The Atari 2600 game Air Raid has long been considered one of the system’s “holy grails” by collectors. It is believed that only 20 or fewer copies of the distinctive powder blue-colored, T-handled cartridge were ever manufactured by the game’s elusive and mysterious creator, Men-A-Vision, in 1982. Until recently, it was also believed that no packaging (read: box and instruction manual) ever existed for the game. That theory got blown up when the first and only known boxed copy surfaced in 2010; its discoverer subsequently sold it off for a handsome $31,600.
Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when a father and daughter duo were prompted to search through their own impressive Atari collection, which had long been in storage, after belatedly reading about the discovery and sale of the first and only boxed Air Raid two years earlier. The father and owner of the collection, Harv Bennett of Pomona, California, recalled possessing a boxed copy of Air Raid himself. And as you have surely deduced by now, Harv was correct.
After coming to the forums at AtariAge (whose user community is widely considered to be the authority in all things Atari) and having the game and its box verified, the game was posted for auction at GameGavel.com. The rest, as they say, is history.
You can read the story behind this example of Air Raid in the auction link above. In short, it was a promotional/demonstration copy that Mr. Bennett, the assistant manager of a local drug store, was lent by Men-A-Vision’s agent to try out at home and see if he wanted to sell in his store. Mr. Bennett declined to order Air Raid for his store (citing uninteresting gameplay, strange packaging design, and his belief that nobody would buy it) and kept the game after Men-A-Vision’s agent declined to take it back; apparently the agent had received similar feedback about the game from his other prospects as well.
But what makes this example particularly exciting -and indeed more valuable than the previous boxed Air Raid– is that, during the auction, Harv and his daughter Alana discovered something hidden inside the box behind the cartridge tray that most collectors were convinced didn’t even exist: the game’s instruction manual. On top of that, the game cartridge, box, and the manual are all in pristine condition. Apart from the brief time Mr. Bennett demoed the game for his store, the cartridge has only been played two other times since 1982; once in the mid ’90s, and once a couple of weeks ago to prove that it works
The discovery of the instruction manual is doubly important and exciting for Atari collectors because, in addition to merely existing, it provides the first solid lead to learning who was involved with Men-A-Vision, where it was located, how it operated, how Air Raid came about, and how many copies may still exist: a street address. Before the discovery of the instruction manual and Men-A-Vision’s Sunset Boulevard mailing address, it was unknown whether Men-A-Vision was even located in the United States; Air Raid was often theorized to be yet another Taiwanese pirated cartridge or hack, as much of its source code borrows heavily (read: was lifted outright) from that of the far more common game Space Jockey, by U.S. Games.
It must also be noted that during the time this CIB (“complete in box”) Air Raid was up for auction on GameGavel, yet another boxed copy appeared on eBay. This surprise copy lacked the instruction manual, however, and the box was in substantially lesser condition than Harv and Alana Bennett’s copy; it sold for a “mere” $13,988.89, less than half of what the complete copy on GameGavel sold for. It does, however, raise the number of known boxed Air Raids to three. It is rumored that the only reason we even know the game is called Air Raid is because a former collector owned a boxed copy in the early ’90s (this follows, as there is no print on the cartridge label or in the game itself to indicate its title), and that this most recent “ebay copy” may be that box; this is unconfirmed, and likely unconfirmable, at least as of now.
While the $33,000+ the Bennetts earned from their Air Raid sale may be the record price for an Atari VCS game, it still fails to match the $55,000 that one wealthy Nintendo fanatic was willing to pay for a prototype of The Legend Of Zelda.
(c) 2012 Jeffery Koss