On the desk opposite, Grant fumbled around for something. After brushing away a couple of empty cigarette packets and almost knocking over a bizarrely-proportioned plastic figurine of Lara Croft, he produced a bulky brown envelope and held it aloft gleefully.
I raised an eyebrow: ‘I know they’re probably looking for a good review, but didn’t you take journalistic ethics at college? I mean, if you’re going to take backhanders, at least be discreet about it.‘
‘Very droll. It’s a game.‘ He said indignantly.
‘Don’t they usually send someone round with the games? I mean, I can’t imagine any of the big studios just sending it in the post like that. Unless it’s an independent, but I thought Nintendo was strict about that kind of thing. It is for the new Nintendo, right?‘
‘No shit, Sherlock.‘ Grant muttered, before putting on a posh voice ‘May I enquire as to your line of deductive reasoning?‘
I burst into laughter: ‘Sega stopped using cartridges a couple of years ago. Sony never used cartridges. And no-one’s still making games for the old Super Nintendo. Therefore, it has the be for the new Nintendo. The Ultra 64, I think.‘
‘Nintendo 64‘ He said smugly, pulling out a curved grey plastic cartridge. It looked less impressive than the pictures from America had led me to believe. Somehow, the smug grins of our counterparts across the pond seemed to lend the nondescript hunks of grey plastic a magical aura that they just didn’t have in the flesh.
‘So, what is it? That James Bond game from the press release? God help me, if I have to review another shoddily-made movie tie-in game…‘
‘No, that’s just the thing.‘ He showed the cartridge to me. ‘I don’t know what it is.‘
I’ve seen more cartridges than I can remember. Everything from shiny black Mega Drive cartridges to dusty old Commodore 64 cartridges. Whatever shape a cartridge is, they all have one thing in common – a label. This cartridge didn’t have one.
I sighed, ‘Oh god, if this is some silly spy-themed marketing stunt for that bloody Jam…‘
‘Nah, if it was a pre-release copy, it’d have tons of paperwork with it. But, there’s literally nothing here. Just a cartridge in an envelope that arrived with the morning post. And, no, there isn’t a return address before you ask.‘ Grant said, holding up the envelope.
‘I was going to ask about serial numbers. Wait, don’t tell me. They’ve been filed off.‘
A shocked expression crossed Grant’s face. ‘B… But, how did you know?‘
‘Ah, it must be the infamous Grey Cartridge, then. I’ve heard stories about it on the old BBS services. The first reported sightings were on the original NES. Apparently, some guy from the old Soviet Union would steam off the label of a cartridge, file down the serial number and replace the chips inside . When played, the screen would display a series of precisely-timed flickering patterns that would leave the viewer in a highly suggestible state. Thus priming them for the subliminal messages from..‘
‘Bollocks!‘ Grant laughed. ‘You had me going there for a second though.‘
‘Well, yeah, but I don’t see any better explanation from you. Anyway, the whole thing’s moot. Central Office still hasn’t sent us the bloody console yet!‘.