I want to get into retro gaming.
Every once in a while a friend or acquaintance will approach me about this. The reasons for interest vary: recent nostalgia bursts, frustration with modern games and game hardware, and last but certainly not least, curiosity. These are all good reasons to want to check out retro gaming. But there’s a difference between digging out the old SNES for the weekend and really delving into retro stuff as a hobby. No matter what reasons people give my first response is almost always, “that’s great, but are you sure?”
Before I get any further, let me list off a few tiny disclaimers:
1) I am in no means trying to be snobby. People are free to play and try whatever they want. I just think it is important to know the cons that go with the pros of any big interest.
2) Not anything I am going to say here is gospel. I’m just one guy on the other side of the screen. Please don’t get too bothered by conflicting points of view and also please don’t take what I write and throw it around like a hammer.
3) If you do get all annoyed and want to get ranty and tell me I’m wrong and that my face is stupid, just, please wait and do it at MAGfest in January. It’ll be less annoying to get it all done at once.
We cool? All right? Sweet. Let’s do this.
The thing is, like many other hobbies that require some steady dedication it’s usually unwise to jump in head first at the start. Retro gaming along with other “collecting” hobbies has some strings attached that sort of become necessary commitments to fully immersed when one does decide to take the plunge and explore what the hobby, as well as it’s community has to offer. Retro Gaming has several central things to keep in mind. The ones I am going to talk about are:
- Graphics and Play aging, and
The reason I bring these up with my general hesitation to toss people in the retro pool too quickly is that people often fail to remember, like every other big interest in life they comes with tethers. I’ve often seen this lack of advising and/or willingness to learn as they go can give new retro gamers a negative view of it all. Rushing in with no clue can cost people lots of money spent in the wrong places, it might give someone a bad opinion of the games and people who paly them, and maybe worst of all, new players who might click really well with older games and the whole retro scene might get overwhelmed or confused and turn away from it. I’ve actually heard from several people at conventions that they tried getting into older systems and games and everything some time earlier but it was just too much and so they are just really getting going with a big delay.
These are just some of the things I keep in mind when advising new folks and directing them to what or who can help them with their niche. All of this can be directly affected by the things listed above, so let’s get started going over them one by one.
Rarely is gaming a cheap hobby in any shape of form. Whether you’re ogling the Steam sales, cruising DLC on PSN, or picking up combos at GameStop, you’re always spending money on content. Retro gaming is no exception to this process. Prices and stock of games can vary significantly over time and location. Prices vary from platform to platform and if you aren’t careful it can be easy to drop cash in the wrong place or buy something for more than it’s worth. While this happens often the opposite can also be true. A fresh faced enthusiast might pass up an incredible opportunity to get something rare and exciting because they were unsure of the price or iffy about the lot of games it might be bundled with. This happened to me a couple of years ago. I found a boxed copy of the rare, (and super fun,) Game Boy Color game, Shantae for less than one quarter of it’s going price. I passed it up because I already had two of the games the seller had bundled it with and I really hated the other. I regretted passing on it up until the game popped up on the 3DS eShop. Also, depending on the game system you are interested in getting into you might have a lot of extra little things to pick up along with the base system. Components like controllers, memory cards, import adapters or console add-ons may cost a small fortune with the system. It can be depressing when you’ve saved up and only bought the system and still have a long way to go before you can play. It’s important to be conscious of price ranges for your interests as well as what sellers will be the easiest to deal with. A willingness to budget, save, plan is pretty important if you want proper mileage playing and collecting for retro game platforms.
Yeah. See, this is what you don’t wanna do.
I’ve already tied into this a bit with the last section. It’s important to be knowledgeable about prices and buying & selling, but research is a very valuable part of overall game hunting. Knowing what the game you are looking at works like and plays like versus how it first appears in pictures and tiny blurbs is important. It sucks to buy a game that you thought was an action game only to find out its an RPG… and it’s in Japanese. …Aaannd on top of that the version of the game you picked up is virtually broken compared to the versions released on the competing systems. It’s not cool. Another thing to keep in mind, is that back in the 8-bit and 16-bit era, a game could be released with the same name (often with similar box art,) but be two completely different titles. A good example of this would be Sunset Riders or Alladin for the SNES and Genesis. This still happens sometimes today, but now the style and play of the game are at the very least pretty similar. You can’t always assume that a more common cart is the one you want. It’s also important to know if the game you want can play on the system as you have it set. Add-ons, system upgrade cards, and special controllers might be necessary. It never hurts to spend an extra 15 minutes googling around ebay and visiting detailed video game sites run by obsessive dorks.
Never be afraid to log onto the base’s computer box and surf through bits to find info you need in cyberspace
- Maintenance & Compatibility
The things about retro consoles is, well, they’re retro. They’re old. They need a little extra care and attention now and then so everything runs smoothly. I’ve written about maintenance before in my article on the Top 5 Unavoidable Retro Gaming Evils and some of what I wrote there still applies here. Old systems need to be cleaned every so often and stored properly so they are sheltered from heat, dust and bumps or falls. Like everything else old, retro systems and games can become fragile and a number of things from the mechanical innards to controller ports can cause problems when players are careless. It’s true, some systems seemed indestructible back in the day, but the day has passed for the most part. I can tell you with confidence that prettty much everyone I know who collects for and plays these old consoles keeps a stash of rubbing alcohol and q-tips somewhere in case of cartridge hiccups or dust problems.
This is where things tie into compatibility. Old systems have multiple models and makes with various accessories and add-ons that are all used in different ways. Some are simple and easy to figure out, like the N64 expansion pack, but things aren’t always that straight forward. Wanna play a Lunar on the Genesis? Well, you need the CD add on. And if you want to play big games you should probably get the memory cart. Wanna try a Sega 32X title? several of those games work WITH the CD unit. better double check you have everything you need. Two good examples of how different models might cause trouble are the 3DO and the Turbografx 16/PC-Engine. The 3DO had several models available and many were from different makers. Some console types played some games better than others. So if you get a stock pile of 3DO games, you might want to know if it will work on your Lucky Goldstar system or not. The TurboGrafx (or PC Engine as it was less annoyingly named in Japan,) had a good CD add on, and that’s easy enough, but as the system kept trucking along, NEC released different system cards. Some games need the base system card to run CD games, and others needed the Super or Arcade cards. the deeper you go into any game library the more there is to check. There’s no harm done reading up on all of it, even before you buy the base system itself. Or if you find yourself with a seller and a possible really good or unique buying opportunity, there’s no shame in asking for all the details you need to hear.
The PC Engine with the CD Rom2 add on. System card not pictured, all parts sold separately
That’s it for part one of this article series. In Part 2 I will cover more of these points of caution.