Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Magical Chase Conundrum

Everyone cares what everyone else is buying, playing, liking, and disliking, so the quality, rarity, and cost of the US version of Magical Chase are Turbo topics that are never dropped. Those who are actually interested in the TG-16 for its games as opposed to the ephemeral delight that can be had from stocking trophy cases with chips and boxes can't help but monitor the escalating price of the cartoony shooter. Reactions to the madness have varied. Some people wave their fists at their computer screens in anger, some roll their eyes in disdain, some shake their heads with great somberness, some scoff at the ludicrousness of it all. All share in the disgruntlement, but there hasn't been as much commiserating among the ranks as one might expect. Instead, accusations regarding the motivations people have in defending or defaming the game are hurled about. Some who aren't fond of it claim it garners more attention than it deserves due to its perceived rarity and that owners of the card would never make themselves look the fools by slating a game they spent wads of cash on. Some who adore it claim the title wouldn't receive a shred of the criticism it does if it weren't available only at bloated prices. A point occasionally lost in the tussling is that there are a good number of folks who genuinely like, dislike, or are indifferent to the thing.

As is made quite clear in the review of MC that I've posted on this site, I've cast my lot with the not-enamored-of-it crowd. Any ulterior-motive accusations would prove baseless in my case, as I do own the US version of the game and I've lauded other expensive TG-16 products. Besides, attributing my dislike for MC to cost- or collector-inspired disgust would suggest I'm utilizing some sort of structured reasoning in arriving at my verdicts on Turbo titles. Certainly, the zany opinions I've been passing along here for years should serve to dismiss that notion.

While the reasons behind my status as a non-fan are of the pure, no-hidden-agenda kind, I definitely do have some fond recollections of my experiences involving the chip. It was quite the memorable morning that saw me brave a snowstorm to pick the damn thing up at the post office (true story). Understand I would will my way through torrential downpours, lava showers, massive earthquakes, and asteroid strikes to get hold of the meanest Super Momotarou Dentetsu-caliber TurboChip; there was no way I was going to let a few fluffy flakes cause my Magical Chase to stand idle in a musty parcel-filled backroom. Once I managed to bull my way back home, I powered the game up and played right through it. I believe I've even revisited it a few times since then. But sessions with the card aren't prominent in my memories; the act of acquisition is what stands out--and certainly not just for the brutal-blizzard aspect.

Witch hunts held to find and belittle ill-intentioned, non-Turbo-playing Magical Chase owners have never resulted in any late-night knocks on my door. The mobs have let me be--and for good reason, I would say. My copy has not gone unplayed, and I think my status as a "true TG-16 fan" has been solidified by now. I do believe that the "joy" I've derived from obtaining and owning the game is somewhat different in nature from the elation felt by any given materialistic collector who spends a significant amount of cash merely to acquire and display a highly sought-after trinket. To be sure, the path I traveled to MC ownership was anything but identical to the routes traversed by most cash-flinging game gatherers. But the fates of our respective copies, as well as the reasons behind our respective purchases, might not differ a great deal.

People like to have some sort of end in sight for any activity they take on or task they lay out for themselves. Video-game collectors, be they of the passionate, "just hand me the damn chip" player type or the mint-condition-box-hunting hoarder sort, set particular benchmarks for that very reason. A common aim to strive for in recent years has been the acquisition of the entire library of US Turbo titles. It wouldn't do just to strive to obtain all the enjoyable games that are available for the system, as there is no set enumeration of said games. And it wouldn't do simply to target all the games produced by a particular well-regarded company, as that in most cases wouldn't make for a lengthy quest or one of much challenge. Perhaps most importantly, few if any other people are undertaking such endeavors. So procurement of the full set of officially released US titles is the typical goal to shoot for, as set-in-stone parameters exist, the journey will not be of the unchallenging or inexpensive sort, and other people sure would like to achieve it too.

Plenty of reasons are presented by would-be Turbo monopolists to explain their chip-and-disc-nabbing adventures. Their motivations certainly have no relevancy when it comes to my own PCE-related escapades and don't incite much reaction at all from me these days, but I can't help but be concerned about the mental well-being of any poor fellow hunting only for stateside releases. It's disturbing to think of the outstanding titles that are disregarded in favor of products purchased simply because there are other folks out there who really would like to own them.

Magical Chase vs. good PC Engine games

Of course, the above-displayed screen columns serve more to poke fun at Magical Chase than to make any sort of significant point (and I'm sure there are those who'll howl that they prefer the MC puff-monster to the Spriggan dragon mecha anyway). There are very few nutcases around who have shunned the entire PC Engine library as they've gone about their US-grail crusades. Yes, most Turbo players today have the good sense to embrace a quality title regardless of its hemisphere of origin. But common sense is a damnable thing for some. With it comes awareness that the Japanese version of MC can be had for relative pocket change--an inconvenient fact for those who are in pursuit of the US rendition but swear by the "I simply want the chance to play the game on real hardware" mantra (and let's not BS around regarding the swapping out of colored blocks for wooden bridges in a single level).

I'm not out to judge anyone. After all, if our meritoriousness as "true TG-16 fans" were evaluated on the frequency with which we give each of our games a go, my grand collection would likely be the first to be declared the property of an unworthy owner. Life simply doesn't afford me the time to pay regular visits to individual members of my library. I'm sure that the same holds true for many other true-blue Turbo players. And so my Magical Chase and quite a few other Magical Chases have nice, tidy homes where they're cherished and appreciated--and by and large left to rot.

But again, people have their own specific reasons for wanting to own the game. At this point, they could be looking to utilize it as a colorful Christmas-tree ornament for all I care. But I do find one regularly presented explanation rather disingenuous: that owning the entire US library would fulfill some sort of childhood dream. Sure, obtaining all 138-odd Turbo titles seemed quite the out-of-reach proposition for many an allowance-saving, lawn-mowing teenager back when said titles could actually be found on store shelves. But it was also a notion that any mentally stable young gamer wanted absolutely no part of.

Let me share something with you about most of us back-in-the-day "true TG-16 fans." We didn't sit around dreaming of a glorious future in which we would be able purchase all the slop that NEC was serving up to us. We were frustrated and angry. We knew about the brilliant games that were being released for the PC Engine in Japan. And we knew that we were never going to get localized releases of most of those games despite the occasional false-hope-inspiring magazine blurb.

Some people dreamed about owning the games on the left.

Oh, sure, I was curious about each and every lame-looking US release I would come across screens of while perusing game mags. Sure, I wanted to give every one of 'em a try. I'm always up for finding the good in games, even in hunks of chip-waste. But I really would've appreciated the chance to look for good in Parodius rather than in TaleSpin. Those who differed with me on the matter... well, I doubt such people actually existed. Let's cut the crap. If I'm mistaken and there really were some young lads back then who fantasized about one day owning the likes of the ever-elusive Timeball, well, I offer my condolences that they didn't receive the psychiatric aid they so desperately needed at the time.

There are many folks who present more-reasonable-on-the-surface lines of reasoning in explaining their every-game-or-bust journeys, who stick to their "I shall play it" guns and who truly aren't scumbags more interested in burnishing their games than in playing them (or smarmy resellers looking to do some flipping). I do think there's something about the quests undertaken by these particular people that makes said quests nobler than a sudden, whimsical bored-rich-man's acquisition. It's nice that the objects of the pursuits will actually be played, even if hardly at all in a lot of cases. And most of these collectors of purported integrity will complete their missions only after significant stretches of time have passed. Long waits for something can lend to appreciation for said something. With all of that said...

Call me cynical if you will, but I don't believe there's much difference in motive here. These pursuits are not about playing Magical Chase and its pricy cohorts on real hardware. They're not about fulfilling childhood dreams. They're idiosyncratic in nature. The act of acquisition is what matters here.

Look, I'm not trying to bash any well-intentioned collectors. I myself have already laid out cash to obtain all of the officially released US titles, and I intend to acquire every PC Engine game I possibly can. There isn't any stirring or significant reason for me to do so. Sure, I play each and every game I get. In fact, I play just about all of them through to their ends. And I do work on a web site with the expressly stated goal of providing burly opinions on every Turbo title around. But there are other means by which I can enjoy the games and garner the information I need on them--means I'm not averse to. The fact is I enjoy adding the real deals to my library. It didn't start out that way, and I'll leave the deep psychoanalysis regarding the transition and the true inspiration for my PCE-related activities to the experts. I just know that collecting is fun for me.

And I know all about unobtainables. US Magical Chase? It's small potatoes compared to the Akiyama Jins and Kid's Stations standing between a PCE extremist and his ultimate goal. Yet I've never felt the slightest bit of frustration over the unlikelihood that I'll ever acquire such mythical exist-only-in-whispers-and-heavily-guarded-glass-cases releases. The reason is that these games were out of my reach to begin with. Each first-time glimpse I had of such titles encompassed an accompanying price tag featuring a number beyond my counting capabilities and credit-card limits.

For longtime Turbo fans, that wasn't the case with Magical Chase. It wasn't the case with Dynastic Hero or Super Air Zonk or Terraforming. These titles were available at affordable prices for well over a decade. Other people--typically bored dipshits with superfluities of cash on their hands--made these games virtually unobtainable, which not only makes many old-timers extremely mad but also makes them want to acquire the entire US library even more.

I'm sure that the idea of having a complete collection seemed nice to a lot of Turbo veterans during the lengthy period that it was a valid possibility. One of these years, or one of these decades, some of them might even have followed through on the notion. Completion clearly wasn't of the utmost importance, though; it was a fancy. Only when others (particularly of the asshole variety) made it something much harder to accomplish did it suddenly take on some significance.

The sad thing is that there's an endless cycle at work here. As more and more people grow angry and find their fires for a complete collection fueled, more and more money-loaded psychos will appear on the scene in search of highly desired oddities to toss in with their other on-exhibit novelties. Everyone cares what everyone else wants and thinks and does.

Of course, it's very easy for me to call for some perspective here. I already own US Magical Chase. If my library were devoid of it, would I be angry about the situation? You bet I would be. But perhaps that's the point right there: I've never been known for rationality. You don't want to be like me.

And if you're one of the people in search of a tower-themed-backdrop-hosting MC and I've got you pegged all wrong, if the motivating factor in your case is of a variety I simply haven't considered, well, I wish you luck in your endeavor. Maintain hope. And look at it this way: you stand a much better chance of one day getting that MC than I do of acquiring any of the Kid's Station discs. Rejoice!

And now I should stop worrying about what everyone else is thinking and doing. My time would probably be better spent playing some of those games on my shelves. You get a single guess as to the one I definitely will not be pulling from the ledges today.

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