Growing Up Generation NES

As NES Week continues, we reflect on what it was like to grow up in the days of the original Nintendo.

By Marc Deschamps. Posted 04/24/2014 12:00 3 Comments     ShareThis

Sometimes it’s funny to think just how much video games have changed in my lifetime. While game consoles have gotten more powerful, and the amount of content undeniably stronger, it’s easy to feel a sense of nostalgia about the days of the original Nintendo. There’s something that remains eternally charming about that old gray system. It introduced an entire generation of gamers to classic characters like Mario, Link, and Samus. And in the days before schoolyard debates about whether Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis was superior, it was the only video game system that mattered (sorry, Atari). For those few precious years before the console wars truly began, gamers were united under one roof. People didn’t play video games. They “played Nintendo.” If you were a gamer, you were a part of Generation NES.

I was four or five years old when my parents bought the Nintendo Entertainment System. While I might not remember my first day of kindergarten or the first time I rode a bike, I can still vaguely recall the day my parents brought that system home. The part I remember most clearly about it was my Dad struggling to teach me how to make it past that first hole in Super Mario Bros. While I could figure out how to move and how to jump, doing them simultaneously seemed like a near-insurmountable task, that first day. I might not be a video game fan today, had my Dad not stayed so patient. Or, I might have just stuck with Duck Hunt, at the very least.

In spite of those early difficulties, the NES days were all about Mario for me. While many people associate the original Nintendo with The Legend of Zelda or Metroid, the truth is, those games didn’t interest me as a kid. For myself, and likely a lot of other kids, Mario was the Mickey Mouse of that era. I watched the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. I had a Mario doll and Mario toys from McDonald’s. My family had a Mario bathroom cup dispenser. When my dad tucked me in at night, he would tickle me to the Mario theme. While my love of that mustachioed plumber started to wane in the early days of Nintendo 64, eventually I found my way back. He always makes me look back at my youngest days and smile.

It wasn’t just about Mario, though. While licensed games have gained a bit of a stigma over the last few console generations, things were different in those days. Some of my favorite cartoons of the time were represented on Nintendo’s console by equally enjoyable video games. DuckTales, Rescue Rangers, Darkwing Duck, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III were all proud parts of my early video game collection. While DuckTales received a wonderful update last year, those other games haven’t been so lucky. It would be nice to see them get the same treatment someday.

Of course, those days had their share of problems, as well. It’s easy to wax nostalgic about NES, but getting the games to simply work was often a chore. Unless you grew up in the days of the NES, chances are you don’t know the frustration that came with blowing on cartridges. Every family had a trick that they swore by, or a cleaning kit that they owned, but every solution seemed to only delay the inevitable. What was far more upsetting, of course, was getting the game to work only to have a frozen screen appear after making some progress. When Super Nintendo debuted, it wasn’t the 16-bit graphics that captured my attention, or even Mario’s new dinosaur pal Yoshi. It was the fact that the games actually worked when you hit the power button.

For all the griping people do about GameStop, it’s also quite a bit easier these days to part with titles that proved to be a bit less memorable. As a kid, selling off older games meant setting up shop in a garage sale and hoping that someone in the neighborhood was better at clearing the water level in the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Or that they didn’t know how bad Friday the 13th was. If you did manage to get to that point, you were probably only able to get five dollars a game, if you were lucky. Actually, maybe some things haven’t changed so much since then.

When I think back on my old video game consoles, it invariably reminds me of that particular time in my life. GameCube reminds me of having my first job and too much disposable income to spend on games. Nintendo 64 makes me think of middle school and pizza parties and playing the original Mario Party until my mom made us go to bed. But the original Nintendo was the system of my childhood. It was Mario and it was DuckTales and it was a single system that everyone could agree on. It’s the era that spurred a lifelong interest in gaming for myself, and a whole lot of other gamers. We were a part of Generation NES.

3 Responses to “Growing Up Generation NES”

  • 678 points
    amishpyrate says...

    The most difficult task for me as a kid was picking out what game to buy. Before the internet was in full swing if you didn’t have a game magazine you didn’t have any info as to what was coming out. I bought Yoshi for nes thinking it would be like Mario bros…. I was wrong

  • 819 points
    Toadlord says...

    As much as I kind of feel like I missed out by not being around at the launch of the NES, it’s nice to be able to enjoy the games that have stood the test of time.

  • 1294 points
    Robert Marrujo says...

    NES exists within my memories as pure childhood. All my games for the system were Mario, Ninja Turtles, or Disney, and I would play them for hours on end. I used to come up with elaborate stories in my head for the games, which always makes me laugh in retrospect because people say games stifle creativity in children; I’ve always found the exact opposite true.

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