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An old Japanese video game console sits in my living room and I write things about it. Here.

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    Please stay tuned, Famicomblog will resume shortly.

    My blogging content has unfortunately fallen off to zero this month due to the perfect storm of being busy that has suddenly hit. I somewhat overextended myself and am now sadly working 7 days a week, a pace that will likely continue until well into next month. This has forced me to prioritize a few things and unfortunately this blog has fallen victim to that process.

    So please accept my apologies for the fact that Famicomblog will be experiencing a brief bit of down time for the next month or so.

    The good news is that this will only be temporary as once I have the mountain of work cleared off my desk I expect to have a relatively relaxed period after that, so the blog will return to normal quite quickly!

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  • 06/08/12--17:48: Exed Exes on Waikiki Beach
  • I was in Hawaii for a few days earlier this week. Unfortunately it was not a pleasure trip, but rather for business so I didn`t have much time to myself. I did manage to sneak in a few hours on Waikiki beach though.

    Before leaving Japan I thought it would be nice to bring one of my Famicom carts along for the trip. I wandered over to my Famicom cart shelf and for some reason Exed Exes just looked like the right cart to bring. Must be the yellow - reminds me of pineapples.

    Anyway, if any of you were wondering what a used Famicom cart would look like on Waikiki Beach, you now have your answer!

    Also, just as a matter of blog-related news, I should be getting back into regular posting in a couple of weeks. The end of my insanely busy time is coming into view...

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    Famicomblog is...almost back! One more week and I should be back to normal! In the meantime I thought I`d take an hour here to do an homage post to the Hard Off price tag blues which, as the title suggests, I got.

    It seems every hobby has its common annoyance that enthusiasts enjoy complaining about. For Famicom collectors resident in Japan far and away the biggest of these has to be the Hard Off price tags. You can find some really great deals in those shops, but when you get your stuff home you always have to deal with the Hard Off price tag blues. They use the most ridiculously adhesive price tags in the world.  They are a massive pain in the ass to get off. And they always put them directly on the cart!! Heaven forbid that you should find some good CIB stuff at one of those shops because it will have one of these price tags directly on the box and it WILL remove part of the surface of the box when you take it off.

    Let me show you what I`m talking about. Take this copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 3 for the Mega Drive I got at one a while back at a Hard Off here in town:
    105 yen is a good deal, but that price tag? Here is how it goes. Step 1: Start at one of the corners:
    That gets about 10% of it off:
    Step 2: Have a go at the opposite corner:
    Now you`ve got kind of a V shape going there:
    And Repeat:
    And Repeat:
    Until you have a cart that is mostly clean:
    And a pile of sticky little price tag remnants to dispose of:
    2 hours well spent.

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    Went to Mandarake two days ago. Looked in their glass case. Saw the above. Price was reasonable.

    So, you know, I was all like:
    Puck Man! Woo yeah!

    This is one of those little bits of gaming history I have been looking to snag for the longest time. As every retro game collector with a penchant for useless trivia (ie every retro game collector) knows, Puck Man was the original name given to Pac Man.

    When they discovered the ease with which the `P` in Puck could be turned into an `F` by 1980s kids with their devilish (dare I say?) senses of humor, they hastily changed the name to Pac Man.

    So I don`t think it was ever known as Puck Man in North America, but for a short time that was the name of the game in Japan.

    It is very hard to find physical remnants of this little quirk in the history of Pac Man, in fact my new Tomy handheld is the first time I have seen anything with Puck Man on it. By the time the game was released on the Famicom here it had already adopted the new name so I don`t think there are any other home game releases with the Puck Man title.
    It was pretty cheap owing to the fact that it did not come with the box (which would have been a nice touch but I`m not complaining). I ran straight from Mandarake to the 100 yen shop to pick up some batteries and was really pleased to find that it works perfectly.

    For an early 1980s handheld it is a pretty good game. You have two settings, amateur and pro. I`ve only tried amateur. Basically it is Pac Man only the screen isn`t the same as in the arcade or console versions and you don`t have the same range of movements. The sound effects are awesome though, it plays the Pac Man tune when you turn it on. Music to my ears. Literally.
    Controls are pretty simple.

    I love everything about this actually. The design is perfect. It actually looks a bit like Pac Man...er I mean Puck Man. It also looks somewhat like a microwaveable container with buttons. But, you know, in a good way.

    A very nice addition to my growing handheld collection:)

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  • 06/29/12--18:13: Kung Fu Fighting!!
  • Kung who?  Kung FU!

    Despite being insanely busy over the past two months I was nonetheless able to make a few acquisitions to my precious Famicom collection that I would now like to post in a boastful manner about.

    About a month ago I was able to wheel and deal with the always excellent fredj on Famicom World for the above copy of Kung Fu!

    I have been wanting a copy of that one for a long time but it is pretty crazy expensive here.  They have a minty CIB copy of it at Mandarake in town here for 63,000 yen (about $750 US), which is way out of my price range.  This was a slightly beat up cart only copy which allowed it to fall within my trading budget.

    As you can note from the above photo, Kung Fu is very similar to Spartan X.  That is because it is Spartan X, just with a different name.   There is a bit of a history as to why this game was released with two names.  Here is the story as I have been able to gather from my surfing of the Japanese Famicom related internet.

    Spartan X is the Japanese name of the Jackie Chan movie Wheels on Meals, which was a big hit here in 1984:

    The game was released in conjunction with the film and thus had the same name.  This, I should note, came as news to me.  I had always assumed Spartan X/ Kung Fu was based on Bruce Lee`s Game of Death because....well because it IS Game of Death.  You use kung fu to fight an army of villains from floor to floor up a Chinese looking building to the boss at the top.  Exact same thing.

    Anyway, whatever.  It is based on Wheels on Meals and not Game of Death.  No big whoop.

    Nobody out there seems exactly sure about this, but it is the considered opinion of Japanese bloggers that Nintendo only had a license to use the film`s name for a limited time.  When it expired they switched the name of the game from Spartan X to Kung Fu, the same name the NES release was given.

    I`m speculating here, but since this name change probably came late in the release`s lifespan they must have only sold a handful of copies with the Kung Fu name, hence the present rarity of that version.  Except for the title screen it is basically the same game.


    In preparation to write this post I actually tracked down a copy of the movie Spartan X to see what it was like. It is kind of.....strange.  Jackie Chan plays Thomas who, along with Sammo Hung and Yuen Biao, are pitted against a bunch of bad guys who also know Kung Fu.  Sylvia in the film isn`t actually Thomas`s girlfriend.  Thomas and all of the `good guys` in the film seem to be bizarrely chaste virgins who have no obvious motivation to want to help Sylvia, a prostitute/ theif who stole all their money and doesn`t seem to have any sexual interest in any of them.

    If you avoid trying to make any sense of the plot or characters though it does stand out as one of those so bad it is good movies. Lots of 80s style kung fu kicking and that sort of stuff.  Sylvia does get kidnapped and Thomas and friends do actually have to fight their way through an army of kung fu bad guys to rescue her at the end so there is some similarity with the game, though all this takes place in Spain for some reason.  There is a lot of humor throughout, some translates well, a lot does not.  Still worth a viewing though!

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    The above is probably the last photo that will ever be taken of Omocha Souko, my favorite game shop ever, which sadly closed in April. Within a few days all that will be left of that massive beautiful complex will be a vacant lot waiting to have a new pachinko parlor built on it.
    Now check this out, the latest dental clinic in town. Open 7 days a week. Located in Ropponmatsu within easy walking distance of the subway station.
    Er....why am I showing you a picture of a dental clinic?

    Well, I actually went out to Ropponmatsu yesterday specifically because I was nearby and there was a retro game shop that I wanted to do a post about. I hadn`t been there in a couple of years, but the last time I visited they had a decent little Famicom game selection that I thought would provide good material for some photos.

    Only when I got there yesterday I found that sometime during the last two years that the little game shop had closed down and been replaced with a dental clinic.

    These two closures don`t seem to be isolated incidents but part of a growing trend of retro game store closures. No sooner had I posted about Omocha Souko`s closure than a reader alerted me to the fact that they had also closed their Maebaru store (out in the west end of Fukuoka) a year or two earlier. That was a surprise as I had visited that place once (without camera, hence no post about it here) and found it to have an excellent Famicom selection. Also as I reported in 2010 all of the GEO locations in Fukuoka, most of which used to have really good selections of Famicom and other retro games, completely liquidated all of their retro games and now only stock current (post-PS2) stuff.

    I`m not the only one to notice this, Hollis on Super Gaijin Ultra Gamer also reported a couple months ago that his favorite retro game shop was getting out of the business.

    While all these closures have been going on, no new shops have been opening up to take their place, meaning that it is getting harder and harder to find retro games `in the wild` here. Not impossible as there are still a good number of shops out there, but the herd is being thinned at an alarming rate.

    I`m not sure what the immediate cause of this is. Internet sales providing too much competition? Maybe. Bad economy? Probably. People losing interest in the Famicom and retro gaming? NEVER!

    Anyway, I hope the trend reverses itself. In all likelihood I was a little spoiled for a couple of years there between 2008 and 2010 when this city was awash with shops selling Famicom stuff. There may have been more than the market could handle. Kind of like the way in the early 1990s in North America every city breifly had about 50 baseball card and comic book shops, almost all of which suddenly went out of business by about 1995 or so. Well, I HOPE it isn`t that bad as I need these shops to be around, they are the lifeblood of my collection!

    Anybody else out there in Japan noticed a similar trend of retro game shop closures? Or, I hope, openings?

    Edited July 4 to add:  Found yet another retro game shop that has bitten the dust yesterday.

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    Famicom Collection
    A few days ago I went from working 7 days a week and going almost 2 months without taking a day off to suddenly finding myself with some free time on my hands.  This allowed me to catch up on some much-needed Famicom collection housekeeping.

    I had a little disaster late last year in which my paper checklist that I had been using to keep track of the collection disappeared under mysterious circumstances. I don`t want to alarm anyone but I believe it was stolen by members of a super secret wing of the Swiss Guards under the personal direction of the Pope who ordered its destruction due to the fact that, owing to an amazing coincidence, the series of Famicom carts I owned would, if you used the third letter of each game title in order by date of release, spell out a message that would lead one to a secret stash of evidence in the Vatican`s vaults that proved that Jesus and Mary Magdelaine had sired offspring the linear descendants of which are still alive and currently employed as hair stylists in Tom Cruise`s entourage (though Katie may gain possession of some of them in their divorce settlement).

    So anyway, a big thing on my `to do` list ever since has been to re-create my collection checklist so that I could know which games I needed and which I had.  Back when I had 200-300 games this was no problem since I could easily remember which ones I had.  When you get up over the 700 mark though it becomes much harder, especially with the endless supply of sports and Mahjong games with almost the same name that never get played. `Pachi-pro 5?  I think I have Pachi-pro 3 and 4 but 5?` is the type of conversation I am always having with myself at game shops when I spot a game I might need.

    Anyway, yesterday I finally had a couple hours to devote to tackling this.  Instead of using another paper checklist I decided to use RF Generation, which allows you to create a database of your own collection.  I recently joined the message boards over there and was given a friendly welcome by their resident Famicom collector, Duke Togo. It is a pretty good site for retro game collectors.   This is my official Famicom collection checklist..

    If you have a collection I recommend using RF Generation, it is quite user friendly and easy to make your own database.  According to mine I have 727 different Famicom games.  There are a few that I couldn`t find on their database (this is a constant problem with English checklists, not everyone romanizes the names of Japanese games the same so some of them can be hard to match up on a checklist) so the actual size of my collection is a bit more than that, but its pretty close.  Looks like I have a little more than 300 carts to go to finish!

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    Kitakyushu`s Mandarake is in there
    Yesterday I had a few hours and decided to do something I have never done before: make a trip to another city specifically to check out their Famicom related shops.

    This was partly inspired by a sign I saw recently at Mandarake advertising the opening of their new shop in Kitakyushu, which is just an hour away by train.  So yesterday morning I headed off to the nearest JR station and got on board a train headed to Kokura, which is the main station in Kitakyushu.

    The ride was kind of nice, I don`t take the train too often in Kyushu but when I lived in the Kansai area back in the late 90s/early 00s I used to take it all the time.  Made me a little nostialigic for those days.  Especially when I got off the train at Kokura at around noon and was greeted with such a stereotypical Japanese train station image: a throng of salary men eating noodles at a platform kiosk.
    Salary men in Kysuhu love that Udon
    The new Mandarake is located just north of Kokura station in a building called Aru Aru City (a picture of the building is at the top of this post).  If you are big into nerd stuff this building might be worth the trip alone, it is 7 floors of nothing but Otaku stuff.  The top couple of floors are a manga museum.
    Personally I have absolutely zero interest in anime, manga, cosplay and all of that other stuff.  I wandered around a bit but just didn`t have any interest in anything.  I like vintage video games and some vintage toys but that is about it, so after a few minutes I decided to just head straight to Mandarake on the fourth floor:

    Unfortunately the Kokura Mandarake, like the Fukuoka Mandarake, has a strict no-photos-in-the-store policy with signs to that effect everywhere, so the above photo taken at the entrance is all I got.

    It is a pretty decent store though.  It is smaller than the Fukuoka Mandarake, but not too much smaller.  This was what I expected since Kitakyushu itself is a bit smaller than Fukuoka, but not too much smaller.

    They had a pretty decent selection of retro games in there, so if you are in Kitakyushu it is definitely worth taking a look.  I would have loved to have been able to take some photos, I have no idea why they don`t allow it, I mean it is effectively free advertising for them if bloggers like me put photos of their stuff up.  Anyway.

    I picked up a few things there, not too much but I found a few neat odds and ends that I will devote some future posts too. 

    After finishing with Mandarake I headed to the south side of Kokura station.  Before the trip I had done some research using google maps to try to find a few other shops that, like Mandarake, might have some decent Famicom or other retro gaming stuff.  I did this mainly by typing in key words like `Famicom` or `game shop` in Japanese while the map was centred on Kokura.  I was able to find only two places in the station area that seemed promising.

    The first was this Book Off:
    It is about a ten minute walk south of the station.  I had actually already visited this Book Off in 2008 shortly after I arrived in Japan and the wife and I had a few hours to kill in Kokura for some reason.  This is actually the shop where I bought my very fist Famicom.  I remember it clearly, it was such a bargain at only 1250 yen with all the cables and stuff that I just had to get it.  Good times.

    For retro game collectors, as I have said before, Book Offs are very hit and miss.  In my experience about 70-80% of them don`t have any retro games at all and of the few that do they usually have a poor selection or high prices.

    This one, however, still has a decent if small selection and quite reasonable prices:
      
     I ended up dropping about 5000 yen there, mainly on CIB games that I already owned loose but kind of wanted CIB copies of.  The prices were pretty decent, about 20-50% less on average than what Mandarake here in Fukuoka wanted for the ones I got so I thought I might as well splurge!


    After Book Off I had one more shop that seemed the most tantalizing and promising just based on its name: Famicom World!!  I did a little research on this one and found a little information here which indicated that they did stock retro games.  They also had this awesome looking photo of the store front, which really got me excited:
     
     I had a map on hand with the exact location and address marked down.  It was a bit of a hike to get there through some not-very-attractive cityscape, but after about 20 minutes I arrived at the spot where it should have been.

    Only trouble was I couldn`t find any store named Famicom World.  I walked up and down the block a couple of times trying to figure it out (Japanese addresses are nowhere near as simple as Western ones so it isn`t just a case of looking for the number on the building).

    Then my eyes struck upon this:

     NOOOO!!!  If you look closely you can see the outline in katakana of the words `Famicom` and `World` up there, along with the winged-globe mascot visible in the above photo.  In keeping with the trend of retro game shops going out of business that I noted on here only a few days ago, Famicom World is no more!

    So that was a big disappointment and brought my Famicom hunt to an abrupt end.  I`m sure there are a lot of other Famicom shops in Kitakyushu, in fact I know there is a Manga Souko location somewhere in the suburbs up there, but since I was forced by time constraints to stay near the station I unfortunately couldn`t check them out. 

    Happily though I did have my hauls from Mandarake and Book Off to console me on the train ride home, so it was a pretty decent day despite the anti-climax of Famicom World!

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    Every once in a while I like to see what Famicom stuff is going for on Ebay. Because my Ebay searches automatically filter the results with the highest priced stuff at the top I get to see what the most expensive Famicom thing on Ebay is at any given moment.


    At the moment it is this, the above CIB copy of Metal Gear for the Famicom. The price? But it Now for $19,999.95.

    To put that in perspective, Mandarake in Tokyo put an entire set of Famicom carts - all 1051 of them - on sale for about $7000 three years ago. So in other words you could either buy EVERY Famicom game ever made almost 3 times over or you could buy just Metal Gear.

    The reason it is so expensive is because, according to the listing, it is:

    ¨85+ Qualified NM+ Gold from the Video Game Authority¨

    I know, I think so too. This is my copy of the exact same game:
    I paid about $15 for it. Admittedly that is a bit cheaper than average but still, if you walk into Mandarake you could easily walk out with a decent looking CIB copy of Metal Gear for $40 tops. Just the shipping on this one alone (to Japan at least) is more than three times that (no kidding, $143.92 according to the shipping calculator).

    As a collector I understand why condition is important. What I don`t understand is why anyone would pay THAT much of a premium for such a common game just because it is in near mint condition. I could sort of see some rich guy shelling out that much for one of those hyper rare Atari 2600 games that there are only like 14 copies of in the world, but for Metal Gear on the Famicom?

    Since the grossly inflated price for this game is obviously 100% driven by obsession with condition, this raises a question for me: as a collector, what condition does it make sense to collect games in?

    Personally I like to have reasonable looking copies of stuff but not mint stuff. Mint stuff sucks. You have to pay more for it AND you can`t enjoy it because once you have it all you are allowed to do with it is worry about keeping it in mint condition.

    I generally prefer stuff that is in mid-range condition. Used but not abused.Like my copy of Metal Gear up there. I have no functional need for the box but I kind of wanted it anyway because it looks kind of cool. The one I have is a little beat up - its got rounded corners and a couple of dings here and there. But nothing so bad that it ruins the box`s visual appeal. The picture is still clear and it isn`t missing anything so I`m happy. Why in god`s name would I, or anyone even remotely sane, want to spend an extra $19,985 for the exact same thing just without the dings? I mean, I understand that in a collector:s market mint stuff should be worth more, but that much more? Really?

    Same with carts. I actually kind of like carts that are in destroyed condition but for my `official collection` I just basically want ones with a decent looking front label and no major damage. Other than that I don`t care: scuff marks, kids names written on the backs, scratches - its all good.

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    Part of my love for the Famicom is probably dervied from the fact that there are a lot of Famicom games based on 80s movies, which I love. These generally fall into a few categories:

    Good movies made into good video games: The Empire Strikes Back, Die Hard, Batman, Gremlins 2, The Goonies, etc.

    Good movies made into bad video games: Ghostbusters

    So-so sequels that were made into good video games: Ghostbusters 2

    Terrible movies that you cannot believe were made into video games: Hudson Hawk, Iron Eagle 3

    Movies that don`t exist but were made into decent video games anyway: Goonies 2

    Good movies that were made into bizarre video games: Predator

    I`m probably missing a few categories and games in there but you get the general idea. Despite the great number of movie tie-in video games released on the Famicom (and NES) there were still a ton of great 80s movies that never had video game versions made of them back in the day. I`ve here put together my top ten list of great 80s movies that would have made for great Famicom (or other 8 bit system) games but, sadly, never were. In no particular order:


    1. The Naked Gun

    The whole game should just be based on that opening sequence where Frank Drebin takes on the Ayatollah, Idi Amin, Arafat, Ghadafi, Gorbachev and all those other bad guys. Tranquilizing an overweight woman in mom jeans onto Reggie Jackson would also make a very good challenge bonus stage.


    2. Romancing the Stone/ Jewel of the Nile

    Both of these would have made awesome platformers. A lot of people prefer Romancing the Stone but I`ve always had a soft spot for the sequel.


    3. The Burbs

    Probably the most under-rated movie ever made. They could make this a cooperative platformer in which the main characters snoop on the Klopeks while trying to avoid admonitions from their wives. Bonus points when you get Corey Feldman to cheer you on. Also whenever you lose a life the game should say `There go the god damn brownies`.

    4. Police Academy 2The showdown at the Old Zoo with Bobcat Goldthwait`s gang would make an awesome level in any game.


    5. Arthur 2

    Just to demonstrate that even Dudley Moore`s worst movie would still make a good video game.

    6. The Ice Pirates


    This would work as either an RPG or an action platformer game. Angelica Houston`s best role to date.

    7. My Dinner with Andre
    An existential discource between Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory over dinner at a fine restaurant? Need I say more? Hours of RPG fun in there.


    8. Ferris Bueller`s Day Off


    This one is too easy and requires no explanation. Rooney as the final boss?

    9. Commando

    I know that they made a game for the NES called Commando (and for the Famicom), but I don`t think it was based on this movie. I say this because at no point in that game do you get to play with one of those rocket launchers that is, like, four rocket launchers. In one!! This totally needs to be in a game.

    10. The Breakfast Club
    Two John Hughes movies in one list? It is a bit gratuitous, but a game with Dick Vernon as the final boss would be pretty cool.

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    The craziest thing ever on Ebay: a video game auction with a million Euro buy it now price that might actually be worth it. Well, its hard to measure how much something like this is actually worth, a million might be a stretch but its definitely worth way more money than I have.

    The guy has a full set of Famicom games, both cart and FDS, all CIB! Plus full sets of about 20 other systems all CIB - Super Famicom, Mega Drive, PC Engine, etc etc. I`ve never seen a collection that extensive before. If only I was rich....ah, but its funner to collect these things bit by bit rather than getting them in one shot. Still, massively impressive, I wonder who the seller is...

    Cheers to Famicom no Neta for first reporting this!

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    I was reminded recently of one of the other great things about Japanese game shops: the customer service is incredible.

    As I recently posted about, last week I went to Kitakyushu to do some game shopping. One of the things I picked up at the Mandarake there was a loose Sega Mark III console.

    The console was in their glass case right next to another old, obscure console - the Bandai Playdia. The cables for each console were in plastic bags seperate from the console.

    After returning home the next day I decided to plug in the Mark III to test out a Sega My Card game that I had also purchased. Only when I went to plug it in I discovered this:
    A Bandai Playdia AC adaptor!! The horror!

    It was a pretty simple and honest mistake, when the staff member took out the Mark III console he accidentally grabbed the Playdia`s cables instead of the Mark III`s.

    If this had happened at the Mandarake here in town it wouldn`t have been a problem as I could just go in and exchange it. Since it happened at the one in Kitakyushu though I sure wasn`t going to spend the time and money it took to get out there just for some cables.

    So I looked up their website, found an email address for the Kokura store and sent them an email explaining the situation and asking if they could do anything.

    Shortly thereafter I received a lengthy and apologetic email with a promise to mail the Mark III cables right to me.

    Actions of course speak louder than words and sure enough, the VERY NEXT DAY a delivery man arrived at my door with the cable! They had gone to the expense of sending it courier rather than regular mail!

    When I opened the box not only did it have the cables well-packaged in tons of bubble wrap (pictured above) but it also included a one-page letter of apology. This wasn`t a form letter either but one that had been personally written to me by one of the store`s staff.
    Gotta love the customer service here. If this had happened in North America I can`t imagine the difficulty I would have had in getting this sorted out.

    So that is another big thumbs up for Mandarake!

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    The above is how I have decided to pimp my ride. Yoshi style. Old school.

    When I walked into a convenience store a few weeks back I discovered that the beverage companies were doing another one of their promotional giveaways. Buy a bottle of tea and you get a Super Mario 3D Land toy:
    They do this sort of thing sometimes and it is always awesome. The best was the Famicom themed Mario bottlecaps they did a few years ago, but this one is also acceptable.

    Normally I don`t drink this kind of tea, but for the duration of this giveaway I have decided to do so. It is impossible to resist. I mean, look at the above photo. Three kinds of tea. The kinds on the left and right come with nothing but tea. The one in the middle comes with tea and a little plastic toy. They are all the same price. They are all varations of the same thing (really bland Japanese tea). Which one would you pick?

    I have about a dozen of them now, all of them characters from some 3DS game that I will probably never play.

    I chose Yoshi to be the masthead for my bicycle, mainly because he is yellow and so is my bike. Also he is in a running pose so it is sort of like he is running ahead of me while I ride. We`ll see how long he manages to stay there before the little chain rusts through and he falls off.

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  • 07/11/12--19:26: Sega My Card: Hero
  • One of the things that I picked up on my recent trip to Mandarake was my first Sega My Card. The game is simply called Hero. It is a pretty good game, Simon over on Red Parsley did a mini-review of it (along with a few other SG 1000 games) that is worth checking out here.

    Technically this is an SG-1000 game, but it can also be played on the Mark III. I have both so its no biggy, but I tried it out on my Mark III for a few minutes. I love the graphics. Very cool.What I love most though is the box it came in. Sega My Cards I think have the best box design of any retro game out there. The cards are about the same size as PC Engine HU cards, but they didn`t use those boring CD cases. They went cardboard, which I love. It is like a little book that you open up and you are presented with the game and its manual:
    The cover art on Hero is really great too, in fact it is one of the main things that attracted me to it. At only 525 yen (about $7) it was a really good deal, mainly because the box is pretty worn out, but I don`t care much about that. The cover still looks good and that is enough for me.

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    I finally did it. After years of procrastinating the closure of Omocha Souko finally forced my hand: I got myself a Yahoo Japan Auctions account.

    The fact that I no longer have a decent Famicom store nearby has been a bit of a bummer. If I want games I now have to travel long distances to get to the nearest shops, which can be a brutally antagonizing experience if, upon arrival, you find that the shop doesn`t have anything that you want (which seems to be happening more and more these days). When you, say, ride your bike for nearly an hour to that Hard Off location way out in the suburbs only to find boxes full of stuff like this:
    It can be quite disheartening (fellow Hard Off junk bin lurkers nod in agreement).

    So I`ve been faced with the hard reality that if I want to continue my collecting at its previous Omocha-Souko induced pace (which is like collecting Famicom stuff on Jose Canseco levels of steroids) I would need to do something drastic. That something was getting off my ass and making a serious effort to figure out how to use Yahoo Auctions.

    Ebay is not a big thing in Japan, Yahoo is the dominant player for online auctions over here. The basics are the same, but there are some details that are different. Obviously it is all in Japanese. Also you have to pay to become a full `premium` member, 346 yen (about 5$) a month. You can sign up for a regular account free of charge but you are limited to bidding on stuff under 5000 yen, meaning that even if you only buy one thing over that a month it is probably worth it to get the premium account, which I did.


    I have been spending a ton of time on there because there is just so much Famicom stuff, a lot of it selling for quite reasonable prices, it is like having Mandarake in my living room. Like the title says, this has been way better than losing my actual virginity. Well, actually it has been quite similar in some ways - lots of awkward fumbling around at first until I familiarized myself with all the accepted protocols, the instillment of a conviction that this is an activity I would like to engage in on a regular basis, conflicted emotional responses and so on. In other ways though it is quite different: there is very little chance that my Yahoo Auction account will end in a messy break up that results in me getting beaten with an umbrella for example.

    I signed up about a week ago and I`ve already spent way more than I can afford on stuff. Like, no kidding, I have bought about 600 Famicom games this week. I need help, I just cannot stop bidding on stuff! Argh!

    Well, I should get some perspective here. It is good but its got its downsides too. Like Ebay the prices are hit and miss, people price gouge here too. But the auction stuff (rather than the Buy it Now stuff) can go for pretty decent prices, at least if you buy in large lots.

    The upsides I think outweigh the downsides. Because almost everyone uses Japan Post transfers for payment there is no 3.9% paypal fee to deal with like on Ebay. Shipping is crazy efficient and cheap too, I`ve already started receiving stuff (like the box at the top of this page) that I only won 2 or 3 days ago.

    And getting a box full of 100 Famicom carts in the mail is friggin` great.

    Sniping also seems to be less of a problem as I found in one competetive auction that I eventually won. If someone outbids you at the last minute they extend the auction for a few minutes so you can respond (as can the other guy). I would have been sniped on one lot had it been on Ebay but after upping our bids by about a thousand yen I eventually won it.

    Anyway, I`m going to be doing some posts about my new acquisitions because I`ve gotten some cool collection additions either here or on the way!

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    Some new `pieces` for my collection: the first four games Namcot released for the Famicom complete in box!
    I`ve been wanting to get a set of the first 18 Namcot releases (they are numbered) complete in box ever since Bryan over on the Gay Gamer picked up a few of them a couple years back, the pictures he put up just knocked me out. I love the boxes on these, they hit all the right buttons for me: small, cardboard, colorful and with great, evocative imagery on the front.

    I already had a couple from this series CIB but they are in the kind of `B-grade` level of games - stuff like Star Luster and Pro Wrestling. These ones however include Pac Man, the one I wanted the most! YES!

    I found these on Yahoo Auction in part of a larger lot of boxed games. They set me back quite a bit, but I was massively impressed when I received them. Most of the other games in the lot were in beat up condition but these Namco ones are like new:
    They only have some tiny wear on the flaps but other than that they are in perfect condition and look like they could have come directly off a department store shelf from 1984. The photos in the auction weren`t close up so I wasn`t expecting them to be this nice. In fact I was in a bit of a panic when I realized how beautiful they were as these are way too good to just casually toss on a random shelf with the rest of my games where they will get all wrinkled up (what I normally do with games). I had to empty out a plastic bin to put them in for safe keeping.

    So my collection now has some showy mint stuff in it. I will not be putting these into hard plastic containers for disply or anything, but I will be keeping them in that plastic bin until I find some safe way of storing them.

    Next on my wantlist for this series are Battle City, Warpman, Sky Kid and Burger Time - all of which have awesome cover art. And are probably going to cost me a bit of $$.

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    As I have alluded to in previous posts, I have been doing a lot of shopping on Yahoo Auctions recently. I`ve been buying mainly stuff in larger lots since the per-cart cost is pretty cheap when you do that. The only downside being that you end up with a lot of mahjong games.

    Usually the lots I bid on will have a crown jewel or two that is what I am mainly after. One lot I got recently had the above CIB copy of Crisis Force as its piece de resistance.

    Crisis Force is a shoot-em up developed by Konami. It is a massively popular game among Famicom collectors for three reasons. First, it was only released in Japan. Second, it is awesome. Third, since it came out towards the end of the Famicom`s lifetime they didn`t sell too many, making it, if not super-rare, at least hard to come by.

    I already had a loose copy, but I thought a CIB one for a good price would make a nice addition to my collection so I got it. I did get a pretty good deal on it, but when I received it I discovered that someone else at one point had gotten an even better deal on it:
    Its a little annoying when good games have price tags right on their precious cardboard boxes like that. What makes this most interesting though is the price, 380 yen is only about 5$.

    Just for comparison, I did a quick Ebay search. The cheapest CIB copy of Crisis Force I could find had a BIN price of $128.88. The cheapest loose copy I could find had a starting bid of $49. It is, in other words, one of the more expensive Famicom games out there. Not quite gold Punch Out expensive but getting close.

    Unfortunately the price tag doesn`t have the store`s name on it as I would love to go there for some browsing if this is what they price things at. In all likelihood though this price tag is probably 15 years old and predates the development of a collector market for this game. Mandarake in town for example has a CIB copy going for about 80$, so it is usually an expensive game in Japan too (though not quite as expensive as Ebay).

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    One of my recent Yahoo Auction purchases was the above little footnote in the Famicom`s history, the Sharp Donkey Kong Jr/ Donkey Kong Math multicart.

    This is a pretty hard cart to find but it has an interesting place in Famicom cart history. This was never sold individually but came as the pack-in cart with the Sharp Famicom TV, a TV that came with a Famicom built into it (in other words the most amazing TV ever made).

    Since I already have both of the games I mainly just wanted this for its interest value. Its a real conversation piece. Well, actually no I suppose it isn`t. I don`t think I`ve ever had a conversation about Famicom collecting with anyone before, save online.

    There weren`t a huge number of Sharp Famicom TVs made so these carts are among the harder to find ones out there and usually retail for about 3,000 yen (40$) or so.

    I suspect that the creation of this multicart may have been the result of Sharp getting the license for Donkey Kong Math, then suddenly realizing that nobody would ever buy the TV if it only came with Donkey Kong Math. They then entered some marathon all night negotiations with the folks at Nintendo, begging them to let them include a real game - ANY real game - alongside the crappy one that no kid ever wanted to play. Nintendo eventually gave way and let them add Donkey Kong Jr to the cart.

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    My interest in pre-Famicom vintage Nintendo stuff began a couple of years ago when I found a boxed Electro Safari SP light gun target set from 1970 on a shelf at the now-defunct Omocha Souko.

    It was further piqued when Erik V started his absolutely amazing Before Mario blog in which he introduced to the English speaking web his amazing collection of pre-Famicom Nintendo stuff. That blog is cool not just because it allows him to showcase his personal collection, but also because it is pretty much the only comprehensive resource on this rather interesting subject out there. Even in Japanese there isn`t anything comparable.

    So over the past couple of years I`ve been slowly picking up little pieces here and there wherever I can find them. Unfortunately most of the stuff is hard to find and expensive when you do.

    So I was pretty excited last week when I stumbled upon the above item on Yahoo Auctions: a complete Nintendo N&B Leisure House Block Set!
    Back in the 60s Nintendo released its N & B block series, which were very similar to Lego sets. The Leisure House (what a name) was released in 1968 as the instruction manual shows:
    It came with a pretty cool full color booklet that included various instructions for making stuff other than the leisure house with the bricks:
    This one I got is not only complete, its still sealed:
    44 years and still nobody has put this house together. Normally I think nothing of opening sealed stuff but when it is something this old and hard to find....I`m not sure what I will do about that little layer of plastic.

    I absolutely love this thing. I was a big Lego fan when I was a kid and even though this is a few years before my time it still reminds me of some of the sets I had as a kid in the early 80s.

    These old Nintendo Block sets are pretty hard to find. I have never seen one `in the wild`, even at Mandarake which has a huge selection of vintage toys. Since I bought this one there are now a grand total of zero of them on Yahoo Japan Auctions. Interestingly there is a seller on Ebay who specializes in old Nintendo stuff and is offering the same set here for $399. I did get into a small bidding war on mine and I did pay quite a bit for it, but not that much. I really have no idea how much these things are actually worth, they don`t seem to come up often enough to get a good feel for what they usually go for.

    Anyway, I now have yet another `holy grail` for my collection that, unfortunately, I have no adequate way of displaying properly. Someday we are getting ourselves a bigger place if for no other reason than to store all this stuff:)

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    I think I need help, I`ve been buying stuff like crazy on Yahoo Auctions for the past month. There is just too much good stuff to stay away.

    The latest piece of vintage Japanese retro gear to arrive on my doorstep all the way from Osaka is the above Epoch TV Vader console, complete in box.

    I have wanted one of these for a really long time but I have never been able to find one in the wild. When I found this on Yahoo I entered a pretty low bid not expecting to win, but was pleasantly surprised when I did!

    I`ve mentioned on here before that in the late 70s and early 80s Epoch was Nintendo`s main competitor in the Japanese home gaming market. When Nintendo was releasing its Color TV Game 15 and other consoles with single games hardwired into it, Epoch was doing the same.

    TV Vader was released in 1980 and, as you can probably deduce from both the name and packaging, contains a Space Invaders type game.
    I just plugged this sucker in and it works great. The TV Vader doesn`t exactly have a Space Invaders game, but rather a close copy. Everything is the same except for the number of enemy ships coming at you and the fact that every time you shoot them instead of exploding you just knock them further up the screen. After you`ve shot an enemy five times he finally explodes.
    Its a pretty cool variant on Space Invaders and there are four different levels of varying difficulty.

    The main reason I wanted this wasn`t for the ability to play Space Invaders per se, but because of how cool the console itself looks:
    Joystick and Missile button. The controls could not be simpler, or cooler. The best part though is that artwork on the top with `TV Vader` and a bunch of space invaders on it. This is a very interesting blip in the history of video game console design as it is one of the few that actually put artwork beyond the console`s logo directly onto the console.

    `TV Vader` is also an amazing name for a console.

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