HISTORY / COLLECTING : Sega Genesis

When covering each console I will cover its actual history, my personal history with it and some info about collecting for the console. Being that this is our first coverage of a SEGA console, I will be covering the company’s history as well.

HISTORY OF SEGA

Much like Nintendo, Sega Holdings Co., Ltd (a.k.a. Sega or SEGA) hasn’t always been solely in the video game market. The company originated as Service Games, was based in Hawaii and moved to Tokyo in sg 10001951 with the intentions to produce jukeboxes and slot machines. In 1965 it then moved into importing coin-operated games and merged with its largest competitor, after which it changed the new company name to Sega Enterprises. Over the next couple decades it saw good success in the arcade gaming scene and gained notice worldwide. It wasn’t until 1983 that Sega would make their first video game console, the SG-1000. The console was sold primarily in Japan and Australia and saw pretty limited success. It wasn’t until the launch of the Master System/Genesis in 1987/89 respectively that Sega would see large commercial sales.

HISTORY OF SEGA GENESIS

In August of 1989 the Sega Genesis hit the U.S. at an affordable price point of $189 ($363 today adjusted for inflation). The Genesis was advertised and promoted by Sega as kind of the “Nintendo killer”. You may remember many of its commercials directly mentioned Nintendo and its inferiority to the Genesis. Its software was a genesisgood mixture of arcade ports and original IPs. It was one of the first consoles to feature sports games promoted and affiliated with celebrities and athletes like John Madden Football, Arnold Palmer Tournament Golf and Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker. As the SNES launched and gained popularity Sega decided to revamp their efforts. They did a “re-brand” of sorts around a new character Sonic the Hedgehog and had a lot of commercial success with it. Sonic the Hedgehog was such an amazing game at the time that it helped solidify the Genesis as not only a contender in the U.S. game market, but the overall sales leader. Sega continued attempts to improve the Master/Genesis by creating attachment upgrades like the 32X and the Sega CD. Sales for the Genesis did well and successfully beat the SNES for pretty much the entirety of the 16 bit era. It’s lifecycle was from 1989 to 1997, over that span it sold an estimated 40 million units.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH SEGA GENESIS

The Genesis was a big part of my childhood. During most of my NES playing days my parents were still together, but shortly after they split up. I remember that my father bought a Genesis but wouldn’t let us take it back to mom’s with us after we visited. It was almost like an extra incentive to want to visit him (seems kinda messed up now that I think about it but also a pretty smart move). Its also one of the first sonic 2 gifconsoles I remember playing a lot with my brother Levi. As I mentioned in the NES post, he was a little young in those days to really play challenging video games. But by the time dad got the Genesis Levi was 6 or 7, old enough to keep up with me on most games. I remember co-op play on a lot of classics: the Sonic the Hedgehog series, Gadget Twins and Toejam & Earl. At that time the Genesis also had probably the best era of licensed video games in all of gaming history, superb but difficult titles like Lion King, Aladdin, Mickey Mouse Castle of Illusion and Jurassic Park. A couple years later Dad gave the Genesis to grandma so that all of us grandkids could play anytime we visited. I have several memories of playing with cousins on Gadget Twins, NHL ’94 and Super Street Fighter II to name a few. My favorite title from the Genesis though is definitely Sonic the Hedgehog 2, it would likely even make my top 5 games of all-time list. It’s such a masterpiece in both soundtrack and level design. The Genesis is my second favorite console ever and the 16bit era is in my opinion the greatest generation of gaming we’ve ever had. When I’m in the mood to play some older games the Genesis and SNES boxes are the ones I tend to reach for.

COLLECTING FOR THE GENESIS

So while I’ve played the Genesis extensively at my dad’s and grandma’s, I never actually owned the Genesis myself. It wasn’t until a couple years ago that I purchased one, at a pawn shop near Indy. Its been one of my favorite systems to collect for. This is for two reasons primarily. First off because I love the system and its games and I have such fond memories of them. The second reason is because I’ve found it’s actually one of the easiest systems to collect for. I see Genesis games frequently at yard sales, flea markets, pawn shops, used game stores, Craigslist, you name it. In general the price of its best games tends to be pretty low as well. A lot of the best games for the system were first party games, produced in large quantities (namely the Sonic series and some arcade ports), so they aren’t too expensive or difficult to find. The price of an average loose Genesis cart from my collection was around $10-20 (again, I collect loose carts but with labels in great condition), not bad at all compared to its competitor, the SNES. Another pro for these games is that the color of the cart is black so it doesn’t show dirt and it hasn’t been marked all over by some kid who had a Sharpie and ADHD. Are you thinking you want to be a Complete-In-Box collector? No problem. Genesis boxes were plastic cases, with protective coverings over their labels. They tend to hold up very well compared to the cardboard boxes used by the NES, SNES and N64. Because of that wise design choice Sega made, the CIB Genesis game prices are much lower than pretty much any other system’s boxes from the 80s or 90s.

***UP NEXT IS REVIEW ON GENESIS AND GUNSTAR HEROES***

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Cast your vote for which GENESIS game I should play and review

In preparation for my set of SEGA Genesis blog posts, we need to select our 3 games for me to play and review. “Never Played” will be Gunstar Heroes. “Personal Favorite” will be Rocket Knight Adventures. You guys get to vote to decide what the third game will be. You can vote by commenting on this blog post or by using the strawpoll link. If you wish to nominate a game not listed you will have to comment.

STRAWPOLL: http://strawpoll.me/5067892

Aladdin

Beyond Oasissega genesis logo

Comix Zone

Desert Strike

Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine

Earthworm Jim

Earthworm Jim 2

Gadget Twins

Golden Axe II

Jurassic Park

The Lion King

Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament

Phantasy Star IV

Sparkster

Shining Force II

Sonic the Hedgehog

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Sonic the Hedgehog 3

Sonic and Knuckles

Sonic Spinball

Streets of Rage II

Toejam & Earl

Toejam & Earl 2: Panic on Funkotron

Toy Story

Jungle Strike

John Madden Football

NHL ’94

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REVIEW: Battletoads

Personal Favorite: BATTLETOADS

Battletoads was my pick for “Personal Favorite” of the NES library. I could’ve also gone with Super Mario Bros. 3, my favorite game of all-time. But I play SMB3 every year, I haven’t played Battletoads in ages, so it was ripe for a playthrough.

Battletoads was developed by Rare, one of the best and brightest software developers of all-time. It was published by Tradewest, who also published another great NES era beat-em-up Double Dragon and who battletoads-usalater merged into Midway Games. In 1991 it released to the NES late in the console’s life cycle and it has seen multiple re-releases on various consoles since. The player controls either Rash or Zitz, mutated fighting space frogs determined to defeat the Dark Queen and rescue Princess Angelica. Its a side scrolling “beat-em-up” style of play that features mostly melee attacks but mixes in the use of weapons and vehicles from time to time. The NES version is well known for its insane difficulty. Seldom will you ever seen a top 10, 5 or even 3 “hardest games of all-time” list without Battletoads being #1 or close to it. I’ve played a lot of difficult games in my day, but for my money there is no game more difficult than Battletoads.

I’ve always started with artwork on these blog posts/reviews. Battletoads‘ artwork, while nostalgia and joy inducing, actually isn’t anything special. It shows an accurate idea of the art style and personality of the game, but the artwork itself isn’t anything that stands out among early video game covers. The soundtrack is solid but also doesn’t stand out among the 8bit classics. Its typically mood-setting and catchy, but I did find it needed a bit more variety between level tracks. One feature I did really dig though is having a separate track to play while the game is paused, especially one so basic but so funky. Visually Battletoads again falls under mediocre. The use of color is nice, the pinks, blues and greens properly purvey the space theme. But the art style itself isn’t anything unique or catchy like say a Super Mario Bros. 3 or a Mega Man title in my opinion. Its gameplay is at its base your typical beat-em-up fare, including jumping attacks, picking up weapons, etc.

So if everything is so mediocre technically about the game why do I love it so much? Because the two things it does properly it does them to perfection: personality and difficulty. I consider the top-notch animations the game features to fall under the personality category by the way. The way a combo battletoads giffinishes with a giant cartoony fist never gets old. The shocked expression Rash makes when initially seeing a boss never gets old. The funky dance he does when he ducks under snowballs thrown by a villainous snowman, guess what, never gets old. What you would assume would get old but doesn’t is the difficulty of Battletoads. I don’t think there’s ever been or will be a game that nails difficulty as perfectly as Battletoads in my opinion (the closest might be the first two entries in the Souls series). I say this because Battletoads is very tough, requiring precise technical skill controlling your character as well as knowledge of enemy locations and game world, but it is at the same time built around a forgiving health system. You get plenty of health per life, which you start with three of. This isn’t like Bionic Commando‘s early game where every hit equals instant restart. Normal enemies can hit you 4 or 5 times before you would lose a life. You can also gain some health back by quickly catching flies before they fly away at specific parts of levels. If you do die off you will restart at the start of the current level, not the beginning of the entire game. The difficulty lies in jumping at just the right moment, ducking exactly when you needed to, knowing which part of the stage to run through and which to take your time on. It’s a game that rewards you for playing and that you can tangibly feel yourself getting better at. Nowhere else in the game is that more apparent than in the dreaded “Wind Tunnel” level, which is without a doubt the single hardest level or world I’ve ever played in any video game. It requires precise timing and knowledge to conquer. I got stuck on it for almost a full week. To beat it I had to write down the sequence on a piece of notebook paper. I had 6 rows of inputs with about 25 inputs per row of either “up”, “down”, “jump”, “ramp”, “jumpramp”, “dodge”. Keywords that made sense only to me. At least a dozen or so times a day for a week I’d pull the paper from my pocket and read the inputs to myself, then put it away and try to recall them back one line at a time. When I’d get home from work I’d load up a ROM of Battletoads I had set-up to start at the wind tunnel and I’d practice for a couple hours each night. Every time I died I could hit one button to quickly try again. Then once a night before bed I would play on NES, get back to the wind tunnel, and give her the old college try. On the fifth night I finally did it. For the next two days I did not turn the NES off because I didn’t wanna have to redo that damn level, my electric bill be damned I was not gonna have to beat it again. The rest of the game was easier, certainly not easy, but easier. The mouse level gave me fits for a few hours, and that damn snake level can kiss my grits, but eventually I did get to the final level of the game.

The final level has a cool 3D like effect that has Rash climbing up a spiral tower, pretty unique for its time. I don’t recall another game on the NES trying anything like that. The console itself wasn’t capable of doing motion in the Z-axis, but the developers set the level up in a way that made you feel like you were. It was quite clever. Final boss was cake compared to some of the previous challenges and I had finally done it. I had finally beaten Battletoads, for the first time in my life. As a kid I do not ever recall seeing anyone beat Battletoads in person. On two-player with some luck my friend and I could get past jet-bikes, but we never could conquer the snakes. Never in my life before now have I ever seen Battletoads be beaten. It’s one of my proudest gaming moments and one I won’t soon forget.

If you’ve never played this game, do yourself a service and check it out. But make sure you get the NES version, the ONLY version that matters. Chances are you won’t make it past the hover bikes level, but at least you can say you tried. When your gamer friends are reminiscing, sharing their Wind Tunnel war stories, you can tell them all about the time you made it two jumps from the end before dying that one time and how much you love to hate Battletoads.

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REVIEW: Bionic Commando

Poll Winner: BIONIC COMMANDO

Bionic Commando was your vote for which NES game I should play and I’m quite glad about that. I’ve never played it but always heard good things. I played Bionic Commando Rearmed on XBLA a few years ago and really enjoyed it, since then I’ve looked forward to one day playing the original game.

The series Bionic Commando actually began in arcades in 1987, not on the NES like I had always assumed. The NES version dropped in 1988. Capcom changed several things with this version compared 220px-Bionic-killt-comparisonto the Japanese, most of which they did presumably to avoid offending people. The “Empire” I fought in the American version was originally the actual Nazi party, complete with flags and swastikas and everything. I killed “Master-D” at the end of this game, but Japanese players killed Adolph Hitler himself (who I thought Master-D definitely bore resemblance to while playing through the NES version). Check out the image I pulled from Wikipedia showing the differences in decoration of the antagonist’s office. Players and critics alike loved the NES version and its always been respected as one of the better games of its time.

The artwork of the box and cover is nice. It gives an accurate idea of what you’ll be doing during this game: swinging around on your bionic arm while blasting soldiers in the face with your big guns. One interesting thing I did notice though is the cover is not showing in-game footage, which we talked about in the NES history post was that it was kind of a sticking point for Nintendo to not allow misleading graphics or depictions. I really dig the visual style of this game. The color scheme is a lot of flat blues and greens so it really gives off the military vibe. The cut-scenes between playing levels look great for the time and also really help engage you into the whole army/special ops secret super soldier thing. The different backgrounds of BionicCommandoeach level also help set the mood, especially when the enemy suddenly invades one of your bases and the sky blackens and the music pace picks up. Musically, Bionic Commando is phenomenal. I know I’m kinda biased because I’m such a sucker for bit music but dammit this music really is amazing. It also does have a large amount of speedy drum-esque rhythms in there that again lead towards the military theme. Both visually and musically this game is killin it.

As you start the game initially you find that there is actually a storyline going on here, its not just a “hey you’re a soldier, no go kill all other soldiers” type of thing. You’re going behind enemy lines to rescue your buddy who’s now a POW. You don’t know where he’s being held so you’ll need to visit various enemy bases to find him. At each base you have to find the enemy communications and hack them to give intel back to your base, which again lends well to the secret soldier theme. The mission select screen design is a thing of beauty and also lends to the “going behind enemy lines” vibe. There are various enemy squads moving around between camps. You have to move your squad to your desired point without running into opposing forces and if you do then you’ll need to take those guys out. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything like it and its a really cool mechanic that other games should revisit and tweak.

As far as gameplay, I can sum it up in one short statement: the grappling hook is Bad…Ass! This thing makes the game. Properly utilizing it is both difficult and rewarding, its an art form. It is not nearly as easy as it looks. After beating Bionic Commando I watched a speed run on YouTube and was utterly amazed and impressed at how good you can get with it. The technical potential is off the charts. At the start I killed myself over and over as I swung off a ledge to my death or directly into line of enemy fire. But after a couple hours of practice I could pull off some sweet moves. Chaining swings and then landing behind an enemy to blast them in the back feels as badass as it looks. Later in the game when enemies start chucking grenades or you have a big chasm to traverse those grapple skills come in handy. After taking out enemies you always clear the level by destroying that base on your way out and I gotta tell ya it never got old watching it blow up as my character escaped with explosions behind him action-hero style. As you clear enemy bases and patrols you will unlock weapon upgrades similar to Mega Man. At the start of each mission you can bring a limited number of weapon upgrades in with you. This game is like the perfect blend of Mega Man, Contra and Metal Gear.

After eventually clearing the very difficult camps I got to the final boss. The fight itself was subpar in fun and challenge, but the scene ends with the exploding of his head (even more awesome when you recall that the original version’s boss is Hitler) which I found quite entertaining. After that you have a limited amount of time to escape the exploding facility and grab a helicopter while saving your buddy in Rambo like fashion.

I only have a couple gripes about the game. The biggest gripe being the difficulty. I’m all for tough games and in fact very much enjoy them. But I found Bionic Commando to be quite tough, more importantly though is how unforgiving it can be. For the majority of the first half of it you cannot get shot, period. Later on you do build up health but its not much and there are also several sections where game mechanics will kill you instantly anyways. There were a handful of moments where I felt like the game was difficult just for difficulty’s sake. While its no Battletoads or Ghosts and Goblins, Bionic Commando would definitely make my top ten list of toughest games I’ve ever beaten. My other complaint is that there were a couple times where the grappling hook would swing me into spots that locked my character in place and I couldn’t escape. I would have to reset the NES and restart my game. This happened only twice, but on a game this difficult it only takes a couple game freezes to piss you off.

When its all said and done Bionic Commando‘s plethora of pros far outweigh its small issues. It is one of the best games I’ve ever played and I’m glad I stuck it out through the difficult sections and beat it. Bionic Commando deserves its praise as one of the most technically sound games of the 8bit era.

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REVIEW: Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest

Never Played: CASTLEVANIA 2: SIMON’S QUEST

Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest will be our NES pick for “Never Played” category. Not only have I never played this particular game, I have never played a Castlevania title period. Some of you may ask how it is I’ve managed to never play one despite owning and playing thousands of games. In my younger days I never really heard of Castlevania, none of my friends were ever into them and I was too busy enjoying castle2all the great first party games of the 8bit and 16bit era anyways. The critical acclaim the DS Castlevania games received is the first time I ever really remember considering playing one. But at that time I was in college and between school and work I barely had anytime to game so I stuck with a few select titles when I did somehow find free time. When I decided to do this project in this manner, to always play one title I’ve never played before on each system, I knew this was the perfect time to finally play a Castlevania title. My friend is a big fan of the series and suggested that if I must play only one to review it should be Simon’s Quest. I now know that he has masterfully trolled me and I don’t know if I’ll ever forgive him.

Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest was the sequel to the critical hit Castlevania. Simon’s Quest hit stateside in December of 1988. The series is developed by Konami, a Japanese developer who put out a ton of phenomenal games during the arcade/8bit era including Contra, Gradius, Frogger and Metal Gear. They would later be responsible for the worldwide craze Dance Dance Revolution. In Castlevania the protagonist Simon Belmont defeated, and was cursed by, Dracula. Castlevania 2 is all about us trying to lift that curse by finding the five body parts Dracula was split into after his defeat and bringing them to his castle to seal him away. The first Castlevania is a standard platformer style game. The second adds several RPG elements and also allows the player to explore and revisit all areas of the game. We will come to find that those RPG elements are what cause Simon’s Quest to simultaneously be a great idea for its time and a complete trainwreck of a video game.

I really like the artwork of this title, it gives off the medieval vibe quite well. Actually come to think of it, all the Castlevania games have great cover art. As I stated at the top, I went into this game blind. I’ve never played a Castlevania, never watched someone play one, never read about the plot or even really what kind of games they are. Some of you may ask why don’t I research mechanics and information about the game before playing it? I find that the best part about video games is that learn them as you go. This sentiment is especially true with older titles that don’t usually outright tell you word for word what to do and where to go. Right at the start of the game, I found the visuals appealing. The lines are not crisp and thick or cartoony (which isn’t an actual word but definitely should be), they’re a bit blurry and dark. Actually its not just the lines, everything is a bit blurry and dark, but that feels purposeful. The early monsters of the game (werewolves and skeletons) look creepy and actually decently detailed for an 8bit title. Everything about the graphics and sound seems meant to create a dark spooky atmosphere and it comes across very well. Speaking of the sound, the music is phenomenal. It’s got kind of a creepy vibe, mixes in high pitch rhythms well and really adds to the overall atmosphere. Simon’s Quest‘s soundtrack will definitely now be downloaded and added to my collection.

At the start I’m introduced to a town of people who all have something to say, most of it sounds like complete non-sense. I would later learn through online research that the town’s people are supposed to simon gifgive you hints on where to go and what to do, but that much of the details are lost in translation between Japanese and English. This was one of the worst things about the whole game and was a common complaint by reviewers. I continue past them and run into the woods into my first enemies which are werewolves and skeletons. I notice that jumping over them or on them is not an option. My only weapon is my whip. I continue through the forest and when I problem comes along I whip it, whip it good. I notice enemies are dropping hearts, sometimes half hearts, sometimes full ones. Decades of gaming has taught me that picking up hearts should be healing me, however these hearts do not seem to heal me. I get through most of the woods when suddenly I get a message about being cursed. The day turns to night and the music changes into an even creepier, somewhat faster paced score. I notice enemies seem to take more whip hits to die and that they seem to be dropping more half-hearts, I do some testing and sure enough they do. I get to the end of the woods only to see that I cannot go any farther. There are no clues around about where I should go and what I should do. I decide to go all the way back to town and talk to the townspeople to see if I missed something. After an hour of failing I decide I should consult a guide to at least get the ball rolling here. I find out I’m supposed to get a crystal and Holy water from a guy in town who is located in an area that I somehow kept missing. When I get to the guy he asks for hearts in return, so that’s what they’re for, currency. I start to realize that this game isn’t going to be the typical side scrolling beat-em-up I though it would be, it has a bit more depth than that. Later I run into my first mansion which I must admit was very cool. Right from the start it feels different. The skeleton patterns by the gates tell me this “level” is going to be more daunting than the others. I get inside and hear a different music track, see high ceilings and new enemies. Konami does a great job making these mansions feel special. At the end I collect a part of Dracula and exit back into the woods.

As I went through Simon’s Quest I found that it is nigh impossible to beat this game without a guide or someone outside of the game giving you hints. The in-game hints and direction are almost worthless at giving you any sense of direction whatsoever. There were several moments that I had to look up locations of some progress items. Items that are needed to complete the game. I don’t think this kind of set-up would fly these days, reviewers would rip it apart. Even my beloved Souls series, which is known for giving minimal direction to the player, actually tells you in some capacity what your goals are and what things you will need to do to progress. Simon’s Quest plops you in the woods, gives you no sense of what to do and expects you to find well-hidden rooms in random locations to get items required to beat it. If these hidden items were extra bonuses then there would be no problem, the problem is not knowing how to progress through the actual game. Not to mention there is a part where you have to call upon the help of a tornado in a specific spot that I swear the game gives you no direction that you even need to do. Without the help of a guide there is zero chance I could’ve beaten this game. Maybe I’m terrible at video games and its all just my imagination, but personally I think its more likely this game does a poor job at direction.

Despite its major flaws I actually did enjoy the game. The creepy atmosphere and the mechanic of day vs. night had me hooked me early enough and well enough that I wanted to keep playing despite the horrible composition of the game’s direction. The idea of a side-scrolling RPG hybrid appeals to me. Multiple potential game endings was also a cool idea. I really like the idea of the game, even if I don’t love the game itself. It could use a few more boss fights and a lot more hints, but overall I don’t regret playing Simon’s Quest. Most importantly I now cannot wait to try out some of the critically acclaimed Castlevania titles, namely the pair of DS games.

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REVIEW: Nintendo Entertainment System

NES REVIEW

Looking at the design of my NES now, I view it differently aesthetically than I used to. I used to find it ugly, just a big grey block of plastic and metal. I assumed it looked so unappealing because of its age, I figured that back when Nintendo made it they focused on function over form. But after doing research on its history and learning about how Nintendo wanted it to look like a computer, to look sturdy and professional, I can see the design choices and appreciate them. The use of an antennae adapter instead of VHF is a plus (if you read my 2600 review you may remember how VHF can be a pain in modern times), the picture and sound are crisp and clear. The power and reset buttons look nice and professional. I can’t explain why but I love the way the power button clicks in and stays in when you press it and the way the cartridges snap down once you’ve inserted them. I don’t know what it is about snapping that metal piece down but its so damn satisfying to do.

Nostalgia glasses come off though when I go to start up Simon’s Quest and the screen remains black. zelda gif“Shit, that’s right, I’m gonna have to blow into this cart and retry it at least a dozen times before it plays.” It takes a handful of tries before it finally works, even though I just cleaned all three games getting them ready for review. Playing through Simon’s Quest, Bionic Commando and Battletoads I was amazed at how well both the looks and sound of the NES holds up. There’s something visually appealing about 8-bit games. I can appreciate how much complicity and detail can be crammed into such a simplistic and limited amount of tools these developers had to work with. Some of these games have more personality than most modern games and they do it with <1% of the memory space today’s developers do.

The NES controller design is simple, but that’s not a bad thing. The buttons and pad perform and respond well and it just overall feels solidly constructed. Over the next few consoles we will see systems take the NES controller layout (basic pad on left and buttons on right with pause buttons in between) and add slightly more to it. Everything about the system from the controllers to the video and sound can be summed up by deeming it “simple but solid”. The actual console and controller look and feel professional and well manufactured. Aside from the pin connector needing replaced, which I said before is cheap and easy, the console holds up very well. The actual video and audio also holds up well, primarily due to the basic styles used. When we get to the eras of consoles where games try to actually look realistic (like around the PS1 and forward) we will most likely find the visuals feel very outdated. But the 8bit and 16bit era are timeless because they stick with simple visuals across the board and they differentiate themselves through their sound, features and personality. I enjoy replaying my NES and SNES more than any other console in my vast collection, that fact alone should tell you how great these consoles still are after 30+ years.

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HISTORY / COLLECTING : Nintendo Entertainment System

When covering each console I will cover its actual history, my personal history with it and some info about collecting for the console. Being that this was Nintendo’s first console, I will be covering the company’s history as well.

HISTORY OF NINTENDO

When doing my research for this post I was surprised to see what all Nintendo had been involved in before the birth of the NES. Like most of you, I assumed Nintendo had always been in the business of electronics. However it seems the company has had its hands in a gamut of things including: playing cards, cab services, love hotels and toys. They started with playing cards back in 1889. After goingthrough all the aforementioned ventures they finally started to produce what we now know them for: video games, in the 1970s. Nintendo didn’t start right away with console gaming though. They started with smaller endeavors like Love Testers and light-gun games. Their first arcade game was EVR Race in 1975, after that they had several small titles until hitting it big in 1981 with Donkey Kong which was designed by the now legendary game creator Miyamoto. While developing arcade games they also came out with their first console, the Color TV-Game in 1977. That’s right, the NES wasn’t even their first console. The Colorgame and watch TV-Game was released only in Japan and basically was just six variations of PONG, which Nintendo called Light Tennis. Nintendo developed five different Color TV-Game consoles over the next three years, each was just variations of its specific game. Their next big development was the Game & Watch, a series of handheld video games. Each version of Game & Watch had a different video game on it, they did not have swappable cartridges like the Game Boy system Nintendo would later develop.

HISTORY OF THE NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES)

In 1983 Nintendo developed the Famicom (short for “Family Computer”) for release in Japan. They considered using joystick controllers like the Atari but settled on the pad design of the Game & Watch, primarily since they had so much success and positive feedback on it and because they had limited knowledge of arcade sticks. That would prove to be a key decision because several developers used the Famicom/NES gamepad and attempted to improve upon it through the next couple decades of console developments. They designed the system to look and feel like a professional product. Nintendo wanted to get away from the perception people had about video games. This was a time period shortly following the great video game crash of the early 80s (which I will eventually cover and explain in its own blog post), so the company wanted consumers to think of the system as more of a professional computer system instead of a video game. The stigma and current poor sales related to video games made Nintendo seal of qualityuneasy about launching a state-side version of the Famicom but they eventually would in 1985, naming the U.S. version the Nintendo Entertainment System. Titles developed for it used artwork and images that closely resembled the actual in-game models because part of the reason for the video game crash was the unrealistic depiction of the artwork on past video games. The game covers also included the “Nintendo Seal of Quality”, meant to reassure the buyer that the game had been personally reviewed and approved by the company. Again, all these steps were taken to make consumers feel like they were buying a quality product and to try to distance themselves a bit from all the knock off systems of the Atari 2600 era that had led to the market crash.

In North America the NES was launched in 1985 with two different package options with different prices on each. The Basic Set came with no game for $89.99 ($198.89 today according to http://www.usinflationcalculator.com/) or you could get it with Super Mario Bros. for $99.99 ($220.99). The Action Set came with two controllers, a Zapper (Nintendo’s patented light-gun), Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt all for $149.99 ($331.49). After launch there would be three more named package releases: the Power Set, Sports Set and Challenge Set. The last iteration of the NES would come out late in ’93 for only $49.99 ($82.27) and only came with two controllers and no game. The NES was finally discontinued in 1995, giving it a lifespan of 10 years of North American production, a great run for the nesearly years of console gaming, at that time second only to the Atari 2600. Over its lifespan the NES sold 62,000,000 units worldwide and 34,000,000 in the United States, making it the best selling console of its generation. A few key launch titles were Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Ice Climber and Super Mario Bros.. One key thing Nintendo was the first to do is the licensing of their console to third party developers. For the gaming laymen, this means they encouraged other companies to have access to their development tools and to develop titles for their console as long as Nintendo approved them before launch. This approach is how all current generation console gaming companies (the big three of course being Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony) do business now.

From the controller design, to the decision to work with third party publishers, the NES is the grandfather of the modern day gaming scene. Nintendo has had without a doubt the biggest role in shaping console gaming over the last three decades. System after system they prove to be able to consistently put out quality systems and software. NES set Nintendo on that path. The console itself was a solidly constructed, well marketed medium for some amazing software that would set-up some of the best games of the next 30 years. These excellent franchises all made their debut on the NES: Legend of Zelda, Kirby’s Adventure, Super Mario Bros., Castlevania, Mega Man, Final Fantasy and many more. There’s a reason most gamers these days will tell you the NES was their favorite console. It came out the right way, at the right time and holds a special place in many gamer’s hearts.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH THE NES

I touched on it a bit back in the 2600 post, but the NES was my first console. My dad bought it shortly after I was born in 1988. I was encouraged at a very young age to play video games (thanks mom and dad!) and apparently was a natural. Many times my parents have recollected how dad used to have his work buddies come over to our house so they could see first hand how his 3 year old son could beat Super Mario Bros., with or without using warps. I also remember playing lots of Excitebike and Paperboy back then. Once my younger brother Levi was old enough to play along with me we played lots of great co-operative games together, namely the classics Double Dragon, Battletoads and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade. But my favorite game for the NES and still my favorite game to this day, is Super Mario Bros. 3. SMB3 is a pure masterpiece of level design and personality rivaled in my mind only by its concurrent entry Super Mario World. I replay SMB3 every year on my birthday, its my own little gaming tradition. Over the years I’ve played pretty much every key NES title ever made and I can vouch first hand that the NES certainly is something special. Its amazing that a system which just turned 30 years old can still have so many games that remain a blast to play.

COLLECTING FOR THE NES

Back in the 2600 article I explained how I only collect complete-in-box for my absolute favorite game for each system. By reading the last paragraph, you can probably gather that it was Super Mario Bros. 3 that I bought for the NES. Other than SMB3, all NES carts I have are loose but in great shape. So I can give you an accurate idea of what its like to collect loose carts for the NES. On average the NES is only mildly difficult as far as how tough the games are to find. Because it sold so well, there are an abundance of game copies around, even 30 years later. Yard sales, used game stores and sometimes pawn shops are all places worth looking. The problem with NES collecting is that because its so beloved, even people who may not consider themselves “video game collectors”, buy up NES carts all the time. This keeps the price of loose carts middle of the road. For most games you’re looking at a price of about $5-$15. If you’re wanting to pick up key titles like Castlevania or Legend of Zelda then you can expect to spend a bit more, but even then usually not over $25. As I said, these prices and availability are if you want cartridges in really good condition like I do. If you don’t care about the condition of the label then you can save about 30-50%. A common problem you’ll find with buying the games is that for some reason every kid wanted to brand his NES cart with his initials in permanent marker (a problem that seems to also plague SNES and N64 games). This marker can be sometimes removed with various tricks you can find with a quick Google search. On the flip side, if you want them all new in box then you’re looking at double the prices I listed at the very least. These games are 30 years old and highly desired, not many boxed copies remain intact. The people who own complete in box copies know how valuable they are so expect to spend quite a bit more than the $5-$15 I quoted you for loose carts.

To get an idea of prices: I paid $30 for my Complete-In-Box copy of SMB3. Loose carts rang between $10-15 depending upon the label condition and any marks.
To get an idea of prices: I paid $30 for my Complete-In-Box copy of SMB3. Loose carts range between $10-15 depending upon the label condition and any marks.

Collecting the system itself isn’t too difficult either, aside from two things: the condition you want it in and the pin connector. You can find them without too much trouble at yard sales and retro game stores, but they’re typically not in great condition. They usually have a small chip here or there, or some yellowing coloration in a few spots, or some kid decided to brand their system with that damn Sharpie. If you want one in excellent condition you may have to resort to eBay. Regardless of whether you get a beat-up NES or a seemingly brand spankin’ new one, its probably gonna need a new 72 pin connector. This piece is what you’re pushing the game into when you insert it, it’s what’s connecting with the “teeth” of the cartridge. The pin connector goes bad over time and its thought that it really doesn’t matter how much play the system has seen, after X amount of time the pin connector needs to be replaced. If you get no response on the screen and the system’s power light is flashing red on and off then you need a new one. Luckily this is cheap and easy to do yourself. Head over to Amazon and pick this guy up for only $10: http://www.amazon.com/NES-Connector-Bulk-Packaging-Nintendo-DS/dp/B000A3IA0Y. With a small Phillips screwdriver and this YouTube video you can fix it yourself: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEyV3F_34UY. I just did it myself a couple months ago and it only took an hour.

***UP NEXT IS REVIEW ON NES, BATTLETOADS, BIONIC COMMANDO AND CASTLEVANIA 2: SIMON’S QUEST***

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Cast your vote for which NES game I should play and review

In preparation for my pair of NES blog posts, we need to select our 3 games for review. “Never Played” game will be Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest and the “Personal Favorites” game will be Battletoads. To determine our third game, cast your vote by using the strawpool link or commenting on this post.

STRAWPOLL: http://strawpoll.me/4897810nintendo

Batman: The Video Game

Bionic Commando

Blaster Master

Bubble Bobble

Castlevania

Castlevania 3

Chip N Dale: Rescue Rangers

Cobra Triangle

Contra

Double Dragon II: The Revenge

Dr. Mario

Duck Tales

Excitebike

Final Fantasy

Ghosts N Goblins

Gradius

Gyromite

Jackal

Kid Icarus

Kirby’s Adventure

The Legend of Zelda

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Mario Bros.

Mike Tyson’s Punch Out

Metroid

Mega Man

Mega Man 2

Mega Man 3

Mega Man 4

Mega Man 5

Mega Man 6

Paperboy

RBI Baseball

Super Mario Bros.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 3

Techmo Super Bowl

TMNT: Arcade

TMNT II: Arcade

Tetris

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REVIEWS: 2600 / Joust / DigDug / Q*Bert

ATARI 2600 REVIEW

As I unbox it, everything visually about this system screams “old school cool”. The wood panel design on the front of the console, the joystick controllers, the VHF/Antennae connector, the way you switch on and off the system and its settings instead of pressing down buttons, it all seems so archaic compared to the touch buttons of the PS4 and XBox One that you don’t even have to press down on. These positive feelings quickly went away as I tried to hook it up though, because I had forgotten how hard it is to snugly connect a VHF output to modern day TVs. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this image is pretty close to what I’m talking about: http://saundby.com/atari7800mod/images/vidadapt1.jpg  . It didn’t work on my plasma TV, but I do have an older model Sanyo HDTV that I keep specifically for older systems. With a little fiddling I was finally able to get the short VHF connector to be flush enough with the TVs antennae jack that the games didn’t give me a buzzing feedback noise. That’ something to keep in mind if you plan to collect for this system, you need a TV that has a short enough antennae jack to still fit old VHF connectors, or you need to invest in a VHF to antennae adapter.

I fire up Joust and to my surprise it works first try. I would later find that all three games I reviewed loaded problem-free on the first try, something I doubt the NES succeeds at when we review it in a few weeks. Could the reason for this consistency be because the “connectors” for the cartridges are housed mostly inside of the cartridge and aren’t exposed to air like the “teeth” of most Nintendo cartridges? I’m not sure, but for whatever the reason, its a big check mark in the “Pros” column for the 2600. After playing the three games I have to say my favorite thing about the system is the sound. I just love 8-bit and 16-bit sounds and music. While the 2600s sound is lacking a bit compared to the NES after it, it still has that classic feel to it and is still very enjoyable. Visually though, the games look hideous. I have to keep reminding myself that these games are 30 years old. The age excuse isn’t fully valid though when you consider that the 2600 games are noticeably less defined and less colorful compared to their older arcade counterparts. But again we have to remember, this system is one of the first capable of emulating expensive arcade cabinets while still remaining somewhat affordable. It would take a couple decades of refinement to get to where we are now.

One of the most important things that make or break a system are definitely the controllers. The 2600 comes with joysticks and paddle style controllers. The idea of having a joystick is cool, especially considering that arcade games mostly use joysticks and this console is basically an arcade simulator. The actual joysticks that come with the console however are quite sub par. They just do not function well in neither responsiveness nor arcade-feel. There were several instances in play in which I would tell the stick to go one direction and my character would go in an other. Poor Q*Bert suicide jumped off his pyramid at least a couple dozen times. Perhaps I’m just spoiled with today’s joysticks. I’m a fighting gamer and also used to be pretty into modding fightsticks so I’m used to high quality, modern age technology when it comes to joysticks. Its painful to go back to using this crappy unresponsive thing, even when I factor in the 30 years old excuse. When I think about it, the 2600 really is the only system I can think of that came packaged with a straight-up joystick (not counting “thumbsticks” like the PS1’s). Between the 2600 and the PS One/N64/Saturn era, consoles used “D-Pads” on their stock controllers. Actually even those first three systems that did have “thumbsticks” stocked also still had “D-Pads”. I wonder why we stuck with the pad structure for so long and stayed away from joysticks. I can’t really say its due to quality because many of us know arcade cabinets that have great joysticks and are a decade older than those consoles. My best guess would be the cost of manufacturing a high quality joystick was too high during the pad era and developers shied away from joystick layouts for a long time because of it. The paddle style controllers of the 2600 however did respond well and I was happy with how they performed overall. Though they held up well I’m not surprised they weren’t featured on future console designs because they don’t have good places for buttons. The next decade of console controllers would start to show us that the more buttons the better, a paddle design can’t keep up with that style of layout.

After playing the three games for review I also went back and played a couple other favorites like Frogger, Pong and Pac-Man. All in all I had fun with this review, but the question I ended up dwelling on was “Is this a great console because of the actual console or because of its games?” The answer I ended up with is its undoubtedly because of the games. The console and controller itself is not great. These games however are and they are a huge part of gaming history. They’re the first wave of mass produced video games that we played and they introduced millions of people to video gaming. This console is basically a way to bring the classic arcade games of the 70s and 80s into your home without spending thousands of dollars on cabinets. If that is something that interests you then you should definitely collect for the system because it is also one of the cheapest to collect and also isn’t generally hard to find games for. Talking to other collectors, it seems that the console itself holds up pretty well. You don’t have to worry too much about buying a dud system at a yard sale. The one thing I would be picky about when buying it though is the joystick. Find one that the gate seems “clicky” on, it needs to feel balanced between too tight and too loose.

Never Played: JOUST REVIEW

Joust is our 2600 pick for the “Never Played” category. I have seen Joust years ago at an arcade or two, but I’ve never played it.

Joust hit arcades in July of 1982. It was developed by John Newcomer and Williams Electronics, who’s other arcade hit of the time was Defender. Newcomer said he wanted a couple key things when designing the game: for it to be cooperative and to be a flying based game. He had a stipulation on the flying aspect though, he didn’t want it to be yet another space flight game like several arcade hits of the era including Space Invaders, Asteroids and Galaga. He decided on a player-controlled ostrich (or a stork if you’re Player 2) vs computer controlled vultures. An interesting tidbit I found while researching was that he had it narrowed down to two choices: the player riding either an eagle or an ostrich. He chose the ostrich because he wanted the character to be able to both run and fly and thought it was more believable to have an ostrich that could fly than an eagle that could run. Living up to its name, the game is based on you colliding with opponents and only one coming out the victor. Using a joystick and a button you point your character going either left or right and how fast you press the button determines how fast you flap your wings. If you go past one Joust_121side of the screen you will reemerge on the opposite side. The game had a decent reception in arcades. It sold well, but wasn’t in the upper echelon of arcade popularity like Asteroids, Space Invaders or Pac-Man. It wouldn’t come to the Atari 2600 until 1983.

First thing I noticed when getting set-up to play is the artwork is tremendous. There is a warrior, sporting some kind of space goggles, riding a freaking ostrich full speed charging at the viewer. I mean how unapologetically ridiculous is the concept of this game? For the time period the art also looks semi-realistic. As I started to play it I could not for the life of me remember the mechanics. I couldn’t figure out why I would win some collisions and lose others. Are there certain color enemies I can kill and some I can’t? Does the person traveling the fastest win the collisions? Finally I figured out that it is in fact who is the highest during the collision that determines the winner. It also took me a few times of falling to my death to realize that the yellow bar at the bottom of the screen was getting smaller in between waves and that the red box under it must be lava or out-of-bounds or something because I was instantly dying when touching it. I would later see online that the arcade version has much more detail and actually shows that this red box is indeed a fire pit that I should be avoiding. On the 2600 version however, its pretty much impossible to tell the first couple of times you play. I really enjoyed the gameplay concept. It is the perfect level of fast-paced, not so crazy that you can’t tell what’s going on, but fast enough to keep things exciting and to require a decent amount of skill. The tapping of the button is quite responsive and satisfying. I compare the feel of it to swimming during Super Mario Bros games. The level design is clever for this early of a game, sometimes the spread of the blocks make it difficult to ascend for easy kills or to escape the pterodactyl. Oh yea, I forgot to mention, there’s a friggin’ pterodactyl. He would just randomly come in out of nowhere every so many levels and rock my world. I never figured out if you can kill him, let alone how, but he made things very interesting. When I kill opponents, small white dots take their place and they would bounce around the screen until I hit them again for extra points. I later read that these are eggs and they do not bounce around in the arcade version.

All in all this game was an absolute blast and I now know why so many people remember it fondly. The 2600 version is a dumbed down version, with dramatically worse graphics, but it still captures the core of the game well and was enjoyable. I think one of the reasons it plays decently on 2600 is because the poor quality of the arcade stick doesn’t come into play too much with Joust. You’re moving in only two different directions so the stick doesn’t have much of a chance to get confused on your input. Also the button on the 2600 joystick is pretty responsive and I had zero issues with it for this game during hours of play. After I reviewed all three games for this blog post I went back and played even more Joust. I hope that I see it soon in arcade cabinet form and can play the superior version. This is a must own for all Atari collectors.

Game Video (2600): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5YDF-s1zlBQ

Game Video (Arcade): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Ga2Dtkg92I

Poll Winner: DIG DUG REVIEW

Dig Dug was the voting winner from you guys, tied with Q*Bert. Q*Bert I had already considered reviewing under the favorite category, so when you guys voted it so high I decided to place it there. This left Dig Dug as the winner of the poll.

Dig Dug was developed by powerhouse Namco and helped the company become one of the most popular early companies of gaming (Pac-Man and Galaga also contributed a bit of course). It released in arcades in April/May of 1982 and sold very well. In Dig Dug you are an explorer, surrounded by tunnels and monsters. By moving through the rectangular level you will dig more and more tunnels. If you dig a connection between your tunnel and the tunnel that a monster is in then the monster will proceed to follow you. You’re equipped with an air pump that you use to explode the monsters (which I had always assumed was a laser gun and didn’t learn until now that it was actually an air pump). You can also kill monsters with the three rocks spread out across the level by digging a tunnel under the rock and making dig dugit fall down onto a monster. After you drop two of the three rocks, whether you got a kill with them or not, a special item will appear in the center of the map that will score you bonus points if you touch it. Once all monsters are cleared you proceed to the next level. A dumbed-down version came shortly after to the Atari 2600 in 1983.

I liked the box art a lot, it is cartoon styled, colorful and fun. You earn points for digging tunnels so my inclination initially was to make laps around the level and eat away most of the dirt before exposing myself to enemies. I had forgotten however that the enemies will simply teleport themselves into your tunnel and be right on your ass before you realize what is happening. If you kill enemies too quickly though you will miss out on all the points you would have earned from digging and from killing the last enemy because when he realizes he’s the last one left he books it out of there. So the key to getting a good score is finding the balance in digging and killing. I figured out that you score more points for rock kills than pump kills and that the farther down into the level you get the kill the more points you earn for it. I had always assumed the dirt was multicolored for aesthetic purposes but its actually to show you how deep to go to get the next higher amount of points for kills. I caught on pretty quick for not playing Dig Dug in years, it was easy enough if you simply want to clear levels. But things get much harder when you try to maximize your score by digging deep or getting rock kills. I killed myself with my own rock more times than I care to admit. I found the gameplay to be pretty solid, its easy enough to learn, but hard to master. I can see why it caught on big in its day.

Now with all the positive notes about this game said, lets talk about how much of a shit-show of a port the 2600 version is compared to the arcade version. Linked at the end of this review, watch video between the two and you will see they look almost like two totally different games. The dirt effects are replaced with just flat lines, the colors are lackluster, the sound isn’t nearly as crisp, I was very disappointed.

Still, the gameplay is unique for its time period and the fun of the concept stands the test of time. In a late 70s/early 80s period filled with different flavors of space shooters, Dig Dug was a design unlike any other. This game is certainly worth owning, but I would suggest picking up the NES version over the 2600 if you collect for both systems.

Game Video (2600): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2pQ4ybxhAII

Game Video (Arcade): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dt0_1RhTPHI

Personal Favorite: Q*BERT

Q*Bert and Dig Dug tied for first place when you guys voted. Since Q*Bert and Ms. Pac-Man are my favorite games for the 2600 I decided it would be best to do Q*Bert under the favorite category, leaving Dig Dug as the clear winner under the voting category.

Q*Bert was released in arcades in September of 1982. It would become Gottlieb’s biggest game ever, a company that had made its name in the gaming industry off pinball games since all the way back in 1927. Right from the start it was popular with players and critics alike. It even gave Pac-Man a run for its money in terms of sales totals. Q*Bert is an alien who starts a level atop a pyramid of blocks which stack from one down to seven-wide. He can jump diagonally around the pyramid of blocks and when he jumps on one it lights up to a different color than it was when you began the level. To clear a level Q*Bert must light up every block of the level to the new color, dodging snakes and strange creatures along the way. There are discs on either side of the pyramid that will take you back to the top. Purple creatures will follow you but suicide jump off the pyramid sometimes, green creatures will travel down the pyramid and undo the color changes you’ve made. You can collide with green guys to kill them, but purple guys and snakes should be avoided at all costs. Q*Bert really was the only game of the time period that felt three-dimensional. A big part of the 3D feel is the use of cubes and the 3D designs on the discs. I could be wrong but I also don’t remember many games at that time with characters using diagonal movements qbertinstead of up/down/left/right. The 3D feel combined with the bright neon colors into a game that was unique and creative, not just for that era, it still feels quite unique today. Like with the rest of these arcade – to – 2600 ports, a very dumbed down version of Q*Bert came to the Atari in 1983.

I’m a bit disappointed in the artwork, its not bad, but its no warrior riding a killer ostrich either. I fire up the game and remember that while I absolutely love Q*Bert, this 2600 version is not the Q*Bert I remember. This is an abomination. I can’t see what the hell is going on. I can’t quite tell the difference between the creatures and the balls. The levels are 6 deep instead of 7 and the colorful discs are replaced with short white dashes. One of the best things about the game is its colorful neon vibe and most of that is lost in translation to the 2600. I can get past the visual inferiority after playing it for a spell. What I couldn’t get past is the joystick’s performance with this game. I’ve talked already in this post about how poorly the joystick responds to inputs but in no other game was it as evident as it was with Q*Bert. Poor Q*Bert jumped to his death off the side of the pyramid time and time again as the controller misread my inputs. In instances where you aren’t being chased closely it works well enough, but when a snake is on your ass and you need to make quick movements it just would not keep up. I had had enough of this madness after only a couple hours of play. I don’t know how I used to play this back on our visits to uncle Tommy’s house. I guess it was because at that time I had never played the far superior arcade version.

Don’t let the poor 2600 version of Q*Bert scare you away though. If you see it in arcade cabinet form, you have to give it a play. This game truly is a masterpiece and a gem of its era. I remember playing it every time we got to go to Pizza Hut as a kid of 8 or 9. Our small town in the middle of farm country Kentucky obviously didn’t have an arcade. What we did have for arcade gaming was a laundromat and a Pizza Hut. There was a program we had at school called Accelerated Reader, which rewarded you with coupons for personal pan pizzas for every so many books you read. I was an avid reader and gamer so this thing was perfect for me. I would build up a couple coupons for Levi and I to get free pizza and then mom would take us to Pizza Hut. I didn’t want to go for the pizza though, I wanted to go for Q*Bert. Pizza Hut had a cocktail style cabinet like this one: http://s207.photobucket.com/user/jsenigaglia/media/51048136.jpg.html. I remember it felt so different from other arcade games at the time. The art on the cabinet and on the actual game was vibrant, Q*Bert the character was weird, the whole concept of hopping around on neon cubes that stacked into a pyramid was strange. Q*Bert was its own thing, its own style of game. It wasn’t a side-scrolling beat-em-up, it wasn’t a top down space shooter, it was just Q*Bert.

If you want to own this game but not spend hundreds on a cabinet, I would go with the NES version, skip over the 2600 version. The NES version isn’t as beautiful as the arcade version either, but it is bounds above the 2600 version in quality and is relatively cheap to pick up.

Game Video (2600): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vkZhWsiHCqM

Game Video (Arcade): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKIbhaQfs-A

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HISTORY / COLLECTING : Atari 2600

When covering each console I will be sure to cover a few things: history of the console, my personal history and memories with the console and an idea of how things go these days when it comes to collecting for that console. Being that the Atari 2600 is my first entry and so vital to the history of all console gaming, I will also be including a general history of console gaming in this blog post.

BIRTH OF CONSOLE GAMING

The first true gaming console was developed by Ralph H Baer and produced by Magnavox in 1972, named the Odyssey. Initially the Odyssey was planned to include a lightgun (bet you thought Nintendo was the first to develop a “lightgun”), have sound effects and be in full color. Baer’s conundrum however was that he wanted the console to be around $25-50 at the time (about $140-284 today) so that it would be accessible for consumers. But it quickly became evident that the system was too expensive to produce and the price tag to the consumer would be too high for it to move units off shelves. So he began stripping anything unnecessary in an effort to get the console to be efficient for production. The lightgun, sound, color, timers, and other components were removed and he finalized the prototype to Magnavox (he did however add color overlays packaged in that would fit some TVs and give you the illusion of gaming in color). But Magnavox screwed the pooch according to Baer:

“Magnavox did a really lousy engineering job – [they] over-engineered the machine….Then they upped the price phenomenally so that the damn thing sold for $100.”

Even though the Odyssey technically had “cartridge” games, there were actually no games on the cartridges. The cartridges simply functioned as switches when inserted in the system and they allowed the player to play that specific game which was already found built-in on the console. Gaming for the next few years could be summed up in one word: “PONG“. Atari developed an Arcade game that was essentially a remake of the Odyssey’s Tennis game and called it PONG. It was a gigantic success in arcades. So much so that in the holiday shopping season of 1975 Atari put out a home version through a partnership with Sears that sold like hotcakes. Other companies rode the PONG wave and created more and more clones which continued to sell well. The seeds of home gaming had now been planted. The Odyssey had shown us the technical potential of a home “console” and PONG had showed us that there was certainly market potential for home gaming.

HISTORY OF THE ATARI 2600

I argue that even though the Odyssey came out first, the Atari 2600 is the one responsible for console gaming being commonplace in homes across the globe these days. The Atari 2600 launched September of 1977 and came out of the gate strong, outselling the Odyssey by 150,000 units in their respective first years. It ended up selling 30 million units over its life cycle. The 2600’s addition of sound, its insane increase in the number of available games over the lifespan (565 vs the Odyssey’s 27) and the interesting new “paddle” controllers I think put it ahead in the eyes of consumers in the late ’70s/early ’80s. The 2600 was initially known as the Atari VCS (Video Computer System) and wasn’t renamed the 2600 until later when its successor, the 5200, dropped in 1982. The 2600 had a longer lifespan than pretty much every other gaming console, staying in production until 1992. To put things in perspective for us current gamers, that’s 3 years longer than the production span of the seemingly immortal Playstation 2!! Launching at a huge price tag of $199 (that’s $780.91 today according to http://www.usinflationcalculator.com), the console came with 2 joystick controllers, 2 paddle controllers and Combat (a later produced bundle would include Pac-Man instead). It mostly featured what we gamers today would refer to as “ports” of popular arcade games like Q*Bert, Asteroids and Space Invaders. The key thing about the 2600 is that it really showed the potential of “cartridge” games. Thatari 2600e 2600 games won’t look like what was later popularized by Nintendo and Sega, but at its core uses the same technology: ROMs (Read Only Memory) which had been used to a smaller extent by the Fairchild Channel F console before it. The 2600 was in my mind when the concept of “owning video games” truly caught on. This was the first time the wide-spread public were able to appreciate just how awesome games were and also how cool it is at its base to physically hold a video game in your hand. It probably was really due to the fact this was the first time people saw games constantly in stores, which makes Atari’s big partnership with Sears (one of, if not the biggest stores in the US at the time) seem like a genius move. The custom art and logos on the 2600’s cartridges and box art are the key thing that caused game collecting to catch on in my opinion. The custom art really makes you want to collect them, to have them in your own home to admire and play. At least this was my personal experience at only three years old when I saw my first NES cartridges. You know now that I think about it, possibly the earliest memory of my life is holding and admiring the art of my dad’s Nintendo games. I remember staring at the, what I thought at the time, awesome art on the covers of Excitebike, Super Mario Bros. and Paperboy. Another early memory is sitting Indian style in the living room playing 8-4 of Super Mario Bros. at what I’ve been told by my parents was age three. I remember that somehow simultaneously eery and charming theme music of Bowser’s castle being drowned out by my dad yelling at his buddies from work something along the lines of “I told you he could beat the game!” With that said it is no surprise that gaming has become such a huge part of my life.

PERSONAL HISTORY WITH ATARI 2600/A BRIEF HISTORY OF MY YOUNGER DAYS

During each console’s history blog I will give you a brief idea of my life around the time I first discovered and played said console. Since the Atari is our first blog entry I’ll just set the background up for you of my early life in general. I grew up with my newly divorced mom and my little brother Levi on a tobacco farm in central Kentucky. We had enough to get by, we were never without food or clothing, but we were definitely in the lower class. To help some of you frame it in your mind lets put it this way: we got free lunch at school and wore Wal-Mart or Dollar Store brand clothing and shoes. When Christmas or Birthday time came around Levi and I would beg our dad for video games (who worked at an oil changing chain in Indianapolis and also didn’t make much money). He would scrounge up what he could and he usually managed to spoil us with a game or two, or a system or handheld. Usually the games or systems had been out for a few years before we got them, which is how he was able to afford to get them for us every now and then. I was born in 1988, so the 2600 was before my time by just a hair. I mentioned earlier that my first console, like many people’s who were born in the late ’80s and early ’90s, was not an Atari, but an NES. I had never even heard of an Atari until I was around 8 or 9 years old. My brother and I went with our step-dad to visit his brother. He and his wife somehow were even more poor than we were in those days. When we got there he showed me and Levi an Atari 2600 he had just bought at a yard sale. The thing was so cool to me, mainly because like I said, I had never even heard of an Atari before. It had a wood finish on it and the graphics looked super old and outdated even compared to my NES games. It just felt old-fashioned all around. I loved the idea that I was playing something that was basically the grandfather of video game consoles. If I wanted to trace back the exact moments that made me fall in love with video games in the first place, this moment would make the list.  Levi and I played several games on it and had a blast. Games I distinctly remember were Frogger, Q*Bert, Ms. Pac-Man, Missile Command and a tank game that I to this day don’t actually know the name of. Q*Bert and Ms. Pac-Man were definitely my favorites. Both of which I would also play at arcades or Pizza-Hut on the rare occasions that we got to go. I also loved the paddle and joystick controllers. They were just so unique, nothing like any other controller I had ever used (which at that time I think had been NES, SNES and Genesis) .From then on Levi and I never missed a chance to visit Uncle Tommy’s house and it ended up being the only place I would ever see an Atari 2600 my entire childhood.

COLLECTING FOR THE 2600

There are lots of video game collectors out there and everyone has their preferences on what they care about when it comes to the number of games, quality of the games, and the number of accessories they feel they need to own for the console. Some collectors focus on one system and they collect every single game and accessory for that console in every color controller and system imaginable. I’ve seen some guys who do this for the Nintendo 64 because of the crazy number of colors Nintendo made of that console and its’ controllers. I even know a guy on the game collecting subreddit who is collecting every game for the Playstation 2 (sounds like a death wish to me). Some collectors want every label in flawless condition. Even if its an Atari game, they don’t want a single scratch or slight degradation in color. They want every game to come with the original packaging and inserts. If its a Playstation 2 game, they want the original “black label” version. As you can imagine, this is an extremely expensive way to go about things. I know some guys who just grab any game they can find no matter whether there’s a label even left on the game anymore. You can decide for yourself what kind of collector you want to be. I personally suggest starting with the thing you care the most about and go from there. If you’re mostly a Nintendo fan, then start with your favorite Nintendo franchise and collect all the games for that. I find myself kind of in the middle of the spectrum. I collect for every gaming console and handheld except some of the earliest ones (like the aforementioned Odyssey and PONG systems). I only buy the games that I feel are either one of the best on the system or are a part of my memories and childhood. For example, some may not find Toy Story for Sega Genesis to be all that great of a game, but Levi and I played the hell out of that thing as kids, so it is a must-own for me. For each console I only collect two controllers and I only buy accessories that are actually important to the function of the games I own. I don’t need to own an XBox 360 camera since I’ll never use it, but I do need to own an expansion pak and rumble pak for the Nintendo 64 since several important games use them. I only buy consoles that are in great mechanical and visual shape. As far as games my only stipulation is that the label be in great shape. I do not collect complete-in-box for every game . I collect loose cartridges for older games and normal case packaging for newer disc games. My complete-in-box collection is limited to my all-time favorite game for each console. The reason I collect the way I do is because I actually want to play these games. They aren’t going to just sit on a shelf and look pretty. When I have kids who want the new Playstation 64 ONE they are going to know their gaming roots first. I cannot wait to go back through all the systems and show them what I played as a kid. I want to show them first-hand how far gaming has come over 30 years. The 2600 was the first and only console I have “finished” collecting (in my case this means I own the console and every game I want for it, all in good condition). I didn’t own a 2600 until recently, when I was around 25 years old. Its the only one of my consoles I’ve ever bought at a yard sale and not from a trusted store or seller. Come to think about it, that’s the best thing about collecting for Atari actually, that you have a decent chance at finding it and games for it at yard sales. But that’s only if you don’t care about the quality of the game labels. These games are over 20 years old, chances are they’ve had some wear and tear. If you look hard enough at local game shops or online you should be able to eventually find all the games you desire with labels that are in good shape. The games for the most part are pretty damn cheap too. I would guess that I’ve paid between $2-$20 for each game, with most of the important ones being around the $10 mark. I own Ms. Pac-Man (my all-time favorite 2600 game) complete-in-box, never played, still in factory wrapping. For everything else I just have the loose cart with a label in great condition. If you’re looking to collect for it I would suggest hitting up yard sales and finding a cheap deal on the console with the controllers and games. Avoid paying a lot of money online for the Atari or most of its games. You can find it in the wild and there is nothing like the rush of holding off on spending tons of money online for a game or console and then finding it  at a garage sale for a buck.

*****Coming up next will be my review on the Atari 2600 and the three games for it. Under the favorite category we will have Q*Bert. Under the never-played category we will have Joust. You guys voted for the third game to be Dig-Dug.*****

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