The only thing we know for sure happens when you die is that they finally leave you alone about your student loans. However, assuming there is an afterlife that serves as some kind of reward for a virtuous life, then we desperately hope that the one we have earned is an eternity spent in the new Game Over store.
Located on the South feeder of 59 between Buffalo Speedway and Edloe, walking into the vintage video game outlet was honestly the happiest we'd felt in weeks. As the sounds of grown-people problems faded with the closing of the door, an old sound took its place.
Perched on a counter with a bar of inviting stools, Cranky Kong turned the handle on his Victrola during the title screen of Donkey Kong Country for the SNES. We remember a magical fall day when we came home from school and found a VHS-shaped package with our name on it in the mailbox. Nintendo Power, which we were a longtime subscriber to as part of a recurring Christmas present, had sent out a short promo for their latest reboot of the Donkey Kong series.
Just being in Game Over, the fifth store in the six-year-old chain, listening to that music and itching to hold that old 8 button controller was enough to make us feel like we did as a child. All you had to do was avoid the meatheads who liked to drag longhairs off the school bus and kick their ribs and then you'd be home, free to uncurse the Cursed Shield and take on Kefka damn near invincible.
That's what David Kaelin, owner of the Game Over chain, is selling. He is selling an experience that is nostalgic, timeless and anticipatory all at the same time. Housed on his shelves is a veritable treasure trove of the entire history of video gaming as we know it. Colecovisions, Atari 2600s, Sega Saturns, the freakin' Philips CD-I, even a Famicom Disk System, which we'd never even seen a picture of before, are all either on sale or for display.
All the signs point to video game developers moving to an entirely digital market as soon as possible. The idea that they can control your purchase long after you've plunked down the money appeals to them for obvious reasons, and they're making bucketloads of cash releasing older games onto new systems to boot. With that sad knowledge, we wondered just how viable an operation like Game Over could really be?
It turns out that it can be very viable indeed. First of all, we had no idea that video game collecting had reached such high levels. Kaelin told us of an Atari game called Air Raid that had gone for $50,000 at auction. Many of his most loyal customers are collectors looking to fill in holes in their collections, and professional listings and pricing guides are available. So the next time you're in the pawn shop or perusing a garage sale, make sure you pick up some of those old electronics because they may actually be worth more than their weight in gold.
Collecting isn't all that is going on at Game Over, though. Not by a long shot. The business on buying old systems such as NES and Saturns is brisk indeed, as are peripherals, adapters for use on modern TVs, and games for those systems. Nostalgia is obviously a big driver for these purchases, but Kaelin also offered a warmer theory.
"The average gamer these days is over 30, and new releases reflect that," he said. "When most of these games were made, it was more than half that number. Buying these old systems is a great way to help introduce kids to video games with simpler controls and more family-friendly content."
He's right, of course. It would probably be a lot easier shelling out $65 for an old NES and a copy of Metal Storm than it would be explaining the moral ambiguities in God of War...or paying the therapy bills.
All these benefits paled, though, in comparison to a revelation we had while talking to Kaelin. As we mentioned, games are increasingly being sent directly to your PlayStation and Xbox. At first this seems like a fantastic thing. Going to a video game store with a toddler in tow is an exercise in testing the limits of your patience. The fact that stores like Gamestop have adopted the ultra-aggressive warranty-selling policies of Best Buy doesn't make the experience any more pleasant, either. So saving time, money and gas seems on the surface to be a win-win situation.
"People think they own those downloaded games," said Kaelin. "They don't. If you try and sell a PlayStation with 200 games downloaded to it, it isn't worth any more than if it had none. The next time a system upgrades, your games won't upgrade with it."
That's where Game Over comes in. They deal in physical, hard medium. For you 950 AM listeners out there, think of it this way. What you download onto your machine is money. What you have in the box is gold. It's yours forever, and no matter how up or down the market is, it will always have some resale value.
It comes with a cost, though. If you're a frequent buyer at Gamestop, utilizing its Power Card when you buy and sell back games, you are ultimately going to get more bang for your buck with Gamestop. Game Over puts a premium on the packaging, so if you're selling to them with nothing but the disc or cartridge, then your return can be a little disheartening. Turning in a collector's edition of the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess strategy guide, a couple of Final Fantasies on DS and GBA, and a copy of Karaoke Revolution complete with the microphone controller and original case netted us only $10.
On the other hand, Gamestop wouldn't have bought half of that stuff anyway, so it's hard to tell which is the better deal from a purely economic standpoint.
Where the mainstream retailers can't compete, though, is in the atmosphere that is everywhere you look in the store. All aspects of video game culture are represented. Not only are you able to buy the systems and games, local artists leave game-themed crafts on consignment. There is a good selection of video game movies and soundtracks as well.
In fact, Game Over stores often host concerts. Bands like the Mini Bosses that specialize in covers of game music have packed the store full of fans. Currently we're trying to interest Kaelin in Mega Beardo, a musician who has translated the famously spacey and high-paced Mega Man II robot themes into soothing classical guitar arrangements.
A true subculture has grown up around video games. In this warm era where geeks and nerds have become the norm, a place like Game Over thrives. Kaelin's love of that culture is reflected in his employees. Most are survivors of Gamestop and Electronic Boutique who thrive under the freedom and laid-back attitude of Game Over. We're also told they're paid better, and thus care a lot more about what they do than your average counter monkey.
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Their excitement is more contagious than that monkey from Outbreak. We had a 30-minute conversation with one employee about Shadowgate, a classic point-and-click adventure game on the NES that, no matter how many times we drop the suggestion into an article (this makes five if you're counting), is never, ever going to be remade, rebooted or even rereleased. Once we'd exhausted that line of conversation, we hesitantly asked if they happened to have a copy of Wild 9 for the original PlayStation.
Wild 9 was one of the more obscure titles made by Shiny, the people who brought you Earthworm Jim. We'd rented it a few times, loved it, but never were able to finish it. It was one of those Christmas list items that we never got, and now we had it for the price of $8.60.
Something so simple can make you so happy, and at Game Over it can be had fairly cheap. If you're looking for miles of Halo and Portal just waiting to be bought, you're better off headed to Target or Amazon. Like shopping at Half Price Books, going to Game Over isn't about finding what you want, it's about finding what you didn't know you wanted (though unlike Half Price, the inventory is computerized and they can tell you if they have something or can get it from another store).
In the corner of the store is a couch, same one we have at home actually, and as we prepared to leave we found our daughter engrossed watching the Super Mario Bros Super Show and tightly clutching a stuffed Sonic the Hedgehog. Through the wares at Game Over, we realized that it is possible for us to share something that made our childhood a bright, wonderful place exactly as we experienced it. That is priceless.