There was a time when I didn’t think casing video games was a big deal. Why? Because I was under the impression that shelf space wasn’t a finite commodity, and that flipping through stacks of awkwardly-shaped plastic cartridges wasn’t a pain in the ass. Now, however, I’ve hit a point where I realize my collection is only as useful as my system of organization allows it to be, so I’ve started to get serious about casing those games. Plus, I’d rather keep the games protected from spills, accidents, and toddlers– all three of which seem to follow me.
When it comes to cartridge game cases, there are two major players: the Universal Game Case and the BitBox. The primary appeal of the UGC is that it’s cheaper and contains brackets for a wide variety of cartridge sizes, with other cartridge styles being options after modification. If you have an extremely large collection, or your collection consists of small numbers of cartridges from lots of different systems, you’re probably going to lean toward the UGC.
If, however, you’re like me and are very passionate about one system, and have a modest collection that means a lot to you, chances are you’re going to be a BitBox fan. I say this as someone who was very skeptical about the design at first, but who was won over after holding and using them.
BitBoxes are available only from an independent vintage game store called StoneAgeGamer.com, and are currently available for the NES, SNES/SFC, and N64. In contrast to the UGC, these are designed to be a perfect fit for one system’s games, rather than be a moderate fit for a dozen different cartridge designs. What the design lacks in flexibility, it more than makes up for in elegance.
The BitBox itself consists of a black plastic clamshell case. It’s entirely one piece, and if you’re old enough to remember Disney VHS tapes, is a lot like one of the cases those used to come in. That’s a bit of a disservice to the BitBox, however, because the grade of plastic on a BitBox is far superior to that of an old VHS case. Whereas those old cases consisted of a very thin, brittle plastic that would eventually crack around the corners, and would often indent with enough pressure, the plastic for the BitBox is thicker and springs back after being pushed. They’re rugged enough to not weaken with repeated opening and closing. I will even note that I tried to store a SNES game with a broken, jagged case in a BitBox, and while the jagged edge did poke into the plastic of the case, the material was strong enough to hold firmly and not tear. The cases themselves are perfectly molded to the shape of the games, with gripping areas added to allow for easy placement and removal of the games. They come out easy, but never flop out. Even NES games, which have oddly-shaped cartridge variants, all fit into BitBoxes (I’ve stored Active Enterprises, Tengen, Color Dreams, and AVE games in mine with no issue).
Each BitBox has two optional (but highly recommended) components: the manual strap and the cover art. The manual strap is an adhesive pouch which can be attached to the Bitbox to hold the game’s manual (each BitBox is intentionally designed to be large enough to hold the manual and the game simultaneously). The strap is useful for keeping everything from spilling out each time you open the game, though it can make for a tight fit for games with very thick manuals. The other component is the cover art. Cover art slips into the front pouch and turns the BitBox from a plain black case into a shiner, better version of the game’s original packaging. The art is sourced from The Cover Project and is available free to download, though Stone Age Gamer will print them as well for a modest charge. (I always paid extra to get the higher DPI and color quality, and the results have been well worth it– pocket change today, looks great on my shelf forever.) You’re also free to take the art to your local print shop or print it yourself, if that’s easier for you.
The end result is that my shelf looks like I have my SNES collection mint in box. The only other way to achieve this would be to literally have the original boxes and use plastic cases to protect those and I’m sorry, but those original boxes are just too fragile to survive opening and closing every time you want to play a game. UGCs are good for a quick and dirty solution, and yes, they’re several dollars cheaper than BitBoxes, but at the end of the day, BitBoxes just look and work the best.
If your collection is more than just a whim, and your games are a permanent part of your house, it’s time to get serious about taking care of them. Use whatever tool best fits your purposes, but I lean heavily toward BitBox.