Five Games I Own For Stupid Reasons

I try to be picky about the video games I own. This means that I still have over a hundred of them, of course. Most I keep because they’re personal favorites or stuff that I haven’t fully played yet. A few games, however, stick around on thinner justification. And here they are, posed with appropriately disdainful toys.

I last went to Japan back in 2007, and I prowled the retro-game stores relentlessly. Nearly all of them were filled with Japanese systems and games, naturally, but I stumbled into a small Akihabara spot that stocked American toys and video games.

If you frequent America’s retro-game stores and convention booths, you’ll notice that they mark up just about anything from Japan. Well, this Akihabara shop did the same for Western games. A Jaguar? That’s about $300. Hey, if you wanted to buy Atari’s little-loved final console and happened to be in Japan, this might have been your best bet.

The store also had a bin of common imported games for ten times what you’d pay at any American flea market. Yes, Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt for the NES can be found in one out of three attics across the United States, but in Japan it’s a $40 rarity.

After seeing this spread, I had to buy something from the store. I wasn’t about to pay import fees on Zero Tolerance or Cybercop, but the shop also sold Japanese games. I fished a copy of Alshark for the Mega CD out of a clearance bin. It’s a space-opera RPG from Right Stuff, and that hit two, perhaps three, of my obsessions at the time. Even if it didn’t have the back insert, I thought it was a good deal for a hundred yen.

The shop owner further won me over by reminding me that Alshark was intended for Japanese systems. I liked that. When I visited Japan on school trips in the late 1990s, almost every store clerk would politely mention that a game was in Japanese or meant to run on a Japanese console, and I would smile and nod, knowing full well how to circumvent region lockouts. By 2007, foreign game collectors were so routine a sight in Akihabara’s stores that no clerk bothered pointing out that a copy of Burning Rangers was the Japanese version.

Whenever I see this battered copy of Alshark, I remember that store, its unnecessary cautions, and its Atari Jaguar.

I have a weakness for penguins and old Game Boy cartridges. I need no reason for liking penguins, and I can rationalize my affection for handheld game cartridges. They’re tiny marvels, evoking the childhood fascination over just how an entire Zelda quest or Contra shootout could fit into a little plastic Triscuit.

On a trip to a retro shop called Game Zone in New Jersey, I really wanted to buy something but had little money to spare. Fortunately, the store maintains a rack of Game Boy games for a few bucks each, and I flipped through them until one called out to me: Amazing Penguin. It’s an enjoyable puzzle game where a penguin evades little creatures to fill in sections of a map. While too primitive in looks to charm us like Pengo, Amazing Penguin sates both my fondness for penguins and my desire to own at least one old Game Boy game.

I have another reason for keeping Amazing Penguin. It’s a Natsume release, and a few of Natsume’s Game Boy offerings, including Tail Gator and Ninja Gaiden Shadow, are worth decent money these days. If the tuber-based Spud’s Adventure and Amazing Tater can be Game Boy gold, why not a game about penguins? They deserve it more.

It’s tempting to defend Keith Courage and his Alpha Zones. On first play, it seems like a solid side-scroller that varies between bland kid-hero stages and speedy mecha-suit levels with cooler monsters and catchier, Rygar-esque music. Heck, it’s based on the anime series Mashin Hero Wataru, and anime tie-in games can get much worse than this.

Perhaps, you might think, people deride Keith Courage not because it’s a lousy game, but because it was the unimpressive pack-in for the TurboGrafx-16. Instead of giving system owners a free R-Type or The Legendary Axe, NEC and Hudson chose Keith Courage and looked downright primitive next to the Sega Genesis and its flashy, ridiculous Altered Beast showcase.

After a few stages, however, it’s easy to see that Keith Courage is mediocre. Levels simply repeat their ideas with nastier jumps and different enemy hues, and getting new weapons becomes a matter of tediously jabbing flying coin-cats over and over. Sorry, Keith Courage. There is no redemption for you.

So why I do I have it? Because it’s among the few TurboGrafx-16 games that isn’t preposterously expensive. Besides, any old cartridge-based systems seems incomplete without a side-scrolling game. The Super NES has Mario, the Genesis has Sonic, and the TurboGrafx, though it might not deserve it, has Keith Courage.

POKER PLUS (Atari 2600)

I could say that I’ve played every game I own, but there’s one exception. A friend and I give each other absurd games or related merchandise each Christmas, and one year his gift was Poker Plus for the Atari 2600. I don’t have the system, as Atari’s reign was before my time and I have no space for another console—not even if the 5200 has a good version of Pengo.

Until I can borrow an Atari 2600, I must make due with YouTube videos of Poker Plus. It seems like an acceptable Atari simulation of various casino card games, but it would have completely baffled me as a child. Perhaps that’s what I like about it. Today, it takes a convoluted game made entirely of Japanese text to truly perplex me. I like to remember an age when anything with numbers seemed as forebodingly grown-up as tax forms and NYPD Blue.


There’s nothing wrong with owning Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. It’s a fantastic puzzle title still unmatched in its vicious two-player matches. Yet I have the HD Remix version on the PlayStation 3 (complete with obnoxiously loud menu music), and it adds new features and levels.

But I prefer the older version. There are a few options that HD Remix lacks, such as taunts and music that speeds up in the final moments of a match. More importantly, I like the old sprites. They capture the affectionate little details of the characters better, from Dan grinning in delusion to Morrigan nervously fondling her wings on the brink of defeat. The HD characters are too smooth, looking more like Flash cartoons than the work of Capcom’s sprite animators at the top of their game.

Hmmm. Maybe that’s not such a stupid reason after all.

No comments:

Post a Comment