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.

Working On The Family Tree

So much for just focussing on collecting Gameboy stuff because it doesn’t take up much space. Since Deciding that I’ve managed to acquire more of the Nintendo family tree as it were.

First off in May, the sound on my PAL Super Nintendo was on its last legs. I happened upon an auction for a SNES in super good condition that was just the console; no games, cables, etc. Fine by me as I already had that. £3.something later I was the proud owner of a second European SNES. Not only does the sound work on my new one, but it’s not yellowed either. Score!

My PAL Super Nintendos

In June I had a hankering to play The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Which is a bit odd for me because I never really got into the Nintendo 64 that much. Still, that was enough to get me looking through eBay. Another big score there. For £29 (I think it was, if not it was close) I got a mint N64 in the original box, a second controller in its box, a memory card / rumble pack and nine games (some with their instruction booklet). Best of all, Ocarina of Time was one of the games. Mario 64 was in the mix as well which gave me a good opportunity to give that game another try. I’m warming up to it. There was one more game that I had to get and that was Starfox 64. The European version is called Lylat Wars for some bizarre reason. I should look that up. And do a barrel roll.

IMG_8200 (1)

Ages ago my mate Charlie said that I could have a Nintendo NES that he found in his parent’s garage. I went and visited him yesterday and oh man, it was a pretty decent haul of NES stuff that I made away with. Sure it was all a bit mucky from being in storage but nothing a couple of hours cleaning this morning couldn’t fix. I even took apart all of the cartridges and cleaned the connector pins. No corner cutting here.

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Opening up cartridges is interesting. There’s lots of different variations on what the boards inside have on them. Most common is like this (nicely shined up) Double Dragon
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Mario / Duck Hunt though is the most basic NES board I’ve come across:
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And here’s the whole lot, all cleaned up and ready to go.
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An ‘NES Version’ console, four controllers, an orange Zapper and twelve games. A nice bonus is that the Super Mario. Bros cartridge is one of the early release ones with a different cartridge design. Notice how the top doesn’t have the same notches as all the other carts. There’s also five screws on the back instead of three. NEAT.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve had world 3-3 of Mario 3 on pause for a while and should get back to it.

One Day, Two Completed Collections

I went out this afternoon for a shopping trip, Andrea style. This meant book shops, stationary shops and game shops. I stayed away from all Uniqlos after picking up four new t-shirts on Threadless yesterday.

The first place I popped in to was the London Transport Museum Shop. I wanted to pick up the last handful of coasters I needed to complete the set. For ages now they’ve had these lovely lil’ round coasters, a colour coded landmark for each Underground line. I have all the ones in the shop now. I don’t recall there ever being one for the Waterloo & City line so I think I have the whole lot now.

LT Museum Coaster Set

Moving along to Game Focus in Goodge Street to see what Gameboy games they have. They have a case of interesting stuff in the window and right there I spotted just what I wanted; a mint copy of Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance. This one had been proving tricky to find. Not a lot of them come up on eBay and when they do they are stupidly expensive. There’s one on there now that is a buy it now item for £10.99… shame it’s a fake.

Castlevania Harmony of Dissonance

While the chap running the shop made sure that everything in the box was in tact we had a chat about how shops carrying retro gaming stuff are a rare breed despite the current popularity of old games. He was saying they were worried when old games started to become downloadable on new consoles that it would severely hurt business. However, a lot of people started thinking the same I do that the original thing is still the nicest to have and started to hunt down the original games. For anyone interested, they currently have an Amiga CD32, a NeoGeo and a NeoGeo Pocket Color looking for a home. Good thing I wasn’t in one of those ‘maybe I’ll get a NeoGeo Pocket’ moods today.

So now I have all three Castlevania Gameboy Advance games. I’m not a huge fan of Circle of the Moon. I found the card system was a bit goofy. However I’m loving HoD, much the same as Aria of Sorrow. Another collection, albiet small, completed!

Castlevania GBA Trio

The Newest Member of the Collection

The Newest Addition

As recently mentioned, I’ve been keen on collecting Gameboy games as of late. They’re tiny and don’t seem to be quite as popular (ie: pricey) as some other older consoles and games.

For whatever reason the idea of getting a Gameboy Micro popped into my head last week. I can’t even recall why. When they first came out six years ago I was a bit intrigued but dismissed them as being too small. It didn’t help that in North America they were packaged with three kind of ugly faceplates.

I started looking on eBay for them. Ah! In the UK not only was the packaging different, but the colour schemes were as well. You had your choice of four metallic colours rather than having to go with whichever faceplate you found the most agreeable (or buying another one). There sure were a lot of pink ones on eBay. I wasn’t having that though. The blue, silver and green were all really nice looking so I loaded up my watch list.

After a few days of them going for what I thought was too much, I realised that I’m probably not going to get one cheaper than the standard going rate of £30. Not if I wanted one that wasn’t banged up and/or missing parts. I ended up getting a blue one, with the original packaging (velvety carry pouch ahoy!) for just under the going rate. Smashing!

It arrived yesterday and I must say it was love at first sight. The build quality is really quite nice. I much prefer the buttons and D-pad on the Micro over the Gameboy Advance SP. It’s also really comfortable to hold for long periods of time… confirmed by a couple of hours of Castlevania Aria of Sorrow last night. And the screen… well yes it is tiny but that doesn’t make it hard to play at all. If anything it makes the GBA games look better. Both the SP and micro have 240 x 160 px resolution but on the Micro those pixels are pushed closer together.

The speaker quality and volume isn’t that impressive, but I’m really not surprised. What is nice though is the built in headphone jack. No more having to use a goofy adapter with my SP to use headphones. (yes yes, I could use my DS Lite, but it’s just not the same as usually original hardware remember!).

Not sure how well it would work if you had overly large hands, but for me this lil’ guy is perfect. Only thing left to test is how good the battery life is. Only one way to do that… back to Castlevania :)

Hi Guys, It’s Been a Few Years

I’ve been collecting up GameBoy games for the past few months. It gives me the sense of satisfaction of tracking down some old games and are small enough that they don’t take up a lot of room to store. This was triggered by picking up a blue Gameboy Pocket at a flea market this past summer with m’colleague for $5. Sure I can play them on my GameBoy Advance as well, but it’s just not the same. I’m a purist (ie: nerd) like that with retro games and consoles.

I’ve been doing fairly well between picking up stuff in Canada while on holiday and scoring some deals on eBay back in England. GameBoy games don’t seem to have the big demand and therefore higher prices of other old cartridges.

I had a few copies of The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening on my eBay watch-list and thought this is silly. I already own the game and GameBoy stuff isn’t region locked. So I asked my dad to round up what GB cartridges he could find around the house and ship them over. High on my priority list was Zelda, Marioland 1 and 2, Kirby’s Dreamland and Mega Man 3. He found what he could and off they went.

The package arrived today with these contents:

Post from Canada

Blimey, I don’t even remember owning a few of these; namely F1-Race, Monster Rancher BattleCard GB (I have a strong feeling this may actually be my nephew’s, oops) and a GB Colour game called Cubix. Nevertheless! The ones I really wanted are all accounted for. I’ve just nearly doubled my collection in one fell swoop.

Oysterfication

Product Shot, originally uploaded by avail.

I took the plunge and applied one of the XBox 360 skins that Pat designed and had made for me. It looks pretty boss. Photos from the whole process can be found on Flickr.

I thought the faceplace would be the trickiest, but it ended up being much easier than the huge decal for the top bit. It’s not 100% perfect, but I put that down to application rather than by design. I’m happy with it anyhoo!

All I need to do now is melt down an Oyster card, take the chip and attach it to my 360 and use it to touch in and out of every journey :)

A Vintage Sample

Going through some old photos tonight, I came across one that I took of a sample of my game collection. This was from March of 2004 when I was being interviewed for the CBC Radio 1 show Main Street.
Glorious Consoles
In shot we have a boxed Nintendo Power Glove, Super Nintendo Super Scope 6 and Sega Master System arcade stick. Consoles on display are a SNES, Sega Genesis Mark I, a purple Game Boy Advance, a silver Game Cube, an N64 and a NES.

The microwave box contained the rest of my game consoles. The box at left front was all games, controllers, power adapters and connection cables, all mostly in labelled zip-lock bags (because I’m like that). The box behind it is a few more controllers and mostly Atari and Colecovision gear.

My nephew recently had a go with the Power Glove and was rather disappointed that it didn’t work like a Wiimote.  Aren’t we all?

I think at that time I had maybe 22-25 consoles.  One of these days I’m going to break down and get a Sega Megadrive to have here. Click on the Games link at the top of the page for a current list o’ my gaming bits.