Sunday, June 6, 2010

Dear NES, how did I ever beat anything on you?

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).

14 comments:

  1. I had a hand-me-down NES when I was 6. Like you, I have no idea how I actually managed to beat games at that age. I graduated to SNES and N64 through the years and became a stereotypical "gamer." That is, until the 10th grade. After that, I never bought another console and gradually stopped playing video games. I occasionally play my friends Xbox or Wii, but that's about it these days.

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  2. I've also been trending down with my yearly playing since 10th grade, with some spikes at the introduction of the PS2, Gamefly and the Nintendo Wii. I just don't have enough time anymore, and while the idea of becoming a game critic is appealing, I also realize it would mean playing a ton of crap, for more than 40 hours a week, for probably less pay than I get now.

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  3. http://www.dorkly.com/article/1719/7-girls-youve-dated-and-their-game-console-equivalents

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  4. Ohmygod that is amazingly great and correct! Thanks :)

    p.s. How the heck are you? I haven't been able to chat with you on AIM in like, forever! I feel like that Donnie Whalberg skit on SNL, where he talks to animals. "Hey Goat... How you doing? How's your mom?"

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  5. I never played SNES, I stared with the 64. All games are a joke compared to SNES.

    I'm telling you kids that used to play SNES as kids are way better than any of us who didn't. They just get games. While I may give up after a while if the game is impossible, that's all anyone who was raised on the SNES is used to.

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  6. Ooh, NES. The nostalgia! :)

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  7. Baby Hornacek, the SNES is pretty god damn sweet. I attribute this to the color - While the NES had a decent spread, and the Genesis was OK, neither could match the combination of simple patterns and vibrancy of the SNES. And after that, the later generations of consoles moved toward more "realistic" looking games, except for stuff like Mega Man and some RPGs.

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  8. Sadako, totally. And I just checked out your blog - Those movie reviews are ridiculously good. I do some of my own here and there:

    http://stephenonstuff.blogspot.com/search/label/Inexplicable%20Movie%20Review

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  9. Steve, thanks! You're too kind.

    I'm going to check out yours when I get a chance. If there's one thing I love as much (or more?) than watching movies, it's obsessively reading and writing about them.

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  10. my brother and i were obsessed with our NES the newer games are so difficult to me. hubs is addicted to his wii and ps3 and i was an avid atari, coleco and nes player with zero interest in the new games :( i feel so old and overly challenged.

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  11. Thanks Sadako! I totally missed this comment until now - doh! How'd you find my blog, anyway? I also devour movies - good, bad or otherwise.

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  12. haha Ally, you might want to try some of the stuff on the Wii. Some of the games like Super Smash Bros. Brawl are pretty accessible, and they also have download-able classic NES games.

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  13. I brought my NES to the lake last weekend when we went camping for nostalgia's sake, and rocked some Super Off Road with the Four Score adapter! I forgot how tough the computer gets in that game, we were all out by race 25.

    I have two favorite NES memories. One was playing two player coop with my dad in Play Action Football all the time, since the players ran so damn slow (it literally took two minutes to run the length of the field), I would constantly do screen runs to my dad and I would spend the next two minutes blocking for him. Good times!

    Another time was when our family was determined one day to beat Gauntlet II, after many, many hours of nonstop play we gave up and presumed the game had no ending around level 145.

    ...hmm other NES awesomeness

    A,B,B,A being a lifesaver in the crazy long levels in Ikari Warriors

    Tecmo Super Bowl's 100 yard passes

    Fights in Ice Hockey

    Bean Ball mode in Super Dodge Ball

    what an era it was!!

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  14. Gruel, I'm definitely with you on the sports games. Play Action Football was my first football game because of all the coverage it got in Nintendo Power, but it was kind of lame. Luckily, I didn't give up on the sport, because Tecmo Super Bowl was the greatest shit ever.

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