The Nintendo Entertainment System was much more than just playing the games when we were kids. It was all-encompassing. It's what you and your friends talked about, it's what binded you all together. Think about it - the cereals, the magazines, the movies, the cartoons, the toys...it wasn't as simple as just turning it on and playing a game for a few hours. No, Nintendo was a way of life.
I still remember how I ended up with one of these beauties in the early 80s. My parents were doing a little reconstruction to their bedroom...reconstruction that would ultimately chop my bedroom's size in half. Now, while I was spoiled, I didn't really have enough stroke to get them to cancel out their plans for a much larger closet. So I opted for a different route - toy negotiation. I told them I'd have no problems with these room changes...if they bought me a Nintendo.
Understand that I'm the last of seven kids, and as anyone who's been in that position can tell you, the parents by that point are usually so tired, they'll give you just about anything you want if it means you'll get out of their face. So, I got my first NES.
Since I had older brothers and sisters, there was already an Atari 2600 & 7800 here. Now back then, any opportunity to control what was moving on your television was a very cool thing, no matter how good or bad the game way. But once my friends started getting their own Nintendos, playing Pole Position and Adventure didn't seem all that entralling anymore.
The unveiling of the Nintendo in my house was an event. In today's world, we probably aren't going to be shocked and suprised by technology until the characters from the games literally jump out of the television and cook us breakfast. But back then? This shit was absolutely amazing. The first game I played, like many of you most likely, was Super Mario Bros. against one of my brothers. We were completely floored by what was going on. Warping through pipes? Incredible! Shooting fireballs? This was serious stuff. And best of all - after years with an Atari, we couldn't believe that the person on screen that we were controlling looked even remotely human. Needless to say, calling this 'impressive' would've been an understatement.
Over the years, the Nintendo became a staple in my life. You'd go to school and discuss the latest secret codes and high scores...you'd come home to see if your Nintendo Power magazine had come in the mail yet...it was just everywhere. Things were so simple when we were kids. As you get older, you've gotta impress your friends with money, cars, clothes, and a hitcount on how many people you've fucked. Back then? All you had to do was beat Contra without using the 30-lives code.
With that, I want to talk about the five games that left the biggest impact on me. Now, these aren't what I'd consider the five best games for the system, just the games that I keep right here for assorted reasons. Like I mentioned, Nintendo wasn't just about gameplay. It was about birthday present anticipation, competitions with your friends, hours spent trying to figure out if holding the 'select' button down when you turned the game on would result in extra lives, and so on. In other words, it was the greatest time waster of all time. And with today's combined elements of widespread computer emulation and retro shit becoming so fashionable, even these games, some of which are almost twenty years old, will probably never go out of style. So here's my top five most important Nintendo games ever...
The Legend Of Zelda: For me, this game truly epitomizes what childhood is all about. I remember watching the commercials for this game before it came out - they were a complete mystery. My friends and I had no idea what the game was about, what it looked like...all we knew was that a game with that much hype had to be good.
When I opened up the wrapping paper that late Christmas Eve and saw this game underneath, you can't imagine the sweep of euphoria that came over me. This is why little kids don't do drugs - getting cool video games worked so much better. I didn't even bother opening the rest of the presents...I just hightailed to my bedroom to give the game I'd heard so much about a try. And for the next six months or so, Zelda became my life.
The original cartridges came in a shiny gold color. Shiny gold! Listen, even Metroid and Mega Man didn't get variations like that - Zelda was obviously one godly game. The thing that seperated this one from the games I had played until that point was that, in this game, you got way more options than you were used to. Most games are pretty cut and dry...you had a mission, and there was pretty much only one way to accomplish it. In Zelda, you could conceivably beat the game without seeing 20% of the stuff it had, play the stages out of order, find 'secret' rooms that you swore were never meant to be found, the works!
Of course, there are questions about this game that still haunt me to this very day. What's the back story on that goblin traitor who gives Link rupees? Why does Link's clothes change color when he wears a ring? How can those Tektike spiders walk through solid rock? Why did I always hit the Old Man with my sword, knowing full well the fireballs in the room would start shooting at me if I did? There's no way to explain it. For it's time, Zelda was a ridiculous in-depth game. The only game up to that point that came with directions on how to change the batteries.
In school, it was more of the same. The misfits who didn't like playing kickball on lunchbreak each chose a particular Zelda 'boss' character and gloomed around the playground trying to imitate him. This mainly consisted of all of us walking around really slowly with our arms stretched out. Ultimately, we all ended up looking like quizzical retards whose legs didn't work, but it was all part of the magic of The Legend of Zelda.
Castlevania: Another major game. Castlevania has spawned more sequels than Rocky, but in my view, the original is still the best. This was the game that taught me how to be an effective video game player, mostly because I could not stand that little music that played when Simon got killed. Duh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh nuhhhh. It was the most torturous thing on Earth. You'd go through an entire stage, fighting little hunchbacks and skeletons who seemed to be more interested in dancing than fighting you...you'd get through all this, lose your concentration for one second, and BAM! You fall in the pit. Cue the shitty music, and you've got to do it all over again.
Drove me insane.
But that didn't mean it wasn't a great game - it definitely was. You'd have a chance to do battle with everyone from Madusa to the Grim Reaper to Frankenstein, all the while using some of the niftiest weapons yet seen on the Nintendo. You've got to imagine that poor Simon would've been pretty discouraged walking through these huge haunted corridors with nothing but bottles of water to kill his enemies with. This game also did one up on Super Mario Bros....in that game, Mario had to slam his head against bricks just to get a mushroom. In Castlevania, Simon whipped walls and got dinner out of it. Throw in this ending, and you had a keeper...
Yes, a cute play on famous Hollywood horror actors' names. The undying wit of video game programmers brings us Christopher Bee and Belo Lugosi! I nominated this game as having one of the worst endings ever in an earlier article, but that's mainly because the game is so fucking long and involved, you'd expect a better reward by the time your thumb was ready to fall off. Still, a groundbreaking game.
Super Mario Bros. 2: Now, before I start, I've got to say that this definitely isn't what I consider a 'great' game. It was fun, it was entertaining, but there were certainly better ones out there. The reason I'm including it is because after those years of playing and worshipping Super Mario Bros. like some Moai Tiki god, the concept of having a brand new game with Mario and Luigi just blew me away.
It all began one afternoon long ago, I had been at a friends house trading little plastic snakes for his collection of Nintendo Fun Club magazines. I kid you not. For those who can't remember, the Nintendo Fun Club was a free mini-magazine sent to those smart enough to send that little postcard in. It's even been immortalized by a Doc Louis quote in Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! But alas, nothing that cool could stay free forever. I got home that afternoon and noticed a mysterious envelope from Nintendo sitting in my mailbox. Inside held the only form of literature I'd read for the next three years. What was inside? This magazine...
Yes, the inaugural edition of Nintendo Power. Did my eyes deceive me? Was this for real? A full-length magazine devoted to the only thing I cared about? Oh, it was quite real. But more importantly than all that, the magazine featured some news on a new game...a game I had heard something about, but not much. That game? Super Mario Bros. II. Twenty full pages devoted to making me obsessed with the game, and it worked. Super Mario II was a much different game than the original. There was no Bowser to face, no Princess to save. I'm still not exactly sure what my goal was, but all I knew was that it somehow involved picking up little midgets and throwing them at birds who for some reason wore red masks. My friends all labored on the correct character choice...the handbooks said that Toad could pick up stuff faster than the rest. My theory was that every friggin enemy in the game moved so slow, that was pretty much a wasted talent. The books also listed Luigi as the best jumper, but I knew better. The Princess was where it's at. Girl could float over anything! Definitely a cool game, and it only got better when you noticed that it included Nintendo's first literal transvestite, Birdo:
I'm not kidding. The game manual itself claimed that Birdo was a guy who thought he was a girl. I'm not saying I can't emphathize, but that was pretty risque for a video game in which your prime directive was to throw mushroom blocks at dancing fire guys.
Contra: All together now. U, U, D, D, L, R, L, R, B, A, B, A, S, S. Bazam, 30 lives. It's a good thing Contra included this code - getting past even the first stage with three lives was all-but impossible. Your mission? Who knows, you just ran around shooting everything in sight. Playing this alone was okay, but nothing could compare to the two-player version. It was the absolute easiest way to get in a lifelong fight with your best friend, for two reasons:
1.- Weaponry -- Contra was jam-packed with tons of power-ups. You started off with simplistic bullets, but as you gained power-ups, you could have machine guns or triple-bullets. But the end-all, be-all weapon? The Lazer. Now, the lazer wasn't something to be tossed aside, this was a serious weapon - and the weapon you had to compete with your friends to get. In my group, we had instituted a rule - we got the lazer in turns. If I got it first, Joe Schmo got it second, and vice versa. Of course, as I've said a thousand times before, kids are selfish bastards. I used to position myself 'unwittingly' so that I'd 'accidentally' get the lazer when it wasn't my turn. My friends did it too, so the rule was pretty much invalid. What usually happened was one of us hitting the power button on the NES in disgust over the other's actions, followed by a week of the silent treatment.
2.- Extra Lives -- I'm telling you, whoever made this game really had a sick sense of humor. Sure, there was a code to grant you 30 lives. Problem was, while playing two-player, chances were good that one of you would run out of lives first. But don't worry...with the push of a button, you could steal your friend's lives!
It was the most annoying feature in video game history, and usually ended up with someone getting punched.
Still, a great game with a huge fun factor. It really personified what old school video gamin' was all about...getting in huge fights with your friends over the most ridiculous things possible. I don't know how different my life would've been shaped had I gotten that lazer power-up a dozen years ago, but I'm sure if I had, I'd be making a lot more money today.
Double Dragon: For some unknown reason, I had convinced myself that there was some amazing back story and hidden lore in Double Dragon. I would study the bad guy hierarchy and try to assemble a story about how skinny white guys wearing spiked suspenders could possibly have teamed up with giant bald monsters named Abobo. I never, ever understood it. Why I chose Double Dragon as the game to solve a mystery for, I'll never know. I mean, look at Bubble Bobble. Your goal is to spit bubbles at little creatures in your ultimate quest to find carrots. That'd make a much more interesting case study. But no, it was Double Dragon for me.
While the brothers got along famously in the sequels, here they were enemies. The bad brother stole the good brother's girlfriend, and I guess he really enjoyed her company, since he hired about 2,500 guys to keep the good brother at bay. Unfortunately, bad brother lives up to his name...check out how he introduces himself to good brother's girl. And yes, I know their names are Billy and Jimmy or some shit, but with the family resemblence, I can't tell them apart.
Yes...he punches her in the stomach. This is actually toned down...in the arcade version, bad brother employs all his charms by simply shooting the girl.
That begins good brother's adventure. Along the way, he'll fight his way through a gazillion goons. He'll also have to climb fences. Which is unfortunate, since it gives us a clear shot of his amazing bald spot...
My favorite bad guy, like everyone's, is the phenom known as Abobo. Can Abobo smash? Oh hell yes, he can smash. He can also break through walls and tempt fate by trying to kick you at the end of a moving platform that leads to a bottomless pit. Abobo could do it all.
Double Dragon was great because it was a total rage release game. Fuck these Street Fighters and Mortal Kombats...those games require some finess and talent. Double Dragon? Nuh uh, you just went in and kicked the shit out of everything that moved. You beat on giants. You beat on women. Hell, you even whipped women down ladders. It's too bad that adults never got too into the Nintendo, this would be a great game to relieve the stress after a long day at work.
And those are my top games, for reasons very assorted and usually pretty stupid. Before I go, I want to draw your attention to what I firmly believe is the worst idea I've ever seen conceived, not just for a video game system, but for anything at all.
Nintendo was concerned over parents' concern that video games were causing children to have a severe lack in the exercise department. The solution?
Yes, the Nintendo Power Pad. Let's assume for a second that the thing was actually effective. It wasn't, of course...playing any game, even ones made for this thing, using the Power Pad was virtually impossible. Unless you liked losing. But let's say it did work. Isn't the point of video games a means for us to escape the evils of organized sports and ridiculous jogging? Who wants to run around in place just to jump in a video game? Us video game players were lazy. We may have liked watching Captain N, but we certainly didn't want to be Captain N. Mainly because we'd feel icky finding out that Samus was really some giant blonde who liked to hit on us. The point is, the Power Pad was destined for failure. If kids have got to run around and jump and stuff, they might as well go outside where their parents can't tell them to wash their hands.