Nintendo Nintendo Nintendo.
Everybody loves Nintendo. Except the hardcore elite who naturally point to the technical specifications as proof that the games couldn’t possibly be as good as those on PlayBox One Pro, which itself has twenty three trillion gigaflops of VRAM.
Well, I’m not one of them. I too love Nintendo. Their games (generally) bring a joyful experience, tight controls, fantastic music. Yet they’re not perfect. Here’s a bit of my history with the Big-N.
It all began at the tail end of the 1980s. Game & Watch had taken over the playground, with various LCD games featuring Donkey Kong, Zelda (with Princess Link) and even Super Mario serving to introduce us British kids to the world of Nintendo. Far superior in every way to the Systema games we’d all been accustomed to (F1 being a favourite of mine), we were easily hooked. Wealthier friends had several of the games, while I was satisfied with Gold Cliff – one of the few games of the time that I haven’t ever felt like selling.
Despite what or American cousins will tell you, the video game market was not in danger of disappearing, and Nintendo’s NES was certainly not having a particularly big effect on it. At home, micro computers ruled the roost, with most homes having some sort of Spectrum or Commodore computer (we had a Commodore 16 and later an Amiga 500+). The games cost from £1.99 to about £9.99, and very few people were interested in giving Nintendo several times that amount for their cartridges. I knew three people who owned a NES. Two friends from school and one family friend, and these were where I got my first taste of the Nintendo home consoles.
Visiting said family friend was a once or twice a year affair. They lived in Bovingdon, a few miles out of Watford, and not so far from our home. Their eldest child was a couple of years younger than me, but we were the only boys – both families had two daughters – so while our sisters did their thing we’d sit in his room with his NES, playing such things as Battletoads, Super Mario Bros 3 and Zelda 2: Link’s Adventure. It was fun. It was a few years later, in 1992, that I started my Secondary education and met my new best friend, Ben. He too had a NES and we’d spend hours playing Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers and WWF Wrestlemania after school.
It was around this time my mum bought me a Gameboy with that mostly unknown pack in title, Tetris. I played that for so many hours that even now, I can sometimes see Tetris blocks falling in front of my eyes. I still revisit it regularly. Later on I received Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins as a Christmas present from my stepfather and had my full introduction to the character – playing the entire game at my leisure, instead of odd bits of it with that friend in Bovingdon. That was it for my Gameboy back then, I couldn’t afford other games. I remember some years later, when I had a paper round and a regular income (£17.50 a week!!) I had a SNES and Gameboy Player, so I bought Earthworm Jim in Gameboy. I finished it over a weekend and returned it, using the refund towards Yoshi’s Island!
Ah the SNES. This was a present in around 1993 for me, with Super Mario All Stars packed in. I played that set of games over and over for days, and it remains my favourite collection to this day. Again, being poorer than some, I couldn’t buy many games. I had my paper round money coming to me weekly, but much of that we spent on CDs, but prior to my paper round I had £1 a week pocket money from my mum – I remember saving for 13 weeks to buy a Boglin! Over the several years I owned that SNES I bought two more games – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Last, from Beatties and SRS in Watford respectively. Again, both games sit comfortably in my most favourite games of all time, even to this day. Otherwise the only way to experience more games was to swap with friends, or go to their house for dinner after school and play. And so I have fond memories of several great games – Stunt Race FX, Donkey Kong Contry (which my mate Patrick lent to me with the awesome Go Ape music CD which introduced me to Radiohead and Pop Will Eat Itself), Super Mario Kart, Legend of the Mystical Ninja, Super Metroid, Secret of Mana and Street Fighter II Turbo amongst others. I even had some bad swaps – such as contender for worst game ever Ultraman.
I sold my SNES in 1998. I’d discovered two things far more enjoyable than video games – girls and music. I was at the time spending several hours of every day getting good at guitar, and so N64 passed me by completely, apart from a few games played with friends. Snowboard Kids, Super Mario 64 and Goldeneye stand out as happy memories. One hit kills, 3 vs1, and I’d still win 😉
When GameCube and Gameboy Advance came around I had a job, a (slight) disposable income, and a need for escape from life’s responsibilities, and son had more and more games. The for me is the golden era. Super Mario Sunshine (which you will be surprised to hear was mocked at the time), The Wind Waker (which you will be surprised to hear was mocked at the time), Mario Kart Double Dash (which you will be surprised to hear was mocked at the time) are amongst my favourites in their respective series. The controller, unlike that if the N64, was wonderfully designed and comfortable to use, and the analogue shoulder buttons added a new dimension to the few titles that used them.
Then came the Wii… well, it took a while to find one, but once I did a new love affair began. I had an Xbox 360 already, which took up a lot of my gaming time, but with such titles as Super Mario Galaxy, No More Heroes and Kirby’s Epic Yarn, there was much to love. Later came Skyward Sword, perhaps my favourite (3D) Zelda title, and the one and only special edition game I’ve ever purchased – in part due to the enclosed orchestral music CD, but mostly because I didn’t have a Motion Plus Remote as required for the game. These days my Wii has a soft mod and a hard drive with all my games in it, which is nice.
Around the same time of course, the DS was a thing. And what a thing! So many fantastic games on here, and whilst the touch screen and dual screens were at first awkward, it soon came into its own as a great handheld system. New Super Mario Bros and Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney and some very good adaptations of Tony Hawks Pro Skater were amongst the best the system offered, but there were other games that used the system’s strengths to create new experiences entirely: Hotel Dusk presents itself as a visual novel in a literal way, and Wario Ware Inc’s entry on DS uses the touch screen to great effect.
By the time 3DS launched my disposable income had shrunk somewhat due to life responsibilities, and I admit I was unimpressed by its first incarnation, trading it in for credit just before I would have been granted “ambassador” status. Ho hum. Some years later I invested in a New 3DS, and have ended up with quite a library for it. None of the games particularly stand out to me this time, but the opera,, experience is fun.
Wii U was a harder sell for me. It largely passed me by until one day when I was browsing 3DS games and moved sideways to the Wii U shelves, seeing a number of interesting titles. Super Mario World 3D (I’d very much enjoyed its 3DS incarnation, Mario Kart 8, and others helped part me with some more money, and again it’s turned out to be a great system with some real fun games. About a week after I bought it, Switch was announced. I waited six months before getting one, and whilst it is well made, and the games I have are fun, it’s still early so many of the games aren’t here yet. Let’s see how it fairs in the next couple of years as the favourite series come to visit. I suspect it will be fun in the end, if limited.
So, that’s a brief look at my history with Nintendo. I’ve owned all of their systems at one time or another, though in the case of NES and N64 I bought them long after their time. People often complain, as the are with Switch now, that Nintendo consoles have too few games, or use the lower sales figures compared to the competition to prove that the quality is lacking. Sure, I have far fewer games in my collection for Nintendo consoles than any others, but the experience of any of these is far purer than on the others.
Nintendo has a magic that I can quite explain. Whilst the company itself is guided unarguably by the mighty yen, it still manages to infect their games with something compelling. It will take a lot to stop me buying their key franchise, and I look forward to their next Mario, Zelda, Metroid and Kirby games as much as the next person.