Flea Market Watch: The Mystery Game

If there’s one thing I miss about my hometown of Dayton, it’s the flea markets. At least three decent ones lie within pleasant driving distance of the city, and I always enjoyed checking them out on the weekends. But then I moved to a stretch of New York where finding a flea market requires a daunting trip to New Jersey, Long Island, or the upstate wilderness. Poor me.

Last weekend sent me up to the Dutchess Marketplace in Fishkill, and it was worth the hour-long drive. It’s hardly the biggest flea market I’ve seen, but it has a decent outdoor rummage-sale area and a spread of fancier indoor booths. Of course, flea-market parlance defines “fancier” as “merchandise actually in bins instead of just strewn across the cold concrete” but both can lead to good deals.

I’m not as adept of a bargain hunter as, say, Dinosaur Dracula and The Sexy Armpit are on their flea market forays, but I think I did well for myself. I bought only video games this time, and the current state of game collecting is so overinflated that it’s a bargain to walk away with anything notable for under ten dollars. And I spent nine.

Cost: $5

I can’t say this was a huge steal, as five bucks hovers not far below the eBay standard. It is, however, one of the best racing games on the Nintendo 64. It’s also a solid substitute for Mario Kart 64, which I hope to one day nab below the ridiculous going rate. There are millions of Mario Kart 64s around, after all.

So Beetle Adventure Racing is a good buy with its colorful tracks and four-player mode. It’d been on my mind ever since someone uncovered the lost April 1999 issue of GameFan magazine. This isn’t the first generation of GameFan (1992-1997), mind you. It’s from the second generation of GameFan (1998-2000), which changed its tone and only carried over a few of the staff. What did GameFan think of Beetle Adventure Racing? Most of the reviewers liked it, but…

Man, I sure hated the second generation of GameFan. Moving on...

Cost: $1 Each 
A buck might seem a lot when you’re just paying for paper, but Game Boy manuals always catch my eye. Most of us tossed the booklets and boxes for our Game Boy titles, making them somewhat rarer on the collecting scene. And I found these three interesting beyond potential profits.

Fist of The North Star is a disappointing early fighting game, turning the brutish powerhouses of the anime and manga series into tiny Game Boy sprites. Really, Kenshiro and his rivals are super-powered, post-apocalyptic titans who crack skyscrapers across their heads, but on the Game Boy screen they’re about the size of Mario’s foot.

The manual is rich with authentic Fist of the North Star illustrations, however, and I like its tagline of “10 BIG BRAWLS FOR THE KING OF THE UNIVERSE.” It clearly means to say that you’re brawling to BE the King of the Universe, but as a kid I thought all of these tyrants and heroes were fighting for some detached intergalactic ruler’s amusement.

At the height of the late-1980s Nintendo craze, every kid at my school seemed to have the NES version of Milon’s Secret Castle, and no one wanted to borrow it. It’s not a terrible game so much as it is obtuse and methodical, and we had zero tolerance for that when Super Mario Bros. and Mega Man let us jump right into things. The Game Boy version of Milon’s Secret Castle is the same title, but it ads some more stylish artwork for the ending (which the manual even shows). The booklet also tries to mitigate the game’s difficulty by offering a section “For Frustrated Players Only.”

Better yet is a page that invites parents to send away for a booklet called Master Higgins’ 10 Tips for Responsible Play. You can read those tips here, but they lose impact when not coming directly from the hero of Adventure Island.

Cool World is a flabbergasting mess on every level. The film is a halfhearted attempt at a Roger Rabbit rip-off, only here the story’s all about a cartoon sexpot and her attempts to score with a human guy and breach the dimensional barrier between toon and flesh. It’s a film that no one really wanted to make, and the stories behind it are more interesting than the final cut: animation pioneer and unabashed perv Ralph Bakshi’s original R-rated pitch went through unendorsed rewrites and softening, which led him to punch the film’s producer. The result is a PG-13 morass that pleased no one beyond a few horny teenagers of the pre-Internet days.

Even the title is annoying. Cool World. Try saying it out loud.

I bought the manual for two reasons: the Game Boy game, while terrible, is apparently rare, and that means the same might go for the manual. I also wanted to see just how the manual pitched the game for all ages when the movie’s entire plot spins about cartoons and humans boinking. Sure enough, the manual skips that detail and spins a story about protagonist Jack Deebs keeping the toon world at balance by zapping rogue doodles with his pen.

Like Cool World itself, the game had no idea who it’s for. Yet I think it finally found an audience: people after the oddest cartoon ephemera of 1992.

Cost: $1 but perhaps priceless

I spied this lying in a pile of common Sega Genesis and Atari cartridges and felt like I'd spotted a live plesiosaur at the beach. This blank-faced cartridge could be any Sega Genesis game! It could be Arcus Odyssey, Warsong, or some other obscurity that grows more expensive each time you look for it! It could be a prototype of some unreleased game like Akira, Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill, or an English translation of Trouble Shooter 2 that Vic Tokai never so much as mentioned in the press!

Or it could just be a tepid sports outing that the seller judged less enticing than a curiously de-labeled cartridge. Even so, the mystery of it appealed to me, and I’m going to turn it into a contest.

If you can guess the game lurking inside this unlabeled cartridge, you win…well, a mystery bundle. I guarantee that it’ll have at least five things, including one video game and one anime trinket.

The back of the cartridge provides a small but potentially misleading clue: the Acclaim logo. It suggests a title published by Acclaim, but this might not be the case. These cartridges apparently housed all sorts of late-in-the-game Sega Genesis releases, so that widens the list of suspects.

If no one’s right on the money, I’ll pick the closest entry in the descending taxonomy of series, developer, publisher, genre. The contest is open to anyone except for the person who sold me the game, though there’s a proviso: if you’re outside of the United States, you’ll have to pay the shipping on your prize.

Leave your guesses, one entry per person, in the comments here or on Twitter or...heck, anywhere I'm sure to see them. Check back in a few days for the big reveal! And if the cartridge refuses to start up, I’ll have even more of a mystery to crack.


  1. Hrm...I'm going to stick with Acclaim and say...Batman Forever

  2. It's probably something super low-value like Frogger, but, since I see some of the Majesco re-releases were of Konami games, I'm gonna guess that it's my favourite Konami game on the Genesis, Tiny Toon Adventures: Buster's Hidden Treasure.

  3. I'll guess an Acclaim sports game (because that's what I'd be most annoyed at finding in an unlabeled cartridge) so specially... NFL QUARTERBACK CLUB '96!

  4. I'm going to guess Virtual Bart. No reason why.

  5. I'm gonna take the subtitle on the first photo literally and guess that it's Sonic 3, since I remember getting the cheapo Majesco re-release of that brand-new in '99. Looking it up, apparently Majesco repurchased a lot of those Acclaim shells and used them for their re-releases. Also would make sense that the label would be gone on it since everything seemed cheaper and more poorly-made with the Majesco games.