Ninterview: Aaron "NintendoTwizer" Norton and the Ultimate Retro Collection
Posted by Darren Calvert
"The history of video games is awesome"
Even when Nintendo is in a quiet phase between Nintendo Direct broadcasts, or there's a wait for the next hot retail or download game, fans of the company are never short of conversation points. The big N's legacy and history give it a powerful impact in gaming culture, and the keenest of gamers do amazing things to show their love for the company. Some make videos or music, and some collect thousands of games and memorabilia.
And not just Nintendo, either, as the era of all games being physical media is becoming increasingly important; we're now in an age of downloads and online servers being switched on and off at a company's whim. With cartridges and early discs, however, you simply plug in and play.
There are many passionate collectors, but one of the most impressive is Aaron "NintendoTwizer" Norton, whose enviable collection and its impeccable presentation have been gaining the attention of media outlets around the world.
We wanted to learn more about Aaron and his collection, so had a chat to dive into the motivation of his hobby, as well as getting some firm numbers on his staggering range of games and systems.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers and let us know a bit about yourself?
I’m from Wyoming USA, I’m 31, married with three kids. For a job I do administrative work for a construction company. I’m also in the Navy reserves.
You've amassed an amazing collection of classic Nintendo games. When did you start collecting, and what inspired you to do so?
I’ve always collected something. From an early age it was pennies, rocks, keys, baseball hats and so on. Displaying and acquiring “collectable” items has always been part of my personality. I’ve also been gaming from a young age. I was never a kid who traded in games when I was done with them, I’d just stick them on my shelf. About four years ago I discovered an online classic gaming forum. I was amazed at the amount of people who were still passionate about these dusty old systems and games. This really sparked my interest. From there I began searching out games online, at thrift stores and garage sales.
What are your main sources for tracking down new additions to your collection?
There’s mainly two ways to track down classic games, online and locally. They both have advantages and disadvantages.
Online as in eBay, gamegavel, and buy/sell/trade forums are great because you can find almost any game in existence at any given time. The disadvantage to that is you’ll likely pay the going rate for that item. That’s not to say that deals can’t be found if you are patient. Connecting with other collectors and making trades or bulk deals is also a great way to add games to a collection for cheap.
Locally as in garage sales, thrift stores and pawn shops are great because if you are lucky you’ll find common and rare games for $1-$4 each. The search and thrill of finding games is exciting, you’ll never know what you’ll come across. The disadvantage to this method is sometimes you’ll come up empty handed and it’s likely some titles you’ll never see in the wild.
I try to do a combination of both methods. Any duplicate games I come across I trade with other collectors or sell myself, making much of the hobby pay for itself.
You mostly collect loose carts, while some collectors are obsessed with pristine boxes and manuals. Are you more interested in owning and playing these games rather than, say, having a presentational lineup of boxes and manuals?
There are three reason why I mostly collect loose carts and those are price, space and accessibility.
I have quite a few games, but I don’t feel like I’ve spent a ton. Loose games are always much cheaper than boxed. Growing up the first thing I and any one I knew did when getting a new game was rip the box open, then throw the box in the garbage since it was cardboard trash. If only I knew then what I know now. Price goes up double or more when looking for complete boxed games.
Space is a factor for me. I have one spare bedroom in my house so my collection must fit in that space. My wife isn’t okay with it taking over the rest of the house and I don’t blame her! Boxes just take up more space.
As you asked in your question, games are meant to be played. Not having to carefully open a fragile 30 year old cardboard box to access a game makes things so much easier. For the Sega Genesis and Sega Master System I collect those in the box, but that’s just because they came in a hard plastic clamshell cases making complete games easy to come by and prices low. The design also makes the games very easy to access.
Are all of your games stored in alphabetical order? Have you tried any other ways of organizing your collection in the past?
I would say that the vast majority of my games are simply alphabetical. I often put odd games like demos, unlicensed, pirates, prototypes and Player Choice titles side by side. Grouping these together tends to makes everything look cleaner.
I wanted to try something different for storing Atari 2600 carts. For those I organize by color and also by company. The labels for those carts are just plain text, but with about every font color in the rainbow. I thought it would be interesting to put colors together. It doesn’t make it super easy to find a game I’m looking for, but oh well.
You have custom end labels for your N64 games. How did you go about getting those made?
There was a guy that posted on different forums that made them at a print shop. I’m not 100% if he is still selling them though. I’m half way done with a neat end label design myself. They are high quality 3M vinyl pre-cut adhesive stickers. An overall improved design in my opinion. Hopefully I can make a few sets of those by the end of the year. Darn N64 and their lack of end labels. What was Nintendo thinking?
With your various N64 systems, have you got all the colour variants? Which one is the most expensive?
Yep, that’s all the color variants released in North America. As for the most expensive. I’d probably say the Pikachu System. Nintendo really went all out for that one. It’s the only variant with a completely unique shell, plus Pikachu cheeks light up when it's turned on, so there’s that.
Your wall of colourful N64 controllers is particularly pleasing to look at. How did you come up with that idea?
There’s a YouTube user by the name of Kamioftime. She collects N64 controllers and the way she displays them on her walls inspired me to try something similar. It was a fun project. First I acquired the controllers then laid it out in a way that that looked nice. I drilled the holes in the board, placing a piece of foam at the end of each screw. The foam would hold the N64 controller in place tightly (by being inserted into the rumble pack/memory card area of the controller). Then hung the finish product on the wall.
You have all 14 Virtual Boy games release in the US. What do you think of that system?
A very flawed system, that was in some ways ahead of its time. The idea to have a sort of portable system, but not really… that can only be used for 15 minutes before your eyes start to bleed was not a good one. That said, the 3D itself worked quite well. I’m not sure what could have saved the system. Perhaps a colored screen that didn’t hurt your eyes? A good launch Zelda or full Mario game? I’m not sure, but the Virtual Boy lives on in some ways with the 3DS and I mean that in a good way. Overall, it’s an interesting piece of gaming history and worth experiencing first hand (for a short period of time).
Do you find you get the time to play many of these games?
I’ll have time to play when I retire someday! Admittedly most of my time is not playing games, it’s spent with my wife and three kids; ages one, two and three. Once the kids are off to bed and my wife is doing school work I can sometimes sneak off for gaming.
So I do find some time to play now and again. I’m always in the middle of a game or two. One thing I’ve been enjoying is classic gaming competitions on online forums. Those are fantastic, a moderator will pick a classic NES game, set the rules (example: highest score on one life) and everyone has one week to compete and submit their score. It’s a fun way to relive some of old games in a social way.
Do you play modern console games much?
I just finished Super Mario 3D World on the Wii U and Zelda: Link Between Worlds on the 3DS. Those games were fantastic! I try to keep up with all the latest gaming news for new releases. I admit I’m not likely to pick up a PS4 or Xbox One until a big price drop happens.
How does your family react to your collecting habits?
They think I’m crazy, but are supportive. I do my best to keep it organized and not a horde. It’s important to keep things in perspective, gaming and game collecting are fun hobbies, but the wife, kids and bills always come first.
What games would you like to get hold of next?
There’s always a few I’m looking for, but I’m mainly looking to complete a few sets. I’m nearly done with Sega Master System. Around 3/4 of the way done with Game Boy, Game Boy Color and Sega Genesis. My main focus will be complete those. From there I’d like to pick up a few more Atari 2600/7800, Nintendo DS and Turbografx games.
Being a child of the 1980’s Nintendo and Mario were everywhere. T-Shirts, underwear, book bags, soft drinks, cereals, movies, Sunday morning cartoons, it was inescapable.
What's your favourite Nintendo console and why?
I have two, a retro and “modern”. The retro being the NES. I have a great amount of nostalgia for the system. It was my first gaming system and the one I grew up with. Being a child of the 1980’s Nintendo and Mario were everywhere. T-Shirts, underwear, book bags, soft drinks, cereals, movies, Sunday morning cartoons, it was inescapable. When I wasn’t outside riding a bike, building forts, swimming at the city pool I was inside playing NES with friends.
The “modern” system is GameCube. The N64 software library was drying up towards the late 90’s/2000 (with the exception of the awesome Conker’s Bad Fur Day). I was more than ready for the next generation of gaming. I followed GameCube news closely leading up to the launch. The day finally arrived and I was there at K-Mart early in the morning ready to pick up my system. Tons of fantastic games came out over the next few years. Sure it probably came in third place that generation, but that didn’t stop me from having lots of great memories with that small purple box. From a collecting standpoint it been really interesting. Not many people collect for the system yet, so it’s like sailing through uncharted waters. My goal is to document and collect every GameCube game, variant and demo.
Can you give us a rough count of how many games you have for each system?
All right you asked for it!… wall of numbers incoming. I keep an excel spreadsheet of the games I have. My totals for each system including variants are like this:
My Nintendo home system breakdown:
- NES – 837 games
- Super Nintendo – 744
- Nintendo 64 – 319
- GameCube – 782
- Wii – 88
- Wii U – 6
Nintendo Handheld systems:
- Game Boy – 320
- Game Boy Color – 294
- Game Boy Advance – 256
- Nintendo DS/3DS – 78
- Virtual Boy - 15
Sega Systems: Sega Master System – 96, Sega Genesis – 550, Sega 32x/CD/Saturn and Dreamcast – 121 and Sega Game Gear 232.
Other Systems: Playstation – 192, total Xbox — 71, Atari 2600/7800 – 211 and Turbografx – 13. Plus a random 20 or so for systems not mentioned above.
To sum all that up, I own complete sets for the NES (minus one game), SNES, N64, Gamecube, Virtual Boy and Sega 32x. I’m working on completing my sets for Sega Master System, Genesis, Game Boy and Game Boy Color. I’m sitting at around 5200 games total.
In addition to your impressive games collection, you also own lots of gaming memorabilia. Please tell us about some of your favourite items.
I wouldn’t say that I have a ton of gaming memorabilia, but a couple of my favorites are my painting print above the TV and the NES Zapper Lamp.
The painting above the TV is called “No One Wants to Play Sega with Harrison Ford” and it’s by a talented painter by the name of Brandon Bird. All his stuff is pretty amazing, it often involves 1980’s celebrities in unusual situations. My favorite part of that painting is the disappointed look on Harrison Ford’s face while he’s standing in his socks…. he just looks so defeated, it’s priceless and makes me laugh every time.
The Zapper Lamp is something I built. I’ve seen similar things like that online, so I thought I’d try my take on it. It was fairly easy to build. I removed the wires from a NES Advantage and Zapper gun. I then found a lamp and threw out the outer shell. Drilled a hole through Advantage and gun, fed the wire through everything and used hot glue as an adhesive. Then glued perler bead art for the lamp shade and I was done. I’m really happy with how it turned out.
Oh, also ROB the Robot Operating Buddy. I can’t forget about him. A brief history on ROB. He’s an official Nintendo product that came out with the launch of the NES in 1985. He’s designed to hook up to the NES and play games with you. Sadly, it only works on a couple carts, Gyromite and Stack Up. That hasn’t stopped me from trying to teach him to play others. I’ve had very mixed results with this…. ROB is terrible at Legend of Zelda.
There really is nothing like playing physical media the way it was intended. Sure anyone can find roms of old games on the internet and play them on the computer, but it’s just not the same.
What advice do you have for people considering collecting retro games?
To me collecting games is a fun hobby. It hits my personality in a more than a few ways. The interesting history of the companies. The hunt and thrill of finding that rare gem. My ingrained desire to organize and display. The active retro gaming communities and friendships made through them. Oh, and of course the entertainment from actually enjoying the games themselves.
Just because a game is old, doesn’t mean that doesn’t hold a ton of replay value. It doesn’t have to break the bank either. Games can be found for cheap, just check around your local area. Also sign into a retro gaming community and join the conversation. Tons of great knowledge from a variety of different topics can be acquired this way.
What do you think of the Wii U? Do you see yourself collecting for that system in the future?
I’m having fun with the Wii U. I just completed Super Mario 3D World. I’m working on Pikmin 3 and Zelda: Wind Waker HD. I’m really looking forward to downloading NES Remix. I can’t wait for Mario Kart 8 to come out. So overall I’m happy with it, but I can understand the criticism that some people have about lack of 3rd Party support and how the GamePad isn’t always well utilized. I can see collecting for it someday in the future, when used game prices come down.
Likewise with the 3DS?
3DS is fantastic, with such a large user base and amount of quality games I can see the system having a great deal of collectability in the future. It’s amazing that you are already seeing a few rare titles for the system. Cave Story 3D being a good example of that. I’ll maybe collect for it someday, but I think there’s a sweet spot for when to pick up games to collect. The best time to buy is before something becomes “retro” but also while games are considered last generation and old hat. So for Nintendo systems that would be Gamecube/GBA now and someday soon the Wii/DS era.
Can you say, in a few sentences, what’s special about these classic videogames, and do you think it’s important that future generations keep the tradition alive by collecting and retaining this physical media?
There really is nothing like playing physical media the way it was intended. Sure anyone can find roms of old games on the internet and play them on the computer, but it’s just not the same. There’s something special about playing on an old CRT TV, blowing on a cart to get it to work and beating a game with authentic controller in hand. It’s the way these games were meant to be experienced. The pinnacle of 2D gaming can be found on these old platforms. Many of these games haven’t been re-released on modern machines and are just waiting to be discovered by new generations of gamers. The history of video games is awesome, because it’s a history that can still be experienced first-hand.
We'd like to thank Aaron Norton for his time.
Ninterviews are a series of interviews where we get to know interesting people with a passion for Nintendo. Please contact us if you have any suggestions for future Ninterviews. Click here to see the full series.