RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Aug 18th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (bombatomba)
Posted under Nostalgia, TRU, Toys R Us, Budget Wall


*Geoffrey from Gina Martin on Twitter*

Ah, the Budget Wall. There were bad games, good games (theoretically), and a lot of important lessons for a child to learn.  But when I mentioned and briefly described this place to my thirteen year-old and he gave me kind of a blank look, I realized that this might need something more than a brief description, especially since this may perhaps be a more regional or even temporal phenomenon than I originally thought.  So, here is an explanation of the Budget Wall, as well as some of the history that I have had during its time in my life.




One of the most important places during my childhood was the video game aisle of Toys "R" Us. While there were plenty of other places to browse and buy NES games during 1987-1991, Toys "R" Us attracted me for a number reasons, many of them having to do with the massive amount of other things to look at (awesome/crappy 80's action figures, Legos, model jets and planes, and a board game wall that was twenty feet high and at least quadruple that across), but the video games were the real pull. The local store had a ton of kiosks for several different game consoles to watch and play, a large glass case filled with the higher end gaming and electronic equipment, and a massive wall of game-flaps that were, in my memory, miles high and across.  Game-flaps?  A game-flap was a piece of transparent plastic with an insert of the front and back that were basically cut-outs of a video games box. Basically you walked up to the flap and looked at the front of the box, then flipped the flap up to see the back of the game box (also revealing the ticket underneath, which represented stock of that particular game the store reported to have).  Then you continued to the next game-flap, then the next, and the next, etc. At some point your parents came to find you to ask if you're done and you pretend not to hear them. Then you moved onto the glass case to ogle the TurboGrafx 16 CD. Good times.


Good times *image from r/nostalgia on reddit*

Nestled at either the front or back endcap of the gaming aisle was the discount game-flaps, AKA the Budget Wall.  At this time it was 100% NES titles, and generally contained ones that were...  less popular, which is saying quite a bit, considering that pretty much all NES games sold in the USA during this age. But they were all about $20, which was a sweet spot for me back then, equalling about two months of allowance. Normally the bulk of this money went to quarters/tokens for arcade games, Garbage Pail Kids cards (at least in 1987, which was the peak in Metro D), nickel and dime candy, and game rentals (which were horribly overpriced until Blockbuster Video normalized it).  But once in a while, due to birthday money, random Grandparent money, or just the generosity of my mom or dad, I would have a little extra cash to slide into my billfold.  Then all I needed was to pester someone enough to take me to Toys "R" Us.

The bulk of my Budget Wall visits were largely unplanned, outside of just wanting to open a new NES game, I think.  We didn't really have anything but magazines and playground/arcade rumors at the time to help with out game buying decisions, so any knowledge gained was either from one of those sources (which was always dubious) or it was a plain and simple crap shoot.  The "feeling" would happen upon me, always on the weekend, and I would become convinced there was something on that wall I needed to get.  Still, despite it appearing to be nothing more than materialism, at the end of the day I believe I was fairly innocent; this wasn't retail therapy or anything like that. For the most part I was pretty ignorant, and held to a philosophy that was ultimately not fitting for this medium of entertainment: I believed that since I could pretty much watch any movie and gleam some sort of enjoyment from it, the same should be true for video games.  This belief held up in the arcades as well as with my Cool Aunt later, but these two experiences cost little to no money, while each mistake at the Budget Wall cost at least $20, which was a small fortune back then.

I don't know when the official Budget Wall (that being that specific place in my local Toys "R" Us) stopped existing, but I know I ceased going during the age of the Super Nintendo (1993?), mainly because the games I was buying were much longer (and thus, a better value), but also because my Cool Aunt started to pile her rejected NES and SNES games on me at a fantastic rate. Some were certainly Budget Wall titles (or worse), but unlike before they were gratis, so if the game was a dud it didn't make me feel stupid, which turned out to be the key to unlock my enjoyment of sub-par video games.  Everything from Lagoon to Inindo graced my SNES, and I would spend hours on them, if not finish them outright.  And all the while this happened, lo and behold, I started to save money for better games, so that my days of SNES-focused gaming were highlighted with the very best the system had to offer.  I have a clear memory of buying Final Fantasy III/VI at Toys "R" Us after my birthday in 1994 (I had to wait for months for the game to appear on store shelves), and I didn't even glance at the Budget Wall, much less think about it, though I am sure it was there.

By 1996, it was all over for me.  As the age of Nintendo being the (nearly) sole, dominant name in gaming in the United States drew to a close, so did the traditional role of the Budget Wall being my place for humiliation and wasting money.  Another nail in this coffin was the opening of a local game store (Game Spot) as well as a FuncoLand, which provided games at an often highly discounted price.  A little more than a year later I would take a job at that latter store, and would spend my summers (when nobody local bought games) playing any and every game my heart so desired, all for the low price of free (as long as there were no customers in the store).

I guess all of this is pretty melancholy now.  While I meant this to originally be a swan song to the Budget Wall, the original location of the Budget Wall has permanently closed its doors, so maybe it is a little bit more now.   Thirty years ago a youth could stand in the parking lot of the Quo Vadis theater and see the failing Children's Palace super toy store, then turn ninety degrees and see the newfangled toy store that was choking it out of existence (Toys R Us), now only a soulless bank, fast food restaurant, and a Best Buy now stand.  That, and a nearly empty store with barred doors, where once this child (weighted down with an abundance of head, hair, and glasses) gawked at what seemed an endless expanse of video games and console systems, then sidled over to a end cap full of crap, ready to spend his money on garbage.

Personally, despite the massive amount of nostalgia I have for it, I am glad the Budget Wall no longer exists.  While I bought several games from it in my youth, pretty much none of those games would ever give me the kind of enjoyment I thought they would.  I learned many hard lessons about money, the value of research, and time management (if it had been up to me, I would probably still be standing there trying to make a buying decision), so I guess in a way it was good for me.  I just have to stay strong, and make sure I have my phone on me when I have my hands on a $20 special at Target.

Thanks for reading!

PS:  Just for a little extra Summer Nostalgia, I thought I'd include this video clip (for those that haven't seen it).  Recorded by a gent named Gregory Sharp, it is one of the only pieces of footage showing a TRU game wall (albeit a small part) from back in the day (1990).  But it is all game flaps!  Enjoy!




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Comments
 
I love articles like this. I grew up a little later, in Canada and in a much smaller town from the sounds of it, but still had very similar experiences. Pretending not to hear your parents so you could spend more time dreaming about games at the store was very amusing and relatable.

I didnt have one particular, cool Aunt, but instead just bought several different family members old games/consoles early on as a way to break free of that budget wall. By the time I was able to have up to buy full priced games we lived quite far north and had no nearby game stores so very limited options. For once brief and exciting teenaged year we had a local place open up that actually stocked RPGs, Fighters and other niche genres that my local Zellers (only option for games for years) wouldn't touch. Thats when I was able to start spending more for more quality as well as talk with the owner of the store to learn about games I had never heard of. It was quite formative in retrospect.

Thanks so much for sharing
 
@Crabmaster2000:  Wow, I just couldn't imagine being without the ability to get RPGs, so I am happy to hear you did have a place (even if it was just for a year).  Also awesome is that you had a place to hang out and talk shop.

Thanks for commenting, Crab, and also for sharing your personal story.
 
Such a great read! I too remember the wall of flaps in Toys R Us. I also remember Children's Palace vaguely. My memories are somewhat fuzzy -- my family snagged some good deals when I was a kid and it was going out of business.

I wouldn't be so downtrodden though; I happened to like some budget wall moments in my life too. I remember getting my Virtual Boy and 6 games for around $100 at Best Buy in 5th grade. I am pretty sure I took all of my dogsitting and grass cutting money and put it towards this.

I remember getting my 32X at a Toys R Us in North Carolina for $20, and picking up some quality games for it too on the cheap.

I really liked this series of articles, and even though that budget wall was sometimes your downfall as a kid, there's some good moments too. Thanks for the good read.
 
@Blu: Thank you so much for the compliment!  I don't think I found quality games on a budget wall until the early 2000's at Target, and I am glad to know that at least somebody was able to gleam fun from one of those (does my heart good).

You make me wish I had more stories to tell of the Budget Wall, but after years of taking notes based on my memories I only came up with the four on the top pic (and I can't remember the circumstances surrounding Deadly Towers).  Well, thanks for reading.  I had a lot of fun writing these.
 
Man, great article. I really enjoy trips down memory lane like this, and since I didn't have access to a Toys "R" Us as a kid, it's fun to briefly experience that vicariously through the nostalgia goggles in pieces like this. I do remember having similar experiences at Kay Bee Toys in the mall, though I don't recall them having a budget wall, just the wall behind the counter, with all the games hanging up from their hang tabs. I loved going into the store and gawking at all the cool games, wishing I had more money to spend.
 
@MetalFRO: Thanks so much, Fro.  Man, I had forgotten about the hang tabs!  They were all lined up on shelves at my stores, except a brief moment around nationwide USA launch when the local Kmart had all the black box games up on tabs behind the counter.  I remember being obsessively sure that each game contained a little world that I could get lost in (which was my extreme naivete talking, I guess).

I miss Kay Bee, too.  I know they are supposed to be coming back (in some capacity), but it was so awesome to walk into one of those claustrophobic stores and just stare at the games like a creepy stalker.  Nice to know that a little Fro did the same thing at one point too.  Thanks for sharing!

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