Hong Kong Game Hunt
by Keita Iida

I had it all planned out. I was to fly out to Japan to visit Kazuko, my wife, and her family for a few days (Kazuko was already there since June of 1997, tending to her semi-ill mother) and then she and I were to embark on a wild and adventurous journey to the African safari. But just as I had finished my law school exams and was ready to pack up my camping gear for the great outdoors, Kazuko called to inform me that her mother was still quite ill, and that she didn't want to leave her for fifteen days (the planned length of our vacation. A short vacation was still fine, she said, as long as it didn't last longer than three days. So we settled on a brief trip to Hong Kong - which her mother graciously offered to pay for (who says kissing up to in-laws doesn't pay :). My head spinning with excitement at the prospect of being surrounded by a sea of Playstation HK CDs, Famicom multicarts, console copiers and pirate 2600 games, I hastily packed and was ready to go. I left for Japan on the morning of Christmas Day, going from New York City to Detroit and straight from Detroit to Osaka. Because of a significant time zone adjustment, I arrived in Japan the next day at Kansai International Airport in Osaka, right around the same clock time I left the States. I finally got to my in-laws' place in Kyoto at 10PM, but there was no rest for the weary as my wife and I were scheduled to depart for Hong Kong the very next morning.....

For those of who have never had the privilege of visiting Hong Kong, wipe away all the stereotypes because it's not what you think. Hong Kong is one of the world's major international banking and commerce centers and is clean, modern and safe for the most part. You can also dispel the notion of stores after stores selling pirated Playstation games because very few places carry them. In fact, if it wasn't for a native Chinese friend of mine who just happened to be there at the same time as myself, I may have returned from the trip empty handed!

Luckily, that was far from being the case.

After going on the obligatory citywide tour of Hong Kong with my wife on the first day, I managed to convince her to join Matt (my Hong Kong buddy) and I for some "shopping." Knowing that she'd blow her lid off if we spent the entire time hunting for games, Matt took us on a blitzkrieg through the main gaming district in Sham Shui Po, located some five miles inland from Downtown Hong Kong. 'District' may not be the appropriate word, since the so-called electronic pirate heaven was situated inside one large building. This is most likely a result of Hong Kong's prohibitive land prices,and the fact that most stores dealing with illegal software prefer being inside a mini-strip mall instead of residing in a more visible area. The latter would most certainly run the risk of incurring the wrath of authorities, who have supposedly stepped up their efforts to curtail the rampant piracy in the country (good luck). A casual observer may not even notice what's inside the building because none of the stores are listed outside, and the only sign on the building says "Golden Dragon Shopping Mall" (or something like that.) Matt mentioned that well-informed gamers were well aware of the building, and it was, to his knowledge, the only place in Hong Kong that had stores selling black market (contemporary) video game software.

Once inside the building, I was treated to pirate heaven. Rows and rows of mom and pop stores were crammed along the aisles, with everything from illegal music CDs, bootleg PC games, console copiers, and CD-R Playstation and Saturn games, ready to be gobbled up by eager shoppers. It should be noted that just about every Playstation and Saturn system sold in Hong Kong is "chipped", meaning they've been modified for use with CD-R discs. All three stores selling bootleg Playstation and Saturn CD-Rs were offering 4 CDs for $6 deals. This, Matt added, was cheaper than he's ever seen them go for. But given prices for just about everything in Hong Kong were depressed as a result of the Asia-wide economic crisis, that fact didn't come as much of a surprise.

Due to my impeccable foresight, I had brought along a 100-disc Case Logic CD holder just for this very occasion. Loading up on just about every game imaginable, I managed to completely fill up the CD holder. With cheap CD-R purchases out of the way (for my friends, not myself.. ummm, that's it), we then hopped on the train to go to nearby Mongkok (and Yau Ma Tei, which is within walking distance of Mongkok) in search of Famicom (NES) multicarts and cheap console copiers.

Mongkok is known for being the bargain shopper's delight. Vendors with booths line each side of narrow alleys, selling everything from fake Polos to junk electronic equipment. The prices of most goods are negotiable, but haggling for deals can be quite difficult if the dealers recognize that you're a tourist. Luckily for me, I had Matt do most of the wheeling and dealing while I randomly pulled out everything from 75-in-1 Famicom multicarts to V64s (A Nintendo 64 copier.) for him to haggle over. The strangest item I witnessed during my game hunting excursion in Mongkok was an NES clone that was shaped like a Genesis! Even more odd was the fact that it was labeled Street Fighter 100-in-1, which meant that it was an NES with one hundred built-in games. And on the front of the system was an artwork of Chun Li getting dragon punched by Ryu! It appeared that the Gameboy was just as popular in Hong Kong as it is in Japan, as just about every booth selling videogames had a bin full of multicarts. The best of the bunch was a 58-in-1 cart that had the games selectable via a menu screen. Notable games on said multicart included Tamagotchi, Pocket Monsters, Game and Watch Gallery 1 and 2, Taito Variety Pack (featuring such classics as Elevator Action, Bubble Bobble and Arkanoid) and Wario Land II.

Although most players have long ago graduated from NES gaming (and why not, when Playstation CDs can be had for less than two bucks each?), multicarts for the system were still out in full force. I was shocked to see some carts with 1998 dates on them! Among them was a 4-in-1 multicart with World Heroes, Mortal Kombat, Samurai Showdown and Kart Fighter. None of these games were ever officially made for the NES, so one can only assume that these are original (albeit unlicensed) programming efforts by dedicated hackers. In fact, aside from some annoying flicker, Mortal Kombat is an astonishingly faithful 8-bit translation of the coin-op. Street Fighter II (titled Stereet Fighter III 56 Peoples), which was sold as a stand-alone cart, is also a decent effort that's probably better than many games made by licensed third-party NES companies. Later that night Kazuko and I treated our friend to a Peking Duck dinner at a restaurant near our hotel as a way to show our gratitude for his hospitality. That wrapped up my game shopping adventure in Hong Kong. And I could have easily spent a lot more time shopping for more cool and unusual game stuff, but that's the price we pay for being married, right? But it was just as well. I needed to hold onto a couple hundred dollars since I still had two weeks of fun ahead of me in Japan before returning to the US. But that's a story for next issue. Ciao.

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Last updated Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:01 PM