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An American Gaming Roadtrip

In August of 2018, my wife and I took a road trip starting at San Francisco, California, and ending in Las Vegas, Nevada. I call it a “gaming roadtrip”, she calls it a “honeymoon”. Each to their own, I suppose. Along the way I stopped at some interesting video game stores and bought some retro classics (mostly NES titles). I did, however, manage to find some PAL games too. Below I’ve listed out what game stores I visited and what games I picked up from each.

San Francisco to Oakhurst

Starting off in San Francisco, I got to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge, visit Alcatraz Island and ride the tram across the hills. Sadly, I couldn’t find any game stores. I didn’t have the car yet so I couldn’t go far from the hotel or tourist areas. After spending 3 days in the city, we got our car and headed for Oakhurst and Yosemite.

Unfortunately this was during the wild fires in California so we didn’t actually get to experience Yosemite (we got to experience the heat though). Oakhurst itself was a nice little town with a few stores but sadly nothing for gaming. We did enjoy 2 days in a log cabin before making our way to San Luis Obispo. But before we got there, we made one stop on the way…

Fresno – Blue Shell Gaming

(Website – www.blueshellgaming.com)

Originally, our plan was to stop at iHob for breakfast (my wife loves their pancakes) but I managed to find a small store on the outskirts of Fresno. When I arrived, I was greeted with a store that was closed down. Luckily, they had just moved to another part of the outlet. The store itself was small but welcoming. There were some glass cabinets with some valuable games (I remember seeing a boxed Japanese version of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night) and some shelves behind the counter displaying a variety of retro games. On the counter was a box that had some NES games that came with the manual but not the box. I thought it was a nice little idea. The owner was incredibly friendly, recommending some other places nearby where we could stop for a bit of sightseeing.

Games Purchased:

  • GunSmoke (NES)
  • Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (NES)

San Luis Obispo – Captain Nemo Comics & Games

(Website – www.captainnemo.biz)

Our next stop on the trip brought us to the idyllic Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo. We arrived just as the farmer’s market was getting underway (which I recommend you go to if you’re ever out that way) and made our way through the little town. That’s where we found the second game store on our trip – Captain Nemo Comics & Games. The front of the store is very deceptive as it looks small but is actually huge inside (it was the biggest store on the trip). Walking through the door you are met with video games on the right hand side and comics on the left. It also has DVDs, music, tonnes of collectibles and hardware too. It’s a geek’s treasure trove hidden in a quaint little town (I really enjoyed the smaller towns on the trip). Starting with the video games, each console has its own section with the games behind glass cabinets. There is a load of choice here but I was limited by the region locks (it’s why I stuck to NES games). The comic book side of the store seemed well stocked (I wouldn’t be the biggest comic book fan) and it appeared to have something for everyone. The staff were friendly and welcoming, if not as chatty as Blue Shell Gaming.

Games Purchased:

  • Bionic Commando (NES)
  • The Guardian Legend (NES)

Anaheim – Video Game Geeks

(Website – www.videogamegeeks.com)

From San Luis Obispo we made our way down the coast to Solvang (if you’re ever in the area, this is definitely a town worth seeing) and then across to Anaheim. Anaheim was probably the hardest part of the journey as L.A. traffic is a disaster. Most of our four days in Anaheim were spent at a particular theme park (cough, Disneyland, cough). On our final day, we went in search of our third video game store – Video Game Geeks. It was located on our way out of Anaheim (very convenient) in a small outlet park. The store is well presented, with glass cabinets stocked with new and old games, and shelving behind the counter. The store also had my favourite feature of any of the game stores I visited, a small window to the back where you could see a T.V. The owner would bring the games you were buying in to the back, give them a clean and then test them to show you they worked. The owner was very friendly and my wife loved his co-worker (a very well behaved dog).

Games Purchased

  • Batman: Return of The Joker (NES)

San Diego – Luna Games

(Website – www.lunavideogames.com)

From Anaheim, we made our way to San Diego for a few nights. The weather was pleasant and the food in the Gaslamp Quarter was sublime. But enough about that, back to the games. On the way out of San Diego, we made a quick stop off at Luna Games. This was the one store I really wanted to visit on the trip as I enjoy Ian & Pat’s CUPodcast. Although smaller than some of the other stores I visited, it was well stocked and like the rest, the staff member was incredibly knowledgeable and receptive. I was drawn immediately to the glass cabinets on the left side of the store which housed the NES games and some hardware. They had a Neo Geo but I couldn’t take the risk with transporting it home. I did manage to grab some NES goodies before setting off towards the desert.

Games Purchased:

  • Battletoads (NES)
  • Ghost’n Goblins (NES)
  • Mega Man 6 (NES)

Palm Springs – GameStop

(Website – www.gamestop.com)

I know the image isn’t a picture of GameStop but it’s Westfield so close enough. At the time we were in Palm Springs, the only game store around was GameStop. We have them here so I wasn’t expecting much of a difference, but oh boy was I wrong. For a start, they had a lot more gaming merchandise and a lot less games. The games were confined to the small floor stands while the walls were full of, for want of a better word, crap. I had heard the US GameStop sold retro games but the store clerks told me it was only available through the website. They did offer me a NES Classic instead, so that was something. One bright side was across the way from them was a cool little Japanese store that sold collectibles and merchandise. Sadly, I didn’t buy anything there either as the items I wanted were fragile and I couldn’t risk flying them home.

Games Purchased

  • None

Las Vegas – Wii Play Games East

(Website – www.wiiplaygameslv.com)

Viva Las Vegas! Well, we finally made it to our final destination and it was bloody hot! On the way in to Las Vegas, we decided to check out Wii Play Games. We chose the east store as I had a copy of Mega Man 5 reserved. The store is almost split in two, the left side containing board games, card games and collectibles, while the right had video games. The games section was very reminiscent of old video rental stores. On the selves they had VHS boxes with the game’s title on them. You brought these cases up to the counter and they got the games from the back. It was a nice bit of nostalgia. I dealt with one lad in particular who was incredibly helpful and had the Mega Man put aside for me. Browsing through their shelves, I did pick up a few more games. At the counter, they had a display case for ROM Hacks. It’s a nice idea to keep them separate. I did spot a Terranigma repro, a game I’d recommend people try.

Games Purchased

  • Dragon Warrior II (NES)
  • Mega Man 5 (NES)
  • Ninja Gaiden II (NES)

Las Vegas – A Gamer’s Paradise

I did have a bit of difficulty remembering the names of some of these stores but searching them on Google helped refresh my memory as most of them are still in the same location. A Gamer’s Paradise, however, has moved so my memory may differ from your experience if you visited it today. At the time it was opposite the Pinball Hall of Fame (and as I was reminded, don’t park there if you’re not visiting it) and next to Press Start. The store was split in two, the main part was the game store, while the other half housed arcade machines for sale. The game store side had shelving full of GameCube, Saturn and PlayStation games, while the NES and SNES games sat behind the counter. This store was also the only one I found PAL games in. The owner had received them as part of a PlayStation 2 trade-in. I actually spent a bit of time talking to the owner about different games, which was nice. Sadly, it was the final game store on my trip.

Games Purchased

  • Dragon Warrior III (NES)
  • Zoda’s Revenge: Star Tropics II (NES)
  • Gex (PlayStation)
  • V-Rally (PlayStation)

Time to head home

Travelling across the state of California and in to Nevada was quite an experience. It was great to also be able to visit some unique game stores and interact with people who are passionate about the hobby. My only regret was not picking up an NTSC-U/C PlayStation 2 but our space was limited and I wouldn’t have felt comfortable putting it into a checked bag. To pick a favourite is difficult. Each had their own personality, from the people working there to the atmosphere within the store. Prices did vary region to region. In one place a game could be $10 more expensive than another but it has to be remembered that I traveled quite a distance. My bargain buy had to be Gex. It cost me $4 whereas here it could be €60+. The most expensive was Dragon Warrior III, which was complete in box, followed by Megan Man 5. I think I’ll keep their prices a secret.

I hope you enjoyed my little nostalgia trip. Do you have any memories of a gaming road trip or perhaps you went out of the way to find a particular game. Let me know.

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