All posts by jeff

Neo Geo Pocket Color

I can guarantee you that almost nobody else in the world has this color variant of the NGPC. That’s simply because it’s so nasty; it’s probably the only true piss-colored game machine anywhere. I’m amazed that SNK ever offered such a color variant, and they only did so in Japan. But this is actually one reason why I wanted it – I knew nobody else would have a system that looked like this, and I like systems that are so ugly, you can’t help but look at them.

It actually looked better when I first got it a few years ago. The color has dulled over time – it was originally the way it’s pictured on the box. But it was never attractive. Distinctive, yes; attractive, no. And it’s still as distinctive as ever, dull or not. (I actually get a lot of looks when I play this thing on the NYC subway – looks that say “what the hell is that thing??”)

This is one of the later revisions of the NGPC, which were all only ever offered in Japan, even while the older model continued to sell in the United States. The major differences were the size and colors offered – the second generation NGPC’s were slightly smaller and were produced in a variety of solid and clear colors – the clear blue model looks particularly nice. Clear (or “crystal” as SNK called them) models were never sold in the United States, except for plain (uncolored).

I actually love this system. It’s fantastic; it’s everything you could want a handheld to be, at least at the time it was available. Its only competition at that time was the Game Boy Color, and it totally destroys that system in every way. It’s got better graphics (it’s got a 16 bit CPU vs. the GBC’s 8 bit), it’s got the best controller ever put into a handheld, it’s got nice, snappy buttons, it’s very small and it’s very comfortable to hold. The screen is extremely sharp, and SNK took a cue from Nintendo in not including a backlight in order to save battery life. As a result, battery life blows the doors off the GBC – 40 hours!

There are some great games available for the system, including a nice rendition of Sonic the Hedgehog, a couple of versions of the classic Metal Slug, and “pocket” versions of SNK’s fighting games with super-deformed characters. And of course, my favorite puzzle game series, Puyo Puyo:

This was the most serious competition Nintendo had ever faced in handheld gaming to that point – this is the one system that has ever seriously bested the Game Boy at its own game, literally. Unlike previous failed systems like the Game Gear and Lynx, the NGPC was designed with the same philosophy as the Game Boy, and it beats it in all areas. Unfortunately, SNK just did not have the resources to pour into the marketing and development of this system, and it disappeared from the market after about three years. SNK itself would go under soon after, though they’ve now been resurrected under the guise of SNK Playmore.

Nintendo Entertainment System

I was one of those kids that got an NES system for Christmas in 1985 – the first year of its release. The funny thing was I didn’t ask for one, and I didn’t even particularly want one – my mom just knew it was the “hot toy” of that year, and she knew I’d been a fan of game consoles since the original Atari VCS, so she assumed it’d be the perfect gift. What she didn’t know was that at that point, I’d moved on to playing games on my Apple IIc, and I felt like the NES was for children (same argument you hear about Nintendo today).

I was, in short, the exact type of person responsible for the video game crash of 1983-84. I had no interest in game consoles by that point, and felt PC’s could offer deeper and more mature gameplay. (Of course, I’d change my mind again some years later.)

Anyway, I appreciated the sentiment, and I kept the system around and even got a few games for it, but I didn’t play it much. In fact, I eventually sold it when I went off to college. No, that is not my original NES pictured above – it’s a replacement.

I always felt bad about selling it, though, and I got bit by the nostalgia bug eventually anyway. (It also became obvious to me at some point that the NES did have quite a few great games.) I decided to seek out the exact system package I’d sold – and in fact, for all I know this is my original system. It is the same set (the “Action Set”) and it includes the box, all manuals, even the original Nintendo poster catalog. It is in about the same condition (i.e. mint, barely used) as mine was when I sold it.

The Action Set was, I believe, the second NES package released, but the first widely available. Prior to this, Nintendo offered a package including ROB the robot in the New York area – the Action Set was released as a lower-cost alternative and became the standard set for a while. It included two gamepads, a light gun, and the Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt cartridge.

I love a good old-school game system box, and the NES box had a lot of info and a lot of cool pics on it – here’s the box back, for example:

It’s hard to believe the NES was released more than 30 years ago (I originally posted this in 2005, but it’s now 2016!). It does seem like a different era than the Atari VCS, Intellivision, Colecovision, Atari 5200, even the Atari 7800 (though the 7800 actually was released after the NES!). You can already see the change in the industry; the marketing, the sales imagery, everything is looking much more modern and refined. It’s hard to believe the NES and Atari 5200 were only released three years apart, they seem so different… yet if you look at Nintendo’s marketing for the NES 20 years ago, it’s not all that much different than what you see from them today. The NES was definitely the start of the modern era.

Here’s the poster that shipped with the Action Set:

And another close-up view of “the toaster”:

Nintendo 64

This is one of the last revisions of the Nintendo 64 hardware and packaging – the Donkey Kong 64 set. I purposely waited to buy this system until both the price dropped far enough and Nintendo offered something a little more compelling than the plain old greyish-blue console with no pack-ins, and while DK64 is hardly the best N64 game, it’s something, at least. And it’s a “real” Nintendo pack-in, unlike the Star Wars system that was also out at around the same time.

I do like the look of the DK64 set, especially with the banana-colored DK64 cart in there (you may notice this is the only system I’m showing with a cart actually in it). It’s a nice match. Even the green system by itself, though, looks a lot more exciting than the standard N64. Nintendo also released some very late models in other colors besides green – my guess is these are probably the rarest of all N64’s as they came right at the end of the system’s lifespan and couldn’t possibly have sold all that well before the system was discontinued.

I’m not a big fan of the N64 – I don’t know too many people that are. But it does have a few good games, and it’s worth owning if for nothing else than the Treasure-developed, Japan-only game Sin and Punishment, one of the best rail shooters ever made and easily the best N64 game. Pick up an import converter and you’ll be set for life.

Now that’s a game. If the title alone doesn’t give you an indication, one look at the box art and you know you’re dealing with some serious business here.

The N64 Donkey Kong set also comes with the N64 “Expansion Pak”, which is basically just an extra couple MB of VRAM for games that can use it.

My feeling is this thing is pretty much a required peripheral for the N64 – almost all of the best games look a lot better with it, and some of the later games (like DK64) won’t even work without it.

I don’t have a lot of N64 games and probably never will. Still, there are a few more that I want – I don’t even have most of the “essentials”, such as Perfect Dark, Goldeneye, or Super Mario 64. I need to pick those up at some point.

Atari Lynx II

This is Atari’s second version of their Lynx handheld, which I purchased new in around 1999 or 2000. I don’t actually know what the deal is with this Lynx – I’ve seen some with black boxes, some with white boxes (like mine), and I think the white box models were probably either the last ones produced, or they’re European models. Feel free to comment with the correct info – I’m kinda curious myself.

Anyway, my Lynx has barely ever been played and so is in as perfect condition as a “used” system can get. I just don’t have very many games for it, and the ones I do have aren’t very good.

The Lynx is a huge system for a handheld and it’s easy to see why it failed in the marketplace (the Lynx I was even bigger). It also required six AA batteries. Still, despite its size and heft it is surprisingly comfortable (if not very portable), especially for someone with big hands like myself:

One of the annoying things about the Lynx, which you can tell a bit from this picture, is that the screen scratches ridiculously easily. I have done little more than take my system out of the box and insert/remove it from its carrying case a few times and still my screen is almost entirely covered with micro-scratches. Not very noticeable when playing but ugly with the system turned off.

Here’s the carrying case, btw – it’s huge!

Probably the best and worst thing about the system is the LCD screen itself. Now, bearing in mind the Lynx was released at the same time we were all dealing with the non-backlit, pea-green screen of the original Game Boy, this is still just plain nasty:

No, nothing is wrong with my Lynx. In its defense, I will say that those vertical lines are probably due to the screen refresh being picked up by my camera because of a long exposure time (you don’t see them during actual play), but in terms of the brightness, contrast and color, that’s about right. Unlike the Sega Game Gear, there is no brightness or contrast control (not that it helps much on the Game Gear).

I will say that Lynx carts are pretty darn cool. They’re like the Turbo Grafx HuCards – they’re not like carts, more like a chip. Very thin and sleek:

btw, Hard Drivin’ is unplayable on the Lynx. Don’t even bother.

Atari Jaguar

The original Atari’s last home system, the Jaguar – ill-fated from the start. I picked mine up as new-old-stock from a closeout internet retailer after it had been discontinued – a good deal at $35. The system was new, but the box was a little bit beat up – obviously it had been sitting on a shelf for quite a while, and shuttled around on various trucks to and from various stores and warehouses before finally ending up at the liquidator from which I purchased it. It was apparently a system that nobody else wanted.

It was pretty obvious that this system was doomed right from the beginning. For one thing, by the time it was developed, the “old guard” at Atari were long gone, and few people there had ever tasted success in home consoles, let alone had any idea what they were in for. The system development was outsourced, and it was actually built by IBM. Atari had very little to do with anything but the marketing – and the marketing was pretty much crap.

I mean, come on, Jaguar?! Even the name of the system sounds like a football team rather than a game console. Names of consoles are extremely important to the public image of a system, and it’s like someone at Atari was just watching Animal Planet one night and said “well, why not?” (The Lynx was of that same era – Atari was apparently going through a wildlife phase at the time.)

The system itself is, in practice, about as powerful as the Sega 32X. It’s barely able to push around a few untextured polygons at a time (see the screenshots section at AtariAge), which wouldn’t be so bad if Atari had focused on its 2D capabilities rather than trying to push it as a 3D system. The end result was that it was destroyed in the 16 bit era by the 2D prowess of the Genesis and SNES, and it was destroyed in the 32/64 bit era by the 3D capabilities of the PlayStation, Saturn and N64. It didn’t help that it was extremely difficult to program for, which was only one factor in the lack of third party game development. There are really only a few great games for the Jaguar.

Still, it is the last time you will ever see a label like this on a home console, and for that it deserves a moment of quiet reflection:

Made in the USA. Atari Corp, Sunnyvale, California. Just like it was in the glory days of 1977 (albeit with a few changes of ownership in the years since). I’ve been told that my unit is one of the rarer “M” units, vs. the original and more common “K” units as denoted in the serial number. The main difference is apparently the combination of the two custom chips into one, with a few bug fixes included in the process.

One interesting thing that came with the system was this “Jag-Ware” catalog:

Astute viewers will note that this catalog is worth $1.50.

Anyway, inside this catalog are not games (because Atari didn’t really have any games to advertise), but actual Jaguar-themed merchandise. Some of this stuff I have never personally seen in real life, including (and I need to take a pic of this at some point) an honest-to-god acid-washed denim jacket. Apparently, Atari was stuck in the 1980’s (as if the whole claw-mark thing and leopard prints on everything didn’t convince you of that earlier). Obviously, all the other stuff you see on this front pic is in there too – pins, a watch, pens, a hat, mugs, etc. Also t-shirts, black jackets with the Jaguar logo on the back, and more. If anyone has any of this stuff and wants to get rid of it, please let me know – I may be interested depending on price.

One thing I definitely need is this:

I must have that bag. I have messenger bags for the PS2, GameCube, maybe one or two other systems, but that’s by far the coolest console bag I’ve seen.

Here’s a pic of the back of the box – yet more proof that Atari was stuck in the 80’s. While competitors Nintendo and Sega were putting out colorful and exciting imagery in their marketing, Atari was desperately trying to look “edgy” while at the same time maintaining the dark, dour look of their earlier box designs:

Check out some of the hilarious ads for the system, featuring the system’s “Do the Math” tagline:

Sega Genesis 3

Long after the Genesis was discontinued, Sega signed a deal with Majesco to distribute an updated, stripped-down version of the console designed as a low-cost way to play the many Genesis games still out there. The Genesis 3 was the result, and ironically, it is now the most expensive Genesis model on the used market due to its “rarity” (rarity being a relative term in this case).

I probably don’t need to repeat everything I wrote about the Genesis 1, so I’ll just make a few comments on this system itself. Personally, it’s the Genesis I actually use when I want to play Genesis games, for a few reasons: a) it’s small, b) it has a real A/V connector, and c) this:

Yep, it’ll play MegaDrive games; Japanese ones, at least. Sega removed the region check and also the physical locks on the cartridge slot (MegaDrive carts are a slightly different shape, by design), so the Genesis 3 will play MD games natively without modification. (Note: I don’t guarantee this will work with every single game. But it has worked with every game I’ve tried.) I do not know if it will play PAL MegaDrive games, but it will play Japanese NTSC MD games.

One other sort of strange thing about my system in particular:

It has a different controller than the one pictured on the box.

Now, this isn’t really that big of a deal, but I know just from looking at pics of various Ebay auctions that Sega (or really, Majesco) did pack in the controller in the box picture with at least some systems. I’m thinking that the one I have is actually an older design, because it cosmetically more closely matches the original Genesis controller (with the “pointy” bottom edge), just with six buttons. So it seems likely that they just threw these in there with the first batch of systems to get rid of them, and then started packing in the newer design. I will say that this is actually a pretty good controller – nice d-pad, snappy buttons – a bit lighter than the original Genesis pad but possibly more comfortable to use. And of course, it’s got six buttons for games that require it, so this is probably the best Genesis controller out there. Anyone know if I’m right about this being the first design of the six-button controller? Was this the one Sega sold separately at the time the original Genesis was on the market?

Sega Genesis 1

I have a lot of good memories with the Genesis, which was released when I was in college. I bought a system (not this one) from a friend in my dorm for $90 used – a good deal at that time, only about a year after launch. The Genesis was the system of choice for sports gamers, which made it a perfect dorm system, and we’d have almost nightly NHL Hockey tournaments on various Genesises (Genesi?) around the dorm. This also gave us an excuse to actually leave the enclosed island of our dorm once in a while, as Blockbuster had just started renting games and we went nuts renting pretty much everything under the sun on a collective basis.

At some point after college I got stupid and decided I’d trade in my system. I took it to a store along with all my games and got something like $15 for the whole thing. I almost immediately felt some serious regret. I think that single experience, more than anything else, is what flipped the nostalgia switch and got me into retro gaming in earnest – I started thinking about all the systems I’d owned (and all the ones I wanted but never did own) and all the memories I had with them.

So I set out to buy another Genesis. I’m not sure why I bought this one, as it’s not in the best shape (certainly not as good as the one I traded in) – it’s very dull looking, with micro-scratches covering practically the entire unit, and when I bought it, it came with a cheap third-party controller that I’ve finally replaced with this:

Not easy to find the original 3-button controller in a box these days, and this one’s basically in new condition. It’s in a lot better shape than the system itself.

I’m sure I bought this particular system for the box, which is in pretty good shape, and it’s the original Altered Beast system that I had in college. I’ve been scouting for a replacement Genesis unit but it’s not easy to find one loose in the kind of condition I want – well taken care-of systems usually include all the extras that I don’t need and that only drive up the price.

Good times, though. And the Genesis is not just a sports system, either – probably my favorite 16 bit franchise of all is the Sonic series, and there were a lot of other great games for the Genesis beyond that. Definitely one of Sega’s high points. Great to collect for these days too – I’ve been noticing some rising prices lately, but it’s still generally pretty easy to find even really good games for a buck or two a piece. Many of these games still hold up well today.