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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start!

Part Two of a Series entitled All Your Free Time Are Belong To Us

Those of you who have ever owned a Nintendo Entertainment System have those directions burned into your memory. It's, of course, the Konami code. Originally used to get power ups when entered during a paused game of Gradius, it gained popularity with the game Contra, granting 30 extra lives if inputed before the start up screen. This was necessary, as the game was damn near impossible to beat with the allotted 3 lives and 10 continues granted out of the box. Since then, the code has appeared in numerous video games and has become part of the pop culture lexicon. To this day, I recite this directional mantra as an inside joke whenever I want or need more power or time to do something. "Sure, I can carry all those groceries, honey. Let me just input the Konami Code and I'll magically have the strength of 10 men."

As much as I have loved video games all life, I've never been on the cutting edge or frontline when it comes to new technology. Preferably, I tend to hang back for awhile until the prices come down and the bugs get fixed. The obsession never supercedes the need to be frugal. More often than not I have come into possesion of a game or system well after it was been surpassed by it's replacement. Case in point, the NES. As early as 1985 units were beginning to pop up in households signaling the end of the drought brought on by the Video Game Crash of 1983. While my friends got on board with the new 8-bit technology, I still fiddled with my Sears branded Atari 2600 system. Additionaly, I had begun getting into the home computer video game craze which seemed to promise better graphics and I could get games cheaper due to the ability to copy the game to a blank disk.

Eventually, I got on board around 1988. A friend of mine decided to sell his NES after only owning it for a year. He had the Basic Set which did not include a game but did include the Official Player's guide which detailed every game up until that point. He sold it to me for a $100 and threw in Marble Madness as well. Soon, I was off to my local video store to rent games. As with my Atari, I traded games with friends and can fondly remember being thrilled with the ability to enter in passwords and play saved game states or get power ups. I suspect that the passwords merely retreived data from the game code in the form of letter or number characters that manipulated score and progress in the game and not really a true saved game. Later games came with a battery that allowed for actual saving of progress and not just restoring the game to some state dictated by turning certain "switches" as it were. I could be wrong. During lunches in junior high, my friends and I would gather around the latest copy of Nintendo Power which got passed around like a Playboy stolen from the private stash of someone's dad. We fought for an unobstructed view of this sacred tome which gave us tips and tricks on how to defeat Mother Brain and Ganon. Foldouts containing detailed screenshots of each level showed us where the elusive green mushrooms hid as well as which candle we should avoid as to not lose our boomerang in favor of a stupid stopwatch. We'd feverishly scribble down passwords anticipating the moment the school week would be over and we could lock ourselves in our rooms with a case of New York Seltzer or Snapple Iced Tea and game away the weekend trying out The Amazon's Pirahna Bite which while kicked major ass would eventually be taken away from you.

The quality of the writing in games left a little to be desired as most were guilty of horrible Engrish. No, I didn't spell English wrong, I really meant Engrish. The most famous being the origin of this title of this blog series, "All your base are belong to us," from Zero Wing. Still, other games like Pro Wrestling provided thrashing of the english language with the phrase "A winner is you." Sometimes the best games were ones that had no dialogue at all, allowing only for side scrolling action. The controllers had a second action button which added to a learning curve for those of us used to the old days of the Orange Button. Eventually, I came into posession of a NES max controller that allowed me the advantage playing against friends as I had access to a turbo button.

I never got into the other controllers. Some of my friends would unleash an arsenal of gear when they would have others over for gaming sessions. There was, of course, the light zapper for Hogan's Alley and Duck Hunt. Since my NES did not come with Duck Hunt, I never had a zapper. At the launch of the NES there was the ill fated, R.O.B. This little robot that helped sell the console in North America never got its due with only two games specifically made to use it. Another popular controller was the NES Advantage or as I called it the BAJ (Big Ass Joystick). It allowed you to slow down game play with a feature that essentially toggled the start button rapidly, pausing the game intermittently. Dragging around and storing of the Advantage was difficult with the size of this beast. And let us not forget, the Power Glove. This thing looked like some kind of kinky toy better suited in the bedroom than the game room. It made an appearnce in that awful movie with Fred Savage called The Wizard. None of my friends ever owned this contraption, although one did own the Power Pad, which was a plastic floor mat with sensors in it for use in athletic type games. While I'm sure the intent was meant to get kids off the couch and do some exercise while playing video games, most kids found it easier to lay on the floor, pounding the buttons with our hands instead.

As with the Atari, the NES waned in popularity after a few years in favor of burgeoning advances in new technology. While still found in my collection of systems, the console has been collecting dust and I only play some titles through Nesticle, an NES emulator. That's not to say that the NES became completely devoid of replayability once the fourth and fifth generation consoles emerged. College provided a much needed revival of the system as my dorm floormates and I would engage in Tecmo Super Bowl Tournaments lasting for days on end. That is, until we acquired a Sega Genesis by illegal means and then it was NHL 94 24/7. We liked the game but were severly disgruntled by the fact that the blood and gore of fighting had been removed. Still, we could make heads bleed, which was good. We would get drunk on Mad Dog, declare in a pre Vince Vaughn, "Swingers" tone, "Wait I'm gonna do my thing with the thing," and just maul each everyone to death with Bob Probert. I look back on those days as a simpler time when gaming wasn't a way of life but a mindless distraction. I could wax nostaglic about it for hours on end, but I have to be off now, it appears my Princess is in another castle.

My Top 20 Best and 5 Worst NES games. (And before you flame, I've never played Final Fantasy, so I have no point of reference.)

  1. Metroid
  2. The Legend of Zelda Great game, check out this old school commercial
  3. Castlevania II Simon's Quest
  4. Castlevania III Dracula's Curse
  5. Golgo 13
  6. Tecmo Super Bowl
  7. Mike Tyson's Punch Out Before Tyson was replaced.
  8. Double Dribble Just what the hell was that mascot for LA supposed to be?
  9. Blades of Steel
  10. Ninja Gaiden
  11. Goonies II
  12. Double Dragon II The Revenge Much better port of the original Double Dragon.
  13. Contra
  14. Metal Gear
  15. Tetris Highly addictive game
  16. Kid Icarus
  17. Mega Man 2
  18. Pro Wrestling
  19. Major League Baseball
  20. Wizards and Warriors


  1. Deadly Towers The fact that you randomly changed position on each start was annoying enough.
  2. Total Recall Had about as much to do with Arnold's movie as Arnold's movie, The Running Man had to do with King's (Bachman's) book.
  3. Legacy of the Wizard I have no idea what this game was about or what the family pet was.
  4. Rygar The length of this game just frustrated me.
  5. Battle of Olympus Dumb clone of Zelda II, frustrating as well.

Honorable Mentions

  1. Super Mario 3
  2. RC Pro Am
  3. Faxandadu
  4. Friday the 13th One of those few games that made you jump. It was scarier than most of the movies.
  5. Star Wars

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