As I alluded to in my last post, I recently stopped off at independently owned Star Games in San Francisco. Now, I know anyone can buy just about any game, no matter how old or obscure on eBay or Amazon. But nothing soothes my inner collector more than going to a brick and mortar and rummaging. It’s part of the reason I stay away from Amoeba Records across town from my San Francisco apartment. I could spend hours rummaging through the bins there.
While there’s plenty to look at at Star Games (1657 Powell St., between Union and Green streets in North Beach, phone 415.398.4766, www.stargamessf.com), you won’t be doing much rummaging because most of the stock is kept in locked glass cases. But don’t let the display cases intimidate you. They help keep the stock in pristine shape, and if there’s anything you want to look at, they’re happy to take it out and let you examine it. With older, nonshrinkwrapped games, you can even try before you buy.
By far the most interesting thing about Star is that its collection of games for sale contains a few titles from nearly every era of gaming. Yeah, the bulk of the stock is made up of games from the Wii/Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 generation of consoles, but I noticed plenty of PlayStation 2, GameCube, Xbox, Dreamcast, Nintendo Entertainment System, Super NES, PlayStation and all manner of handhelds. In addition to games, a few other items, such as a replica “Gears of War” lancer and what appeared to be Cloud Strife’s sword from “Final Fantasy VII.”
On the day I visited Star, the owner, a French guy named Cyril, was behind the counter. He explained to me that he opened his shop to give gamers an alternative to more corporate stores like GameStop, which every gamer knows dominates the brick-and-mortar, used game sector. Cyril’s ideal market seems to be the nostalgic older gamer and the collector, two categories I fit into. He explained that he didn’t ever want to sell a scratched up copy of a game that may or may not play, so he only buys used games that are in top condition. Looking around the shop, I didn’t see a single packageless title for sale in a generic DVD case, a common sight at used game stores because, let’s face it, kids just don’t take good are of their things.
For obvious reasons, I didn’t ask Cyril to bust out game after game for inspection, but the condition of the stock and cleanliness of the store backed him up, as did the absolutely pristine copy of the GameCube version of “Viewtiful Joe” that I picked up for a cool $10. Which brings me to another point: Cyril and his staff obviously know their stuff. While that makes them great at customer service, it probably means you’re not going to pay anything less than market value for the bulk of the store’s merchandise. The $10 I paid for “Viewtiful Joe” is about the going rate. Similarly, a copy of “Final Fantasy VII” on the PlayStation was $90. While that’s more than the game might fetch on the Internet (particularly now that it’s available as a download for PS3 owners), I’m assuming Star’s copy was marked up because the game was in the original packaging, not the Greatest Hits rerelease packaging.
It would be nice if Cyril paid the same level of attention to his website as he does to his store. I linked to the site above, but it appears not to have been updated in several months, a fate that’s also befallen the store’s MySpace page. In general, both sites could use a lot more attention and a thorough editing. I say this because if you’re checking out that site, don’t let it fool you. Star Games is worth a visit the next time you find yourself in North Beach.
For me, the grandaddy of used game stores is Minneapolis’ Disc Land, an all-purpose games/music/movie store that’s still the first place I’d look if I needed to buy a replacement ColecoVision controller or a power cord for a Sega Saturn. But Minneapolis is kinda far away, and I tend to make it out to the rundown strip mall that houses the store about once a year, when I go back to the Midwest to visit my family. (Last purchase? “Shenmue” on the Dreamcast.) With Network Video in Burlingame and Pandora Games on Santa Rosa’s College Avenue long gone, the only other independently owned store I know of doing the same thing as Star Games is the Alameda Video Game Exchange, and I haven’t yet made it over there.
Hollywood Video-owned Game Crazy, which has stores on Stony Point Road in Santa Rosa and East Washington Street in Petaluma, has a fairly broad selection of older titles. And like Star, they let you try before you buy. But the Hollywood Video near my apartment in San Francisco (which had a puny game selection anyway) closed shop some time ago. Feel free to tell me about any great stores I may have overlooked in the comments. I love poking around stores filled with classic games and hardware.