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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

The Laser's Collecting Column By Michael Palisano

With the advent of new hardware from Sony and Nintendo this year, and the Xbox 360's recent launch now on the books, many questions remain for the video game industry this year. This had led to much confusion, but there's also good news for gamers: this generational transition offers a great opportunity for collectors, as the prices on current systems and games plunges. Now is a great time to start a collection of Xbox, PS2 and Gamecube titles for at low prices. We kick off our new collecting column with a guide to what you should buy now while its still inexpensive, and what's likely to remain cheap.

As a long-time gamer, one of the things that strikes me is the absolute ineptitude of the mainstream press when it comes to taking the long-term view of the industry. Most magazines are constantly looking forward, always ready to trash those long-forgotten titles and systems that came outů last month. What's forgotten in all this hype and hoopla is the fact that your average everyday gamer can't afford to buy 25 new games a month at full price, let alone play that many. However, that's exactly the atmosphere that most professional reviewers exist in, and this fact leads to a disconnect with the average gamer out on the street. Most players are lucky to get one or two games a month, or horror of horrors, wait until those expensive games come down in price, several months after release. Of course, waiting a few short months saves you money, but gamers this generation have been rewarded with "Special Editions" that include extra content, both Sega's Virtua Fighter 4 and Capcom's Devil May Cry 3 were re-issued in these modes with extras. While it remains to be seen whether the original or special editions become more desirable over time, most players should be happy with one or both versions. However, there are usually loads of titles that never appreciate in value that much. The most obvious example of this phenomenon are sports games, which plunge in value after the next season starts. However, there are exceptions to this rule as well. Sega's College Basketball 2K3 for the Gamecube was printed in extremely limited quantities and has thus become one of the console's most desireable games amongst collectors. So you always need to look before you buy. As it stands now, however, it's definitely a buyer's market - most stores are beginning to close out most of their older games, but there are still plenty of games out there, making it easy to amass a decent library for a good price. There are a few rarities beginning to emerge, but most can still be had for a reasonable amount of money.

With so much attention paid to the Xbox 360's launch, the original console seems to be falling by the wayside much faster than expected. New releases are beginning to dry up, while more recent titles have been quickly reduced. Some examples: Activision's Gun was only released a few months ago and has already been widely discounted, along with King Kong and several of last year's more notable releases. Surprisingly, AAA games like Prince of Persia 3 and The Warriors have also been reduced, making a sure sign that the system is beginning to march towards its collecting afterlife. Many of the earliest launch period Xbox titles like Munch's Oddysee, Blood Wake and Dark Summit offered solid gameplay, and can now be had for anywhere between $5 and $10.00 at most retail locations. The Xbox was also home to many smaller titles from obscure publishers, some of which may become highly sought after. Titles from companies like Dreamcatcher, Metro 3D and XS may not have the broad appeal of EA games, but they'll probably be the ones collectors will be searching for in the not too distant future. One high profile publisher likely to increase in value is SNK, which has produced several Xbox editions of its Metal Slug and King of Fighters series, expect these to at least retain their current value.

One not-so-obvious title gamers might also want to look out for in the same price range is Malice, originally used in the first demos of the consoles, Malice wasn't released until several years later, and was a decent, if unspectacular game, though collectors will probably want to check it out for its historic significance. With the Dreamcast collecting field beginning to emerge, it's not to early for Sega fans to begin collecting some of the Xbox updates. Jet Set Radio Future was a really cool follow-up, and was packaged with the console for a short time, making it relatively cheap and a nice first choice for the beginning collector. Other Sega titles might become much more in-demand over the next few years, with Toe Jam & Earl III, Out Run 2, Panzer Dragoon Orta, House of the Dead III and Shenmue II, these are all Xbox exclusives that will likely increase in value. Sega also released several Sonic compilations for the console, as well as some interesting original titles. The best of these are Otogi and its sequel, which offered some brilliant graphics and visuals to compliment their action packed gameplay. Of course, no Xbox collecting guide would be complete without mentioning Steel Battallion, the monstrous mech command game as famous for its controller than anything else. One caveat with this series, you should try and get the sequel for a complete collection, and the game remains quite expensive and is likely to remain so, especially for one that's complete in its original box.

Speaking of special packaging, several high profile titles like Halo 2 and Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory were released in limited collector's tins at launch, and while this is purely speculative, these limited runs will likely increase in value rapidly as the supply diminishes. Speaking of limited runs, the Xbox was home to at least two high-profile instances where the game was pulled from store shelves due to controversy. Kakuto Chojin was an awful fighter that was cut off from stores, though there were already so many copies in print, it's likely that the game won't appreciate much in value. The same may not be true for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and the GTA: Double Pack that were taken off shelves following the infamous "Hot Coffee" controversy last year. While both games had high print runs, many stores still won't carry or trade-in the older versions with the "M" rating, making these harder to come by. You can still get these Rockstar titles relatively cheaply online, so you might want to consider the Xbox versions for future rarity. The PS2 version of GTA: San Andreas was on the shelves for nearly a year before being pulled and is likely not to be as valuable in the future.

As the dominant console of the era, you'd probably assume that the Playstation 2 and its games probably won't be as valuable as those for the two less-popular console. This seems logical, but the enduring popularity of the NES and Atari 2600 as opposed to their less-successful competitors, the Sega Master System and Intellivision belies this theory. Since it has the largest library and most diverse selection of games, the PS2 will likely be a collectors' dream for many years to come. While many of the system's high profile releases are likely to remain common for a long time, many others received limited print runs are probably going to be highly collectible. There were tons of RPG's made for the system with some really solid titles from the usual suspects like Square-Enix and Namco heading the list. Most of the Final Fantasy games are likely to be easy to find, but more obscure releases like Full Metal Alchemist and Front Mission 4 will probably increase in value as demand increases. Going for the more obscure RPG companies, Atlus' titles from Nippon Ichi seem to be in consistent demand, so games like Disgaea, Phantom Brave, Makai Kingdom and La Pucelle Tactics are probably safe bets. Sony also released their share of solid RPG's with Wild Arms 3 and Arc the Lad Twilight of the Spirits likely to keep fans of those series happy. One of the more interesting phenomenon of the current generation has been Ico and its sequel Shadow of the Colossus, both of which engendered a strong cult following, meaning both games are likely to keep their value.

While there have been tons of successful games on the console, many solid titles haven't received their fair share of attention this go around as well. As gamers discover them over the next few years, its likely that games like Beyond Good & Evil, Psychonauts, Bunjingai, Gungrave will become more valuable as well. There have been a few games on the PS2 that have already increased in value dramatically. Suikoden II and Rez are two of these and until recently scored big bucks on eBay. However, recent revelations that many of these copies are reprints has put a damper on this excitement, and this may become a bigger problem for collectors down the road. As with other systems, the PS2's library is also cluttered with piles of sports games, so don't be fooled into these either. A number of special edition controllers were released for the PS2 as well, with a cool Gran Turismo 4-branded driving wheel from Logitech and Capcom's SFII control-pads likely to increase in value. Namco also released a special Tekken controller alongside Tekken 5, and this device is likely to become one of the most desired, due to its collectibility and durability. It's the most popular system out there, and is likely to remain a durable cornerstone of many gamers' collections for a long time.

Despite its third place finish this time around, Nintendo's legions of fans will likely keep the Gamecube flame burning brightly for many years to come. While the N64 hasn't caught fire with collectors the way that NES and SNES have, this system's more accessible controllers and standardized boxes will probably help it long term. A solid library of games will probably satisfy collectors with its surprisingly diverse lineup. Despite being stuck with the kiddie-system label, the Gamecube has hosted a number of successful games for adult gamers over the past five years. The most successful of these was Resident Evil 4, which represented a landmark reinvention for the series. Alongside this high profile release, Capcom released the excellent and under-rated Resident Evil 0 early in the console's lifespan also re-issued the first three titles in the series, making for a nice set if you want to seek it out. Several companies also released high-profile installments of their popular franchises on the 'cube, with Konami's Metal Gear Solid remake, the Twin Snakes, and Square's Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles making for some fine gaming. Other high-profile third party releases such as Killer 7, PN 03 and, Viewtiful Joe will also likely remain popular over the next few years. NEC tried a short lived comeback a few years back, and its sole release on the system, Tube Slider was a decent F-Zero clone likely to become much more valuable, especially for Turbografx collectors. However, the majority of the console's power came from Nintendo itself.

Any console that calls two unique Zelda titles home definitely has something going for it. Even though Wind Waker's cel-shaded graphics and cutesy style alienated a lot of gamers, there was still enough magic left to make this a solid play, and the upcoming Twilight Princess' older skew should balance this off with older players. Nintendo also released several bonus, premium discs for these games that included older installments, which are sure to grow in demand among collectors over the next few years. Mario has always been a company mainstay, and the Mario Party titles will likely remain high in demand as the console ages, along with the sports titles. The company also released several odd games such as Eternal Darkness, Pikmin and, Luigi's Mansion that players should check out. Of course, high profile franchises like Kirby, Star Fox, 1080 Snowboarding and Wario all got their due on the system, which means it has a solid lineup from the start. Several more obscure titles on the system are also worth checking out from both a collecting and playing standpoint. Alien Hominid was a cool side scrolling platformer while Sega's Billy Hatcher was a wickedly cool chasing game. Nintendo also released a number of cool peripherals for the Gamecube, the most useful of these being the Game Boy Player, which lets you play most GameBoy, GameBoy Color and GB Advance titles on a bigger screen. This device is likely to become highly desirable over the next few years, and since its been discounted, makes an excellent add-on value for the GCN.

While only time will tell whether the games you end up with will be the next mortgage payment like the Saturn's Panzer Dragoon Saga or another forgettable, nearly worthless doorstop like Bubsy 3D on the PlayStation, we hope our quick guide gives you some insight in what we think might become popular. Of course, there are no guarantees, but the trick to really collecting for enjoyment and profit is to buy games you personally enjoy. You can get the popular games, but also don't forget buy that weird game on the discount rack, you never know, you just might be able to retire a few years early.

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