After blowing off the metaphorical dust and jostling a few memories, the world of Mario, Zelda and a princess-stealing ape is alive again. Thirty years after the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), an iconic 8-bit home video game console that sold nearly 62 million units, a generation of gamers — some of whom reluctantly resemble Bald Bull — is looking back.
Nintendo, and NES, reminds people of “growing up” or “being young,” said Jesse Rosenthal, 31. “I remember when my youngest brother was born. My parents bought Rad Racer for my older brother and Marble Madness for me. They told us, ‘Hey, your baby brother got these for you.’”
Thinking about it now, of course “my parents tricked us, but hey, I was 4 years old. What did I know?”
For some 30-somethings, siblings, bean bags and wood paneled subterranean spaces are synonymous with NES.
“My brother and I would always play in the basement together and our babysitters loved it, because they were too old to have it, and whenever they would come over, we would just play it forever,” reminisced Beth Goldstein Goldman, 35, a self-professed lover of California Games, an NES game that allowed players to compete in virtual athletic challenges, including the half-pipe, surfing and roller skating.
I used to play Nintendo “with my buddies,” recalled Eric Greenfield, who cited Double Dribble, Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt and 1943: The Battle of Midway as his favorite NES games. “We would go to the basement, play that, pool, pingpong. While people were playing the video games we would swap around and switch.”
For those lucky few in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the world of NES expanded beyond a grey console, two controllers and maybe even an electronic light gun.
“We had a Power Pad,” said Goldman, before explaining that she used the plastic greyish floor mat controller, complete with 12 embedded pressure sensors, to play World Class Track Meet, an NES sports fitness game that simulates Olympic-style events.
“We had both the Power Pad and the Power Glove,” noted Jason Small, 39.
Predating many virtual reality machines, the latter was a grey-colored controller accessory that slid onto a player’s hand for use during gaming.
“I still have the glove. I actually brought it with me to college and actually hooked it up to my computer and used it as a mouse as an experiment,” explained Small, a Carnegie Mellon University graduate.
In the decades since stacking toy store shelves with NES consoles and committing a generation’s memory to an unforgettable Contra code, Nintendo, a Japan-based consumer electronics and software development company, has gone on to release newer gaming systems, including Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube, Wii and Wii U. Nonetheless, Nintendo is asking its base to hop into a virtual pipe and warp back to an earlier era.
In time for the 2016 holiday season, Nintendo has released the NES Classic Edition, a $60 device which connects to a television via HDMI. Dwarfed in size but amplified in capability, the NES Classic comes loaded with 30 8-bit games, including such titans from the company’s catalog as Tecmo Bowl, Mega Man 2, Excitebike, Mario Bros. and Double Dragon II: The Revenge.
But not everyone is as eager to get back in the Nintendo ring as Little Mac.
“I don’t really see the need to get the new console,” said Small.
Despite the “replay value” of those earlier games, “it all pales in comparison to what we’re able to do now,” explained Rosenthal.
Lucky for Nintendo though, nostalgia may help the company collect a few coins.
“If it was cheap enough, I would consider getting it for Chanukah,” said Greenfield. “I would want my kids to see what it was like back in the day.”
Marshall Slayton, 30, agreed. “I have a daughter now and would like to show her the silly things that I grew up on, but I don’t know if that’s just Daddy being old.”
There is a value in NES and its 8-bit pixelated games, maintained Rosenthal.
“Growing up on Nintendo, I loved it. It was definitely the beginning of my lifelong career of being a gamer on the side,” said the Squirrel Hill native.
He lamented, “If only I could make money being a gamer I could have a lot of money and maybe my fiancée wouldn’t be so mad at me for playing all the time.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.