Friday, November 29, 2013

My New Sqoon: Missing those Lovely Irem LEDs

One of these things is not like the other....

Actually wait, both of these things are unlike the other.

Yesterday I got a copy of Sqoon in the mail.  I already had a copy of Sqoon, which is a really cool game, but the copy I got yesterday was missing the little red LED. This actually pleased me.

When Irem released its first series of games for the Famicom - including Sqoon, Spelunker, Spelunker 2, 10 Yard Fight, Zippy Race and Mashou - they included a little red LED on the cart that would illuminate when the Famicom was turned on.  This was a pretty neat innovation given that on an original red and white Famicom it isn`t always obvious if the console is turned on or off from a distance.  These may have been the only cartridges in video game history to have such a feature.

Unfortunately they also cost money to include on the carts and didn`t really influence people`s decision of whether to buy them or not (a decision most people make based on the game`s quality rather than whether or not it has a red light on it), so when they later released a second run of some of the games they eliminated the LEDs from them.

As you can see from my new copy of Sqoon, while they eliminated the LED they kept the rest of the cart exactly the same, including the very conspicuous triangle where the LED was supposed to go.  So the carts without LEDs look a bit awkward.

Despite their awkward appearance, the versions of these carts without the LEDs are worth way more than the ones with LEDs.  Apparently by the time they re-released them these games were already yesterday`s news so not many people bought them.  They are pretty rare today, much like the `Kung Fu` version of Spartan X. They were even featured in that Famicom antiques road show/ price is right TV show I posted about last month, which used the Spelunker version as an example of a rare and valuable variation of a Famicom cart:

Not all of the games have both versions.  Spelunker 2 and Mashou apparently weren`t popular enough to begin with so they never got no-LED versions of themselves.  As far as I can tell only four - Sqoon, Spelunker, Zippy Race and 10 Yard Fight - exist in both versions (see here for pics of them).

Interestingly one cart exists in only non-LED form, Yan chan Maru (visible in the above photo, back row far left).

That game was apparently a sort of transition cart.  The design is basically identical to the Irem carts which had LEDs, except that it is missing the LED and doesn`t have the little triangular space for them carved out of the front label.  After that, Irem started issuing games in carts that looked more like the standard Famicom carts.

Anyway, there you have it.  Another little piece of Famicom collecting lore explained through the power of Sqoon.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Some Game & Watch Goodies

I`ve been collecting Game & Watches for a few years now, but I still don`t have too many.  I really like them though.  I never owned one as a kid, though I did have some generic-brand handhelds which were nowhere near as cool.  

Anyway, this week I acquired four more Game and Watches all in one go through a trade with Whatsupchang over on Famicom World.  I sent him a package of Famicom games and he sent me these beauties:

Gold Cliff, Donkey Kong II, Donkey Kong Jr and Mario Bros!

Actually, Donkey Kong Jr and Mario Bros I already had copies of which I bought at Omocha Souko in Fukuoka a couple of years ago, but Donkey Kong II and Gold Cliff are completely new to me and are really great.  Gold Cliff in particular I had never heard of before but it is kind of a neat game - you control an adventurer and have to get him up to the top of the dual screen to collect some stuff.  Basically the same gameplay as all Game and Watches and I like that.  It also looks pretty good, I like blue stuff!

This is actually my second Famicom-for-Game and Watch trade that I have done on Famicom World.  About a year ago I did a similar trade for the red Micro vs system boxing one, which goes well with my Donkey Kong Hockey here:

There were three of these vs systems made, all I need now is the green Donkey Kong 3 and I will have the whole set!

So my Game and Watch collection is now on the grow again. 

I just love these things!  If anybody else has some Game and Watches they want to trade for Famicom carts, just let me know! 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Breaking Famicom News: Lost Love and A Fake Famicom Cart? The Gold Binary Land Scandal.

The Japanese language internet has been abuzz over the past few days with speculation about the origins of the gold Binary Land Famicom cart, seen in the above photo selling for 84,800 yen (almost $1,000) at Super Potato in Osaka.  I figured that since nobody seems to have picked up on this bit of gossip in English I would do the honors here.

I`m getting my information on this from the excellent Famicom no Netta blog, which did a post on the scandal here.  By way of background, there is a very romantic story about the origins of Binary Land, which is fitting given the romantic theme of the game (which, I have to add, is a really fun one to play).  The game was developed by two employees of Hudson Soft, known as Kiku and Megu.   If you turn the game on and, while the title screen is showing press down on the A and B buttons on both controllers and press reset, a hidden message saying KIKU MEGU LOVE STORY! will appear.

When Kiku and Megu got married, Hudson produced the special gold version of their game to give out as gifts to wedding guests. There were thus only a couple of hundred made, which explains why it is such an expensive game.  It has been featured on TV shows like Tameshi Ka (website here and you can also see a post I did a couple of years which mentions the show here) and sometimes pops up on Yahoo Auctions, always selling for tens of thousands of yen. 

Basically the doubts about its authenticity seems to have started on October 30 when Sakurada Meijin, a former employee of Hudson and a disciple of Takahashi Meijin (BTW, I love the fact that in Japan Famicom game players even have disciples) noted something really interesting: the wedding at which this game was allegedly distributed back in the 80s never took place! Kiku and Megu never actually got married!

Further in a different tweet he noted the fact that if you look at different copies of the gold Binary Land cart they have stickers which identify them as the wedding version.  But these stickers aren`t the same on all the carts, they are in different sizes, different locations and with different lettering, leading to suspicion they may have been added at a later date by different people.

Doing a bit of further research he determined that the source of the story that the cart was distributed at Kiku and Megu`s wedding may have originated with the man himself: Takahashi Meijin.

 Looking back at the record though, it seems that Takahashi Meijin never actually said it was a wedding version.  He actually said something like "I think it was something like that (a wedding present)..."

Looking further at a cached comment by Takahashi Meijin on his blog from 5 years ago in which he discusses Binary Land, he says in response to a question about the gold version that he had forgotten about it.

At any rate, the mystery continues.  Is the Binary Land gold version cart a fake?  Or is it legit, but made for the wedding of someone other than the star crossed lovers Kiku and Megu?  My impression is that the latter is a more likely explanation. The story has spread quite a bit and perhaps somebody will dug up the truth!

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Famicom Cart Storage the Saga Continues....

In the five years or so since I started collecting Famicom games I have been through a wide range of storage and display options for them.  For the first couple of years I mainly just shoved them in boxes or stacked them on shelves like this:

Then about 3 years ago I tried my hand at DIY Famicom cart shelf making with some dish drying racks I bought at the 100 yen shop.

Thos actually worked really well, they looked OK and it allowed for easy finding of games I wanted to play without having to knock over stacks of carts:

Sadly when I left Fukuoka last year, I had to get rid of these for space reasons.  I say it was sad because these really were a good solution to the problem, I used those shelves for a couple of years and they worked great.

A few months ago I had a try at making some new shelves with postcard holders, also from the 100 yen shop.

Those looked good, but unfortunately they could only hold 4 carts each, which is way too few for this to be an effective solution.

The other day I was at Seria, another 100 yen shop (there are several chains of 100 yen shops) and I came across these:

They are basically just generic little shelves.  I bought ten of them and tossed them up on the wall to see how they would work:

They aren`t too bad. They hold more carts than the postcard holders (and even the dishracks) did, which is good.  They don`t look too bad, which is also good.  The only downside is that they aren`t ideal for quick game identification like the dish racks, which had a little space between each game so you could see the front label. Still though, because they aren`t in stacks it is pretty easy to flip through them.  So this is my new Famicom rack in the living room.  I might get a few more and turn this into a floor-to-ceiling sort of thing.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Famicom Price is Right/ Antiques Roadshow Japanese TV Program

When I was down in Fukuoka earlier this week I was flipping through the channels on the TV in my hotel on the first night and happened to stumble onto a variety show that was featuring Famicom games. It was kind of a cross between the Price is Right and Antiques Road Show.

This was actually one of the more interesting Famicom-related show I have seen because it was specifically about the collectability of Famicom Carts.

They had an expert from one of the big retro game shops in Tokyo (I missed the first minute or two of the show so I didn`t catch which one he was from) and he explained a little bit about the Famicom collector`s market and what it was that made some games valuable.  He divided them into a few simple categories to explain their value.  The first were games from popular series like Rockman, Final Fantasy and Puyo Puyo:

And then there were games that were released late in the Famicom`s lifespan, meaning that there were only a few released like Gimmick and Recca:

And games that had appeal because they were unusual, like Spelunker or Takeshi no Chosenjo:

And games that were really limited edition ones, like the green Kinnikuman and Silver Hot Scramble Z:

They explained some of these in detail, like the fact that the Spelunker cart came in two versions, one with a red LED and one without.  The one without the LED is worth more (there were a few of those Irem games released like that, I have seen Sqoon without the LED too):
And the Green Kinnikuman cart, which was originally given out as a present and not sold in stores:
 And Takeshi Chousenjo, which as the writing at the bottom of the screen says is called a `kusoge-` (crap game) but its difficulty has led to its re-evaluation and its achieved a sort of cult status:

 In the second part of the show it became a kind of price is right type of game show.
 Then the battle began.  The challengers were:

Some guy (on the left) vs Manabe Kaori (on the right), model and actress who is still hot even though she is well past 30:
 They basically had to choose which game was the most valuable out of a small selection of the ones pictured at the top of this post.  In the first round they looked at the really expensive ones:
 Then they had this rotating number thing which would eventually tell them how much the game they had chosen was worth:
 70,000 yen!  Very good Kaori!  Other guy might have won this round because I think Hot Scramble Z silver cart is worth a bit more than that CIB, but still.  Way to go!
 And don`t worry, in the next round the choices were like this.  Rockman 6 worth more than Summer Carnival 92?  Other Guy, what were you thinking? 
Anyway there wasn`t exactly a lot of suspense in watching these unfold since as a collector I already knew which ones were worth more.  Still though, it was awesome to see Other Guy choose the Takeshi Chousenjo game as the most valuable only to be told that it was only worth a few hundred yen. 

It was really fun to watch the show anyway.  When you are part of a hobby that is somewhat limited in size it is always really exciting when you see it mentioned in the mainstream media.  Unfortunately this was just a one-off program and not a regular thing, at least as far as Famicom games are concerned.  At the end they said in next week`s episode they would be doing the same thing only with baseball cards.