Remember when playing video games used to be simple? There was once a time, long before software updates, micro-transactions, and downloadable patches, when the closest thing to troubleshooting was blowing on your game cartridge like it was an 8-bit harmonica. Fortunately, a few retailers in Toronto still remember and celebrate the early days of gaming; there are three vintage video game shops near campus that no gamer should ignore.
Last Gen, 193 College Street, second floor
Established in 2012, this “little store on the second floor” is a unique spot in the city for nostalgia junkies, thanks to its sale of vintage video games, vinyl records, and cassettes. According to storeowner Joe Laffey, the decision to fuse rare games and music at Last Gen is a reflection of his personal passions and knowledge. Laffey, who has been collecting vinyl since high school and gaming his whole life, will always have a piece of trivia behind any item in store, and is happy to share what he knows.
I asked what he considers to be the rarest item at Last Gen, Laffey procalims, “I once had Alice Cooper stop by and autograph a bunch of his records. I have one on display at the store!” Among other things at Last Gen, you’ll find retro consoles, postcards, comics, and used games spanning from the Gameboy era up until now.
Since in-store space is limited, Last Gen makes sure that all the games, vinyl, and comics they carry are carefully selected and curated. Upon stopping by, you’ll find great games and service with student friendly prices. On my visit, I snagged an out-of-print John Lennon live cassette for only two dollars.
Iceman Video Games, 206 Augusta Avenue
The independently owned and operated Iceman Video Games has been a staple of Kensington Market for over 15 years. Iceman is home to a range of classics and rarities of the gaming world, but also keeps up to date with the latest releases.
What makes Iceman stand out amongst other retro gaming shops in Toronto is the plethora of limited edition and out of print box sets available. From Batman: Arkham City statues to a nearly unattainable Fire Emblem: Awakening, Iceman is your best bet for tracking down that collector’s box set you missed out on the first time around.
Prices can be fairly steep for students on a budget, though this becomes understandable when considering the costs of shipping you’d inevitably pay buying the same item online. As for the coolest item in the store? Iceman stocks the RetroN 5, a gaming console that plays and up-scales those old NES, SNES, Genesis, Gameboy, and Gameboy Advanced cartridges onto your HD television. ’90s kids, rejoice.
A & C Games, 452 Spadina Avenue
A & C Games is a gaming paradise that simply can’t be missed. Boxes of paraphenalia include, but are not limited to, Nintendo Zapper and Guitar Hero controllers, imported games that haven’t yet hit North American markets, and working arcade games.
Fresh off of a new move, manager Jamie Waters shares his thoughts on the store’s expansion in size and popularity. “The move has been a challenge, but one we’ve really enjoyed. It’s a whole new way of thinking to go from having just enough space to put out the important stuff to thinking about what goes where, what looks best, and what will catch peoples’ eyes the most,” he says.
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of A & C is the customer’s ability to rent nearly any title in the store. Not only this, but customers can also rent gaming consoles for very reasonable prices. This means you and your friends can rent a PS1, SNES, or even the infamous Virtual Boy and treat yourselves to a vintage video game night in.
Students have been receptive to A & C’s fair prices and library of gaming oddities. Lukas Adamek, a third year physics major, says, “It’s fun to just go in there and look at all the games I used to play when I was younger.” I ran into Adamek digging around for a rumoured German copy of Pokémon HeartGold to help himself study the language outside of the classroom.
When it comes to the coolest thing in store, Waters is quick to call out the store’s not-for-sale copy of Super Mario Sunshine signed by Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of classic titles like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong. “I can’t help but smile whenever I see it and remember [Miyamoto] always signs his name with a smile,” says Waters.