This post has been updated since originally being published on April 16, 2012.
A to Z 2012: Gaming in the 1980s
Nintendo Entertainment System
I completely missed the first generation of console gaming. That's right - there was never an Atari 2600 in the house when I was growing up. In fact, I did not own a Colecovision or Intellivision console either. I vaguely remember playing around with some of these things at a friends house but we missed the first generation of consoles. What we had instead was the Commodore Vic-20 and I honestly never knew the difference. There were plenty of games available and I could do other things the Vic-20 also.
That would all change one Christmas morning. I woke up and noticed a large box with my name on it! What could it be? I was running through the options in my head all morning. Finally, we started opening presents and I saved it for last. When I opened it, I got super excited when I saw it was the Nintendo Entertainment System and several games. The picture here on the left is a pretty fair representation of what I opened - the NES, games, zapper, controllers, and the robot were all there. By the way, I still dig all of that stuff except for the stupid robot. I never did like using it and I still hate it to this day...lol.
I immediately got everything opened and out of the package. We got the instructions laid out and then got it all hooked up. For the next several hours, I was lost in the den/game room trying out the Nintendo. I was hooked right from the moment I put in Duck Hunt and started zapping away. Of course, Duck Hunt did not get a lot of play after that day. As soon as I played some of the other games, I knew I just wanted to play until I beat them!
My buddies and I would play quite often when we weren't doing some D&D or other activities; it was also the perfect opportunity to do some solo gaming because you just needed one player for the video games. The NES got a ton of use in my childhood and I am surprised that it didn't just wear out. I have to give a big THUMBS UP to Nintendo for making a quality product.
Some of my favorite NES games (in no particular order) are:
Dragon Warrior was one of the first console rpg's that I played and owned. I eventually owned every one of the Dragon Warrior games released for the NES. It was a way to satisfy the D&D itch when no one else was available to play. I enjoyed the story and felt immersed in the quest taking place in the game. It had all of the typical D&D elements and also reminded me of Ultima.
UGH - this game was rough! Punch Out was one of the games I got at Christmas. I put it in after Duck Hunt and played Glass Joe for several matches - many more than I should have I felt ;-) - until I finally beat him. I continued on and finally made it to the third guy that weekend. In the following months, advancing further in Punch Out became a serious competition among the whole group. Every so often someone else would advance to the next boxer and that would make every one of us try harder. Finally, I was the first to reach Mike Tyson. I got slaughtered in the first round. I didn't give up and kept practicing. Some of the other members of the gaming group caught up to me and reached Tyson also. I kept plugging away at it because I wanted to be the first one in the group to beat him. I finally found out through Nintendo Power that I just needed to get a certain amount of points scored against Tyson and last all three rounds to win by decision. I changed my strategy to one of mainly avoiding him during his really difficult spots in the match and scoring points during the best opportunities to do so. Then everything was falling into place during one attempt at Tyson. I knocked him down twice in the first round, twice in the second round, and then entered the third round. We traded knockdowns during the match and during this final round. I had the points to beat him by decision and I just need to last 13 more seconds after knocking him down for the second time in the third round. Tyson hops up, meets me in the middle of the ring, throws a crushing uppercut - the same ones you are forced to avoid for over a minute in the first round - and sends Little Joe down to the mat! No matter how hard or fast I hit the buttons, Little Joe would not get up. Being around 16 or 17 at the time, I am quite confident that I let out a teen aged F BOMB and then immediately turned off the game. Not my proudest moment...lol.
I never did play it again, either. The funny thing is that none of us ever beat him. One of these days I might have to track this down and give him another shot.
I usually hate racing games but I really dug R.C. Pro-Am because it was different. You weren't driving a racing car but one of a selection of remote controlled cars. As you maneuvered around the track, there were power ups you could collect that would let you do things like shoot missiles. There were also little arrow strips you could drive across that would shoot your car zooming down the track to pass the competition. After collecting letters and spelling a word - I don't remember what it was - all of the cars would transform into trucks if I recall correctly. We always wanted to last long enough to transform again but I don't believe any of us ever did accomplish that feat.
I remember playing the arcade version of Rygar every time I was stuck going to the grocery store. When I found out there was a home version, I rushed out and got it. At first, I was a little disappointed that it was not a direct adaptation but I quickly got over it. The NES Rygar was so much more awesome to me because of the differences from the arcade version. You travelled to different areas in the game in both but there was a sense of history to the world that has been tainted by evil. There were unique items to collect and obstacles to overcome that would eventually result in facing the boss monster. The most memorable thing about this game is the difficulty. You could pick up from your previous game but only until you turned off the power. There was no save or continue function that would let you come back later to pick up your quest from that point. There were times when we would leave the NES powered up and just turn off the TV so we could continue the next morning.
Super Mario Brothers was another one of the games in the Christmas package. My buddies and I would play this game for hours, taking turns when someone would get killed. It may be a "simple game" by the fact that you basically just make Mario run, jump, shoot fireballs, and avoid obstacles to get to the end of the stage but it is very fun and the stages are quite diverse. This is a true NES classic and anyone that claims to be a console gaming fan - especially the retro kind - should play this game.
I remember hearing the name and thinking "that sounds like a game I will not get". I borrowed the game from one of my friends at school and found another game that would satisfy my D&D itch when no one else was available. I saved up my money and bought The Legend of Zelda; I even got the gold cartridge version! I spent hours playing this game trying to get to the next dungeon, upgrade to the next better sword, or find some other item that would help me advance on the quest. There were times that my friend Jamie and I would stay up pretty much all night playing this just to get to the next milestone. The Legend of Zelda was a very engaging game and did a fine job of mixing the action and rpg genres into a game that would have wide appeal. Although I have played a ton of the sequels, I still find this first game to be one of the best entries in the series. I have even used it for inspiration when coming up with magic items and monsters for my fantasy campaigns over the years.
As soon as one of these games becomes available on the Wii's Virtual Console I make sure to download it. So far I have not been disappointed in any of the games. The play still feels very similar to the way I remember it. In fact, I have downloaded several older games that are probably considered true classics by many - Metroid, Castlevania, and several others - but I am really waiting on the Dragon Warrior games. I better go check the newest update to see if it is available...
Since that time, the Wii Virtual Console service has been shut down. That's unfortunate because the service offered much more than just old Nintendo games. There were also Sega Genesis, Commodore, TurboGrafx-16, and others. I had a list of games that I was still planning on purchasing but I will have to look for other options now.
I chose to buy a Retron3 to scratch not just the NES itch, but the console will also play Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis cartridges as well. I've picked up some of my old favorites including Dragon Warrior, The Legend of Zelda, RC Pro-Am, Rygar, Shadowgate, and Super Mario All Stars. I've also picked up some games I never did own back in the day like The Adventure of Link, Uninvited, and Sonic the Hedgehog. Some of the games I'm going to add to my collection when I find them include Final Fantasy, Metal Gear, Phantasy Star, and Trojan among others.