This time next week I'll be smack in the middle of an Orlando vacation, and I've been spending most of my gaps of free time preparing for the trip (buying tickets, tidying up the place, and so on). It's also because of this that I plan on taking an extra week off before my next post (but I'll make that wait worth it, I solemnly swear). But with this post I thought I might share some bits and pieces of my collection.
Enter “The Middle Shelf”.
On my shelf, I have my more common games, end labels out, just lined up in a row. However, on the middle shelf are either my more rare games or games I have a story to. I might come back around and share a more detailed diatribe for these titles, others I might save for a review down the road, but I figured I'd leave you readers with a nice little treat.
Lunar 2; Eternal Blue Complete
I actually snagged this one at Vintage Stock, despite not being much of an RPG player. In fact, the idea of reviewing RPGs on this blog scare me a little. RPGs are a real timesink, a genre where the quality of the game can shift greatly at a very deep point in the game. Final Fantasy VII doesn't pick up until the death of Aries, which is a decent chunk of time into the game. Super Mario RPG keeps a lot of its best bits several hours in.
But despite that, this package was something I'd never seen before. Being a game from developer “Working Designs”, a simple “game, case, and instructions” doesn't cut it for these guys, e-v-e-r. I saw the large box in the store before and thought it was simply a large case and maybe a small book or some other trivial piece of memorabilia. In fact, the package came with that and then some. And most of it, upon inspection (“inspection” meaning “looked up eBay listings”), all of the components, sans one, were there and in great shape.
The game comes with both of the discs needed to play the full game, as well as a hardcover book that serves as not only the instruction booklet for the game, but a miniature strategy guide for the beginning of the game as well as a “behind the scenes” account of the game's development. I'm not too well versed in the Lunar franchise, but I do know this game is a re-release of a cult-classic (and VERY tough to obtain) Sega CD game. So for the small handful of people that had played or pursued that Sega CD game, this was likely a big deal to them. As if that wasn't enough, there was also a “making of” disc that runs in the Playstation that gives a neat behind-the-scenes look. Anytime I describe this game, I gotta stop myself from calling this disc a DVD.
But the real merchandise kicker is the “Omake Box”, a hard plastic box that carries a large amount of random trinkets. The star of this set is an amulet similar to the one the game's heroine wears with a carrying pouch. I later discovered this amulet and pouch is often missing in many eBay listings of this set. On top of that is a map and little standup cards of various characters in the game.
The only piece missing is a soundtrack disc that was included with the game when it was sold in stores. The case for the soundtrack is here, with two slots for two discs (the other slot is meant for a Lunar 2 demo disc that was included with the PS1 game “Vandal Hearts”). But the soundtrack CD itself is missing. This is apparently an easy enough piece to obtain, and I'm sure at some point I'll cave in and snag it, especially if the in-game music turns out to be really good and makes me want to listen to the CD proper.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Famicom Disc System
I'm sure I'm just repeating well-known history going over how the Japanese “Super Mario Bros. 2” is a completely different monster (and boy, is it a monster) from the version released in America. I would say the right decision was made, as Japan's Super Mario Bros. 2 (SMB2J, as it's often referred to) is not a very nice game and, unless you appreciate punishing difficulty, falls short of the original game and WELL short of the franchise's legendary third entry.
When I made my first trip to the Game Cycle store in Olathe, it stunned me how many imported games they had. Being a man who had pretty much only seen imports once in a blue moon, they were in this very store in bunches. Some of the prices on the games there seemed a little off (the one example that stuck to me was asking $35 for a loose copy of “Mutant League Football” on the Genesis at a time when the game complete-in-box was under $25). But I saw this on their shelf behind the counter. I had never even seen a Famicom Disc System game before, let alone this one. And while it was more than the other FDS games they had, it was still at a price that I was willing to roll the dice on.
Now, I don't own a Famicom, let alone the disc system attachment required to play this game. I plan on holding onto this game long enough to obtain one someday, and see what's on the disc. I emphasize that because, to my understanding, the discs for the Famicom Disc System games were often taken to kiosks around Japan and “reloaded” with new games. It's entirely possible there's another game on Side B of this disc. Who knows, maybe Side A is occupied with something else too and I don't have SMB 2 at all! The curiosity always pokes at me anytime I set my eyes on this game, and I hope soon I can sate that curiosity.
I already talked about this game ad nauseum not long ago. If you'd like to read my thoughts on it, check out my review right here:
Nintendo Entertainment System
Ladies and gents, the original “crown jewel” of my collection (I'll touch on the current "crown jewel" next time).
Obtaining this game was a slow burn. I was slowly getting back into retro games when I graduated high school, and I started visiting a local store, “GameCo” by the Metro North Mall. I've had some rollercoaster experiences there and have figured out what to get and what to avoid around there.
One day, between classes, I was just looking up old NES games I had growing up. I owned DuckTales growing up (and have re-obtained it since I started collecting), and looked it up on YouTube for old time's sake. However, I noticed a “DuckTales 2” in the sidebar of related videos. I had no idea there ever was a sequel to one of my favorite NES games as a little kid. I checked it out, and it looked very intriguing. It seemed to build on much of what I loved in the original game, while adding a lot of new wrinkles here and there.
So I started going to GameCo at least once a week and just “had to ask” if they had DuckTales 2. The store clerk would often tell me he didn't, and that he only saw it once or twice a year. He did tell me he sold it for around $20, which at the time was a lot for an NES game to me.
If only I had any idea...
One day, I finally walked in and noticed it for sale for $25. I knew I had to have it. Rental store stickers lined the label, so it's certainly rough. But we chucked it into an NES hooked up in the store, and it started up fine and dandy. So off I went. I'd never seen this game before, and I'd never see it again until about a year ago, when a better conditioned copy at Vintage Stock carried a $200 tag.
I don't think I could ever sell it at its near-$200 value now unless the price jumps so much people would pay $200 for a rough copy. I once brought it in to Vintage Stock to see what they'd offer for it, and they claimed they'd only sell it for $100 due to condition, and so they'd only offer $40. No way in hell. And now, I dunno if I ever would sell it anyway.......at least, not before reviewing it.
Besides, maybe a date with a bottle of Goo-Gone and a steady hand could make it a little more presentable.
Zelda II; The Adventure of Link
Nintendo Entertainment System
Growing up, I always sortof appreciated Zelda II. I thought the soundtrack was much better, in fact the Overworld theme of the game is the first videogame song I remember truly liking.
I did eventually fall into the “this game sucks” club that started to form on the internet. When I was younger, the main-console Zelda game quantity was “three”, so Zelda II didn't seem like so much of a red-headed stepchild in the Zelda family. Nowadays however, it sticks out like a sore thumb compared to the rest of the franchise.
And it sucks that this game gets flack from so many. I think it's a well made, well conceptualized game that knew what it wanted to be and, while not perfect, hits the nail on the head pretty well. Of course, the game itself is BRUTALLY hard, it might be the most difficult game I've ever finished. But boy, did it feel good when I did.
I had beaten this game on the Wii virtual console instead of on an NES (which I didn't have at the time). I had wanted a copy of it just to say I had one. A couple of Christmases ago, my friends Sam and Devin went in together and snagged me this as a gift. The instruction booklet and cartridge are damn near immaculate. To this day, I have never seen a Zelda I or II gold cart as shiny and well-kept as this one since I was a little kid.
I definitely plan on reviewing this one someday, but I feel like getting to the original game (or even the SNES follow-up) might need to be the first stop.
So that'll do it for Part 1. Check back in two weeks (when I come back from my Orlando trip) to hear the stories behind the rest of the games on "The Middle Shelf".
In the time that I've written this blog, I've never really hinted that I'm really just a beginning collector. There's a modest little mention on the webpage's banner, and that's about it (I can already hear my writing professors telling me such a “lack of authority” should be taken off outright). But it is true, right now I have a 3-shelved bookcase of games, and some other junk strewn about and that's it. I know a decent number of people that have bigger collections than myself, some of whom I can call good friends of mine.
So to say that the wishlist for this blog is large is putting it kindly. There's a handful of common games I wanna review for the blog that I've never gotten around to, and some that I already know the content of and feel I'd have a lot to say. There's even a few I've not played in a long time, and am curious as to whether my opinion on those games is the same now that I'm looking at games with a more critical eye.
And then there's some uncommon/rare games that walk both lines. These are games I do not own at this time, as well as games I would love to discuss in this blog if/when they fall into my possession. That's what I'm here to discuss today.
Now, let me preface this by saying, that while I have 12 games on this list, there are only 8 entries. This will make sense as it comes up, I promise.
And I've already sworn to myself that if I am not in possession of the genuine article, then I will not review it. It's easy to emulate a copy of “Flintstones; Surprise at Dinosaur Peak” and just type it up. Nah, not gonna happen that way......well, unless playing an authentic copy is literally impossible.
Just let it be known for now and forever on this blog, any game I review on here, I have legitimate possession of in one form or another.
Also, this is a list of games I desire to play, combined with rarity. I know I'm missing some insanely rare gems on here. Look, I accepted long ago I'm never gonna get my hands on a 1990 Nintendo World Championships or Stadium Events or Atlantis II. Hell, if I was a betting man, I'd wager with confidence that a specific couple of these games I'll never ever obtain. But still, my curiosity has piqued On them enough that they make the list.
Lastly, the prices quoted within this article are cited from sold listings on eBay as of the date of this post. If you're reading this long after the original post date, the price is likely to have fluctuated since the original post.
So, let's begin:
"The Top 11 Uncommon/Rare Games I Hope To Review For This Blog"
Why “Top 11”? Because I need to save something for the “Outrun 2006 Coast 2 Coast” review, which would be #12.
#11 - Shantae
Game Boy Color
Now, if my friend Devin were making this list, this one would be #1 with a bullet.
Near the end of the Game Boy/Game Boy Color's lifespan, many games tried to truly push the 8-bit technology of the long-living console. Some totally whiffed, making confusing games with overcongested control schemes, convoluted graphics that made what was the background and what was part of the level completely unclear, and a disgusting multi-layered casserole of a soundtrack. It happened on the NES, and it happened on the Game Boy Color. Fortunately, many of those games fell by the wayside, while a handful of quality games that also pushed what the system could do were released. The go-to example of this would be the Pokemon games, specifically "Gold/Silver", with its insane amount of content and real-time clock system all crammed in an 8-bit package that, even today, is astonishing in its success.
Another game that succeeded in this was Capcom's "Shantae". A game that was heralded as an all-time classic 2D platformer by reviewers, "Shantae" is about a “half-genie” that must defeat an evil pirate crew, and to do so she travels around her world, unlocking dungeons, and learning new dances that can transform her into new forms to allow further progression. The game also contained a day and night cycle, with enemies getting stronger at night. Extra stat-boosts could also be obtained at night, so there was a good amount of “reward” to go with the “risk”.
Released over a full year after the launch of the Game Boy Advance, "Shantae" sold poorly out of the gate, and copies of the game are very hard to come by. I remember seeing these at Wal-Mart at one point, but I don't have too much remorse as, like many, I had no idea how rare it would turn out. "Shantae" is considered by many to be THE holy grail of the GB/GBC lineup, with a value hovering around $350 loose and around double that for a complete-in-box version. However, many speculate that if you can get a hold of this, then the rest of the GBC lineup (and even the original Game Boy roster) shouldn't be nearly as difficult for those completionists out there.
#10 - Project Justice
This won't be the last of the “personal vendetta” entires on this list.
For you see, I once owned this Dreamcast fighter. In fact, I got this game for a pittance. $15 at Gamestop, I remember getting this on a random trip to the Metro North Mall, and even remember getting it instead of Soul Caliber or Street Fighter Alpha III because those were $20, and I only had $20 in my pocket. And if you think I was gonna pass up a Strawberry Julius and a Chicago Dog, my friend, you don't know the power of the Strawberry Julius and Chicago Dog combo. But enough about meal choices, this isn't TenAteEP.com.
“Project Justice” is an obscure Dreamcast fighter that serves as the sequel to obscure PS1 fighter “Rival Schools”. Sure, the storylines are strange, and if you dive into the gameplay enough you won't find a fighter that's as deep as a good Street Fighter or Soul Caliber game (despite it being a 3v3 fighter), but it was definitely fun at face value. Adding on a tournament and league mode (where everybody fights everybody once, best win/loss record wins), the multiplayer possibilities were well beyond Capcom's typical fighter fare.
I could easily recommend it for the $15 I once had my copy for (which I swear I don't remember selling or trading in, but haven't been able to find for over a decade now). At its current asking price that hangs around the $100 mark, I couldn't. Maybe someday I'll find a good price on a loose copy (hell, I still possess my original case and instructions for it). I'm anxious to give this obscure fighter another spin to pick through it with a finer-tooth comb and see if it's better than I remember or far worse.
#9 - Tengen Tetris
Nintendo Entertainment System
I don't feel like Tetris needs an introduction. So many games and so many renditions on so many consoles, it's hard to imagine a Tetris game worth any sort of collection-value hooplah (especially after Nintendo re-issued it's own franchise-filled “Tetris DS”, which was hard to come by for some time). However, this is a major exception to the rule.
Tengen's own version of Tetris was released on the NES with a good amount of controversy. While I won't go into the entire story here, a lawsuit resulted in this game being pulled from shelves shortly after release and destroyed, and the few copies that were sold before the recall became collector's items. And it's a shame because, in my opinion, the Tengen edition of Tetris on the NES appears to be superior than Nintendo's edition. Both versions include a single-player and versus mode, but the Tengen edition also includes a 2-player simultaneous mode, where 2 players would place blocks at the same time on the same board, and would have to communicate to create lines and keep the game going. While Tengen (a division of Atari) was able to release this version in arcades, the NES one is hard to come by, and commands a price around $70. Not bad for an uncommon/rare NES game, but that's asking quite a bit for Tetris.
#8 - Panzer Dragoon Saga
While this isn't the rarest game outright on the Sega Saturn (which, as I touched on in my Saturn NetLink review, is the NetLink compatible edition of Daytona USA), this IS the rarest original Saturn game. And on a system congested with uncommon/rare games like the Sega Saturn, that's quite the crown to wear.
Panzer Dragoon Saga was the 3rd game in the Panzer Dragoon saga, with the previous two shooter games released on the Saturn as well. The original one is pretty common by Saturn standards, with the sequel being a little less so. But this entry, an RPG/shooter hybrid that included real-time dodging and waiting for a charge in order to shoot back (amongst other gameplay layers) was one of the final Sega Saturn games and is considered to be one of the finest games on the entire Saturn console. In fact, Panzer Dragoon Saga is the #1 Saturn game according to GameRankings' aggregate ratings. It's truly a shame that this game (alongside another rare Saturn gem, Burning Rangers) were released to virtually no fanfare, were given such limited runs, and have to this day not been released in any way, shape or form.
Fortunately (or unfortunately, if you were planning on relying on this method to play it), reproductions of this game haven't surfaced en masse, due to the Saturn's strict copy protection capabilities. On the other hand though, the game is a 4-disc set, which has caused some sellers to gut the game and sell each disc individually. I've never seen a copy of this game out in the wild, and I'm not sure I could meet its around-$500 pricetag if I ever did. All I can do is hope someday I stumble across this at the flea market lot or garage sale of somebody who doesn't realize the gem they possess.
#7 - Panic Restaurant
Nintendo Entertainment System
Now we have a big one, and another “personal vendetta” entry on this list.
For you see, once upon a time I had a shot at this game. In fact, I posted a picture of this on my debut “Level 1” post, where I posted a picture of this game at the local Vintage Stock with a $250 pricetag. I have bought systems in the past at Vintage Stock, and possess 25% off coupons which would've brought the game down to $200. Now, I am in no position to be dropping $200 on single NES games and don't intend to ever hit that point. But this late-lifespan release was one in a string of VERY limited release games Taito put out in the early 90s.
Taito was hitting its stride on the NES at the time, and this platformer is said to play very well, and it has good graphics for the system and a pretty bumpin' (do the kids still say “bumpin'”?) soundtrack. Of course, this is claimed by the very few that can say with honesty that they've played this gem. Sure, it's not as rare or fun as [future entry spoiler] and certainly not as rare as “Flintstones; Surprise at Dinosaur Peak” which is said to have only been available at Blockbuster stores for rental before those stores sold them off. But this platformer, while short, still sticks in my craw. I had a shot at this, even at its unreasonable asking price. Had I known that it'd someday hit a $600 value (with a complete-in-box copy breaking the $1,000 mark), maybe I would have invested in it then instead of a Playstation 4. What's that? The game is short enough that the video above shows it being completed in under 20 minutes? Nah, I made the right call.
.........I still want it.
#6 - Little Samson
Nintendo Entertainment System
And now we hit a diamond. The one NES game that collectors dream of finding at the flea market table or on a garage sale table on a Spring afternoon. A game my friend Sam is also chasing and loves to give me playful guff about (“Where's your 'Little Samson' at, huh?!?”). Little Samson is a deadly one-two punch; it's a quality platformer that pushes the NES' capabilities in all the right ways, and is also insanely rare.
Little Samson starts with 4 levels, one for each playable character the game has. Each character has their own abilities and disadvantages; a rock golem with low jump height but can walk on spikes, a mouse that can scurry into tight spaces but can take very few hits, a dragon that can fly and shoot fire but needs to charge it up to do any real damage, and Samson himself who can climb on walls and ceilings, and can move fairly quick (though not as fast as the mouse) and jump high (though can't float like the dragon). Once you defeat the initial levels as each character, the following levels will allow you to pick and switch between any 4 of the heroes at will at any time. However, the player must maintain their health, or else the ally chosen will be lost (with the exception of Samson, who is retained at all times...however, Samson alone is unable to clear the final stage of the game). The graphics are pretty dang good for the NES (the dragon boss is especially notable), and the music in the game is very impressive.
It's also well known for being in the top 1% of rarest games on the console. As a game, Little Samson is considered to be a top-tier title that could've been a big hit and the first block in a franchise had it been given a better shot. The going price is currently over $1000 for just a loose copy, with even just the instruction booklet demanding more than a Panic Restaurant cart. The only completely original retail NES game (i.e. not a test cart, prototype, compilation/competition cart, or a rental exclusive) that can claim a higher pricetag is the collector's jackpot that is Stadium Events. It's pretty safe to assume that if you know someone who has played this game, they've probably played it on an emulator. However, it's often debated if that price is truly what the value is, or if the recent hype for NES collecting has brought the price of the game up. This game is often cited as one that'll receive a large plummet in value if the retro videogame market bubble ever bursts. It also doesn't help that this game is often pirated, and there are sadly many horror stories of people being sold reproductions or completely different games under the guise of a copied Little Samson label. And as the capabilities for the common man to closer imitate the print quality of professional companies rise, this might get worse. It's truly a shame that this game hasn't been re-released on any digital platform. The only way to play this legit is to drop 4 digits on it, plan a monstrosity of a trade, or be pretty damn lucky.
Here's hoping someday I might get a shot at this game at a decent price, because Little Samson is the North Star of game collecting. And who knows...maybe I'll reach out, grab it, and hold it in my hands one day.
#5-1 - Namco Museum Vol. 1-5
When I was in Middle School, I made friends with a kid who went by the name of Jeffery. We had a similar love for Pokemon, anime, the same music, the same sense of humor (although my sense of humor has mutated since then), and in videogames. He owned a Playstation, which I never did have when it was still relevant in the modern gaming realm (I still had an N64 and Dreamcast at this time, I don't feel bad). So as I went to his house, we just played through his stack of games. There was a Madden game, Crash 3, and the original Gran Turismo (which was the birth of my love for that franchise, but we'll hit on that another day). But the big one that stuck out was “Namco Museum Vol. 3”.
I had seen the 5 volumes on display at Toys"R"Us, but just thought it was a basic pileup of old games from my parents' era. Toys"R"Us' method involved taking a card to the front and having them go to a back room for the game, so they'd often have a display for games they didn't have or weren't even sure they carried, so it was likely they almost never carried all 5 volumes simultaneously (more on that in a moment). The novelty of having each volume spell a letter from the company name (Volume 1 was “N”, Volume 2 was “A”, and so on) was pretty sweet. But why the hell would the preteen me want to play some old-timey games? There was a Mario Kart 64 demo on the kiosk at the end of the aisle, and nobody was on it! Out of the way!!!
But I had the chance to play this at Jeffery's house, and was astounded by how things were presented. They took the “museum” part of the title VERY seriously. While you could just skip to the game of choice, the main option was a “museum” mode. In this mode, you take control of a character in a 1st person viewpoint, with a Pac-Man indicator that would display the action taken and notify you if something could be examined further. Volume 3 included the excellent “Ms. Pac Man” and “Dig-Dug”, the precursor to Galaga known as “Galaxian”, a fun-for-its-time racer in "Pole Position II", the anomaly that is “Phozon”, and an incredibly ambitious and cryptic adventure game in “The Tower of Druaga”. Each of these games had their own “wing” in the museum where players could view advertisements, marquees, and photos of development for each game. There were also exerts from the game's actual operation pamphlets that would tell you how to set the “dip-switches” that could change the settings for each game (though there were also simpler “option screen” methods for these same settings).
On top of this, the options within each game were notable. You could set the high score needed to obtain extra lives, the number of lives you started with, or even which level you started on in certain cases. If you were truly a purist (and didn't mind rolling the dice on damaging your television), you could even set the game to project sideways, providing an accurate aspect ratio to the genuine arcade game...assuming you physically turned your television sideways to match.
Now imagine this across FIVE sets, and you have more classic games than you'd know what to do with.....if you didn't have a retro gaming blog.
I'm confident I'll get to this some day, my mouth waters at the thought of it. I can already see it now; 5 weeks, 5 volumes, all devoted to the formative years of the recently-deceased Masaya Nakamura's gaming juggernaut.
The value of these compilations, however, are all over the place. In fact, some people might cry foul over this entry not just because I put 5 games at the top spot, but because two of them aren't uncommon at all. In fact, “Volume 1 (N)” and “3 (M)” are among the most common games on the PS1 console, to the point that they received Greatest Hits editions that are even more common. These versions do have different covers than the original releases, which ruin the aesthetic of spelling out the company name. But even then, the original “Black Label” editions of 1 and 3 aren't much of a stretch to find. That's the power of Pac-Man (Volume 1 containing the original game and the legendary shooter "Galaga")
From here though, the trial becomes a little tougher. “Volume 2 (A)” goes for slightly above $20, which I find surprising. That's a pretty generous asking price for a game I've never actually seen a copy of in the wild. And the hill just goes up from there. “Volume 4 (C)” goes for around $60, the typical retail price of a newly-released game. And “Volume 5 (O)” is another step up, with the value hovering around $80, but some have been sold in the triple-digit range, and considering I've never seen this game in the wild either, I could believe it selling in the hundreds. Some sellers have taken to selling the entire N-A-M-C-O set for over $250, which is a bit of fuzzy math to me. I'm convinced I'll have to piecemeal this compilation together, grab one here and there until I've completed this classic-gaming Exodia.
But hopefully one day I'll be able to spell the whole shebang out, and knock my way through each and every game. Maybe I'll find a game that totally sucks, maybe I'll find something that should've been as great as a “Pac-Man” or “Galaga”. Not only is this the post I'd want to write about most, this is one I feel confident will happen too. Look forward to that.
So there you go, my current wishlist. Maybe I'll come back to this someday and do another one, hopefully when I've got plenty of these games slashed off the "wish list" and have them sitting on my shelves instead.