Back in the 90’s before GameStops were on every corner and internet shopping was a thing, I bought most of my video games at Toys R Us. I’d pace an entire aisle of laminated game covers, lifting up the ones with cool artwork and checking out the back-of-the-box details underneath.
For every birthday I’d take my money to Toys R Us and repeat this process until I decided on one special game — taking the pricing slip out of the plastic folder tucked away beneath the artwork sleeves, paying at the register, and walking the paid ticket over to the storage area where I’d be handed my new purchase.
Buying a game was exciting.
With Toys R Us announcing the closure of 182 locations nationwide, I wanted to take a trip in the Way Back Machine and talk about some of my gaming memories at the one-time gaming giant of the late 90’s.
I remember going into Toys R Us back in the 16-bit era. They had all of the different consoles assembled behind a glass window, including SNES, Genesis, Turbografx 16, 3DO, and Atari Jaguar. One day, in 1996, I walked back like I always did, pressed my face close to the fingerprint-riddled glass barrier, and something new caught my eye — the Virtual Boy.
The thought of a new Nintendo console was exciting and I couldn’t wait to try its upcoming demo kiosk. Of course, we all know how that one turned out. The console gave me a gnarly headache and made me nauseous, due to its dark backdrop and flashy red lines.
When the original PlayStation “released,” a friend and I went to our local store to see what the console looked like. Little did we know, the console had come out nearly a year prior. There wasn’t readily accessible internet access (thus, no gaming websites) to keep up to date on things and I didn’t start seeing PS1 games show up in magazines until 1996.
I remember walking down that familiar aisle of laminated game sleeves and a small section in the corner was dedicated to PlayStation. We flipped over sleeves for Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Battle Arena Toshinden, Warhawk, and Rayman, amazed that games like Tekken could run on a home console. I never wanted a console so bad in my life.
That Christmas I asked my parents for a PlayStation, Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain, Tekken, and an incredibly bad point-and-click adventure game called Chronicles of the Sword. I was really into RPGs and since Toys R Us just had these artwork sleeves with the back of the box printed on them, I gambled on Chronicles of the Sword based on the art and name alone. I was beyond disappointed.
This wouldn’t be the last disappointment, though.
Like clockwork, I’d take birthday or Christmas money back to Toys R Us, peruse the PlayStation games, and since the internet wasn’t much of a thing yet, judge based on cover art and whatever I gathered from the back of the box. Sometimes the gamble paid off, as Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain’s “vampire Zelda” formula proved to be my absolute favorite early PlayStation game, along with Resident Evil.
Sometimes they were duds, though, like the “setting traps in a mansion” game Tecmo’s Deception, which had a rad haunted house on the cover.
As a big RPG fan, if I flipped over the sleeve and saw turn-based combat, I was instantly sold. That’s all I cared about; knowing I’d get to go home and get lost in a new world with interesting characters and world-ending stories.
It’s how I ended up with games like Beyond the Beyond, Wild Arms, Revelations: Persona, Suikoden, and Jade Cocoon, and more often than not I was pleased with my purchase.
Sometimes they’d mark games down tremendously, and I remember grabbing things like Mega Man 8, Crash Bandicoot, Jet Moto, Coolboarders 2, Twisted Metal, and Tekken for $10 each. My mind was blown by the fact that I’d usually walk in with money and leave with one new game, but instead left with 5 or 6 $10 ones.
Part of me misses those days; the mystery of it all. As GameStop, Best Buy, and Walmart became more prominent, I found myself visiting Toys R Us far less frequently.
I haven’t actually purchased a game at a Toys R Us since those days, but I’ll always have a fond nostalgia for its aisle of laminated artwork sleeves and their accompanied price tickets.
*featured image by The Caldor Rainbow.