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Joystiq remembers the NES


Today marks the 25th anniversary of the North American launch of the Nintendo Entertainment System. Or, at least, the 25th anniversary of the system's launch in Nintendo's test market of New York City. Most of us didn't actually see the thing until 1986, with the system merely an exciting rumor before that.

It's as good a date as any for the Joystiq staff to reminisce about the system that introduced us all to Link, Samus, Simon Belmont and Mega Man, not to mention Lolo, Kid Niki, 3D WorldRunner, Bayou Billy, Black Mage, Master Higgins, the M.C. Kids, and the cashier at Merv's Burger Joint (smiles are free!). Join us after the break, and play with the power of memory.

[Image: Front page of first known U.S. print ad for the NES; source: NY Mag; via 1UP]

  • Alexander Sliwinski (@XanderSliwinski): I never had an NES during my childhood. This, along with the fact that I never had a Mr. Potato Head, formed the man I am today. It wasn't until I saved up the money for a Super NES that I owned a Nintendo console.

    Also, I apologize to Danny, Peter, Aaron, Justin, Josh, Other Josh, Amani, David, Other Aaron, Johnny, Sean, Adam and anyone else I was friends with so I could get in some NES time.
  • Andrew Yoon (@scxzor): My very first system was a NES, the one that included Duck Hunt and Super Mario
    It really wasn't until Mario Kart came out on SNES that I became what you'd call a gaming "addict," but I remember tons of evenings grabbing flutes and P-Wings in Mario 3. None of the recent 2D Mario games have endued the same magical feeling as that one. (Granted, none of them had you riding around in a shoe!)

    My favorite NES memory had to be figuring out how Duck Hunt works. Trying to find the perfect sheet of white paper, combined with the right light to cheat the game. Thank goodness there were no online leaderboards back then!
  • Ben Gilbert (@BigBossBgilbert): Like Griffin, my greatest gaming memories as a youth were spent with NES' older brother, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. To my young mind, the wiles of The Legend of Zelda and Dragon Warrior were baffling, while games like Wizards & Warriors and Rygar taunted me with their relentless antagonism. My best, most important memories with the NES were spent learning about women. And not just any women, but floating women -- the Princess Peach herself. As much as I love Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3, the second game in the series (at least here in the States) was probably my first major love affair with video games. I've always been a sucker for precision platforming, and the twist that SMB2 gave to that with character selection blew my mind at the time. Also, those crazy floating masks gave me nightmares. For real.
  • Chris Buffa (@ChrisBuffa): My parents were never fond of video games, so I had to go through my grandpa to finally score an NES. Then my grandma sweetened the deal by giving me Double Dragon and Clash at Demonhead. Definitely one of the more memorable Christmases in my 31 years on the planet.
  • Christopher Grant (@ChrisGrant): What's more interesting than the story of my first NES is the story of my second NES. I was accompanying my father to Washington DC on the train from New Jersey to stay with my grandmother for a while, following my grandfather's death. I think, in the short train ride, my father realized that occupying my time was going to be a serious challenge. And so, when we got to DC and rented a car, we made a stop at Toys R Us (or was it Lionel Kiddie City?) first and I walked out with a new NES, replete with light gun and combo Super Mario, Duck Hunt cartridge. Oh ... and Rampage.

    Yes, the super violent and totally realistic Rampage accompanied me to my aging, and let's say upper crust grandmother's house (for example: we called her grandmother). When I first fired it up and showed her with no shortage of maniacal glee that I could scale a building, smash a window, retrieve someone from the shower and put them into my giant and totally realistic lizard mouth, she nearly fainted. Suffice it to say, I spent a lot of time with Super Mario Bros. while grandmother was around. Even as a child, video games were a controversial entertainment choice – I'm thankful my parents never once saw them that way.
  • David Hinkle (@DaveHinkle): Like James, I was lucky enough to get a NES on Christmas. Like a lot of other families, we would always open one present the night before but we were a pretty devious lot. My parents, the awesome people they are, just didn't have the good grace to realize that us kids wanted a NES so bad, we probably could've recited the box measurements off the top of our head. So on Christmas Eve, my brother picked out the NES box from under the tree. "No, pick another one," my parents said as they bickered back and forth all hush-hush in a state of panic. But no, he picked that box and we were damned if we were gonna budge. So in the spirit of the season, my parents caved and we opened up the NES with a copy of Super Mario Bros.

    We were then allowed to play it for one hour. That turned into two hours. After that, I'm not so sure -- I literally fell asleep sitting there playing the game. The next morning, I woke up before anybody else and tip-toed downstairs, turned on the TV really low and enjoyed some time with Mario alone. From there, I set off on an awkward life full of lots of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Metal Gear, Wrath of the Black Manta, RC Pro Am, Skate or Die, Blades of Steel, Double Dragon, Battletoads and, of course, the rest of the Nintendo classics.
  • Griffin McElroy (@griffinmcelroy): I'm pretty sure there was an NES in my family home before there was a me in my family home, which is an assertion I can confirm by going through the annals of our home video collection. Now, I didn't really fall in love with video games until the next generation of consoles, where games like Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III and Zelda: Link to the Past completely dominated my prepubescent mindspace. All those experiences required me to sequester myself in my room for hours on end, though -- the NES, on the other hand, I never played without a family member or two playing with me.

    Whether it was Marios 1 - 3, Marble Madness, Little Nemo: The Dream Master, one of the Mega Men (which I'm certain I never beat until college) or little gems like Anticipation (a brilliant little Pictionary-esque board game that allowed for four players on two controllers), the NES was less of a game system in my modern understanding of the term, and instead, a utility for family enjoyment -- which, no doubt, contributed to my deep, deep appreciation for the medium.
  • James Ransom-Wiley: 7AM Christmas Morning, 1988: The phone rings and it's my best friend confirming he got the Nintendo we'd all been dying for. The next two hours -- before the rest of my family was up -- were so, so, so agonizing, and then ... finally! I went right for the present that was big enough to be an NES, and then later I'd unwrap Rad Racer and a strange-looking game called "The Legend of Zelda."

    Super Mario and Duck Hunt I'd played enough times before to know they were so much cooler than ColecoVision. Rad Racer was clearly a racing game (in 3D?), but Zelda ... I just didn't get it -- until one of my older brothers showed me you had to walk into the black hole (a cave entrance, duh) in the first screen to get your sword. From there, well, I was sucked into the epic quest that became my mission in life.

    No, seriously, my next birthday party was totally Zelda-themed: My aunt wrote out calligraphy-style invitations, and we burned the edges (to make them look ancient) before sending them out; my mom sewed however many green felt Link caps; and my dad and brothers led us in teams through scavenger hunts and competitions to win pieces of the "Triforce." A decade later, kids were still coming up to me, like, "Man, remember your Zelda party?"
  • JC Fletcher (@jcfletcher): Okay, this might sound like a boast, but take it as a confession, one I generally don't talk about: I had a really big NES collection. You may assume I talk about retro stuff a lot because I've done a lot of research, but the truth is that as a kid, I funneled every gift opportunity and every cent of allowance into NES games, and watched for video store clearances, eventually accruing a collection of over 200 cartridges. I had stuff that nobody had any damn business paying money for, like Adventures of Dino-Riki, Mystery Quest, and City Connection. We weren't rich -- I was just spoiled, I guess. And obsessed. This is one reason that I try to be extremely frugal now.

    It is with deep shame that I expose my outlandishly consumerist childhood -- and with a deeper shame that I say that, for reasons I can't even fathom (perhaps a mummy cursed me to make bad decisions), I sold the majority of it off when I was about 12. What did I spend the money on? Not NES games, so it was definitely the wrong call. My NES collection now, including the remnants of my childhood library, fits into a plastic bin under the bed -- its exile done not really out of shame, but for space reasons.
  • Justin McElroy (@JustinMcElroy): I begged for months for an NES, all the while being fairly certain my family didn't have the cash to pick one up. About a month before Christmas, my dad pulled me aside and told me that Santa would be willing to bring me an NES, but only if Dad was allowed to sell my Atari and games to a guy he worked with. I asked why, and it's because Santa wanted to see that I was really devoted to getting one. That's the year that the NES taught me that the road is fucking tough.

    If you ask my dad about this story, he'll probably deny it, like he denies leaving me at home alone on my third birthday when my younger brother Travis happened on the day we were supposed to be celebrating the anniversary of my birth. See, the NES is still teaching lessons, the lesson in this case being that my dad is a huge liar.
[Image source: Retro Gaming Life]
  • Ludwig Kietzmann (@LudwigK): The NES taught me the value of a good co-op partner, something which is as relevant today as it was back then. Chip 'N' Dale: Rescue Rangers provided the strictest test of cooperation and endurance, separating the maniacal apple-tossing teammates from those who knew when to duck and when to stack (TECHNICAL RESCUE RANGER TERMS). And if we could survive the rain of ash from Fat Cat's cigar, we had forged an unbeatable partnership.

    I somehow managed to miss Zelda in my brief time with the NES, but I did spend many an afternoon with Faxanadu, in search of daggers and wingboots, mantras and monsters. You don't want to know how I excited I was to see it featured in Captain N: The Game Master -- or how long I thought Simon Belmont was some sort of weird surfer meathead.
  • Mike Schramm (@MikeSchramm): The first time I saw an NES was at a friend's house down the street -- it was a little girl I'd befriended who'd gotten one, and she wasn't even into it. I remember that she didn't seem to understand what was so fascinating about this little pixelated guy (I didn't yet know him as Mario) who could jump around the screen and find Fire Flowers and coins and kill monsters. I was amazed, though, and when it was finally my turn to take the controller and play, I remember pressing buttons, awestruck, while she left me and went off to do something else.

    Then there's the time a friend and I stayed up and played Kung Fu and RBI Baseball all night long. Nowadays, it's hard to think you could play those game for hours at a time (and honestly, "all night" at that age probably meant until 10pm in the evening), but we did, and loved it. And then (after I finally convinced my parents to "combine" my birthday and Easter gifts and buy me an NES) there's the first game I truly beat, Power Blade, and a very excited little Mike Schramm trying to figure out how to work a camera so he could take a picture of the end screen and send it off to Nintendo Power. I did take the picture, but back then you had to wait to finish the roll before you could take it off to Walgreens and get it developed, so I don't think I ever sent it in.
  • Randy Nelson (@DangerPenguin) Mine is a tale of obsession. Specifically, an obsession with tracking down the NES Deluxe Set that included R.O.B. I was sure that this "Robotic Operating Buddy" was going to change my life. He'd play games with me! So I went about two months, walking past the core Control Decks that kept getting restocked at the local Kmart, sure I could hold out until I found what I so desired. My parents said, "What's so great about that robot?" Um, everything!

    Finally, on a family trip to the nearest big town, we ended up at the only Toys R Us for 100 miles. And there, inside the glass case with the rest of the games, was the object of my obsession. I looked up at the little blue, plastic pouches they kept the "claim tickets" for the locked-up items in and there was one left for the set that included R.O.B. We got it, and thus began the most agonizingly long car trip home ever.

    We get home and I tear into the set, hooking it all up and lifting R.O.B. out of the box like some kind of robotic deity. I could have cared less about the prospect of shooting ducks using the Zapper -- my buddy R.O.B. and I were about to play Gyromite together. And we did ... for about, oh, 30 minutes, before the terrible truth finally set in: I'd waited so long for THIS? Later, I'd put R.O.B. on a shelf in my room, his eyes turned toward the wall because I just couldn't bare to look him in the face. Now, years later, I wish I still had him. I'd hook him up to my NES and we'd play together! His hands should be able to hold a Zapper, right?
  • Richard Mitchell (@SenseiRAM) It's hard to squeeze my best NES memories into a couple of paragraphs. It really was the system that started it all for me and my family. I couldn't possibly recount all the hours my brother, our friends and I spent playing Bayou Billy, Contra, Rampage and any number of rented games. My father used to enjoy watching my brother and I play games, especially Zelda 2. He actually knew what to do better than I did. I still remember insisting that we take a right in the cave labyrinth, while Dad said it was left. He was right, damn it, and I'm sure the backtracking cost Link his life.

    Then there was that Christmas. I opened my grandmother Mimi's present, a largish box, and there it was: A Christmas sweater, the kind with a big picture of Santa or a reindeer on the front. Crestfallen but polite, I pulled the sweater out of the box, only to see that Mimi hadalso slipped a brand new copy of Hogan's Alley in there too. She always was crafty!

    And then there was the tragic end of my first NES at the hands of Hercules, our Maltese. Hercules, or "Herky" as we usually called him, one day decided to take it upon himself to pee on our NES. He took it upon himself to pee on a lot of our things, but this was bad even for him. We cleaned the system off and, for what it's worth, it kept working for another couple of months. Eventually though, it gave up the ghost and it wasn't until much later that I bought another one for $25 at a used game store. Now it sits in the "retro corner" of my house alongside a Genesis / Sega CD, a PS2 and my beloved Sega Saturn.

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