I have owned many video game consoles in my life. The original Nintendo Entertainment System was not my first video game console, nor the last. But like so many gamers who have continued to carry on with childish things into adulthood, this is the system that cemented, for all time, my love of the medium. No other system is remembered with the nostalgia of this one. Emulators abound on the intrawebs for die-hards that, twenty years later, still can’t get enough of Ninja Gaiden or Metroid. I dare anyone to take a poll of 30-something males and tell me how many can recite the Contra cheat code by heart.* Nintendo is a shared experience. Very few American households during the 80s were without at least the basic console. Most had some of the more outrageous accessories as well (The Power Glove was, in my opinion, simultaneously the coolest and most useless of these). Gaming is now mainstream entertainment. Last month Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 sold 4.7 million copies within the first 24 hours of it’s release. This translated into a staggering $310 million, which makes it the beggest-selling launch in entertainment history. Notice I said entertainment, not gaming; video gaming has officially crossed over. The biggest movie debut of all time? The Dark Knight, which grossed $155.3 million in it’s opening weekend. The biggest book debut? Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with a paltry $170 million. True, the video game sold for a higher price than a movie ticket or even a hardcover book, but it’s also worth mentioning that fans are willing to spend the extra money for this title. So now that gaming is no longer regulated to the basement TV set, I thought I’d take a stroll down memory-lane and reminisce about the moment in time when gaming became cool.
The NES was launched in 1985 and revitalized the video game market after the crash of 1983. Designed by Masayuki Uemura, it was Nintendo’s first venture into home gaming; however, Nintendo had a secret weapon named Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto first found success as a game designer with the arcade hit Donky Kong where he introduced us to a diminutive mustachioed hero named Mario. Miyamoto was not trained as a game designer, but rather as an artist and storyteller. He, more than any other person, has shaped and established the world of modern day gaming and his creation, Super Mario Bros., catapulted the Nintendo Entertainment System into it’s status as a pop-culture icon. While there are several reasons why the NES captured our imagination, content, as always, is king and the games for the system are what endeared it to every child who ever played it. Here are a few of my favorites:
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!: It’s laughable in retrospect how fun this game was. It wasn’t really a sports game, but more of a puzzler. I can still tell you the number of hops needed before the punch in order to stop Bald Bull in his tracks. The fact that the cartoonish charicture boxers played to every racial and ethnic stereotype imaginable didn’t even phase the twelve year old child glued to the TV. I’m not sure just what it was about the implausible story that captivated us, but it did. And all these years later the young at heart still love this game.
Tetris: Tetris wasn’t invented for the NES, but the world’s most famous console introduced it to a throng of brick puzzle-hungry gamers. To this day this is the NES game my wife proclaims that she enjoyed the most. Tetris was the gateway drug for an entire generation of gamers.
The Legend of Zelda: Designed by the great Shigeru Miyamoto, this is quite possibly the best video game of all time. I still remember the drive home from the store in my parents 1984 Toyota Camry. I remember unwrapping the packaging and the excitment of seeing the gold cartridge. I love gaming, but this is the only game that has ever had the kind of impact on my life that is usually reserved for the higher arts such as literature, or cinema. The immersive world, the etheral music and the challenging gameplay combined to deliver the most amazing gaming experience possible on the platform.? More than any other game, The Legend of Zelda gave us a taste of things to come.
Nintendo changed the world and paved the way for the high-powered gaming consoles we know and love today. Anyone who doesn’t recognize gaming as a force in the entertainment community is deluding themselves. That power is in no small part due to the visionaries that created this classic system and the games that made it the best video game console of all time.