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NES Memories

What's it like growing up with the NES?

The system that saved video games in America.

Atari had it all. Nolan Bushnell's company that put gaming on the map was on top of the world. The Atari VCS, otherwise known as the Atari 2600, was the most popular system for its time. There was nothing Atari could do wrong...until they did two things. The first thing was to create a game based on E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial, and licensed Pac-Man for play on the 2600, disappointing players who were waiting for this legendary title, and only got the prototype that was made instead. All of this, and other events, led to the great video game crash of the 1980s. Now, I never knew about the crash until I read about it some years back. There were still arcades, there were still arcade games tucked in gas station and grocery store corners, and video games were still being made and sold. But unknown to me at the time, video games were almost gone in America. Until Nintendo stepped in to revive the North American video game industry. Nintendo, a Japanese company with established hits like Donkey Kong, Mario Bros., and Punch Out, wanted to make their presence known in America, but they had an uphill climb.

Most retailers were highly skeptical. Nintendo tried every trick in the book to make their Family Computer, or Famicom for short, appeal to American retailers. Even including a keyboard and a cassette deck didn't help. They even almost entered into a partnership with Atari where Atari would distribute the Family Computer in America, until that deal fell through. Desperate to get a foothold in the USA, Nintendo decided to create their own Trojan horse: a toy robot.

The NES Deluxe Set. I missed out on the robot action.

Nintendo introduced the Deluxe Set, which included two controllers, a Zapper light gun, two games; Duck Hunt and Gyromite, and the ultimate gimmick, R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy. The system itself looked nothing like its Japanese counterpart. The American NES looked for all the world like a VCR. The games weren't cartridges, they were Game Paks. And the robot? It helped you play certain games.

R.O.B. was made specifically for Gyromite, though if you booted up the game, the title screen just reads Robot Gyro. I don't know how the robot worked technically, but it helped with certain things in Gyromite, but since the robot held the second controller, you can cheese this game by pressing the controls yourself. With Nintendo finally selling the system in America, and the ads finding their way into my eyes, I soon was wishing I owned this thing.

The game I really wanted was Super Mario Bros, which came packed into later releases of the NES. There was absolutely zero chance of this game appearing on my Atari 2600, even though I had Mario Bros. on this machine. So year after year, I asked Santa for a Nintendo, and year after year, that fat man failed to deliver.

It was rough growing up in the late 80s when all the other kids had a Nintendo, and acted really snobby as it was seen as a status symbol back then, and I had the sorely outdated Atari with a sad Donkey Kong conversion, the horrible prototype Pac-Man, but no E.T., though I later played it. All of my friends had the Atari, as well. We were not of the elite. I knew one kid that though he was hot stuff because he had a Nintendo and I didn't. There was another kid that decided one day to stop being my friend because he was getting a Nintendo system, and deemed me as being inferior to him. You could call it the late 80s "Nintendo master race," though these days, it's either PC, Xbox, or PlayStation. My dad got one, and on weekends when I'd visit, they only had one game, Top Gun. It was great playing this thing under more friendly terms.

It wasn't until I entered junior high that I finally got one to call my own! I got to take advantage of game rentals, got to talk Mario and Zelda with friends at school, and subscribed to Nintendo Power. I even got into debates with kids that swore Justin Bailey created Metroid, and not the late, great Gunpei Yokoi, due to Justin’s name giving Samus some serious power, but also put her in a sexy (by 8-bit stands) swimsuit. I loved having a current gen system, but I still kept in touch with my Atari buddies. I never became a Nintendo snob! I shared the power!

I'm thinking this is Zelda II, horribly scrambled.

Having no friends in the "Nintendo master race," nobody told me of the issues that came with this otherwise awesome system. After owning one for a few months, I was beset by the infamous flashing screen of death. Well, that was weird! It was becoming a fight to get a game to run. Sometimes, a game would run perfectly, then glitch out. One time, the dog in Duck Hunt made his way to the center of the screen, where he'd jump into the bushes to flush out ducks, but turned around, went the other way, then teleported to the middle of the screen, buried in the dirt in the foreground, and laughed at me as if to say, "You're not playing this game!" The screen then had flickering blocks and jumbled code. My NES was possessed!

The popular fix was to blow the dust out of the cartridge connectors, which actually did more damage than fixed anything. This usually happens when the warranty expires. Having no idea how the innards of a Nintendo worked, and Nintendo's customer service was no help at the time either, unlike today (they are awesome!), and Nintendo wouldn't mention the components of the NES in Nintendo Power for another few years. All I could do was cry.

I went through three NES's (they were dropping in price) and had a Super Nintendo about this time, too. Nintendo acknowledged the flaw in their system, and released an update that looked like an Americanized Famicom, what it should have looked like since the beginning! I'd have gladly paid the asking price for that! I regretted not buying one of those when I had the chance, but I did manage to find one for cheap at a swap meet.

These days, my FC Twin is what I play for the few NES cartridges I still own, and I still play Nintendo's Virtual Console on the Wii and Wii U. I get more excited about playing retro games than something new, but right now, the only current system I own is the New 3DS XL. So share this with as many people as you can so I might one day own a Switch.

@MormonMetalhead on Twitter.