Features: Reader NES Stories
Posted by Zach Kaplan
You tell us why you loved that 8-bit magic machine
To help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the NES's North American debut, we asked you to send in your favourite memories with that machine, and you delivered. We apologise to those whose letters we unfortunately were unable to find a place for, but whether you made it into the article or not, it's much appreciated.
Though some outside of the gaming community might think it's silly, for many of us, some of our best memories involve gaming. The following stories demonstrate why.
Our first tale is the heart-warming story submitted by Chris, which captures quite perfectly a few important reasons why we enjoy reminiscing about video games.
I remember coming home from the worst day of school my first grade self had encountered yet. My first run in with the school bully, among other things, led me to come home with my head down, defeated and upset. I walked in the door ready to tell my mom all my woes, but before I could open my mouth she bursted, "Guess what your aunt sent us in the mail?" She then led me to the living room where I saw my sister sitting in front of the TV playing Super Mario Bros. on our very own NES!
I'd played one before, but because of my family's financial situation, I never even thought that we would have one to call our own. I sat and watched my sister play for a bit, and when it was finally my turn to play, I picked up the controller and immediately ran Mario straight to his death. My sister laughed but I kept at it and finally made it to that first flag! After somehow managing to trigger the fireworks, sitting there listening to the victory music, I felt like I had made it in life. After mere minutes of playing I had already forgotten all the bad things that had happened earlier that day.
A gamer's first time picking up the controller should be a beautiful thing. Sometimes, however, it's a less than ideal experience, as in the case of Lawrence D:
Back in the 80's in our Bronx apartment, my evil older sister and my cousin would monopolise the NES and never let me in on the fun of Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt. Eventually my tantrums paid off by annoying my mother, and she coerced them into allowing me some play time. I played for a total of 15 seconds and died brisk death on the first level of Super Mario Bros. "He'll never learn to jump over the gaps," my sister mocked as she snatched the controller back. That was my first time playing video games – and to this day, I still play video games.
For most of us, having fun with our siblings is not a thing of the past – though incredible 8-bit cutscenes may be. Stephen Witkowski reminds us:
I was born in ‘86, so while the NES had already come out, I remember my brother getting one when I was pretty little guy. I remember my brother being really excited, and for a long time the only game we had was the Super Mario Bros. / Dunk Hunt cartridge, but what came next was truly spectacular. Tecmo Super Bowl. My brother played through so many seasons of that, and eventually I got hooked too. He’d always whoop my butt when we went head to head though. It was a great bonding experience. As for the game, there’s never been another sports title so cinematic. There were even cutscenes for special plays and achievements. I still absolutely love the one where two people jump into the air, one just behind the other with their arms reaching as high as they can, one snags the ball and lands on one foot in a running motion. And all you can see behind their helmet is black.
Navigating the murky waters of video game shopping can be a bittersweet experience – and who better to mix things up than a sweet lady concerned with the improvement of her grandson's eyesight. David B. tells us the story:
When I was younger, my parents were very much against video games. My first system was a hand-me-down Intellivision from my cousins in Chicago. While awesome, I would still usually play NES at my friends' and cousins' houses. Finally, I had saved up $100 to purchase a new system. My grandma said she would take me to Toys 'R' Us (you know, back when you had to take the ticket to games window!) to pick up the system and cover any additional costs. As we moved through the aisles, my anticipation was at a boiling point – when we passed the new Sega Genesis kiosk.
My grandma stopped and asked me what it was. "Oh, that's a new system from a different company." "The graphics look very nice, a lot of colours. This would be better for your eyes." My grandma and I found a clerk and she began to have a discussion with the man about my poor eyesight and the many colours the Genesis could put out. I stood there in shock. "Was I getting a GENESIS!?" My grandma paid the extra $100 and we were on our way.
I still remember that crisp smell of Styrofoam and computer parts as I hooked the system up to my television. I ceremoniously plugged in Altered Beast and began gaming. It was awesome. Like having an arcade in my house, just like on the commercials! After an hour of playing I started calling all of my friends. "No, not a Nintendo," I told them. "Grandma bought me a GENESIS!"
After the third phone call, though, the excitement began to fade. Sure, I had Altered Beast, but my parents were the sort who only bought games on birthdays and Christmas. I would have to rent games only as none of my friends had a Genesis. No borrowing or trading, no bringing games over. Just Altered Beast and the satisfaction of having the most powerful console of the moment.
After a torturous night of soul-searching, my mother and I went back to Toys 'R' Us the next day and traded back in the Genesis for the NES Family Power Pack. When I came home this second time I did feel a little sting of remorse, but that soon faded when I borrowed some games from my cousins.
I eventually sold my NES and all the games for a used Genesis, and sometimes I regret it. The Super Nintendo was the only Nintendo era I missed out on. And I will never make that mistake again.
The NES preceded the achievement systems, online leaderboards and the plethora of in-game collectables that today are quite commonplace. We can imagine that these were created by gamers who were unsatisfied by the less complicated challenges of the NES era – gamers like Aaron L., who sent us this memory:
Ahhhh! The NES! Home to some of my most treasured gameplay moments! As games weren’t released as frequently "back in the day," when I completed a game I would set up challenges for myself. I could complete Super Mario Bros. upside down (whilst standing on my head), with my toes (my toes were a lot smaller back then!) and even do a speed run in around five minutes (using warps of course)!
Today we take the Internet for granted, but the easy information sharing it facilitates has a downside – the extinction of the element of surprise and the feeling of joy that came with knowing something that no one else did. John M. tells a story that exemplifies this mix of excitement, confusion and amusement.
I was five years old and on my way home from Kindergarten. My neighbour stopped me and told me that my mom wasn't home right now and that she had called asking her to get me. As we walked over, her son and his friends ran past me yelling and laughing, and I still remember them saying something about a "stupid dog." Having no idea what this meant I quickly ran after them, because who wants to be left out of the laughing and yelling?
When I got into the house, the other boys were all crowded around the T.V. and one was saying "No, you have to blow on it!" Then the T.V. flickered on. As they sat watching, my neighbour's son handed me a controller and told me to push the black arrows once the ducks came on the screen, but to be quiet and not say anything.
As the ducks appeared, I pushed up and down and watched as another boy tried to shoot them with a gun. He kept getting angry and saying the game was cheating; I soon realised that it was cheating! And I was the one doing it! I was overjoyed that I was fooling these older kids and was having so much fun.
In about five minutes it was over. My mom came to get me, but I knew at that moment this was something I wanted!
The foreknowledge that a little Internet access provides could have easily prevented this unfortunate situation as well, sent in by reader Jonathan:
The year was 1988. My sister and I had pooled our allowances so we could spend the 50 or so dollars on the sequel to our favourite game. Yes, it was Super Mario Bros. 2 and words could not express our excitement as we tore off the shrink-wrap and inserted the cartridge. Wow, everything looked so much better than Super Mario Bros. 1... even though it was also completely different. We started on some kind of hill, and after falling a few screens down, we found ourselves at a dead end with a door. "I don't remember doors from SMB1... try hitting A on it." Multiple attempts (and possibly hours?) later, we were in tears. We were convinced that our game was broken. Why couldn't we go in??? That's when my mom picks up the manual and reads that you have to press Up on the D-pad to enter doors. It sounds so simple now, but at the time that was revolutionary, man! That may have been when my habit of reading manuals before playing the game started.
Not having reliable access to widespread information could also culminate in different ways, ways that result in some unfortunate misunderstandings, as evinced by this story sent in by Jason C:
My mom's friend had The Legend of Zelda, but he wouldn't let me play his saved game (which he named "Link"), so I made a new game and called it "Zelda". Now I know that I discovered the password for the second quest, but at the time I kept getting pissed off because nothing was where the map said it would be. I wound up turning the game off in disgust. I refused to play it for years after that because I thought it was stupid. Now it's one of my favourite games & series ever.
Of course, these were the days (and they very well still may be) of a more simple way of cheating at games – though some problems just can't be conquered by such methods, as demonstrated by this story sent in by Christopher Ingram:
The first time I put a hand on a video game controller, I was three years old. I don’t know if it was to quiet me as a child, but I firmly remember playing Kaboom on the Atari 2600 at a relative’s house with my parents. Gaming was a pastime in my family and still is even today, carried on by myself as well as the majority of my family. At such a young age, gaming was just another toy – until a present for my third birthday that year came around and my passion for gaming began. That momentous birthday present was the Nintendo Entertainment System with Super Mario Bros.
The whole family showed up for this birthday, maybe to see me or maybe to try their hands on this new gaming system. But putting my hands on the NES controller wasn’t a great experience at first.
The now famous Level 1-1 on Super Mario Bros., that later in life I completed with a blindfold on as teenager, was too much to handle as a three year old child. I couldn’t make it over the pyramid jump at the later part of the level. I got there several times over, but just couldn’t make the jump. Screaming and crying, the night came to a close and I never finished the level.
The Power Pad came with the game World Class Track Meet. Beating the legendary Cheetah by actually running in place in the 100m dash was near impossible, so we children quickly learned that using our hands to play we could make the onscreen character run even faster. It still wasn’t easy, as the Power Pad had a way of slipping all over the carpet during play, and finding creative ways to hold the thing in place was as much fun as playing the game at times. My families’ encyclopedia collection that I barely ever actually read made great weights for our Power Pad gaming needs. How many things we did to keep the dang thing in place: duct tape, weights... the thing always slid around when we resorted to our hands – and man, can you run fast. Cheetah was a slow poke compared to hand running.
The only downside to the fun that we had playing the NES was the sadness that came when it was taken away. So goes the story of reader Skylar B., who learned this in a flash:
One night, during a thunderstorm, my dad was playing an RPG – either Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior. It thundered so hard that the lightning short-circuited the TV, then the NES, then the controller, with dad’s hands on it! The shock gave a big boom and dad was totally startled!
The next day I was excited to play Super Mario Bros. 3, only to meet disappointment in a dead NES. Super Mario 3 was my favourite! Now I couldn’t play it anymore!
It's a dark day, or in Skylar's case a dark and stormy night, when our favourite games are taken away from us, though sometimes the horizons are not so dim. Take the tale of Evan P:
My life was ruined when a rat/ our dog/ our cat ate through the cable of the number two controller of our NES. As our favourite game was Super Mario Bros., the loss of two-player mode was catastrophic.
About a year passed, and just for fun I decided to have a go at repairing the controller. It turns out that NES controller cables are not that complicated (even if they appear to be). So with a quick splice and solder, two player goodness had been restored.
As a coda to this story, a couple of years after this, the NES was claimed in a house fire. But hey, we had a good 11 years of the mighty NES (and I had the N64 with four-player goodness by then).
But why dwell on the sadder moments? We take you now to a happier home, a home in which even grandma and grandpa know how to party, as told by Justin S.
My earliest memory of playing a video game was in '92 when I was three years old. I walked into the living room at my grandparents' and saw on the screen Donkey Kong for the NES. I asked my grandpa what it was, and he said he was playing a video game. Ever since then I would always look forward to driving down to my grandparents' so we would play the NES nonstop.
The ultimate title we had was Super Mario Bros 3. We played that thing nonstop soooo many times, we even had a book with a pink cover that taught you how to be good at Mario games, "How To Win At Super Mario Bros. Games" by Jeff Rovin. Every time you turned off the game you had to restart, and it was a whole new adventure because there were so many different ways to beat the game. "What world should we go to with the flute? Let's try to beat the game without the flutes! Don't forget the secret 1-Up in Bowser's castle, it's a family tradition to get it! Where are the clouds, what's the anchor do?" So many hours spent with that game, it was the right difficulty too – in the ice world and dark world I would always cringe and go into the other room so my grandpa could concentrate on boom boom. It was hard but it felt so rewarding. He died in 2000, but the memories remain.
Some of our elders weren't so keen on gaming, however, but some found a way around this issue. One example is the story of Ivan Winchester, who writes:
I got my NES when I was five or six years old, so I had to ask my parents for permission to play it. Sometimes I knew they wouldn't give me the chance because I had already played too long, so what I did was take the controller and pretend that I was playing in front of the turned-off T.V. That made my parents go "Aww," and give permission. That was a hell of a trick... for my age, haha.
Parents weren't the only relatives to impede our efforts to game, however, as shown in this story told by reader Leroy S:
I remember when one of my uncles carried an old NES to my home on Thanksgiving. My cousins were there, playing what I identified to be Super Mario Bros. 3, and they were playing the hell out of it.
Of course I wanted a turn, but my cousins were saying I had to "work my way up" to that level. What they meant was beating the first world of Super Mario Bros. It was hard at my age, and I died quite a number of times before I could reach 1-4. After I beat it, I was granted "permission" to go ahead with Super Mario Bros. 3 and well, it turns out I could play a bit better than them. Nothing made me more happy than using the Tanooki suit for the first time.
We conclude our feature with a story that demonstrates how a durable old NES can still be fun today, sent in by user Token Girl:
Probably the best NES times I had were actually freshman year in college (2003). One of the guys in our dorm brought an NES, and we would play Duck Hunt when there was nothing else to do, sitting as far away from the screen as possible – not very far, and at a weird angle, given the size of our dorm rooms. I won a lot of respect with a perfect on level 14. Good times.
We'd like to thank everyone who spent the time recollecting, writing down and sending in their NES memories.