Whether you're looking for some rare title that nobody's ever heard of or just looking to pick up a previously-played game on a budget, there's science to buying a used video game. Yes, you could go all willy-nilly and toss a handful of game paks into a shopping cart down at the local Electronics Boutique, but the most obvious way of obtaining a used video game is not always the most economical. Allow me to share with you a few rules I have learned over the years about locating and acquiring used video game entertainment.

1) The original version is not always the best. Suppose you're looking for the original 1985 Super Mario Brothers for the Nintendo Entertainment System and you're not interested in the graphical update that is Super Mario All-Stars. The obvious approach to getting this game is to find one of the original game paks* that included Duck Hunt. This game pak is one of the most common, but you'll still pay at least $10 for it at that used game store in the mall. On the other hand, you could take that $10 and buy a used copy of Super Mario Brothers Deluxe, a 1999 Game Boy Color release that includes the game in its original format along with the Japan-only sequel and a number of challenge modes. Similar things can be said for acquiring The Legend of Zelda or the games of the Sonic the Hedgehog series; there are various compilations that include the games in their original formats along with other beloved games from the series and these compilations often cost the same amount used as the original game paks. It's like getting five or more games for the price of one. However, also take note of the corrolary to this rule...

1a) The new version is not always the best. Nintendo has released a port of Super Mario Brothers for the Game Boy Advance as part of its Famicom Mini series. This new version sells for $20 and does not include any new features or graphical updates. Once again, for $10 you can get the Game Boy Color version that includes more gameplay features. Shop smart.

2) Take note of original games bundled with new sequels. A recent trend in gaming is to include the original game in a beloved series along with the new sequel. The preorder incentive for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker was a free edition of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and its Master Quest revision. Link Metroid Prime and Metroid Fusion together to unlock the original 1986 Metroid, or just complete Metroid: Zero Mission to access it. Sonic Adventure DX includes all ten original Game Gear Sonic titles as hidden unlockables. Need I go on? Do some research and see if that game of yesteryear is included with this year's sequel; you can often snag two or more for the price of one new trip to the Mushroom Kingdom, Zebes, Hyrule, etc.

3a) eBay is your best friend. In the grand scheme of things it's easy to find a classic Mario or Zelda game, but what if the silicon object of desire is a game that 99% of gamers have never heard about? Face it, you're not going to find Red Alarm or Panic Bomber on the shelf next to used copies of Mega Man 4 and Bases Loaded II down at the mall. For the more esoteric titles on your wish list you're better off turning to online auctions. In my experience almost every video game passes through eBay and its kin at some point, although you'll have to be patient. I've picked up over a dozen Virtual Boy games from eBay in the past eight months and while statistically that works out to more than one per month, you have to consider that for every fifty copies of Mario's Tennis floating around out there, there's only one Jack Bros. game pak. Use the watch lists, set up custom searches, and check the listings daily. Eventually what you're looking for will come up for bid. Remember all of the online auction rules and policies for safe and trustworthy transactions.

3b) eBay is your worst enemy. If you're looking for someone's used copy of Mega Man for the Nintendo Entertainment System then you probably won't run into this, but if you're shopping online for used game paks from today's modern consoles and portables, be wary of the seller's location. 99% of the time any game being sold from China, Hong Kong, or some place you've never heard of is not a legitmate game pak. It is probably a pirated copy, and aside from the fact that you're most likely paying for something that is either stolen or poorly copied junk you shouldn't be supporting these pirates. Only buy from sellers that are local to you. You'll also save a bundle in shipping costs that way.

4) Know your seller. When you're in a position to negotiate or name a price (online auction, flea market, etc.) take note of who is selling to you. You can negotiate lower prices from people who are cleaning out their closets and are eager to be rid of "junk" as opposed to professional video game collectors and dealers. Always seek out people who don't know what a treasure they have, game-wise. Example: I bought my Virtual Boy and four games (complete with packaging and accessories) for $50 (including shipping) from an antiques dealer. Dealers and collectors will charge extravagant amounts for games; consider the $1,200 that SD Gundam Wing for Virtual Boy commands on eBay. Remember, no matter how much fun the game is and how many memories you have attached to it, at the end of the day you're still just buying a chunk of plastic and silicon. Don't pay so much for a game that, in order to make ends meet, you'll have to huddle underneath it for shelter.

5) Check the return policy. Always inquire about the store or seller's return policy. After all, Dragon Warrior will be no fun at all if the battery inside the game pak is dead and you can't save your progress. Most stores offer thirty day return policies for a refund, but also take note of places offering only exchanges or store credit. Auctions and flea market sellers often have a "sold as-is" policy, a keyword for "if it's broken, it's your problem now". Ask questions and keep all communication regarding the sale. If the game arrives in the mail dead on arrival and you have e-mails from the seller stating that the game works perfectly, you may have options for recourse. And finally...

6) A little love goes a long way. After the long searches, the negotiations, and the actual transfer of funds for game pak, you have your beloved game in your hot little gaming hands. The first thing you should do is slam it into your game console, right? No! Clean that game pak first, otherwise you'll be playing that game with everyone who has ever played it before. You never know how the previous owner(s) treated the game. Yes, it's possible that it was kept in a crystal shrine on the mantle, but most likely it was left to gather dust, then slobbered on by the family dog (and that's why the game was sold to you in the first place). While you'll occassionally find cartridge-based cleaning kits here and there, you can also use cotton swabs, water, and a little diluted rubbing alcohol to clean the cartridge's connectors. Oh, and it doesn't matter what you learned on the playground back in the day: never blow on the game pak. Blowing on the game pak splatters all that germy water vapor in your mouth onto the delicate electronics, leading to condensation, eventual rust, and the return of Ganon. Treat your games with respect and give those used game paks a good home. They're worth it.

* Most used games are game paks, but the same ideas also apply to games on CD.

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