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The Holy Grail of Video Games - Part 1

Posted 01-29-2011 at 09:57 AM by Ethane

Air Raid for the Atari 2600 is this horrible, completely unentertaining mess of a game shat out by some fly-by-night company during the advent of the great Video Game Crash of 1983. It wouldn't have been considered rash for a gamer to simply toss his copy in the trash after it was apparent that video gaming was dead in that boring spring of 1984. Fast forward to day, and Air Raid is considered one of the single most rare games in all of existence and easily fetches thousands on Ebay. Last year, someone finally found the only known packaging for Air Raid - an empty box - and that went for over $30,000 on Ebay, if I remember correctly.

As far as the mystery behind Air Raid, it's all but over. To be sure this was an exciting time for the retrogaming world, and a lot of money changed hands, but this is more like Coronado's Cross than the actual Grail of unearthed video game treasure. To find out what this is, we have to go back to a bit more recent time, the beginning of the Bitwars.

When the three main 16-bit systems -- the Sega Megadrive (Genesis), the Super Famicom (Nintendo), and the NEC PC Engine (Turbografx-16) were duking it out, Capcom's arcade offerings had the distinct honor of being the de facto benchmark of a system's value and power. At the very beginning when it was just Sega and NEC -- and well before Sonic -- Sega fired up its ad campaign because it now has in its Megadrive library, Capcom's arcade hit Strider. Ghouls and Ghosts was already the darling of the video game review world (despite being a shitty port), but Strider on the Genesis had much more of an impact due to a brand new marketing tactic that gamers began to invest too much concern into: Megabits. Or, to explain, how many of these megabits a game had. Strider had -- count em' -- 8 of em'. 8 megabits is equal to one megabyte. Don't laugh, back in the late 80's and early 90's, a single megabyte was still freakin' huge.

NEXT UP ON "AMERICA NEVER LEARNS" -- video game box art!

The sad fact of the matter is the size of Strider's Megadrive port was far more important to the industry and consumer than the game was. In fact, it -- and the rest of Capcom's current arcade library -- stopped being so much games and became benchmarks. Especially to NEC, marketers of the PC-Engine.

The PC-Engine is a marvelous little game system. It was engineered (lovingly, I might add) from the ground up to be a powerhouse contender against the current market leader, the Famicom (Nintendo Entertainment System). Players wanted bigger characters on-screen, more colors, and better music. The PC-Engine delivered all of these. What's more, it was scaled down to a handheld, the PC-Engine GT -- that used the same cartridges as the console. It was also the first video game console to make use of CD technology for games. All in all, a very progressive little system that did very well in Japan during its lifetime.

That's not to say it didn't have its weaknesses, however. The only major difference between the PC-Engine and the Sega Megadrive in graphical capability -- other than the PC-Engine's ability to be more colorful -- was the background plane. The PC-Engine had only one, while the Sega Genesis had two. The PC-Engine could do a somewhat decent job faking this plane if it had to, but for tour de force graphical triumphs like Strider, that wouldn't cut it. NEC wasn't worried, however. Around the time Strider for the Sega Genesis was announced, NEC had announced the arrival of an entirely new system: the Supergrafx. And wouldn't you know what the launch titles included? Ghouls n' Ghosts and Strider.

If you've read this far, you're probably wondering why in the hell I'm making a blog post about this, much less a multi-part post. Trust me, the rabbit hole on this is deep and from here out it just gets wierder. STAY TUNED, TRUE (and HONEST) BELIEVERS!

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