My Super Famicom Vacation

Not so long ago, I thought about visiting Japan once more. That idea fizzled due to a lack of time and money, but in the aftermath I decided to list all the things I want to do on such a trip. There was a problem with every pursuit I devised, whether it involved seeing Hokkaido in the winter or trying out weird arcade prize-grabbers in their native habitats. It required me to be within the actual borders of Japan.

Yet the list had one feasible, low-priority entry: buy some cheap old video games. It’s very easy to find imported games on eBay these days, and many of them aren’t even expensive. Sellers frequently put up lots of potentially decaying cartridges and start the bidding low, counting on their exorbitant shipping fees to turn a profit. I watched for a few weeks before deciding on my inexpensive and possibly damaged vicarious Japan-trip shopping spree: a bundle of four Super Famicom games.

Were these games that I’d buy on a trip to Japan? Well, one of them is. The others are just a sampling, the Super Famicom version of a cheese-and-sausage platter you get at Christmas. Let's unwrap it.

Condition: Decent front, faded back
Working: Yes

F-Zero was very important to the Super Famicom’s Japanese launch in 1990. It was slightly less important on the Super NES a year later. The Super NES had a wider array of games when it arrived in North America, but on that November 1990 morning at Japan’s toy and electronics shops, the world's first Super Famicom owners had F-Zero, Super Mario World, and nothing else.

Both were necessary. Super Mario World was the better game, and yet it looked and played like a prettier version of Mario’s older, regular-NES outings. F-Zero was something new, a dizzying futuristic racer that did things Nintendo’s old hardware never could. You played Super Mario World much more, but you showed F-Zero to parents and friends who scoffed that this “Super” Nintendo was the same old circus.

Today, F-Zero wants for impact. It’s a solidly designed game, but so much has happened since its debut. It doesn’t have weapons or a split-screen multiplayer mode, and the player gets only four different hovercraft to control. The designers make the most of what was brand-new hardware, though you'll note that later courses are just tighter, meaner versions of previous tracks. It’s a show-off game.

The Japanese version of F-Zero is the same as the U.S. version, aside from a slightly different ending. The cartridge label, however, sports an elaborate tagline entirely in English: “THIS IS THE FIRST ADVENTURE OF OUR NEW HERO ‘CAPTAIN FALCON’. LITTLE IS KNOWN ABOUT HIM, EXCEPT THAT HE WAS BORN IN THE CITY OF ‘PORT TOWN’ AND HAS BECOME THE GALAXY’S GREATEST PRIZE HUNTER.”

It’s odd to see Captain Falcon built up as an enigmatic Samus Aran, since F-Zero has no story mode. The hovership-selecting screen doesn’t even list the craft’s pilots. And why’s it so important that our hero was born in “Port Town”? Did Nintendo hope that Captain Falcon would be their next breakout star? Well, he’s in Super Smash Bros., so that counts for something.

Will I keep it? Ehhh. It’s straightforward fun, but I’m not attached to F-Zero. I don’t really need to prove the technical prowess of my Super NES to anyone now.

Mega Man Legends Untold

Sony’s Greatest Hits line is straightforward and mostly beneficial: publishers shamelessly reissue their games, and any interested holdouts or impulse buyers get to nab previously full-priced titles for about twenty bucks. These Greatest Hits revivals show slightly new packaging, however. Original PlayStation re-releases have a neon green border, while PlayStation 2 and 3 titles bear red standards. This doesn’t sit right with some collectors, who resent those colors glaring at them from a shelf otherwise filledwith traditional Sony-brand black labels.

I suppose that’s important, but I’d like to tell you about one Greatest Hits game superior to its original release.

That game is Mega Man Legends, the first in a series that reimagines Mega Man as a 3-D action game in a world of floating isles and mechanized treasure hunting. It’s a wonderful line carried by capable designs and adventurous charms (for which Capcom looked more to Yatterman than Astro Boy), and I recommend all three titles.

I’d like to say that Capcom will put them on the PlayStation Network in North America just as they’ve done in Japan, but that’s unlikely. The most prevalent rumor is that Capcom doesn’t want to re-license the English voice acting. Using those performances might be controversial, anyway, since Teisel Bonne’s voice actor was convicted of child porn possession in 2008. Recording new voices or otherwise editing the game would be expensive and contrary to Sony’s PSN standards. And Mega Man Legends never was a huge seller in the first place.

If you want the Legends games legitimately and in English, it’s the second-hand market for you right now. Mega Man Legends 2 and The Misadventures of Tron Bonne already climb to exorbitant prices, but the original Legends is more common and thus costs less than it did brand-new back in 1998 (and by the recently ballooning standards of retrogame collecting, that’s a bargain). If you go for it, don’t be ashamed of getting the Greatest Hits version and its day-glo cover. Here's why.

This is what you’ll find if you open the original black-label version of Mega Man Legends. The manual’s back cover promotes Breath of Fire III. Lacking the impressive artwork that accompanies even mediocre Breath of Fire games, the ad isn’t all that interesting. By the way, I stole the photo from this auction, so let’s be nice and visit it for the next few days.

And what about the Greatest Hits edition? It may be the color of a radioactive party favor, but within lies a nice surprise.

Yes, the back of the manual shows Data, Mega Man’s loyal Save Monkey! Fans of the series seem to adore the Lego-esque Servbots, but Data is every bit as cute. He saves your game, provides upgrades, and even does a little dance if you stand there and watch him. He’s much better than some pitch for a middle-ground Capcom RPG.

You’ll note that the Greatest Hits disc itself is a stodgier black instead of the original release's authentic Mega Man blue. Yet that's a cavil easily pushed aside. The Greatest Hits version of Mega Man Legends has a precious little monkey-robot welcoming you every time the case pops open, and so it emerges as the better choice.

Even so, those persnickety collectors may have a point about the Greatest Hits label. It looks a little strange in my game library.