Retro Video Game Finds III
by Salvatore Pane
I had an epiphany last month. I’ve been collecting Nintendo Entertainment System games for eight years now–longer than the amount of time I actually owned the NES as a kid–and what do I have to show for it? A little over 200 NES games plus an assortment of random SNES, N64, Atari 2600, Sega Saturn, and Intellivision titles. No more! I am rededicating myself to collecting all 700+ NES games in existence! I will transform myself into the greatest NES collector of all time!
This was one of my all time cheapest finds. I picked up Hydlide, Othello, Shadowgate, Slalom, and City Connection for $1 a piece and Rampart for $2.50. Hydlide and Slalom are virtually unplayable, but Shadowgate is a fun, if archaic, point and click adventure. City Connection is completely worth it for the absurdity alone–you drive around on a construction site in front of the World Trade Center killing cops; if you run over a cat you die instantly. And Rampart, of course, is an adequate port of the arcade classic. I found these all at the Ross Park Exchange, and the true gem of the haul was the Sega Saturn Stunner gun for $2.50! I paid $15 for my first Saturn gun–but what’s the fun in playing Virtua Cop with only one player–and was ecstatic to find this one for so cheap. They actually thought it was a Sega Genesis gun! What a bunch of maroons! However, when I got this bad boy home, it wouldn’t work at all. I tried it in both controller ports and was almost ready to add it to my two other recently purchased Saturn pads that didn’t work, but luckily, my pal Kevin Tassini came to the rescue.
We discovered some strange things when Kevin opened the gun. Someone had tried to use electrical tape to reconnect the circuit board, and weirder still, they taped a bunch of Japanese batteries inside that leaked acid all over the plastic casing. Kevin took the gun home and using some sort of Olde Timey Math Magic was able to repair the Saturn Stunner. Our reward was seven unfulfilling minutes playing Virtua Cop.
This holy grail of a video game is one of the rarest titles in the NES library, The Miracle Piano System. I was really shocked to discover this in the Dormont Exchange retailing for only $8. For some reason, they separated the game from the peripheral you need to play it, a full-sized keyboard that connects to your NES. The game teaches you how to play piano–basically it was a trick some parents pulled to make kids think they were getting a Nintendo game, but really it was edutainment. They were selling the piano for $100, but I was more than happy to take the game off their hands. I’m not going for a complete NES accessory collection. I just want all the games loose. I have no clue why they would separate the game and piano, however, as the only people who would buy it now are resellers or people who already own the cart loose.
I haven’t found much in flea markets or thrift stores in the past few months, but I’ve been killing it in the retail stores. Let’s talk about my baby, Rockin’ Kats, first. Rockin’ Kats is the last game that I fondly remembered from childhood that I hadn’t managed to track down. I’m 233 deep into my collection. I have the games I loved as a kid, and now I’m down to finding rare titles, which are most often brutally terrible. I played Rockin’ Kats for the first time in 1990 at my friend Joseph’s house. He rented it for a sleepover, and I was blown away. You play as a rockabilly kat who goes around shooting puppies with a gun that fires boxing gloves. WHAT ELSE DO YOU PEOPLE NEED? I normally NEVER spend this much on a Nintendo game, but I’ve been collecting for eight years, and I’d never even seen a copy of Rockin’ Kats in the wild. I gladly paid $12 at the Monroeville Exchange along with $2.50 each for Caesar’s Palace–pretty self-explanatory–and Short Order/Eggsplode, a highly uncommon Power Pad game. I paid $7 for Clash at Demonhead, an underrated NES classic, at the Century III Cash In Culture.
Oh, boy. Two weekends ago I visited my buddy Mark in Danville, and he took me to this very respectable retro game store in Lewisburg. When I saw this, I almost spazzed. A SEALED NES GAME! Do you know how rare these are? Sealed NES games–even the common ones–can fetch upwards of a hundred dollars on eBay. More important than that, they’re premium trade bait–more on that in a bit. The way to tell an original seal from a reseal is relatively simple. You see that plastic line on the back of the box toward the bottom of the pic? That’s called an H Seam. If your sealed NES game has an H Seam, you’re probably in the clear. I paid $10 for this, and it wasn’t until I was outside that I realized someone had used an exacto knife to cut open the top of the box. It was open. They just kept the majority of the seal on. In my excitement over seeing my first ever sealed NES game, I forgot to check the top of the box. An obvious blunder, but it’s still a neat item to have in the collection.
I also purchased the wonderful Kickle Cubicle for $9. That was a little high, but it’s fairly uncommon and I’d wanted to play it for a long time.
It’s time to get to brass tacks, folks. One of the reasons I’ve been so hyped up on NES games as of late is because I discovered this forum about NES collecting called Nintendo Age. In 2004, when I first began collecting, I joined a few forums, but the conversations were always about what game you found at the flea market or on ebay, and I lost interest quickly. In the meantime, the NES collecting scene online has completely and utterly changed. Because of online shows like Angry Video Game Nerd, Pat the NES Punk, and The Game Chasers, demand for these old games has skyrocketed. Games that I recall being worth a few hundred are now fetching a few thousand. There’s even a a site that accurately tracks how much NES games are worth using an algorithm that takes current ebay, Half.com, and Amazon prices into account. Best of all, Nintendo Age has a trading forum. It took me awhile to piece together the ramifications of this, but eventually I realized I could trade the rare games I’d acquired for other systems and nab a bunch of hard to find NES titles. This was the first deal I made. I traded Pocky and Rocky 2 for the SNES, one of system’s rarest titles, for this lot of Mario’s Time Machine, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Impossible Mission II, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, and Galaga. All are uncommon, Mario is rare, and Indy and Impossible Mission are bordering on rare. And all it cost me was the price of shipping Pocky and Rocky, a game I almost never played.
The Impossible Mission II cart had seen better days. The board was so loose inside the cart, that whenever I put it into the NES it slid up inside the plastic. This was an easier fix than I anticipated. Most NES games can only be opened with a special 3.8mm Security Tool, but IMII is an unlicensed game. Nintendo of America never approved it, so the company released the game to the few stores that would carry it in their own shoddy plastic shells. Luckily, American Video Entertainment used standard screws. I was able to pop the game open and clean the board using Windex. Then I used electrical tape to make two weights with a handful of pennies. I secured the board in place and taped a balance under it, placing the pennies just above the board. Now, when I push the game into the NES, the pennies stop the board from getting stuck inside the plastic. If you’re wondering if this game is fun or worth the trouble, the answer is absolutely not. Collecting NES games isn’t about having fun.
This past weekend, I hit Trader Jack’s but came up empty. I luckily found some decent games afterward. I bought this copy of Cruisn’ World for $1 at the Dormont Exchange and Snake Rattle N Roll for $5 at Groovy, a retro toy store, on the Southside. Snake Rattle N Roll is almost too bizarre to describe. You play as a snake head and have to eat all these balls to become bigger while toilet seats and alligators try and eat you. It’s pretty great, guys.
Earlier today, I made a trade on Nintendo Age to give up Xenogears–a rare PSX RPG–for a working Power Pad, Star Fox 64, Yoshi’s Story 64, and 1942 on NES. I shipped it out and then checked out the Squirrel Hill Exchange to see if they’d gotten anything new. I’m glad I did. I picked up two classic N64 titles, Shadows of the Empire and Turok 2, for $2.50 each and then two horrific NES games, Super Glove Ball–which only works with the infamous Power Glove–for $2.50 and Metal Gear 2: Snake’s Revenge for $5. I love the Metal Gear series and have always wanted to play this weird bastard child iteration. You ever notice that so many NES sequels–Adventure of Link, Super Mario 2, Castlevania 2–are universally considered the worst entries in the series? What’s up with that?
What’s up with old video games, you guys?