Saturday, January 5, 2013

Independent Game Store Travelogue — Toronto

That guy in black was elated to find a CIB Last Starfighter for the NES.  Elated.
I make a point to look for used game stores wherever I travel. It's often surprising which cities have great local stores and which don't. San Francisco, for instance, has next to nothing of value. Westport, Connecticut, has it beat hands down. (More on that some other time.)

Toronto is apparently blessed with four or five good stores. Since I was in their neighborhood, I checked out A&C Games yesterday. It's a small storefront, but has—hands down—the most varied selection of old games I've seen outside of Japan. I found MVS carts, LCD games, Master System carts, a stack of PC Engines, and the most Power Base Converters I expect to ever see in one room. In one box of loose Genesis games, I found HAL's Space Trouble for the MSX. Nobody seemed to know how it got there, such is their embarrassment of riches. Thinking about it now, I wish I'd bought that...

Bottom left, FDS disks for Super Mario 2 AND Doki Doki Panic. And Falsion.
Almost got Snake's Revenge LCD for the HG101 Archives, but it cost money.
Based on their loose NES cartridge prices, A&C follows the common brick-and-mortar game store practice of pricing up common games while offering rarer titles at a bit less than they'd fetch on eBay. It's a good system, splitting the difference between walk-in nostalgia buyers and collector-dorks like me.

And then there's the faux-nostalgia buyers. The store's co-owner, Chang, told me he's seeing more and more kids coming in to buy games they're too young to remember. They see these legendarily AWFUL games get reviewed on YouTube, then come in wanting to experience the magic of Bad Dudes for themselves. Chang said it's like a gateway drug that leads youth into that retro gaming quicksand.

Indeed, A&C is engaged in some serious retro evangelism. In a basement area separated from the storefront, they've set up dozens of TVs, consoles, and arcade sticks for anyone to use. They ask a mere $5 a day for this. Weekends are blocked off for tournaments of various kinds, mostly fighting games. Chang said he wants to foster a tournament gaming culture in Toronto, and seems to be having some success. A&C hasn't set up actual arcade cabinets yet, but have an MVS, a Simpsons, and some other machines they hope to plug in soon.

An impromptu Smash Brothers Melee tournament had congealed just prior to my
arrival. In another corner, a father was showing his two rugrats Super Mario World.
The staff was polite enough to let me snoop around the back rooms and check out their stock. I found system boxes piled to the ceiling, everything from Turbo-Grafx to 3DO. A&C seems to buy any old curio that comes their way, including an old Legend of Zelda board game I didn't realize existed, a World of Nintendo retail marquis, and two old Entex LED handhelds.

The whole experience is like rummaging through the basement of a very geeky uncle. It's the video game equivalent to those record stores run out of a dude's house that are nothing but folding tables and milk crates full of old weird vinyl. Except the fellows who work at A&C are a lot friendlier. Anything I wanted to look at was shown to me, no matter how deep in the pile it lay. The staff was happy to answer questions about the condition of this or the rarity of that.

Hospitality is apparently good for business, because I saw a lot of customers milling about—most of them younger than me and therefore less likely to have a copy of Mega Man 3 at home. (Also, I spotted not one, but three women in the store, and nobody leered at them with that Comic Book Guy expression of terror and longing. Hope and change!)

I had a lot of fun just looking around and wish I had more time and money to spend there. I may visit another of Toronto's indie game stores before I leave, but it's awfully tempting to just go back to Spadina and Bloor and score me some Space Trouble.


  1. Wow, I'm surprised a store like that exists. Wish I had one here in the states.

  2. That's pretty amazing! There's a version of that here in Boulder, CO called "Gameforce". No gaming room, but piles of TG16s and everything else under the sun. I've picked up Virtual Boy games from 'em a few times.

  3. A&C Games (and A&C World which is the gaming center/tourney setup a unit over) are simply great. When the last of the arcades vanished from out city (no wait, we have 2 which are in the worst shape ever.... and not technically in toronto)I honestly thought that it was the end of our public gaming gatherings. fortunately when getting back into fighting games during the release of SF4, i managed to discover this place.

    What people need to do now is actually come out and enjoy it. we have the luxury of this kind of setup, but its too easy to be lured into staying home. If we dont support this place, it wont be here to support us for very long...

  4. This is Gar, the other Co-Owner of A & C Games. Thanks for the write up, we were more than happy to show you and anyone around A & C Games and A & C World. We'll continue to do our job and grow the Toronto Video Game Community and hopefully reach further around the world with our Youtube channel and Facebook page. You are always welcome back to the store, hope to see you next time! PS Thanks to everyone else for the comments, be sure to visit us here or online!

  5. Wow great post, i wish i could visit it.I love these kind of stores!

  6. Went into A&C to pick up a TG16 and some games today. Very impressed, nice and helpful staff. Made sure the system and games were all working, let me try out titles before buying. Class act!