There was something just…. magical about the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was the right console for the right place at the right time. Today, 25-years after the gray on gray box was made available to the United States I can’t help but feel a little nostalgic.
And quiet frankly, I’m starting to grow tired of generation nostalgia. It seems as though everything currently in production is a remake of something from the 80s or 90s. But that is beside my point. Today I wanted to give my proper thoughts on the NES and why no other console will be like it in my lifetime.
The NES wasn’t my first console. That honor lays in the hands of the Atari 2600. Before my family owned an NES, I was playing games like Tank and Orel Hershiser’s Strike Zone on our IBM 286. I was a gamer long before the NES came into our home. And I honestly can’t even say that the NES was my favorite console either. I can say with all sincerity that the Super Nintendo will always hold a special place in my heart.
But the Nintendo Entertainment System held an individual type of perfection, and some may argue that it is still perfect despite its inability to consistently load games and its genuine mono sound. Because of its limited memory and video capabilities, every video game playable on the NES was 50% video game and 50% imagination, which is why I think it had such a personal touch with everyone. Everyone that played an NES in the 1980s filled in the gaps of the stories and the visuals with their own deepest fantasies.
We all had different personal back stories for Link. He was a mighty warrior for some of us. He was a child-elf just fighting to survive for others. In our minds, we all could hear the grand orchestral music of Dragon Warrior even though what we were actually hearing was just 8-bit chip tunes. We would trade in any Stallone or Schwarzenegger film for a few more rounds of Contra because to us, the experience was more visceral.
Like an arranged marriage, we went into owning our NESs with a will to compromise. We knew that some of the games were hard. Some were impossible. We knew that the controls on every single game weren’t going to be as precise as Super Mario Bros. 3. But we played as many of them as we could as we begged our parents to stop by the rental store Friday afternoons after school.
Aside from Nintendo Power, our only source of how wonderful a game might be was by the .75″ wide picture on the back of the game boxes. If we were lucky, there might have been a commercial on television with actual gameplay during Saturday morning cartoons. Or in other cases, we’d be very lucky if there was an arcade version of the game we were hoping to play like Tiger Heli and Ikari Warriors.
I’m sure my age had something to do with how much I loved the NES as well. In 1986 I was much more willing to fill in those imaginative gaps. In fact, I’d go as far to say that I was excited to do so. Now, if a game so much as slips up for one second and tells an incomplete story, asshole reviewers like myself will jump all over the game, damning it into a sales void.
Having an NES was a major luxury item for the time too. I sometimes read gamers complaining on message boards that games are too expensive at $50 and $60 apiece. But they’ve been that price for as long as I remember, so in reality, the cost of buying a game is going down because the price is staying the same. Currently it seems as though everyone’s family has a Wii, 360, a PS3 or even a combination of those consoles. Gaming is much more accessible now than it was back then. Before I owned my NES, I used to play as much of my Atari as I could stand. On the weekends, I’d would look forward to losing a few dollars in the arcade at the mall. After all, spending $3 on the weekend was way cheaper than dropping $200 to bring that level of action home.
I’m sure it’s a combination of all these things that makes the NES such a “magical” creation to us geeks. It was our secret form of escapism. At the time, so much as speaking about video games in certain 8-year-old crowds was considered a social faux pas. Just this past weekend, I was at a restaurant and the topic of The Legend of Zelda came up. The waitress, who was no older than 18, overheard us and said “Oh, I love that game!” Oh, the times they are a-changing.
But I’m an old spoiled man now. I own a 360, a Wii, a PS3, a DS and a PSP. I’d easily trade any… hell, I’d trade all of them in for the same feeling that the NES gave me from 1986 to 1992.