Nintendo nostalgia pushes buttons of Lawrence gamers

Friday, October 8, 2004

Jenny Reardon picked up "Super Tecmo Bowl" and blew into the flat, gray cartridge. She then picked up a Q-tip and dipped it into a bottle of rubbing alcohol. Despite the warning printed on the game to not clean with alcohol, she rubbed the Q-tip along the exposed computer chip portion of the game.

Magically, her Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, came to life. A minute before, the little gray box displayed only a scrambled screen and the familiar, frustrating, blinking red light.

"I think it's funny that everyone has their own little method of fixing the Nintendo," says Reardon, a Kansas University student. "This is just what works best for me.

Reardon tolerates the inconvenience of the NES, which was released in 1985, because it gives her a sense of nostalgia and takes her back to her childhood. That's why Nintendo -- like mullets, mesh hats, old-school sneakers and throwback jerseys -- is going through a renaissance. What once collected dust in the attic is now cool again. People trade in newer, more reliable systems for the unpredictable NES. eBay has as many listings for NES as GameCube, Nintendo's latest system.

Game Guy, 7 E. Seventh St., specializes in buying, selling and trading used video games. Owner Brian Harris says he's seen an increase in NES sales the past three years and that NES might be his No. 3 seller if he could find an endless supply of systems and games. His once mountainous stockpile has begun to dwindle as the popularity has increased.

"I used to joke that I could pave Seventh Street with all the decks I had," Harris says. "Now I only get a couple a month.

For some reason, this retro appeal is limited to Nintendo. Harris says he did not know why but that Atari and Sega Genesis are almost never bought or sold at his store.

"It's dorm room lust," Harris explains. "If a guy comes to school as a freshman with 'Contra,' he's automatically got some retro cred."

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Adam Long, 16, browses through a bin of Nintendo games at the Game Guy, 7 E. Seventh St.

Jason Briley, a KU student, says he grew up playing Nintendo instead of the other systems, so that's what he plays now. Briley and his roommate traded in their Nintendo 64, the system released prior to GameCube, and accessories for an NES and a couple of games at a used video-game store in Overland Park. His friends now drop by his house just to play.

"I think people like it because it's basic and the controller has two buttons," Briley says. "It kind of levels the playing field because everyone played the same games growing up."

Plus, people just think it's cool.

And when something becomes hip, it automatically becomes valuable. While original Nintendos were barely worth the plastic and metal with which they were made by the mid-1990s, Game Guy now sells an NES for $60. Reardon found her system when she was cleaning out her grandmother's basement, but she spent more than $50 to outfit her boyfriend with a new system. She also paid at least $20 for games for herself.

On Wednesday night, an unopened NES was going for $180 on eBay. A single, unopened, "unreleased" game called "Cheetahmen II" had received 15 bids and was up to $260. Harris says that although "eBay is a crapshoot," collectors get emotionally attached and are willing to pay big money. Nintendo, which has sold 60 million systems, no longer produces the NES.

Harris doesn't think production will start anytime soon. He predicts that other systems like Playstation I, Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 (a system he won't even buy anymore) might become popular in the coming years.

"Right now the college kids grew up playing Nintendo," Harris says. "In a few years, people will probably say that the games for 64 were best, and they'll want that."

But until bowl cuts, flannel shirts and ripped jeans make a comeback, NES is here to stay. Reardon says part of her couldn't wait for the novelty to wear off because all people want to do at her house is play video games.

"People freak out when they see it," Reardon says. "If I leave a game or controller on the table, they go insane and want to play right away."