Monday, December 7, 2020

Retro Game Advent Calender


I had this idea last night that I played around with after the kids had gone to bed.

We have this big advent calendar that my mom made for us after my son was born.  It hangs on the wall in our living room and has little candies in it.  I was absent mindedly staring at it when it occurred to me that most of the pockets would be the right size to hold Famicom carts.  So I took the candies out and put my son's Famicom carts in.

Yup, they fit.

This was just a test run and I have no plans on ever doing anything like this, but I thought this would be a pretty cool thing for a retro gamer to do.  Especially if you are like a retro gaming couple who live together without kids this'd be an awesome way to do advent calendars - playing a game each day throughout December.  

I'm not in that category of person, so this advent calendar was retro-gamified for demonstration purposes only, and currently has reverted to holding just candy.  But I thought I'd put the idea out there in case it hasn't already been floating out on the internet since like 2007 or something and I just didn't notice!

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The End is Near: Planning for our first, and last, Retro Game Christmas


As I've documented in a few posts this year, 2020 has been the year of the Famicom in my house.   I gave my AV Famicom to my son back in April and we've played it together almost every day since.  I've gradually increased his game library with little presents here and there for good behavior and he has about 30 now.  That only represents less than 5% of my own collection, but its a pretty impressive collection for a 6 year old.

I feel very bad though because I am about to do something terrible to his Famicom interest that I've spent the better part of this year nurturing.

 I'm going to kill it. 

For Christmas this year I'm going to give him a Super Famicom, along with a few games (Super Mario World, Super Mario Collection, Mario Kart, Yoshi's Island and Donkey Kong Country).  

I've been putting off the day I would give him a newer console (albeit one that is itself 30 years old!) for months now because I know that once I do it'll be the only thing he wants to play and the Famicom will fall to the wayside, never again to be the centre of his attention like it is now.

But the writing is on the wall and I've dragged this out about as far as I can.  He is very aware of the fact that newer consoles exist and has been bugging me for months to get one where the images don't look like "Lego" (his way of describing 8 bit graphics). 

 So the Super Famicom, with its 16 bit graphics, is going to be his.  Likely its reign will also be short lived.  He is going to start Elementary School soon and peer pressure there will undoubtedly result in him wanting a Nintendo Switch (or some other contemporary gaming system) by Christmas of 2021.  

So Christmas of 2020 provides the only window of opportunity for me to make retro games a significant highlight of his gifts - and for them to be happily received by him.  A Super Famicom, or any other retro console, is not likely to be well received as a Christmas present a year from now.  So I've got to jump at the chance, even though it sadly means killing off his Famicom interest.

Being a retro gamer dad is complicated work. And I'm not even getting into the minefield of planning his little sister's presents in this post, which is an even bigger issue.

The Super Famicom won't be his only present, he's also getting a boatload of Mario Lego sets and a few other things, all of which are related to the Famicom (because that is what he wants!)  Its a huge difference from Christmas of 2019 which was dominated by dinosaur related presents.  I've felt pretty bad for the past few months as his interest in dinosaurs (which was INTENSE for a couple years there) was completely displaced by his interest in Mario stuff. I miss reading dinosaur books and playing with toy dinosaurs with him. But I've also really enjoyed playing the Famicom with him this year and so feel a little sad that it'll be coming to an end soon.

On the plus side though, I've given him a year of exposure to the Famicom during a very formative period of his life and I think 40 or 50 years from now he'll probably look back on these days with fondness and have an intense nostalgic connection to a little console that is 30 years older than he is!

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Famicom Jigsaw Puzzles are Awesome


I picked up these on Yahoo Auctions recently: four Famicom jigsaw puzzles!

I already had a couple of Famicom game jigsaw puzzles featuring Star Force and Yie Ar Kung Fu which I picked up a few years ago and look like this:

Those ones were produced by Amada, a company which put out a lot of Famicom related odds and ends back in the 80s.  The ones I got this week on the other hand were put out by a different company called Toyo.  In addition to featuring different games and coming in differently designed boxes the big difference between the two is size.  The Amada ones are small puzzles with only a dozen pieces, while the Toyo ones are bigger and contain 60 pieces each.

As the photo at the top of the post indicated the four I got were Balloon Fight, Donkey Kong Jr, Front Line and Exerion.  These games were put out by three different makers (Nintendo, Taito and Jaleco) whose company logos are on the front.  The Amada ones (at least the ones I have) featured games by Hudson Soft and Konami.  

The back of each box has a checklist of the six different puzzles.  In addition to the four I have they also made Wrecking Crew and Hyper Sports. I'll have to find those at some point so I can complete the set!

The back also tells us that these cost 100 Yen each back in 1985, which was a pretty good deal (I paid way more than that for them in 2020!)

The sides of the boxes say "Pocket Jigsaw Puzzle" in bold lettering:

The top edge of the boxes tell you which game is depicted:
These are pretty awesome.  They are all still sealed in their original bags inside the boxes, I think these are "dead stock" that were store leftovers.  I haven't broken them out to put them together because I bought them more for the box art than the puzzles themselves!

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Revelations: Famicom's Sexiest Game Probably isn't Very Sexy


I was browsing Yahoo Auctions earlier when I stumbled across an auction for a CIB Famicom Disk System game called Sexy Invaders which I had never heard of.  Actually it seems most of the world has never heard of it either, except for this brief FAQ on Game FAQs there isn't really much out there about it.  

Its kind of weird to see cover art like that on a Famicom game.  It may come as a shock, but this may not even have been licensed by Nintendo (gasp).It came out in 1990 and was released by a company called Super Pig.

Reading through the FAQ it seems that despite the title and provocative cover art, this game has nothing to do with sex.  Its basically just a Space Invaders clone.  I guess for marketing purposes they decided the best way to sell that was to spice up the name.

That doesn't seem to have worked though since I don't think many copies of this game exist, I've never seen it before.  Ironically that makes it one of the harder to find Famicom games out there and thus the focus of a lot of attention among Famicom collectors.  Out of more than 33,000 Famicom items up for auction right now, this one is near the top on Yahoo Auctions "most paid attention to" listing, and is the number one Disk System game.  Its currently got a bid of 3433 Yen with 3 days left, I'm curious how much it will go for.  I'm not a disk system guy, or a sexy guy, so I'll pass, but thought it was kind of interesting nonetheless.  

Postscript: The auction for this ended at 30,501 Yen, about 300$ US!

Friday, August 28, 2020

Top Riders!


I recently decided to do something I'd been waiting six years to do: break out my Top Rider inflatable motorcycle controller!

Back in 2014 I remember buying a big lot of miscellaneous Famicom stuff off of Yahoo Auctions and discovering this in it.  I had never seen one before so I blew it up and gave it a go, as documented on this post here.  If you read that post you'll notice my main take away was "Nice accessory but way too small for a grown man with bad knees".  This is an actual photo I took of myself on it that day which accurately reflects how awkward it is for a grown up:

I planned on selling it but my wife was pregnant at the time and we had just found out the baby was going to be a boy. She said to me "Why don't you keep it?  Maybe our son will like it!" 

This convinced me.  I didn't mention it in the post, but looking back at the comments on it I said something a bit prophetic:

I think this would be great for little kids. Actually we are going to be adding a little boy to our family in a couple of months and the main reason I think I`ll hang onto this is to see if he wants to play it in about 5 years!"

So instead of throwing it on my sales thread over at Famicom World I decided to keep it.  I put it in a box where it had remained for over six years since I made that post.  

And in keeping with the summer of 2020 being the summer of Famciom at my house I decided now was the time to see if little kids still like this thing.

Introducing this toy to kids is a bit of an art, but its not hard.  We were sitting in the living room watching Paw Patrol and I looked at my son and daughter and had the following conversation:

"Do you like motorcycles?"

(interest piqued) "Yes."

(increased tone of voice) "Do you want to go for a motorcycle ride?"

(getting more excited) "Yes." 

(peak tone) "In the LIVING ROOM????"

(going nuts) "YES!!!!!!"

(back to normal tone) "Kay, uh....give me a minute." (leaves room).

I remember blowing it up with my own lungs back in 2014 and that nearly killing me, but now our house is equipped with an electric air pump (for our kiddie pool) so that made things a lot easier.

While I did that, the kids got their bike helmets, which I thought was a nice touch of added realism.

The game, I must say, works much better with little kids on it than middle aged men.  First my son took the wheel and my daughter got on the back seat, then they later reversed.  He is pretty good at it, the controls are simple and he got the hang of it right away (except for the high/low gear thing).  It still functions quite well as a controller.  My daughter is a bit young and more or less oblivious to the game play, but she really loves taking the handles and jumping up and down on it.  She needs someone to hold it for her because her legs aren't long enough to reach the ground yet (kind of the reverse of the problem I had with it).  So usually when she rides, I set it on the floor in front of my chair and wedge the back between my legs so it doesn't fall over, then let her go to town with it (usually not even bothering to plug it in or anything).  

I'm kind of amazed at the quality of this thing actually. Its more than 30 years old and yet despite having survived all of that (it was already well worn when I got it), it has stood up well to the absolute brutal beating that my kids have dished out on it over the past few days - mainly consisting of the aforementioned being jumped up and down on.  They built this sucker to last!

I'm kind of sad that one big change that has happened since 2014 is that the price of these things have gone through the roof.  I don't think I paid much for mine (its used and didn't come with the box or manual), but I was in Super Potato the other day and saw one with a price tag in the $500 or so range (can't remember the exact amount).  At that price, nobody in their right mind would buy one for their kids to destroy, which makes me wonder if my kids might be giving the Top Rider its last hurrah. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Famicom Rides Again


These are some happy Famicom games inside a happy Famicom.  

They have an interesting story which began back in the 80s.  A mom and dad  bought them for children who had seen them on the shelf in the toy section of their local department store.  Ice Climber  came first, SMB 3 a couple years later.  The kids loved them and played for hours.  They had pride of place in the family home, the Famicom nestled beneath the big TV in the living room.  The kids would invite their friends over to play and Famicom parties would follow.

Famicom games love being the centre of kids' attention.  This happy state continued for a few years.

Then something horrible happened.  The kids grew older.  They no longer loved Ice Climber and SMB 3.   Neighborhood kids no longer came by to play together. They stopped playing games altogether as they became teenagers.  The Famicom lost its prized position beneath the living room TV, replaced by a VCR. 

The Famicom and the games went into a box, which went into a closet to collect dust.

Years passed.  The kids became adults and left home.  The parents, now older, cleared out the junk that their kids had left behind, including the Famicom and games which they disposed of at a big recycling shop.  

They passed around the second hand market in limbo for a while, getting mixed in with other games similarly discarded by other families.  Eventually a  man in his 30s who was collecting Famicom games bought them and brought them to his home.

But this wasn't a reprieve.  They gathered dust in a box on his shelf for several years.  The man had too many games and too little time to spend playing most of them.  The games remained sad and lonely, reflecting on the good old days when they were the centre of childhood attention.

One day the man and his wife had a baby boy.  They loved him very much.  Three years after that, they had a baby girl.  They loved her very much too.  They made a happy family.

But the Famicom games continued to collect dust in a box. The man had even less time for them now that he was a father.

Then a couple of years later, a deadly pandemic swept the globe, terrifying people and forcing them to stay home.  The man's little boy and little girl couldn't go to school, couldn't play with other children, or even go to the playground.  This made them sad.

The man, wanting to make his kids happy, thought of what he could do.  He remembered the dusty box with the Famicom games in them.  He brought it down from the closet, blew the dust off and carried it down to the living room.

The boy and girl became excited.  What did their father have for them?

"I think you'll like this!"  he told them as he cleared a spot under their living room TV to put the Famicom.

The kids jumped around in excitement.

The man  turned the TV on, blew on the connectors for Ice Climber, put it in the slot and flipped the red switch.

Nothing happened of course.  You can't just toss a Famicom cart that hasn't been played in decades in and expect it to work the first time.  But after a few tries the man found the exact right position for the cart in the slot and the game worked.

The kids were by now almost literally bouncing themselves off of walls in excitement.  

"This is a Famicom" the man said to the boy "lets play".

And with that, the story of the Famicom and the games had come full circle.  Today they again sit under a living room TV, and are the  most beloved plaything of little kids once more.  

The End.


As I mentioned back in April, I pulled my Famicom and a few games out of the closet and gave them to my kids (mainly my son since he's old enough) to play with while they were stuck indoors with a lot of time on their hands.  That was four months ago and the Famicom has basically spent the summer of 2020 as the Most Amazing Thing Ever in my house, which I think is really neat.  Its probably been a while since a Famicom has been so loved, so I wanted to do a post about that.

I've given my kids about 20 carts including a lot of the classics (all the Mario games, Donkey Kong, Adventure Island, Ice Climber, Galaxian, Pac Man, etc) and my son especially loves them. My daughter likes SMB USA because it is pink.

The neat thing about giving kids a game system with colorful carts is that the carts themselves become toys.  We keep them to a 1 hour limit of game time per day, and always make sure they play with one of us (usually me) so that the Famicom is a socializing activity rather than an isolating one.  The games don't just sit there when they aren't being played though, they become cogs in the larger Lego and other block related toy ecosystem that exists in our home.  

My son loves to construct levels in an imaginary game with them.  This one is a water world, inspired by the ones in SMB and SMB 3:

He also likes to use them to construct streets that he can race cars on:

This here is a Famicom cart maze he built for Lego mini figs to go through:

Its been really fun watching all of this unfold, and even participating in it, over the summer.  

I'm not sure how long it will last.  The big difference between kids in the 80s and my kids is that my kids live in a world in which like 5 subsequent generations of increasingly powerful video game systems exist, so at some point they'll probably jump ship from the Famicom to one of those.  I of course own many other systems, but have been deliberately avoiding bringing them out because I know once they get a taste of a Super Famicom (let alone a Switch) the poor Famicom will go back to collecting dust.  At some point I'll let that dam break, but for now I'm very happy to see these Famicom games getting so much attention.

I'm also kind of happy that my son at least will grow up having some really nostalgic memories of how playing the Famicom with his dad got him through what would otherwise have been a kind of depressing summer during the pandemic in which he was kept away from his favorite places!

Friday, May 22, 2020

Extremely Valuable Used Ice Cream Wrappers and a 1986 Famicom Contest I Never Knew About

There was a very interesting thing that sold the other day on Yahoo Auctions: Super Mario Brothers Ice Cream Bar Wrappers.  Without the ice cream.

According to the listing these were originally sold in 1986 and were produced by Yuki Jirushi, a famous Japanese maker of dairy products.  There are two of them, which originally had peach flavored ice cream bars in them. Actually I'm not sure if they were ice cream or maybe more like a popsicle, the product is called "Famicom Ice" which could go either way.

They cost 50 Yen back in the day, but now two empty wrappers sell for:

Wow, that is about 90$ US!  Kudos to whoever had the foresight in 1986 to eat two ice cream bars, look at the empty wrappers and think "Hey, these might be worth something 34 years from now, instead of throwing them in the trash, I'll hold on to them!"

I've never seen these before and its kind of interesting to know that this product existed.  I am curious if they only came in Super Mario Bros wrappers, or with other game art.

One really interesting thing is that the blue starburst in the side panel says that there is a game contest associated with these in which you could win either a Nintendo game cartridge or a Joyball controller. The text along the top says that the contest would last for 6 months, with 1,000 prize winners per month (for a maximum of 6,000 total).

The back panel above gives you a list of the games that you could win.  These included Super Mario Bros., Mach Rider, F1 Race, Ice Climber, Baseball, Soccer, Tennis, Golf and Spartan X.

 There is a little mushroom logo you can see, you had to cut that off and send it in to the company to enter the contest.

Anyway, that is kind of interesting stuff, isn't it?  When I first saw the auction with a 100 Yen start bid I threw a bid in just on a lark to see if I could win it for 100 Yen.  I was blown away when I saw how high it actually went for (needless to say I didn't win).  These might be the only copies of these still in existence though so I can see how to a hard core Famicom collector they would be seen as a must have item.

Edited to add:

Adori 12 on Famicom World showed me a commercial of these very things.  Very cool and worth a watch!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Super Mario Kart Race: Suburban Japan Edition

My kids are really getting into Mario stuff since I introduced them to the Famicom a couple weeks ago.  The characters have gone from zero to the top of their "childhood fascination" list at break neck speed, displacing Pokemons who were briefly at the top of that list until the beginning of this month.

So I've started to do something I haven't done in years: look for Mario related toys.  Only not for me, but as gifts for them.

 I stumbled across a cheap (800 Yen)  bag full of used pull back cars featuring Super Mario Kart characters at a Hard Off the other day which I thought would be the perfect thing, since they both like toy cars too. (Side Note: our state of emergency was lifted, so shops are open again. Japan has gotten off very lightly with Covid 19 so far)

These were originally released back in 2008 in connection with Mario Kart Wii.  On a side note, its kind of weird but that means they are about as old as this blog is, so stuff that would have been "new" when I started this thing have now moved into "retro" territory.  I've come full circle!
 There are actually Karts from two sets in here, both from 2008 and both produced by a company called "Nihon Auto Omocha" (Japan Auto Toys).  The ones that have a kind of hot rod or racing car shape (like Wario, Donkey Kong, Mario and the Princess) are from one called "Wild Star" which you can see pictures of here, while the ones shaped like Karts are from this set here.  According to the articles I've read these were not sold in stores but rather given out as prizes (I didn't play Wii back then so I wasn't paying attention to this sort of stuff).  I don't quite have either set complete, though I have at least one of each character.  Oddly, neither set included a Luigi for some reason.
 Anyway, I like these a lot and hope my kids will too. Before giving them to them I thought I'd take them for a little race through suburban Japan and take some picture of them to share with the kids too.  Hence this post.
 They are kind of photogenic.
 I had a tendency to put Yoshi in the lead in most of these since he is my son's favorite.  The kids have never played any version of Mario Kart (they only have the Famicom and SMB and SMB USA so far) but he has seen the character around and, since he is a dinosaur and my son loves dinosaurs, he is the best.
 I quite like the hot rod style ones, Wario and Donkey Kong are my personal favorites.
 This truck (which was parked when I took these pictures!) kind of reminded me of one of the ones from the highway level of Mario Kart 64.
I think the kids will have fun with these. I won't give them to them all at once, but rather one at a time as presents for various good behavior.  If they like them I'll have to chase down the ones I am missing from each set!

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lego Mario and Ice Climber

I was playing Lego with my kids on a rainy day over the weekend when I decided to try out an idea I had been toying with for a while: making Super Mario Brothers characters out of Lego blocks.

I wasn't sure how it would go, but its surprisingly easy to do if you have a massive pile of Lego bricks lying around.  I just did a Google search for some 8 Bit Mario pixel art grids and then went to town recreating them in Lego.

I went with 2x2 Lego Bricks = 1 Pixel as a scale for Mario, the first one I did.  The bricks aren't quite square so it gives him a slightly chubbier appearance than normal, but its close enough.  The Cheep Cheep and Goomba I did the same for.

Ice Climber was the last of the three and you'll notice he looks a bit taller and skinnier than the Mario ones. That is because I went with 1x2 bricks = 1 pixel for him, mainly because I was running out of bricks by that point.

My son went crazy for these things, which made me really happy.  Super Mario Bros and Ice Climber are his two favorite Famicom games.  He's been carrying them around everywhere with him, which gives me that "I did a good dad thing" feeling, which I really like.  I also made a Yoshi for him, which was his favorite, but by the time I took these pictures it had been broken and put back together so many times it no longer really looks like Yoshi so I decided not to put him in the picture.  Of these Mario is the least sturdy, his arms, nose and legs get knocked off real easily but unlike Yoshi its pretty easy to put him back together so he has survived nonetheless.  Cheep Cheep originally had a more elaborate tail, which is long gone but the remaining bits are sturdy!

The one thing that sucks about Lego though is that pink bricks are hard to come by.  I wanted to make a princess one for my daughter (who is absolutely mad for all things pink these days) but didn't have any pink bricks to make that happen. D-oh!

Anyway, if you've got a combination of Kids at home + they like Mario or other video game characters + a ton of lego bricks handy, this is a pretty good project to keep them happy.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Putting the Family in Family Computer

 Hope you all are doing OK out there. I’m doing fine.

We are under a kind of light lockdown here in Japan now. No school and I’m mostly working at home, and glad to still be working!

On a lighter note, the greatest Famicom related thing that has happened to me since i got my first one almost 12 years ago occurred over the weekend.  I introduced another little human being to my Famicom.

Its hard to believe but the little baby boy that I wrote about on here back in 2014 is now a wonderful little kid who'll be starting elementary school before too long!  He's even got an awesome little sister now too.  

I have only sparingly had time to play games since he arrived and had held off on introducing him to video games.  But with the lockdown and everyone home with little to do, and him being old enough to handle it, I decided to bring my Famicom down to the living room and hook it up to the TV for him (and for the whole family really, but mostly him).  It helped that it was a rainy weekend and we couldn't even play in the yard.

I brought a few games down that I thought he would like.  SMB, Ice Climber, Donkey Kong, Son Son, Galaxian, Antarctic Adventure and a few others.  And I just plugged it in and said "Lets play!"

And my son got about as excited as he gets on Christmas morning, it was great.

We played SMB a lot, my wife (a Famicom fan from her own childhood and my partner in Famicom gaming until parenthood made both of us, but especially her too busy) showed him the basics.

We played all afternoon. It is really fun watching a little kid play the Famicom for the first time. They move their entire body along with the controller.  So while playing Galaxian whenever he moves his ship to the left, he runs over to the left side of the room.  Then when he moves his ship right, he runs over to the right.  I had forgotten that such behaviour once seemed natural as a child.  It was so great to be reminded.

Son Son was my favorite, since its got a cooperative 2 player mode and we could play together at the same time.

At the end, he said the Famicom is now his favorite thing in the world.  Which was great, but also concerned me that I had accidentally rendered all of his other toys obsolete.  We noticed he was rubbing his eyes a lot that night, they got dried out from playing too long, another thing that I had forgotten happens to kids.  So we've instituted strict limitations on playing time after that.

One thing that I liked about it was that the Famicom is 37 years old, but he doesn't know that. For perspective, this is the equivalent of giving a kid in the early 80s a World War 2 era toy.  Weird.  Anyway, he doesn't care whether or not its old, he just knows it is fun, and his excitement is genuine and so great to behold.

I don't know how long it will last, but I hope to keep it going.  I haven't told him that I have like 800 more games for it (they are mostly in boxes stored in a closet right now).  Or that I have like 7 or 8 other consoles with hundreds of more games for them too.  For the time being the handful of games that I brought out are officially "The only ones we have" as far as he is going to know. And maybe I'll pretend to bring a new one home from work every once in a while and ask if he wants to play it with me.

Then maybe a year from now I'll pretend that they released a new version called the "Super Famicom" and pretend to bring that one home with a copy of SMB World, and hook it up and start again.

Anyway, this was kind of a fun distraction which I thought worthy of a blog post in the middle of this stupid pandemic.  I needed a pick-me-up, and this brought me one!

Stay safe and hope you are all doing OK.