Practical Retro Game Collecting in 2021

It is extremely difficult to be practical about retro game collecting in 2021. If you’re reading this post, then you already know how ludicrous our hobby has become. For a variety of reasons, the popularity of retro games (especially complete-in-box) is surging, and prices have made a lot of collecting out of reach. I unfortunately don’t have any magic solution to make everything cheap and easy, but I do have a few suggestions about how to move forward with retro collecting in a more pragmatic way!

Retro Collecting pickups in 2021: Genesis 6-pak cart, Zelda GBA SP, New Tetris for N64 complete in box, Turtles Hyperstone Heist, and Wave Race for Game Boy
A few of my favorite pickups from 2021! I managed to get all of these a good deal under PriceCharting value!

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Please keep in mind that I’m someone that “collects to play”. I don’t plan on having any of my games just sit on the shelf forever! I’ve probably completed about 80% of my games, and hope to finish them all someday-that drive is a big part of my collecting philosophies and the tips below.

All that said, this isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide to retro game collecting. It’s a few ideas and tips that have really helped me enjoy the hobby while navigating all the surging prices and interest! I hope it helps you out.

Only collect what you really love

This might seem obvious, but I often find myself swayed by the internet rather than my own gut! Between social media influences, YouTubers, and the power of nostalgia in difficult times, it might seem like you need ALL THE THINGS to be properly retro game collecting. You don’t! What is it that makes YOU happy in gaming? Is it a specific series? A certain console? Maybe a set of games you loved as a kid? It’s different for everyone, and you shouldn’t let anyone else sway your opinion!

Grape purple, fire orange, watermelon red, jungle green, ice blue funtastic n64 controllers
I’m obsessed with the N64 Funtastic controllers, so I had to get a full set! (and am fine passing on other variations!)

My two my favorite series are Zelda and Metroid, and I’m so proud to have every game in each of them. I also just recently started a small collection for Sega Genesis. My library is only a dozen or so games, but they’re almost exclusively the ones I played and loved growing up! I honestly don’t want much more than that.

Metroid: Samus Returns, Zero Mission, and Fusion complete in box
There are very few Metroid games, but I love them dearly!

Another bonus to this is that what you enjoy most may currently still be pretty affordable now! I bought my copy of Mystical Ninja on the N64 at Blockbuster for literally $10 CIB back in the day, just because I adored the game for how unique it was, despite its quirks.

Mystical Ninja N64 box, cart, and Fangamer poster
Who would’ve known this game would become so pricey? Dash-dash-dash!

Try a digital version of the game first!

This is a huge one. With game prices being outrageous, it’s good to try more expensive titles digitally to know if you actually like them or not! A personal example that comes to mind is Ikaruga, on the GameCube. I’m not the biggest “schmup” fan but had always heard amazing things, so I downloaded the port on my Switch (on sale for $9.99). After playing for a bit, I certainly appreciated the mechanics and ideas of the game, but I was just terrible at it. So it’s not one I play often, and I don’t have the urge to pick up a physical copy of it at all!

Ikaruga on Switch played vertically
It IS pretty cool that you can play vertically on the Switch screen.

Since I’ve been on a Sega kick recently, I’ve been eyeing some Sega Saturn games too. But since Saturn collecting is quite out of hand, I’m going to download a few highly rated digital titles on my XBox One before I make any rash decisions! A lot of newer consoles have a treasure trove of retro titles available for purchase on them. My PS Vita, for example, is full of digital old PS1 RPGs that are hard to find physically. And now I can play them on the go!

XBox One S Forza Horizon bundle box
I largely picked up my XBox One S to play the massive back catalogue of excellent games from original XBox, 360, and XBLA!

The Virtual Console on the Wii U is a great place to start if you’re a Nintendo collector (sadly the original Wii VC, which was a gold mine, has been shut down). The Wii U is where I first played both Earthbound and Aria of Sorrow, which are now two of my all time favorites that I did end up buying physical because I loved them!

Wii U Super Mario 3D World Console Box, Wii Gamepad, and Wii U Pro Controller
The Virtual Console is certainly one advantage to still having a Wii U in 2021.

Shop smart, and be patient

If you’re swimming in cash, you’re probably able to charge ahead and buy whatever you want. But for the rest of us, it’s important to shop smart. The old “cheap” methods of buying games seem to be withering (garage sales and flea markets are a rough gig now in terms of “time to benefit ratio”). Given the little time I have as an adult with two kids, I generally stick to two main sources-my favorite local shop, and eBay listings.

Hylian Shield 2DS XL
I had to be very patient to find a good deal on this beautiful Hylian Shield 2DS XL!

I stop at my favorite retro game shop (Bowser’s Basement) at least bi-weekly-they have very reasonable prices, constantly expand their inventory, and I love supporting a local business. My girls have a blast coming with me too! Don’t forget to ask the owner of your local shop if they have a certain game or accessory even if you don’t see it displayed. They may have a trade that just came in, or something in the back for you. It never hurts to ask!

In terms of eBay, I have email alerts for specific things I’m looking for that I check every morning. If something looks good, I’ll add it to my watchlist and go from there! (check out my tips for buying retro games on eBay!). Sometimes I’ll hit a long (LONG) dry spell before anything reasonable shows up, but again, patience is a virtue!

I’ll still be opportunistic if an awesome deal presents itself in another way, but with just these methods I can add to my collection at a “healthy” rate and cost.

Consider carts only

I very much understand the appeal of “complete in box” (CIB) games. Box art is gorgeous and very nostalgic, and reminds you of buying games in the era they released. But prices have gotten truly outrageous for a lot of CIB classic games. You can save an insane amount of money by buying individual carts! And if you want to display boxes on a shelf, I strongly recommend Custom Game Cases. If you’ve read my other posts, you’ve probably seen that my entire SNES collection and a good chunk of my Game Boy, GBA, and N64 collections are housed by Custom Game Cases!

SNES game box art collection
I think my SNES cases look really nice! And they’re super durable!

They do phenomenal work at very reasonable prices. The boxes are sturdy, there’s space for a manual, the cover art looks plenty nice, and there’s a satisfying “snap” opening and closing that reminds me of renting games back in the day! Plus, the spines look wonderful on a shelf.

Don’t be afraid of games in rough condition

I’m a bit neurotic when it comes to cleanliness, both in my retro game collecting and in my general life. I keep our house very clean, often so much so that my wife makes fun of me! So it’s taken me awhile to come around to this tip. You can save quite a bit buying games that are far from minty! There’s a few ways I approach this:

A lot of cosmetic issues can be fixed!

I know Kamal and I both go through a “cleaning ritual” when we add a game to our collection-it’s actually really enjoyable! Check out my tips for cleaning game cartridges if you want some help-a few simple tools and basic cleaning supplies can work wonders! Plus, you feel very accomplished getting a game back in pristine condition.

Old price stickers add to the charm

These used to drive me up the wall, since they’re often so hard to remove! But now I see price stickers as cool artifacts of a bygone time. So I don’t even try to remove a lot of them! Check out this cool price tag on my Nintendo Power guide for Donkey Kong Country 3:

Donkey Kong Country 3 NP Player's Guide
You just can’t beat the nostalgia of an upside-down Toys”R”Us sticker.

Just be careful of carts with stickers on the front label itself-it’s a dangerous game trying to remove them!

Think of it as “adopting” an item in rough shape!

I’m fully aware this sounds silly. But I really love the idea of buying a game or game accessory that needs some love and giving it a “home” in my collection. I feel even crazier now that I’ve typed this, but it helps!

Collect more recent “re-releases”

Games are constantly re-released these days, in a variety of different formats, and often with substantial upgrades! Sometimes you’ll see it directly released by the original developer, sometimes ported by another dev (like the excellent Ocarina of Time 3DS port from Grezzo, much cheaper than the N64 cart).

Ocarina of Time N64 collector's edition on N64 and 3DS
At this rate, my N64 collector’s edition will be able to pay for my kids’ college when they’re older.

Limited Run has more recently been on a streak of re-releases too! My Game Boy Color Shantae should be coming in the mail soon, and I just got this lovely version of Doom 64. Its original incarnation is not only infamously expensive but infamously dark graphically-it’s much brighter on the Switch release!

Doom 64 Switch Collector's Edition from Limited Run
I’ve really been digging the “new but looks old” releases. I have Turok as well!

Like I stated in my classic Sonic rankings post, I’ve never owned a Sega CD. So to play Sonic CD, I downloaded the excellent re-release from Christian Whitehead on my Apple TV, literally for free!

Sonic CD title screen

A bonus to this method is that re-releases often have some pretty substantial quality-of-life upgrades! I can’t imagine playing Sonic CD without the Japanese soundtrack or widescreen support. It’s great!

Play on “authentic” hardware another way!

“Mini” consoles

The NES, SNES, and Genesis Mini are all great options. You’re collecting some OEM hardware and can play a phenomenal selection of games on a quality first party controller! Another benefit is the addition of save states and rewind features, which help soften the crushing difficulty of some older games. Although you risk invalidating your warranty, more games can always be added via hacking too!

Console Wars book with Sega Genesis and SNES mini, and Mario and Sonic pixel pals
Yet another bonus: less space! The Minis are barely as a big as the Pixel Pals!

Game compilations

I love anthologies and collections, and probably own too many. Game compilations let you continue retro game collecting, but with much more “bang for your buck”! You’re almost always going to save a ludicrous amount of money when you consider how many titles are included in each volume. I included several of my favorites below-each has a plethora of classic games that hold up well, and are still pretty cheap to find today, even CIB:

My favorite game compilations: Kirby's Dream Collection, Mega Man Legacy Collection, Sonic Mega Collection, Mario All-Stars, Genesis 6-pak, and Sega Classics Collection
So much game history here!

Another bonus you may find via “collection collecting” is that a pricey game series isn’t for you. This happened to me recently with the Mega Man Zero/ZX collection on Switch. I’d always heard great things so I decided to try the collection when it came out during quarantine. And after playing the games for awhile, I felt they were…okay. Not quite my cup of tea, and not a series I need to collect physical for!

Mega Man Z/X Collection on Switch
It’s actually a great feeling to realize a game or series just isn’t for you before spending a ton of cash. Very liberating!

Everdrives

This is an awesome option because you can play on your authentic hardware with almost zero lag, but with access to a full game library! I’ve yet to pick one up but they’re extremely appealing, especially for consoles with prohibitively expensive libraries (I’m looking at you, Sega CD). They’re popular and consistently out of stock, but if you find one on Castlemania you can use coupon code “THECHOZOPROJECT” to save 10%!

Realize you’ll have to let some things go

This is a tough pill to swallow, but it’s an important mindset. It’s quite literally impossible for any of us to collect every single item we want. I mean, I’d love to get a working, complete, Nintendo 64DD system and full game collection. But it’s just comically pricey and impractical. And that’s okay! I can still enjoy the system through YouTube videos, game museums, and feature articles (if anyone wants to write a 64DD book, send me an email and I’ll back you on Kickstarter Day 1!).

Nintendo 64DD Collection from National Videogame Museum
Visiting this beautiful 64DD display at the National Videogame Museum is the closest I’ll get to owning it. I’m alright with it!

Another that’s “gotten away” from me is Skies of Arcadia. I’ve always heard amazing things, especially from my best friend Kamal. But if I’m honest with myself, I’m no longer the biggest JRPG fan, and since prices have gotten astronomic, I’m okay letting it go and hoping for a (re) re-release.

Will prices ever come back down?

It’s entirely possible, but sure doesn’t seem like it! Who would’ve known this modest hobby of ours would get so out of control? I hope these tips and suggestions help you continue retro game collecting at least to some extent. Best of luck out there!

What tips do you have for practical retro game collecting in 2021? Do you think we’ll see any of this madness slow down, or is it here to stay? Let me know in the comments below!

14 thoughts on “Practical Retro Game Collecting in 2021”

  1. Did anyone else just get really excited reading this article? There’s something about the 1990s that no other generation will get to experience. We were lucky.

  2. In last 12 years at least retro prices have gone through the roof and it’s a hard pill to swallow but there’s nothing much you can do just try to concentrate on getting what you like and sometimes luck is as big a part of anything. Always keep your eyes open you never know when a good bargain may pop up in the craziest most unlikely place.

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Great advice! Those “once in a blue moon” bargains, though rare, can definitely still be found if keep searching for them.

  3. Also, love the photos in this post. Love the 6-pak in all its pragmatic, filled with killer games glory.
    Love the clean, boxed Hyperstone Heist.
    Love the 64DD because when Nintendo makes bad hardware decisions, they shoot for the moon.
    And lastly, everyone loves seeing the Switch in TATE mode!!

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Thanks Kamal! I didn’t even realize how much nostalgia is packed into these photos until I scrolled through the entire thing at once :).

  4. Pragmatic game collecting in 2021 is being aware of what is at the top of your list and being “at peace” with the way you choose to play.

    There’s no wrong answer here: if you’re able to play the game and you’re happy, mission accomplished! We’re all here to have fun and not judge how you choose to enjoy a work of art.

    Buying an older title digitally not only gives you a taste without the immense spend for a physical title, but encourages publishers (Thank You Microsoft!) to provide avenues to enjoy content well past three original console’s lifespan.

    Fact is there’s a “consensus” among the gaming/YouTube/IG community of what games are considered “best” and must haves and while some are spot on, it’s not universal. Like Zach said, you’re not going to like every game that’s considered top tier and that “gaming consensus” often misses titles completely. This is good for you and me because we can buy CIB or loose copies of a game for, you know, less than a kidney.

    Also consider current or one generation previous to the current to start checking out games. Prices are typically lowest around that time in a console’s lifespan. You pickup what you like before the rest of the world comes in!

    1. Zach Lindemann

      Agreed across the board Kamal! Great advice on looking one console generation back-games there are generally dirt cheap for a good while before the value starts to increase over time (you can even find good deals at GameStop/typical retail stores). Now is an excellent time to collect for Wii U/3DS/XBox 360/PS3, and you can find a plethora of stellar titles both old and new on those consoles!

  5. Can anyone give me advice on how to start retro game collecting? As a boy with a single mother and older brother paying the bills, I’ve had no luck whatsoever. I usually end up getting something like the just about Japanese game only nes, that doesn’t take carts. So any advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanksm

    1. Zach Lindemann

      I would definitely start with the first tip in this post, which is to “collect what YOU love”. It’s literally impossible to get everything with prices as high as they are now, but if you narrow your focus down to one smaller set of games you’re passionate about (i.e. your favorite Genesis games, the Mario series, etc.) it becomes much more manageable and realistic. Gameplay videos on YouTube and digital editions of games can help you get a feel for older titles you have little experience with to see if you like them! And it’s a good idea to check PriceCharting for current going values to see how feasible it is to purchase.

      Once you figure out what you actually want to collect, there a variety of ways to collect more “smart” that I’ve mentioned in the post, like finding re-releases, compilations and collections (I just got the Genesis 6-pak since most games on it are pretty expensive!), or mini-consoles. Going for carts only over complete-in-box also greatly helps! I also have a whole post on tips for buying from eBay that I linked to above, which has really helped me grab some amazing deals as long as I was patient!

    2. Consider what your favorite system is and maybe get the “classic” or “mini” version of it. Maybe you can find an nes classic and hack that to load all the games you’d like? Or just download znes and run the emulator on your computer and pickup a cheap usb controller? Gets you in the game for < $15. Whatever works for you!

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