With the release of the Nintendo Switch, the video game world is abuzz with all things Nintendo. A new console means plenty of new games, and with Nintendo, each new console brings back memories of years and consoles past. What better way to celebrate the release of the Switch than by looking back on the consoles that shaped my childhood. In part one of this personal retrospective, we’ll be looking back at the very first Nintendo console, the legendary Nintendo Entertainment System, and how personally impacted my video gaming life.
Growing up with two older brothers, I always had to wait to play games when they weren’t around. Granted, lots of time they would be at school, sometimes at work or with friends, but when we were all home we would have to share the one console between the three of us. Thankfully, Ben and Phil were nice enough to let me watch pretty much anything they were playing. It was from exposure like this I found myself becoming more and more intrigued by all the games I could play. I grew up in a household that always had children around due to my mom being a babysitter, and when we weren’t playing outside (or if it were raining), I would try to get out the NES and play. In all my years I can remember playing the NES at our house, I don’t ever remember buying any new games: we always seemed to borrow them from friends or rent them from a nearby store. Either way, many of my most cherished memories come from that tiny grey box.
Some of my earliest gaming memories are coming home after school and playing through the original Bubble Bobble with a friend. We were at it for over an hour, trying desperately to get to level 50, but to no avail. The theme music is ingrained in my head to this day thanks to that faithful weekday. Seeing as I was around six or seven when I first recalled playing the system, many of the harder games had to wait until years down the road. This was the case with classics like The Legend of Zelda and Castlevania, which I didn’t get around to playing until much later. There was one series of games, however, I remember playing and loving even though they were ridiculously challenging:
In the early 90’s there was no other game cooler to me than the Mega Man games. We only every owned Mega Man IV, which is great, don’t get me wrong, but my favorite game in the series is hands-down Mega Man III. We rented the game multiple times growing up, and I can recall writing down those silly grid-based codes and keeping them in my drawer so I could start back where I left off next time my parents let me rent it. Mega Man III and IV are one of the few games I can say I actually beat during the NES era, and I think that’s saying a lot coming from a kid under 10 years of age!
Aside from The Legend of Zelda being a truly amazing series in its own right, I have a distinct memory of those games for two reasons: one being the gold-plated cartridges which were so cool to look at over the drab grey ones, and two being me erasing my oldest brother’s save file in Zelda II. So the NES didn’t have a save function like we have nowadays, hell, it didn’t even have a save slot: you either had to enter codes like you did in the Mega Man or Metroid series, or you had to do this weird trick where you pressed the reset and power buttons on the console simultaneously to save your progress for a future session. So I was playing Ben’s game, fully aware I was just messing around and planning on saving his content later with him none the wiser, my mom called us downstairs to eat dinner, and, you guessed it, I completely forgot to press the reset button as I powered the console down. All save data, gone. Maybe it’s my mind bringing up what I want to remember, but I don’t think Ben was all that mad. Probably because Zelda II is pretty damn easy and he likely wasn’t that far, but still! Memories!
There are so many standout series’ that got their debut on the NES that still hold a special place in my heart. Double Dragon and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Arcade games are a few of the best beat ’em ups I can remember. Plus, they had multiplayer, a huge benefit for a household with multiple children. How can you write about the original NES and not talk about the Super Mario series? We had all of the games, and even my parents picked up the controller and played occasionally! Little League Baseball, Micro Machines, and Punch-Out are some of the games I remember playing for months, practicing and playing again and again to make it to the end. The cliche definitely takes precedence here, but the pre-internet era made everything about the games a lot more mystifying since you couldn’t just look up what to do or what happens next! It made the feeling of accomplishment for making it to the next level much more rewarding.
Since I was still pretty young during the time of the NES, my exposure to it was shortlived: the Super NES came out just a couple years after all of this, and that console was the one that truly expanded my video game skill, knowledge, and appreciation. Still though, the original Nintendo Entertainment System deservingly became the very first console I played. Nintendo’s mascots would follow me throughout my life, holding a special place in my heart whenever I saw them. I still get a smile on my face in 2017 when I see a new Metroid game, or hear someone talking about the newest Legend of Zelda game and how it hearkens back to the earliest games. I was there. I played them.
The NES was my first console gaming experience, but it certainly wasn’t the most impactful. On the next retrospective, we’ll take a look at the Super NES, and the absurd amount of quality games and memories associated with it!