Thursday, April 22, 2010

Pics of My Game & Watch Collection

My Game & Watch collection is up to 14 now, this isn't including the two that I haven't received yet.

I bid on one and won last week, around the time that I also won the Lifeboat G&W I posted, and not only have I not received it now over a week later, but I'd sent a message to the guy that sold it to me via ebay's messaging service and today marks the 3rd day that that hasn't been replied to. And I sent him an e-mail to his actual e-mail address yesterday (which, bafflingly he published in the payment/invoice notes. If you purposefully add contact info in order for people to contact you, I'd think you'd be prompt in replying to things) so I hope I get a response soonish, or the actual item in the mail would be good, too. I looked at the auction history, too, and the auctioneer had a Buy It Now price that was removed early on, so I'm thinking perhaps he's bummed out that I got it for $53 and is going to try and deny me and re-auction it. The amount becomes unspecified after removal so I don't know how much he wanted for it, but generally with G&W auctions, if there's a BIN price set, they want a decent chunk of change for it. But that's speculation on my part, I hope everything works out okay, because I really want this G&W!

The other is a Lion, Gold G&W from Yahoo Japan Auctions. This one is via my good proxy bidding buddies over at Goody Japan, and I'll be receiving it in my next (and last *gasp!*) auction shipment.

Anyway, here are some pics of my current collection, only a few are boxed/with instructions, but I'm proud of all of them!

Monday, April 19, 2010

Re: Why Is Japan So Behind?

Kotaku ran an article today asking why Japan is so behind in the gaming arena anymore. I posted a response there, but it ran so long, and I was so proud of it that I figured I'd post it here. It rambles a bit and I think it's redundant in a few spots. The original article is here.

Couple points:

"Abroad, university grads, grad school grads, and even PhDs make games. The vast majority of Japanese game industry people have a university degree or some game-design school diploma at best. There's no way we can win."

I love Japan a lot, but I HATE that status quo mentality that permeates Japan's society. Because you have a PhD, because you have a masters, does not make you good at something. This is especially true in a creative field like game making/producing. Artistic talent doesn't come from taking Philosophy III or a grad course in Business Development. If you're talking about the technical aspects of the production process? I know a few people that barely finished their Bachelors, but one guy helped design new algorithms for experimental handheld MRI equipment by GE, he was just simply bored with the curriculum. Not saying everyone is like that, but too many people discount someone because they didn't go to a glorified babysitter for 4-8 years after high school. (and that's not me insulting college as a concept, I in fact think education & a genuine thirst for knowledge are very important things. Rather, it's a shot at the fact that everyone thinks that going to a 4 year institution automatically makes a lamebrained 18 year old with "good grades" & a mediocre SAT score into a physicist, warlock or astronaut cowboy that can shoot lasers out of their butt.)

"Japanese game scenarios are the pits. We may be behind in graphics but that isn't a problem so long as they're fun and interesting."

I grew up with games, and by that I mean games & I grew up at the same time. When I was young, JRPGs were just coming about, and were interesting. But so many years later, when you have the same regurgitated characters, the same stories, the same "systems", it just gets old. I mean really, how many "Tales" or variations on generic PSP RPGs can one play before they say, "Wow, this is the same crap I played last game!" There is still a good JPRG here and there, but they've become super ubiquitous, and this has spread to other genres/series as well. I made a comment the other day that Castlevania games have been the same since Circle of the Moon, and for the most part, they've all embraced that exact same way of doing things. The only thing that changes from game to game are the characters (slightly) and the gimmick they use to have you using powers or weapons or souls or whatever. And going back to the RPG thing, Final Fantasy got sucked into that same black hole after FF7 or so. Repeat stories, uniform archetypal characters and waaaaaacky elements and a boring, uninspired battle system with gimmicky crap crammed into it.

"The PS1 era had a lot of cool and lighthearted games, but starting with the PS2 "otaku games" became the norm."

I really don't understand this comment, because as much as there were "visual novel" games around starting with the PS2, there were some really awesome Japanese PS2 titles. Okami, Shadow of the Colossus, ICO, Metal Gear Solid 3 (and 2 I guess), the Armored Core games, the Front Mission Games... I don't think the PS2 started or really even participated in the "ruination" of the state of gaming in Japan, things just started to trend that way. People became less interested in games on the whole, the birthrate declined, and the floodgates opened to pander to otaku in more mediums than one.

"Japanese game developers are born and raised and live in Japan. With games, with art, with otaku culture, and more, we have a distinct background and history. In the future we're going to have to make that a sales point, or find a way to "mine" it."

I saved this one for last.

I hate to break it to this person, but they already HAVE "mined it". It started out as PS1-era "quirky" titles like Klonoa, Jumping Flash, up through Dreamcast stuff like Chu Chu Rocket & Sonic's transition to 3-D, et cetera (Piss poor examples I know, but I don't feel like meditating until more cute J-titles of yesteryear come to me). Now we have eroge, Touhou & Bullet Hell Shooters, cutesy puzzle games like the 99th incarnation of Puyo Puyo, etc, which have an international fanbase, but not enough of one, and that is mainly due to the fact that a lot of it is just otaku junk. And THAT is mining, in the present tense. And that's a problem.

There are very simple things that people tend to miss when there *could* be a lot bigger factors at play. People go for the obvious reasons because, well, they're obvious: global economy failing and people having less to spend on entertainment, Japan as a whole losing interest in games and gaming, Japanese "amateurs" running the show making games, etc. And it's true that most of those things DO play a part in the problem facing the state of Japanese gaming now.

But there is one factor that I'm surprised that no one has "divined" yet. Especially considering that even in this article Nintendo is mentioned as still being a champ amongst chumps. Technology's inevitable march forward is Japan's problem. Moreover, it's their being the progenitor of the real, modern video game & the aforementioned "poor management" combined, that has kinda sunk them in this regard. Games like Donkey Kong, Mario, Kirby, up through the XBL/PSN classics du jour, Final Fight & Magic Sword and games like Resident Evil.

What do all of these have in common? In their respective eras, they were all representative of what you would call "acceptable realism". Now, "realism" is a relative term in this sense, in the now you would call it acceptable realism, back in the era of Super Mario Bros I guess you would call it something more along the lines of "pinnacle of gaming technology" or such. Japanese games worked for the longest time over others because the Japanese have that unique style, and in the case of games up through about PS2 level, they really dominated because as that 2ch commentor put it, they really knew how to "mine" that.

Case-in-point: I LOVE Nintendo's Game & Watches, mainly because of their form factor, their design, their use of small black and white LCD characters that had that distinct "look" to them, the backgrounds and color-filled artwork are amazing. Gunpei Yokoi and company that designed these utilized a minimalist LCD game with colored backdrops, fun gameplay and cases that had wonderful materials and good tactile feedback to make a great product. I'm not alone in this, there are many people that pay lots of money for these today, they're still loved the world-over, but not because they're made by Nintendo, but because they are representative of what "Made By Nintendo" means. However, if you made more today, I can pretty much guarantee that they wouldn't be as popular. And why is that? Because technology has moved on. Sure, it was awesome to have something that is still smaller than an iPhone, back then that played a game, but if you had the choice between playing Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker on your PSP, Gears of War or an Octopus G&W, most people are going to pick one of the first two.

Japan has always had that insanely unique set of design principles, but I think it's that "abstractness" - and their tendency to skew toward that abstractness - that has worked against them in the past few years. People, Western and Eastern, in years past loved that uniqueness because it abstractly and effectively used gaming as a medium to be entertaining. They could take a 16 by 16 square and make a Kirby or Mario, make colorful stages, colorful enemies and simple play mechanics that were good. As this blossomed, instead of having a "Chubby Cherub" flying around shooting at cartoon dogs or "Sky Kid"s flying cartoon planes over girls blowing kisses at them, you had late 80s/early 90s movies cliche bad guys taking swings at pro wrestling mayors and Metro City ninjas. But still, even as goofy as it was to find diamonds in garbage cans (some bad guys they were, I guess they weren't thieves!), there were still new levels of visual realism being set along with the new technology. Pilotwings might look like Mode 7 poo by today's standards, but back then when you pulled the ripcord on your parachute, you kinda felt it.

Also, a large part of the foreign interest in Japanese titles for the longest time, was that everything was "new", and "unique". Add to that the stigma that games/animation/whatever "are for kids" in the West, and there really wasn't a ton of active competition for the longest time. There was that mystique that enthusiasts loved, because nothing like the original NES' games had ever existed before, especially in the West. This didn't outstrip itself for a while, it lasted well into the Playstation & even today's era of games; the Persona titles, Okami, and even today's Professor Layton games come to mind. The only problem with this is that (and I talk about this below), realism kind of passed up those titles, and while people still love to play them, more people want something at the level of Modern Warfare 2 or Heavy Rain or Red Dead Redemption. Of course, there are those titles like Shadow of the Colossus that take that classic immersive, aesthetic greatness and bring it into the modern era of gaming, but generally those titles are few and far between now.

Essentially, Japan was good at being Japan. Doing their own thing, not worrying about competing with anyone, creating in their own environment, no pressure. If people liked it, they liked it. If they didn't, well, "We didn't design this for the West, Japanese will buy this," was likely the attitude. Is it that surprising that without any real competition, that their market flourished for almost 2 decades?

But - again - up until around 2000, games weren't considered a "serious industry" in the West. So whereas now, you have multi-million dollar investments - not unlike movie making - into research teams, level design, development, art, texturing, rendering & the like, back in the day, you had a few programmers, artists, a scenario designer and maybe a project manager in on any given project. So when there was a whiff of money to be had, when the medium had become "legitimized" so to speak, Western companies gained ground by taking it up a level, and making expensive teams of industry professionals.

And it isn't like Japan didn't do the same thing, their approach was just "different". I remember buying the game Parasite Eve for the PS1 in an import shop in NYC in 1997, and reading the instructions and seeing the people that Squaresoft hired on to help create the game. It was dubbed a "Cinematic CG Adventure" or something like that, and they used talent from Hollywood's best movies of the day to accomplish this. I can't remember exactly what they worked on, but I was surprised when I read their credits. The game wasn't a flop, but it wasn't earth-shattering, either. It was "growing pains", because no one had really attempted a "Cinematic Game" before that point. They relied too heavily on anime-crossed-with-Western-movie cliches, and filling too much of the 2 CDs the game came on, with "cinema" instead of making a well-crafted game. In short, they focused on one aspect that they thought would entice more people to play, than balancing what would have made an enthralling game, out.

Japan enjoyed a long heyday of these titles, eventually achieving a tenuous balance between that realistic upper echelon that gamers loved and the stylistic elements that put them on the map. But somewhere along the line, the scales tipped. And I recall the tipping point to almost certainly be around the intersection of the PS2 and the Dreamcast. It wasn't one point in time, either, this was a span of around 4-5 years in the which the rift began to open.

Backing up a bit, for years you had titles like Parodius, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Ikaruga, that lent themselves to 2-D, that were detailed-looking and started the pinnacle of 2-D graphics. But as far as immersive worlds, 3-D gaming, take a look at the original Tomb Raider (which I know isn't Japanese, I'm including it for the sake of comparison), the original Resident Evil, the original Metal Gear Solid title. Even  though these represented huge leaps forward in graphics back then, the truth is, they weren't that immersive, not by today's standards at least. They still allowed that abstractness to some degree, "cartooniness". And that was the key, there was not a DISTINCT difference between those two types of titles back then. In fact, Castlevania: SOtN looked a lot better than the first few Tomb Raider titles, or Resident Evil. But soon enough, realistic, awe-inspiring titles shifted from, "Oh my god, Shen Mue looks awesome!" to, "Oh look, another Naruto game. I think I'm gonna buy a 360, they're coming out with a game called Gears of War, it looks sick!" And in this generation, there is a true difference between something like Geometry Wars or The Misadventures of PB Winterbottom and say, Gears or MW2 or Battlefield Bad Company or Assassin's Creed 2 or Bioshock or Mass Effect 2 or any number of other titles, really. There is now a huge difference between something that's "fun" and something that's "an experience". Much like I imagine what the difference between pinball and video games was in the past. Both are fun, but most people prefer to be overwhelmed by a sensory experience rather than playing a fun distraction, a decent bit of the time. Obviously people still love their distractions and there is obviously still a place for those distractions - otherwise they wouldn't exist - but the majority of people that have seen "the best" or the most immersive tend to want to keep playing those types of games over Puyo Puyo Fever Deluxe Special Edition, or the 20th Zelda game that looks like it belongs on the Gamecube.

And eventually Japan kind of "regressed" - although I wouldn't totally call it that - and the rift really began to grow. And it's not that Japan is devoid of realism in their games, we have Metal Gear Solid, we have the newer Resident Evil 4 & 5, to some degree Final Fantasy 13 I guess and a few others like Devil May Cry 4, Lost Planet, etc. Conversely, stylized, 2-D games that are fun distractions aren't bad at all, but at this stage in the game as I said above, most people want the level of realism they've grown accustomed to. These games have become novelties that some people will buy for the occasional break between the big releases, or fun because they enjoy indie games or even because they legitimately like both types, but very few people are going to take stylized, cute 2-D over what they know today's publishers are capable of.

And I'd love to say that Japan is just dicking around, making sprite-based strategy games and Square-Enix making their 40th DS game based on Final Fantasy in underwhelming 3/4 view 3-D, but with Nintendo's domestic (domestic in Japan, that is) sales figures, it just shows that Japan loves the same old, same old. Nintendo hasn't shown innovation in some time now, unless you count the motion control thing, which was kind of poorly executed by them to get it out of the gate faster, and Japanese people apparently like it that way. So the "problem" becomes, if you're one of the richest companies in your whole country, which is the 2nd GDP in the whole world, then why rock the boat? That's why Pokemon hasn't gone 3-D for over 10 years, it's why Mario has had approximately 3 titles on the newest system and they look like they could've been pulled off on the Gamecube or DS, that's why the Touhou games are popular, that's why games featuring 1/2 naked, dimensionally-challenged girls are popular.

And if you've noticed, all articles centering around Japanese artists that work for Japanese publishers, are all ones that have already worked on more Western-style games in the (albeit recent) past. Keiji Inafune, Tomonobu Itagaki, Hideo Kojima... all people who had already Westernized long ago. (Just look at the list of games that I provided above, almost all are Capcom or Konami and well, Tecmo has a few Westernish titles, too)

So I don't see this phenomenon going away anytime soon, especially when you take into consideration that titles like Dragon Quest IX are still hitting the top of the charts (in spite of negative reviews by critics and players alike). It just justifies sticking with that age-old formula.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Game & Watch: Lifeboat!

So yesterday was a good day, sunburn notwithstanding, I got out to my local park where they had drained the lake and jogged around 5 miles with my friend. But the real prize of the day was that a Game & Watch I'd won from Northern California had gotten to me in just 2 days! Waiting for me on the porch was a familiar Priority Mail box. (not too familiar, since I've been ordering things mainly from Japan for like 4-5 years now)
Now, anyone who knows about G&W collecting knows that you have to be super-wary of pictures. Since most are obtained these days through online auctions, it's sort of impossible to see these things in person and up close before you buy. But I digress. Nearly all Game & Watches, if you have one or are familiar with them, have a universally appealing, yet universally annoying design aspect - metallic elements. Whether it's real metal/metal veneer in the case of the Silver to New Wide Screen series, or metallic stickers on the Multi Screen games, all G&W save for the Tabletop & Panorama series have metallic elements to them. Now, while the Game & Watch wouldn't be the Game & Watch without that special form factor, special details & artistic elements, these metallic elements are super-delicate. They certainly help to "make" the whole package of a G&W, the Wide Screen/New Wide Screen games alone look 1000% better because of their being framed by that metallic sheen. But 25-30 years later, unless someone didn't even touch or play their G&W, chances are you're going to find a scratch here or there on your newly-purchased G&W. The Multi Screen games seem to suffer the hardest from this because the clamshell design basically let kids know that since the game could close & protect the screen that they could just beat the hell out of the outside. The good part of this is that most Multi Screen games have a well-preserved inside - where the screen and some metallic portions are - the bad news is that a lot of them have really screwed up, scratched outsides. And it isn't the solid plastic on the back or around the edges that gets scratched to hell, those parts are tough. No, the metallic sticker with the artwork on the front is almost always beat up.
Pair this up with a camera's flash and metal photographing differently at different angles - and most people's inability to take photos properly - and you have to be exceptionally careful when shopping for a G&W. I haven't really been burned before, but I've definitely had a game or two where, in the auction it was photographed at a "careful" angle (whether deliberate or not), and when I ended up getting it in my hands it was a lot more scratched/dinged than what I saw in the auction. Some people tell you this, but a lot of people just put up pictures and say, "Here's Game & Watch X, it has a battery door and works!" And not being anal, and not having been burned before either, I'm not someone that needs a million additional pictures for something that I'm paying less than $100 for. The good news is that the one I mentioned was a few years ago when digital cameras weren't as wonderful (or wide spread) as they are today. Now, more and more people take 3-4 pics and they're usually really detailed.
What does this have to do with the Game & Watch that I purchased? The inverse of what I just described actually happened in this case. In the photos that the seller took, the G&W he was posting looked in decent shape, but the front looked rather scratched and being that it's a side-by-side Multi Screen, the inside pics were taken from further away to capture the whole G&W properly, so I wasn't entirely sure of the inside, but it looked okay. But Lifeboat is a rare G&W, among G&Ws, so if I could get it for a good price, I wanted it.
A total of three days later, I opened the box and was pleasantly surprised. The front was not nearly as scratched as it had first appeared in the photos, the inside was pristine, the LCD was strong and the back was nearly immaculate. It's nice to be reminded that you can be taken by surprise by something good, too, once in a while when dealing with strangers.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Loot Post

Just mainly putting pics up here for now, may edit things later with a writeup. But let's be honest, everyone loves looking at the pretty pictures, right? =P The items are an E-Tank Pillow from Megaman (Official Capcom swag ftw!), Kurogane no Linebarrels One Coin figures, both sets of One Piece Chara Fortune released so far and the Kerokoma Island 2 figures I was missing from my set, including samurai Dororo & Angol Mois. ^^

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Blog Title Change (Yet Again)

意味のない生活、オモチャいっぱい生活。 - "A meaningless life, a life filled with toys," used to be the title of my blog, but I decided to change it (yes, again), today. Originally this was called "Anime Acquisitions", which I liked, and I think I changed it to something else after that, but before I've been using for the past year or more. That title came to me in the shower or something one day, and it just sort of stuck.

Since I'm genuinely trying really hard to get things on track to do something with myself other than amass "cool stuff" and continue wasting money this year, I figured it was time for a change to the blog's title, too. Yes, I know I kept the core meaning of, "I'm buying crap, looky here!" in the title more or less, but at least now I'm not implying that my life has no more meaning than just having piles of aesthetically pleasing plastic. (Not that that's what it meant, the meaning was actually more or less a stab at the funk that I was/am in. Basically that, "There is no "ultimate goal" so what's the point?" was what I was feeling before. I'm still not over that and probably never will be, but I've come to terms with it. I collected things overzealously and with reckless abandon for so long because I really didn't see too much of a point to doing a whole lot else because I was depressed, or didn't see a point or a way out or whatever, but now I've kind of struck a balance. While it's good to see things from the point-of-view of "nothing to lose" once in a while to kind of put things in perspective, it's kinda awful when you can't see anything beyond that, and that's the kind of mundane existence I've lived for like 4-5 years, and am still living. I didn't do anything about it, and worse I didn't WANT to do anything about it for a long time. Or I guess I should say, I wasn't really bothering to do anything about it and didn't care. It wasn't a willful thing, I just wasn't ready to continue on with life and I let things deteriorate for so long that it was a hell of a climb just to get back to "normal", which I suspect I was never at in the first place. It took losing my social life entirely, all but 2 of my friends, one of which lives in NC now, and the other is busy being married, to really realize how truly shitty being lonely is.

In the last few months, it literally got to the point where looking forward to that one package a month was about the only thing keeping me going, and I realized that I had to do something about things in the larger scope. I also realized that I really don't think I've ever been "happy", or maybe don't even know what happiness feels like. Sure I get those small bits of gratification when I see something new that I like that's coming down the pike in a month or two, that rush when I open a box full of new things, a smile or sense of accomplishment when I write or draw something that I'm satisfied with, eat a new food item that has good flavor, have nice bowel movement, etc. (lol, sorry about the last one) But all of that is fleeting, I anticipate a box in the mail, get it, open it, sometimes containing nearly $1000 worth of haul, and all I can think of is how it'll be over in a few hours. I buy a game, I play it and think about how it's stressful to battle to make it to the next level or get new abilities or whatever, and then the fun playing with the abilities lasts all of 3 minutes before I'm bored or whatever, again. And unlike most people that don't understand why they feel the way they feel, I understand. And what's more, I know what I have to do to stop it, and I've just been unable to. But now I've just kind of resigned myself to the fact that, "that's life" and you have to just enjoy the experience. Because otherwise, what else is there? "It's all about the journey, blah blah blah." that sort of thing. Taking care of the depression part isn't easy, because I can't exactly outsmart myself about things, but distractions like oh, say, school and maybe finding a date or some friends this decade, might be a good thing. Hopefully I don't spoil it with my glowingly positive personality, lmao.

Sorry for the personal rant, I wrote this more as an affirmation for me than anyone else, but if you read it and I annoyed you or made you miserable in some way, I apologize.

Sakura is ALIVE! (sort of)

So my fake sakura tree has already started sprouting pink buds. ^^

Takara Tomy A.R.T.S Nintendo Game & Watch Solar Keyholders

I also got these Takara Tomy A.R.T.S Nintendo Game & Watch Solar Keyholders (Keychains) with the Magic Sakura Tree from Strapya the other day. If you know me, you know that I have a total infatuation/obsession with Nintendo's Game & Watches. These were released in the 80s-early 90s, amazingly as credit-card sized games (Really no thicker than an iPhone, which was amazing for any electronic back then, let alone games. Even Tiger's handhelds starting in the late 80s were bulky and thick as hell, even if they did have a nice form factor to them) and there were several series of these, all of which in one way or another conformed to that awesome design. I got my first G&W - Mario's Cement Factory - in 1985 or, well, at any rate I got it before 1987 because that's when I got my NES Control Deck, and I know I got it before I had that. I liked it when I was 5 or 6, but obviously I wasn't able to appreciate it like I can and do now.
So I wasn't exactly crazy over it whenever I was a kid, I mean I evidently liked it enough that when I dug it up several years later it had a few scratches on it from playing with it. In hindsight, I wish I was as much of a nerd back then as I am now because then I wouldn't be hunting them down at auction and paying assloads of money for something that I could've had my mom pay $30 for in 1985, lol.

Anyway, I'll be writing more on my G&W fetish, and how it came into full swing later, because I plan to drag out my G&Ws to display, so obviously I'll be taking pictures and doing an article/post on them at some point. Though they are one of my absolutely favorite things in the world, I don't talk about them too much because not too many people know that much about them, let alone of them most of the time. And chances are if someone that has a PS3/360 and plays it religiously is told about something "retro" that they didn't have that much interest in, in the first place, they're not going to be too thrilled about watching a little LCD dude move across the screen. Also, most people that are aware of these that are under the age of like... 25, automatically think of Smash Bros. when they hear "Game & Watch", as "Mr. Game & Watch" is one of the hidden characters in some of the series' games.

It's hard to explain, because a lot of collectors are "international" (i.e. - not from Japan) ones, but Nintendo and associated companies seem to know that they're out there. Also, of course, there are collectors inside of Japan, but now they seem to be more popular outside of Japan. In fact, if you look at the Japanese Wiki page for G&W - and I didn't know this until last week - a lot of G&Ws were outside-of-Japan only, releases. At any rate, in the last few years there have been sporadic releases of G&W-related goods (that are, of course, licensed by Nintendo). A few years ago there were arcade prize goods (ever-popular in Japan) by Banpresto that were G&W Vignettes, scenes from 4 different G&W games. These are so rare that even if you search in Japanese, there is only like ONE page on the data for them. The only page in English that I've found that contains any data on these is Play-Asia's product page from January 2005, from when they originally went on sale. I've seen them for sale on ebay exactly ONCE, and ONE of the four was up to $140US. And in the over two years I've been buying from Yahoo Japan Auctions, I've never seen one result for any of them. Actually, looking just now, I found some past results for these, from like December 2009 on YHJA that Google has apparently indexed, which gives me hope to snag one of these. =P

A more obtainable G&W related item was when the Gameboy Advance was around and its accessory, the e-Reader. This peripheral scanned cards that contained anything from Pokemon or Animal Crossing items, to full NES games, and one promo card included with every reader was an emulated Manhole Game & Watch. On the Gameboy Color there were several Game & Watch games with the originals and "arranged" versions with popular Nintendo characters replacing the graphics of the original G&W title. With the invention of the DS, 2 G&W titles were developed for it as well, but they could only be had via spending accumulated points with Club Nintendo in Japan. (Or go to Yahoo Japan Auctions, they're around $30US, there)

There is a site affiliated with Nintendo as well, called The King of Games, which makes Nintendo-themed apparel, and they sold/sell really awesome G&W shirts. Last year, Club Nintendo also offered a "remake" of the original G&W, Ball, to their Platinum members.

Fast forward to February of this year, Takara Tomy's A.R.T.S division announced that they'd be making keychain versions of Chef, Octopus and Parachute. Initially it had been thought that these would be original-size and playable. Not so, these were just going to be keychains with the animations of the games (their "attract" or demo modes that the real deal plays when you're not playing a game), and they'd be substantially smaller than the real G&Ws. Also, these would be solar-powered, so not batteries would be required to run these.

I pre-ordered all 3, and received them on Wednesday of this week. Sure enough, the tiny screens replicate the original G&Ws' animations perfectly. There are no sounds, as the material comprising the whole unit, aside from the screen and solar cell, is just generic plastic. I have to say, the solar cells are super receptive, when I held it at eye-level under the lamp in the center of my bedroom, all sprang to life.

These were relatively cheap, like $9 a piece I think. Their buttons press for tactile sensation, and supposedly the right button speeds up the demo, but I saw little difference. And while I like these a lot, I don't understand why they're marketed as keychains. The plastic on the outside is cheap, (or at least the paint on top of the plastic) and the screens seem semi-fragile. I was mounting mine on a wall underneath a light I have, so they'd constantly work (as you'll see in the pics), and I managed to chip a small piece of the red paint off of the outer edge of Chef just by pressing a little too firmly on the plastic-topped tack holding it in place. If it was on a keychain in your pocket, I'm fairly certain it'd be paintless and the screen would be scuffed inside of a week.

In spite of that one little flaw and not being playable, these are really cool. Would I rather have the real thing? Sure. (I already have Parachute) Do I hope they make another series of these? Hell yes!

Magic Sakura: A Beautiful Flower Blooms - Almost / まじっくSAKURAを咲かせて試す

As I said yesterday, I got a little bit of loot from Strapya the previous day, including a "Magic Sakura" tree. Today I decided to assemble, and try to "grow" it. Growth, in this case meaning that I take the cardboard tree out of the package, place it in a stand, bend the "branches" in different directions and then pour the "fertilizer" (or magic water, as the package calls it) - which is actually sodium acetate - in the tray and supposedly in 3-4 hours the tree will begin to bloom.
 Some interesting almost-Engrish here. It kinda sucks, Engrish seems to be disappearing in the larger sense, so either Japanese companies are hiring in-house native English speakers or Japanese people are getting much, much better at English. Or both! Good on them, bad for those of us that are entertained by it & have to look harder for it.

Having done this little magic trick before, I know it works, so all I have to do now is sit back and wait and I'll have Hanami on my desktop! I've taken some pics of the growing/assembly process. More pics to come as my sakura tree blooms!

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Yet Another Small Haul

Got another small haul from Strapya today, as expected. This one contained a "Desktop Sakura" kit, which is really a cardboard-cut tree that you soak in "magic water". The "magic water" is actually sodium acetate, and it catalyzes a chemical reaction with what is sprayed on the "tree", and within 24 hours it grows delicate crystals that appear like a tree blooming.

When I was a little kid these were around as stocking-stuffer items around xmas time in the form of xmas trees. So I was a little surprised to see these like 15-20 years later in the form of Sakura. ^^; I'll be taking some photos as I set it up and as it "blooms"

The real bread and butter here were the Game & Watch keychains. By Takara Tomy A.R.T.S, these (disappointingly) don't play the actual games, but rather are solar-powered keychains that play the "demo animation" of gameplay. They're a lot smaller than their original G&W counterparts, but to me, that's what makes them cool. If they were the regular G&W size, I think that'd detract from their authenticity. As far as the lack of playability, with all of the G&Ws I own, I think the coolest thing about displaying any of them is just watching the demo as the unit sits there. (i.e. - I like the design more than the games themselves) These are also solar-powered, so you don't have to keep replacing batteries, which is awesome, as well.

I'll be taking more pics of all of this, "unboxed" later, but I'm also expecting another package tomorrow, so expect more updates!

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Re-Ment Hello Kitty Ouchi Gohan / おうち ごはん

I find it amusing when this happens: I order something from a Japanese web shop, I find something else interesting on the same site a few days later and they end up shipping two different packages out to me a day or three apart. I wait a while and wind up with the package that was shipped later (and in this case, that was bigger, too) before the earlier shipped package. Have you ever run into this? This doesn't happen too much to me anymore because I don't buy things all that often, let alone back-to-back. And in this case, the items in the order I'd already placed were all pre-orders that just happened to ship in the same small cluster of days as when I ordered this single item from Strapya. But even if they were 2 separate orders that they refused to combine (J-web stores are usually fickle), Strapya's shipping is so reasonable, it is often less than what domestic companies charge, so I didn't mind paying $5 + $5 for two packages at an Air Mail rate. ^^

I try not to use EMS too often anymore because, for as little of a difference as the price is between EMS and Air Mail, I often miss the mailman, which means I have to drive to the post office to retrieve a package, which is like 20 minutes from me, so I end up spending around $5 in gas to go grab the parcel. And quite often I wind up having to wait an extra day because I'm on the outer edge of our delivery zone, which means our delivery is last, which means my mailman doesn't come back to the post office - where I can pick it up - with my "missed package" until it is closed, or very nearly. So I've found that Air Mail is a nice alternative, but also one that all but one, maybe two J-web shops have offered up until now. However, recently more and more have started offering SAL and Air Mail because I suspect that the whole global economic downturn thing had made people shy away from spending $30US on shipping for an already $60-$100 figure. Most still try to make the hard sell in suggesting people use EMS, based on the reason(s) that most Japanese web stores did before which is basically so they don't get lost packages and consequential blowback and bad word of mouth about their site. They often use promotional speech like, "EMS is safe, secure & insured, can be tracked and is the best and fastest way to ship to you!" I assume it also protects them in some way, from being scammed with people claiming that they didn't get their package and no way to substantiate it without a tracking number like SAL or Air Mail. (And after dealing with this "phenomenon" personally on ebay around 6 times by now, I'd say that's a smart move, because these people, internationally, know they can scam you with impunity, claim they never got a package and Paypal awards them their money back. I'd imagine there are ways without a shitty organization like Paypal being involved, that they can still scam someone out of the money, be it the post office or the shop or both)

Air Mail and SAL are not unreliable, either. I've used every method of shipping possible from Japan - even SEA on something that cost $300US to ship - and I've never had anything get lost. The closest I've come is something taking like 10 weeks to get to me when it should've been there in around four. I've mainly used EMS in the past because a) there wasn't another alternative offered and, b) I'm impatient as hell, lol.

Anyway, while I expect to get my other package from Strapya tomorrow, I got the later-shipped of the two, today, which contained a full set of 8 Re-Ment Hello Kitty Ouchi Gohan (which essentially translates to "home cooking") toys. These are super adorable, and quite a contrast to the Sengoku BASARA One Coin figures I got over the weekend. These are done in the old, "retro-Kitty" style, and look like they're modern, but the designs look like vintage 80's Kitty. ^^

The variety of the set is really neat, it goes from sweets to Omurai (Omelet Rice) & staples like Curry Rice and a Bento Box shaped like Kitty. Now, normally these sets come completely loose and a lot are hard plastic, so I end up having to glue them into place if I want them to look anything like the displays on the box. Not so with these, it's been a while since I've bought any Re-Ment/Megahouse miniatures so I don't know if this is the norm now or if it's specific to this Kitty set, but the food items are made of softer plastic this time around, while the plates and glasses and such are made of hard plastic. It makes the food "grip" to the plates/glasses as well as each other, so very little gluing was necessary.

The only real complaint that I have about this set is that the decals that are on some of the plates weren't applied properly. You can see it in a few of the pictures I've taken of just the plates, below. At first I suspected that the one was just crooked because it went off the side of the plate and left a white mark on the edge, but upon closer inspection, the decal was just applied incorrectly.

Overall, I like this set a lot. Re-Ment is a great company that makes quality products, and this set is no exception to that rule. Strapya still has a few sets in stock, if you like what you see in the pictures below. I've taken a ton of shots of each set, so I hope you enjoy!