Thrifting is a main staple of a retro game collector, and if you’re just getting started in collecting you might be a little overwhelmed or confused when you find gaming treasures at a thrift store. It’s exciting enough to find items, but sometimes upon closer inspection you come to realize that the awesome NES game you found really wasn’t worth the $10 you spent on it, or the SEGA CD you took home is stuffed with oatmeal.
With that in mind I’ve compiled 13 categories of frequently found video games at thrift stores and their accessories and I’ve summarized what to look out for and about what you should expect to pay. There are few other common items not listed here (like Atari 2600, N64 and PS2, and I’ll save that for another day). Whether it’s a non-profit store or not, thrift stores are there to make money and unfortunately they will over price many items, and will shelve items that probably should have made it into the trash.
1. Nintendo NES – Avoid systems that are missing screws. The chances are more screws are missing from the system and the tray is probably cracked. Don’t expect the pin connector to be in good shape unless it’s clear that the system has never been used. A “new in box” (NIB) NES is rare, but they do exist. For a system by itself spend no more than $15. Don’t pay for RFU adapters unless they are $2 or less. Original power supplies – $5 or less. Original controllers if in perfect and new, spend no more than $7, no more than $4 if used but the buttons have a good click to them. Avoid anything with pet bite marks. Add $2 more if they are the dog bone controllers. If it’s a Vaus controller and it’s in good shape, spend up to $8. For the PowerPad, unless it looks perfect and unused spend no more than $10. Grey Zappers keep it under $8 and orange keep under $5.
2. NES Advantage Joystick – the buttons on these sticks are notorious for sticking. Even with gentle use they will stick. The rubber membranes under the buttons wear out very fast. Outside of collecting one of these to say you’ve ‘collected one of these’ pass on all NES Advantage Joysticks unless they are in great shape and the buttons don’t stick. Check the bottom to ensure the rubber feet are still intact. Spend no more than $8.
3. NES Max Controller – Finding an NES Max Controller that works is always a crap-shoot. I’ve yet to find one that was in excellent condition that works. Typically if I find one that does work it looks (or smells) terrible, or vice versa – new out of the box condition but doesn’t work. You can swap the guts if need be, but otherwise avoid it. It wasn’t that great of a controller – even if it was the precursor to the Dual Shock. Spend no more than $6 if it looks perfect.
4. NES Games – I’ve yet to encounter an NES game from a thrift store that didn’t work. Always clean the games – duh! And use this price guide for their prices!
5. PlayStations (PS1s, PSones, PSXs, etc). Unless you don’t have one already (who doesn’t?) avoid these. There is one notable exception – mod chips. If you want a modded system thrift stores are a good place to find them, however the spindles will often be damaged. Otherwise for an original PlayStation spend no more than $7; for a PSone no more than 10. For original (non Dual Shock) PS1 controllers spend no more than $4, no more than $5 for Dual Shock. For the PSone Ceramic White Dual Shock controllers $6.
6. PSone LCD Screens – if it works take it! Try and spend less than $15 for it.
7. SEGA Genesis – You’ll find plenty of Model 1 and Model 2 SEGA Genesis at thrift stores (I have 3 in my possession right now). Make sure the expansion port has its cover (located on the otherside) and that the cartridge slot has its two ‘folding lips’. As with any system shake it gently to determine if there are any loose or broken parts. On the Model 1 don’t forget to use the slider on the headphone jack. If its sticky then something has probably been spilled on the unit. Avoid it. Sticky = roaches. Also the Model 2 power supply will not work on the Model 1 Genesis. For an original SEGA Genesis spend less than $12, for a Genesis II, spend less than $7. The Genesis III is of poor quality, but if you must have it spend less than $10. For an original Genesis power supply spend no more than $7, for a Genesis II no more than $5. If you find a Nomad, and it has the battery case, and the screen isn’t cracked, spend up to $20.
8. SEGA Genesis Games – Unless the game is complete I’ll normally avoid it unless it’s a particularly rare game. You’ll often find cheap sports games complete in cases for cheap. Don’t pass these up. You can always reuse the cases. If you have Genesis games without a case, recycle the sports case, find someone you know who has the case with sleeve, then color copy the sleeve and then you’ll have an almost complete copy (sans the manual of course). Keep in mind that many of the simpler SEGA Genesis games releaed early in its life had a fold out single page manual. These are easily photocopied.
9. SEGA Saturns – Don’t buy unless you can try a game in it. If the store doesn’t have games, try a Music CD. Otherwise it’s a crap shoot. Spend no more than $12 for an untested system. Original controllers, spend up $8, for the ‘newer’ controllers no more than $6.
10. SEGA Dreamcasts – follow the rules of number 9, but spend no more than $10 for the system, and $3 for controllers. Both are surprisingly common. Also, spend no more than $3 for any VMU.
11. Gameboys, Game Gears, Lynx – make sure the unit doesn’t have damage in the battery component. Make sure it has the battery cover. Test the unit and ensure the screen works and isn’t cracked. (Bring test batteries just in case). Pay careful attention to the buttons – no ‘give’? Avoid. $6 for an original Gameboy, $8 for GameBoy Color, up to $12 for a GameBoy Pocket, up to $10 for a GameBoy Color. For I tend to avoid original Game Boy Advances, but if you must have it keep it under $7, for SP’s with a great case (no chips, no missing paint) spend up to $12. For GameBoy Micro Advance, spend around $15. Unless you can test the Game Gear avoid it. If the screen works and it has the battery covers spend no more than $10. For an original Lynx in great shape spend no more than $20, for the ‘newer’ Lynx keep it under $22. Test before you buy!
12. Disc Based Games (Any system) – as long as the disc is not scratched you should be OK.
13. NEW! Super Nintendo – Avoid systems that are yellowed – this isn’t caused by smoke but because of the fire retardant chemicals that are used in the plastics manufacturing process. Sometimes you’ll see the top shell yellowed and the bottom shell grey this is ok to purchase if you have another system in your collection that is the opposite, then you can trade the shells and have a nice grey system and 1 ugly yellow system! For a fully grey system pay up to $15 if it’s in great shape, otherwise keep it under $10. For yellow systems $5 or free – seriously. I’ve never seen a yellowed Super Nintendo JR, but keep in mind that most are knock off systems. An easy way to tell is to find the service sticker. This 1-800 sticker should be crisp – Mario shouldn’t have 4 eyes, or any other weird crap. That’s the easiest way to determine if its authentic or not. The RFU adaptor is the same as an NES – same rules apply $2 or less. AC Adaptors are NOT the same as NES. They are like 10.5 DC volts, and have a grey tip. It’s the same adaptor for either system. $7 or less. Original licensed controllers if in good shape, pay up to $7. Almost all unlicensed controllers suck and I’d avoid them. If you are going to buy unlicensed, you can get knock offs online in new condition for super cheap. The AV cables are proprietary to Nintendo Products and will work on the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and I believe even the Game Cube. I see them everywhere. Spend no more than $4 for them.
On a final note about thrift stores, I absolutely dislike Goodwill. Perhaps it’s just the ones in Las Vegas that are terrible, but it’s always a bad experience. I understand that they will hire people in need, but some of these people need drug counseling. The stores are always filthy, and it’s impossible to get help from anyone. If you’ve had a good experience at Goodwill I’d love to hear where this occurred.