Every Sunday on a rural Florida highway about an hour south of Tampa, Mr. G Flea Market is open from 7AM to 4PM. It’s a predominately Hispanic flea market, mostly selling used tools, stereo equipment, boots, and music. I go there for two reasons: one is the food, which cannot be beat. It’s the only legit place to get horchata in the Tampa Bay area. The second reason is “Alejandro’s Video Games,” a popup vendor inside the marketplace that sells games for old consoles. It’s one of the few places in Florida where you can reliably pick up some Dreamcast games outside of eBay.
A few weeks ago, Al had a beat-up cardboard box full of Nintendo games, all of them unlabeled or with their labels mostly ripped off. I knew I needed to buy them – what if one was that Stadium Events game that sells for thousands? The problem is, the box didn’t have a price, and my Spanish haggling is godawful.
“Hola, Alejandro? Cuanto por… uhh… shit, how do you say the whole thing?” I pull out the translate app on my phone.
“Caja de juegos?” I think that Al just said the whole box.
“Si, caja de juegos. Cuanto?” Yes, the whole box. How much?
“Diez dolares, hermano.” Tenbux, bro.
“Si, yo comprar.” Ok, I’ll buy it.
I pay Al his $10 and race home, hook up my Nintendo, and plug in the first cart. So what games did I get, and which holds up the test of time after nearly 30 years of technological gameplay advancement?
Here we go. I pop in the first cart, and…
Little League Baseball Championship Series – A surprisingly decent baseball game. Character models are varied, every player has a different name, and the mechanics are pretty solid, considering it’s a game for nine-year-olds. Games are shorter – six innings – but if you force yourself to get hit by every pitch you can win in the first inning due to the mercy rule. Beware the fat kids, they can usually crush the ball and get a home run every pitch. Also I think my B button is sticking. 4/5
Solstice – Isometric adventure game where you’re a wizard chasing after a lady being carried by a skeleton. It’s mostly jumping puzzles and you have some unlabelled potions that are totally useless. The viewpoint makes jumping difficult and the game is just an all-around drag. The music is pretty good though, especially the opening theme which is stuck in my head now. 2/5
Deja Vu – You wake up in a bad point-and-click adventure. This one goes back – way back – to the days of requiring the player to take notes on a pen and paper, which is far more trouble than it is worth. A lack of in-game citation, no central help system, and the complete esoteric nature of the whole package (bathroom, buying bullets one at a time, dead guy in an office) is a serious downer. I tried two playthroughs. The first took me 3 hours to get out of the bathroom and then I got mugged. The second time I got out of the bathroom, got mugged, and tossed this game in the trash. 1/5
Bible Adventures –“Uh oh,” I thought. “A black cartridge. This means it’s either a crappy Tengen game or…” The title screen loads up, it says “Wisdom Tree,” and I die on the inside. I wish this game hadn’t started up. If you’re not familiar with Wisdom Tree, they were an entirely unlicensed publisher of Nintendo games that worked around the famed NES Lockout Chip to release games without official Nintendo certification. There’s a whole boring legal morass as to why they weren’t shut down, but the end result was a flood of cheap terrible Jesus games that were palette swapped knockoffs of Mario 2. The only things that could warn you were about to play something truly awful was A) if your grandmother gave this to you with the introduction “The man at the Christian bookstore said this game is a lot of fun…” and B) the black cartridge. -3/5
Four non-working games – These games would either not start at all, or only show random characters. I think one might have been StarTropics, but with no way to be sure, they all wind up in the trashcan. 1/5
T&C Surf Design – Took a solid 5 tries to get the cart to work. A three-in-one cart with surfing, half-pipe skateboarding, and side-scrolling skateboarding. This game certainly did not age well, and the surfing is damn near impossible, but after a few tries the side-scrolling portion is really easy. I guess this game counts as an advergame, seeing as T&C is a well-known surfboard company. Deuce from Jerkcity makes an appearance. 2/5
Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt – The classic dual-pack that wouldn’t start no matter how hard I tried. The two logos would begin to slide in, then vanish and restart. Well enough – I don’t have a Light Zapper anyway. 0/5
Xexyz – The inpronouncable Xexyz (eks-EASE? zek-SIS? ZEEX-yiz? whatever) is a side scroller and sometimes a tube shooter. Also has a very strange backstory, where you need to rescue princesses to stop aliens for some reason. A bland, dull game on every level, but as a bonus I whacked my NES really hard while playing it (something I occasionally do just to see what will happen) and it skipped me from stage 2-1 to the final boss battle. For some reason you shoot a flying space castle. B button is definitely sticking. Looks like pancake syrup; I haven’t eaten a pancake in probably 10 years. 2/5
Game with “Morales” written on it in Sharpie – Great, it’s one of those kids with parents that made him label all his games. Little Morales Jr. probably got out of school, raced home, and looked at his game collection with the joyous feeling of “what should I play?!” He probably grabbed this cart, plugged it into his Nintendo, and turned on… Lee Travino’s Fighting Golf? Really, Morales?! Honestly I can’t hate too much on this. A number of years ago I bought LTFG based on title alone – think of the possibilities! – and was sorely disappointed with a terrible Nintendo golf game that featured no fighting whatsoever. This title for a golf game ranks up there with “Golf Magazine Presents 36 Great Holes Starring Greg Couples,” which sounds like terrifying pornography. -5/5
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out – Nice! An actual decent game that still holds up well. Glass Joe goes down easy, Von Kaiser is much tougher now that my B button randomly activates. I get beaten by King Hippo, which is a terrible insult to my family name. B button is close to perma-stuck. 5/5
Wheel of Fortune Junior Edition – The first board was PERSON and the answer was BARRY GOLDWATER. 0/5
Kung Fu – I forgot how terrible this game is. Walk left, punch and kick enemies. With my button stuck, all I do is kick. No moving, no way to win. Just kickkickkickkickkickkick until I turn the game off. 1/5
My controller is hopelessly stuck. I take that as a sign to not try any more games until I replace it.
Best to worst –
- Mike Tyson’s Punch Out – Holds up well, even if my controller didn’t. 5/5
- Little League Baseball Championship Series – Better than expected. 4/5
- T&C Surf Design – Terrible controls. 2/5
- Solstice – Good music, bad everything else. 2/5
- Xexyz – Dull and forgettable. 2/5
- Kung Fu – kickkickkickkickkickkickkick 1/5
- Deja Vu – A hard-boiled failure. 1/5
- Non-working games – Attempting to get these to run was more fun than the following loser games. 1/5
- Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt – a font of disappointment. 0/5
- Wheel of Fortune Junior Edition – Why yes, I do expect children to know of an Arizona Senator from the 1960s. 0/5
- Bible Adventures – I FORGOT BABY MOSES! -3/5
- Lee Trevino’s Fighting Golf – Least appropriate title since the 1991 film Naked Lunch. -5/5
Nostalgia is a cruel mistress. Many of these games are trash – only a single first-party game stands the test of time. To think that we collectively harassed our parents for these awful, cash-grab pieces of dumb entertainment. They would come home, dirty and sooty from a hard day’s labor – and there we were, mewling “Mom, Dad, I want Solstice for Nintendo!” We were terrible.
You were terrible.