Probably due to some poorly repressed childhood trauma surrounding the inexplicable loss of several of my most prized NES cartridges (where the hell is my copy of Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team?!), one of my favorite adult hobbies is collecting NES games. But what began as a simple interest in reclaiming my former treasures has evolved into a quixotic quest to acquire a complete NES library.
I blame the internet. Once I discovered vintage game collecting communities like Digital Press, I quickly became infected by the contagious enthusiasm of the world’s most obsessed game collectors. This is the same enthusiasm that presumably inspired someone to pay over $13,000 for a Nintendo system and 5 games last week on eBay. So you can understand why my hobby is viewed with suspicion by my normally supportive wife.
Nevertheless, I cannot undo the bite of the collecting bug, which is why I continue to make periodic trips around my home city of Richmond, VA, in search of pawn shops, flea markets, and thrift stores that may be harboring vintage video games. For a couple of years, I have been seeking certain lost relics of my youth, but I am also always on the lookout for interesting games, especially those that remain with their original boxes and/or manuals.
Of particular interest are games that can be classified as Complete in Box (CIB), meaning they retain every item that originally shipped inside their boxes. A CIB game always includes its original instruction manual, black cartridge sleeve, and styrofoam insert. If the game originally shipped with a fold-out poster or additional player guide, then these must be included to qualify as CIB as well. Collecting vintage games is a research-heavy hobby, to say the least. While I may have been (rightfully) accused of being one of the least organized people on earth, even I have been driven to maintaining an Excel file documenting the status of my game collection.
Valentine’s Day weekend was largely (and appropriately) consumed by woo-the-wife activities this year, but I did find time to make a few flea market trips. While eBay will net you anything you want (as long as you can pay) I find it so much more satisfying to browse the flea markets and pawn shops. Not only are the prices lower (and open to negotiation) but shopping online can’t compare to the feeling of walking into a flea market stall, spotting a stack of those familiar gray cartridges, and thumbing through them to discover that elusive copy of Mega Man 6 you have been hunting for months.
On Saturday, I visited one flea market to find three booths selling NES games. The first was dismissed immediately upon my discovery that they were attempting to charge $18.00 for a boxed copy of Donkey Kong Classics. Was it even CIB? Beats me, because it’s so overpriced either way that I didn’t care to investigate further.
The second booth had a small selection, but nothing interesting, and I thought the trip was going to be a bust until I stumbled upon a third booth on my way out the door. The little guy running this place had a surprising selection, at the expected rate of $5/ loose cart. I offered 3 for $10, and came away with…
- A Boy And His Blob – I have the Wii update, but never played the original.
- Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers – I was most excited about this one, because I loved it as a kid but somehow lost my copy over the years. Score!
- The Magic of Scheherezade – I have no idea what this game is about, but I vaguely remember seeing it in Nintendo Power in the late 80’s.
So maybe nothing to write home about, but I was pleased for my $10. I asked the guy where he gets his games and he said he buys them wholesale from a magazine. Ever the opportunist, I have been Googling to discover what magazine he is talking about, but to no avail so far. (Can anybody help me out with this one?)
The next day, I hit two more flea markets. At the first, an outdoor flea market, I found a woman sitting in the cold, selling a number of loose and boxed carts. On the downside, she knew her CIB copies had some sort of inherent value. On the upside, she was pretty willing to bargain from the start. For $20 I came away with…
- Kickle Cubicle (CIB) – The best of the lot. My friend had this game when I was a kid and I loved playing it at his house. I’ve had a hard time finding it, and seeing it CIB was too much to pass up.
- Firehawk (CIB) – One of those sketchily published Camerica games; the kind that lacks the Nintendo Seal of Approval. I don’t tend to see those with their boxes, let alone CIB, so I had to grab it in spite of its box being pretty sunbleached.
- F-15 City Wars (cart) – Never heard of this one…it’s from “American Video Entertainment” (whatever that is/was) and also lacks the Seal of Approval.
- Road Runner (cart) – A Tengen release, making this the third cart of questionable legality!
- King’s Knight (cart) – I had never heard of this one either, but added it to the pile purely on the basis of its Square Soft logo. C’mon, you know you would have done the same.
I think the woman and I both walked away from this deal feeling like winners. I was originally planning to head home after this, but since I was in a shady part of town, I figured I’d find more flea markets if I kept driving. Five minutes down the road, my theory was validated.
There was a real shortage of video game paraphernalia in this third flea market, but I finally found a guy selling stereo equipment that had a stick on NES carts on the side. He proposed $4/cart, but we agreed on 2 for $6. This proved to be quite the bargain when I found…
- Mega Man 6 (loose) – Major find! I already have Mega Man 2,3,4, and 5, so adding this one puts me one shy of a complete NES Mega Man collection.
- Tiny Toon Adventures (loose) – Another one that I loved as a kid, but somehow lost. Just like Rescue Rangers, I was really excited to grab this one.
Which put the weekend tally at 10 games (2 CIB, 8 loose) for $36. More than I was expecting to spend this weekend on the collection, but several of the games were just way too exciting for me to leave sitting in the flea markets, unappreciated by all but me.
I’ll have to give these particular locations a rest now to let them (hopefully) replenish their stocks, and in the meantime, continue the hunt!