VIDEO GAMES YEARS PART 2: NINTENDO AND BEYOND
In part one of my Video Game Years article, I wrote about the birth of video games and my experiences in the early 80’s with arcades and Atari. In part two, I will discuss the second big boom with video games, which started in the mid to late 80’s with the introduction of the Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Master System. Both of these companies would dominate the video game market into the new decade of the 1990s. Home systems were not the only ones dominating the scene. Arcades were still the place during that time with newer and more exciting games.
First a little history before I go into my late 80’s video game experiences. Believe it or not, Nintendo has been around for over 120 years. Now they weren’t always in the video game business of course. Fusaijiro Yamauchi founded the company on September 23, 1889 in Kyoto, Japan. It started off in the playing card business and did several small niche businesses throughout the years.
It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Nintendo started getting involved in video games. They started to design different arcade games in the 70’s and 80’s. One of their most famous arcade games was Donkey Kong. Nintendo was a company that released many great video games during the peak of the arcade boom and several games for home systems such as Atari, but in 1985 Nintendo threw their name in the hat and released their first home system, Nintendo Entertainment System or NES for short.
Sega was founded back in 1940 in Honolulu, Hawaii and originally named Service Games. In 1951 they moved the company to Tokyo and changed the name to Sega Enterprises. The name Sega came from taking the first two letters of SErvice GAmes. The company originally developed and distributed coin-operated amusement-type games such as jukeboxes and slot machines.
Just like Nintendo, Sega got into the video game business by designing arcade games in the 70’s. Sega got into the home system market earlier than Nintendo did with the 1982 release of the SG-1000, but didn’t hit it big until their release of the Sega Master System in 1985. Nintendo would dominate over the Master System, but Sega would rebound with the release of Sega Genesis in 1989 and would give Nintendo a run for their money for a few years.
During the mid 80’s when everyone was buying the latest and greatest system, which happened to be Nintendo, I was still very happy with my Atari. Around 1986, prices on Atari games dropped and I got a bunch of them that year. A few years later in 1988, I spent my weekends at the mall either at the movies or in the arcade. Newer games were popping up during this time. Pac-Man and Donkey Kong were old fashion now and games like Super Mario Bros., Double Dragon, Ikari Warriors and countless sports games were all the rage.
My friend Craig and I used to go to the Riverside Mall in Utica, NY and venture into the arcade. At the time both of us had an Atari and we were finally tired of that and wanted to play video games with more action and better graphics. We didn’t have Nintendos yet, so the arcade was the place to satisfy our craving for the latest video games. Nintendo had ushered in games that were not just one dimensional, where every level was the same, there’s were a bit harder. These games had a story or adventure where each level was different and there was an end to the game. All of my friends and I wanted to accomplish beating the game. It wasn’t just about playing the game; it was now about conquering it, and having the bragging rights.
I think the two games we wasted the most quarters on were Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon. I remember playing Super Mario in the arcade and every week we would try to beat that game. Now it’s tough to beat a game in the arcade compared to playing it on a home system. One, you had to pump quarters in it and two, you had to have the patience and the will power to stay hours on end to play a full eight or nine level game from beginning to end. On one Saturday, sometime in 1988, both Craig and I beat the mighty Mario. We were glad to finally beat this classic video game and we were ready to move on to the next challenge.
Double Dragon was next up and was a hot game at that time. This game was a little different from Super Mario as far as the two-player mode was concerned. With Mario, you had to play one at a time, but in Double Dragon, both players can play at the same time, which was a great help to get through the game quicker since you had someone watching your back. This was another game that took us a while to beat, but eventually we did. Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon were the only two games that I have gotten to the end of and defeated in an arcade.
As the 80’s drew to a close, I wanted to put aside the Atari and finally get my hands on a Nintendo. It was Christmas 1989 and most of my friends already had a Nintendo by then and I wanted one of my own. Well that Christmas I got my wish and got an NES. This started years of collecting Nintendo games and hours of great fun. Just as Atari came with the Pac-Man or Combat games, Nintendo came with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. Along with two touch pads controllers, you also got a target gun for Duck Hunt.
I mainly played Super Mario Bros. and this time I could beat the game again, but in the luxury of my own living room. The first Super Mario and other earlier games didn’t have the option to save your progress, but later games did, which it made it much easier to beat the game. You could even get codes to step a level or have infinite lives, but what’s the fun in that. Some games were harder than others and to this day there are many games that I owned that I still never beaten.
One of my all-time favorite video game series were the Castlevania games by Konami. The game is about Simon Belmont who is a vampire slayer after the ultimate vampire, Dracula. The first game has our hero go through Dracula’s castle battling a variety of ghouls and goblins. Each level you had to fight a main monster, which was a werewolf, a mummy or the Frankenstein monster. The first one I played was the very first Castlevania, which my friend Craig had at the time and we used to play it religiously.
Then I moved on to Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which was my favorite. Simon’s Quest was a little bit different from the first one. It was more like The Legend of Zelda, where you can walk around to different screens at any time instead of going through one level after another. In this one, you had to find your way to five different castles and gather different items of Dracula’s to defeat him at the end. In my opinion, this is the best adventure video game ever made for NES.
Castlevania II was one of my first Nintendo games but I eventually got the first Castlevania. In 1990, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse was released and I was happy to have the whole trilogy. The third game was more like the first one, which was the traditional Nintendo style. I beat the first and second Castlevania games, but I was never able to beat the third one. I got to the end many times, but still could not defeat Dracula.
I slowly started getting a collection of Nintendo games. I played the classic games for NES like the Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda games, but there are a few that stick out in my mind that I played constantly. Capcom’s Bionic Commando was one of those games. It was about a solider with an attachment on his arm that would stretch to get him to hard to reach places. You would have to go through different levels battling the enemy and collecting more weapons and gaining more lives. At the end you had to fight the ultimate evil boss, which turned out to be Hitler.
I also enjoyed playing Capcom’s other game, Mega Man and its many sequels. Mega Man was a humanoid robot going to different worlds and conquering each boss and gaining their power at the end of the level. Konami’s Metal Gear was another one I remembering playing a lot. This was basically a futurist military game. The franchise is still going strong on current video game systems. Also Taito’s Elevator Action, which was a classic arcade game in the early 80’s, but an NES version was also created. The game was like your traditional classic video game where each level was the same, but just a little bit harder.
Many NES games were based on popular movies and early on in my Nintendo gaming I got two games based on movies that are some of the worst NES games every made. These were LJN’s Jaws and Friday the 13th. These games were very difficult to play but that’s not why I didn’t like them. It was the way they were made and how the game was played that made them so bad. LJN didn’t make them very entertaining to play. However, I lucked out with JVC’s video game version of Star Wars, which was released in 1991 and Empire Strikes Back released in 1992. Both of these games among the last ones I got for NES and they were some of the best ones I played for Nintendo.
Around the time I was first getting a Nintendo, Sega was sick of getting trumped by NES and one-upped their rival by releasing a new system with a higher bit rate for the games. Sega Genesis was release in the summer of 1989 and the system was 16-bits where Nintendo was only 8-bits. The system was very successful for years with the release of such games as Altered Beast and Sonic the Hedgehog. I never had a Genesis, but my friend Andy got one in the early 90’s and I remember playing WWF Monday Night RAW on that system. TurboGrafx-16 was also released in 1989 and was set to rival the Genesis, but Sega ultimately won that battle and TurboGrafx-16 faded away a few years later.
Nintendo wasn’t going down without a fight and in 1991 they released their 16-bit system called Super Nintendo. I never got this system, but my friend Craig had one and I played tons of games on it for pretty much the first half of the 90’s. One of the most popular games when the system was released was, of course, Super Mario World. The two games I remember playing the most were Super Star Wars and Castlevania IV, which is one of the best Castlevania games ever made.
In the early to mid-90’s I would still frequent the arcade. Around that time fighting games were the rage and the two most popular ones were Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. These kind of went back to the simpler style of games. You didn’t have to go through levels or long journeys to face a boss. Here two players would face each other (or one player and the computer) and you would fight each other to the death in two out of three rounds. If you were victorious you would go to the next round or level and face someone else.
As the 90’s went on I ended up moving to Florida and my video game interest started to fade. I wasn’t really into them any more. New game systems started to pop up like Sony PlayStation, which debuted in 1994 and a new Sega system called Sega Saturn released the following year, followed by Nintendo 64 (N64) in 1996. During the late 90’s and early 2000’s I would play a few games on the N64 my friend Simon had like WWF’s Wrestlemania 2000 and WWF’s No Mercy, but that was pretty much it for my video game days.
Now video games are a totally different ball game from what they once were in the Pong days. With brand new systems like X-box and X-box 360, PlayStation 2 and 3, and Nintendo’s Wii, games have become mini-movies that you can become a part of and they give you the experience of feeling like you are right there. In the late 2000’s, I did buy a PlayStation 2 because I had an urge to play video games again. It didn’t last long and I don’t play the system much at all now, but I’m glad I got it in case I feel the urge to play again.
One of my fondest memories growing up was all those years of playing video games at the arcade and at home. Even though the games of today are what we always wished video games would be like, I still miss the simple games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros. that gave me hours of entertainment. From getting tokens for the arcade games at Chuck E. Cheese to sitting on my couch playing Castlevania during the wee hours of the night, my video game years have been very memorable and I will cherish them forever.