During the most recent episode of my podcast, we spoke a little bit about the 30th anniversary of the Nintendo Entertainment System. I also happened to have a 30th birthday this year, so it's safe to assume that the NES is very near and dear to my heart. It was the first system I ever owned, and to this day is still my favorite console ever. So, being the retro gamer/collector that I am, I decided that I should break my non-writing streak by going back into the recesses of my nostalgia and bringing you some of my childhood memories, as well as talking about some of the games I treasured the most as a child.
I remember getting the NES when I was three years old. I had no idea what it was, I was too young to be reading about it in any sort of catalog, and I'm almost certain that up to that point, I had never even heard of a "videogame." The only thing that I can think of as to why it became a staple in our living room was that my older brother (who was six at the time) must have heard about it from his friends at school or that a coworker of one of my parents suggested it to them. Either way, it doesn't matter, all I know is that it was a glorious day in my life when we opened up that box.
Being 1988, the system we got, of course, came packed with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. I want you all to take a look at this picture:
There it is, the Nintendo Entertainment System Action Set. Take careful notice that in addition to the system itself and the packed-in game, you also received the NES Zapper and two controllers. Let me repeat: TWO CONTROLLERS! If there's one thing that annoys me about modern videogame consoles, it's the fact that if you get them on day one, you also have to buy a game and an additional controller if you intend to play anything cooperatively. And honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the next round of consoles came without controllers or power cables. My beloved Nintendo already began that trend with the removal of AC chargers from New 3DS systems.
Old-timers like me always like to speak about our local rental shops, and I'm no different. We had two in our home town. The place we frequented the most was the local Marsh Supermarket, because renting games (and WWF Royal Rumble videos) from a supermarket was something that, for whatever reason, made sense in the late 80s and early 90s. In that same plaza, we had Dub'l Take Video, and it wasn't until I wrote that name out that I realized why it was spelled the way it was. We didn't go to Dub'l Take too often, as they were "too expensive" according to my mother, but in the rare occasion we could afford the extra dollar, we would head over there. I remember their selection being gigantic compared to Marsh, and I spent lots of time stargazing over the NES cover boxes.
Cover art and the pixely screenshots on the back of the box were usually all we had to go off of, and we made some rather poor rental decisions throughout the course of the system. The thing about the NES, though, is that even the bad games were notable. There were few games that just had absolutely nothing interesting about them. So, the following games, whether they were rentals or games I owned, are all ones that still hold a very special place in my heart.
All I knew was that the blob was cute. I looked at him like he was my friend, and I just wanted to hang out with him and feed him jelly beans. My four-year-old dumb mind couldn't make the correlation that certain jelly bean flavors caused the blob to turn into a specific tool, so most of the time I would just feed the blob a bean and say "Oh, hey, he's a trampoline now. That's awesome!"
I never got too far in Blob. I do remember turning him into a rocket and riding him to a distant planet and dying pretty much immediately, and my brother getting into a cave area, but other than that, the rest of the game is a mystery. Naturally, speed runs on YouTube show people beating the game in mere minutes, but I kind of like my memories better. There's a part of me that never wants to know how to play the game.
Super Mario Bros. 2
It's cool to see how many aspects of SMB2 have become staples of the franchise, like Shy Guys, Birdo, Luigi's superior jumping ability, and so on. The game has certainly left behind a legacy. But the thing that I remember about the game the most is what is perhaps the most traumatizing enemy in my young gaming life: Phanto. Phanto is like the Terminator, he just doesn't stop until you're dead.
Did I forget to mention that at one point you pull a vegetable out of the ground only to discover that it's actually rocket ship that flies you to the next level? Because that happens. It's true what they say, they don't make games the way they used to.
Friday the 13th
Despite the negative connotation that's usually associated with Friday the 13th on NES, I actually have fond memories of the game. It legitimately has one of my favorite box arts of all-time (pictured above). Not even an unstoppable killing machine like Jason Voorhees is exempt from the neons and hot pinks that were so prevalent in the late 80s.
Even though this game was released well before the survival horror explosion a decade later, I would qualify it as an early horror game. I don't remember actually being scared while playing it, but looking back, it certainly has a creepy vibe. The music that plays in the cabins has always given me a sense of tension, and Jason pops up often enough to keep you on edge. Speaking from nostalgia, Friday the 13th isn't a bad game, but it's brutally and sometimes unfairly difficult in certain spots, which I think prevents it from being remembered as fondly by others as it is for me.
Not weird enough? Let me continue. Each level features several monster rooms which usually require you to hit projectiles back at the enemies. It's like batting practice! The first one you come to is a phallic-shaped plant that starts the battle by saying "Hello! Baby!" Why does it say that? I DON'T KNOW! Why is the next monster room completely empty? I DON'T KNOW! Why is there a monster room with a giant dead insect that says "Sorry, I'm dead"? I DON'T FREAKING KNOW!
Actually, after doing research (and by that, I mean the Monster Party Wikipedia page), I found out that a lot of the weirdness was due to the fact that the game was heavily edited from what the original version was intended to be. It also may have had something to do with copyright issues. I mean, that plant on the box art does look almost identical to Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors.
I would suggest watching a longplay of the game on YouTube so you can experience just how much weird the game has to offer.
Anyway, Star Man! Star Man was my dude. My memories of my actual skill level with the game are hazy at best. After going back a couple decades later, I realized that it's actually a very deep game. There are so many moves when you compare it to the WWF games of the day. WWF Wrestlemania is basically Urban Champion with the inclusion of a y-axis and a cartwheel move for Bam Bam Bigelow. But Pro Wrestling was the closest thing to a professional wrestling sim that you could get on the NES. It had an in-ring referee, a ringside cameraman, and a story mode, complete with your winning of the Video Wrestling Association Championship.
And, if nothing else, Pro Wrestling gave us the phrase "A Winner is You!"
Super Mario Bros. 3
I had already become obsessed with the movie The Wizard by this point, so my brother and I were well aware of Super Mario Bros. 3. Up until then, I had never asked my parents to buy me a specific game, but after seeing The Wizard, it was the only thing that I asked for for months. There's really nothing I can say about the game that you haven't already heard hundreds of times. It's a classic. Some people, including myself, consider it the best game on the NES.
I just wanted to share my memories of getting the game rather than talking about the game itself. It's one of the most vivid memories I have from early in my life, and still one that I cherish greatly.
It's a little late for celebrating the NES' 30th birthday, but in my opinion, the NES should be celebrated on more than just special occasions. It's my favorite console of all-time, and I'll go to my grave proclaiming its greatness.
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Thanks for reading,