Why Japan's Most Famous Retro Game Shop Matters More Than Ever

Japan's retro shop has faded from its previous glory, but it still has an important role to play.

For all the love it still gets, Super Potato also tends to get spoken of in the same terms as Tokyo Game Show. Among enthusiasts, both are seen as once bright lights in Japanese gaming that have faded over time. When the iconic retro collector's shop comes up, it's usually to lament how it's been picked clean by tourists.

Still, a trip to Japan isn't complete without a trip to Super Potato; so off I went, apprenhensive about what I would find. The first thing I noticed as I walked in amid the cacophony of retro music and sound effects was that the Virtual Boy was broken. The goggles looked battered, and the screen was covered by a note. No need for my usual bout of motion sickness, I supposed.

Outside of the Virtual Boy, Super Potato was mostly its old self. Famicoms, Super Famicoms, and other old consoles shared shelf space with old computers. The display cases offered seemingly innocuous western games from the 16-bit era for ridiculous prices, though Maximum Carnage was nowhere to be seen (I later found it in Osaka for the low, low price of $1500) Some of the shelves were loaded with plush toys and other souvenirs to hide the fact that they weren't as packed as before, but there were still plenty of games ranging from the Famicom to the PC Engine to the original Xbox and PlayStation 2 to be found. For the casual collector, Super Potato is mana from heaven.

And that, ultimately, is what I am - a casual collector. I've lately become more interested in trying to get as authentic a retro experience as possible - an interest spurred by the wonderful Mega Man Legacy Collection and Jeremy's own growing collection - but more out of base nostalgia than anything else. When I look at Super Potato's shelves, it's more to find old favorites - the Rockmans, Zeldas, and Marios - than to find a super rare gem.

But the thing that strikes me about Super Potato is not what it offers, exactly, as much as how it presents it. Super Potato is one of the few retro game shops that I can think of that also doubles as a kind of shrine to the hobby itself. Visiting the Osaka Super Potato today, I found myself smiling at an old commercial for the Famicom's Super Professional Baseball while another television counted down the ten best Famicom games. Familiar music played all around me. In Tokyo, I went all the way up to the third floor and played a round of Metal Slug X in the shadow of a Solid Snake statue wearing a Mario cap.

You could say that Super Potato is a museum as much as a shop - a place where hobbyists can engage with the medium in ways that go beyond picking through old games. More importantly, it's a great starting point for those who want to explore its history. True, you can buy a Retron 5 and some old games off the Internet, or even just download a ROM off the Nintendo eShop, but those are items you have to actively seek out. Wander into a Super Potato and it's all front and center, just begging you to pick up a game and start playing. I came so close to picking up a system while I was here, the only thing holding me back being my desire to cut down on the amount of stuff in my house.

Super Potato's role as a window into the medium's past will only grow with importance as the years go by. We're now at a point where gamers in their early 20s see the Nintendo 64 as their formative gaming experience. Soon it will be the PlayStation 2 or the Nintendo DS, then Smartphones and Minecraft. In some ways, we're more in touch with our history than ever - even just the Virtual Console was a huge novelty as recently as a decade ago - but consoles like the Famicom are slowly becoming something that can only be appreciated in the abstract. Cool as retro stores are, most are just a collection of games. Super Potato is the only shop I can think of that captures the novelty and excitement of the mid-80s and early-90s, when the Famicom was still fresh and exciting.

For that reason, I usually try to support Super Potato however I can when I'm in Japan. This time around, I picked up a vintage strategy guide for the original Final Fantasy - the art from that period makes them such great collector's items - and the Famicom Mini release of The Legend of Zelda, which includes a miniature version of that game's classic boxart. They may not be ultra rare finds; but outside of maybe Mandarake, they're not exactly common either. Wandering around Nakano Broadway, I reflected sadly that vintage gaming shops are far rarer than they should be. I suppose that's what happens when the culture at large treats our hobby as disposable.

Even if it's been picked clean by tourists like yours truly over the years, what Super Potato aspires to be is still important. And so I'll keep going, even if it's only as a casual fan of the medium's history. Anything to keep the torch lit for the next generation.

Tagged with Articles, bitsummit 2016, retro gaming, Super Potato.

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