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Awesome retro video game finds in Japan – hidden in toy stores

In every video game collectors live’s (careers?), there is that one pickup that will be remembered forever. Maybe they found that incredibly rare piece of gaming history. Perhaps it was about volume, an unimaginably large amount of games. Or possibly it was that they met some really cool people along the way, shared some great conversation, and developed fond memories.

For me this week in Japan, it was a combination of all of those things. Quantity, quality, value, nostalgia, and an overall unforgettable experience.

Old Japanese Toy Store

I had lived in Osaka, Japan previously in both 2010 and 2012, and have always enjoyed hunting for retro games. My previous apartment was in a working class neighbourhood not far from the city centre and right next door to a pretty run-down looking shotengai (shopping arcade). Down one of the small side alleys, I had previously visited a toy store that caught my eye for having one or two old arcade cabinets out front. On my previous visit, the only real games they had for sale included some new old-stock N64 games that still retained their original price tag from their release, around $70. That was way too heavy for me, and besides that the old guy running the place was giving me the evil eye. I left, but made a mental note of the shop’s location.

Japan Retro Toy Store

Last week I found myself in the same neighbourhood, and figured it would be worth a shot to check it out. Perhaps after years of not selling his merchandise, the old guy had decided to finally lower his prices. Upon arriving in the store I was disappointed to find no arcade cabinets out front and not a single game on display. Pokemon cards, Digimon figurines, and random board games of all variety filled the shelves and the cabinets. I noticed that the ceiling was covered in vintage posters of Sega Saturn and N64 games, so I knew I was in the right place, but where were the games?

Super Mario Golf Posters Japan

Instead of the old man, there was a (only slightly) younger woman working the shop on this occasion. I asked if she had any video games, and she said that they didn’t. I had mentioned my previous visit, noting how they used to have video games. She said that they had since stopped selling them, focusing on toys instead. Bummer.

Japan Retro Toy Store Cabinet

But then something caught my eye in one of the cases; it was a Nintendo Gameboy Pocket Printer, brand new since the day it left the factory. I asked how much, and she said 1000 yen (about $10). Not bad, but not life changing. I saw at the bottom of the display case a stack of old Sega Saturn display cards. I asked to take a look, and she didn’t mind at all. She explained that these were retail display cards that shop owners could display instead of the actual product, used to curb theft from little Japanese kids with sticky fingers. Pick a few that you like, she said, they were a gift.

Free video game memorabilia; I liked this lady.

Sega Saturn Retail Display Cards

For whatever reason, I had a hunch and asked if I could just look deeper, inside some of the old storage cabinets and behind the shelving. And it was then that I knew I had found what I was looking for.

Box of old video games

Box after box of old games, consoles, promotional items and more. She seemed as surprised as I was, and was twice as curious to find out what was inside each one. We both pulled up a seat and begin digging through each box, pulling out anything gaming related. A Super Famicom here, a Sega Saturn there, and some of those N64 games I saw on my last visit – it all came coming out. She was having just as much fun as I was, and then we reached the end of the supply. That was fun, but now it was down to business. The only thing left was to negotiate.

Retro video games Osaka

What did she want for this stuff? Was she as stingy as her dad? And would she even part with some of this stuff?

I asked her how much for the Super Famicom, yellowed with age. She said she didn’t know and asked me. Not wanting to come on strong, I said I didn’t know either! She settled on 500 yen (about $5), and I knew I could get the rest for cheap. While it wasn’t the cheapest price ever for a Super Famicom, I was happy with it and knew that the rest of the lot was worth much more.

Retro Toy Store Osaka

We settled on a price and she began to box it all up for me. It was fascinating watching how meticulous and organized she was boxing up the old games, it definitely reminded me of myself packing up my old apartment in Vancouver. I began to admire the posters on the ceiling as she was packing, returning to what had caught my eye originally. She noticed my interest and offered me another one of those as a present. She handed me a ladder and told me to take my pick.

Super Mario Golf Yomiura Open Poster

I decided on a poster for a Super Mario Golf Tournament held in 1999 – I’m a sucker for all things Nintendo, so couldn’t pass it up. It was almost comical watching her wipe it off before packing it up , the cloth turned black with filth. The poster, like the rest of it, had seriously been there for the last 15 years untouched. If I hadn’t shown up, who knows how much longer it (and the rest of all of this stuff) would have stayed there?

Super Mario Golf Yomiura Open Poster

I’ll be following up this post soon with a detailed breakdown of what was in the boxes, so stay tuned! I’ve also added some of the items to my eBay store, as I will be leaving Japan at the end of the month and unfortunately cannot take anything with me. If you are interested in anything else you see, don’t hesitate to contact me as well.

What was your most memorable gaming pickup? What made it so special? Share your memories below!

Japanese MamaChari Bike

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Travelling with Video Games – Retro Gamer Meets Digital Nomad

One of the most difficult aspects of video game collecting, is dealing with the massive amounts of space required to house your collection. It starts off small, just a little stack of games neatly arranged beside the TV. But a few carts quickly grows into a shoebox, which grows into a book shelf, which quickly absorbs the entire room, creating the formidable gaming den dreaded by wives worldwide.

My apartment was 600 square feet, and was jointly shared with my wife who is certainly understanding of my hobby, albeit not entirely interested in seeing it strewn about our tiny abode. But I made it work through the clever use of storage solutions and stackable boxes.

We have since packed up that old place and moved onwards, choosing instead to live our lives abroad whilst travelling. I won’t get into the specifics, as they aren’t relevant here, but needless to say the collection was one thing that couldn’t come with. One small suitcase each is all we’ve allowed ourselves; how could I keep up my passion for gaming?

Here is what I’ve brought with me:

Portable Retro Video Games

1. Nintendo 3DS XL – Zelda Gold Edition

Nintendo 3DS Zelda Gold Edition
While I am a retro gamer at heart, I am also most certainly a Nintendo fanboy. Their handheld systems in particular are always best in class, and today’s 3DS XL is no exception. I haven’t had a chance to play it that much since I got it a few months ago, as I typically opt to play my home consoles like the NES or Neo Geo, so this is the opportune time to bring some games on the road I’ve been meaning to beat. Not only that, the cartridges are damn small, and I can even download new releases as they come out.

2. Game Boy Advance SP – AGS-101

Game Boy Advance SP AGS-101
I need something retro to balance the “new-ness” of the 3DS. The GBA SP can play both GBA and Game Boy/Game Boy Color games, so was a perfect fit for retro gaming action. The AGS-101 model’s backlit screen is also undoubtedly the best screen available for playing classic GB games. Add on a rechargeable battery pack, and this thing is good to go.

3. Sony PSP 1001

Sony PSP 1001 NES Emulator
This is where things get fuzzy. I’ve always been opposed to emulators, strongly opposed in fact. However I’ve come to accept the fact that a home console simply wasn’t going to fit in the one carry-on suitcase I am taking with me. The Sony PSP is incredibly easy to hack, allowing me to run multiple emulators for my favourite systems. It just makes sense if I need a quick SNES fix on the go. One rule that I am applying (and strictly enforcing), is only downloading roms for games I actually own. While some say this makes it legal to play (but is still a questionable grey area), I think this will allow me to enjoy some retro gaming action without interfering with my collection that may or may not be resurrected at some point down the road.

4. Macbook Pro – 15” Retina w/ Buffalo Retro USB Game Pad

Retro NES Famicom USB Gamepab
I actually use this computer for my work first, and playing second. Nonetheless, it plays a key role in my retro video game arsenal through the strategic use of a couple different emulators.

One of my biggest qualms about playing emulated games, is the lack of original controllers. Say what you will, high level retro gaming is simply not possible using a keyboard or an unresponsive game pads with poor ergonomics; you simply need the original. The Buffalo Famicom USB Controller renders this issue obsolete. Buffalo actually licensed the controller design from Nintendo themselves, creating something that is true to form and as functional as it is fashionable. It is literally the real deal. They also offered a SNES version, but the Famicom version includes shoulder buttons to make cross platform fully compatible.

Going from a house bursting at the seams to a small package of handhelds was no easy feat. However, it is the fate I have chosen for myself and a challenge that I will graciously accept. Does this mean all collecting is off the table? Absolutely not. My travels will take me through the retro video game mecca of Japan, and even to pirate-cart heavy South East Asia. Stay tuned, The Game Kun is taking this thing on the road!

Check out eBay for the latest prices on the Sony PSP, Famicom Gamepad, Zelda 3DS XL, and Gameboy Advance SP!

If you could only take one handheld system with you, what would you take? Let me know how you’d survive in the comments below!

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Top 5 Differences Between NES and Famicom Carts

Ahh the video game cartridge. The medium of choice for home video games, almost since the dawn of home video gaming itself. Everything from the Atari 2600 to the Nintendo 64 used the game cartridge, with many handhelds like the Nintendo DS and 3DS continuing the tradition. Sure, they are more expensive to produce and have less storage capacity than optical media, but dammit, they just look and feel great. Can you say that about your latest digital download?

Some of the most iconic video game carts came out of the 8-bit era, and more specifically, from Nintendo. Both the NES and the Famicom have great cart designs, each with their very own pros and cons. But if you know anything about me, you know that I am partial the Famicom versions of this 8-bit classic. So I’ve decided to list them up; the top 5 differences between NES and Famicom carts.

1. Crazy Colour Scheme.

Grey. Grey. Grey. That describes a wall of the NES carts. Sure, there is the occasional black Tengen cart, and who can forget the classic gold Legend of Zelda carts? Those are the exception though and not the rule. At the end of the day, all you see is grey.

Lots of Nintendo Games - Field Focus

Compare that to the Famicom’s vibrant library of multicoloured carts, with all the shades and hues of the rainbow. Bright yellows, fresh whites, punchy oranges, and even juicy purples make a wall of Famicom carts a work of art. The translucent blue of Konami's Salamander (Life Force in North America) has got to be one of my top picks. Who doesn’t need a bit of colour in their life?

Lots of Nintendo Games - Field Focus

2. Cart Size

Ahh, the American dream; work hard, buy much, and live big. Just like they like their cars, North Americans like their NES carts large. Nearly double the size of a Famicom cart, I assume this was done intentionally to allow the cartridges to stand out on the shelf next to some VHS tapes, and feel like a substantial piece of technology. The Japanese, hindered instead with an obsession over all things small and cute, found their Famicom carts to be compact, pocket sized, and easily portable.

Nintendo Famicom Cart Size

3. Cart Shape

Just as the NES cart colour is standardized, so too is the shape of the cart; same ridges, same angles, and same thumb grip at the top. The label is the only way to tell one game from another in a NES library. In Japan, almost every different publisher had its own unique and distinguishable cart shape. Jaleco had big ugly bulbous carts, Taito had very boxy and rigid cart shapes with their name stamped on it, and Konami had one that even incorporated end labels(!!). A lot of times, you can tell who published a game simply by looking at the shape of the cart.

Nintendo Famicom Taito Namcot Carts

4. Ease of Storage

You may have seen my previous post about storing loose Famicom carts, where I showed how incredibly easy it is to store your collection away from pets and small children for only a couple bucks using cassette cabinets from your local thrift store. Simple, elegant, classy.

Nintendo Famicom Game Case

5. Label Art

Don’t get me wrong, NES label art isn’t bad. But looking at them side by side, I would have to say that the Famicom definitely comes out on top. Vivid colours, wild characters and that crazy anime style that can only be described as “Japanese” all combine to create some great art. Just check out a comparison of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Kung Fu; so much to look at, so much to see…

Nintendo Famicom Label Art - Super Mario Bros 3

And a negative: the lack of top labels

Seriously, how am I supposed to know which game I’m about to play? With so many great looking carts it’s easy to get captivated, but when you are ready for some classic 8-bit action, how will you know which one to pick? By picking each one up one by one and looking at the front of the label. I feel like this wasn’t very well thought out on Nintendo’s part. I guess that’s why kids would scrawl illegible katakana on them in Sharpie. Thanks, Tomohiro-kun; your illegible handwriting has been immortalized on my copy of Excitebike forever.

Famicom Kids Handwriting - Excitebike

What do you prefer? The North American NES cart or the Japanese Famicom cart?

Check out some more NES Carts and Famicom Carts on eBay.

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Crisis Force Longplay – Uploaded!

I decided to play some Crisis Force for the Nintendo Famicom the other day, and ended up beating it. So I thought, why not make it into a longplay?

If you don’t know, Crisis Force is an amazing shmup by Konami that was released only in Japan. Being late in the Famicom’s life cycle, it has some of the best sprite design and parallax scrolling effects of any Famicom game. It is a hidden gem for sure, but I’m not going to get too deep into it, as I have a review for it coming very soon. Stay tuned!

Have you tried this game before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments below!

Pick up your own Crisis Force on eBay or Amazon.

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The Bomberman Multitap for the SNES/Super Famicom

Way back in the day, before electric cars, before TV on your computer and before there were computers in our pockets, video game systems required their controllers to be connected to them via a long and often tangled piece of black cord. Not only that, a system was only capable of handling a common maximum of two controllers at a time (except for the Turbografx-16/PC-Engine, which only allowed one!). This wasn’t a big deal though, as almost every game was a single-player or two-player experience, meant to be enjoyed by yourself or by a friend.

SNES Bomberman 4 Player Multitap

Then came games that supported four players simultaneously, done so through the use of an accessory known as the “multitap”. The first to do this was NEC/Hudson soft, out of necessity to address the previously mentioned issue of their consoles’ (Turbografx-16/PC Engine) absence of a second controller port. As Hudson Soft produced one of the most famous 4-player games of the 8-bit and 16-bit eras – Bomberman – it makes sense that they would emerge as the masters of the multitap.

Which leads us to this #controllertuesday.

SNES Bomberman 4 Player Multitap

The Hudson Soft Super Multitap 2 aka the Bomberman head allows up to four player simultaneous play, and just happens to be shaped like Bomberman’s head. It’s adorable. And it works great. I love it. Now I just need to find three more friends…

Get your Bomberman Multitap on eBay and Amazon, and invite me over to play!

SNES Bomberman 4 Player

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Collecting Promo Items – Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Promo Tie

A couple weeks ago I talked about collecting video game promo items, and whether or not pursuing them is a worthwhile endeavour. Initially, I had thought promo items were cool and all, but not something that I would completely devote my collecting attention to. Sure they look nice on a shelf, but at the end of the day you can’t play them.

But what if some days you can?

Today, Nintendo of Canada set up a promotional event for the new Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze, and it just so happened to be mere blocks from my house. Me, being a fan of most all things Nintendo, decided to check it out.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Vancouver Event

Of course, I was enticed by the prospect of some sweet free Donkey Kong promo merch i had heard about, but I also just wanted to try the game out. I don’t have a lot of Wii U games, so I am always excited when a Nintendo franchise releases a new instalment. After waiting in line for ~20 minutes, I played the game and can honestly say it looks great. Amazing graphics, great sound and solid controls, but most importantly it retains that classic side scrolling action I have known and loved since Donkey Kong Country on the SNES. But really, I just wanted that damn Donkey Kong tie!.

Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze Vancouver Event

Afterwards, polyester tie in hand, I realized that I got the best of both worlds; free collectible promo merch, and a chance to play some sweet sweet video games.

What do you think about Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze? But more importantly, would you rock that sweet tie on a hot date?

Pick up Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze on Amazon, or try your luck finding a Donkey Kong Tie on eBay!

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Top 6 Differences Between Famicom and NES Controllers

They are like long lost brothers. So similar, yet so different. Raised in a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, the Japanese Nintendo Famicom controller sure has a unique character to it. But is it better than it’s North American NES counterpart? In my opinion, yes. Here’s 6 reasons why (plus a bonus reason on why they suck).

1. Round corners

Seriously, my hands are finely tuned pieces of art – they can’t be compromised by jabby, sharp controllers. The rounded corners of the Famicom pad fit into the contours of my palm like a %100 all-beef frank into a Wonderbread bun.

Famicom Round Edges

2. Crazy color scheme

Burgundy and gold? I haven’t seen colour schemes that fly since Dennis Rodman’s hair. Gold fronts beat out that grey and black monotone get-up any day.

Famicom vs. NES

3. Built in microphone

Some might call this a gimmick, but just you wait. The next indie wonder band is going to emerge with a full album recorded through the microphone built in the player 2 Famicom controller. Pols Voice, I think they are called…

Famicom NES Microphone

4. Lack of Start/Select on P2 – gives you control

Sure, in games like Contra and Life Force it’s called two player co-op. I think that’s more wishful thinking, because it is definitely uncooperative when player two pauses the game right when I’m mid air over a mega-canyon jump. It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I’m simply dead after the unpause. The Japanese understood that Player one has the authority – and thus only they have control over the Start and Select buttons. The way it should be.

Nintendo Famicom Start Button

5. Hard-wired cords

I love playing two player, but I honestly don’t have enough friends that can keep up. So when the P2 controller is not in use, it gets coiled up and tucked away. Unfortunately, the few times a year someone joins me for a round of Ikari Warriors, that controller is either nowhere to be found, or tangled up in some black spaghetti cord bullshit under the bed. Hard wire it to the system, and that bad boy ain’t going anywhere!

Nintendo Famicom Controllers

6. Controller holder slot on system

This builds upon the previous point of controller convenience; the Famicom has built in slots to hold the controllers when not in use. What more needs to be said? That’s the coolest thing in a video game system, and hasn’t been seen in a console ever since. Sure, the Colecovision had controller holders but… Colecovision was a lot less fun. Sorry, Coleco fans.

Nintendo Famicom Controller Holder Slot

 

And a negative;
Short Cords
Japanese houses are small, for sure, but seriously. 18 inches worth of cord is a joke. You know how your mom always said “don’t sit so close to the TV!”? She would have straight kicked your ass if she saw you playing this thing. Unless you pull the system across the room towards you, your maximum range from the TV is microscopic at best.

Nintendo Famicom Cord Length

What side would you pick? What’s your favourite controller?

Grab your own Famicom on eBay and Amazon today, and see for yourself!

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WonderSwan Color – Rare Video Game Review

Bandai is more well known for their anime properties like Digimon and Gundam than their video games (except maybe Stadium Events on the Nintendo NES), but that may be due to the relative obscurity of the WonderSwan outside of Japan. Developed by the Father of the Game Boy, Gunpei Yokoi, the WonderSwan was released in 1999 with a colour version released in 2000. Thanks to its low price and solid collection of licensed games based off of anime properties, the WonderSwan received moderate success within Japan. However, it wasn’t enough to justify an international release, and production was ceased in 2003.

I own a WonderSwan Color, and I love the thing. It’s light, compact and just a blast to play. Check out the video review below to see for yourself!

Have you ever played a WonderSwan? Would you have bought one if they released internationally? Let me know your thoughts below!

Get your WonderSwan on eBay or Amazon.

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Collecting Promo Items – Donkey Kong Country CD

I’ve noticed an interesting trend recently as the retro gaming scene continues to grow. As with any collecting scene, a number if spinoff niches tend to form of people collecting even more specific and obscure items. It went from cart only, to CIB, to sealed, VGA graded and so on. I’m more of a gamer myself – that is I prefer to play my games and not worry about decreasing their value by simply looking at them. That’s why I find it mildly absurd that there is a niche of collectors focused on promo material.

What sparked this train of thought is a CD I picked up this week – Donkey Kong Country – Go Ape. It’s not an actual soundtrack to the game itself (which would have been awesome), but a collection of songs by sort of b-list (at the time) artists designed to get you pumped up to play the game. Nintendo had done this before with Killer Instinct – Killer Cuts, but I had never seen a Donkey Kong Country CD before. So, for only a couple bucks, I picked it up.

donkeykongcountrycd

How does it sound?

Like an early 90s adolescent angst ridden birthday party, filled with cheese twists, grape soda and… Donkey Kong Country. Which makes a whole lotta sense to me now. It has some songs by recognizable artists (Radiohead, Oasis) and some that I’ve never heard of in my life (Terrorvision? Pop Will Eat Itself!?), and is on the whole forgettable. But slap that Nintendo logo on it, and this piece of shit becomes a piece of gold!

What are your thoughts on promo pieces? Worth it or waste of time? And, have you ever heard of Terrorvision??

Check out current prices for this thing on eBay.

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How To Store Loose Famicom Carts

Loose Famicom games; unless you have Japanese cousins or are loaded like Donald Trump, chances are your Famicom games are going to be sans box. Considering the matchbox size of Japanese homes, those cardboard behemoths known as boxes enter the garbage with the same frequency as rice ball wrappers.

So with so many cute and colourful cartons exposed to the elements, how can you keep them safe? Small, susceptible to sun fade, and lacking any spine labels, your famicom carts have an undying need for a home that simply cannot be satisfied. What’s an unemployed collector to do?

During a recent trip to the Salvation Army, the solution made itself apparent in front of my eyes like the Statue of Liberty to Charlton Heston; the Kensonic Cassette Cabinet.

Famicom NES Cartridge Holder

Did you know that Famicom carts are approximately the same size as a standard audio cassette with case? This means that any old cassette storage solution will hold your loose carts in 80s-kitsch style and comfort, safe from the elements and attractively displayed for your perusal.

Famicom NES Cartridge Holder

So it may not be readily available, but it’s out there. The audio cassette drawer is the Famicom-Gods’ way of saying “we haven’t forgot about you”.

Thank you, Famicom-sama.

Famicom NES Cartridge Holder

Find the cassette cabinet on eBay and Amazon

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