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A big lover of all types of media, from Movies to Video Games, Books to Music, Television to Stage.

February 1, 2011

Growing Up On Nintendo - Part One, The NES

The first video game system I owned was the Nintendo Entertainment System.  It was the one with wide and flat games that you had to blow into sometimes in order to get them to work when you pushed them into the console.  The Super Nintendo followed in the same footsteps, including the blowing on the short, fat cartridges that slid into the top of that particular system.  The NES and SNES might have been the best gaming systems Nintendo ever made, including the Wii and the DS, simply because more classic titles that led to a lifetime of gaming started out on those systems. Let's take a trip down memory lane and see what I'm talking about.

Keeping in mind that we're discussing North American titles and releases, you can certainly start off with the first three Super Mario games.  The beginning of the most recognized gaming character was on the original NES, all three titles, and no matter how dated they look now, or how 'old school' they play on their second "Super Mario All-Stars" remakes for the Wii, nothing could beat the anticipation I felt for the release of the third title in that series.  The first game was all over arcades and malls; hell, my first spotting of Super Mario was at a Country Style donuts near a Becker's Milk I went to regularly when our dryer had broken down and we had to dry our clothes at a nearby laundromat.  The second game took the series in a completely different direction, but which added to the style of gaming that Mario represented.  See, Mario wasn't against Bowser in the second game, and the game itself took place in a dream.  As a result, Mario didn't just jump and stomp on enemies, he was granted the ability to pick stuff up and throw things.  No biggie, but revolutionary at the time.

No, the third title is the one that I had excitement for.  This is the first Nintendo game that got heavy advertising, and as a result I had a jones for that thing long before it got to store shelves.  Keep in mind, this was long before the internet, the competition between systems hadn't gotten going yet, Sony hadn't entered the gaming ring at this point, and nobody had heard of either Microsoft or Windows.  Word of mouth and TV and radio spots were the only way to circulate buzz, mainly due to kids not being newspaper types.  But that is a discussion for another blog; "Super Mario Bros. 3" made a huge splash when it released, and Mario's notoriety was cemented in a way it hadn't been since his austere start as a plumber and gorilla hater.

Beyond Mario, the first three "Dragon Warrior" titles also debuted on the NES.  The first game I ever bought for myself was the original "Dragon Warrior," and by the time the third came out all my friends were as excited as I was about the title.  A buddy of mine even went so far as to pick me up at my house, with my television set in hand, take me to a friend's house to set up my TV side-by-side with his, and then surprise me with having bought me a copy of "Dragon Warrior 3," which we then explored on our single player games while raving to each other how great it was, in a room full of people watching both screens and following our progress just as eagerly as we were playing.  That is what I call an early LAN party, right?  The "Dragon Warrior" series was released in Japan as "Dragon Quest," and had a rabid following in its home country as well, but again we knew nought of that at the time.  It was sword and sorcery, hack and slash adventuring with a great soundtrack and hilarious one-liners.

Great soundtracks leads me to perhaps arguably the biggest series ever released on the original NES aside from the Mario titles.  That would be the original "The Legend Of Zelda."  Another hugely popular title in Japan, Link's first adventure to save Princess Zelda was unique in that it was actually the first title, to my recollection, that actually had two games within the cartridge.  Saving Zelda and defeating Ganon once just didn't cut it...if you wanted to be a true hero, and have songs sung about you down through the ages, you needed to go back in and start from scratch on the second, and much more difficult, playthrough.  The hidden objects were moved, the stores sold quite different inventory, and most notably all the dungeons had been moved about AND had completely new maps!  Creatures you met were a level harder than the first time around too, and overall the game was a huge amount of content for the cost.  Zelda begat a sequel on this system, but it was a blip in comparison.  Hardcore RPGs had come to North America, and we were thrilled.

There were other big titles that hit the original NES and still have their followings, games like "Mega Man" or the original arcade conversions of "Donkey Kong" or "Gauntlet," but except for one other enormous title, none of these have the loyal following like the ones I've already mentioned.  That other enormous title, which stands right beside Zelda and Mario as a recognizable brand, is "Final Fantasy."  Yes, pixel-based characters trying to save the world one last time before it is destroyed have been questing repeatedly since the days of the NES.  Never mind the fact that we're now discussing a sequel/add-on to the thirteenth in the series, the "Final Fantasy" saga is quite simply the first deep action/RPG series that crossed from Japan.  it was the first title with a ridiculously huge map, the first to offer class progression, and with over 60 castable spells it was quite simply the most complex title of that era.

Of course, nowadays the "Final Fantasy" series are released on every major system on the market, but back when it first released it was a Nintendo exclusive, and that was before there was real meaning to that statement.  The only other real competitor out there for Nintendo's bucks was the Sega Master System, and while we will certainly touch upon that particular console in a future post, I never owned a Sega product until the middle of the Sega Genesis days.  Nope, I grew up on Nintendo, and except for owning a TRS-80 from Radio Shack, it was my first venture into home arcade gaming.  While the shine has faded in recent years from the Nintendo star, I was and always will be a Nintendo kid.

The next two instalments of this series will come out over the course of the week.  Part 2 - The Super Nintendo System will be followed by a discussion of what kept these titles alive for a quarter century in Part 3 - What Kept These Titles Alive For A Quarter Century?  Pretty original title, huh?  Until then, Gamerscore, ho!

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