years but just beating the buzzer by a few months . M.U.S.C.L.E Men are probably the last toyline to be released with which I have a childhood memory. From 1988 onward I lost interest in toys completely so the attraction of anything more recent than that is lost on me.

So it was that a couple of days ago I stood in the aisle of that store, bag of M.U.S.C.L.E. Men in hand, pondering that year. As I've stated before, I'm always reluctant to buy toys from my childhood because I know that actually owning, say, a bag of M.U.S.C.L.E. Men won't turn the clock back to 1987 for me, no matter what the stupid sentimental half of my brain believes.

Nonetheless, it was only 300 yen for the bag. The exact right price point. Any more and the accounting department of my brain would have been demanding answers. Outlays of greater than 300 yen require justification. Why is this money being spent? What are the expected benefits of this purchase? What are the opportunity costs involved?

Endless mental paperwork would have been involved. Just a nightmare. Under 300 yen though pretty much anything, even a bag of M.U.S.C.L.E. Men, goes.
What I got wasn't technically a bag of "M.U.S.C.L.E. Men", but a bag of Kinnikuman men. A little web research revealed to me that they are basically the same thing. As a side note I should warn all of you interested in doing similar research to ensure that before you enter the phrase "muscle men" into a Google image search you set the SafeSearch feature to "high." Trust me, you'll be glad you did.

Any-hoo, Kinnikuman is a popular character here. A wrestler. I hate wrestling and always have, even back in 1987. I'm not sure why I ever bought the things when I was a kid in the first place, I think I just liked the colors. At any rate, I did buy them and now have to deal with the consequences, which is a sentimental attachment to a wrestling themed toyline. Its a relatively benign affliction and I can't really complain too much about it.
The toyline pretty much just came and went in the English-speaking world, but in Japan they've got tons of cartoons, comics and other crap devoted to these characters which I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in learning about. I rather just like them as inanimate colorful pieces of plastic that I can store conveniently in a bowl. Doing so comforts me.

They of course released a Famicom game based on the characters, which is the only thing other than the little plastic guys that I have any interest in:
This is one of the Famicom carts that I am particularly fond of. Its one of the reddest carts out there, you'll find. I do like red Famicom carts.

The game itself doesn't have much to say for itself. I looked up a few reviews of it, all of them bad. They generally concur with my brief attempts to play the game. Unlike most reviewers I quite like the clumsy graphics, but other than that its just not an enjoyable game.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Strange Shopping Days

Well, I'm still here. Anxiously watching as TEPCO officials assure us that everything is under control at the Fukushima plant and then give an awkward smile and cough as pieces of said plant come crashing through the roof, forcing the assembled members of the media to scatter.

Anyway, I have to give a big shout out to all of you who have followed up and made donations to charities involved in disaster relief. Your contributions will help a lot of needy people out and is really appreciated!

One of the effects of the unfolding disaster has been hoarding. In Tokyo, the news tells me that store shelves are bereft of pretty much all the necessities - water, food, batteries, etc. Everyone is stocking up. Just in case.

I was surprised to find that even in Fukuoka - hundreds of miles away - the same thing is happening, only at a less frantic pace. My local grocery store is out of some of the necessities like cheap bottled water (usually displayed on the shelves in the above photo) and toilet paper:
Damn these hoarders. Some of us actually need this stuff!

Anyway, back to the Famicom. I went back to Omocha Souko to try to forget about everything and maybe follow up on my recent purchases.

They had a ton of new Famicom games out. New Famicom day at Omocha Souko is usually a fun event in my day to day life. It doesn't happen often - maybe once a month - but its always fun.

Not this time though. Everything was ridiculously overpriced - something I've never seen at Omocha Souko before. Look at this, Dragon Quest 4 for 1000 yen (usually a 200-300 yen game):
Kinnikuman also for 1000 yen (also a 200 yen game normally):
And Family Basic, just the cart, for 1500 yen. This is the same place where I got the whole, boxed Family Basic unit including the cart for just 100 yen a few months ago:
I think they basically just gave the pricing gun to the new guy and he must have gotten carried away. I hope they don't give it to him again. I do not like the new guy.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Of Earthquakes and Video Games

Yesterday afternoon I was happily playing around with some new video game acquisitions I had made on my way home.

Little did I know that as I was doing so, a giant wall of water was racing towards the shores of Japan.

Then I turned on the TV and caught live coverage of the last moments of several towns - and their unfortunate inhabitants - as the wall of water moved mercilessly and relentlessly inland.
I put down and completely forgot about the games. Thoughts turned to friends and family up north - the things that matter.

Rest assured - me, my family and, as far as I can tell, my friends are all safe and sound. Kyushu is on the opposite end of Japan from this quake and the tsunami, when it did hit us, was weakened enough to no longer pose any threat to anyone.

All afternoon and all night I watched as the helmeted newscasters informed me of the un-ending list of death, destruction and human misery inflicted on the poor souls up north.
Waking up this morning, the waters have receded and the extent of the damage is becoming clear. Entire towns no longer exist. Hundreds of bodies are being pulled from the wreckage.

It is a sad day in this country.

Anyway, I thought I'd use my little blog here to remind all my fellow retro-game fans that the land which brought you the Famicom is going to need your help.
In the coming weeks and months those people up north who have lost everything are going to somehow have to put their lives back together, and that is going to be hard.

I'm going to go and commit myself here to donating my gaming budget for the next year to a charitable organization helping these people. I'm not sure what organization yet, as obviously it is too early to tell. But I'm putting that out there and you can hold me to it.

Admittedly, that isn't a lot of money as I'm a notoriously cheap gamer, but still, its something. I don't expect everyone to do this, but if we were all to at least devote the money we would spend on one video game to the cause, it would make a difference.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Mega Bargain of the Day: 3 Consoles and a game for 10 bucks

Envy Warning: If you are a retro game collector prone to fits of extreme jealousy, this blog post may provoke such an attack. Reader discretion is advised.

This post contains two sections. The first is a review of today's mega bargain shopping spree at Omocha Souko and the second is a teaser of what I expect will be my next "Mega Bargain" post.

And with that: on with the post.

I have to say that when it rains bargains at Omocha Souko, it pours. I haven't really bought much there in over a month because they haven't been putting new stuff out. Then suddenly yesterday they drop a ton of great games for only 100 yen each and today I go back just to make sure I didn't miss anything and BLAMMO! I discover they've tossed a ton of new stuff into their junk section and look poised to be putting even more out in the next couple days.

So, lets look at what I got, shall we? For 1,000 yen (about 10 US dollars) I got all of this, 3 consoles for 300 yen each and one game for 100 yen:
First, the game. It is the Blues Brothers for the Super Famicom:
I love the Blues Brothers movie and until today I didn't even realize they had ever made a video game of it (stupid me, all movies get made into video games now). I haven't played it yet but I do like the artwork - Dan Akroyd and John Belushi look so happy-go-lucky. Actually, that is nothing like how they act in the film, so its a bit of a strange choice but whatever.

Anyway, the real bargains were the consoles. First, a Game Boy Advance complete in its box:
I've never been particularly interested in the GB Advance, but for 300 yen for a CIB one how could I resist? I tossed some batteries into it and a copy of "F-1 Race" and was pleased to discover that it works perfectly:
The only problem is the plastic on the screen is coming loose a bit on the edges as you can see in the above photo, but it doesn't really affect it at all so I don't mind.

The next console was an even better deal than that. A boxed AV Famicom!!!
And it is complete! In fact, it is more than complete - for some reason Nintendo didn't include AV cables or an adapter for the AV Famicom. You had to buy them seperately. This one had a set of AV cables thrown in!
And it is clean and works perfectly! Again - 300 yen! These things usually go for about 6000-7000 boxed.

Finally I picked up my first Famiclone, the "Next II":
This one was literally brand new. The seal on the inside hadn't been broken yet:
I opened it up and plugged it in to try it out. I have to say that the physical unit isn't particularly well-made. The cart slot cover in particular is pretty flimsy and doesn't fit very well.

That said though, the controller work reasonably well for a Famiclone. Also the thing has 9 games hardwired into it. When you turn it on without any Famicom carts in it you get a menu to choose from:
I tried the first one, "Conte Enegy" for a bit. It is a Lode Runner clone. It plays pretty well, if you like Lode Runner. These games seem to all be rip-offs of Famicom titles. Its the first time I've ever played pirated games. Can't say that I was overly impressed, but at the same time the game played more or less like the original so I can't complain.

Anyway, that was what I bought. Now lets return this post to Omocha Souko and some of the insane stuff I saw today. There was a ton of other cool stuff that I refrained from buying even though it was insanely cheap. Examples include a CIB Sega Game Gear for 300 yen:
A box full of Game Cube, Playstation 2 and other controllers for 100 yen each:
A bunch of CIB Super Scopes for the Super Famicom for 100 yen each:
A bunch of Super Famicoms for 300 yen each (console-only):
The most insane thing of all though was this box:
Those are PS2 slims for only 300 yen each. They usually go for about 10,000 yen or so. I didn't buy one as I've already got a PS2, but wow. What a bargain. They won't be around for long. I should note that almost every console I've ever puchased out of these bins works, so there is a good chance that these do too.

More enticing to me was the piles of stuff that they haven't put prices on yet but which they had lying around waiting to be priced in a location where I could peruse them. These included a basket full of FDS games:
And this baby: the very first Sega Mark III (Sega Master System) game I've ever seen. This looks awesome. I love games with 80s-looking spaceships on them:
Simon over at Red Parsley has convinced me that the Master System is worth looking into so I am going to buy this when they put a price on it. I'll have to get an adapter for my Mega Drive to play it though.

They also have a ton of new boxed games for various systems (Famicom, Super Famicom, Mega Drive, etc) awaiting pricing:
Oh how I long to browse through these.
So anyway, stay tuned to this spot. When prices get put on this stuff its a safe bet that I'll be buying some of it. Oh I can't wait....

Related Posts:
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Kousenjuu Electro Safari
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Exorcising My Twin Famicom Demons
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Another Square Button Famicom
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Famicom Basic, Family Trainer and Climber Stick

Thursday, March 10, 2011

First Famicom Carts of 2011

Here it is, March already and until today I hadn't bought a single Famicom game all year. The last game I got was "Thunderbirds" which my wife gave me for Christmas. Since then, not a one!

Part of this has been the effect of having over 600 different carts already. When you've got that many, it gets very hard to find ones that you don't already have. I've picked over all the local shops and pretty much have all the games that they have.

Another reason though has been the fact that my local shops just haven't been getting much new in these days, at least as far as Famicom carts go.

Today though I was quite pleased to find a crate-full of newly arrived Famicom carts freshly displayed at Omocha Souko for me to go through!

On going through them, I was even more pleased to discover that they had some carts which I needed! Yay!

I ended up picking up 10 0f them, pictured above. Among the new haul were such luminaries as Mitsume Ga Tooru:
Magical Doropie:
And Battletoads:
One of the more interesting ones I found was a game I already had, Lode Runner:
The cart on the left is the original Famicom version of Lode Runner, released in 1984. This is a relatively easy one to find. The one on the right though is the 1991 version with artwork on the cover. That is a much harder version to find and I decided to get it just for the hell of it. I kind of like having the pair of them!

Anyway, with these new acquisitions I now have a grand total of 647 different Famicom games, 9 more than I had at New Year (the new Lode Runner doesn't count).

Incidentally this is how I keep track of my collection:
I printed out the list of Famicom games on Wikipedia back when I started this whole "collect the whole Famicom set" venture and I've just been checking them off as I go.

I'm so "analogue".

Edited to note:

I forgot to mention the best part! The price! These games were all just 100 yen (1$ US) each! Bargain!