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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.


  1. Reece2:25 PM

    Did you ever choose a winner for the Gravity Rush 2 contest?

  2. My copy of A Link To the Past was salvaged from a local Kroger rental department, and the case was done just like that copy of Battle Clash. It think it's sort of neat - a DIY way of turning SNES boxes into those awesome Genesis cases.

    I think a cool follow up article would be a review of those customized instructions they would put on the case. Finding intact original instructions in your rental game cases was rare. I rented a copy of Earthbound once and they actually gave me the guide with it. It was like finding a unicorn.

  3. I'll have the results of the Gravity Rush contest up tomorrow! Or maybe tonight!