Retro Nintendo games are too expensive, but nostalgia is expensive

It’s 1999. I’m at a GAME in Loughborough town centre. The gray carpet is tacky, the horrible fluorescent lights are so dim I can barely see, and everything smells of stale sweat. I’m standing in the N64 section with my brother, the two of us holding a small fortune in spending money, browsing games we know nothing about, as we don’t know reviews exist yet. We’re kids and our buying habits tend to be dictated by the brightest colors and what we can actually achieve.

We are buying a full price copy of Lego racersbecause children are idiots.

It’s 2005. My brother and I are back in the same GAME. I press a copy of Paper Mario: The Millennium Gate so tight that it could break in half. Guitar Hero – which was just released this year – dominates the store, a huge tower of CRT televisions with plastic instruments attached by wires and safety measures, as it is Loughborough, and the likelihood of a useless plastic guitar being notched is surprisingly high.

I would play so many hours from Paper Mario that I would have blisters on my thumb pads. Worth it.

It’s 2011. I’m in college now, not thanks to the hours I spent playing games instead of doing my homework. I own a Wii and a DS, both of which are my main source of entertainment between (and sometimes instead of) lectures and essays. I do not have a lot of money. I get around this problem by renting games I’m not convinced I like and buying games I know I will like. I then trade the games to the nearby HMV, where I get an insignificant return on my investment, but at least now I can buy toilet paper and instant noodles, the two things needed to survive.

I don’t yet realize how much money my trading habit will cost me in the long run. I trade Ace Attorney games, Zelda games and – it pains me to say – ghost stuff. I loved these games, and there are times when I almost can’t put them down at checkout. I use the fifteen pounds I receive in return to wipe away my tears, then spend it all on a single fold.

Picture: Capcom

The year is 2015. I have a job (Yay!) in game journalism (Oh no). Jobs are money, and money is buying things I don’t need, like video games I used to own on eBay. I am buying a boxless copy of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone for Game Boy Color, then I buy a Game Boy Advance SP to play it. It’s not the cool tribal SP I always wanted, but I’ll manage.

I buy Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door from a guy who says he doesn’t have the box, manual or even anything to put the little disc in, so he sends it to me wrapped in paper bubble and I hope, and it’s honestly a miracle that I happen to not be broken. It costs me THIRTY-FIVE UK POUNDS for the honor of having a shiny little piece of plastic containing a game I’ve played through more times than I’ve done anything that makes my parents proud .

A few months later, I move to Canada and leave the expensive piece of plastic in my dad’s house for safekeeping, despite the fact that I’m pretty sure he was the one who sold my original copy.

The year is now 2021, and we are all caught up. Some brilliant games have passed through my hands over the decades I’ve lived, and I’ve let them all slip away like diamond sand through my fingers. I curse the past version of me who didn’t know what she had, although she didn’t have any money either, so I can’t really blame her.

Do you know who I blame? Nintendo. Despite their thousands of game sales, millions copies, they insist their prices never go down, and they refuse to reprint old games, even though dozens of us have been begging them for years. As a result, GameCube games still cost as much today as they did at launch, and often more; a copy of Ghost Trick alone it will cost me forty euros without the box or the manual.

if a game is good, or rare, or old (or all three), then people can charge eighty pounds and someone will buy it. It’s the price of our childhood, the tax we pay on nostalgia.

But there’s no real reason for these games to be so expensive. As Alex and Jon point out in their video above, they are expensive because we decide They are expensive. Supply and demand, baby. The money is not real. Much like the GameStop share price debacle, it all comes down to the perceived value of something – if a game is good, or rare, or old (or all three), then people can charge eighty pounds and someone will buy it. It’s the price of our childhood, the tax we pay on nostalgia.

There’s no getting around that either. Second-hand game stores like CeX in the UK know the value of their stock, charge £70 for a used copy of Pokemon Heart Gold even though it doesn’t come with the Pokéwalker expansion. I’ve tried to buy suspicious copies of games for cheap on eBay before, only to find out that they were fake. I once bought a copy of Bowser’s Inside Story only to find out that it was actually Alex Rider: Stormbreaker on DS, a game so breathless that it sits at a 48% rating on Metacritic.

Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door
Image: Nintendo

Now, to Nintendo’s credit, they release occasional re-releases, so I can actually play Bowser’s Inside Story now, assuming I can find a 3DS copy. But some games remain perpetually unknown to old Ninty, and despite some, eh, attractive good Paper Mario sequels (don’t talk to me on Star Sticker), nothing comes close to the millennial gate. Also, I’m pretty sure Capcom won’t be releasing an HD Switch version of Apollo Justice: Ace Lawyera game that’s my favorite of the Ace Attorney canon, an opinion I’m probably the only one to have.

It’s no surprise that people are clamoring for game remakes like Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. A quick look on eBay shows you’ll be paying around £40 for the game card and £90 for a sealed box. Listen, I can understand the price of Ghost Trick – this game is a gem, but it only sold a few hundred thousand worldwide. Pokémon Diamond and Pearl sold 17.67 million copies. Honestly, that’s enough to make me want to break into Nintendo HQ and help myself to a sealed copy or two of their vaults.

Some people know the value of what they have and refuse to sell, but others have Absolutely no idea that they are sitting on a potential fortune.

The huge sales of DS games mean these expensive pieces of plastic just sit in drawers, cupboards and huge plastic bins in garages around the world. Some people know the value of what they have and refuse to sell, but others have Absolutely no idea that they are sitting on a potential fortune. As Jon and Alex discuss in the video, your best bet for cheap retro gaming is charity shops, garage sales, and maybe even estate auctions, but I can’t say I’ve tried this last. Even then, the likelihood of finding something you actually want is about as low as finding a blank copy of Sonic Adventure 2: Battle in a Subway bathroom.

It is difficult to know how to solve this problem. There is probably no solution at the moment. Some of you are probably sitting on thousands of game books, knowing that you weren’t an idiot like me, and you’ve kept them over the years, and I don’t blame you.

The worst thing is that once I have own games, I don’t… actually… player them. I recently moved in with my partner and he is one of those people who keeps all. He has a Commodore 64 that he uses for decoration, and a GameCube collection that’s better than the one I had when I was a kid. He has all the old Nintendo consoles, plus a bunch of controllers that don’t have – like mine – weird nail polish stains. He pulled his copy of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door out of his box when we first met, because he knew it was my favorite game.

In the four years that we have been together, we have never played there.

Bowser's Inside Story
Image: Nintendo

Is it nostalgia? Is it about possessing small pieces of our childhood? Is it just trying to recoup the years we’ve lost by constantly spending money to surround ourselves with accessories that make us feel a tiny bit of the joy we’ve long forgotten? Are we all just trying to recreate a time when things were simpler?

It’s hard to put a price tag on memory value, but some people have, and it’s bloody eighty pounds. Without box.

Timothy C. Mayo