Tag Archives: famicom

Racing against collector creep

I’ve just returned from a trip to Japan to cover BitSummit for my pals at USgamer. (You can check out the roughly one dozen developer interviews I conducted there on my USgamer author’s page — it doesn’t look like they’ve put together a tag or landing page for BitSummit yet.)

Naturally, while I was over there, I did a bit of hunting for classic games in Tokyo’s retro gaming shops. You know… for work.

Contrary to many recent alarmist reports I’ve seen recently, Tokyo’s retro game stores aren’t completely a desolate wasteland of empty shelves. A few spots in nerd destination Akihabara definitely do have a sort of post-apocalyptic feel to them, but that really only holds true for the the heavily trafficked ones that everyone picks over… primarily Super Potato, and to a lesser degree the Mandarake Galaxy shop in Nakano. Venture away from the better-known shops, however, to places the tourists never visit — and it’s very much tourists (like me, I admit) who are the cause of this desolation — and you can find shelves packed with every game imaginable, often at reasonable prices. There’s one particular gem of a shop in Akihabara that doesn’t seem to have become despoiled yet; stock remains ample and, miraculously, prices feel like they were set five or even 10 years ago.

At ¥2600 ($23), Mighty Final Fight makes for a charming little frivolity; at $200, it becomes a symbol of the dystopian hell that classic game collecting has become.

 But such places have become vanishingly rare, because as I mentioned, we tourists keep picking them over. I won’t really accept that much personal culpability myself, though; I’m not much of a collector, and the hard-to-find import games I do hunt for these days tend to be the ones that no Western collector would ever want, e.g. complete Game Boy games to document. (“Ah yes, now that I’m in Akihabara I can finally pick up that complete copy of Card Game for Game Boy,” said no one ever.) But serious collectors have swooped in on Japan’s shops to snatch up everything interesting they can find, a situation that’s only increased since the yen dropped in value versus the dollar and euro a few years back. Prices on old games have begun to swell in Japan in response to the dwindling supply and growing demand.

I’ve noticed a sort of chain reaction effect on the order in which prices inflate. The first to balloon were the games that had already climbed in price even back when the yen was crushing the dollar a decade ago after the international housing market collapse: The hard-to-find Japan-only releases. Games produced in modest qualities here and never localized into any other region. Famicom games like Recca: Summer Carnival ’92 and Moon Crystal, or Saturn releases like Psychic Assassin Taromaru, Radiant Silvergun, and so forth. These games shot up in price years ago, because both Japanese and foreign collectors sought them out and demand greatly outstripped supply.

After that, I noticed inflation in games that had received international releases but were in some way remarkable in their Japanese iterations. For example, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night appeared in the west, but the original Japanese release came in a deluxe package containing a soundtrack CD along with a booklet packed full of concept art and a short original manga by illustrator Ayami Kojima. While the price of the U.S. release for that game has definitely crept up over time, it’s eclipsed by the premium its highly coveted import version commands. Likewise, the original Contra has been quite pricey on Famicom for quite some time, because the Japanese release contained enhanced graphics and sound over its American counterpart, making it a prize for serious fans of the series. Ninja Ryukenden III has become the most expensive Japanese Ninja Gaiden title for Famicom by a fair margin, most likely because Tecmo screwed up the balance of the American version and the Japanese release is the only version that’s actually fun.

Psychic Assassin Taromaru. You will never play this Saturn game legitimately, in part because it never came to the U.S., and in part because it now goes for about $500 (if you can even find it). Image credit: Hardcore Gaming 101

Interesting variants have also inflated considerably. The first Castlevania for Famicom (aka Akumajou Dracula) now sells for more than $100 as a bare cartridge; the game originally shipped on diskette, and the cart release (which is basically the same as the U.S. cartridge but for the outer shell) came along later and in smaller quantities. The disk version has begun to creep up in price, having nearly doubled in value over the past couple of years, but you can get that edition complete in its full packaging for half the price of the naked cartridge.

More common import-only games have been hit of late, as well; they’ve more or less doubled in price (sometimes tripled) in the past few years. These games weren’t particularly rare in Japan, but because they only showed up in Japan, they became desirable for foreign collectors. Not all import-only games bear this burden, of course. Very few text-heavy RPGs or pachinko games sell for a hefty sum; instead, it tends to be the more accessible releases that have been hit by this. Action games, generally, or fighters, or shooters. Especially those with a connection to popular franchises or beloved developers, or on niche platforms. And you don’t even want to know about the bloodbath that is PC Engine and SEGA CD pricing, even for common releases.

And most recently, many games that saw international releases have been hit hard, presumably due to fans determined to own every variant of a beloved favorite. The EarthBound series is a great example: The American version of EarthBound hit the stratosphere more than a decade ago, but until recently its Super Famicom counterpart was priced to move; if you paid more than $20 for a complete Mother 2 in Japan three years ago, you were doing it wrong. Now, even those incredibly common and heretofore undesired Japanese carts have edged their way toward the $50 mark as dedicated fans work to complete their comprehensive shrines to Shigesato Itoi’s great creation.

Would you pay ¥44000 ($400) for a video game? I personally would not. But it sure beats the U.S. equivalent’s selling price of $2000+.

Personally, I gave up on chasing basically all of these things a while back. As much as I enjoy picking through the shelves of a Tokyo retro gaming shop, prices on all the interesting stuff went stratospheric years ago. So, I decided a few years ago to limit myself to hunting for a very limited selection of games for my personal collection: Notable (but not necessarily rare) games that didn’t see release in the U.S., and affordable Japanese versions of games that have become impossibly expensive in the U.S. Three or four years ago, I realized that I will never own late-era NES releases like Power Blade 2 or Little Samson in their American incarnations, but their original Japanese versions — while not necessarily cheap — were at least affordable.

Now, even that’s drying up. Some of the games I picked up in 2013 or 2014 (for example, Seirei Densetsu Lickle and Captain Saver, the Japanese versions of the aforementioned Little Samson and Power Blade 2) are now selling for two, three, even four times as much as I paid for them a fairly short while ago. So my goal for my recent trip was to hunt down Japanese versions of some notable big-ticket NES releases before those, too, blast through the roof. I had some pretty decent success, spending about $150 for the Famicom editions of four big-ticket late NES titles. That’s not cheap, but the combined average sale prices of these four titles in their U.S. incarnation would clock in around $1100. And I have a sneaking suspicion that I’d probably be paying well more than $150 for this set of games a year from now.

All of this really bums me out, honestly. For years — decades, honestly — I loved being able to casually pick up old used games for a few bucks as the whim struck me. Between collector speculation and a renewed interest in the actual physical editions of classic games (thanks in large part to the advent of cart-based retro consoles like the RetroN, RetroFreak, and Analogue Nt), those days are long past. It’s still possible to find good classic games on the cheap, for sure, but it seems as though each passing month reveals some new game whose sticker price has begun to climb due to a YouTube show or even conscious price manipulation. Some optimists believe the collector’s bubble will eventually burst, but even if price-creep slows, it’ll never reverse to where it was in, say, 2007. Once everyone caught wind of Stadium Events selling for $20,000, it was all over.

So it goes. In any case, I’m eager to get some value out of my pick-ups — I’m not collecting for the sake of owning stuff, after all. So feel free join me tomorrow morning for a Famicoffee stream (the caffeinated morning counterpart to Gintendo!) as I put the first of these budget-friendly acquisitions through its paces: F.C. Genji, aka Bonk’s Adventure… a Famicom game that costs about 1/20 what its NES counterpart does. In the words of the late Paul Harvey: That’s… true value.

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Retro(ish)nauts: A look at three NEW Famicom releases

A little something different for Good Nintentions NES Works Gaiden this week: It’s a look at a Japanese release per usual — three Japanese releases, in fact — but these are not classic games. They run on Famicom hardware, yes, but all three have shipped within the past year. The third title in this episode shipped this month, in fact! I had to make room for it at the last minute, because the episode was already in production when my copy arrived

8Bit Music Power, Kira Kira Star Night DX, and the shiny new 8Bit Music Power Final all have their quirks, but that’s mostly to do with production issues. Rather than re-flash existing NES donor ROMs the way most publishers who produce posthumous carts do, Columbus Circle seems to have fabricated their own, and the results are rather dubious. While these carts theoretically run on original hardware, there seem to be even odds of the games either running without an issue, simply not working, or frying your hardware. The latter outcome hasn’t been corroborated, but I’m willing to believe it after my own experiences. Fortunately, the Analogue Nt Mini works great — which is not an inexpensive solution, admittedly, but I’ve come to regard the Mini as an essential piece of gaming hardware. So it’s nice that it can handle these quirky carts

That being said, however, if you ever do have the means to play them (or let them play, as the case may be), I highly recommend all three. As you can see in the video, only one of these is a proper game, but all three are really lovingly assembled and feature some spectacular music. In fact, you can look forward to hearing more of 8Bit Music Power Final on the next episode of Retronauts Radio.

Anyway, please give the video a look, and let’s hope that we’ll see more releases of similar ambition and quality (build notwithstanding) for NES and Famicom in the future.

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Put on your power tie and Power Blazer for today’s Gintendo

Well hello! It’s been a while since I last streamed a video game while sipping a libation, because I’m afraid I’ve been out of town doing Important Retronauts Things for the past week. Today, however, I’m settled back in, and it’s time to get back on the wagon. Uh, so to speak.

This afternoon I’ll be getting together with Ben and Benj to record another episode of Retronauts East (it’s all about SEGA this time), and once they’re gone I’ll be hitting the digital airwaves to broadcast a classic (cult classic, at least) NES game: Power Blade by Taito. Join me at 5:30 p.m. ET (2:30 PT) for a look back at this cloniest of Mega Man clones, which I’ve always had a soft spot for. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s a totally solid 2D platform shooter with some enjoyable upgrade mechanics and that wonderful 8-bit Japanese trend of combining loopy weirdness with sci-fi futurism.

But that’s not all! 

Rather than focusing strictly on Power Blade, I’ll also be looking at its Famicom counterpart, Power Blazer. I’ve heard Power Blazer was wildly different from Power Blade (and generally not as refined), so I picked up a copy in Japan to discover simultaneously with you, my friends. We’ll start with the U.S. game before moving along to the Famicom original, because regression is apparently all the rage these days.

So please join me this fine afternoon for a stream of a fine game and some fine gin (gin optional). I’ll be streaming on YouTube per usual beginning at 5:30 p.m. ET.

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Filed under Gintendo, Video

Retronauts Pocket Episode 3: NES Accessories

Retronauts Pocket 3

We know that the games are what makes retro game appreciation, but for many of us, it wasn’t entirely the games that made an impression, but what we played them with. After all, monstrosities like R.O.B. and the Power Glove became much-discussed parts of NES history, though relatively few people actually owned them. On that note, this episode of Retronauts Pocket touches on NES accessories, with a focus on controllers or other direct-input peripherals such as the NES Advantage, NES Max, Power Pad, Acclaim’s wireless controllers, and several more. Of course, we couldn’t talk about everything (it’s Retronauts Pocket, after all), but hopefully we helped jog your memory a little. Thanks for listening, and look forward to more accessory episodes when I take the helm again.

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It’s here: Retronauts Vol. III Episode 1

retronauts-coverart-01

You pined for it, you paid for it, you’ve waited for it, and now the fruits upon the tree of our labor have ripened at last for you to pluck and savor. What I’m saying is that the first new episode of the Retronauts podcast is here. Acquire it through the delivery method of your preference:

Libsyn (1:27:56 | MP3 | 60.4 MB) | SoundCloud | YouTube (coming soon)

We’ll have an iTunes feed soon, but since we can’t use the old feed it’s a chicken-and-egg situation: We have to have episodes before Apple will list them. In the meantime, you can add the show yourself by going to iTunes’ File menu (the Advanced menu in pre-11 versions), selecting Subscribe to Podcast… and pasting in our Libsyn URL (http://retronauts.libsyn.com/rss). But basically, we ask that you be patient on the iTunes front; it moves a bit slowly, and the system is out of our hands.

Or you could just listen to it here, I guess.

This episode’s description:

“We’re back! By the power of crowdfunding! Retronauts launches a new season by marking the 30th anniversary of three crucial Japanese consoles: Famicom, SG-1000, and MSX. Featuring the voice of Chrontendo‘s Dr. Sparkle and a lovely new musical theme.”

This episode’s breakdown:

  • 0:00 | Introduction (feat. the new Retronauts theme by Anamanaguchi)
  • 6:31 | Musical Interlude: Final Fantasy V “Ahead on Our Way” (Nobuo Uematsu)
  • 7: 07 | Virtual Console lamentations celebrations
  • 20:40 | Musical Interlude: Balloon Fight theme (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)
  • 21: 15 | Classic revivals: Jajamaru-kun and Umihara Kawase
  • 27:52 | Musical Interlude: Umihara Kawase “Sea” (Shinji Tachikawa)
  • 28:28 | July 1983: The birth of Japanese console gaming
  • 59:15 | Musical Interlude: Faxanadu “title” (Jun Chikuma)
  • 59:44 | July 1983 continued
  • 1:15:23 | Musical Interlude: Hudson’s Adventure Island “Wild Plains” (Jun Chikuma)
  • 1:15:54 | Damn kids, get off our lawns!
  • 1:27:24 | Musical Outro: Wrecking Crew “title” (Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka)

Our new season (that’s what we’re calling this year’s worth of Kickstarted episodes, because there’s no cliché like a well-worn cliché) should largely be business as usual. Four people sit in a room and talk about old video games. However, we should bring to light a few differences of note.

Probably the biggest difference — one you won’t notice until our second episode — is that the host seat is now a rotating duty. I’m the lead voice this week, but our second episode will feature the vocal talents of M.C. Bob, and the third episode will see Ray as host (etc.). We’ve already recorded episode two (as well as the first two “mini” episodes, because we’re taking our commitment to maintain a weekly release schedule very seriously; this is a benefit of having a show run by three aggressively Type-A personalities driven by a nagging sense of guilt and duty) and already I can see the difference in Bob’s extremely meticulous approach to organizing a show and my looser, more extemporaneous style. Also, as promised, our 26 biweekly “main” episodes will be 60-to-90-minute productions right in line with the old podcasts (which, I should note, can still be gathered from 1UP.com for as long as Ziff-Davis leaves it up and running), while the “mini” episodes on off weeks will be shorter and more unusual. Our hope is that you’ll like some of them, if not all.

Anyway, back to this episode: You should regard this episode as a complement to the retrospective series I’ve been running over at my new gig, USgamer.net. They both cover the same material — namely, the near-simultaneous launch of three different game systems in July of 1983. As the U.S. console market was imploding, the Japanese market was only beginning to take shape, and the machines that launched in Japan that month would make an impact whose effects we still feel to this day. The prime mover of July 1983, of course, was the Nintendo Famicom (which would come to the U.S. as the NES) — but everyone always celebrates the debut of the Famicom. For this episode (and the articles on USgamer), I wanted to paint a bigger picture and put the Famicom’s launch into the perspective of its time by looking at its contemporary competition, the state of Japanese home gaming before its arrival, and why things shook out differently in Japan than the U.S. Hopefully this podcast will help shed a little light on the way things were, even if only to better appreciate the significance of what Nintendo managed to accomplish.

And, of course, you should also look to the first few episodes of our gracious guest host’s long-running Chrontendo project to get a sense of just what gaming was like in the summer of 1983. Enjoy the show, and happy listening/reading/viewing!

Supplemental content:

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