Category Archives: Home Consoles

Microsoft Xbox

Another crappy picture, but then it’s tough to get good shots down in the little hole where I used to keep my active systems. This is a launch Xbox, a little bit worse for wear but if I cleaned it up a bit it’d look good as new. The hard drive in it screams like a banshee, and I’m sure if I’d kept using it long enough, it’d fail and take all of my game saves with it. I really hate the whole idea of having a hard drive in a game console, honestly – with the main audience for consoles being kids or young adults, you just know these things are going to be mistreated and PC hard drives are not known for their toughness. Couple that with the optical drives that are almost required in today’s systems and you’ve got a recipe for unreliability. Today’s systems are fragile to an unacceptable level with all these moving parts. I’d like to see a move to built-in solid state memory for game saves next time around, with the option to buy memory cards (same as now) if you ever run out.

I say this is a launch system, but then what’s a Controller S doing on top of it? Well, I simply bought one, that’s all – the original canned ham controller is in my accessory drawer as viewed on my games/misc page. That’s also a Madcatz Microcon controller sitting on top of the system next to the Controller S – this is the controller my wife uses when she plays with me, as it’s even a little bit smaller than the Controller S. Almost too small for me, which is amazing for an Xbox controller (MS themselves were apparently pretty amused when they saw Madcatz demoing these things at E3 – they didn’t think it was possible to make a controller smaller than the S). The Microcons are pretty cool, though, for all systems – they feel solid and snappy, and are perfect for people with small hands.

Here’s the launch system box, I have no idea if they ever changed this or not:

(That weird blue light is just the reflection from my TV, which was on at the time.)

When MS first announced the Xbox I actually thought it was kind of cool to see an American company finally get back into the game console business – first American console manufacturer since Atari bowed out in what, 1992? And there really hadn’t been a serious American system since 1984, when Coleco, Mattel, and Atari all exited the market nearly simultaneously (temporarily, in Atari’s case… but they never returned to glory). So I was pretty stoked for the Xbox initially.

I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the system in reality, though. It is just a PlayStation 2 with slightly better graphics. People these days bicker over whether Xbox Live is better than Sony’s open network, or whatever, but honestly, in 15 years nobody will even remember that debate. All they’ll remember is the games, and while the Xbox has some good ones, it doesn’t really have anything truly unique. It has also played its part in “dumbing down” the video game industry into a Hollywood-style hit- and sequel-driven business that is almost anti-innovation. All of the Xbox’s popular games are either sequels or they’re games in well-established genres that simply follow genre conventions.

The reason that I have an Xbox is because if there is a multi-platform game, you can usually count on the Xbox version being the best. But I am completely indifferent to the system itself.

JVC V-Saturn

 Now, here’s an example of why every collector should visit Japan at least once, and preferably multiple times, with as many empty duffle bags as you think you can carry full on the way back. I’m lucky enough in that I have family there now so I’m actually required to visit every now and again, and I try to make the most of it whenever I do. There are actually many systems, accessories and games I regret not buying when I was there (such as a NIB Famicom top-loader for $25), but you do have to draw the line somewhere and two arms can only carry so much. This, however, is a system I’ve wanted for a long time so when I saw it sitting there in a cabinet full of used games for only around $15 I had to pick it up.

1,780 yen, about $15, and no, I have never taken the system out of its plastic and probably never will. I have no real reason to, as I have a perfectly good common American Saturn; this thing’s just to have. I have no doubt it works, as they don’t sell broken used systems in Japan – every system is tested prior to marking it for sale and any defects must be clearly noted on the label. Stores there also will generally not accept any cosmetic defects, so it truly is a collector’s paradise.

There’s honestly nothing all that special about the V-Saturn, it’s just one of the several Sega Saturn variants marketed under other brand names – I hope to collect them all eventually. Not only Sega sold Saturns but also JVC, Hitachi, and Samsung at the very least. The rear label actually makes me think JVC produced this system themselves rather than simply re-branding it:

Another, closer view of the system itself – I’ve always thought the Saturn was a nice-looking console:

Sears Video Arcade

I picked this system up more or less on a whim, but it’s become one of the pride and joys of my collection. This is an original 1977 Sears Video Arcade – the “heavy sixer”. Atari made these both under their own brand name and under the Sears brand name in order to be sold in Sears stores, and they only made the “heavy sixer” model for one year. Not particularly rare but becoming less common these days, as it seems most of those that remain serviceable have by now officially changed hands from the average consumers looking to dump them to the collectors (like me) that highly prize them.

I got mine through Ebay, an auction run by some guy who obviously knew nothing about this stuff, had a blurry pic that didn’t identify this as a heavy sixer at all (I thought I was just buying a common 6 switch model), and no real description. My final bid was around $13. You’ll never do that well today on a system like this. They are still available there, but the ratio of buyers to sellers favors high prices these days.

It came to me in a pretty sad state of affairs – dusty, dirty, nasty looking. A good bit of cleaning with a full roll of paper towels (add about a buck to the total price I paid), an alarming number of Q-Tips, and some Windex, and the result was this fine looking bit of machinery:

Rear label fully intact, serial number visible (box and label match):

My unit also still has its box (pictured above) and all of its original accessories, such as the original spring-loaded joysticks (note that it does not say “top” at the top of the dotted ring around the base of the stick as it does on later versions of the stick):

…the original Sears-branded paddles:

…and the original grey power supply:

Unfortunately, the power supply’s busted but I keep it because it’s rarer than the system itself. These power supplies are notoriously unreliable so most people with heavy sixers have replaced theirs. (I just use another 2600 power supply when I actually play games on this thing.) All the other accessories work perfectly.

I love this system; it’s easily one of my favorites. Just look at it! It’s a tank with that 1/4″ thick plastic base, and that faux-marble woodgrain! I think it’s even better-looking than the Atari-branded VCS.

I leave you with one more closeup pic of my baby – worship the woodgrain:

Sears Video Arcade II

 This is another interesting Sears-branded Atari system, although unfortunately (for me, anyway) this is one of the few unboxed systems that I have, and one of the controllers has a busted spring. It’s a really cool system but I probably will replace it at some point.

The Sears Video Arcade II is actually just a re-branded version of the much sought-after Atari 2800. If you’re not a collector, you may not know there even is such a thing as an Atari 2800 – it was Atari’s attempt to crack the Japanese market fairly late in the 2600’s lifespan. They redesigned the 2600 system and its controllers for a more modern appearance and better functionality (keeping the system 2600-compatible), and released it there in limited quantities. It sold poorly, and Atari pulled out of Japan in fairly short order. Today, a real Atari 2800 is the rarest of all commercially released Atari consoles. (In fact, it’s the only Atari console that could be legitimately called rare – all other 2600 variants, and all other Atari consoles, are pretty common.)

IMG_1721

Incidentally, I’ve told this story before and was laughed off without pics, but I finally found the one I took – here’s a boxed Atari 2800 practically sitting on the floor at Super Potato in Tokyo. I passed on it like an idiot – I will almost definitely not see one again. The price was ¥31280, or about $272 at the time. Practically a bargain.

I’m not sure if it happened before or after the 2800’s release in Japan but at some point, Atari approached Sears to see if they’d be interested in selling the system in the US, and Sears bit. Like the original Video Arcade, they branded the system a Sears system and put it on sale (cosmetically, the only real difference between the 2800 and the Video Arcade II is the name plate, and there is no functional difference).

Atari later used the 2800’s case for the 7800, with some minor changes. This was the first of Atari’s “wedge” designs.

My console itself is in great shape:

Another low serial number, and note that unlike most of the later 2600 variants, this one’s built in the USA:

I’ve been told the Japanese-marketed 2800 was built in Hong Kong.

Probably the coolest innovation in the Video Arcade II/2800 is the controllers. They’re comfortable to use and they include both joystick and paddle functionality in one:

The controllers are labeled Sears on the front but Atari on the back:

The apparent weak link in these controllers is that inside, the “spring” for the fire buttons is simply one small piece of slightly bent wire spanning the width of the controller, pushing on each button. On one of my controllers, this piece of wire is broken. The controller itself works but it is impossible to press the fire buttons. Seems like a simple fix but also seems like something that would break easily again.

Atari VCS (aka 2600)

Well, here you go – the system that started it all for a lot of people. I never owned one of these when it was new but this was the first system I bought when I started getting nostalgic in the 90’s. Paid $15 for it with 13 or so games in the early days of Ebay – you’ll never find a deal like that on a system in this condition today. Well, not on Ebay, anyway.

This is a common four-switch model, made in Taiwan in 1980, but it does have all of its original accessories, including the box (serial #’s match), and everything works perfectly. It’s minty fresh, though the box has seen better days.

I love boxes, so here’s a little more box detail:

Couple interesting things to me about this box – for one, it shows a four-switch console in the original “heavy sixer” casing, which never existed. Atari had switched to the lighter casings even before removing the two extra switches from the front face. Nothing special about my box, though; I believe they were all like this, at least up to a certain point in time.

Of course, what makes the whole box design work is the images of all these people having their minds literally blown out of their skulls playing stuff like backgammon and checkers.

This kid’s my obvious favorite:

This little girl looks like she’s developed a bad case of hemorrhoids:

Would this image make you want to buy a game console? Is she supposed to be having fun or is she just in need of some fiber?

I can’t help but wondering where these kids are today. Do they tell their own kids that they were once on the Atari VCS box? (And do their kids care?)

NEC TurboGrafx 16

I don’t really have that much to say about this system, as it’s just not one that I’m personally very attached to and I don’t even know all that much about it. I do know that it’s the US version of the Japanese PC Engine, a legendary system in Japan that’s more than just one console but is instead a series of systems that are both modular and backward compatible. The TurboGrafx system more or less duplicates the original Japanese PC Engine, and it does have the expansion port for system add-ons:

It’s about the butt-ugliest system ever made, isn’t it?

To the back of the unit you can attach the Turbo CD, and through various system card upgrades you can turn your unit into a Super CD unit. NEC also sold the Turbo Duo here in the US, which was basically a Super CD/HuCard combo with a faster CD-ROM drive and faster data streaming capabilities.

HuCards are what NEC called the PC Engine carts – they tried to rename them “TurboChips” in the US but the name didn’t take (possibly because it still says HuCARD right on the cart). Anyway, they’re pretty slick cartridges if you ask me:

Their small size and thinness allowed NEC to also produce a handheld called the Turbo Express that played the same games as the home systems (similar to Sega’s Genesis Nomad, but a bit smaller and without the carts hanging out the top). Turbo Zone Direct still sell these things for $169.99 – you won’t find them a lot cheaper than that anywhere else (even used), as this system has a major cult following these days (unlike the home system, which never caught on in America even among hardcore gamers).

Technically speaking, this system is a combination 8/16 bit system, and the games do seem to fall somewhere in between, say, the NES and the Genesis in terms of graphical quality. I don’t have a lot of games for this system and I don’t know much about the ones I don’t own, so I can’t really comment on the quality of gameplay – but I do know that there are a lot more PC Engine games than TurboGrafx games. You can get a converter to play these games here, but I don’t have one.

My system came to me brand new, and it still has its plastic protection on both the system and the controller (little hard to see on the controller because it’s still stuck on pretty nicely, but it’s there):

I don’t play this system much so I doubt that plastic’s ever gonna come off.

Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Back in the early 1990’s, Sega had shockingly dethroned Nintendo from their perch at the top of the home console arena – at least in the United States. Sega put Nintendo in an awkward position, forced to either prematurely kill their successful Famicom in Japan, or cede the 16-bit era to Sega in the United States. Eventually, Nintendo released the Super Famicom to sell alongside the original Famicom, renaming it the Super NES in the States and giving it a more angular look than the Japanese version. It would eventually outsell the Genesis, but not until Sega had abandoned their 16 bit console in favor of the Saturn.

I admit that I was a Genesis guy at the time – I was in college, and multiplayer sports games were my main gaming interest. The SNES was almost a joke in the dorms; I remember one guy got it shortly after its release, and we all pointed and laughed when he booted up Mario Kart. Then we headed on up to my room to put some blood on the ice in NHL Hockey.

He eventually bought the SNES version of NHL (I forget which year it was that EA finally decided to support the SNES with their sports games), but all it did was convince us further that the Genesis was the superior machine. The SNES version of the game was slower and choppier, and had all the blood removed. Of course, by this time Sonic had also been released for the Genesis, and you’re probably familiar with Sega’s ad campaign comparing Super Mario with Sonic. It was really no contest.

Nowadays I can appreciate the SNES for what it is. It’s a different machine than the Genesis; it is slower, but it has a better sound system and can display more sprites and colors. It is better suited to things like epic RPG’s and adventure games than the Genesis was, whereas the Genesis was better suited to action, sports, and arcade style games. I still prefer the Genesis, but I see the SNES’s appeal.

As for my system, I purchased it about four years ago. Like my N64, it’s the Donkey Kong Set (this was intentional – I’ve sort of got a matched pair), so definitely one of the later SNES units produced. Unfortunately, and I am trying to remedy this right now, it is the only system I have without the pack-in game. This drives me crazy. On the other hand, I did get two official controllers, when the original set only came with one. But I need that stupid pack-in game.

Also, when I purchased it, it was in absolutely perfect shape, but it is just ever-so-slightly beginning to “yellow” now in certain areas:

You can see a bit of a difference between the extreme rear of the machine and most of the rest of it, and between the cartridge door and the surrounding plastic. Everything should be the same color. This is an extremely common problem with the SNES and I’m not sure why it happens, but I don’t think there’s anything to be done about it. I’ve seen much worse than this, though; my yellowing is barely detectable, whereas some systems I’ve seen are flat-out, full-on bright orange. (And not on purpose like some of my other systems, either.)

I’ll leave you with a back-of-box shot – Nintendo really did a great job on this one: