Have a seat, folks. Uncle Coop’s back and feeling like doing a little reminiscing at the moment. So, I thought I’d share a bit of memory pie that got spurred into being by a recent trek to a local pawnshop.
I don’t have very many Christmas memories that revolve around the SEGA Genesis. That sounds a bit odd since, as some on the forums know, I got my Genesis and a few games for Christmas in 1989. But outside of that, there aren’t many other Genesis-centric Christmas tales to be told. Most of the games I eventually got were either a birthday gift, ones I bought when I got a job, or cheap ones that were occasionally bought for me during the rest of the year… such as whenever the local Walmart would mark down stuff like Rocket Knight Adventures or Sonic & Knuckles to a measly $5 brand new. However, I do recall one Christmas time period where I was left in a have to choose situation a few years after I’d gotten my Genesis, and the odd circular path things took afterward.
It was right around Christmas of 1993, and I lived in a relatively small town in the Desert Southwest. It had no toy stores, but it did have four (yes, four) pawnshops that sold mostly Nintendo stuff, a Kmart, a Walmart and a Target. The problem was, none of those retail stores really carried all that much for the SEGA Genesis. They had maybe 20 titles, with A LOT of overlap, which meant it was pretty rare that one store had something the others didn’t. But in the beginning of November of that year, the Kmart got in a couple of games that Walmart and Target lacked. I was earning a little money at the time washing cars for neighbors, doing chores around the house and so forth, so I put those couple of games on layaway. I was told I had three months to pay them off, and I was making payments a bit at a time each week so I could do just that. However, no one informed me that there was a catch to putting things on layaway so close to Christmas.
Early December arrived, and I went to Kmart with my parents. When I went to the layaway window to make a payment, I was informed by the clerk behind the counter that all layaway items had to be fully paid for two weeks before Christmas, or they’d go back on the shelves and I’d be given a refund. Well, I didn’t have the money to finish paying off the games thanks to just not having the time to build up the funds yet, which meant I was going to lose both games unless I somehow began magically having $20 bills steadily drop out of my ass. But, not all hope was lost.
As a Christmas gift, I was given the choice to have one of my games paid off by my parents. The catch? It would get wrapped, and I couldn’t play it until Christmas. And so began my mental back-and-forth about which one I wanted to play more, the actiony ninja goodness of Shinobi III: Return Of The Ninja Master, or the shmup-like blastiness of Sub-Terrania?
It wasn’t an easy choice for me to make. So like the young twit I was, I side-stepped the choice and began scheming to figure out some way to keep myself from losing both games. I came up with all sorts of ideas; from “choring” myself out and doing all kinds of work around the house or for neighbors, to selling off stuff at the pawnshops so I could get both games (thank GOD I didn’t go with that one). I eventually gave up on those ideas, partly because I came to my senses, and partly because no one had any extra work for me to do. I also knew that even if I canceled one layaway, I still didn’t have enough to pay for all of the other. Couple all of that with how there was no chance of my parents having enough to cover a full game’s cost, and I resigned myself to the fact that one game was going to be put back. So with a little soul searching, I bid Sub-Terrania farewell, and waited for Christmas to finally arrive so I could play the third sequel in the Shinobi series for the Genesis.
Well, needless to say, I wasn’t disappointed Christmas morning. Shinobi III rocked in every way, and I played it quite a bit. But like any young ‘un who’s had to choose between two toys, there was a part of me that kind of wished I’d gone with the other game. It was that little niggling set of thoughts that made me wonder if the other game would have been even more fun than the one that was brought home. I almost got to find out, because I had planned on picking Sub-Terrania up with the money I’d gotten back from canceling its layaway, and from what I’d been given for Christmas by relatives. But that plan was stomped into the dirt due to Kmart not having anymore copies of Sub-Terrania after Christmas. This meant that bothersome mental quandary would be left to go unanswered for a while.
The summer of ’95 came along, and I still lived in that same town. Two of the four pawnshops that town had were catching on to selling Genesis games with all of the NES and SNES games they always seemed to carry. Sure, those shops had some Genesis and Master System games here and there for a while, but it wasn’t until ’95 that those two pawnshops really started carrying them. Why? It was in part because of how limited a selection the retail stores had in that town. The pawnshop owners saw that they could do a fair bit of business with Genesis games, despite that Nintendo was obviously a much bigger draw for the kids and adults who called that town home. I mean yeah, we Genesis owners were in the minority, but if those pawnshops catered to us, maybe we’d made it worth their while?
Hmm, yeah, there was no maybe about it. We did. This influx of pawnshop interest in stocking Genesis titles brought in games that we Genesis owners never saw in the town’s big stores, and these pawnshops were actually pricing them pretty fairly ($10-$25, depending on the title’s age). Outlander, Landstalker, Shining Force, Samurai Shodown, Contra: Hard Corps, Earthworm Jim, and a host of others came in from who the hell knows where. I actually asked one of the owners once, and she just gave a generic ”we get them in once in a while” style of answer. Regardless, it gave Genesis owners in that town a chance to grab some new games they hadn’t seen before, or have another shot at ones that only ever saw a few copies come to the Kmart, Walmart and Target there. But that wasn’t all of it.
Around that same time, the two video rental stores the town had began thinning out their Genesis selection, and the fun was indeed doubled. Games like Ranger-X, Elemental Master, Blades of Vengeance and Red Zone were being sold, with some of them being the only copy to show up in that town as far as I could tell. Not only that, they were almost always $10, complete. And for a while, I even had a friend or two helping me keep an eye out for certain games at those rental stores, in case they went on sale all of a sudden. Even the Kmart in town had a year-long stint where they sold used games as well, and I managed to find complete copies of titles like Gunstar Heroes, Mazin Saga and Shadow Of The Beast II in that store.
For a couple of years, it was all like a nerdy wet dream for those of us who called the Genesis our gaming console. But it wasn’t in a rental store, or during a Blue Light Special, that a familiar face popped up one day. Guess what game showed up at one of those aforementioned pawnshops? Yep, Sub-Terrania. It was complete, in really good shape, and that thing was mine when I left the shop that day. So it may have taken a while, but I did eventually get to play the Genesis title that I had to let go just before Christmas of ’93. Was it worth the wait? It was, seeing as Sub-Terrania is quite a bit of challenging fun. Not as good as Shinobi III but a good game nonetheless. The odd part, though? There was a Kmart receipt tucked inside the pages of the game’s manual, which has made me wonder more than once if it was the copy I had to give up back in ’93.
The end of this story comes in ’98 when we moved away from that little town during the early summer. The pawnshops there had once again returned to their NES/SNES focused ways, and most of the Genesis titles that were in their display cases were just cart-only copies of sports titles, stupidly common ones that every Genesis owner already had (oh look, nine copies of Sonic The Hedgehog… yay), or games that had no hope of ever selling because of how shitty they were (hi, Sword Of Sodan!). The rental stores had cleared out their Genesis selections, and the town’s Kmart, Walmart and Target had stopped selling Genesis games altogether… even though SNES games continued to be displayed with the Playstation and Saturn games.
That town had once again become a Genesis wasteland in a way. But for a couple of years, I got quite a few of my Genesis titles thanks to that little boom in SEGA interest. And now here I am again, seeing that things really haven’t changed much when I go to pawnshops and flea markets around where I live today. Boatloads of SNES and NES (and Nintendo in general) games, lots of PS1 and PS2 games, Xbox titles… and yet only a few beat up and highly common Genesis carts stacked haphazardly on top of one another in some out of the way corner. It’s enough to make me miss that Genesis popularity boom many moons ago. I mean, the town back in ’93 was small and isolated in ways, and where I am now is much the same. But sadly, I doubt an influx of great Genesis titles will happen, since like where I lived all those years ago, this place is all about Nintendo (as well as Sony) when it comes to the secondhand local scene. Even so, I can still dream of getting to walk into some place, and just see rows of Genesis titles waiting for me to sift through them, right? Maybe find that copy of Crusader of Centy, or maybe an import like Devil’s Crash, all without the ridiculous eBay prices. That would certainly be rather nice, let me tell ya.