When I was growing up I loved video games. I played Nintendo and Super Nintendo like my life depended on it. It’s what kids did back then. You’d have people over to play Nintendo games. On the playground you were cool if you knew the code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, B, A). That was before it was on t-shirts sold at Hot Topic. Literally knowing that code improved your social status, at least for awhlie. I still have the code for Mike Tyson memorized – 007 373 5963 – for 2 days I could eat at the cool kids lunch table. I remember having a kid over to play Legend of Zelda with me just so I could learn more secrets and how to get the raft and the ladder.
It probably all started when I was really little when my parents got Intellivision for me on my 2nd or 3rd bday I think. I loved it. I would play Scooby Doo (the music would scare me), Burger Time, Frogger was my favorite, and the last game I really remember playing Diner – the sequel to Burger Time – where you ran around kicking meatballs into soccer type goals. I loved that game. (In fact I’m going to download an emulator and try to find it later). The only time the Chicago Bears have won the Super Bowl I know exactly where I was. Playing Intellivision with my brother and next door neighbor in my porch while my parents hosted a big party in our basement.
But soon the rage was the Nintendo Entertainment System. I believe it came out when I was in 1st grade. Only rich kids had them. The commercials dominated saturday morning cartoons. R.O.B. the robot was the coolest thing ever. Nintendo could literally transport you to different worlds – at least thats what I believed based on the commercials when I was 7 years old. I remember the first time I saw it was at my Dad’s lawyer’s condo. He had a huge TV and two kids, both playing Super Mario Bros. The size of the TV impressed me, the game impressed me, and I was jealous as could be. It was 1986, so I was only 5 years old when this was all going on. Intellivision wasn’t quite the same anymore.
It took a few years before I was able to get my hands on a Nintendo and actually play. I literally remember the day. It was the middle of summer. My friends who lived down the street from my brother and I were out playing in the yard as we did all day and night every single day. We saw our friend’s dad drive down the street and pull into his driveway. I believe at this point I went back to my house to get lunch or something, but my friends and my brother ran over to their house. They knew what was going on. Their dad had brought home a Nintendo with Excite Bike and Gradius.
It was late 1987 or early ’88 at this point. Excite Bike became the go to. We didn’t play outside as much anymore. We would sit for hours in the dark room – with a window unit AC blasting and play Excite Bike. Occasionally Gradius would make an appearance but that game was hard as hell. Even with The Code. Soon school started, I think probably 1st grade at this point. This was a terrible thing for a kid, going back to school, but it did have one benefit. Trading games. Soon Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Baseball Stars, Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros., etc, were all making their way through my friend’s house down the street. Sleep over parties at his house became common on the weekends. It was during this glorious time of trading video games I came across what would become my true love and one of the best video games of all time. Contra.
Finally at Christmas of 1989 I got my Nintendo. It was the NES Power Set. It came with the NES, two controllers, the gun and the new POWER PAD. It also had the coolest thing ever at that point. One game cartridge that had Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, and World Class Track Meet on it. It was a shared present between my brother, sister (who was only 4 years old) and I – back then it was a big deal, it retailed for $199. My video game library grew.
***Aside: remember Funcoland? It was the first place that opened to buy, sell and trade used games… So many bad trades and money spent selling and buying games there. One of the big hooks was you could try the game before you bought it.***
So the NES was king for a few years. Games like Super Mario 3 blew my mind with their amazing graphics. I loved the movie The Wizard with Fred Savage. Nintendo was the coolest right up until Super NES was released in 1992. Again this changed my life. The first time I saw and got to play one was at my grandma’s house. My older cousin was in town and had brought his with, along with Super Mario World, F-Zero, and Street Fighter 2 I believe. I had to have one. Fortunately I believe that christmas I got one. Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball, Clay Fighter, Mario Paint, Maximum Carnage we’re favorites. Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo where you could play as Vega and M. Bison, Super Star Wars and Super Empire Strikes Back were all staples through junior high school.
Then the 3D revolution hit. I was a freshman in highschool and had gotten grounded for getting bad grades. What that meant was no hanging out with friends. But what I did do is buy an N64. It wasnt’ the same though. I loved Rebel Assault and a few others but I could never wrap my head around the 3D environments and controls.
When I went away to college I found video games again. My roommates and I would play Grind Session, Tony Hawk, WWF wrestling and tons of others on the Playstation that Chad who lived next door brought with him. PS2 was released and we ditched class to go and pick up our pre-order from Toys R Us. Madden football tournaments were born. Again video games became a huge part of my social interactions with my friends. We would gather around and comment and watch ‘the big game’ when we wouldplay head to head on Madden. Not long after that though, Chad brought his old school NES back… with loads of games. Punch Out, Baseball Stars, Gradius, Contra, etc. I was hooked again. 10+ years later I finally beat Mike Tyson. Baseball Star was more fun and had more re-playability than the MLB the Show games. Gradius, the 2nd game I ever played, I beat at Christmas that year on my original NES at my mom’s house. It’s stupid but was incredibly rewarding.
I’ve dabbled in other games since, Zelda – Windwaker for Game Cube is the best story based game I’ve played ever. I loved the Smash Bros. fighting games. But to this day nothing comes close to a good side scrolling shooter for me in terms of fun, re-playability and actually enjoying the game.
***NOTE: Super Mario Wii and Super Mario for Wii U are worth the price of the systems. Taking everything that was fun about old school games and updating it just enough to feel modern.***
This post was originally going to be called:
Crappy Video Game Weapons: Contra Fireballs
I was going to discuss and talk about the contra fireball weapon and how its the worst power up in video game history, but as I started to reminisce I got carried away in other directions. So look forward at some point to old school video game musings.
Some guy on YouTube who loves Diner like I used to: