Thursday, June 5, 2014

Achievement unlocked: the Nintendo Entertainment System

Long-promised at my games parties, but never yet realised: the missing elephant in the room, the Nintendo Entertainment System. Its absence has been conspicuous at my events: I talk about big pixels and classic systems, but then the oldest console available for play is the Sega Genesis -- a game-changer, but still one several generations in to the industry. 16-bit is represented, but where's 8-bit? (No, the Atari Flashback doesn't quite count: that's old software on new hardware.) I once owned a NES, which I painstakingly assembled piecemeal from individual components sourced from local thrift shops. Suspecting that this line of collecting wouldn't serve me well in the end, I traded it in to local multimedia locus Video In in exchange for admission to one of their sporadic "video game orgy" all-night retro video game party fundraisers. (No cash, but here: raw materials for future fundraising!) I never had any cartridges for it, and besides, always figured I could just patchwork myself up another unit if I wanted to later on, an assumption that turned out to be faulty! Once I foolishly got on the retro hardware kick in a serious way, I found that an affordable NES had in the meantime become unobtainable, rating a $50 price tag without cords, games or joysticks while Gamecubes unimaginably more powerful gathered dust, neglected at $10 sitting beside it on the shelf. Thanks to the formidable power of nostalgia, the NES had emerged from the Trough of No Value and had come out as actually quite a rare and desired piece of kit! And consequently I couldn't get my hands on one, a necessary crown jewel of any serious collection, without dropping more cash on it than I was willing to entertain. (But wait! If I can find a TV set old enough to hook up the VHF/UHF screw terminals, we can play the Tooth Invaders cart on my VIC-20! What do you mean, that isn't your nostalgia? What about the game of Hang-On built into my Sega Master System?)

Anyhow, during my gauging interest and spreading the word for my video game parties (there have been, what, three of them now?), various individuals have chimed in volunteering specific pieces of vintage gear: one friend brought his CoLeCoVision, but the VHF/UHF screw terminal problem arose again (also, incidentally, thwarting use of the VIC-20.) Another friend suggested his NES might be welcome at such a function, and then failed to turn up to any three of the functions despite months of notice. Well, we managed to touch base, and he endowed me with his gear, supposing that in my collection where it would get run through its paces twice a year it would find more and better use than under his custody, where it had languished in disuse since, well, childhood. Circumstances had delivered me a half-dozen NES carts with no machine on which to run them, so I was thrilled at the opportunity to finally walk through that door. We were all very keen to see what was in the bundle he brought in the door:

No mere ad-hoc backpack repurposed for console transportation, this was an official Nintendo carrying case designed and intended for the purpose of packing up your machine and its games at point A and toting them safely to points B, C and beyond. Its existence is a somewhat sad footnote to my friend's home-shuffling childhood among divorced parents, but supposing such an existence is your juvenile fate, better to do it with an NES suitably stowed and on the go than otherwise! It makes for an excellent distraction from the inability of grown-ups to get their acts together. But enough moralizing! Wait, what's that in the front pouch?
We're looking at 1943, Bubble Bobble, Marble Madness, RBI Baseball, and Skate or Die! A nice bump to my existing (and hitherto unplayable) NES cart collection of Captain Skyhawk, Pin-Bot, Rygar, Shinobi and Super Mario Bros. 3. SMB3 is the cat's meow, but Marble Madness is pretty hard to beat and Bubble Bobble is basically the ne plus ultra of cooperative games. Now all I need is a set of power and A/V cords! Every step of the way closes half of the remaining distance between where we are and actually playing these games on their original hardware.

Ironically, since my last game party, I was pledged two more NES-playing machines by like-minded friends who wanted to see their childhood treasures go to better use than the yellowed units were seeing in their closets, forgotten and neglected. Thus, for my next game party around November, I may go from having 0 NESes on tap to 3! It never rains but it pours. It's a good problem to have -- it even raises the option of having multiple NESes set up at the same time!

Now, we all know that this blog's intended purpose is for me to transcribe and analyse advertisements for video games, ideally ones printed in comic books. I was skeptical, but as best as I can tell, in over 2 gigs of ad scans across nearly 2 thousand files still unshared, I don't have any ads for the NES? (By contrast, I have 2 for the Virtual Boy.) Maybe it was so compelling consumers didn't need it to be advertised to them, they just already knew that they needed one -- you just had to look at the competition to make up your mind.

My old friend has also offered me his dust-gathering Xbox 360, which is objectively bigger news (forget this space shuttle in the driveway, look at the pennyfarthing bicycle I've been bequeathed!), but for lack of nostalgia it gets relegated to footnote-like status in this blog and in the popular imagination, which I think is hilarious. Never having owned one, I've avoided collecting games for it, but I suppose I can start keeping my eyes open at garage sales and thrift stores now -- just as well, since the PS2/Xbox era discs are starting to be fewer and farther between.