The Great ‘let’s buy a new game at an actual shop’ Challenge

Today is a day I’ve been looking forward to for a while. Yes there’s Daft Punk’s new single that I’m not 100% sold on. What I am sold on though is Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. Pat had been raving about how great it is and how much he reckoned I would enjoy it. Once the demo was available in the UK Nintendo eShop I grabbed it. He was right, I did really like it.

From then on my sights were set on April 19th; the European release date. I’m a bit funny in that when something comes out, I want to go to a shop and have it in my hands rather than ordering online and waiting on the post. I pre-ordered Paper Mario Sticker Star for the 3DS through Game’s website and didn’t have a fun time. The game came several days after the release date and the pre-order bonus of a Paper Mario poster took several emails and a couple of months to arrive.

Now here’s the tricky bit. If you know anything about the retail world of the UK you’ll know it’s in a bit of a slump. The two main shops for games in central London are both in rough shape with many stores shut. That would be HMV and Game. In around the west end, there is one HMV left on Oxford Street and a Game taking up a corner of the lower level of Hamley’s toy shop.

At lunch time today I was on my merry way thinking that surely at one of these two big stores I would find my sought after game. How very wrong I was.

HMV was up first. Had a look around, no Fire Emblem. Asked an employee – nope, sorry. We didn’t get any in.

Ok, let’s try Game at Hamleys. Looked around, nothing. I didn’t recall seeing many recent releases but they did have ‘coming soon!’ boxes out for Pokemon, Animal Crossing and the new Donkey Kong 3DS games. That doesn’t help me. There was nobody to ask and just two staff members at the rather busy tills. I took another look around just to be sure that Fire Emblem wasn’t there.

Walking back to work I tried to think of any other place around Oxford Street / Regent Street for games. There’s HMV in Selfridges, but they are always lack on stock. If the flagship HMV didn’t have it, that one would be a waste of time. Got back to my desk and checked the websites for John Lewis, nope. Pat suggested Harrods as a stab in the dark. A search for ‘Nintendo’ on their site comes back with a perfume called Intenso. Oh man.

What about Tesco or Argos. I could pick it up in store couldn’t I? Argos was a big nope. Tesco has it, but you can only buy it online and have it shipped to you. There was no option to collect in store.

The next closest Game location was in Camden Town. I tried ringing them several times throughout the day with no answer. I started to wonder if they had shut down as well, but thankfully their Twitter account was still active. I headed north after work to have a look. I walked in and oh my heart skipped a beat – there was a big display of Fire Emblem: Awakening cases!

OMG LOOK THERE IT IS

I grabbed one and took it up to the till. The guy at the counter looked at it, looked up and said ‘sorry, we’re all sold out’. I would have loved to have seen the look on my face at that point. “Really?! Buying this game is proving really difficult today” I said. Turns out they only got 8 copies and they all sold. EIGHT COPIES.

In the off chance someone bought a copy and hawked it at the two trade in shops up the street I checked both of them as well. No dice.

At this point there was nothing for it. I decided to try another Game location that I know is still in operation; at Westfield Stratford. I want that game bad enough that I’ll go to Westfield for it. That’s pretty telling. I did actually try calling them during the day, but like Camden there was no answer. Maybe Games’s phones have been cut off.

I make it to Stratford and survive the long dark walk from the station to the shopping centre. Step into Game with a faint glimmer of hope. Dashed. It is nowhere to be seen. The same ‘coming soon’ boxes that the one at Hamley’s had, but no Fire Emblem. And again, no staff to ask. Guess that’s what happens when your company has to be saved from going down the tubes. Another sweep of the store to be certain. Take a closer look at that ‘New Release’ section at the front of the store. What’s this, lots of copies of new X-Box games and beneath it… sodding voucher cards for the latest 3DS games.

This is how we buy games now :(

UGH. I’m at a shop, I don’t want to buy a voucher to download a game over the internet. This is the biggest shopping centre in Europe, and that’s how you buy 3DS games at it.

There is another Game location in Hammersmith I didn’t make it to, but let’s be realistic. If they had any, they probably sold both copies already. For the day that 8 confirmed copies in existence  That’s 1 physical copy for every 1 million Londoners. That’s kind of crazy and kind of sad.

I’m not sure if this is something like what happened with the U.S. release of Fire Emblem where stocks were hard to come by. Even if it isn’t, it’s still a sad thought that buying a physical format of something in a city this big is this difficult. I had a realisation at Westfield that in all these clothes and phone and cosmetic shops, there is nowhere at all to buy music.  Maybe video games are going to get to that point as well. Can’t say I much look forward to it. Now, let’s open up a new tab and buy this thing on Amazon like everybody else and wait.

Party Like It’s 1993

Picked up a new TV today. I think it’s the first time I’ve ever owned a proper ‘brandname’ TV. That doesn’t really matter to me, what matters is that it was on sale for £100 less than the original price, is 24″, LED and has loads of inputs. It being JVC is really neither here nor there. Though it does lend itself perfectly to Fonejacker JOOVC references.

I’m doing that thing with a new TV where you don’t settle on viewing or playing one thing for too long. You just want to see how everything looks on it. Going through games on my Xbox Triple60, I fire up Sonic 2 and immediately think back to what was probably my favourite New Year’s Eve as a kid.

The Super Nintendo was my machine of choice in the early 90s and heck even still is most of the time. Saying that though, one of my favourite treats was when I’d get to rent a Sega Genesis from one of the local indie vidya rental places in Charlottetown. I don’t remember the name of them, but there was one shop beside the Green Gables (the ‘you forgot to buy some food now it’s late’ jingle anyone?) on University Avenue (where Jack’s Pizza maybe still is?) and another one across from the Sherwood Shopping centre where I think the Subway is now (or is there still a Green Gables there? My rusty knowledge of C-town is really starting show here). Anyways! Remember when you could rent actual consoles? This place was different in that they didn’t require you to put down some crazy $100 deposit for the rental.

Have always loved that design.

My parents were going to my uncle’s place for new year’s eve and I would have the house to myself, which for a 13 year old is pretty cool enough let alone having a Sega Genesis, Sonic 2 and Mortal Kombat to keep you entertained. I was in heaven. Sonic 2 being such a fantastic game and the Genesis port of MK1 being the best one. I played them both back and forth well into 1994 and had a grand time. My incredibly good memory of all the button combos for the moves and fatalities in MK could be traced back to this one evening. ABACABB, am I right?

Grabbing those bonus stage coins.
Oh the options!

Some things don’t change. Here is is 18 years later and I’m still enjoying some Sonic 2 before the odometer rolls over on another year. And if I wanted, I could hook up my Megadrive (the Euro name for the Genesis, North American readers) and do up Sonic, Liu Kang, Sub Zero, Johnny Cage and the gang properly.

Is That a Neo Geo in Your Pocket?

Goodness, this one was a long time coming. For ages I’ve done this thing where I would look at Neo Geo Pocket systems on eBay, maybe bid on one and get outbid, forget about it for a while, then start the game all over again. For those who don’t know (and that’s probably most as it wasn’t a particularly popular or long lived system, here’s some back story to it.

SNK, known for making reams of fighting games, arcade machines and the Neo Geo and Neo Geo CD home consoles (mostly used to play ports of arcade fighting games) got into the hand held market a bit late. They launched the Neo Geo Pocket in 1998 in Japan. The screen was black and white and the system was canned a year later. As soon is it was in the bin, SNK launched the Neo Geo Pocket Color in 1999. This was a nice bit of hardware. Its only downfall is that it doesn’t have a back lit screen, but hey neither did the GameBoy Colour or the GameBoy Advance. Nevertheless, the NGPC was killed off by Nintendo’s firm grasp on the portable gaming market. The system wasn’t helped by the lack of a proper launch either. For some bizzare reason, rather than being sold in proper shops at launch, a deal was made with the website eToys to be the exclusive retailer before it was eventually available in brick and mortar shops. Oh the heady days of the late 90’s.

Like its black and white predecessor, the NGPC was only on the market for a year. It was pulled in 2000 (2001 in Japan)  after SNK was bought out. All the North American stock was sent back to Asia where the remaining systems and cartridges were repackaged and sort of rebranded to be sold as a budget ‘pocket arcade’ in Asia as well as North America.

Now as of this week I’m the proud owner of one of these lil’ guys. I’m pretty impressed with the hardware itself. Not surprising with SNK building it that the controls have a nice hefty, arcade feel to them. Rather than a D-pad there is a thumb stick which is basically like an arcade stick for your thumb. Its clicky-ness is rather satisfying. The A and B buttons have a good chunky click to them as well. You feel that you can mash the buttons on this thing and it wouldn’t even blink. Which is good what with all those fighting games available for it.

My Neo Geo Pocket Color starter kit

My ‘starter kit’ included a blue system, Metal Slug, Sonic Pocket Adventure and Pac-Man for games, and a nice case.

Neo Geo Pocket Color

Neo Geo Pocket Color Cartridge

Snug in the case.

And just because I can’t convey how clicky the controls are in a photo, here’s a brief video:

Game Collecting Pro-tip #1

Keep those cartridge contacts clean,
And never shall you see
A flashing grey screen.

My recently eBay’d copy of The Legend of Zelda for the NES arrived in the post today, woo hoo! What’s the first thing I did? Why I took it apart and cleaned the contacts of course. With clean contacts all my NES games work beautifully on a NES that has lived in a garage for the better part of this millennium. Even without replacing the 72-pin connector. I’m using a cleaning kit I picked up from Nintendo Repair Shop, it’s worth it just for the proper screw driver bit to take the cartridges apart.