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Cash Converted: A retro gaming pilgrimage

Dan Taipua and his friend Chris met at a Presbyterian college, and have never been to church since. Last week though, they set out on a pilgrim’s quest for gaming relics – travelling to 10 different Cash Converters stores in a single Saturday. When Chaucer wrote of pilgrimage he brought tales from a miller, a friar, and a prioress; today The Spinoff presents the tale of two fools.

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Cash Converters is a hallowed place for older gamers, predating every gaming retailer in NZ with a trade-in and secondhand service. Every traveller on the road of game collecting has at least one story of a bargain found at Cashies: a console with extras thrown in, a grossly underpriced long-sought title, a holy grail game found in the cabinets. Recently though, the CC brand has undergone a reformation by shedding its arcane and slightly chaotic inventory and flashing-up each its stores and aisles.

Eager to see if our favourite dive retained any old-time spirit, my friend Chris and I planned a one-day trip to ten different Cash Converter stores, covering more than 60km of our beautiful Tamaki Makarau. Starting from central Mount Roskill, to southern Takanini and back through eastern Glen Innes, three questions bound our quest: What relics could we find? What prices could be had? What a waste of time?

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The changes and trends in Cashies culture aren’t recognisable until you visit two different stores, and the first thing that hit us is how recognisable the changes and trends are. Between Mount Roskill and Onehunga, all of the shelving, lights, and cabinets were the same and there was a strong sense that the company had implemented a VM guideline. Very upmarket. When we stopped in at Dollar Dealers, a competing chain, there was no sign of the top-down sleekness seen at CCs; the reformation had been whole and thorough.

The game inventory was healthy in the central suburbs, where PS3 and XBOX 360 titles were peppered with PS2 and handheld games here and there. Consoles were current or last generation and Onehunga stood out with its offer a boxed original N64 (used condition, a pricey $199) and a boxed Wii (complete, a bargain $29). As the morning drew closer to noon, the shop floors were busy but the stretched staff were in good spirits, chirpy even, as radio R&B blasted through the store from repurposed home theatre sets. Chris and I were happy to see the N64 and a few PS1’s on display, but with no matching games on sale we set further out.

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Otahuhu called us to Great South Road for the first of a few times that day, and cemented the image of the Cashies 2.0 with its wide carpark and modern site. The inventory here was a bit more serious, and one minute in I had a Gamecube controller on hold at the counter: a good omen if there ever was one. An old CC doctrine was in full play: Time + Turnover + Trends = Lots of Weird Shit Left When Dan Arrives. Otahuhu carried an odd number of underrated and innovative Japanese-developed games like Vanquish (PS3), Lost Odyssey and Ninety-Nine Nights (Xbox 360), and in the end I walked out with copies of WarTech Senko no Ronde (Xbox 360) and Monster Hunter Freedom Unite (PSP) as well as the controller. For his part, Chris had found a $30 pop-up gazebo for his backyard – a purchase so entirely useful it almost spoiled the mood.

Lunchtime in Otara was lovely as the markets started winding down, and we took the opportunity to grab a teriyaki katsu burger from a food truck. Fair Mall is an icon of the South city and the CC there was a great experience, even though the games section was light and nothing piqued our interest. The bigger draw was the range of DVD’s packed with WWE boxed sets, but Chris skipped them and picked up some BBC comedies and American independents instead. Across the road at Dollar Dealers I picked up Dynasty Warriors 4 (PS2) for the dynasty price of $2 and we hit out on the next leg.

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We struggled through traffic and google navigation to Mankau and despite our faith and fervour, fatigue was creeping in. The new Cash Converters had been kind to us, but the brand consistency in each location had now become samey-ness. We’d seen a few older consoles but virtually no games to match them, and absolutely nothing from before the 32-bit era. There had been variety at each stop on our way, but after five stores you notice similarities more than differences. Still, Manukau had a really solid range of handhelds from Nintendo DS, Sony PSP and Sony Vita with plenty of compatible games – and I left with Genji: Days of the Blade (PS3) while Chris narrowly avoided buying an extra bass guitar for $300.

We continued even further down Great South Road to Takanini, through motorway roadworks and a belting afternoon sun, with four more stops left on our list. It was busier here than anywhere else while people brought in goods for, err, conversion, and just as many left converted. In the hubbub, tucked away in a the lowest cabinet we found the first truly old-school relic of our long day – and it was a fucking Donald Duck game, with no case and no manual. Before deep ennui set in, a fluro light shone on us through the unstained glass of a nearby cabinet: An original XBOX with all cables for $15, and mine immediately. It was still so busy in-store that I helped load a widescreen TV into another customers car to save everyone time, and we bundled out for our next stop.

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In truth, after shop seven, in Botany Downs, we decided to call it quits. It was a great ride, but one too long for even the most foolish. Pictured above is what I managed to haul from our roundtrip pilgrimage, and I’m happy with we managed to find. Cash Converters isn’t retro gaming heaven 2016, but it might be retro gaming mass – i.e. drop in once to get your fill for the year.

If there’s any irony in this tale, it’s that the following Sunday morning I had to visit CC New Lynn to collect an auction I’d won on their TradeMe store. Found and purchased online, it was $40 and it was the biggest bargain of the lot. Blessed are those who seek, apparently.

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This road trip was brought to you by those good people at Bigpipe Broadband