I’ve been on the hunt for a new game recently. Dark Souls 2 was a bit of a disappointment, though the DLC has alleviated that a little. Still, choosing a game to play has been a bit of a task since life doesn’t offer as much time as it used to for research like reading and talking to other gamers. After about a week of trying out several games I own of differing genres, I settled on the idea that I need to get back to my roots. A good JRPG style game is what fit the bill. This called for a pilgrimage to the game store—a sacred time for any gamer on the hunt. These trips are usually very ordinary: a clean store, friendly staff perhaps preoccupied with a conversation about the latest releases, and a few people perusing the wares. I headed out to my local game store (let’s call them Potsemag just for anonymity’s sake.) When I arrived, I was greeted in the usual way, an enthusiastic, “Welcome to Potsemag!”
I turned into Detective Dixon Hill, checking box covers and reading the descriptions on the back, trying to get an inkling of what delights were hiding inside. I did no prior research because I didn’t want hype to affect my decision, preferring to rely simply on artwork and my own intuition. Around where I live, I have yet to meet a Potsemag employee who isn’t enthusiastic about games. The store was mostly empty, though, so perhaps the employees were merely bored. “Wha’d’ya lookin’ for?” I heard one of them say behind me.
“Well, I think I’d like a JRPG,” I responded while flipping boxes over and studying the box art. My answer came instinctively, as though my subconscious had known all along what I needed. JRPG is short for Japanese Role Playing Game, a particular style of game that includes an art style and storytelling technique similar to Anime and Manga. As soon as I said this, the second employee perked up and wandered over.
“How about Disgaea? We have Disgaea 2 and 4. Or, we also have Star Ocean.” Disgaea looked good, but… “That’s like Final Fantasy Tactics, right?” I asked, “I liked that game, but that’s not quite what I’m after.” By this time the second Potsemag employee had already pulled up a trailer for Disgaea 2 on his phone to show me. “It’s a great game. Very self-aware.” Indeed. One character’s ambition was “to be a final boss.” Good one.
I decided to sleep on my decision. The next day I returned to the same store, having decided to purchase Star Ocean. As I grabbed my game off the shelf, a different Potsemag employee hovering nearby piped up without hesitation, “Oh my god, that is an amazing game.” I looked up to see a skinny kid with dark hair. The enthusiasm in his voice matched that of the two employees from the previous day. The three of them reminded me of many times when I was excited about picking up a game from the store; when the anticipation of walking through the mall to get to Electronics Boutique to see if the game I wanted was sitting on the shelf was invigorating. It sparked a memory of another interesting trip.
About ten years ago I was making my way from one end of the mall to Electronics Boutique just for lack of something to do. I was just passing American Cookie Co. when a skinny, blond kid zoomed past me in a fast walk. It was the kind of walk that’s almost a run (and probably would be running, if running weren’t frowned upon). My face crinkled a little in wonder, but it hit me almost immediately: I have done that same hurried walk/run. This kid was obviously going to Electronics Boutique for a game. His excitement was contagious. I decided to speed up my gait to pursue this guy. A corner was a little ways up and I knew if I ended up being wrong, I would lose him. I turned the corner and he was nowhere to be found. EB was just a few stores ahead on the right. As I approached the threshold, I saw my mark. He was shifted back on one foot and a heel with his finger and thumb holding his chin in careful contemplation of a game on the shelf. I felt a kinship with him though he never knew he was being followed. I left the store happier knowing that there were others just like me.
There is one last story to tell of a not-so-ordinary trip to the game store. It’s about a game I first rented at 7-11, back when 7-11 was cool, a little game called Tetris published by Tengen. Most people know Tetris, but some may not know that Tengen, owned by Atari, published their version of Tetris without permission, or so the story goes. As a result, all copies of the Tengen version of Tetris were recalled and removed from shelves everywhere.
I like the Tengen Tetris. It was a direct descendent of the arcade machine and, for my money, was the best version of the game. It looked very nice and it was the only version that featured two-player simultaneous play. I really enjoyed playing Tetris at the time and the versions put out by Nintendo, who had wrangled the publishing rights for console versions, just didn’t feel the same.
Over the years, I made my way through many used game bins and trade shows. Each time I would casually look for Tetris without luck.
About three years ago, I was in Massachusetts visiting a friend of mine. He kept mentioning this game store he liked to go to from time to time. Since I was in town, I told him to take me there. A short ride into New Hampshire and we arrive at a non-descript strip mall that I would have passed the place up if I were driving on my own.
We walked in and my friend immediately begins chatting up the owner as I take in what can only be described as the most organized disaster of games I’ve ever seen. There were bookshelves full of games from all platforms. I saw CD cases from PS2 and XBOX; short grey cartridges designed for the Super NES or the N64; short black cartridges for the SEGA Genesis; while tiny square tiles on display in one corner called to the Gameboy players. Row after row of boxes were lined up like books. Thousands of games all called out to me in a cacophony of memories of the once-played and the pangs of the never-got-to’s: Ice Climber, Rush ‘n’ Attack!, Contra, Kid Icarus, Rad Racer, Bubble Bobble, even some of the baby blue cartridges of the Bible games from that publisher I can never remember. Suddenly I thought of Tengen’s Tetris. Was it possible that after over twenty years that it could be mine?
I passed an island offering a multitude of sundry controllers from all the old systems. I spotted an NES Advantage and, after a little digging, an NES Max. NES Max was my favorite controller back in the day. I had to have it for all the gaming I was about to do (not really). Still, I snagged it in spite of prudence telling me to leave the thing in the mound of plastic and buttons and neatly coiled cords.
My buddy must have been getting bored because he called over to me to see if I liked anything I saw. “Yes,” I thought to myself, clutching my new controller, “Only everything in here.” The store owner asked if I was looking for anything specific. “Tengen Tetris,” I answered immediately, “You have it?”
“Yeah, I have a couple of them. You want a box or no?”
I knew the box added cost. The difference ended up being about $50 or so. “Just let me have the one without the box. I don’t want to blow all my cash at once. What’s this controller worth?”
“Whatcha got there…NES Max? That’s $13. I’ll tell you what… since you’re with Larry and you bought Tetris, you can just have the controller. No charge.”
It was just that easy. After all these years the prized Tetris was in my possession and I had one controller to play the two-player game. I walked out of that store an eleven-year-old. I was happy with life and excited that the search for this jewel was ended. I’ve yet to play the game. It just sits in my closet waiting for me to find it again. One day I will. For now, I can rest because the hunt is over.
It’s a bit silly, I know, but the hunt for those games that excite is exhilarating. Whether it’s a new release, a desire for a specific system’s full collection or just for that one game that brings back memories, the hunt keeps things fun and interesting.
-by Kurt Klein, cheefbast