Thursday, May 23, 2019

SNES Omnibus Writer Spotlight #49 - Kelsey Lewin

When I went to my first Portland Retro Gaming Expo more than two years ago, one of my primary objectives was to meet the Seattle area YouTubers, specifically the “Metal Jesus Crew”: John Riggs, Reggie Williams, John Hancock, Kinsey Burke, and Kelsey Lewin (I had already met Metal himself and interviewed him for a Retropalooza article). They were as cool and as nice as I expected—what you see on their channels is what you get—and it was great talking to them in person, as opposed to mere online correspondence.

I discovered that Kelsey grew up near me in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, so the next time she was in town, we went to The National Video Game Museum in Frisco, and then had some dinner later that day at a video game-themed restaurant called Nerdvana. Her brother went with us as well, which was cool. What struck me about Kelsey is that she’s mature, intelligent, and composed beyond her years. She’s also a lot of fun. We had a blast playing the world’s largest Pong machine, checking out the rare games, investigating the back room (thanks to John Hardie for the grand tour), and talking about all kinds of geeky stuff.

At the Portland Retro Gaming Expo the following year, Kelsey’s boyfriend proposed to her at the Saturday night auction in a highly unusual way, which you can check out HERE. It was awesome watching it live, and we were all super happy for the couple.

If you enjoy watching Norm “The Gaming Historian” Caruso’s videos, you should subscribe to Kelsey’s channel. She recently hit 100,000 subscribers—she really knows her stuff! I’m honored that she has a story in The SNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 2 (N–Z). Want to know why Kelsey is obsessed with strange and unusual gaming items? It’s in the book.

Here’s her bio as it appears in The SNES Omnibus Vol. 2:

Kelsey Lewin is a YouTube content creator covering weird and obscure games, consoles, and accessories. She co-owns Pink Gorilla Games, a retro and import video game store in Seattle, Washington, and she donates her spare time to the Video GameHistory Foundation.



Tuesday, May 21, 2019

New Video! - Arcade Gaming on a Budget



Tales from a Retro Gamer episode 2 is now online! In this video, I discuss Breakout, pinball, and how my brother and I played arcade games on a VERY limited budget. You can watch the video below or click HERE to watch it in full screen. I'm trying to grow my channel, so if you like the video, please consider clicking on thumbs-up and subscribing. Thanks and enjoy!



Sunday, May 19, 2019

MY NEW YOUTUBE SHOW - Tales from a Retro Gamer #1: My First Video Game

I’ve been gaming since the mid-1970s, collecting since the late ’70s, and writing professionally since 1997. Sorry if that sounds like some kind of a sad bragging montage, but my point is that I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and I’ve got stories to tell. So I’ve started a new YouTube show called Tales from a Retro Gamer, the first episode of which is now online. I discuss my first video game, dating all the way back to 1975. You can watch it below or check it out in full screen by clicking HERE.

Thanks for watching, liking, and subscribing!



Saturday, May 11, 2019

Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Game Boy Color - Review


Back in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I wrote for the late, lamented All Game Guide. It was a fun writing gig, and I became an editor as well. The company, which was based in Ann Arbor, Michigan would send me games to review (unfortunately, I usually had to send them back). Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my favorite TV show at the time, so I jumped at the chance to review the Game Boy Color cartridge based on the program. Here’s that review:









Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Publisher: THQ
Developer: GameBrains
Side-Scrolling Platformer
2000

SYNOPSIS:

Into each generation, a Slayer is born. One girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. Or so the legend goes on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a weekly horror series airing on the WB. Created by Joss Whedon, the show follows the exploits of Buffy Summers, gorgeous college girl by day and vampire hunter by night.

Using her super strength, heightened agility, lethal weapons (primarily sharp stakes) and wicked one-liners, she patrols the town of Sunnydale, which sits on the threshold of the Hellmouth, a vulnerable spot where forces of darkness are frequently unleashed upon the Earth.

Joining Buffy in her fight against the undead are members of the so-called Scooby Gang. The Scoobies include Willow, a computer hacking witch; Xander, a wisecracking wiseacre; and Anya, an ex-demon with a propensity for social faux pas. Watching over the group (and Buffy in particular) is ex-librarian Giles, an erudite British gentleman with a fondness for arcane, mystical reference tomes.

Buffythe Vampire Slayer for the Game Boy Color finds Buffy in a world of trouble. Mesmerized by vampire Ethan Rayne's reading of the Book of Ancients, a coven of vampires from different countries has descended upon Sunnydale by way of the Hellmouth.

There are six standard types of vampires in this coven: Tux Vampires, Punk Vampires, Disfigured Vampires, Tribesman Vampires, Euro Vampires and Guardian Vampires. Master vampires (bosses) include Ninja Vampires, Viking Vampires and Beast Vampires.

These creatures of the night are raising hell in various spots around town, including the old mansion, the graveyard, the zoo, the cemetery, the sewer and the city streets. They've even crashed The Bronze, which is the local hangout, and The Initiative, which is a covert military facility that captures and/or kills vampires and demons.

As the Scooby Gang's key member, Buffy Summers, you'll run, jump and slay your way through eight levels of vampire-infested action. To vanquish a vampire, you must hit it and/or kick it until it falls beneath your slayer might. Once a vampire is down, you must stake it and watch it turn to dust. You can also throw the undead, block hits, roll on the ground and perform super leaps.

If you get knocked down, a vampire will jump on you and drink your blood. No matter which level you are playing, you will face only one vampire at a time. Arrows point your way to each successive bloodsucker. Throughout the game you can find soda cans that will enable you to do super punches and kicks. Paint cans and other items are scattered about for use in throwing at enemies.

In between each level you can watch a series of cut-scenes featuring dialogue between the characters. One scene even refers to Angel, the Buffy spin-off featuring her ex-boyfriend, a vampire with a soul. Angel's secretary Cordelia phones to warn Buffy of a dream that Angel has had in which Buffy is in danger.

A game of Buffy the Vampire Slayer ends when Buffy's life bar has fully depleted. After each level, a password appears, giving you a save point for after you shut down your game system.

REVIEW:

As expected, Buffy makes her way around various locations throughout Sunnydale and kills vampires. What wasn't expected was just how mundane this could be. No matter how far you progress in the game, Buffy only goes up against one vampire at a time. Apparently, being undead makes the creatures of the night brain dead and they never think to pair up or form a pack. Buffy is supposedly going up against a coven of vampires, but they never act very coven-like.

Until you reach the Hellmouth (the seventh level), the game is ridiculously easy. To defeat most of the vampires, all you have to do is punch them a couple of times, then do a lower kick to knock them down, then stab them with your trusty stake. For the average gamer, it is entirely possible to beat the game in one sitting. The bosses are about as easy to kill as the standard enemies.

The levels in Buffy have no obstacles (such as electrified fences) and no traps (such as fiery pits). On some of the levels, you do have to jump up to reach platforms, but your life is never in danger while you are jumping. Even worse, there are no non-vampire enemies to fight. Where are the werewolves or the demons? There's not even a lousy rat to trip over. You can see the eyes of the hyenas at the zoo, but they are merely background eye candy.

And what of hidden items, alternative weapons and secret passages? None to be found. Sure, occasionally you can pick up a can or something to throw at the vampires, but this feature is all but useless. It's easier and more expedient to simply engage the vampires in hand-to-hand combat. When a vampire isn't onscreen, you can't even pick up the items.
 
The graphics are actually quite good. The animation is nice and the levels are replete with detail such as armor in the mansion and hieroglyphics in the Hellmouth. Buffy fights smoothly and with style. The vampires are fairly well drawn and come from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. The theme from the television series has been replaced by generic, forgettable songs. The sound effects are solid.

Overall, Buffy the Vampire Slayer for the Game Boy Color is a disappointment. Watch the show; skip the game.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

SNES Omnibus Writer Spotlight #48 - Earl Green

I met super geek Earl Green in 2003 at the Classic Gaming Expo in Las Vegas. Right away, I could tell he was more than an attendee and video game fan. He was documenting the event on film and in general looking busy and important. The next year, I saw him at the Oklahoma Video Game Expo, where he was selling nerdy merchandise, and we’ve been friends ever since.

Earl is a good man, a devoted father, a fine writer, and a purveyor of all things pop culture, especially Star Trek, Doctor Who, retro video games, and movie soundtracks. He’s always interesting to talk to and is sharp as a Klingon bat'leth. I’m proud to say Earl and I both wrote for the All Game Guide and Classic GamerMagazine, and that he has a decidedly unique and even touching story in TheSNES Omnibus: The Super Nintendo and Its Games, Vol. 2 (N–Z).

Sadly, CGE and OVGE are no more (the AGG and CGM are ancient memories as well), and I haven’t seen Earl in several years. Hopefully, I’ll run into him at another show one of these days. (Earl—you need to go to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo!) It will be good talking to him about Fatherhood, Fandom, and Fading Out, which is the name of one of several books he has written.

Here’s Earl’s bio as it appears in The SNES Omnibus Vol. 2:

Earl Green is a dad to two boys and a cushion for a bunch of cats and a dog, and has somehow found time to write the Doctor Who guidebooks VWORP!1 and VWORP!2, a similar Star Trek guide, WARP!1, and the memoir Fatherhood, Fandom, and Fading Out. He also hosts the Don’t Give This Tape To Earl podcast and Select Game, a podcast devoted to the Odyssey2 console and its games. Earl can be found lurking, somewhat suspiciously, at theLogBook.com.


Friday, May 3, 2019

Atari 2600 Flea Market Find - Canton First Monday Trade Days



Four years ago, I went to a giant flea market called First Monday Trade Days. It is in Canton, Texas, which is about an hour east of Dallas. I met up with my cousin and other family members, made a major Atari 2600 score, and wrote about for my find for my monthly AntiqueWeek column, The Pop Culture Collective. Here's that story:

As with most collectors, I love going to flea markets. Pricing at flea markets is oftentimes higher than the typical garage sale, but the advantage is that you’ve got many sellers in one area, meaning you don’t have to keep driving from place to place, looking for more sales. Plus, many flea markets are open year-round.

The biggest flea market within driving distance of my house in Fort Worth, Texas is First Monday Trade Days in Canton, which is actually held on the Thursday through Sunday before the first Monday of each month. Spread over 100 acres with spaces for more than 6,000 vendors, it’s the largest and oldest continually operated flea market in the country.

Despite its relatively close proximity to where I live (Canton is about an hour-and-a-half from Fort Worth), I hadn’t been to First Monday Trade Days in several years, so when my sister sent a text wanting me to go with her and several family members, I jumped at the chance.

A few days before the trip, which was on a recent Saturday, I drained my PayPal account so I would have plenty of money for treasure hunting. Even in this day of convenient credit card readers for smart phones, many sellers of second-hand merchandise only take cash.

The trek to Canton was uneventful, but fun. When we arrived at First Monday Trade Days, I was blown away by it sheer scope and size—I had forgotten just how big it is. After finding a parking spot, my wife, mom (pictured in the photo), sister, and I hooked up with my cousins and aunt, who met us there.

Upon entering First Monday Trade Days—a veritable Valhalla of vintage valuables—we headed for the indoor pavilion area (not my idea), where we browsed shelves filled with new things I cared nothing about, such as decorative wooden letters, leather and denim western wear, and hand-crafted college sports team memorabilia.

It was fun catching up with the cousins, and some of the food vendors were handing out free samples (always a plus), but, after an hour or so, I was more than ready to leave the craft and clothing area for the sunny outdoors and check out the real draw—at least for me—of First Monday Trade Days: the aisles and aisles of books, comic books, magazines, toys, games, trading cards, lunch boxes, DVDs, and the like.

So off we went, in search of pop culture artifacts.

Once we were outside in the true flea market areas, I resisted the urge to run from table to table like a crazed hyena, grabbing anything that looked cool, old, and under-priced. However, even at my slow, civilized shopping pace, it only took a few minutes to fill my backpack. In short order, I found two thermoses from the 1978 Superman film for $5 each, plus eight Dr Pepper Happy Days drinking glasses in near mint condition for $4 a pop. Sticking with the Happy Days theme (by sheer coincidence), my wife happily snatched up four paperback books based on the classic TV show, priced at two for $5. I also found a number of old paperbacks in excellent condition at the same price point, including a Philip K. Dick Ace Double and a 1958 edition of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth.

But the fun had only begun.

Just as my backpack was beginning to burst at the seams, and just as I was starting to unfold the recyclable shopping bags that my wife had wisely brought along, I spied something curious at an otherwise non-descript table. It was a large, beat-up old suitcase with the lid propped open. From my vantage point, I couldn’t make out what was inside, but there was no mistaking what was sticking out of the box sitting next to the suitcase: three vintage Atari 2600 video game consoles.

My heart skipped a beat as I excitedly approached the suitcase, hoping I would find a bunch of Atari 2600 game cartridges inside and not a pile of threadbare socks or tighty whities. As I approached the table and anxiously peered over the edge of this potential treasure chest, I was delighted to discover that it was indeed filled with Atari carts, spine-label side up. I could tell right away that there were many uncommon titles, and that there were probably more than 100 games total.

As an avid video game collector and player, especially of the older stuff, I was pumped. Finds like these were relatively common during the late 1980s and throughout the ’90s, when most people considered this stuff junk, but in these days of retro gaming mania you rarely find any pre-Nintendo games at garage sales, thrift stores, or flea markets—most end up on eBay.

Staving off the impulse to simply hand over everything my wallet, I calmly asked the vendor how much he wanted for the games.

“Two dollars apiece,” he said.

Now, two bucks is about average for a common Atari 2600 cartridge like Pac-Man, Defender, or Space Invaders. Those games were super popular back in the day, and millions were produced. However, for some of the harder-to-find games for the console, $2 was a steal, so I began rifling through the games in the suitcase, setting aside the titles I knew to be worth their weight in gold (or at least bronze).

To my disappointment, there were no truly rare titles in the suitcase, such as Air Raid ($2,800) or Video Life ($1,200). However, there were plenty of oddball and obscure games, some of which I never even saw when they were new in stores, including: I Want My Mommy ($25), Tax Avoiders ($15), Miner 2049er ($15), Private Eye ($15), and Spacemaster X-7 ($12). In total, there were 122 different games, which is more than a quarter of the entire Atari 2600 library (U.S. releases).

As my pile of games grew, it occurred to me that I should just ask the seller how much he wanted for all of them, so I did. He quoted $75, including the three Atari consoles (which are worth around $60-$75 each). I countered with $50. He offered to meet me in the “middle” with $60, which I gladly accepted.
With my backpack already full and my newly acquired Atari stash cumbersome to carry, it was time to trek back to the car, dump the stash, and get back to buying, which is exactly what we did.

While the embarrassment of Atari riches was easily my best find of the day, the oddest acquisition I made was a bucket of 82 Smurf figurines, much to the amusement of my family. The vendor wanted a buck apiece for the plastic blue toys, but seemed happy when I offered him $40 for the lot.

“Someone earlier offered me $20,” he said. “That seemed a little low.”

Why would I want 82 Smurfs, you may be wondering? I’m not a fan of the classic cartoon, but I can package the little guys in Zip Lock baggies and sell them in four-packs for $5.95 in my antique booth back in Fort Worth. The figures are only a couple of years old, but they look great and will fit in well with the other pop culture items I offer for sale.

Speaking of my antique booth, one of the reasons I wanted to go to First Monday Trade Days in the first place was to restock the booth with sports cards. As fate would have it, I found several factory sealed boxes of Upper Deck and Topps StadiumClub baseball cards for $8 each, which was nice, but kind of sad. When I was co-owner of a comics and cards store during the baseball card speculator boom of the early 1990s, these were some of the newest, hottest cards on the market, and now here they were, covered in dust and selling for pennies on the dollar.

I talked the sports card seller down to $24 for four boxes, which is a real bargain since they will sell quickly at a buck a pack in my booth, mostly to nostalgic husbands, and to moms trying to keep their kids occupied while they shop.

All in all, it was a fun and profitable day at Canton’s First Monday Trade Days, and I’m already looking forward to a return trip, which I’ll probably make sometime this summer. Here’s hoping I’ll find another suitcase full of treasure.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019