Love in the Time of SNES

For only sixteen bits, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System managed to blast away a lot of my childhood time.

By Andrew Hsieh. Posted 08/26/2010 16:30 7 Comments     ShareThis

The first date I ever went on involved a lot of Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. I tell you this not because dates that involve Donkey Kong Country 2 are awesome (it’s a date that involves monkeys, for goodness’ sake), nor because it’s mind-blisteringly ridiculous that Donkey Kong could ever figure into a date (especially with the Kongs’ particular brand of chicness), but because it really could have been much different. We could have gone bowling, for instance, like Normal People. Or maybe seen a nice movie, preferably one with lots of explosions. But instead, due to various things, such as My Being Way Too Young to Drive and My Being a Total Nerd, Donkey Kong Country 2, with its gameplay essentially boiling down to “some monkey and his girlfriend throw stuff at crocodiles” (how’s that for symbolism?), prevailed. It was pretty bad– but it could’ve been worse.

Actually– and this may be revisionist history, but bear with me –I didn’t even like Donkey Kong Country 2 that much. I had only played it a couple times before, and, with me being mildly afraid of simians, it didn’t quite appeal to me. But since it was one of the only games I owned, with the other being Kirby’s Avalanche, I couldn’t help but play it. After all, it would be another year before my parents decided to buy a game for me (see: “Too Young to Drive”). Until then, Donkey Kong Country 2 was it, and right then and there I decided that if I was ever to become a video game designer (my hilariously inept childhood dream), I had better get damned good at playing ’em, first. Even if they involved monkeys.

On the bright side, Rambi the Rhinoceros made playing as monkeys bearable. As long as I got to ride a rhino.

The thing about Donkey Kong Country 2, if there’s a “thing” at all, is that you can’t really play it with just one person and expect to have an incredible time. I mean, I suppose you could– but just like any other multiplayer game, you’re probably missing out on some level, especially since Rareware programmed two monkeys into the game for a reason. (Probably.) We can say so many things about Rare’s present inability to do anything other than stick bananas up its collective nose (again, probably), but back in the time of SNES, Rareware at least gave the illusion that it knew what it was doing. For more fun and games, we could talk about just when the insanity behind it all started to show. But that’s not important right now.

So when I realized Sue (we’re calling her Sue) owned a SNES, and apparently really enjoyed Donkey Kong Country 2, I couldn’t exactly just roll my eyes and walk away. (“I don’t play games with monkeys in them,” I could have said.) No, I sucked up my loser anti-simian sentiment, and said, “Donkey Kong Country 2! Dixie is so cool!” Sue raised a single middle-school eyebrow. It wasn’t until I saw the title screen that I realized that Dixie was the girl monkey, and from the looks of it, probably wasn’t that cool. I gripped my controller even more tightly. “Did you want Dixie?” Sue asked. “No, you can have her, she’s … too cool for me,” I stammered, faltering, desperately hoping Sue wasn’t being sarcastic. No response.

Sue could definitely have continued embarrassing me, though. Nintendo had a good thing going with the Super Nintendo, and that was the legions of games that involved multiplayer. But unlike The Conduit or Monster Hunter Tri— games of today that for all intents and purposes are built for detached, somewhat impersonal online play– games like Donkey Kong Country 2 or Battletoads & Double Dragon forced gamers to take a seat and play games in close proximity (!) to each other. This made each game highly personal, with communication just a terse shout away, rather than programmed emoticons and gestures. Until the Nintendo 64’s whopping four controller slots, the SNES’ limitations of two controller ports (unless you were lucky enough to own a four-player Multitap) only served to heighten that sense of personality– especially in a cooperative game like Donkey Kong Country 2. There were only two of you, after all, literally side-by-side against a whole world filled with hostile forces. We could only go forward if we worked together.

Not many games played nice with HudsonSoft’s Super Multitap, but that didn’t stop me from drooling over it.

So there we were, jumping on Kremlins and throwing barrels at other barrels, riding rhinos and swinging swordfish and a whole menagerie of animals in a quest to save Donkey Kong and his bananas. Social faux pas disappeared from view as Donkey Kong Country 2 took over hours of our lives, and though I still really hated the idea of monkeys, much less playing video games starring them, I had a pretty decent time. In retrospect, I probably can’t say the same for Sue, but then again, she was playing as Dixie. (So, you know.) And seeing as I was having too much fun, I couldn’t be bothered to care.

During recess the next day, I talked to my friend Joey afterward about the whole deal, and between bouts of rolling his eyes and trying hard not to pay too much attention to me, he thought maybe I should try harder next time, you know, or do something “actually fun” if I actually wanted Sue to acknowledge my presence anymore. (She had begun to pointedly turn her head away whenever we got within twenty feet of each other.) Joey, ever the philosopher, further explained that while video games were “pretty tight, man,” they weren’t exactly the way to go “in the game of love.” I thought this was utter nonsense, and told him so, especially considering she was the one who suggested Donkey Kong Country 2 in the first place, and besides, weren’t Diddy and Dixie boyfriend and girlfriend, and shouldn’t that mean something or what, man?

“Weee-eell,” replied Joey lazily, continuing his role as a prepubescent Dr. Phil, “maybe it’s just not meant to be.” Well, what a shock that was. I wondered aloud if Joey was just jealous that he didn’t get to play Donkey Kong Country 2, and that he shouldn’t be, because his favorite was Donkey Kong anyway, and the guy was captured by King K. Rool, and the whole point was to save the guy, or did he not get the memo? Joey pursed his lips and changed the subject.

Looking back, that conversation probably would have hit me harder, if not for the fact that I had a Super Nintendo waiting for me back home. Sure, I made a big deal about it, like all middle-schoolers worth their drama are wont to do; yes, I declared it impossible to look at my SNES without waxing poetic (“alas! if only I could play two-player again!”– or a middle school-esque version of that); I even refused to play Donkey Kong Country 2 for a whole month, opting instead to purse my lips and stare pointedly at the television, willing it to please me. (Or, I played Kirby’s Avalanche, which, admittedly, did not entertain.)

Dragonflies constantly bugging me almost made me change my mind about playing this game.

But soon enough, my Super Nintendo and all the monkeys in it called me back. One day, I picked up that first player controller, threw in Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, and began to start a whole new game. Sure, there was a second controller port, its emptiness mocking my silly failures, but I didn’t mind. After all, Donkey Kong needed saving, and neither Joey nor Sue were around to do the deed. They may have deemed me clueless about the world’s more important things, but then again, the world was clueless about what I thought was important. That day, only one of us saved Donkey Kong and kicked K. Rool’s scaly behind– and though Joey might not think I had beaten his game of love, I had beaten a game I actually cared about.

I’d grow up when I had to, I thought. Until then, there was always Donkey Kong— and my Super Nintendo.

Just pretend it’s a SNES controller.

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