Back in the day, I used to be a voracious devourer of video games. (To some extent, I still am; this entry is significantly delayed because I was powering through the end of Final Fantasy: Dissidia.) Of course, my first game was Super Mario Brothers, followed closely by Duck Hunt and World Class Track Meet, since all three were on the same cartridge. This game was so prevalent that used game stores refused to even give you $1 for it, and actively turned me away when I just tried to give them my copy.
From an age I can't even remember, to about 16 or 17 (when the pursuit of and mostly failure of getting girls took over), I played anything I could get my hands on, with an emphasis on RPGs and adventures. At this point, I had a NES, Game Boy, SNES, N64 and PSX (in roughly that order), and once I hit 18 I picked up a PSX and Genesis on the cheap. I picked up a PS2 my senior year of high school, and this carried me all the way through college.
However, reflecting back on all of this gaming, two questions sprung to mind. The first is relatively minor - How the heck was I ever exposed to a NES in the first place? I dimly recall that my friend Brian had a NES, along with a couple dozen games, but I also remember that I also had one at this point because I would always try to borrow games from him. (Back in the day, the only way to get new games was to shell out $50 for them, bum them from friends, rent them from Stop and Shop, or look through the classifieds. Funcoland wasn't around in Rhode Island until I was 17 or 18.)
I have no other memories of my early gaming, except that it happened, and that one night my day snuck a rental copy of Super Mario Brothers 2 in under his coat, which I had been nuts about playing. Its release date was October 1988, meaning I was around 4 or 5 at the time.
Secondly: How the heck did I ever actually beat any of these old RPGs and adventure games? I did have a subscription to Nintendo Power, but only for a couple years. The Super C issue was my first in May / June 1990, and I never even owned that game. I'm positive that the magazine helped me through some tricky parts in Castlevania 2, and it and my parents helped me with Shadowgate. (Incidentally, this is the only game they both ever got really into. My mom played and beat the original Dragon Warrior, which came free with Nintendo Power for a little bit.)
However, I distinctly recall beating Zelda 2 on my own, which required doing esoteric things like finding magic to turn yourself into a fairy to get through certain keyholes. The same thing happened for Zelda 1, although my aunt did show me how to use bombs. (Give me a break - I was like 5.)
The later Dragon Warrior games? All me, with no help from guides or Nintendo Power, and in the case of the second one, no instruction manual. The third one did contain a nice little guide in it, but it was fairly linear anyway. The second one was a monstrous ordeal, where you basically had to sail your little ship around the world and hope you didn't accidentally land on an island way too tough for you.
Past the NES generation, games began to self-regulate and clean up their act a bit. While you could get stuck in Final Fantasy 2/4 if you didn't play for a long time, and thus forget what your current task was, generally the people in your party could tip you off. The same thing goes for the third installment, which was also much more linear than people want to claim. This gameplay clarity made it a lot more frustrating when a game was a throwback, like Breath of Fire 2, which had plodding pacing and randomly made you use characters that sucked (looking in your direction, Sten and Jean).