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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tales of Gaming Christmas Past

I pride myself on having a pretty good memory. Case in point, I can recall a great deal of gifts I've gotten for Christmas in the past, be it clothing, or, *gasp* game related. Rather than talk about one particular Christmas memory as I did last year, why not share a smorgasbord of them?

Christmas of 1986 or 1987

Best. Christmas. Gift. Ever.

And here's where I look like a huge hypocrite. I just got finished saying how good my memory is, but for the life of me, I cannot remember which exact Christmas it was that I received a Nintendo Entertainment System. Personally, I think that's a pretty terrible thing to admit because not only was it my very first gaming console, but the impact this gift had on my life is beyond huge. It's the reason this very blog is here today and the reason so many people in the gaming community do what they do. Say what you want about Nintendo today, but the mark they've left on the industry is no small thing and in the late 1980s, they helped make a little boy's Christmas one of the best ever.

So in Christmas of '86 or '87, there was lots of stuff to unwrap. I mean, what parent doesn't love getting their offspring presents and seeing the looks on their faces when they open them? But for my sister and I (well maybe more me), the grandaddy of all gifts in 86/87 was a big, heavy box. What could it be? When we opened it up, we didn't react quite the way the N64 kid did but we were nonetheless STOKED. I think I'd seen and played my dad's Atari 2600 prior to getting an NES, but this baby was for my sister and I. Our very own gaming console to turn on and play anytime we wanted. My dad even shopped smart and got us the NES bundle that came with Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt. There's nothing like stomping on Goombas and killing ducks to fill one with Christmas cheer.

Once the NES was hooked up to the TV, we were good to go. Unlike today, there was no need for system updates and cumbersome installations. We just turned the thing on and we were ready to play. I'm certain that Super Mario Bros. was the first game we played. I think my sister and I sat next to my dad and watched him tackle World 1 all by himself. I can honestly say I'd never seen anything like Super Mario Bros. at the time. Mario started out small, yet when he smashed certain ? Blocks a Super Mushroom would come out and upon consumption, he would become twice the man he was. As Super Mario, he gained the ability to break bricks and take on an extra hit before he dies. But there were even more power-ups Mario could acquire. The Starman turned Mario into a walking seizure, capable of killing any enemy on contact and the Fire Flower allowed Mario to wield deadly flames with his bare... gloves.

Super Mario Bros. truly was a strange, new, yet fascinating new world. Super Mario Bros. 2 often gets harped on for being different and bizarre from the original and Super Mario Bros. 3, but when you think about, Super Mario Bros. is a pretty oddball game to. I think that's one of the main reasons I fell in love with it. Oh that and that catchy soundtrack that Koji Kondo came up with. My love for Nintendo, Mario, the platforming genre and video game music had been cemented in just one Christmas day. That's quite the one four punch!

Christmas 1989

By this time, the NES and I had become inseparable and I already had a reputation of being what is now commonly refereed to as a gamer. Along with Nintendo, Capcom had become one of my favorite gaming companies thanks to their work on the excellent Mega Man 2 and DuckTales. So when I saw the commercial for Chip 'N Dale: Rescue Rangers, I immediately wanted the game. I was a huge fan of the show and with Capcom being in charge of development, I knew the game would be gold.

I had rented my share of games for the NES by the time 1989 was almost over. Some good and some just plain awful. Whenever I wanted to rent Chip 'N Dale, the game was almost always out, much to my disappointment. The one time it was in, my dad wouldn't let me rent it, which killed me on so many levels. Of course the one time the game was in the rental store was around Christmas time and being a kid, I couldn't have guessed that this game was what my father had gotten me as one of my Christmas gifts.

When I opened my presents on Christmas day, 1989 and Chip 'N Dale was among them, I was as giddy as a school girl. Looking back, I was glad my father didn't let me rent the game. As much as I wanted to enjoy it more, the first level was kicking me in the butt. Playing so much Mega Man 2 and Super Mario Bros. 2, I had become accustomed to backwards scrolling and being able to shoot your enemies or at the very least pick up your enemies and toss them at other enemies. So a good friend of mine came over and we talked the game together, passing the first level and getting to the stage with those oh-so-cool flying squirrels!

Christmas 1993

In 1992 I would do something that I would later come to regret: I gave away my NES to my late cousin. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I mean, my SNES was getting all the action. Surely I could do without 8-bit gaming right? Well, a year later, I found myself missing out on some NES games like Mega Man 5. Not only that, I just plain missed owning the system. The game gave me so many fond memories in the form of Contra, Mega Man 2 and 3, Super Mario Bros. 3 and so many others. It was the first time I can clearly remember having one of those "What have I done?" moments

When my dad asked me what I wanted for Christmas in 1993, I told him that I wanted an NES and Mega Man 2-4.  I think he was a bit surprised when I told him this. I probably could have gotten a Genesis or even a new SNES game. But no, I told him with utmost assurance but the NES and the three Mega Man games was what I wanted.

Sure enough, an NES with Mega Man 2-4 was one of my Christmas gifts. I wasn't too surprised since I  went gift hunting around the house and found where my dad hid them, but I was nonetheless happy to have an NES again. This also marked the first time I owned used gaming goods as the NES and the games were second hand. The NES was picked up for $11 and the combined total of the Mega Man games was around $50 since I told my father where he could go to get the games on the cheap. I still own that NES and the Mega Man games to this day.

Christmas 1994

This was a huge, HUGE year for the SNES. Mega Man X, Super Metroid, Super Punch-Out!!, Uniracers, Final Fantasy VI, Demon's Crest and a plethora of other fantastic titles hit the machine. If you had a SNES, there was no shortage of awesome titles to play for the holiday season.

This was also the year that Donkey Kong made his big comeback. Earlier in the year Donkey Kong released on the Game Boy and in November, Donkey Kong Country graced the SNES. As grand as all the other games I mentioned were, this was the game that turned a lot of heads. Here we had a 32-bit game running on 16-bit hardware and it looked gorgeous. Not only that, the sound that the game was pumping out was incredible. Just as everyone was gearing up for the Saturn and PlayStation, Rare and Nintendo wow us with this thing. This was the SNES game to own for Christmas.

It's on like... you know the rest.

The funny thing is, as much hype as their was surrounding Donkey Kong Country, I didn't even ask for the game as a Christmas gift. Make no mistake, I was foaming at the mouth over the game like everyone else was, but I didn't nag my dad for it. And yet, he got it for me anyway. Maybe he was watching my reaction to the TV ads or he knew how much I loved platformers. Or he just had good taste. Whatever the reason, he got me the game, and I cannot thank him enough for it.

I spent hours playing that game after I opened it up. I think I made it to the third world on Christmas day and by New Year's Eve, I had finished the game. I wish I could say that was a pretty amazing feat, but it really wasn't. I was 13 at the time and the later levels of Donkey Kong Country got really brutal, especially the industrial complex that was Fear Factory. But I finished the game in seven days. I had time off from school and I adored the game so what else was I to do but play it to death? Thinking back on this makes me long for the days where I didn't have so many other things taking up my time. Oh well. At least I'll always have those fond memories of DK, Diddy, Rambi, and lots of bananas. Good times. Such good times.


When I was a kid, the best part of Christmas was getting presents. Now that I'm older and have some nieces and a nephew, I get a chance to see the sparkle in their eyes when the open up their presents, the same sparkle my mother and father saw in the eyes of myself and my sister. It really is better to give than it is receive. It's even fun to shop for kids I don't know when it comes to the toy drive that's hosted at my job each year. I've never been


Voltech said...

Wait a mean people get MORE than just rocks for Christmas? What sort of cockamamie traditions have become entwined within my very core?

Well, whatever. I like rocks.

Ah, so I see you have a much stronger context for the Mario canon than I do. Not surprising, but it is interesting to see what someone who started pretty much from the beginning thinks of the games. Becoming "twice the man" is certainly something I wouldn't have thought of. Same goes for how the other power-ups get conceptualized. A nice perspective, for sure.

Good to see that you've got some fond memories, and even better that you got to have some gaming fun with your family. Guess that's what Christmas is all about: the games. I mean family.

But mostly games.

...But mostly family.

Reggie White Jr. said...

Rocks are very useful. I mean, they can build things and be be used as projectiles. These are also the primary weakness of Cut Man.

Mario is one of those gaming characters that I grew up with. He's that old friend I never got tired. I know a lot about his games but there are far more people out there that could educate people on the plumber in greater detail than I could.

A lot of my past Christmases were filled with games, but family as well. I got to spend the holiday with some of my extended family and for that, I am ever so grateful.