Game Collecting on a Budget: 10 Great NES Games for under 10 Bucks

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This Thanksgiving, lets give thanks to Nintendo Entertainment System and its marvelous library of games. I’m thankful that I don’t have to empty my savings account to buy great Nintendo games. As a frugally-minded game collector, I shy away from big name Nintendo and Sega titles, opting to find the hidden gems among the various retro libraries. I chose ten games which can almost always be found for less than $10 dollars, whether that be on Ebay, Amazon, a flea market or game store. The trick with game collecting is to collect out of enthusiasm not nostalgia. Beginning as an amateur record collector, I never cared much for rarity, choosing to hear my favorite 70’s and 80’s bands on the superior quality of vinyl. The same goes for games, I care little about the rarity or nostalgia, but care a lot for the gameplay and experience. While Super Mario Bros and other Nintendo darlings can be found for under $10 on the online marketplace, there’s no guarantee a nefarious reseller won’t try to sell it for $25. As a result, I chose ten games that are underrated and off the radar, while having unique gameplay that rivals the best sellers on the system.

10. Deja Vu (ICOM Simulations/Kemco-Seika)

Deja Vu is one of a handful of point-and-click adventures on the Nintendo Entertainment System (almost all by ICOM Simulations). You play as an amnesiac detective who must solve puzzles and uncover clues to reestablish his identity. The graphic text adventure takes place in 1940’s Chicago and features complex gameplay, jazzy 8-bit tunes, and highly detailed graphics. I fell in love with the game when I found it in an Ebay game lot. Even though the graphics were static, the game world felt almost endless.

With well designed background graphics and little animation, the developers of Deja Vu were able to craft an elaborate world, once only relegated to text adventures. There are complex sewers, a casino, abandoned buildings, and much more to explore in the noir adventure. Like many adventure games,it takes only few hours to beat the game, but that all depends on how fast you can solve the puzzles and advance the story. The game isn’t for everyone, you must use the d-pad as a mouse and issue commands to your player, which can be frustrating to the average Nintendo player. The game comes with a battery save which really comes in handy as you can die A LOT. If you like classic adventure games like Monkey Island and Zork, you’ll love this game. Average price: $7.

9. Shadowgate (ICOM Simulations/Kemco Seika)

Playing Shadowgate is like being stranded in the middle of a dark maze and having only five matches to light your way. Despite being from the same developers as Deja Vu, Shadowgate provided tougher puzzles, ambiguous death traps, and a burning torch that must be kept lit at all times. Viewed

from a first person perspective, the castle-crawling adventure game plays much like a visual storybook, an obvious step forward from the text-adventures on the PC. The game isn’t for everyone, using the d-pad as a cursor can be frustrating especially when its low accuracy affects gathering items and solving puzzles. While I could beat the aforementioned Deja Vu without a walkthrough, I found myself glued to my phone displaying a gamefaqs guide more than the television screen. For around $7 for a loose cart, Shadowgate provides not only engrossing, esoteric gameplay but also one of the most haunting and melodic soundtracks on the system.

8. A Boy and His Blob (Imagineering/Absolute Entertainment)

With a score and title screen unabashedly aping Indiana Jones, one would expect a Boy and His Blob to be a treasure-hunting, dungeon crawling adventure platformer. Though adventure and exploration form the structure of this platformer created by Pitfall designer David Crane, A Boy and His Blob is more of a testament to innovative game design than a rehashing of typical genres. As evinced by the title, you play as a boy who must guide his blobby alien bud Blobert through earth and Blobonia to save the respective planets from a sugar-obsessed emperor. As you journey through different environments, you must feed your blob jellybeans to have him morph into different platforming friendly objects, like a ladder or a chasm-escaping bubble. Perhaps the most “Atari” game on the Japanese system, the game won’t win any accolades for graphics or sound effects (the main theme loops over and over like an old Atari 2600 game). Despite its simplicity, for around $5, A Boy and His Blob provides hours of innovative gameplay and should be in any Nintendo collector’s arsenal. There was also a wonderful remake on the Wii, check it out.

7. Rygar (Tecmo)

Action RPGs are among my favorite games to play on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Never actually playing the system as a child, I have a hard time slugging through generic platformers with impossible gameplay and poor programming. Action RPGs like Rygar provide a panacea for Nintendo frustration, allowing for health upgrades, an arsenal of weapons and quest items, and, most importantly, a diverse and expansive game environment. Rygar stands strong among great games like Legend of Zelda and Metroid, but has largely gone unnoticed. As Rygar, you must defeat the evil Ligar by visiting five Indora gods who will give you items to aid you on your quest. Fantastic controls allow you to slice apart enemies with your yo-yo shield in a few hits, and a select menu enables three spells for use once enough magic is collected.  Featuring side scrolling platforming and overhead exploration, Rygar plays like the Adventure of Link if it was ten times easier. The highlights of the game are definitely the role playing and dungeon crawling elements, as enemies and bosses are quite easy to defeat. For less than $5, Rygar will not disappoint.

6. Willow (Capcom)

Licensed games are a lot like breakfast cereals. Sure, Fruity Pebbles and Golden Crisps are based off of Hanna Barbera cartoons, but after awhile they’re just a sugary corn-based meal you eat for breakfast (so much so you may even buy the generic knock-off brand). Movie tie-in games don’t fare well with critics or consumers unless they provide innovative gameplay (Goldeneye, The Walking Dead, etc.), and even then the games will often overshadow their source material. Willow, based on the eponymous George Lucas box-office bust, outshone its source material and became one of the most underrated action RPGs of the 8-bit era. Known for 2-D fighters, shooters, and platformers, Capcom lacked what many developers specialized in, role-playing games. Capcom is not known for slacking off on licensed games (DuckTales, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, etc.) and Willow bares no exception. Not surprisingly, the game has nothing to do with the movie, and instead follows the Zelda and Final Fantasy formula where the player can explore the game environment and take on quests to complete the story. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t really comment on the story or characters. You control Nelwyn in a third person perspective while you traverse forests, caves, and dungeons collecting swords, magic, and leveling up health and attack. The soundtrack is amazing, melodic (I first heard of Willow from The Advantage’s cover), and more diverse than the Legend of Zelda. Pick up the working man’s Zelda for about $5 or less.

5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Sunsoft)

Everyone knows about the horrendous and controller-busting licensed games from LJN and Acclaim, but few can legitimately call the licensed library from Sunsoft and Capcom poorly done cash-in titles. Sunsoft brought us the console tie-ins to 1989 Batman, Fester’s Quest, Journey to Silius (originally a Terminator game), and Gremlins 2. The third person platformer sets itself apart from the crappy LJN licenses by providing tight controls, quality graphics and cutscenes

, great level design, and an awesome soundtrack. I haven’t seen the film (I wasn’t allowed to!), so I can’t tell if its following the story or not. You control a little mogwai guy through sewers, factories, and kitchens, fighting other mogwais with paper clips and magic wands. It’s very difficult, but fair in its challenges. You can collect orbs and shop for a health bar, weapon upgrade, or a balloon that will save you from falling down chasms. Grab this game for about $7.50.

4. Marble Madness (Atari/Rare/Milton-Bradley)

Although derided as a potential choking hazard for children, playing with marbles has been a nostalgic pasttime for kids since the beginning of the 20th century. Designed by Mark Cerny (who earned a lifetime achievement award for game design in 2004) for the arcade in 1984, Marble Madness simulated the nostalgic marble game as players used a trackball to guide their marbles through isometric mazes and contraptions. The ingenious and nostalgic design influenced countless games like Marble Mania, Super Monkey Ball, and Snake, Rattle, and Roll. Even Sonic the Hedgehog felt its influence as Cerny

went on to program for Sonic 2. The Nintendo port by Milton-Bradley unfortunately came without a trackball, utilizing the Nintendo d-pad to the best of its ability. It did, however, allow to simultaneous two-player challenges, making the game one of the better two-player games on the console. Despite the lack of the trackball, the Nintendo port is quite faithful to the 1984 arcade machine, featuring the same esoteric soundtrack, level design, and head-to-head challenges. For a mere $3, Marble Madness is a challenging and entertaining game to play with your retro-gaming friends.

3. Little Nemo: The Dream Master (Capcom)

Based on an anime based on an early 20th century American comic strip, Little Nemo will forever be confused with the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo, while its source material remains even more obscure here in the States. In the comic strip and the film, Nemo is a young child who explores his lucid dreams only to wake up in a state of confusion in the final pane. Capcom’s Little Nemo builds upon the comic strip and anime introducing players to several fantastical dream levels, whimsical tunes, and otherworldly gameplay. a platformer reminiscent of the Mega Man series, you play as Nemo throughout the levels, but are completely vulnerable to your environment without the aid of an animal friend. That’s right, you must feed animals candy and ride them like taming a sweet-toothed horse. Each creature has special abilities which allow you to traverse each level–you’ll find a tree-climbing gorilla, a wall-climbing lizard, and a dirt-digging mole among other utilitarian critters. Graphics, sound, and level design are all on-par with Capcom’s great NES series (Mega Man, Duck Tales, etc.), which makes me wonder why the game is so underrated. Junko Tomiya’s enchanting score embodies the whimsical nature of the game with its Parisian and early 20th century inspired score. Don’t be deceived by its kid-friendly themes, this is an incredibly difficult game, I couldn’t even get past the second level. Overall, Little Nemo: Dream Master with its quixotic gameplay and level design will leave you coming back for more, no matter how many times a stupid spider kills your sugar-induced gorilla. Instead of picking up a Mega Man game for $30+, pick up a copy of Little Nemo for around $6, you won’t be disappointed!

2. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins (Capcom)

Developed for the arcade in 1985, Ghosts ‘n Goblins will forever be known as one of the most difficult games ever created. Nintendo and Capcom fans know of its ball-busting difficulty, but Sir Arthur has been all but completed overshadowed by other Capcom stalwarts (younger gamers may know Arthur as the short knight with the spears in Marvel vs. Capcom 3). The Nintendo port saw no change in its brutal difficulty– Arthur could only survive two hits and the game could only be beaten in two complete playthroughs! That’s right, e

ven though the princess is in the same castle, you still have to fight through the same levels over again on a higher difficulty to fight the final boss, Satan. Even with infinite continues and mid-level checkpoints, the arcade platformer will continue to pummel you until your swollen fingers cry out for help. Every Nintendo collector should have this game, not only as a collectible but as a game you can continue to challenge yourself with. If you beat it, you’ll have bragging rights among all your friends! Pick this up cheap for about $8.75 before it gets pricey.

1. The Guardian Legend (Compile/Broderbund)

Very few games can successfully intertwine opposing video game genres. Some hybrid games will blatantly favor one genre over the other (Snatcher– great interactive drama, bad light-gun shooter), while others intermix genres so fluidly it becomes its own genre (ActRaiser– brilliant city sim and brilliant platformer). The Guardian Legend fits into the latter category, incorporating the fast paced action of space shooters and the addictive exploration of action rpgs. Compile, infamous for their quality space shooters like Blazing Lazers and MUSHA, were not known for role-playing games, but nevertheless, created a true contender to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series (I like to think of it as the thinking man’s Zelda). As the Guardian (a female, I might add), you must infiltrate and destroy the alien planet Naju before it impacts with Earth. While inside the depths of Naju, you must activate ten safety devices to prevent its cataclysmic impact. As you explore the labyrinthine Naju, you will gather power ups, new weapons, and keys to unlock other areas. Within each section of the labyrinth, you will transform into a laser-shootin’, grenade-launchin’ mech shooter (much like in MUSHA and the Aleste series). Here you will use the same arsenal of weapons shooting down aliens as you do in the overhead exploration areas, a concept that works amazingly well. You’ll fight your most difficult bosses in the space-shooting stage rather than the overhead stages. While the bosses may be difficult, they become easier with greater weapon upgrades. The game is expansive and non-linear, but is tied down by its massive password save system. The music again is stellar, diverse, and very catchy. “Space Zelda” or “Zelda with guns” is how affectionately explain the game to my friends, but even those descriptions don’t do it justice. I played the game last year over several days and was just blown away at the expansiveness of the gameworld and variety of the space-shooting levels. Usually space-shooter fans and adventure fans don’t mix, but The Guardian Legend may be the game to bring these two disparate groups together. Although it reached a high of $18 in June of 2012, the cartridge can easily be had for around $7. It is still absent from the Virtual Console, so buying the cart is a must!

Thank you guys for reading through my article, I know I missed quite a few great games, so here are my runner ups with their average price on VGPC: Crystalis(SNK: $9.75), Faxanadu (Hudson Soft: $4.76), Life Force (Konami, $7.00), Blaster Master (Sunsoft: $5.30), Xexyz (Hudson Soft: $5.00), and The Goonies II (Konami, $3.89).

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The Future of Brick and Mortar: How the Decline of Physical Media will Transform — not destroy — the Retail Video Game Store

Generation Y: I Can’t Touch any of My Favorite Things Anymore!

Being born in the late 1988, I grew up in the tame 90’s. With the fall of Communist Russia, Presidential sex scandals, and a healthy economy, it doesn’t fill up many history books. While my parents’ grew up in an era of tumultuous race relations and the transition to equal rights, I grew up in an era of technological and economical innovation and change. Technology has begun to emulate anything we want to see or hear, but has made little innovation in simulating touch or smell.

I remember going to Blockbuster every Friday and renting a couple new releases and a Super Nintendo game. Walking through the shelves of a video store as a kid, I would haphazardly look at the grisly VHS artwork in the horror section. I remember shopping at Best Buy and Tower Records and scouring the shelves like a Paleontologist for the new release from my favorite Christian hardcore band. My family had one computer and we only got decent internet connection in 2003. I remember carrying my case full of CDs and a walkman one school year and a iPod that replaced everything the next year. It is astonishing to think that a 13-year old today has probably never used a CD Walkman. While my parents’ generation have 30+ years of memories of physical media and brick and mortar stores, my generation may be the first to truly experience the transition to purely digital media.

A Series of Wishful Thoughts

Videodrome- The last remaining video rental store in Atlanta, GA

I grew up wanting to be a business owner. No, I didn’t want to become the next Bill Gates or even own a chain of pizza buffets, I wanted to own a record store, then a video rental store, and now a video game store. I would be told time and time again how unfeasible physical media retail is in this era of technological breakthroughs in media consumption. I held onto my dreams until I started seeing Hollywood Video, Blockbuster, Tower Records, and Circuit City start disappearing left and right. The very small and unique stores thrived as their competition dwindled, Videodrome and Criminal Records here in Atlanta are extremely popular with film buffs and record enthusiasts. Even with the convenience of movies, music, and game streaming with Netflix, Spotify, and Steam, there is still a demand for independent retail. There was still hope for me yet, albeit as a very niche business opportunist. I have always been a lover of music and movies, but my love of retro gaming has proven to be more than a fledgling hobby.

You Just Can’t Put it in a Box

While CD, record, and video rental stores can only thrive in the right environments now, video game stores can be found everywhere, though they mostly belong to the GameStop conglomerate. GameStop still operates around 6,700 stores worldwide, while Blockbuster recently closed its last 300 stores just recently. It may be an unfair comparison, but why is it that consumers are so quick to accept a RedBox in a gas station as their alternative to a video rental store, while buying video games is still seen as a worthy trip to a brick and mortar store? Is it the customer service, the large variety of games, or the ability to trade in your old games for a new one? the answer is quite simple, video rental machines have a flat rate for their service and a lower variety of movies, perfect for the average customer that needs a kids movie after buying groceries. Strangely enough, I remember when Blockbusters were attached to grocery stores just for this convenience — I think mine was turned into a pharmacy. Customers can rent games as well, but due to the length and replayability of games, renting them is just not worth it sometimes. A video game vending machine just wouldn’t work; no one would want to put $60 in a box and hope for the best. For all intents and purposes, GameStop is a glorified pawn shop. It is the quickest and easiest way to liquidate your disappointing games and systems and trade them in for a great experience. Though you can most definitely do the same and get more money through eBay and Amazon, the convenience GameStop offers is unbeatable.

Give me Convenience or Give me Death

Just doesn’t have that metallic tin can taste.

Convenience is what will keep small businesses around for our lifetimes. Even with 3-D printers, lightning fast internet, and cloud streaming, people will still generally be drawn to shopping outside their home. Even in Star Trek, humans and aliens alike will complain about the artificiality of replicators and the Holo-suites. Full disclosure: I have Netflix, Spotify, and Steam, and I use the first two for television, movies, and music enjoyment; the last time i bought a CD or DVD was in 2007. I never saw the appeal of buying movies and CDs, because when i did buy them, they ended up sitting on my shelf after watching or listening to them once or twice. I like Netflix and Spotify because I don’t have to invest in expensive DVD collections or feather dusters. Gaming, however, is something I almost never emulate and always search for the original hardware and software. When I do play an emulated game, it is because it is incredibly expensive or rare. I would argue that emulating games is less convenient because the amount of effort to accurately emulate a game (control scheme, graphics, experience) can be daunting. Although audiophiles will swear by vinyl’s sound quality (i do too) and cinemaphiles by 35mm, the average consumer will be content with the quality of audio and video streaming. With streaming media comes questions of true ownership, and for gamers this is of the utmost importance.

Do I really own this? The Digital Grey Area of Ownership

Although I love the convenience of Netflix Instant and Spotify, I can’t help but feel really bummed out when my favorite album or TV show disappears completely from the service! It’s almost like paying $50 a month for a gym membership only to come in one day and find all the treadmills gone. I suppose this is to be expected from monthly services like Netflix and Spotify, but it shouldn’t feel so restricted. Although you can buy games, music, and movies online and own them permanently, what happens when they stop selling them? If DRM only allows you to play media on your computer, how will the obscure, underrated games, movies, and artists survive past their prime? Many video games have this problem, but have physical forms that can preserve them. Earthbound, Little Samson, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and others have reached exorbitant prices on eBay because  developers have neglected to re-release them or emulate them (Earthbound being the exception). In a world without physical media, will games like these disappear forever?

How the Brick and Mortar Game Store can Survive the Physical Media Apocalypse

When Microsoft announced that their Xbone games could not be sold used, gamers everywhere erupted in outrage. Claims that this would kill independent and chain game stores were heard across the media, eventually leading Microsoft to change their decision and allow for multiple use games. If you don’t know already, game stores only make about $5 on every new game they sell, but make large profits on used games. This isn’t new to the gaming world, PC games have come with unique keys since the early 2000’s (I remember trying to lend The Sims to a very dismayed friend). But for console gamers, sharing, renting, and buying used games is intrinsic to the culture. The game store is part of the overall culture as well, though this is changing. With the rise of broadband internet,affordable computers, and smartphones,  gaming is becoming popular among both genders and all age groups. The modern game store, as epitomized in GameStop, will eventually come to an end. With shelves filled with the latest games and hardware, modern game stores are going to be less appealing, as an average consumer can just buy all their games at Target along with their shampoo and school clothes. Vintage game stores are making a comeback by supplying the demand for older systems and used games. Game collecting, once niche and unassuming, is now a growing and sustainable hobby among Generation Y. Independent game stores not only feed collectors demand for retro games, but also provide a community with affordable ways to game. However, many small game stores are unready for the physical media apocalypse.

Where Game Stores Are and Where they Need to Be

There are two types of game stores owners: Pawnbrokers and Hobbyists. Pawnbrokers have no interest in games, can’t recommend a good game for you, and only care about their net profit. If they stopped selling games and started selling TVs, they wouldn’t notice a difference. Hobbyists know everything about games, old and new, can recommend games, and offer fair prices on their inventory according to market values. If you’ve read my previous post, you’ll know I’m a staunch supporter of good game stores. I make an effort to visit a game store in every state I visit (Michigan, South Carolina, Georgia, California) and can instantly tell how long before a store goes kerplunk. A good store knows its old games are not instant gold; they price according to average retail and internet values. A bad store has piles of defective junk behind the counter, believing defective video game accessories have some value (I’ve been to this store). A good store has knowledgeable staff, testing stations, and experience in restoring older games to working condition. A bad store will have overpriced items, messy shelves, unplayable games, and a staff that has no interest in gaming. I believe game stores will eventually turn into hobby shops, the same way comic books left chain bookstores and became their own enterprises. A successful game store will have an online presence (Click and Mortar), large variety of games, and a large customer base.

Generation Y Me? 

If you imagine the Cloud as a giant asteroid hurtling toward earth intent on causing physical media to become extinct, you’re probably taking too much cough medicine, go to sleep. When dinosaurs went extinct, mammals thrived and prospered and eventually we came along some 65 million years later. Dinosaurs may have died, but we still have their descendants, birds (man, that emu really looks like a raptor). Brick and mortar stores (CD, rental, video games) will continue to survive while our generation becomes wealthier and more nostalgic for the past (They just aren’t as ferocious as they used to be). Game collecting will take the place of comic book collecting of our parents’ generation and thrive in an environment becoming increasingly less tangible.