I’m facing off against a giant turtle, like something from the Galapagos, but with a studded back that can kill me. It shoots lasers of flame from its open maw and grunts on occasion. Yeah, I should have absolutely no chance against it, but I’m determined to defeat this hybrid beast, even if it means my death…
Because I have many more where that came from. I have a Power-Up.
And to 10-year old me that was the most amazing part of the whole thing, that even if I was defeated, laid low as the dark screen replaced the background of the world of the Super Mario Bros., I would come back shiny and new to attack the same obstacles all over again. If practice did indeed make perfect then I became the perfect embodiment of that Italian plumber.
Or sometimes I was his brother.
I remember getting that package one Christmas (I think I was 9 or 10) and thinking it was an electric train set. I had hinted at wanting it, and my uncle was generally pretty good at supplying those wants instead of the needs that made me groan. He got us our first bicycles, our first VCR, our first black and white television sets, and the list went on. I didn’t realize it then but I loved him because of the stuff.
But when I opened that box, when I ripped off the wrapping and stared at it for a minute straight, a little man in red overalls stared back at me. It was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and the year was 1986, and I was blown away. My sister and I had played the Mario Bros. game at our local laundromat whenever Mom would let us have a quarter or two on our weekly jaunts. But we never in a million years would have imaged being able to play it at home.
That was the magic of the NES, because before it came out there was no true representation of real video games outside of arcades and the occasional laundromat. It was so much better than Atari and those lame computer games we used to play on the Apple II-C computer, because I could play the same game from the arcade, and it was in COLOR. Not only that, but there were many games we could purchase for the system, so it was many arcade games in one beautiful system.
Nowadays, I look back on it and I marvel at how pure the world seemed back then, at how uncomplicated everything was. If we did our homework in a timely fashion we could become Mario and Luigi, at least for a half an hour or so each night. We could be world famous plumbers fighting obstacles, diving in pipes, and saving the much-maligned Princess Peach from the aforementioned giant turtle with back spikes — Bowser. It was like magic. Absolute magic.
But all magic fades, and when the Super Nintendo came out a few years later that NES was relegated to the dust balls in the back of the closet. Of course we never forgot the games we had played for the first time on it, but as Barney Stinson always says, “newer is always better.” And while that may not be always true, as kids it felt that way to us. I think kids these days feel the exact same because their parents (us) never really outgrew that mentality.
Now there are all these emulators so you too can go back inside the world full of 8-bit graphics that were revolutionary back in the ’80s but are so retro now. There are gamers who spend time recreating historical situations utilizing these characters and this low-grade technology. Even Tecmo Bowl (one of my favorite NES games) is making an appearance in car commercials these days. It’s crazy how things come back around again, but nothing is ever the same as it was the first time.
Now when I play Super Mario Bros. via the game I purchased from the Nintendo App Store on my Wii, it doesn’t give me the same feeling. I think I wanted to experience that thrill of naivete I had back in the mid-’80s but just playing a game from that time period doesn’t bring it all back. Just playing a game from back then can’t recreate everything that went into making it such magic.
But then my daughter comes in and asks me what I’m playing. To her it’s cool. It’s different. It’s something she doesn’t have on her iPad and she’s fascinated by the digitized character in the red overalls, and his green overalled buddy. She is mesmerized by the fact that they can’t work together in the same screen, that they have to take turn. She’s never been introduced to a game like that before.
And I rediscover my joy, that Nintendo magic that has eluded me for so long, that I thought had gone with the rise of the ’90s and everything that came beyond. Now we play together, fighting the forces of evil, Powering Up, and enjoying every second of this shared joy.