Our next Trading Card Spotlight features Tony “RetroExistential”, who currently is displayed on card number 4293, from the Superstars of 2023 Collection. One part gameshow host, two parts video game fanatic. Learn, Love and Play like Lara Croft, witnessing some of the most obscure treasures in the gaming world, all in one place! He's hard to miss with his colorful look and BOOMING voice to get you pumped about gaming and all the wonders it produced throughout time. You'll never see a video game collection like this anywhere else! Experience his unlimited knowledge, piercing wit and exclusive gaming content, in-person or online. Be a little Retro, be a little Existential!
When did you begin your podcast and what inspired you to do so?
I started streaming on Twitch and YouTubing almost 3 years ago now. We were all deep into the craziness that was 2020 and I needed something to keep me motivated and productive outside of work. I also had this enormous retro collection that was just stored away in boxes not doing anything. It was then that I had the idea to make entertaining videos about my favorite and most unique collection pieces. Around that time a bunch of my friends started streaming games and I thought, “why not join them?” I really started to enjoy the comradery and mutual partnerships I built while streaming, so I still do it when I can.
How did your collection begin and what was the motivation?
The start of my collection actually began when I found out I had a really rare game that I actually purchased as a kid years prior. It was The Misadventures of Tron Bonne (part of the Mega Man Legends series). I thought it was a great game and I loved the series so much that I had to have it, even though it was technically a spinoff title of an already spinoff series. In my late teens I found out it was actually a rare and valuable game because almost no one bought it, and since then I made it my hobby to find other rare titles. At the time my goal was to own as many games and as many consoles in the retro timeframe as possible, so I started researching rare games of popular consoles, and unusual consoles that no one really bought into.
My first weird console variant purchase was a CIB Top-Loader NES, and from there things got crazy. Early on I was mostly collecting games and consoles, venturing into things like the CD-i, the Amiga CD32 and the 3DO. I even went as far as to purchase a CIB Coleco Adam Computer...that thing is HUGE. As time went on, I ventured into weird controllers and accessories, and then the eBay algorithm really took hold of me. It sent me down rabbit holes of rare promo items, demo cartridges, press kits, collectibles, variants and prototypes that I had never seen before. The moment I knew I was going to be a full-blown collector was when I made my first really big purchase. That was the Wide-Boy Game Boy Color Dev Kit I sent you a couple photos of. That is probably one of my most prized possessions, if not my most prized. It solidified for me that I really love this game of collecting and it was one of the biggest financial commitments I had made in my life up to that point. It was also the piece that officially took me down the deep dive of seeking out the rarest pieces I could find.
After that purchase, my new (and still current) goal was to focus on the obscure, unknown and extremely limited items that almost no one knew about except for the occasional forum or blog post. That piece made me who I am today, because around that time game fakes were getting too good and I had to move on to something else. So, for almost 10 years I've been going down the path of the REALLY weird and out there. I'm still at it today, and I'm always surprised by what I find. My goal is to always find rare and obscure pieces to share with the world. My stretch goal would be to one day afford to buy the Nintendo PlayStation off of Greg Mclemore.
Do you remember your first video game / arcade you played and what do you remember about it?
One of my favorite early gaming memories was my first stand-up arcade experience back in the 90’s. CompUSA was still a thing and they had Tekken 2 at the front of the store. Every Sunday my family would go out for lunch together at this amazing Szechuan place, and next door was CompUSA. Suffice it to say I ate as quickly as possible so I could go and play Tekken. Funny enough, the first game I EVER played was an “educational” game that is an underrated hit! It was The Magic School Bus for the Sega Genesis. Love ya, Ms. Frizzle.
What are your opinions about today’s generation of video games? How do you compare them to older, classic games?
I love this question because of the fervor it generates in the gaming community. The hardliners on either side are always so hardcore, and that it MUST be one or the other, but the reality is both Current and Classic games have their pros and cons. My biggest gripe with modern games is the amount of time investment they require. Even what could be considered “fast casual” games (like Fortnite, COD and Apex Legends) require so much grinding to even be competitive that they’re no longer casual. Don’t get me started on something like GTA or Scrolls games… Classic games just seem to be easier to pick up and put down at any time, which is great in today’s world of constant obligation. The problem for me as a collector is I’m a purist. I HAVE to play on the original hardware….which can get expensive in today’s collecting market lol.
Did you ever think when you were younger you would be on a video game trading card?
Never, but I couldn't be happier or prouder of the honor. When I was younger, I often dreamed about being featured in a magazine, an accomplishment I was able to achieve this year, but never a trading card. Cards were just that extra bit of cool and for many like me, it was our first foray into collecting. They're part of the reason why I collect historical video game artifacts and why I became RetroExistential. Pokemon, Digimon, Garbage Pail Kids, Mad Magazine and even the super exclusive Triple Triad Cards from Final Fantasy VIII...these were all things that were not only fun, they were sweet. This is sweet. Plus, I love my number: 4293. It's the answer to the ultimate question, plus the year Mortal Kombat came out for the Genesis (Sega 4 Life).
What other podcast are you interested in and what would you like to see more of?
I’m pretty eclectic in what I watch and listen to that’s gaming oriented. These days I’m mostly on YouTube and will try to find other collectors like me out there with interesting pieces to share. The Retro Future (Elliot Coll), LGR, MetalJesus and Nintendrew often have unique pieces that they discuss or share. Elliot really has some awesome clips of things that sometimes even I have never heard of before. Honestly most of the really obscure stuff comes from a lot of smaller channels that aren’t necessarily bigger “podcasts” or content creators, but who love sharing their wares and those are fun to see too. On the other hand, I also like watching videos on general video game history, happenings and oddities. For example, oddheader and Larry Bundy Jr are great for sharing weird info and facts about (retro) video games you didn’t know. I love the Easter Egg content they produce. Karl Jobst is right on the pulse of “people in gaming” and he always has interesting stories to share. His breakdowns are super well-researched too. If we’re talking more “high production” content, gameranx also puts out some pretty educational and fun videos on more modern games. I’d just love to see more of all of the above I’ve mentioned.
What is your favorite portable gaming device and why?
The Nintendo Virtual Boy. Fight me. Mobile gaming doesn’t cause enough brain damage these days, and I want my portable gaming device to guarantee a more than significant probability I’ll lose my eyesight after a single session.
What do you think is the main reason for the retro gaming interest and collecting?
For me, personally, I just love the discovery and the chase. I lived in the greatest era of gaming, and it played such a significant role in my cultural upbringing, my friendships, my passions and my proudest moments. Now, as an adult, I get to dive backwards into the story and hold history in my hands. The golden years of the 80's, the campy-core weirdness of the 90's, the narrative brilliance of the 00's and all the people, innovations, failures and buried treasure throughout it all. Who wouldn't want to be a part of that? I want to be a part of the BEST of that.
As far as the world is concerned, I think people care more about preservation now than in any time in history. Life is longer, memory is shorter. We need the tactile world to ground us and I think many people recognize that. As objects and experiences become more disposable, cheap and replaceable, human beings have shown a trend towards valuing what keeps us present. The universe of retro video games does just that for many generations and will do so increasingly for many years to come.
What is your favorite game of all time and why is it special to you?
Mega Man Legends is probably my favorite game of all-time, period. It was actually my introduction to Mega Man as a character and the story and gameplay were just top notch. Very replayable and a great side-story of an otherwise huge franchise. It was also the first game my Dad helped me progress in, giving me advice and tactics to achieve success. He's not a gamer, but when I played Mega Man Legends, he was interested, and it was cool. It's also the very reason why I got into video game collecting in the first place. The Legends series included a spin-off title called The Misadventures of Tron Bonne, and being a huge fan of the original game, I of course bought it. Apparently not many others did, though, and it ended up being the first game I owned that was collectible and valuable. 20 years later, I'm now the proud owner of some of the most unusual and rare artifacts in the gaming world!
What does it take to run a good podcast?
Not having any other responsibilities, period. I wish I could say that’s sarcasm, but the amount of time and effort that goes into making “good content” that’s actually interesting to others is about two full time jobs in itself. You almost can’t have a life, except for that. I recall spending upwards of 6 hours editing 30 seconds-worth of video for an important upload I was putting together at the time. I’ve spent weeks prepping streams that about 5 people watched in total. It’s hard work and I give major props to those that can keep it up. I just do it for fun when I can these days, and I’ve mostly transitioned to in-person entertainment performances at conventions, and the like.
What is your favorite item in your collection and what makes that one special?
That's an incredibly tough question, because it's so hard to pick just one...so I'm going to pick two! One of the most important pieces in my collection is my Game Boy Color Wide-Boy Dev Kit. As far as I know, it's one-of-a-kind, and it's the reason my collection is what it is today. That set launched me into seeking out the most incredibly rare and unique pieces in video game history. At the time it was so fascinating and weird to me that "dev kits" were even a thing, and that people owned them. It was the first purchase I'd made of its kind, and since then things have only gotten weirder for me. The second important piece is my Dreamcast Seaman Talking Promo Tuna Can, because it's just so freaking weird and dumb and I love it. The game alone (Seaman) is just so off the wall, but the promo tuna can just add to the absurdist lore of the title so much that it's almost unbeatable. I've only ever seen two of them in my lifetime, and they're so obnoxiously huge for a tune can that it just works. If you know, you know.
How does video game music influence games past and present?
I think everyone can agree that music and sound effects can make or break a scene, whether it’s a major turning point in a movie or video game. It’s the soul of the moment and needs to accurately represent the emotional tone of what’s happening. But video game music has an additional intangible layer to it that most other media doesn’t. Everyone gets that super awesome feeling when they hear Aquatic Ambience from Donkey Kong Country, or the Green Hill Zone theme from Sonic. It carries a significant emotional weight, and that’s been hard to replicate in the modern era. Maybe it’s due to nostalgia. I don’t have a degree in music theory, but I think there’s something to be said about the simple looping digital tones of retro video games and how they’re interpreted by people. On the other hand you have games like Dark Souls and Ghost of Tsushima that have these explosively emotional orchestral compositions making a great impact in the moment, but they’re almost forgettable afterwards. They don’t have staying power like the short and catchy tunes that played forever on a loop in old games.
What console has your most collected games and what is your ultimate goal with the collection?
I'm pretty sure the PS1 takes that honor. It was just one of my all-time favorite consoles and there were just so many good games. It's not the most collectible of systems in terms of value and popularity, but I definitely show it some love. That said, I've long since moved on from games. The best of my collection are pieces that no one even knows exist from the gaming world. The ultimate goal: get some more EXTREME RARITIES, like the Jaguar VR headset or the Nintendo Playstation Prototype.
Which company makes the best games and why?
Oh man this is tough, but some of my favorite games growing up were produced by Capcom. They just have so many awesome and sometimes obscure and underrated titles that they’re hard to beat. Although they’ve done some questionable things with android characters in recent years, they did bring us MegaMan and my FAVORITE series, the Mega Man Legends series. It’s hard to argue against the other MONSTER franchises they’re responsible for, like Dead Rising, Resident Evil, Street Fighter and Ace Attorney. Also you can’t get any better than the nonsense that was the Dino Crisis series. That’s a hot take, but Dino Crisis was an arguably better story than any Resident Evil game. A close second company would probably be Atlus, because they’ve produced some trippy content.
Are video games good for relieving stress?
Lol probably not in the grand scheme of things. You ever played Super Smash Bros Melee at a party? Tell me that's a stress relieving experience.
Who is your favorite video game character and what makes that character special?
The Servbots from Mega Man Legends are probably my favorite video game characters of all time. The Legends series is my favorite game franchise overall, just on the story alone, but the characters are also adorably wacky, well-written and hilariously dramatic too. The best representation of this style of Japanimation-inspired oddity is most perfectly encapsulated by the Servbots. All 41 of them have different personalities and behaviors, but they are all hilariously devoted to the cause of the Bonne family and are fiercely loyal to boot. Also they’re pretty competent and helpful as a unit. Who wouldn’t want a small army of bootleg Lego men to do your bidding!? I really love those little dudes.
What springs to mind when you hear the term ‘video games’?
Better times. People in multiple generations either grew up on video games or have enjoyed living through their inception as a cultural phenomenon, and there aren’t very many innovations like that that people fell in love with as a whole. The stories they’ve told, the experiences they’ve given us and the memories of playing with others are all incredibly important to a significant part of the human population, and I appreciate what that means in the context of human culture and history. That’s why I do what I do.
Do you find boss battles to be the best part of a video game?
They're certainly the ultimate moments of catharsis in video games, but the best parts have to be the exploration. People love digging into lore and narrative. It's the journey, man.
What is your favorite single player game and favorite multiplayer game?
I’ve mentioned it before, but Mega Man Legends is probably my favorite game of all-time, period. It was actually my introduction to Mega Man as a character and the story and gameplay were just top notch. Very replayable and a great side-story of an otherwise huge franchise. Multiplayer has to be The Typing of the Dead….yes you read that right…TYPING. I challenge you to invite your friends over and not have the best freaking time playing that game. Hands-down it is the best game for a night of drinking in any context. Doubt me? Come to one of my convention shows and you’ll see what I’m talking about.
If you can design your own game, what would it be about and who would be the main character?
A game based off my own character, “The RetroExistential”, would be pretty cool. I can’t give away all my secrets, though…. I might already be writing the story out (shhhh!! Don’t tell anyone).
Are you still involved with gaming today, and what role do you play?
Of course, I’m still involved, and I love my unique little role in the gaming world. I’m that guy that you see around at conventions in my bright purple jacket and pink glasses and think to yourself… “Hey that’s that guy!” Being that guy means being the most passionate and entertaining collector in gaming history. I’ve been doing it for 20+ years and I’ll play the Pepsi Challenge with any other collector out there. As you can see from my photos, I’ve been putting together the wildest and weirdest assortment of video game historical artifacts that anyone could ever see in one place. That’s why I became the RetroExistential! To go around the country and show gamers everywhere things they’ve never seen before! Keep an eye out; I’ll be at a convention near you soon!
What is your plan for the next 5 years with RetroExistential?
5 years from now I want to have visited all across the country setting up my RetroExistential traveling gaming museum for all to see. I want to entertain the gaming industry with my own brand of wild, fun, and unique displays at the biggest shows everywhere. My hope is that some of my collection can also be featured in some of the most renowned museums in the country, and possibly even the world. My stretch goal: expand RetroExistential into a comprehensive entertainment company that produces content for TV, such as fictional media (Anime) or even a gaming travel show like Bert Kreischer’s “Travel Flip”, but for video games, documenting other collectors’ wares and amazing places dedicated to gamers.