I considered myself lucky, however. I collected old games in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when Goodwill sold NES cartridges for two bucks apiece and people would throw 32X systems in the garbage when Electronic Boutique refused to take them. I sold most of my library when prices reached absurd levels, and I told myself that I’d done well and stayed sensible. I’d never paid more than $100 for a game, provided I didn't adjust old RPGs for inflation. More importantly, I got everything I wanted before the collecting scene turned psychotic.
Well, almost everything.
Trouble Shooter, aka Battle Mania, is one of my favorite series, if two games constitute a series. I’ve written about their appeal several times before, how their mix of solid side-view shooting and stylish comedy captures everything I like about silly ’80s anime. I bought the original Trouble Shooter when it was cheap, but I never could bring myself to pick up its Japan-only sequel, Battle Mania Daiginjou.
I wanted Daiginjou ever since a 1993 issue of EGM introduced it as Trouble Shooter 2 in a sexist writeup, but it was too expensive. By the time I started collecting games, Daiginjou went for over $150 on eBay, and I refused to spend that much on a single Genesis title (not even if I could call it a Mega Drive title, since it was from Japan). Of course, that was fifteen years ago, and like every other game more popular than Cyberball, it more than tripled in price. Buying Battle Mania Daiginjou is even dumber today than it was back in 2003.
So I bought it.
My biggest motivation? The fact that I’d never been stupid with my money when it came to nerd purchases. I never bought a rare old comic book or action figure for fifty times its original price. I never ate rice and ramen for a month just so I could afford a stupefyingly limited and expensive imported album by a favorite band. A strange need arose, telling me that for once in my life I should make a fool of myself over a rare game. As Tim Fite says, everyone gets to make one big mistake. I think everyone also gets to make one big stupid purchase.
The inanity of it appealed to me. “Throw a preposterous wad of money at a video game” ranks low on any bucket list, but that only makes it attainable and sensible. Compared to watching penguins in the Antarctic or dropping acid and making love while hang gliding, tossing a few hundreds at a Sega relic is a humble vice.
I also realized that it’s now or never when it comes to obscure game collecting. Fakes often swarm the market for just about every hard-to-find game, and they grow more adept every year. Most are convincing enough in a lower-quality eBay photo, though they’re exposed upon closer examination. Buyers are best off being cautious and looking for extras that bootlegs lack, such as those little registration cards. And it’s only a matter of time before the pirates mimic those.
So I rolled the dice. I won’t say how much I spent, but I will say that it ate up almost my entire geek budget for this year. I hope 2017 passes without a sudden Darkstalkers sequel. The process was exciting and terrible: the trepidation over tossing away my money, the realization that it wasn’t so much in the long run, and of course the constant fear of getting ripped off.
I can’t call myself an expert, but I am largely confident, or perhaps just hopeful, that I came out of this with an authentic Battle Mania Daiginjou. It has the official Vic Tokai feedback card and just enough wear to convince me. I have not opened up the cartridge, as that involves destroying the rear sticker, but this Battle Mania Daiginjou looks, feels, and smells like a 23-year-old Sega game.
Yes, smells. I told you game collecting was ridiculous.
As much as I fretted over the game’s validity, I didn't buy Battle Mania Daiginjou to resell it. I bought it to play it, to enjoy it, and to read first-hand the manual's delightful comic, in which heroines Madison and Crystal celebrate their victory by getting blackout drunk.
That led me to a new perspective. It’s tempting to sneer at the folks who pay hundreds for rare games. It’s easy to assume that they’re throwing stupid money at things they’ll just stick on the shelf or, worse yet, use as an investment in the hope that a $300 Power Blade 2 cartridge with Paradise Video's rental-sticker residue will break four figures by the end of the decade. It’s convenient to posit that they’re all wasteful suckers and sleazy opportunists buying games for the wrong reasons.
I don’t want to go that route. I’d like to think that if you’re sinking loads of cash into a video game or any other frivolous item, you’re doing it only after carefully considering the deal and coming to the realization that you really do like Crusader of Centy, Bonk 3, or Pocky and Rocky enough to make it your sole geeky splurge. It’s an experience worth having once in a lifetime. And if it involves an obscure Sega Genesis shooter you’ve wanted for over twenty years, then hey, I know the feeling.
Am I lying to myself? I don’t care. The next time I hear of some old game, comic, toy, or other collectible going for a reckless amount of money, I’ll assume it’s just a case of someone making good on a decades-old desire and crossing off one more line on that bucket list. And if I’m right even one time out of a thousand, the whole collecting landscape will be a happier place.