Saturday 5 March 2016

Retro Collect Video Game Market, Doncaster

Doncaster. Famous for the race course, Ed Miliband, and, um, that's it. Not that I'm particularly bothered. It was the idea of tooling up on digital artifacts of a certain vintage that drew comrade @alexdawson1978 and I to the West Riding of Yorkshire this day for the Retro Collect Video Game Market.

Despite my status as an inveterate video game hunter, I had never been to a proper games market like this one. Car boot sales and one of North Staffordshire's seven (you heard that right) retro stockists are my preferred trawling grounds, so I didn't know what to expect. Would it be packed? Are the games going to be overpriced? Will there be anything decent? 

Rammed it most certainly was. We turned up a little later than we hoped thanks to the supplied post code directing the satnav to the back end of beyond. Cheers for that, promo people. And the queue to get in the market was the longest I've seen since The Nemesis opened at Alton Towers. Thankfully it moved very quickly, and before we knew it we were in. However, as packed as it was, for someone used to deftly moving in and out of crowds with the occasional strategic elbow, I managed to see everything I wanted.

On the price front, there was little evidence of a market premium getting slapped on most titles. Okay, there were some very dodgy pricing decisions. The odd tenner here and there for games with a street value of three quid (I'm looking at you Rage Racer), and 95 notes for A Link to the Past is excessive. But for the most part, cramming so many stockists together disciplined the price range, and often came in under the kinds of sums demanded by Stoke's finest retro emporiums.

How about the stock? There was a lot of good stuff, nay, great stuff going. Unfortunately, as my games don't have much space available to them I had to make some careful decisions. Being a semi-serious collector of sorts, I tend toward complete games. I won't buy boxed games without instructions, for instance. I'll also pick up Nintendo stuff (NES, SNES, Game Boy) as cartridge-only, but not MegaDrive, Master System, or original PlayStation - unless it's a super good bargain, like the four quid I paid for Gunstar Heroes 18 months back. I'll also avoid stuff that has had a rough existence - my nose turned up a few times at games with sun damage and snapped off hangers. And why oh why is it that every copy of the Master System's Double Dragon always comes with water damage? Bizarre.

Without further ado, here are my acquisitions:

F-1 Race for the GameBoy was released back in the day with the handheld's four player adapter. It's a port of an ancient Famicom title, and was very well received at the time thanks to the endless multiplayer fun that could be had. For 99p it would have been sinful not to have picked it up.

G-Loc Air Battle for the MegaDrive is a conversion of Sega's (then) spectacular sequel (of sorts) to the canonical Afterburner. I'd been looking to pick it up for a while, but for some reason was always overpriced in local stockists. Acquired for a song, I look forward to being as rubbish at this as I am with its illustrious predecessor.

Heroes of the Lance is an adaptation of a (once) relatively well-known Advanced Dungeons and Dragons licence to the Master System. To be honest, catching it on one of the stalls was the first time I've seen it since, well, forever. I can only vaguely remember seeing it back in the day so as something of a rarity I took a punt on it. Alas, the consensus is it's rubbish but we'll have a go nonetheless.

Kung Fu for the NES is the much-loved conversion of one of my favourite beat 'em ups from the mid-80s. Back then I used to cane this game something rotten on my mate's Amstrad, so I'm glad my jolly old Nintendo and Retron5 are set to deliver a stiff nostalgia fix.

Metal Slug X for the PlayStation is a beastie I've wanted since finding out a version was available on the PS1. For the uninitiated, Metal Slug is a franchise of comically violent 2D scrollers that cleaned up the arcades in the mid/late 1990s. I'd have been into it at the time if I wasn't otherwise engaged in book bingeing and boozing.

Starflight for the MegaDrive is a game I've held a candle for since 1991. I can still remember opening the pages of Mean Machines issue 12 and seeing the glowing review for this space trading/exploration game. I'm not sure why I never got it when the chance presented itself. Well, then it cost £39.99, which is about £800 in 2016 money, and I got it today for £13, so it had better be worth a quarter century of waiting.

Lastly, I bagged a boxed and complete version of Super Mario Bros 2 for the NES. It's a game that probably needs no introduction, SM2 remains the only classic Mario title from the NES/SNES days I haven't played in any depth (the legacy of being a teenage MegaDrive owner, you see).

Sooner or later, I'm sure there will be more words said about each of these. Just got to find the time to play them inbetween everything else.

From a chin-stroking perspective, Brother A and I expected the market to be packed with gentlemen of a certain age, and we were right. But interestingly, there were a few younger folk there. Some were probably seeking games from their own childhoods, and stockists were smart enough to bring along plenty of PS1, PS2, and original XBox titles, but plenty helped themselves to 8- and 16-bit goodies. I also espied one bloke buying his five/six year old a MegaDrive, though I strongly suspect it wasn't really for him.

As I've argued before, nostalgia has mutated and occupies a niche in the eternal present. Before the internet became what it is today, there was a certain cut off from the past. Prior to YouTube and SoundCloud, songs, shows, and games of yesteryear had to be experienced directly via old records, old games, and old video tapes - not withstanding the issuing of occasional nostalgic compilation CDs. Investing in old cultural detritus was for fringe people gathering at fringe events. For the bulk of folk, reminiscing the old stuff was the closest they got. Now, it is immediately available. If I want to play something like RoboCop on the Spectrum, 30 seconds with a search engine is all it takes. But this accessibility, and commentary from sundry YouTube commentators* is driving a surge in retro game collecting, and is encouraging some to pick up where their interest tailed off years ago. When I was a kid, I wanted a NES and SNES but my limited means kept me to the MegaDrive. Now those means are a little more expansive, and I can indulge the pash I guillotined for the dubious pleasures university offered.

Overall, the market was a great experience and had both of us thinking that something similar in Stoke could do well. Watch this space ...

* Almost forgot to mention I met Gemma of Juicy Game Reviews/TheGebs24 fame today, as you do.

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