Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Other Famicom Stuff: The Strategy Guides

One side project in my collection that I have been slowly working on over the past few years has been the Famicom strategy guides.

Strategy guides are a big thing in Japan. Actually, I`m not sure if they are a big thing in North America and elsewhere. Are they? I never noticed them back in Canada, but then again I never looked for them either.

Anyway, pretty much every video game store of any size in Japan will probably have a section devoted solely to video game strategy guides. For the Famicom collector these sections are almost always a letdown. At most of the stores I frequent, they have hundreds of strategy guides for Playstation, Sega Saturn and even Super Famicom games, but I often look through shelf after shelf of these guidebooks and don`t find a single Famicom guide. This applies not just to game stores, but also to regular used book stores which I also search from time to time for Famicom strategy guides and almost always come away empty handed.

In the three years I have collected for the Famicom I have been able to amass more than seven hundred Famicom games. In contrast my Famicom strategy guide collection has a grand total of:

The only place in town that has a decent selection of Famicom strategy guides is Mandarake, and they are pretty much all expensive (generally 1500 -4000 yen), so I have only ever bought one of them there (1942, which was quite cheap).

I suspect that the reason for their scarcity is that strategy guides only really took off during the Super Famicom era and that relatively few were produced and sold during the Famicom`s day. Either that or people threw their guidebooks out once they had finished with the games.

Anyway, I really like these books. They generally have quite colorful covers and all of the pages in them are fully colored as well, like this one for Super Mario Bros.:
I like the back of that one, it cost 390 yen back in 1985:
There were a number of different publishers that released these, so they come in a wide variety of styles. The Super Mario Bros. guide was published by Family Computer Magazine. I love the font they use to write their name:
I never use these as actual guide books. Most of the games just don`t need them and any games that do probably aren`t ones I`m interested in playing anyway. I just like them for what they are - colorful stuff.

The biggest I have is Hoshi no Kirby, at 127 pages:
While the shortest is for 1942, at 32:
I quite like the cover of the Ice Hockey one:
And the Doraemon one has an interesting ad for more strategy game guides on the inside cover including Adventure Island and Meikyuukumikyoku. The two at the bottom are volumes 1 and 2 of the Takahashi Meijin Story, which also sounds interesting:
I`m hoping to score a few more of these, but I have no plans of trying to collect one for every Famicom game ever made. I`m not even sure how many games had these made for them, though it seems likely that a lot did.

Friday, November 25, 2011

1991 Hong Kong Famicom Commercial

Somebody just uploaded an original 1991 Famicom commercial from Hong Kong on YouTube.

I`ve never actually seen a Hong Kong Famicom in person, but now that I have seen one in this grainy twenty year old ad I absolutely must have one for my collection! From the commercial it seems to look the same as the Japanese Famicom except that it says `Hong Kong Version` on the front. The box also looks different (and awesome).

The second half of the commercial features the Famicom Disk System, which also looks more or less the same as the Japanese version only with a distinct box.

I`m going to have to get over to Hong Kong one of these days, I think there are some cheap flights from here......

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cheap Ebay Thrills: 1982 Topps Donkey Kong Sticker Cards

I kind of like ephemera - the things that society produces which are intended to be used and discarded rather than preserved. Stickers fall neatly into that category.

I was browsing Ebay a few weeks back and found a listing for a complete set of 1982 topps Donkey Kong stickers for 6$. That was cheap enough for me to take a chance that they would be at least interesting enough to do a blog post about. They arrived a few days ago and I decided that they were, in fact, blog post worthy.

I was really into stickers back in the early 80s. My parents gave me an old album and I would stick any stickers I got into it. I fished that old album out of their basement a couple years ago and sat down for a look at it. It was the first time I had done so in about twenty years. There were a lot of Star Wars stickers, some hockey stickers, Gremlins stickers, Jackson 5 stickers and a whole bunch of other random ones, including one from the dentist reminding me to floss. Great stuff.
I never had any of these Donkey Kong stickers, but they do look a lot like the type of stickers that I remember collecting in the early 80s. Almost all of them have some sort of catch phrase, like “I`m Ape over Donkey Kong“ or “Donkey Kong is Better than Homework“. They don`t really display any wit to them, though they embody that safe display of mild attitude that I remember finding very amusing and comforting as a kid.

These all have black backgrounds, which gives the set a very distinctive look. I think it works quite well as it mimics the black background of the game itself. You can arrange the backs of the cards to make two puzzles, one a scene of Donkey Kong throwing flaming barrels at Mario:
And the other a scene of the title character playing the game from inside the screen, which I think I like the best of the two:
They look pretty good side by side like this:
Another intersting thing about these is how they portray Mario. He is referred to by his pre-Mario name as Jump Man and looks almost nothing like the way he would eventually be portrayed in artwork after Super Mario Bros. made him a star:
I`d really like to put some of these stickers on things, but the collector in me refrains from doing so as if I did, I would no longer have the complete set. I really hate my collector side sometimes. I might spend another 6$ to get a second set that I can just mess around with.

Related Posts:
- Amada Famicom Mini Cards: The Coolest Famicom Thing You Never Knew Existed

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Opening a 30 Cart Famicom Pack

I found the above at Omocha Souko the other day. It is a big package of thirty Famicom carts wrapped in plastic that they were charging 2.000 yen for. That works out to only 66 yen (about 80 cents) per cart, which I thought was a pretty good deal.

Omocha Souko used to sell Famicom carts in bunches like this all the time, especially back during my first year of collecting. They were great, I got most of my carts that way back then. It is kind of fun because you can`t see what most of the carts are inside but you can kind of guess just by looking.

You might be thinking ¨yeah, but they`ll just put crappy sports games in the middle that you can`t see so those are probably a rip off.¨

Actually though I would sometimes find good games in the middle of these and they generally had a good mix, so even though you would sometimes get stuck with a bunch of baseballs and mahjong games you`d usually get at least something in them worth having.

They stopped doing that about two years ago, so I was really glad when I saw this. This one had ten carts visible on the top, but the other twenty were more or less a mystery. I was a bit reluctant at first because the ten you could see were pretty much all RPGs, which aren`t my thing. Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem, Wizardry....blah.
Looking at the back though I could at least make out that it also had Macross. That isn`t necessarily a great game (its not a bad one either), but at least it gave me some assurance that the other twenty weren`t all RPGs too.

So for that cheap price I decided to just go for it and bought the thing. I decided to photograph the grand opening specifically for the purposes of this blog post. Lets see what I got, shall we?

Step 1 - cut open the plastic wrap with my teeny Swiss Army Knife scissors that I usually use to cut my toenails with (too much info?):
After removing the top layer of carts here is what lay beneath:
Its a bit of a disappointment. Seicross is a great game and Road Fighter isn`t too bad, but the rest is....pretty mediocre. Two baseball games, a Mahjong game, Murder on the Mississipi, two wrestling games and some Dragon Ball game. Rats.

Lets see what the bottom layer has:
A bit better. Donkey Kong Jr Math is, believe it or not, actually a pretty good find. Its not the most entertaining of games (an understatement, I know), but its actually one of the harder pulse line carts to find so it is a bit of a `get`. Macross, Lunar Ball and Tecmo Super Bowl aren`t bad either. Hara Kiri Stadium I now have 400 copies of, or maybe it just seems that way. The only thing about Fighting Golf I like is that the cart is a pleasing shade of green. Hercules, some Shogi game and that vertical shoot em up with the title written in difficult kanji that I can`t read round off this layer.

Anyway, there you have it. 2000 yen for....a bunch of Famicom games that I already have. What was I thinking????

Monday, November 21, 2011

At the Kaiten Sushi Restaurant with a Turbo Twin Famicom

I found a cheap Turbo Twin Famicom at Omocha Souko today. As luck would have it the only reason I was at Omocha Souko today was that my wife and I were going to a local sushi place for dinner but arrived too early so we needed to kill a few minutes. The restaurant is right up the block from Omocha Souko so I suggested we spend a couple minutes browsing there.

Of course, when I found the Twin Fami they had just put out I had to have it, so we ended up lugging it to dinner with us.
And I just decided to take a few photos of it there because....hey, its not every day that you have a Twin Famicom at a sushi restaurant so why not make the best of a good opportunity?

It is a pretty cool restaurant. You order stuff from these video screens at the table and your food comes on these bullet trains right to you:
You aren`t actually allowed to take pictures in the place so I had to take these somewhat surreptitiously. Unfortunately that meant I couldn`t get many interesting angles or anything. I did make sure to get a shot with some sushi (actually beef) on the Twin Famicom though:
You don`t see that every day now do you?
Related Posts:
- I Nearly Died Getting a Red Twin Famicom Today
- Mega Bargain of the Day: Exorcising my Twin Famicom Demons

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mario Fail

This is hilarious. Found it on Famicom no Neta. 30 seconds well spent.

I think this is the shortest post I`ve ever made on here!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I like Collecting Video Games: They aren`t Baseball Cards

As I`ve alluded to on occasion here, in addition to collecting retro video games I also collect a lot of other stuff. These include things like baseball cards, stamps, coins, old movie programs, action figures and a few other odds and ends that interest me. I`m not really a serious big money collector in any of these areas, but I do like to dabble in all of them. I seem to have some sort of collector/ hoarder gene in me somewhere.

Anyway, my multiple collecting interests have given me the opportunity to do some comparative study of the various cultures that surround each of them. I have noticed that one thing which all hobbies that involve collecting stuff have in common is anal retentiveness. Collecting stuff tends to bring this trait out in people, especially when enough other people start to collect the same stuff and a collector`s market evolves. Money takes over everything and if left unchecked it can totally ruin a fun hobby.

One of the things that I really like about collecting video games is that thus far anal retentiveness, hype and big money haven`t taken it over. I hope it stays that way, but I`m not so sure it will. As a sort of cautionary tale I thought it would be illustrative to take a look at what happened to the baseball card collecting world.
Back in the day, collecting baseball cards like the ones in the above photo was actually pretty fun. They were just kind of neat things that kids who liked baseball would go for. When you look at the mainstream of the baseball card collecting world today though it is such a dreary place so devoid of imagination that you have to wonder why anybody with an ounce of self-respect would ever involve themselves in such a soul-less hobby.

To illustrate my point, take a look at this post over on Beckett Media`s website. Beckett is the largest price guide in the baseball card hobby and back in my card collecting heyday twenty years ago was considered the bible of baseball cards.

Take a look at that awful video they posted. No wait, don`t. It is too awful a thing for me to inflict on you. I`ll just breifly describe it. Not because I want to, but because I have to. It is a video of two Beckett employees opening packs of baseball cards that seem to have been sent to them by card companies for promotional purposes. These, I should note, cost one hundred dollars each, which is just an obscenity in itself. Ignoring that for the moment though, the content of the video really showcases how awful the hobby has become. The two guys open their packs and show viewers what they got.

It is a seven minute video. It is painful to watch. The banter between the two stars is almost nothing but impenetrable collector`s jargon interspersed with an endless stream of numbers and statistics. Not statistics related to the game of baseball, I hasten to add, but numbers and statistics related to the baseball cards themselves. On opening his pack the co-host on the left starts:

`All the base cards are numbered to 799, there are parrallels to 199, 50, 25 and 1....`

And it basically just goes on like that for seven uninterrupted minutes. Nowhere in the video do they actually talk about baseball or anything like that. It is just a bunch of boring, overly detailed verbal diarrhea spewed onto the internet by a hobby that has been hijacked by extreme anal retentiveness.

This, I should add, is just a random video that I only looked at because it happened to be on the top of the Beckett news homepage. Pretty much EVERYTHING on that website is just as awful and dreary.

This isn`t to say that the entire baseball card hobby is devoid of imagination. There is sort of an underclass of bloggers out there producing tremendous and hilarious stuff (this is my favorite). These are mainly produced by people who seem to have been turned off by the sheer awfulness of the mainstream and, as with me, just like old baseball cards because they are colorful pieces of cardboard with pictures of players that they liked on them.

Returning to the point of my post, the thing that I like about collecting video games is that this hyper-awfulness that has so infected the baseball card hobby is almost non-existent. Go to any baseball card collecting message board on the web and you will find it populated by guys like those in the video discussing the most inane details of whatever god awful thing they think they should be collecting. It is just painful to read.

Go to any message board populated by retro video game collectors though and it is pretty much the exact opposite. They collect games because....they like playing games. To be certain there is a collector`s market for old video games and some people like collecting mint or sealed stuff - and that is fine. The anal retentiveness that so dominates the baseball card world though is just not there in anywhere near the same quantity.

I`m not sure why that is. Probably the fact that video games aren`t produced solely to be collected plays a big part. They are made to be played and thus attract a different crowd than baseball cards do.

One thing I do worry about though is that video game collecting is a relatively recent hobby. Thirty years ago the baseball card collecting scene was actually quite similar to what video game collecting is now - dominated by young adults re-living their childhood and not at all concerned about the money. I hope video games stay that way. I would hate to think that thirty years from now the biggest video game collecting website out there would be churning out god-awful videos like that one on Becketts.

OK, end of rant.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Oddball Junk Bin Finds: Famicom Karaoke Studio Controller

This is another one of my recent junk bin finds - a semi-complete Karaoke Studio controller.

This is one of the more interesting Famicom accessories that never made it outside of Japan. It is basically just a microphone that attaches to the cart slot on the Famicom and lets you sing the classics.
There is a pretty good review of this over at Famicom World. Unfortunately I can`t do a review of it myself due to this:
The songs for this thing are stored in seperate carts that slide into the back. Unfortunately mine didn`t come with any of the carts so its only function now is to exist as a pretty thing that I possess. For 100 yen though I can`t complain.

While we are on the subject of pretty things, doesn`t this thing look pretty on the Famicom?
I love karaoke by the way. If you are reading this blog then you probably already know enough about Japan that I don`t have to mention how popular that activity is here. Karaoke places are everywhere. I don`t get out to them as much as I used to, but my wife and I make a point of going at least once a year at Christmas to sing some holiday tunes.

Maybe some day I`ll find some software for this baby and we`ll be able to turn our apartment into a real life karaoke studio. Someday.....someday.

Related Posts
- Another Arkanoid 2 Controller
- The Famicom Robot: A Day in the Life of
- A Layman and a 6 Month Old Puppy Try to Make a Power Glove Work Without Thouroughly Reading the Manual

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

New Famicom Cart: Gimmick!

Another one of my recent bargain finds at Omocha Souko was a complete in box copy of Gimmick.

This is a pretty hard game to find for the Famicom so I was quite surprised to see it lying in a black plastic crate surrounded by miscellaneous cables and broken controllers. I nonchalantly tossed it into my cart and whisked it home.
That night my wife and I, having no previous knowledge about how the game works, put it through its first sea trials. On turning it on the first thing we noticed was that it looked a lot like Hoshi no Kirby (Kirby`s Adventure). You control a little blob (named Yumetaro) on a side scrolling platformer in a very colorful, Kirby-esque environment.

So I first tried playing it like Kirby, which got me killed rather quickly as unlike Kirby Yumetaro doesn`t have the power of flight, nor can he suck up enemies like a vaccuum. Instead, Yumetaro confronts enemies either by jumping over (or on top of) them or by throwing stars at them. To do the latter, you have to hold the B button down for a couple of seconds and wait for the star to form on top of his head and then let it go, which causes Yumetaro to throw it. This resulted in a lot of confusion when I first tried it:

Me: (trying to suck enemies up) ¨What is he doing? Suck the enemies up! Oh....Damnit!¨

Wife: ¨No, its not Kirby.....just keep the B button down and....¨

Me: ¨I AM pushing the B button, but this bloody star just appears and disappears and the enemies don`t get sucked up......NOW what is he doing?¨

Wife: ¨No, its not Kirby, you have to KEEP pushing the B button down and wait for the star to appear and then throw it.¨

Me: ¨I do keep pushing the B button down but none of these enemies are getting sucked up.¨

Wife: (getting increasingly frustrated) ¨No, its not Kirby, push B button and keep it pushed.....¨

And so on and so forth.

Anyway, it is actually quite an enjoyable game once you give up on all attempts to play it like Kirby. Hardcore Gaming 101 has an excellent write up about it here, so I won`t attempt to describe the entire game in detail. This, of course, also allows me to avoid the humiliation of admitting that we didn`t make it past the first level and that I am thus completely unqualified to write a proper review of the game.

Purchase price-wise, this was a pretty good deal. At Mandarake they are selling loose copies for 4,000 yen (about 50$). I paid 100 yen (about $1.25) for a complete copy.
I really like the box art, but the cart itself isn`t much to look at. Most Sunsoft carts have brightly colored labels (like After Burner or Super Arabian) but they took a minimalist approach to Gimmick. This is pretty hard to understand as the contrast between the Spartan, subdued color of the cart and the vibrant colors in the game is extreme. Still though, its a welcome addition to my collection.

Saturday, November 12, 2011


This will not help my attempts to reduce my store stalking at Omocha Souko.

I found the above mountain of Sega Mega Drive.....stuff.....all attached together in one of the junk bins at Omocha Souko today. What you`ve got there is your standard Mega Drive with a Mega CD Drive on the bottom:
And a Super 32X on top:
The dog was sold seperately.

The junk bin consoles cost 300 yen each. I picked this up and was really curious what they would charge me. I mean, this is really three consoles, but when they are all attached together like that don`t they become one? When I was a kid one of my friends had a whole bunch of transformers shaped like construction equipment - the Constructicons - and, if you collected them all, they could be formed together to make one giant robot.

Yes, I think that is a pretty good analogy. Once formed together the individual Constructicons would lose their individuality and merely become parts of a greater whole. Likewise, the various Mega Drive related consoles when formed together cease to exist as individual consoles and become....


Anyway, anybody want to guess how much I paid for this? 300 yen or 900? Either way it was a pretty good deal. I haven`t actually gotten around to finding out if it works yet. I hope it does, I have a Star Wars 32X game that I`ve been dying to play for ages.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Is it Possible to Stalk a Retro Video Game Store?

This is a question I`ve been worrying a bit about recently. Can a store have a stalker? If so, what is the borderline between `avid customer` and `creepy store stalker`?

These questions have been sparked by the fact that I`ve visited Omocha Souko pretty much everyday for the past month. The stream of amazing finds that I have been making (like this, this and this) have created in me this irresistable urge to stop for a visit every time I ride past on my way home at night. And about half the time these stops have actually paid off. I don`t always make amazing finds, but about 3 or 4 times a week I have been finding new Famicom stuff put out for quite reasonable prices. I`ve got about half a dozen blog posts worth of finds sitting around waiting for the time when I`ll have a moment to write about them.

The downside though is that I have been feeling a bit like a weird store-stalker lately. I`ve always been a regular customer, but until about a month ago I`d usually limit myself to once or twice a week. Now almost everyday I find myself going to see the same cashier with yet another pile of Famicom stuff fished from their bins. I get that look like they must be wondering what I am doing with it all.
Actually its a reasonable thing to wonder. What am I doing with all this stuff? Some of it has been filling in holes in my collection, some of it is just impulse purchases of cheap stuff, some of it is going straight onto my little sale thread at Famicom World. That pretty much covers it.

Incidentally, they recently re-did their Famicom section and it looks great again. About a year ago I wrote a post bemoaning the ratty look of their Famicom section. Since then they`ve managed to rebuild their stock and a couple weeks ago they put up new shelves to house them all:
They have a cool TV in the centre of it all which plays looped bits from different Famicom games beneath a giant picture of Arino san from Game Center CX:
All of which just feeds my obsessive compulsive store stalking. Sigh.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Intellivision Revision: Japanese Hard, American Soft

They arrived! My very first ever purchase of video games off of Ebay! Ten Intellivision games from America! Woo-hoo!

Oh I`m so excited. Just to rewind a bit here, a couple weeks ago I picked up a beautiful Bandai Intellivision at Mandarake in town here. Unfortunately they didn`t have any games for it and neither did any other shop in Fukuoka. The Intellivision was decidedly not a popular console in Japan and as a result they are quite rare today.

Luckily for me, American Intellivision games work on the Japanese console, so I decided to give up my Ebay video game virginity to some dude in Phoenix who offered combined shipping.

I got a pretty decent mix of games, everything in this picture:
I immediately set the thing up and they work great.

Playing the Intellivision is a real throwback to the early days of home gaming. Even more so than the Famicom, there are a few things about this console that really bring me back to the day. A few of the highlights include:

1. Sitting on the Floor!

This thing has insanely short controller wires, even shorter than the Famicom`s. The result is that you basically have to play this thing while sitting on the floor in front of your TV, which is exactly how I remember playing video games as a kid.
This really makes me sentimental. Actually you don`t really need to sit on the floor, the thing has very long RF and AC cables, so we can also position the console on our coffee table in front of the sofa to play it. The point though is that wherever you are, you need to be close to the console itself to play it. Its inconvenient as hell compared to post-N64 systems with their long cords, but I still like the sense of intimacy it creates. The physical console itself becomes an integral part of the playing experience, which I really like.

2. Overlays!

The controller is a bit of a pain in the ass to use, but I love these things:
Every time you switch games you have to switch the overlays on the keypad. This adds another step in the ritual of playing the console, which I like. It also helps that these things look awesome - they are all colorful and unique and make the console look completely different depending on the game you are playing.

3. Two Player Only Games!

About half of the games I bought cannot be played by only one person, you need a human opponent to play them. I find this to be so cool. None of my other consoles, to my knowledge, have so many games like this.
To me, this is exactly what gaming should be - an activity enjoyed with friends. Sometimes its cool to play on your own, but multiplayer is where it is at. One of the things I really hate about Playstation games in particular is that so many of their games are 1 player only - even their bloody racing games. The Intellivision is the exact opposite and I love it for that!

Anyway, this has now claimed pride of place in my little TV stand. The Super Famicom has officially been displaced until such time as I get a bigger piece of furniture!

Related Posts:
- Bandai Intellivision: This Could be the Start of a Beautiful Friendship

Friday, November 4, 2011

MSX Games! Another Insane Bargain Find

I found another bargain today at good old Omocha Souko. I was looking through their junk bin when I found five loose game cartridges for the MSX.

The MSX is sort of Japan`s version of the Commodore 64 or Spectrum. It was a home computer released in 1983 that dominated the Japanese market for most of the 80s.
I didn`t know much about this computer until today and was surprised to discover that a lot of the games that I thought got their start on the Famicom were actually first released on the MSX. This includes classic titles like Metal Gear, Bomberman, Parodius and Puyo Puyo.
Despite the system`s popularity, game carts for it are pretty hard to find, so when I saw a few of them in the junk box I immediately pounced.

I was shocked to discover that every single one of the five games they had were good ones. Salamander, Q-Bert, Gradius II (Nemesis II) and Parodius.
The fifth game was an interesting one whose name is completely baffling. In Japanese it is called `Gofer no Yabou Episode 2` but in English it is called `Nemesis 3 The Eve off Destruction`. it is part 2 in Japanese but part 3 in English? Look at the cart label:
I just thought that was pretty neat.

Another thing that I think is neat is how much these sell for on Ebay. Salamander loose is going for almost 100$ and Parodius is going for the same. Wow. I paid 100 yen each for these. That isn`t the normal price one would expect to pay but still - that is quite the difference.

Another great bargain find....that I have no way of playing because I don`t have an MSX. D-oh! Another thing on my shopping list.