Soapbox features enable our individual writers and contributors to voice their opinions on hot topics and random stuff they've got on their minds. Today, Gavin ponders why he's spending time and money importing Nintendo curios from the East that he's not even sure he'll play...
It all started with Morita Shogi 64.
If you're not familiar, that's a shogi game (Japanese chess, if you like) for Nintendo 64 developed by SETA. Naturally, it never saw release in the West, what with it being a sequel to a Japan-only launch game and showcasing a Japanese chess variant. That's no slight on the fine game of shogi, just an acknowledgement that if you're going to release a chess-like game on the intentional market, best for your bottom line to make it plain old chess.
Morita Shogi 64 came on a unique style of N64 cartridge (or 'Cassette' as they were known in Japan — I always liked that). A bulging protrusion on its rear side allows for a little internet cable slot on top. Yes, if you hooked up your game to a phone line, you could play shogi online on your Nintendo 64 back in the late '90s.
As you can see, it's pretty neat. And being 'pretty neat' is all it takes to get someone like me to dive onto eBay and start hitting 'Watch' on lots of things — that's where the trouble starts.
As many of you will have no doubt experienced, all it takes is an innocent tap of the 'Add to Watchlist' button and nine times out of ten you'll soon receive an offer with a modest discount — typically 5-10%. It's not much, but if the item is already reasonably priced, it's a surprisingly tempting tactic to get you to pull the trigger on something you really don't need but which is, yes, pretty darn neat. 10-20 days later (typically), the best type of package arrives at your place of residence — a parcel from Japan.
If you've never bought an item from a Japanese seller, it's no exaggeration to say that the care and attention lavished on even the smallest parcel is, generally speaking, a cut above sellers based elsewhere. Don't get me wrong, I've received beautifully wrapped, properly protected items from other countries — and I'm certain it doesn't apply to all Japanese sellers — but I've yet to receive anything that hasn't arrived in perfect condition, neatly and precisely packed.
And that beautiful Japanese customs label makes the whole thing feel luxuriously exotic, too; forbidden, even. These mysterious video game jewels were never intended for the lowly, sweaty-handed likes of me! That 'Not For Resale' stamp on every Japanese Nintendo game I own is proof positive that this particular item shouldn't be in my possession. What can be more tempting than that?
So, I carefully sliced open the parcel, peeled off layers of expertly-taped bubblewrap, and finally held my illicit prize aloft. Yes! I now possessed Morita Shogi 64.
And on my shelf it went. I think I fired it up once just to check it worked, but I honestly don't remember. I was probably willing to trust that it was in full working order. The terrible truth is that it really doesn't matter.
Most game purchases I make will definitely get played. The NTSC version of Wave Race 64 was a real education in PAL slowdown that just had to be sampled, and I fully intend to enjoy every last one of the JP Game Boy games I've acquired when I get an afternoon to myself. Sin & Punishment was an even more essential pick-up — a seminal Treasure rail shooter that never released in the West. Well, except on Virtual Console on Wii. And Wii U. And on Nintendo Switch Online a few months after I shelled out for the NTSC cart. Hey, that box art though, amirite?
My latest import arrived recently. Following on from Zion's amazing EarthBound video and the accompanying 'Mother's Day' articles Team NL assembled in early May, I decided to finally pick up the N64 'Definitive Edition' of Mother creator Shigesato Itoi's fishing game, Itoi Shigesato no Bass Tsuri No. 1. What can I say — I liked the look of the yellow cover, and the idea of Itoi-san teaching me to fish appeals.
Fishing (the real-life variety) is something that started appealing to me over the last few years. I suddenly realised that the idea — for most fisherpeople — isn't to head out onto the water and 'hunt' a lunker while wearing a funny hat, but rather to sit in the sunshine, breathe in great lungfuls of fresh air, enjoy the sound and motion of the lapping water, and tap your foot on a cooler of glistening, ice-cold tinnies. Fishing, as I see it, is an excuse to get away from it all in the great outdoors; bagging some dinner at the same time is an optional bonus.
The very small amount I know about fish and fishing, however, comes from Ocarina of Time and Animal Crossing. With this in mind, I thought perhaps the genial Itoi-san could introduce me to the basics before I go to the considerable trouble and expense of procuring waders and rods and all that game, all in the hope of enjoying a quiet beer on a lake. Nobody enjoys putting their fingers in slimy worm buckets, surely?
The plan, then, was to fire up the game alongside the Google Translate camera app — which still remains for me a wondrous piece of Star Trek future magic — and see if I've got what it takes to best the (digital) bass. But if I’m honest with myself, will this ever actually happen? Well, I would have to dig out and set up my Japanese N64, and ideally, I would want to do it through a CRT so lag doesn't hamper the development of my angling skills. So I need to get one of those flashy PVM monitors, which could take a while.
As the guardian of two small humans, I’m not blessed with an abundance of free time anyway. In fact, it's far more likely that Itoi Shigesato no Bass Tsuri No. 1. and its poppin' yellow cover will only ever be enjoyed on the shelf. Which it will! But buying games with little or no intention of actually playing them? I've been there before, although at least I could read the text in those games if I ever get to fire them up.
As if that wasn't enough, I researched the fishing game some more and chanced upon a certain peripheral produced by ASCII specifically for Itoi's N64 angler. Of course, I took one look and before you know it the Watch button had been hit and the offer came through...
It's not too late for me to come back from the edge of this particular abyss. My Japanese Nintendo collection is still comparatively slight — just a handful of exclusives really! Mother 3, Captain Rainbow, one of the Custom Robos, the JP version of Metroid: Other M with the awesome box art, a couple of Famicom Disk System games, a few others. It's tasteful! I haven't spiralled into acquiring the entire 64-bit mahjong catalogue just yet.
Appealing to my Nintendo Life colleagues in hope that they'll talk me down is about as helpful as you'd expect. The aforementioned Zion was as psyched as I was about ASCII's Itoi fishing rod. And let's not even talk about Mr McFerran's collection, often showcased on his enviable Twitter feed. One look at the retro collection housed at Nintendo Life HQ is enough to make any red-blooded retro gamer weep. Weep, and then crack open the eBay app and scroll yourself to sleep in the wee small hours.
X is the latest thing I'm eyeing — once again, primarily because I like the look of the box. Actually, that's not quite correct. X is a thoroughly noteworthy first-party Game Boy release from Argonaut which did incredible things on a system that shouldn't have been able to handle it. I picked up the DSi sequel recently on the soon-to-be-shuttered DSi store, so there's a gap to be filled in my collection, right? "Worth owning for its historical value alone," a colleague reassures me. Yes. As a Nintendo fan, it's surely my solemn duty to have this on the shelf. *Adds to Watchlist*
Play it, you ask? Well of course I could. But it looks awful pretty just on the shelf.
Feel free to share your more exotic and/or inexplicable game and peripheral purchases from other territories with a comment below. No judgements — we’re all friends here.