The retro gaming scene is pretty huge these days, as demonstrated by the success of the assorted mini consoles such as the NES and SNES Classic and the Mega Drive Mini. However, for those who want to have a go at collecting the original hardware and software of days gone by, the range of options can be intimidating. OnlySP is here to help, with this guide on getting started in retro game collecting.
Choosing Your Focus
For the majority of people who have been bitten by the retro bug, nostalgia is the primary motivator. If you are in that camp, consider what you enjoyed as a child. Was Super Mario Bros 3 your jam? Perhaps you preferred blazing through Green Hill Zone in Sonic the Hedgehog, or blasting down enemies in Turrican? This will provide a starting point for would-be collectors, as it establishes what hardware will be required, and the sort of genre of games to look out for.
On the other hand, some people prefer to explore the worlds of games and consoles that passed them by, perhaps picking up a Saturn or Nintendo 64 to investigate what they might have missed out on.
Establish a Budget
This is very important. As hardware ages, it becomes harder to obtain, and this obviously sees prices go up. Websites such as Price Charting or Game Value Now are mostly US-focussed, but offer a valuable barometer of what is a sensible price to pay. Be aware of regional variations, however. The SEGA 32X, for example, is fairly commonplace in the USA, but quite rare in the UK and Europe, so prices will be different.
If you are interested in collecting, but still not sure where to start, here are some suggestions for consoles that are a good place to get started.
SEGA Master System
For those who live in the UK and Europe, these are very common and easy to get hold of, particularly the Master System II, which comes with a built-in copy of Alex Kidd in Miracle World. A Master System II with at least one controller should set you back around £35/€40.
On the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, the Master System is considerably rarer, unless you happen to live in Brazil, which exists in a mysterious alternative timeline where SEGA won the console wars and the Master System console is still being made.
Things to Watch Out For: The console itself is sturdy, but the controllers can be fragile. Beware of broken controllers.
Good Games To Get Started: Fantasy Zone, Hang On, Sonic the Hedgehog, OutRun Europa
Though the Nintendo 64 got trounced by the PlayStation, it was still beloved by many and has some spectacular games in its library. One of the interesting aspects of collecting the N64 is the number of colour variants; though the standard edition is dark grey, other versions exist in virtually all colours of the rainbow. Another point in favour of the N64 is that the console is basically built like a tank, and is not prone to hardware failure. The Nintendo 64 can usually be purchased for around £40/€47, or US$55.
Things to Watch Out For: Make sure the analogue stick on the controller has free movement, and that no dirt has got into the joint.
Good Games To Get Started: Mario 64, StarFox 64, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, GoldenEye
The Game Boy is a great choice for collecting beginners, partially because so many of them exist. The original Game Boy is a very solid bit of hardware which, famously, could survive literally being blown up and still turn on. Original Game Boy games are compatible with successor consoles such as the Game Boy Pocket and Game Boy Color, providing access to a vast games library. An original Game Boy will set you back around £45/€53 in Europe, or up to US$80 in the USA.
Things To Watch Out For: On the original Game Boy a problem with screen degradation tends to occur, making the screen unusable. Ask to see the screen turned on before purchase. Another big problem with the Game Boy is fake cartridges. The Pokémon games are a common target, so if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Good Games To Get Started: Super Mario Land, Kirby’s Dream Land, Bionic Commando
It might have been SEGA’s last hurrah in the console market, but many consider the Dreamcast to be a console ahead of its time, with features such as online connectivity and a memory card that doubled as a portable mini-console. Collectors not only have the existing game library to explore, but also a huge and thriving homebrew scene, which continues to churn out games to this day. Prices for the Dreamcast range from around £60–80 (€70–83). In the USA, the price usually hovers around US$65, but can go higher for a boxed version or a full bundle.
Things To Watch Out For: Later Dreamcast models suffer from a build-quality issue that can cause motor or laser failure. Look on the underside of the console for a small number inside a circle; the units labelled 0 or 1 will tend to have better reliability than those marked with a 2 or 3.
Good Games To Get Started: Chu Chu Rocket, Sonic Adventure 1 and 2, Metropolis Street Racer
If you want more on retro game collecting, or to share how you got started with the hobby, be sure to comment below, and give OnlySP a follow on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. You can also join the discussion in the community Discord server.