Friday, June 24, 2016

The Best Video Game Systems to Collect For

As I'm nearing the completion of my NTSC NES collection, I'm thinking about what the best video game consoles to collect for are. My NES collection will never be truly done, but I do want to get some new focuses. In my mind, I don't think there will ever be a better system than NES but there are some contenders. It's obviously a highly personal decision, but factors like availability, library size, game quality and variety, console identity, and what I'll call "extendability" all determine how collectible a console is, at least to me.

What Makes a Library Collectible (to me!)

While not a requirement, I'd like to be able to find games for a console, at least some of the time. While the MicroVision is super cool, you'll never find a MicroVision game at the flea market or probably even the local game store. Resorting to Ebay to buy every single game isn't very fun and certainly isn't as exciting.

A minor point here is looking at the rarest games and seeing if they're obtainable. If you are a completionist you need to be ready for insane road blocks like Magical Chase and Stadium Events. Systems like the Game Boy and Genesis are much more reasonable to actually acquire 100% full sets of if that's important to you.

On the other hand, a good mix of rare and desirable games makes a console more interesting. The most collectible consoles are the ones with the Panzer Dragoon Sagas and Keio Flying Squadrons. The top shelf games are what makes a collection exciting.

Library Size

I think there's a sweet spot here. If it's too small, you'll just dump a bunch of money and finish it in a couple months. If it's something like PS2 with some 2000 or more games, it will be incredibly challenging (and thus last last a lot longer!). That comes at the cost of having to buy a lot of really bad games, sports games, and shovelware. Bigger libraries also mean more exploring unknown titles, which is one of the more exciting parts of game collecting.

Game Quality
I don't think having all great games makes a console collectible, but rather a good range of game quality (i.e. bad games you want to play!). Consoles like Saturn and N64 have extremely popular top end titles, but otherwise the desirability of the average game drops off a cliff and the library isn't much fun to dig through. NES is the shining star here with the most iconic Nintendo games ever made all the way through weird unlicensed religious games.

Game Variety
Some consoles have a huge range of genres, especially the ones with big libraries. Xbox has a huge chunk of action and sports games. N64 has a lot of platformers and racing games. When collecting games I want to dig into the weird stuff, especially games outside traditional genres. Atari 2600 and Sega CD are good examples of varied (or at least offbeat) libraries.

Console Identity
If you take one look at a Neo Geo game you can certainly tell it's a Neo Geo game based on things like the graphical style, genre, and arcade presentation. If I showed you a screenshot of an FPS from 2007 it could probably be on 4 or 5 different platforms. The more unique a console is, the more interesting it is to collect.

This is perhaps the most important thing to me in determining how collectible a console is. After you've collected the basic "full set", where do you go? Are there exclusive imports? Extremely rare mail order only games? Prototypes? Variants? Unlicensed games? Console bundles? Homebrew? CD add ons? A console like the Master System is extremely cut and dry, you get all the games and that's kind of it. Colecovision and NES have thriving homebrew scenes. It's just about impossible to collect all the Atari 2600 games, so there's always something new to strive for, let alone the plentiful variants. Turbografx-16 opens up into the world of TG-CD and then the much, much bigger world of PC-Engine. While having full sets is fun, never quite having everything and always being on the chase is better.

#1: NES

The NES is the winner, hands down. It has a daunting library of around 1000 games, even though a lot of people like to cut that down to 677 NTSC licensed titles. The Nintendo appeal is obvious, nearly every single one of Nintendo's major franchises started here. You get to see video games grow up from a simple arcade port of Mario Bros. to that being a mere mini-game within SMB3, all the way up to very mature platformers like Mr. Gimmick. Unlike modern consoles where the bulk games are sports and party games, NES has religious adventure games and Action 52, a $200 cartridge with 52 original terrible games. It has porno games, it has the Aladdin add-on to play new unlicensed cartridges, it has Tengen putting out better versions of games than Nintendo. There are great stories behind unlicensed NES games.

As far as what there is to collect, it's absolutely endless

There is a great mix of dollar bin bulk games, $5-10 all time classics, rare-but-good games like Panic Restaurant, and the cherry on top is Stadium Events. Even on top of that, there are two different versions of Nintendo World Championships, easily the most iconic competition cartridge of all time. I have no doubt it will become the Action Comics #1 of video games. Beyond NTSC, there are great PAL exclusives like New Ghostbusters 2 and Devil World. There are also a host of PAL name changes to collect like Probotector and Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles.

There are major label variants, minor label variants, 3 and 5-screw cartridges, test cartridges, pirate cartridges, the widest range of strange accessories on any console ever, repros of translations and hacks, console bundles, plentiful prototypes, and unlicensed import-only games that are really hard to find! On top of all that, there is still an absolutely thriving homebrew scene. New NES games come out all the time, and not only that but they're almost always also released in a limited edition that's limited to a few dozen copies.

After all of that (more than you could get in a lifetime), there is the Famicom and FDS with their own swath of exclusives playable in English, unlicensed games, demo units, test stations, pirates, and games that differ from the NTSC release. All in all another 2000+ games are there too, with many to discover that aren't discussed frequently in the US.


I could go on for an hour about the unbounded collectibility of the NES and would entertain arguments to the contrary. Some people debate NES vs. SNES in terms of collecting but it's no contest in my eyes. SNES has better graphics and some might argue better games, but lacks the wild west unlicensed, foreign, and homebrew scenes that make the NES so interesting. The competition carts don't compare to NWC and the most collectible SNES games are really mostly uncommon cult games or classics in high demand rather than interesting rarities. I love the SNES, don't get me wrong, but as far as collecting goes it doesn't hold a candle to the NES.

#2: Sega CD

If I was cheating I would say Genesis + add-ons but honestly I don't find Genesis or 32x very fun to collect. The Sega CD is the soul of my Sega collection. If you're talking console identity Sega CD is at the top of the list, whether you're looking at a cheesy FMV game or 16-bit classics with CD-quality audio, Sega CD games feel like Sega CD games and there's nothing quite like it. OK, the 3DO is a little bit like it, but we can only go so far with this.

The Sega CD has way, way better games than it gets credit for, and a lot of those games happen to be the rarest and most expensive games on the system. As a collector who enjoys picking up rarities, it's nice to have them be the most playable games on the console. Snatcher, Keio, Popful Mail, Lunar, Robo Aleste, Vay, Shining Force... the top end games are largely exclusive, rare, and very good! In terms of availability, there's no absolutely impossible games like a Stadium Events, and you can still find Sega CD games out in the wild from time to time.

The bad games are interesting

The average games are what "make" the console to me and this is where Sega CD shines. You've got FMV cheese games like Night Trap or Sewer Shark or Mad Dog McCree but good adventure games like Rise of the Dragon, Flashback, and Out of this World or 16-bit upgrades like Ecco and Sonic. Look at some of the worst games on the console. Fahrenheit, Marky Mark Make My Video, Slam City... Even if the game is actually unplayable garbage, you have to pop it in on the Sega CD just to see what it's like! It's such a strange slice out of history where they thought FMV integration was the future and the whole library is largely unlikely any other console.

3DO is, again, the closest parallel I can draw but it doesn't have enough high points in my eyes (as much as I love Star Control II, it alone can't compete with how many great games Sega CD has). The overlong cardboard boxes also kind of suck. Sega Saturn is similar to Sega CD in that almost all of the desirable games are in that exclusive, rare, good upper echelon. I'd say Saturn's top end is even better than SCD's, but the bulk of the Saturn library is a 32-bit cesspool in a bad way rather than an interesting collectible way. Saturn has a fantastic import selection however, so I'd put it far above 3DO.

For the record, the large blue Sega CD boxes look excellent lined up on a shelf. That scores bonus collector points in my book.

#3: Game Boy

This is here for a totally different reason. Game Boy games are the most underpriced good games you can collect today. This sort of extends to all handhelds, but Game Boy is my pick. For whatever reason, handheld collecting never took off. The carts alone don't really display well, boxes are hard as hell to find, and they get an incorrect reputation for being toned down, black and white ports of console games. There are fully original Donkey Kong, Mega Man, Metal Gear Solid, Ninja Gaiden, and more great franchises for cheap that many people completely pass over.

The average Game Boy game is literally like $4. I'm not saying to choose a system based on the price, but the games are largely pretty good and have that "they did the most with what they could on the hardware" feeling that I love from retro gaming. Between all the Game Boys, Super Game Boy, Game Boy Player, and pirate systems there are a ton of ways to play they games on a TV or portable as well. The top end games really aren't that expensive, a few hundred bucks for the only real rarities like Trip World and Shantae, but otherwise we're often talking tens of dollars, not hundreds of thousands, for the top shelf games. A few of the rarest games have potato protagonists and there are a couple versions of the Bible, which is the sort of quirky collectible stuff I love finding on a system. The common stuff you will find everywhere. Every game store has a bin of Game Boy games no one wants and they're easy to find at garage sales and flea markets.

As an added benefit to me, a lot of Game Boy games are somewhat short and not quite as Nintendo-hard as NES games. When it comes to actually sitting down and playing through your collection, I think Game Boy has some of the most easily playable games out there especially as an adult who will never have the time to sit through 40 JRPGs on the PS2.

For the "extendability" aspect, Game Boy has a few pirate carts and imports to find, sure, but the real journey is boxes. Unlike NES which has expensive but available boxes, the Game Boy has some truly rare boxes that never show up. In addition to this you will basically never find boxed Game Boy games in the wild, so even dirt common games like Pokemon get pricey. Transitioning from cart only to CIB Game Boy games means going from perhaps the easiest system to collect to one of the most challenging (and expensive).

Other Thoughts

The biggest omission on this short list is probably the PC-Engine (and by extension TG16 and TGCD). It has one hell of an 8-bit library in every applicable genre and the CD-based games will forever be the most impressive 8-bit games ever made. Hu-cards are also freakin' cool as heck. The problem is you will never, ever see games in the wild. Even finding Bonk's Adventure for TG16 would be a very pleasant surprise these days. Top end PC-Engine games max out at the absolute moon. We're not talking a handful of $100+ games like Sega CD. Many of the best games, especially 2D shmups, are well into the $100s. It takes extremely deep pockets to have a nice PC-Engine collection these days and that removes a bit of the fun out of it for me (but I won't stop slowly collecting for it!).

Worst Systems?

The N64 is at the top of my list for worst system to collect for. While recently it's become somewhat more interesting with variants like Gray Turok and No Mercy 1.1, the only N64 games everyone remembers are the top 50 or so games that everyone had. Yes, it has some of the best games ever made and they were all made by Nintendo and Rare. The rest of the console is bad racing games, bad platformers, and sports games. Seriously, go sort the list of games by genre on Wikipedia then tell me N64 has an interesting library of games. It has no real rarities, no unlicensed games, no wacky accessories, and few imports of note. For retro gaming with key titles, it's excellent, but there's basically no collectibility here.

I'll give one final shout out to the Xbox 360 since I find it impossible to get excited for from a collecting standpoint. The library is almost entirely multiplatform and largely best on PC. Xbox Live, which will shut down one day, is built into the very core of the gaming experience and a few years down the line you'll lose access to half the features of the console. We'll have to do things like download game updates on your PC all the time after that. You'll also lose the ability to easily play DLC, which this generation had a heavy focus on. I have extremely limited interest in collecting anything post-2000 but I struggle to find a reason to ever turn my Xbox 360 on these days, let alone acquire every single game for it.

No comments:

Post a Comment