I haven’t been to the Toy Fair in a long, long time, but I always like looking at the new trinkets it brings. After all, a good chunk of the toy market targets adults collecting new versions of their beloved childhood possessions. I usually abstain from actual purchases, but there’s no harm in looking at things you want and then coming up with excuses not to buy them. I do it all the time.
NECA’S ALIEN VS. PREDATOR
NECA makes dozens of toys based on Aliens, Predators, and the cinematic unions thereof, but these are different. They’re based on Capcom’s Alien vs. Predator game, a semi-obscure 1994 arcade brawler never ported to any home console. As the wrestling fans say, I marked out and marked out hard for these.
NECA announced Alien vs. Predator arcade toys last year, but they stuck to the actual Aliens and Predators, including the playable Hunter and Warrior predators, the Smurf-colored Mad Predator boss, and the vexing Razor Claws. The new addition is a two-pack of the game’s human heroes: cyborged-out Dutch Schaefer from the first Predator movie and technically original Capcom heroine Linn Kurosawa. Fifteen years ago, a Linn Kurosawa toy would’ve topped any far-fetched wish list I made.
But what’s the big deal with Capcom’s Alien vs. Predator? For my money, it’s one of the best brawlers around. It has that gorgeous spritework you’ll see in all Capcom arcade games of the 1990s, and the designers really make the most of the license: the environments are wonderfully grimy and bleak, the new xenomorph variants fit perfectly into the mix, and even the standard Aliens slink along the ground and creep out of the shadows with wonderful Gigerian flair.
Alien vs. Predator also dodges that common flaw of belt-scrolling beat-‘em-ups: repetition. Each character has a wealth of attacks, and the throngs of Aliens show careful variety. And just when you might get sick of fighting the creatures, the game pulls out that familiar Alien plot twist of the military exploiting the xenomorphs, leading you to fight off brigades of corrupt soldiers and their power-loaders. And then the Aliens come back for the finale.
For that last dose of mystique, Alien vs. Predator never appeared on any home systems. A 32X port and a Saturn version were rumored and canceled, leaving Capcom’s brilliant creation to arcades and emulation. Linn Kurosawa has recurring cameos in some later games, appearing in backgrounds in Street Fighter Alpha 2 and Street Fighter III while inspiring the lookalike Simone in Cannon Spike. For a brief time, she was my favorite video game character ever, and I’d hear no talk about how she was just a Capcom clone of recurring Alien vs. Predator comic heroine Machiko Noguchi.
Why I Probably Won’t Buy Them:
Neca figures tend to be expensive. Going by the pricing on similar two-packs, Major Schaefer and Lieutenant Kurosawa will run about forty bucks. That, and Linn’s waist is too high and her crotch is too big. Perhaps I shouldn’t be picky about a toy I’ve wanted for twenty years, but there’s money at stake.
I buy just one or two Transformers a year. It isn’t easy. Hasbro’s modern toys are little plastic torpedoes locked on to the nostalgia nodes of every kid who dug Transformers in the 1980s or 1990s. Countless new Autobots and Decepticons are modern takes on older characters, delivering the poseable, cartoon-accurate action figures we always wanted. That’s a tough poison to resist.
I try to abstain, but a few toys make it past my defenses. The most recent one is Seaspray, a Transformers: Titan Returns incarnation of the hovercraft-bot best known for talking like he was permanently underwater. Or drunk. Or both.
The updated Seaspray follows a design similar to his 1985 version, changing from a slightly tubby robot to a compact hovercraft. The current version has much more articulation, of course, and I like how his enormous feet could suit a clown, a water skiier, or a drowned mobster. I could see his many moving parts getting weak after a few dozen transformations, but then I’m no longer a ten-year-old kid who treats every toy like a stage from Wrecking Crew.
Seaspray also looks fine as a hovership, though I note one little shortcoming: his old ‘80s version had wheels on the bottom, and this new one does not. I know that most hovercraft don’t have wheels, but nor do most hovercraft turn into alien robots.
All things considered, it’s a good little toy. Yet there’s another reason I bought it, and it’s the same reason that Seaspray is one of my favorite Transformers.
Last month brought the first trailer for Spielberg’s Ready Player One movie, based on Ernest Cline’s book about a virtual-reality treasure hunt in a dystopian future. This prompted me to finally read Ready Player One, and it convinced me that the future of profitable literature is all about nostalgia: pure, vacuous, unreflective nostalgia that namechecks as many childhood fascinations as print allows.
Well, I want a piece of that. I’m now at work on a science fiction novel called Mission One Start, and I know it’s bound for the best-seller lists. Here’s a sample.
I always liked Critical Mass Eisley. There were hundreds, maybe thousands of clubs across the OMNIWAY based on the Cantina from Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, but this one went beyond rote imitation. The layout echoed an alien version of the classic sitcom Cheers, and tonight a Skeksis from Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal tended bar, wearing mirrored cyberpunk shades while mixing a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Here they knew the difference between a Trandoshan and a Gorn.
Even the patrons were a more eclectic mix. As I grabbed a Romulan Ale, I ducked around a winter-camo Robocop, a gaggle of teenage girls dressed as the Bangles in Voltron pilot outfits, and an impressively well-rendered Destro from G.I. Joe wearing Ghostbuster gear. It was great.
I slipped behind a table styled like the monster checkerboard from the Millennium Falcon and tapped my line open.
“You sure she’ll be here?” I asked.
“Totally,” Rhodel said in my ear. “The Minicons may be weird, but they always follow through. Besides, they need our passcodes, and we need their access.”
“I think I see her.”
She wove through the crowd like a ninja about to kidnap the president. Her avatar was a slim, sharp-featured woman with long red hair and just an adorable hint of anime around the eyes. She wore a Dune stillsuit that glowed with subtle crimson highlights, topped off with a visor and yellow trenchcoat right off Jubilee from the X-Men.
“Quit gawking and talk to her, man!” Rhodel piped up through my ear. I’d forgotten that he had a link to my visuals. “And don’t get caught up talking about that awful Dune movie.” Read more »
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.
ALSHARK (Sega CD)
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.
Well, it’s time to reveal what’s inside that curious, label-free Sega Genesis game I picked up at the flea market. About a dozen people put in their guesses across this site and various forums, suggesting everything from classics like M.U.S.H.A. and Castlevania Bloodlines to the nightmare of Revolution X.
The bad news: the game would not play. No amount of cleaning seemed to help it, and so it robbed me of the chance to uncover the mystery by plugging it into my Genesis, showing it on my TV, and getting mocked for the aspect ratio and improper resolution.
Fortunately, there are other ways of identifying a game. I’ll just open up the cartridge and check the MPR code.
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.
BEETLE ADVENTURE RACING 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…
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 a flea market bin with a “$5 EACH OR THREE FOR $12” sign protruding from rows of obsolete plastic. Today they’re 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 entire 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 severaltimesbefore, 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 and therefore exotic). Of course, that was fifteen years ago, and like every other game more popular than Cyberball, it tripled in price. Buying Battle Mania Daiginjou is even dumber today than it was back in 2003.
You can judge a game system by how much unnecessary merchandise it inspires. The good ol’ NES had a market nearly to itself in the late 1980s, so companies swamped it with accessories: dust covers, rolling TV carts, turbo switches, eighteen different brands of cleaning kit, and even locks so concerned parents could control their Nintendo-addicted children. In contrast, you won’t find a great deal of third-party knickknacks for the Sega Saturn, the Atari Jaguar, or even the TurboGrafx-16.
The original Sony PlayStation was an obvious success by 1996, and ancillary goods appeared rapidly. Extension cables, boomerang-shaped controllers, and unreliable high-capacity memory cards weren’t necessary, but I found one specialized item helpful: a PlayStation game carrying case.
CD cases are commonplace even today, as the format slips into the digital ether, yet most of them are mere wallets that hold otherwise naked discs. In the 1990s, it was easier to find transporters that let you haul CDs still inside their jewel cases. Sure, they were bulky and held about 30 discs at their largest, but even the 15-CD models offered extra protection for your complete discographies of The Shaggs, New Radicals, Ursa Major, One Dove, The Pulsars, Young Marble Giants, Operation Ivy, The Grays, Leviathan, 4 Non Blondes, Kak, The La’s, David and David, Mother Love Bone, and The Sex Pistols.
That’s the idea behind the PlayStation game carrier from Smart Pouch, which assumed that consumers would be more concerned about damage to $50 game discs than any scuffs incurred by that Spacehog album no one ever played past the first track.
Outwardly, the case sports a nondescript design, affixing the PlayStation logo to a pattern commonly seen on metal floors and pickup truck mats. It’s largely the same product as a tote for regular music CDs, but there’s one key difference inside.
Well, the Gravity Rush 2 Contest turned out much better than I expected. I had seven whole entries from four different people! And they were pretty good!
The winning entry came from Craig G, who cut mercilessly deep with the above revelation. Even so, Gravity Rush lets Kat throw enemy soldiers and average citizens off the edges of floating islands, allowing them to plummet into an ominous void. Perhaps she really is evil after all.
But that wasn’t the only good entry I received! Check out the others!
We American anime fans were 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 waters. 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.