Rental Stickers: An eBay Tour

I recently grew fascinated with those rental stickers often seen on old VHS tapes, DVDs, and video games. For many they're an annoyance, a sign that you're getting something that was digested and regurgitated by a hundred VCRs or Nintendo decks. But I like them.

This stems from my ongoing effort to buy fewer old games. Instead, I just look at them on eBay, where odd labels and faded warning tags only give cartridges and discs more personality. You’ll see hundreds of auctions for NES games at any given time, but only one might be from a long-gone Hastings Entertainment in Aurora, Colorado. A game assumes a greater place in history when it carries an old rental-store emblem. It’s not just a battered cartridge; it’s a memento from an age when Blockbuster Videos were as numerous as Burger Kings and renting a game was a blessed alternative to spending months of allowance on Brawl Brothers or Valis III.
 
I picked out a handful of intriguing (to me, anyway) ex-rental games from eBay, avoiding the more commonplace remnants of Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. There’s a little story in each one of these.



VIDEO EZY'S LAST BATTLE
Seller: 8bitlives (ended)

I love it when something wears its past in price tags. This Last Battle cartridge served its time at Video Ezy, an Australian chain that apparently survived the rental crash by embracing kiosks. Games were five bucks a week (which is about $3.50 in my native currency), and I’m sure a bunch of early Sega Genesis/Mega Drive owners got their fill of repetitively punching and kicking post-apocalyptic thugs. No, Last Battle isn’t a very good game. It was a Fist of the North Star title in Japan, but Sega excised the exploding heads, rampant blood, and manga-anime license for tender Western sensibilities, and what remained wasn’t very interesting.

No longer a hot renter, Last Battle ended up in the sales bin for about twenty bucks. And because that’s too much for a mediocre Mad Max knockoff, Video Ezy slashed the price below ten dollars. Someone nabbed it at that point, though I hope they held out for a buy-two-get-one-free offer and got, say, Forgotten Worlds and Truxton in the bargain.




MAC'S VIDEO'S RYGAR
Seller: powerupvideogames

Plenty of rental stores covered their games in professional-grade stickers with warnings about how removing them meant that you'd have to pay for the game. I assume some kids did exactly that in the hopes that their parents would buy the game. This would never work, but it's the sort of scam you run when you’re seven years old and your brain has barely congealed enough to tell the good Transformers from the bad ones.

Other shops went low-tech. Mac’s Videos, for one, just pulled out a sharpie and wrote their name on the cartridge. I can respect that. I did the same thing with the first dozen or so NES games I owned, just in case some kid at school tried to keep my Mega Man 2 instead of taking back Defender of the Crown. I would’ve branded Rygar had I owned it, for Rygar was the first NES game that really impressed me and thus held a special place for me. I made Rygarfield, after all.

Crude as this approach may be, there’s something to be said for the frugal magic-marker method. If Mac’s Video is the same store as Mac’s Tanning and Video in Navarre, Ohio, they’ve weathered the collapse of the video-rental market. The same can’t be said for many of the locations that shelled out for shiny, high-quality rental labels.




ISLAND STAR VIDEO'S KNIFE EDGE (AND DON'T YOU FORGET IT)
Seller: jonesrj8691 (ended)

A rental sticker isn’t permanent, of course. Some Goo Gone usually gets rid of the residue a label leaves behind, and even Sharpie ink might yield to chemicals and sandpaper. With a little effort, a rental game can become a regular one again.

Island Star Video wasn’t having any of that. Someone sat down and engraved the store’s name into game cartridges—and for all I know, VHS tapes as well. This is probably the most anyone ever cared about Knife Edge: Nose Gunner.

And it stuck. Knife Edge: Nose Gunner may be a super-common and awkwardly titled rail shooter, but no one can say this doesn’t below to Island Star Video, apparently a British Columbia shop that closed down in 2015. It lives on in sturdy Nintendo 64 plastic.




SCHNUCKS VIDEO CLUB'S VALKYRIE PROFILE
Seller: mr.west

I'll have you know that I am not including Valkyrie Profile here just because it’s one of my favorite games. There are two valid reasons I like this former rental copy of tri-Ace’s fantastic Norse-myth RPG. For one thing, it’s from a still-in-business Midwestern supermarket chain called Schnucks, and I think that's the best supermarket name next to Piggly Wiggly. I’ve never been to one, but I hope it was the inspiration for Snuckey’s from Sam and Max Hit the Road.


The other reason? Rental stores commonly provided terse black-and-white instructions instead of a game’s original manual, and here we see how someone tried to explain as many of Valkyrie Profile’s complexities as a postcard would allow. It settles for discussing the controls, and even then it’s a cramped affair. The auction actually includes the manual, but it looks remarkably well-kept for something allowed out of the store. Perhaps RPG players were more fastidious than most.




STOP & SHOP'S BATTLE CLASH 
Seller: sprkldrgn

I must confess that I never rented games from grocery stores. Video stores, sure. Yet I barely remember seeing games for rent at supermarkets. This might stem from the fact that my parents weren’t big on renting themselves; my dad bought 1960s spy movies and Westerns by the industrial pallet, my mom occasionally checked films out of the library, and neither cared for rental stores. It took me a while to talk them into a Blockbuster card, and then it was only under my implicit threat of wasting all my money to buy Mortal Kombat. The experience leaves me all the more fascinated by the idea of picking out a game for the weekend along with eggs and bread and a prize-laden box of Cap’n Crunch.

This copy of Battle Clash likely disappointed many children in its day. It’s a decent game where you face an international gallery of anime-grade mecha, but you need Nintendo’s big bazooka-like Super Scope 6 light gun to play it. You can almost see the upset children and exasperated parents complaining at the Stop & Shop counter, followed by the annoyed clerk hand-lettering a sign that says SUPER SCOPE 6 REQUIRED.


That aside, I like what’s inside the box: Stop & Shop cannily offering to order any game you might want. This deal wouldn’t have worked so well for VHS movies (which were often priced higher as rental copies), but it wasn’t a bad idea for either side of the counter.

In fact, some great Super NES games had such limited releases that you’d rarely see them outside of a rental store. If you wanted to own a copy, you’d have to call every store in town or put in a special order. Here’s a good example…




AMERICAN VIDEO'S METAL WARRIORS
Seller: mandatoryforyourfun (ended)

Ah, Metal Warriors. Underrated in the busy game climate of 1995, it’s an excellent side-scrolling action shooter where you pilot six different battle-mecha, swapping between them whenever possible. It even has a great two-player battle mode! Consequently, Metal Warriors is sought-after and tough to come by these days, so much so that this auction’s asking price of five hundred dollars isn't all that insane.

To be fair, Metal Warriors was hard to find even a few months after it launched. I played the game as a Blockbuster rental and spent half the summer tracking down a copy of my own. I even kept up the search when visiting my grandmother in New Orleans, and there I managed to find a Toys R Us that had one Metal Warriors left on the shelves—and one paper slip in the little holders that lined their video-game aisles. I miss those.

The eBay seller blanked out the actual address of American Video, but I think this particular store is long out of business. At least someone got a good deal on Metal Warriors.




SOME OVERPROTECTIVE STORE'S HYBRID HEAVEN
Seller: popculturecrave

You’ll see more than just rental stickers on old games, and that brings me to this baffling discovery. Someone saw fit to slap a big, round “NC-17” on this copy of Hybrid Heaven.

Hybrid Heaven is a strange game, I’ll grant. It drops the player into a world threatened by subterranean aliens and their insidious plots, all of which can be defused by punching monsters and reptilian secret agents. It’s rated Teen, though, and that’s the game equivalent of PG-13. There’s little in Hybrid Heaven as violent as what you’ll see in Metal Gear Solid or Resident Evil. I’m not even sure where the label originated. Did Blockbuster and Hollywood Video even have NC-17 stickers? I don't remember them renting NC-17 movies, and I sure would've noticed.

More to the point, why slap Hybrid Heaven with an adults-only tag? Perhaps the store owners firmly believed that aliens had infiltrated the real-world government, and that only grown-ups could be trusted with shocking truths laid bare by a Nintendo 64 game. Or perhaps they were spooked by the opening scene, where a guy showers naked from the waist up.

That concludes my tour of eBay rental stickers and the games that host them. It’s an utterly meaningless niche, I know, but in the wake of the video store’s mass extinction, I don’t mind looking back. It’s cheaper than actually buying games.

Little Things: Legacy of the Wizard

In my last Little Things, I forgot to mention other small details that I like about Legacy of the Wizard. For example, I like the portrait that the family of playable heroes has on their wall.


There's a lot to enjoy on this screen, which presents the Worzen clan in their domestic forms and shows them transforming into fantasy archetypes once selected by the player. The best is Pochi, the dog who is really a grumpy dino-dragon creature.

However, my favorite piece of their home is that portrait on the wall. It supposedly depicts the bearded and bald ancestor who once sealed away the ancient dragon that the family must now defeat, but that picture also looks like a parrot.


What, you don’t see it? Let me add some colors.


There we go. I’m fairly certain that the parrot is accidental, but I can’t help seeing it every time I play Legacy of the Wizard. That’s not the portrait’s only function, as it also enables a secret sound test. To my disappointment, it does not unlock a hidden parrot character, but Legacy of the Wizard is complex enough as it is.

Another thing that amuses me: the health-restoring bread looks like a big plastic novelty butt.


And with that, kidfenris.com begins a dignified new year.

Little Things: The Falcom Bounce

Video games diverge when it comes to falling. A harsh, semi-realistic adventure like Dark Souls shows no mercy to anyone who drops too far a distance. A cute side-scroller like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Dino City lets you plummet from great heights unharmed, provided there’s a place to land and you’re not just tumbling into a bottomless pit. There’s not much to it: if you fall, you either take damage or walk away cartoonishly unscathed.

Some games from Falcom put a little more thought into this. Characters don’t just fall. They bounce.

A good example appears in Legacy of the Wizard for the NES. It’s technically part of Falcom’s Dragon Slayer series, and it sends an adventurous family (and their pet) through a ludicrously complex maze. The gameplay resembles a side-scroller, so the members of the clan can jump, climb ladders, and, of course, fall from great heights.


Observe this example with Pochi, the family’s loyal monster pet. I’m using him because he's a dog in the family portrait and a dino-dragon in the game and therefore the best character.


Upon striking the ground, Pochi bounces a little, complete with a stunned posture and squeaky sound effect…


…And then he’s back to normal, losing only one tiny life bar for his trouble. It’s an amusing detail that Falcom clearly didn’t need to include. But they did anyway.

Popful Mail, my favorite Falcom game, follows suit. It’s a bright and silly side-scroller starring a greedy elf warrior, a humble magician, and a cave dragon cute enough for stuffed toy lines. You can find versions of Popful Mail on several consoles and computers, but the Sega CD outing gets my recommendation; it has the largest characters, while the Sega-refined gameplay reminds me of Monster World. Working Designs also gave it an appropriately humorous translation.


Lots of entertaining details appear in Popful Mail. Maneuver our heroine, Mail, or her companions too close to a ledge, and they’ll wobble uncertainly.


And if they fall, they’ll carom off the surface in goggle-eyed confusion. They’re also invulnerable for this moment of rubbery stupefaction, and that’s a good thing when you’re playing the toughened-up Sega CD version of Popful Mail.

Do other Falcom games bounce your character around? I hope so. The company’s older games lean toward overhead action-RPGs, so there’s less opportunity for falling and rebounding.


Let’s see if Ys III: Wanderers from Ys lets you bounce.


Nope. I guess Ys is too serious for that.

Gravity Rush Now Even More of a Cartoon

Gravity Rush 2 is little under a month away, and I prefer to pretend it’s already here. I’m running a Gravity Rush contest for a few more days, and I’m busy playing the demo that went up on the PlayStation Network last week. And just today, Sony released the two-part Gravity Rush: The Animation – Overture. Sure, you can watch it for free on Sony’s YouTube Channel, but why do that when instead you can read my opinion of it?

Or maybe I'll just use a picture.


A bridge between the first game and the sequel, Overture answers at least one important question about Gravity Rush: what do the characters like to eat?

Yes, it goes all of two minutes before trotting out a harmless but tiresome cliché: the heroine flying into a violent fury when a precious, newly acquired snack is destroyed. Floating around a market, Kat buys a kabob, loses it, and trashes bug-eyed Nevi shadow creatures, whereupon Raven, her less cheerful rival, shows up and lends a hand. This occupies half of Overture’s running time.

The second half jumps back a short while and finds Kat and Raven eating snacks (of course) and discussing a recent spate of disappearances in their home city of Hekseville. They’re suddenly sent to a mysterious floating island where a HAL-like computer holds children hostage in little power cels. Two half-masked, mummy-like antagonists appear, and then everyone ends up warped to the strange new city we’ll see in Gravity Rush 2.

Overture is an enjoyable gap-filler, all things considered. I can't imagine it swaying those with no interest whatsoever in Gravity Rush, but it brings up the game's best points. The animation is vibrant and mostly fluid, capturing the details of the floating city and Kat’s bubbly personality—which fortunately develops beyond “I like to eat” in the second half. It also keeps the fictional language from the games, as the characters all use the same melodious semi-French, semi-Japanese tone (in which Kat and Raven’s names sound the same as they do in English). I’m a sucker for made-up languages. I’d watch Barb Wire if everyone talked like they were speaking Italian and Swahili backwards.

 Short as it is, Overture stokes my Gravity Rush 2 interest, which was, of course, crazily high already. I’m gonna go play the demo another dozen times.

The Best of Anime...Music

America’s anime fans were pretty busy in the late 1990s. We weren't satisfied just watching Robotech reruns on Toonami; we fervently devoured favorite series, wrote letters to keep Sailor Moon on the air, and went to conventions in numbers previously unseen. We also spent lots of money on anime and its ancillary merchandise. So great was our hunger that some of us thought it a momentous privilege to pay thirty bucks for the imported soundtrack to a movie or series we enjoyed.


In that light, The Best of Anime seemed like a great deal. Rhino Records released it in 1998 at the same price as a new album from Weezer or Neutral Milk Hotel, and it settled the question of anime's finest music for all time.


The Best of Anime aimed itself as much at new fans as it did at old-timers, and it shows in the cover choices. The CD comes with an illustration of either Cutey Honey or Speed Racer, and the art itself is a thin cel-like sheet posed before the booklet’s cover image of a Silent Mobius cityscape.

I was a teenage boy at the time, and despite Speed Racer’s ironic cred, I went with the Cutey Honey cover. And then I tucked the cel inside the booklet before anyone could see it on my shelf.

Despite the title, this isn't an authoritative collection of the finest music spawned in Japan’s animation circuit. If it were, it’d have the Orguss 02 opening.

No, this is less a Top-40 countdown and more an educational sampling from three decades of popular anime series, and it might be more accurate to call it The Best of Anime That We Could Afford to License. It’s helped by some nice liner notes from Fred Patten, who introduces each series and explains just how it fits into the broader vein of anime. He also provides a brief rundown of just how certain shows and the attendant fandom took off in America—starting with an anecdote about the heroine of Brave Raideen kicking an enemy soldier in the crotch.


And the songs themselves? The Best of Anime is a hodgepodge of corny opening tunes and disposable puffery surrounding a few genuinely good numbers. In other words, it’s a perfect encapsulation of anime music.

The Best of Anime begins where a lot of anime begins, stylistically speaking. Astro Boy is so enduring that even stodgy old Bill Watterson referenced him for a Calvin and Hobbes joke, and his theme song is a memorable little jingle about countdowns and blastoffs. The same doesn’t go for the second track; it’s the Gigantor theme, a plodding number that, as Patten notes, endured because kids could rework it with insults. No matter. It’s over quickly, and then we’re on to the rousing Speed Racer theme, which had more than nostalgic value by the late 1990s thanks to pop remixes and Volkswagen GTI commercials.


The collection ventures into the 1980s and less familiar ground with “Lum’s Love Song.” Urusei Yatsura is a cornerstone of the industry and anime fandom in general, but I’m not sure if its opening music has the same traction. I was an anime nerd for about five minutes before I picked up on Urusei Yatsura’s legacy: the wacky jokes, the bikini-clad alien princess, the deliciously odd second movie from Mamoru Oshii, and so on. The song wasn’t part of that.

Also influential is the source of the next track: Megazone 23. It’s a groundbreaker (that The Matrix ripped off; tell your friends!), but “Sentimental Over the Shoulder” is just a vaguely wistful ditty. If Rhino wanted the best song from the series, they could have looked to the more memorable “Himitsu Kudasai,” a pop dirge that plays as Tokyo is ripped apart and the hedonistic façade of the 1980s collapses. That's what I remember about Megazone 23, anyway.

If there’s one persistent drawback to The Best of Anime, it’s that most of the songs don’t stand out when extracted from their sources. Windaria’s “Beautiful Planet,” however, is a nice, gentle number on any account. Windaria wasn’t one of the you-gotta-see-this standards of anime by the late 1990s, but it’s a pretty wad of melodrama about a fantasy kingdom where love and war make everyone do really dumb and tragic things. Perhaps it was kept obscure by the lack of an uncut release; the version we Americans had in the 1990s was heavily re-edited even for a Streamline job, and the later DVD arrival didn’t have the original Japanese version. But you can get its closing song completely intact on The Best of Anime!


This brings us to one of the two tracks that made me buy this collection: “Active Heart” from Gunbuster. I’ve been a fan of the series from the moment I rented it from Blockbuster and shotgunned all three hours over one evening, so of course I was after the peppy opening number. It definitely loses something without the intergalactic pullback and space robot battles, but I suspect that most of us who picked up The Best of Anime weren’t hunting great music. We just wanted some songs from our favorite series and didn’t want to bother stealing them online.

The lineup returns to slower ballads with “Adesso E Fortuna” from Record of Lodoss War, the OVA series that’s sometimes described as a Lord of the Rings anime even though, as Patten’s notes imply, it’s more like watching a tabletop Dungeons and Dragons session that you can’t join. The song itself is pretty but forgettable—just like Lodoss War. I think the TV series opening, “Kiseki no Umi,” would’ve been a better choice, but that was perhaps too fresh off the grill.

What’s next? Why, it’s “Full Moon Light” from Devil Hunter Yohko, the OVA series that put ADV Films on the map and introduced many viewers to Japanese cartoons with naughty naked parts! Unlike most of the songs here, “Full Moon Light” is actually better when extracted from the anime, which offer little more than dull schoolgirls battling demons and losing their clothes. Devil Hunter Yohko was never good, and neither is this song in the long run, but it’s bubbly enough while it lasts.


A selection from Silent Mobius seems an odd choice. The first movie and the manga were available in North America, yet they weren’t in the spotlight by 1998. Heck, I liked Silent Mobius a lot at the time, and I never met anyone else who did. Patten’s notes shed some light on its inclusion, though: it fits the cyber-future quota for anime in place of a more expensive song from Bubblegum Crisis (or better yet, AD Police), and “Sailing” isn’t that bad of a number. It’s a standard catchy pop trinket with some odd noisy bits at the center. Any break from the pop bedrock is appreciated, considering how most of The Best of Anime is about as experimental as Deep Blue Something.

All-Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku-Nuku is pretty much what goes through some people’s heads when they heard the word “anime,” even if they’ve never seen this particular OVA. It’s full of wacky robot catgirl nonsense, and it wasn’t all that prominent even in the 1990s. But the song “Happy Birthday to Me” gives this collection a taste of Megumi Hayashibara, who was by that point the biggest voice actress in the anime industry.

What’s the worst song on The Best of Anime? My vote goes to “Just Beyond the Time,” a drab semi-rock piece from New Dominion Tank Police. No, that's not the earlier Dominion Tank Police OVA that you might have rented from Hollywood Video or caught on the Sci-Fi Channel; it’s the later one that no one really remembers. So why is the song here? Masamune Shirow. He was among manga’s most popular names in North America in the late 1990s, and his Dominion comics are a lot better than their anime versions. Sure, The Best of Anime could’ve swiped something from the Ghost in the Shell soundtrack, but its haunting atmospheric tones don’t really fit a pop collection.  

Oh My Goddess! is another series better known for its manga incarnation, which, as Patten points out, is pretty much an optimistic version of Urusei Yatsura’s instant-girlfriend wish fulfillment. “My Heart I Can’t Say, Your Heart I Want to Know” is a disposable and syrupy thing, but I’ll grant it this much: it has the most awkward title on the list.

Given the collection’s chronological order, it might seem strange that Cutey Honey wedges itself alongside late-1990s fare. The original and highly influential series dates back to 1973, and so does its theme song. But this is the revamped version from 1994’s New Cutey Honey, and thankfully it’s the Japanese cut instead of the oddly translated English one. Cutey Honey was far less popular in the West than it is in Japan, and putting it in The Best of Anime didn’t really change that.


The Best of Anime now turns to the second reason I bought it—and the best track on this collection. It’s Yoko Kanno’s “Voices” from Macross Plus. A beautiful, slow-building ballad from an equally gorgeous series, it presages Kanno’s rise as one of anime’s most popular composers (no matter the accusations of borderline plagiarism). Today we know her music from Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell and even otherwise bungled series like Wolf’s Rain, but Macross Plus sure wasn't a bad introduction.  

Sailor Moon loomed large over anime nerds in the late 1990s, and it was onlygetting started with its TV airings and fan circles. The collection loops back to Americanized openings with the English version of the theme song, which I will forever mock for lyrics about “winning love by daylight.” Not that this kept Sailor Moon from taking over.

Dedicated anime fans will notice plenty of exclusions. For starters, the old guard skips Star Blazers and its memorable theme song. I suspect licensing issues kept it from The Best of Anime, and the same might apply for other heavyweights that go unrepresented here, including Bubblegum Crisis, Ranma 1/2, Tenchi Muyo!, and, of course, Gundam. You could find domestic soundtracks for Ranma 1/2  and Tenchi Muyo! at your local Suncoast by 1998, and no one wanted competition in the cutthroat world of anime music.

The Best of Anime would be very different had Rhino assembled it a few years later. By the end of the decade, Sailor Moon had only grown in popularity, Dragon Ball Z came into its own, Gundam Wing’s uncut airings were a major breakthrough, Neon Genesis Evangelion was a cult hit, and a little series called Pokemon made it impossible for a big chunk of the American populace to escape anime. In this new era, Windaria and Devil Hunter Yohko would barely rate mention.

That’s why I find The Best of Anime fascinating: it’s a snapshot of just what this fan subculture was like before the rampant DVD releases of the 2000-2006 anime bubble and the wide-scale streaming of today’s latest shows. It was a time when just about any anime seemed part of some great undiscovered realm of exotic and strange cartoons, and exploring it was as accessible as your nearest video store. And if you found The Best of Anime waiting in their CD section, it was another fascinating map fragment of this new land.

But really, they didn’t include The Adventures of the Little Koala or Noozles? I could understand choosing between them, but to completely ignore ‘80s koala-bear anime is a crime against history.

Notes on Gravity Rush 2

Gravity Rush 2 was delayed, and I needed to compensate somehow. Sony wasn’t diplomatic about their reasons, either. Both Final Fantasy XV and The Last Guardian are shipping in late November or early December, and those games would bury Gravity Rush 2 and bury it deep. The solution? It’s now coming January 17. That way Resident Evil 7 and Tales of Berseria can bury it.

Without any chance to buy Gravity Rush 2 this year, I decided to buy something related to Gravity Rush 2. I went to eBay and looked for the cheapest possible fix.


I found this, an apple-shaped Gravity Rush 2 notepad. Apparently given away at conventions, it’s pretty much the only promotional trinket I’ve seen for the game. It’s about the size of a standard Post-It pad, and it was only 99 cents. That wasn’t bad, even if buying it would mean that I spent money on blank pieces of paper somehow connected to Gravity Rush 2.


Yet there’s a pleasant surprise within. Instead of empty pages, the pad shows you Gravity Rush heroine Kat with a word balloon on each page. Technically that gives you less space to write than an off-the-shelf booklet from Staples would provide, but it elevates these notes from disposable scratchpads to a charming collectible for Gravity Rush fans. We must savor all we can get.


I’m not about to write directly in this pad, but I quickly scanned it for online use. Now it’s easier than ever to make Kat say anything you want, no matter how controversial or out-of-character it might be!







In fact, let’s have a contest. Whoever gives Kat the funniest word balloon gets a box of assorted video-game junk! Send your entries to kidfenris (at) hotmail.com before the end of December! Your chances are pretty good due to this site’s fairly low readership, so have fun!

The Tale of a TurboGrafx

What was the first thing you bought on eBay?

It’s an inane question, but I expect it’ll come up more and more often as the decades lurch onward and turn us nostalgic about every microscopic detail we recall from our younger years, whether it’s the first Star Wars figure you got or the LeMenu microwave dinner plate that your family reused almost every night for fifteen years. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as you remember it.

In that light, it’s not hard to find some appeal for the early years of eBay. The website’s still around and will be as long as the Internet exists, but it was a different creature in the late 1990s, when just about everything online was more suspicious. Auctions didn’t need images, sellers and buyers were on largely even ground when it came to feedback, and PayPal was largely unknown. You might find yourself wondering if that Gundam model or old Arby’s kids-meal toy was really worth the trouble of getting a money order and mailing it off.



I first heard of eBay in 1998, but it was through a coworker who would interrupt conversations in the most awkward manner imaginable. He once accosted me in the store's video-game aisle just so he could point at Dead or Alive for the PlayStation and announce “this is the bounciest fighter.” When he mentioned eBay, I decided to stay away from it.

I didn’t stay away for long, and the next year I jumped into eBay. The first things I bought were not memorable: two Final Fantasy VII posters and an unopened Chun-Li figure from the G.I. Joe/Street Fighter cross-up of the early 1990s. The posters, which I now realize were bootlegs, stayed on my wall for only a month or so, and Chun-Li sat in a closet for a good decade until I sold her, still unopened, for about the same amount I’d paid.

My third purchase was the first important thing I bought on eBay: a TurboGrafx-16.

The TurboGrafx-16 was the sidelined loser in Sega and Nintendo’s slapfight of the 1990s, which meant that it was rare to notice the system in stores and even rarer to meet another kid who had one. Of course, I always wanted one, and it wasn’t long until I noticed an auction in my price range. It had a TurboGrafx-16 with all the basic hookups and Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, which was included with every console and swiftly forgotten. It was $25, the auction had a simple description with no photos, and the seller wanted ten bucks for shipping. I didn’t care. I sent off the money order, and I had my TurboGrafx-16 in a little over a week.


My first reaction upon opening the box? “This thing looks like someone puked on it.”

The system was in rough shape, as were its accessories. The seller hadn’t lied, but if the TurboGrafx-16 had been a stuffed animal, kindly relatives and teachers would call it “well-loved.” The RF adapter took some jiggling to work. The controller would detach from the port, leaving its multi-pronged connector stuck in the system. And then there was that curious stain across the left part of the console.

In those days eBay didn’t give buyers a panoply of options for returning purchases, and that didn’t even cross my mind. I had a TurboGrafx-16 at last, and no way in hell was I about to pack it back in the box.

To soften the disappointment, I gave the system a name: Pukey. I soon figured out that the stain was probably red paint (brighter residue can be seen on the power cord), but it was too late to rescind. The TurboGrafx-16 was Pukey.

Pukey still works today, even though his accessories didn’t last. I soon replaced the controller, and the RF cable gave out a few years ago (fortunately, you can swap in an NES cable). Even the included copy of Keith Courage in Alpha Zones eventually refused to start up and did not respond to any cleaning attempts. At least I can still play Alien Crush, with its Gigerian pinball tables and haunting bonus level music.

In the long run, though, Pukey was a good deal. Old video games are a collectible gold rush these days, and the slightly obscure TurboGrafx-16 and its library ballooned in value. I could easily get twice what I paid for Pukey.

But I couldn't sell Pukey. It isn't because I’m a huge TurboGrafx-16 fan. Nothing in its catalog ever appealed to me like my favorites on the Genesis and Super NES, after all. As it was during my childhood, the poor Turbo is a distant third in a three-way race.

No, it’s because I made the mistake of naming him. It’s a tradition in my family to name cars, computers, and other expensive merchandise, and it always makes us a little more attached. I won't say we treat an old Apple IIGS or video camera like a pet dog or cat or rabbit or guinea pig, but learning that my parents got rid of their old van was like finding out that the family’s 30-year-old goldfish had passed away.

I now avoid naming my electronics, and Pukey’s continued presence reminds me why. He also serves as a memento of a riskier age. The wild-west nature of late-1990s eBay made it much easier for some anonymous charlatan to rip you off, but that uncertainty made things more appealing. We didn’t trust the Internet so much, and we didn’t know if we’d get a strange game console or a box full of newspapers and house centipedes. And we’d be nostalgic for those centipedes fifteen years later.