By Andy Kidwell / January 2nd, 2017
Have you ever wanted to get into import game collecting but just didn’t know how? Well with today’s article I’ve got you covered! Import gaming can mean many different things to different gamers. A lot of gamers will pick up an import title because their localized copy of the game may have content missing or it might be highly censored. Another group of importers might just think the history of a game or console is neat and want to own tiny part of gaming history in their hands. Some collectors may just want to own something obscure and interesting. Whatever the case may be, today’s entry to import gaming can offer you all three points, and it won’t break the bank. Today we’ll have an in-depth look at Bandai’s Wonderswan which, for many, will be a great introduction to getting your journey to import gaming started off on the right foot!
First, let’s go over some history. Released in 1999 by Bandai, the Wonderswan debuted in Japan and gained popularity among gamers quickly because the handheld had tremendous support from third-party developers such as Square, Namco, and Taito. Also, Bandai owned a lot of anime and manga licenses which allowed them to develop games using intellectual properties from these series. The gaming masses went into a fever pitch to buy new content for the anime and manga they held dearly, and Bandai took great care to make sure these titles were developed to high standards because they knew catering to fans was a sure bet for success.
Bandai also had an ace up their sleeve. The Wonderswan project was headed by game industry veteran Gunpei Yokoi. You know, the guy who worked for Nintendo since the 60s and innovated the handheld market by helping Nintendo R&D create the Gameboy. Yeah, that guy. I still hear the rumor today that Gunpei Yokoi committed suicide after his defeat with the Nintendo Virtualboy, but that is just an urban legend because Yokoi created his own engineering firm, Koto Labs, and turned up at Bandai’s doors with his philosophy that gaming tech should use legacy hardware and be super accessible to gamers and developers alike. If you give a developer tech that has tons of documentation and years of testing already on your side then the people creating content for you will be able to work as productively as you need them to with relative ease. Yokoi understood this very well which made him a true prophet of business, development, and marketing. Gunpei Yokoi died shortly after the development of the Wonderswan began from a car crash, but his ideas stayed strong among the team.
The Wonderswan at an initial glance would seem quite dated. It was 1999 and we had color handhelds coming out on the market with backlit screens. The original Wonderswan featured a black and white screen with no backlight. But because of this, the Wonderswan, although just a tad pricey at launch, was still able to keep costs relatively low enough to pass those savings onto the consumer starting at an introductory price of 4,800 yen, which is about $45 in American dollars. The screen and speaker the Wonderswan used, however, was of high quality so gamers did not have as much trouble with the tech as handhelds used in the past. The Wonderswan utilized a 16-bit graphics chip that made everything look highly detailed, and some of the graphics the Wonderswan games put out were fantastic!
When you hold a Wonderswan it feels solid and complete. Some of my biggest pet peeves with legacy handhelds is when the plastic feels gross and cheap in your hands, but the Wonderswan does not have that in the slightest. The Wonderswan also has amazing battery life. To power your Wonderswan you’ll need only one AA battery. Just ONE. I still find this amazing that one little battery will give you more than enough time for multiple gaming sessions. As mentioned before, the speaker is quite good. You’ll get amazing music from the sound chip and many games utilize digitized voices which are clear and crisp.
It is noteworthy that the way you play with the Wonderswan is different from other handhelds at the time. You’ve got two D-pads on the system. Depending on the game, play either horizontally or vertically. A lot of platformers on the system will have you play the game horizontally, however, some shmups and puzzle games on the Wonderswan will have you flip vertically for a larger depth-of-view. Some games utilize both horizontal and vertical play at certain segments, too. It’s a really genius and simple design which gave Wonderswan even more versatility.
Are you excited about the Wonderswan yet? Well, now that you know about the system, and its history, let’s talk about getting one for yourself! The reason I wanted to start with the Wonderswan is because it’s pretty easy to get your shaking, grubby, game collector hands on one. They also come in many different styles which I will go over in this next segment. Also, since this handheld never saw a release outside of Japan there are a lot of games inaccessible to those who don’t understand Japanese but never fear, I will briefly go over some games that you’ll be able to pick up and play without any language barrier stopping you. So let’s get a Wonderswan!
Starting out, Wonderswans pop up pretty regularly on your favorite auction site. eBay has a lot to offer, and these systems are very durable. So really it depends on the style you want as they come in many different colors. What you’re really looking for is a screen that is not scratched too badly, otherwise, you’ll be fine. The Wonderswan comes in many different colors and styles. At the time of writing this, Wonderswans go for under $50. You might pay extra for a complete in box version, but as long as you’re not paying over $75-$100 then you’re not getting scammed by resellers.
Wonderswan Color is the same system but with a color display. You should make a note that Wonderswan Color handhelds do not play black and white Wonderswan games, and vice versa. The price for a Wonderswan Color is similar to that of its black and white counterpart. You shouldn’t really expect to have to pay more than $50 for one unless it’s a complete in box version. Also, the faceplates for the Wonderswan Color comes in many different styles. You’ll be fine choosing whichever one fits you the best just as long as the screen is not scratched or beat up too badly.
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