The Nintendo Entertainment System, Part 1: The cool kids

Whenever I see forum threads to the tune of “What are your most shocking gaming secrets?”, the first thing that comes to mind is the fact that I never owned a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). No, I instead chose to ask for a Sega Master System for Christmas back in 1986. In a lot of ways, owning a Master System was similar to what it feels like to own a Wii U today: a trickle of good first-party support, but that’s about it.


But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. While I have a lot to say about the Master System, I want to talk about the NES. Out of the group of friends I hung out with back in junior high, at least half of them had one.

While almost all of us had an Apple // computer of some kind, the NES was different. Its primary killer app was Nintendo’s own Super Mario Bros., which for all intents and purposes, was a pixel-perfect translation of its arcade counterpart. Full of variety, tight gameplay, colorful graphics, and a catchy soundtrack, owning this game — and knowing all of its numerous secrets — immediately put you in the “cool” category among your peers.

20140521_kung_fuI’d be lying if I said I wasn’t jealous of my friends. It’s not like I could simply ask my parents, “I know you just bought me a Sega, but how about that Nintendo too?” Out of the question, and I would never build up the courage to ask. That left me with the obvious alternative: play them all at my friends’ houses!

And play I did. A lot. The NES simply had the better games, and so many more of them. The difference between the two libraries was ridiculously comical, and it’s no wonder Sega moved quickly to release the 16-bit Genesis in 1989, a mere 3 years into the Master System’s short existence.

20140521_excitebikeThe first couple years for the NES were amazing. While many genres were still in their infancy, the quality on display even at that early stage was incredible.

Take Excitebike, for example, which was already a fun game to play with great pseudo-3D graphics, but they upped the ante by including a track designer. Although its save/load functionality was far from ideal, building that in as a feature added value, while being a fun way for friends to show off to one another.

20140521gngMeanwhile, Capcom had been releasing a number of arcade-to-home conversions at that time as well. I was a big fan of their arcade games like 1942, Ghosts’n Goblins, and Commando, but their NES conversions didn’t impress me. Their graphics were really choppy and the music was hollow and tinny.

I played them to death, of course — and they did play good, which is important to note — but it was disappointing that Nintendo’s home console wasn’t able to do justice to many of my favorite arcade games.

20140521rushnattackThat would all change when my friend received Konami’s Rush’n Attack for his birthday in 1987. Although I was already a fan of Konami’s games like Castlevania and Gradius, it was Rush’n Attack that for the very first time made me realize that home versions of arcade games could be better than the originals.

While the NES version’s color palette and animation weren’t as detailed, it ran more smoothly, felt better control-wise, and it blew my mind with one of the best soundtracks of that era, which still sounds great today.

It was from that point forward that Konami became synonymous with quality for me. They would really falter in later generations, but back then, it was rare for them to put out a complete dud.

The years that followed would further solidify the NES as arguably the all-time best videogame console. It would play host to many games that are to this day considered the greatest ever made.


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