Nintendo has frequently been called the “Disney of video games.” While I believe that comparison is accurate to a point, it doesn’t take into consideration the influence Nintendo has had on just about anyone who has ever considered becoming a game developer. Not to mention their legions of fans. A more accurate comparison might be to Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, or The Beatles. Even if you’re not a fan, you can’t discount the massive influence of those bands. So it is with Nintendo. Not every gamer plays Nintendo games, but their influence, impact, and history are undeniable. And while not every system they put out is a runaway success, when they do get it right, it's felt by everyone who pays attention to games.
'Donkey Kong': My First Nintendo Game
The first time I remember hearing the name ‘Nintendo’ was when I was about six years old. It was the very early 1980s and my parents had bought my step-brother and I the latest and greatest in handheld gaming at the time: mini-arcade units. Mine was Pac-Man and my brother’s was Donkey Kong, made by a little company called Nintendo. While I loved my Pac-Man game and played it to death, I played my brother’s Donkey Kong as well. And while it wasn't a mind-blowing experience, it was a positive one, and one that I definitely remembered. This was my first exposure to a Nintendo game. Little did I (or anyone else) know at the time what this company was going to turn into and how much time and money I would end up spending on their products throughout my life.
My Gaming Epiphany: The Nintendo Entertainment System
My second exposure to Nintendo was being invited over to my friend’s house. He was excited to show me his new toy: the Nintendo Entertainment System. The year was about 1985-1986. Although I didn’t own an Intellivision, a Colecovision, or any of the Atari systems (the big three game consoles of the early 80s), my friends did and I had spent time playing them, so I was pretty familiar with video games by this point.
What my friend showed me that day though, it made my ten-year old jaw hit the floor. He showed me a game called Super Mario Bros., and I was in awe. What I saw wasn’t just the next step from the Atari/Intellivision/Coleco generation, it was a quantum leap, and I knew it. Nintendo single-handedly nullified an entire generation of gaming over multiple consoles with one game. The one thought that kept flashing through my head as I watched my friend control Mario running and jumping all over the screen was, ‘I’ll never play Atari again, I’ll never play Atari again.’ And I didn’t. Not seriously anyway. Nintendo had made video games relevant again, and did so in a way that made their competition look silly and quaint by comparison. Super Mario Bros. graphics were astounding for their time and the colors popped like I had never seen before. And the music was incredibly happy and cheerful and catchy. I remember one of the things that amazed me was that Mario could jump so high, he literally would jump off the screen! Meaning, his body would actually leave the screen and go above the TV screen’s picture where you couldn’t see him anymore. I was amazed by that. It gave the impression that the world Mario was jumping around in was really inside your television. It’s something that kids today probably wouldn’t think twice about if they sat down and played the game, but that had never been done in a video game I had seen before.
You Can Beat A Video Game?
Also, my friend dropped some other big news on me about this new game:
You could get so good at the game and progress so far while playing it, you could actually beat the game!
Again, my little kid mind was blown. It was possible to get so good at a video game, that the game itself would admit defeat? You could actually defeat a video game? Amazing. Seems funny by today’s standards, but that was a new thing for gamers in the 1980s. Although we would soon find out that we would never be as good as this guy:
My Nintendo Summer
Fast-forward to the summer of 1987. I had spent months saving for an NES. Although I didn't have a subscription to Nintendo Power, I had a few of the magazines, and I had spent those months drooling over the games inside. After scrimping and saving for what seemed like forever, I had enough money to get my very own "Nintendo." I went to my local Kaybee Toys (where I had called them countless times to check prices and to make sure they had them in stock) and went to claim my long sought prize. I came home with an NES and a copy of Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt (which, as every kid knew, was included with the system). It was one of the happiest days of my little kid life. Finally, like the rest of my friends, I had my very own Nintendo. A few months later, I went out and bought The Legend Of Zelda and eventually became the first kid in my neighborhood to find the Red Ring in the Level Nine dungeon (a badge of honor I was proud of).
And that was how it began for me. Since then, I've spent hours and hours playing Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Donkey Kong, Animal Crossing, Golden Sun, Advance Wars, Castlevania, Tecmo Bowl, Goldeneye 007, Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark, Prince Of Persia, Resident Evil, and many others over the years. Granted, I don’t go out and buy everything Nintendo makes. I’m lukewarm on the Pokemon series and the Kirby series has never grabbed me. Sometimes, Nintendo downright makes me angry with some of the stuff they do or don’t do (Smash Bros. Brawl’s terrible online play comes to mind). I do try to be a fan without being a fanboy (although sometimes it's hard when people starting bashing Nintendo and I feel compelled to come to their defense when I disagree). However, a big part of why I love video games has to do with Nintendo. If Nintendo didn’t exist, I wouldn’t be as big of a gamer as I am today. That I know for certain.