My first video game console was a ColecoVision. My family bought it at a garage sale, and it came with a handful of games. All I remember of it was Donkey Kong, and some tank game. It’s safe to say it didn’t leave a lasting impression on me.
Instead, my childhood was defined by Nintendo. I had a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), then a Game Boy, then a Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), and I have fond memories of each. The systems and games eventually disappeared (I don’t remember how exactly, perhaps garage sales), but decades later, I still remember the games I had:
- Captain Skyhawk
- Super C
- Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt / World Class Track Meet
- Super Mario Bros. 2
- Super Mario Bros. 3
- Dr. Mario
- Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
- Donkey Kong Country
- Mario Paint
- NBA Jam
- Super Mario All Stars
- Super Mario World
- Super Metroid
- Super Off Road
It’s interesting how I can name these by heart, and even in the order I got them (though I’ve rearranged the above alphabetically). For example, I remember going to Toys R Us with my mom to try to get Super Mario Bros. 3, the hot new game at the time (ahem, The Wizard). At the time, I only had the SMB/DH/WCTM pack-in cart and Excitebike, which I received at the same time as the NES. However, SMB3 was out of stock. I remember being very fixated on SMB3 and would wait for it if I couldn’t get it then, but my mom suggested getting another game, and I picked Metroid. A few months later, I got SMB3. So right there are my first five NES games.
I remember them all, since there were a relatively small handful, so I ended up playing these titles all the time as a kid. Of course there were also video game rentals from Blockbuster, and other games friends had, but these were my core games, and I remember them all fondly. (Well, maybe not Captain Skyhawk, which wasn’t that good.) Can I say the same thing about modern collections? I have a decent number of Xbox 360 and Wii games (at least a few dozen), but couldn’t name them all by heart. Some of them I may have only played a few times. Of course, I’m not a kid anymore, and things like work and paying taxes and other boring adult tasks tend to take priority over hours of video games.
Last October, shortly before the NES Classic Edition was released (all 6 or 7 units they managed to ship), I ordered the carrying case for it, and expected the usual Nintendo launch: it’d be sold out immediately, I’d wait a month or so before stock became easily available, and would buy one. That ended up never happening; Nintendo announced the discontinuation of it in April after never having enough stock available, and the already inflated scalper prices have skyrocketed. Nobody knows why Nintendo would discontinue a product which was still literally flying off the shelves. My carrying case sits in the corner, dejected.
Around the time of the NES Classic Edition release, I was watching some videos about the Game Boy, specifically the Game Boy Color, and decided to get one. I went to the local retro video game store (yes, we actually have a retro video game store in town), and picked one out, in “atomic purple”. They actually had a number of GBC units available, but not many GB/GBC games, few of which seemed interesting to me (or were expensive Pokemon titles). I bought a copy of Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 for something interesting to play in the meantime (short review: the PS2 version was better), then started looking on eBay. Within a few weeks, I had received all of the above Game Boy games, plus a few extra, because they looked interesting, were cheap, or were bundled in with something I wanted anyway:
- Donkey Kong Country (GBC)
- The Hunt for Red October
- Metroid 2
- Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (GBC)
- Super Mario Land
- Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (GBC)
- Yoshi’s Cookie
The purple GBC is in excellent condition. One interesting observation is, while I hadn’t played an original Game Boy for nearly 20 years, I still have the finger muscle memory. Literally every time I pick it up, my left index finger reaches up to slide the power switch, which was on the left side of the top edge of the original Game Boy. However, the GBC moved the power switch to the top of the right edge, but I still have an entire childhood of muscle memory working against me.
After the discontinuation announcement of the NES Classic Edition, I started on a bit of a buying spree. I went back to the local game shop and bought an SNES, in excellent condition, and Donkey Kong Country, in terrible condition. Amazingly, the console is an original (literally the first year of release, as it has the cartridge locking mechanism) but has no yellowing whatsoever, while the cartridge has yellowing on the top half, as if it spent years plugged into a console without being removed. Seriously, I didn’t even know the cartridges could yellow. Also, the console bundle came with a Japanese Super Famicom controller; functionally identical to the SNES controller (just with different colors and a shorter cord), but interesting that it made it over here.
Again, to eBay to fill out the rest of my collection above. While last year I bought a bunch of extra GB/GBC games I didn’t own at the time, I didn’t do so this time, just sticking to the re-bought games. Retro video game prices have really jumped in recent years, and the NES Classic Edition hype didn’t help. The most expensive SNES game I bought was Super Metroid for $50 (which was what SNES games retailed for when new, though inflation means I’m still paying less), while the rest were never more than about $20 each. Still, compare that to the GB games last year, which averaged $5 to $10 each.
One interesting note: When I got the SNES home and tried to hook it up to my beautiful modern 4K 55” Vizio LCD TV, it just plain wouldn’t work. When powered on, the screen would flash black momentarily, then go to “no signal”. I was about ready to go back to the shop and have them test / replace it, but first decided to hook it up to the incredibly cheap (in both senses of the word) 24” RCA LCD in the guest room. That worked fine! My working assumption is the Vizio is assuming an actual 480i composite / RF signal, while NES / SNES consoles output 240p composite / RF.
I suppose it’s fitting that the retro systems only work on the cheapest TV in the house.
A few weeks later, on to the NES, this time exclusively through eBay. I found a bundle which had an original NES, RF adapter, Zapper light gun (though orange instead of grey), two NES controllers, an NES Advantage controller which I had owned back in the day, and 5 games, three of which I was planning on buying anyway. I bought that, and also filled out my collection above, along with the following extras:
- Dr. Mario (It was $3, even though I have it on the GB already)
- Pac-Man (Tengen version; part of the bundle)
- Skate or Die! (My neighbor had this and we would play it a lot)
- Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt (Part of the bundle)
- Tetris (Part of the bundle; again, I already have this on the GB)
So yes, I now have a Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt / World Class Track Meet cartridge, and a Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt cartridge. As a child, I had the Power Pad bundle, but the Power Pad is the only accessory I have no interest in re-buying, as it’s bulky and rather expensive today. And ironically, I have two copies of Duck Hunt, and the Zapper, but cannot use it as I don’t have a CRT TV anymore. (Light gun technology works by reading the value of light on a TV on a per-scanline basis, something not possible on LCDs.)
The NES itself is in very decent shape, but it doesn’t read cartridges well. This is a common problem on original NES units due to the push-in-then-down cartridge slot design; the pins on the internal 72-pin connector get worn down and don’t make contact as well as they used to. I disassembled the NES, pulled out the 72-pin connector, boiled it (!) for 30 minutes in a baking soda and water bath, then manipulated the pins. The boiling is meant to expand the metal in the pins and push them back toward their original positions. This isn’t a foolproof solution though, but is helped by manipulating the pins yourself. A bent safety pin can act as a lever to get underneath the pins and push them toward the middle. After reassembling, it works much better than it arrived, but it’s still not perfect.
Three systems, 33 game cartridges, and a ton of old childhood memories. But that’s not all I’ve bought in the last few months. You may have noticed some odd hardware in the photos above which I have not yet mentioned.
Tomorrow, part two: Send in the clones!