Trouble Shooter Travails and Game Collecting

Buying old video games is ridiculous in this day and age. It wasn’t so long ago that cheap, unwanted cartridges littered garage sales, thrift shops, and any retro-game store brave enough to exist. Yet video games fell into the deep and inescapable swamp of being collectible, and anything less common than a Sega Genesis sports title spiked in price. Ten years back, NES games like Metal Storm and Kick Master might have sat in flea markets bin with a “$5 EACH OR THREE FOR $12” sign protruding from rows of obsolete plastic. Today they’re considered bargains if they stay under a hundred bucks for just the bare cartridge. And if you want the box and instructions, I have some bad news for you.

I considered myself lucky, however. I collected old games in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Goodwill sold NES cartridges for two bucks apiece and people would throw 32X systems in the garbage when Electronics Boutique refused to take them in trade. I sold most of my library when prices reached absurd levels, and I told myself that I’d done well and stayed sensible. I’d never paid more than $100 for a game, provided I didn't adjust old RPGs for inflation. More importantly, I got everything I wanted before the collecting scene turned psychotic.

Well, almost everything.

Trouble Shooter, aka Battle Mania, is one of my favorite series, if two games constitute a series. I’ve written about their appeal several times before, how their mix of solid side-view shooting and stylish comedy captures everything I like about silly ’80s anime. I bought the original Trouble Shooter when it was cheap, but I never could bring myself to pick up its Japan-only sequel, Battle Mania Daiginjou.

I wanted Daiginjou ever since a 1993 issue of EGM introduced it as Trouble Shooter 2 in a sexist writeup, but it was too expensive. By the time I started collecting games, Daiginjou went for over $150 on eBay, and I refused to spend that much on a single Genesis title (not even if I could call it a Mega Drive title, since it was from Japan). Of course, that was fifteen years ago, and like every other game more popular than Cyberball, it more than tripled in price. Buying Battle Mania Daiginjou is even dumber today than it was back in 2003.

So I bought it.

My biggest motivation? The fact that I’d never been stupid with my money when it came to nerd purchases. I never bought a rare old comic book or action figure for fifty times its original price. I never ate rice and ramen for a month just so I could afford a stupefyingly limited and expensive imported album by a favorite band. A strange need arose, telling me that for once in my life I should make a fool of myself over a rare game. As Tim Fite says, everyone gets to make one big mistake. I think everyone also gets to make one big stupid purchase.

The inanity of it appealed to me. “Throw a preposterous wad of money at a video game” ranks low on any bucket list, but that only makes it attainable and sensible. Compared to watching penguins in the Antarctic or dropping acid and making love while hang gliding, tossing a few hundreds at a Sega relic is a humble vice.

I also realized that it’s now or never when it comes to obscure game collecting. Fakes often swarm the market for just about every hard-to-find game, and they grow more adept every year. Most are convincing enough in a lower-quality eBay photo, though they’re exposed upon closer examination. Buyers are best off being cautious and looking for extras that bootlegs lack, such as those little registration cards. And it’s only a matter of time before the pirates mimic those.

So I rolled the dice. I won’t say how much I spent, but I will say that it ate up almost my entire geek budget for this year. I hope 2017 passes without a sudden Darkstalkers sequel. The process was exciting and terrible: the trepidation over tossing away my money, the realization that it wasn’t so much in the long run, and of course the constant fear of getting ripped off.

I can’t call myself an expert, but I am largely confident, or perhaps just hopeful, that I came out of this with an authentic Battle Mania Daiginjou. It has the official Vic Tokai feedback card and just enough wear to convince me. I have not opened up the cartridge, as that involves destroying the rear sticker, but this Battle Mania Daiginjou looks, feels, and smells like a 23-year-old Sega game.

Yes, smells. I told you game collecting was ridiculous.

As much as I fretted over the game’s validity, I didn't buy Battle Mania Daiginjou to resell it. I bought it to play it, to enjoy it, and to read first-hand the manual's delightful comic, in which heroines Madison and Crystal celebrate their victory by getting blackout drunk.

That led me to a new perspective. It’s tempting to sneer at the folks who pay hundreds for rare games. It’s easy to assume that they’re throwing stupid money at things they’ll just stick on the shelf or, worse yet, use as an investment in the hope that a $300 Power Blade 2 cartridge with Paradise Video's rental-sticker residue will break four figures by the end of the decade. It’s convenient to posit that they’re all wasteful suckers and sleazy opportunists buying games for the wrong reasons.

I don’t want to go that route. I’d like to think that if you’re sinking loads of cash into a video game or any other frivolous item, you’re doing it only after carefully considering the deal and coming to the realization that you really do like Crusader of Centy, Bonk 3, or Pocky and Rocky enough to make it your sole geeky splurge. It’s an experience worth having once in a lifetime. And if it involves an obscure Sega Genesis shooter you’ve wanted for over twenty years, then hey, I know the feeling.

Am I lying to myself? I don’t care. The next time I hear of some old game, comic, toy, or other collectible going for a reckless amount of money, I’ll assume it’s just a case of someone making good on a decades-old desire and crossing off one more line on that bucket list. And if I’m right even one time out of a thousand, the whole collecting landscape will be a happier place.


  1. Hoo boy, I had to give up on video game collecting too. Like you, I started in the late 90s when you could waltz into any Funcoland, garage sale, video store or friend/relative's house and walk out with a load of classics, sleeper hits and weird but fun stuff for a pittance. My collecting really slowed down over the past couple of years -I bought Demon's Crest for the SNES a few years ago as it was really started to spike in price. Then I decided I wanted Pocky and Rocky 2 and saw that it was going for hundreds of dollars. I just got an Everdrive at that point and called it a day.

    Still, there really is something about actually owning the physical copy of the game, as well as the manual and instruction manuals. Especially if it's a title that means something to do. The price insanity is a real shame - I can't see any sane person actually wanting to get into collecting in 2017.

  2. This post makes me want to finally buy Radiant Silvergun. I wanted that game for so long and didn't want to spend the money on it, even back when games were cheap RS was expensive. Like you said there is something about the tangible object that makes it seem "real", especially if you actually want to play it.

    Speaking of how insane collecting has become, I have to think that eventually the market will crash, a little like baseball cards or Beanie Babies. I have a spreadsheet that pulls game prices live from ebay just to check where they are sometimes, and it floors me that a game like Super Mario World, which sold over 20 million copies and came with almost every console sold is still selling for $25 loose. Does anyone seriously not already have a copy of this game? It's one of the best selling games of all time.

    I get the actual rare games like the one you bought. But not the million+ sellers. Then again I remember Final Fantasy VII going for upwards of $200 on ebay at one point. Now you can get it for under $20 (even the black label). I have to imagine some of these game prices will eventually come back down to earth. But maybe that's assuming too much.

  3. @vitaflo

    I think a retro game market "crash" could happen as well. I don't follow 2600 collecting, but I read somewhere that prices spiked a few years back and prices have been steadily declining ever since. I could see the same thing happening with NES and SNES...if you assume that this collecting is cyclical, with people who had these games as kids getting to the age where they are financially stable enough that they don't have any issues with paying 30 bucks for Super Mario 3 or whatever..

    If I was more forward thinking, I would go in every Gamestop and Disc Replay in my area and start picking up games from there on the cheap. Weird licensed stuff that won't be rereleased, sleeper hits etc...

  4. Anonymous7:44 PM

    More or less the reasoning why I snagged a Raimais PCB on my last Japan trip. $240 is a fair price for a game I both feel a strong connection to and is quite rare. (As the guy at the PCB store said, "this game should be worth more because it's really hard to find, but it's just not popular.") It was a different story when I bought the PCBs for Fighting Vipers 2, as I was convinced that was the ONLY way I could ever play that game at the time. I don't regret either purchase at all.

    Sadly I still need to find all the original art that came with the board :<

  5. Tex Thylacine8:31 PM

    Recently I bought a copy of Hagane for 50 bucks, which for me is a lot of money, but for a copy of Hagane is dirt cheap. It was a make-your-own-repro set, a copy of the Super Famicom version, along with an empty US shell and a (very well-printed) US repro label. Considering that the game has hardly any text, and a lot of it wasn't even translated in the US version, most people would have no idea it wasn't totally kosher, even if they opened it up (the PCBs are pretty much identical).

    Part of me gets tickled at the idea of someone finding it someday when I'm dead and gone and going HOLYSHIT, HAGANE, THIS GAME IS WORTH 5 FIGURES IF IT'S REAL. Then they take onto a future version of Pawn Stars or something and are crushed when they call in the experts to tell them that it's not a real US version of the game and is only worth 300 bucks instead of 10,000.

    I never found Hagane all that terrible interesting. I can sort of understand some of the stupid-expensive games being the price that they currently are, like Pocky and Rocky or Wild Guns, but this one never seemed quite on that same level. But I've been determined to play through it and I do see why it's always mentioned as a hidden gem, even if it's bogged down by awkward controls and is generally just a semi-bland rip-off of Shinobi 3.

    All things considered, the retro scene is currently nuts. I go off-and-on collecting old cart games every few years, and have been dipping back into it the past few months. There's a good chance this time might be the last time I ever do.