My family was in Shippensburg, PA visiting an uncle and aunt. They had a small house on Orange St. While we were visiting Matt and Andrew, our older cousins invited us to go upstairs to play Nintendo. My brother, Dave, who was three or four at the time, went up to try out the system. I stayed downstairs, as I thought I didn’t have an interest. I had heard about the Nintendo at elementary school, and thought it was a musical instrument. I confused it with the keyboard, another popular item at the time, which is basically a mini piano. Either way, I was not in to regular music at the time, and I didn’t see myself wanting to play it either.
Later, Dave was standing at the top of their steps calling me to come up to play Nintendo. After some persuasion I eventually went upstairs. The Nintendo was way different from what I thought. Instead of being an instrument, it was a gaming machine. The game that we were playing was Super Mario Bros. My cousins explained to Dave and me, that there were four “worlds.” My understanding was that you played four stages, and you won the game. As I learned later, this was not the case. There were actually eight worlds with four stages each, for a total of thirty-two levels.
Anyway, Dave and I learned how to get to the fourth stage in World 1. The second stage was an underground stage, that I thought took place in the castle. The third stage contained mushrooms with brown stems and green tops. I thought they were “trees” since the top looked like green leaves, and the stem was brown like bark. Though in later games that were based on the original Super Mario Bros. style, they were made to look like mushrooms, they will always be trees to me.
The fourth and final stage we got to at the time had an interesting story. It had a white background, and started, by going down a set of steps into the rest of the stage. I remember the stage as being the “mall,” though it was actually another castle stage, this time with Bowser (King Koopa) to beat. I don’t remember ever getting there in the initial plays of this stage, but I do remember the scene when playing at my house eventually. At this time, I didn’t recognize it as being the same stage. The mall being a stage in Super Mario Bros. was a thing of lore in our household for many years, until I recognized the stage by the steps descending into the rest of stage. Of course, the stage background, was different than what I had remembered. It did end the rumor.
The other game Dave and I played at Uncle Mike’s house was Duck Hunt which used an orange zapper, and was a game where you shot at ducks. I was introduced to the one duck and two duck modes. When a duck was shot, a dog would pick it up, and show it to you. If you missed, the dog would come up out of the grass and laugh at you.
Dave and I both decided that we liked Nintendo, and asked for one for Christmas. The whole family got it as a present for Christmas in 1990. We got the Action Set which was the moderately priced set, and came with a Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt multi-cart (a game cartridge of normally two games), two controllers, and a zapper. We also got two games, Disney’s Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers (for Dave and me), and Rescue: The Embassy Mission (for Dad). Mom liked Duck Hunt which was one of the games on the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt multi-cart that was a pack-in game.
I remember when Dad first hooked the system up to the television. I had forgotten about the timer. In each level the player was given a certain amount of time to complete the stage, if not they had to start over again. We also had to relearn the controls. At the beginning, when Dad was actually playing (early on he got busy, and preferred other hobbies such as reading books, watching television and movies), he was better than Dave and I were! I got stuck at the green Koopa Troopas (which I called ducks) at the beginning of the second stage, while Dad got as far as the elevators before running out of time. I didn’t remember the Koopa Troopas from playing at Shippensburg, but I did remember the Piranha Plants and the elevators. Dad was able to get to both of them.
As for Disney’s Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers, Dad figured out how to play, and taught Dave and me. He was able to get as far as climbing the telephone pole. Dave and I partially learned how to complete the first stage by “watching the game play by itself,” which is when the computer controlled both characters, and demonstrated how to play. When it came to learning to play, I was fine following that, until I got to the electrical wires without invincibility. Clearing the wires, while avoiding the electrical current, put me back for weeks. Seeing the lone apple on top of a transformer on the lower part of the screen, is what made me decide to try to jump over the electrical current, which allowed me to continue the game. Things that would be obvious to seasoned players weren’t obvious to me when I started to play. A similar scenario panned out at the end of the stage. There was a room with a boss and a red ball in the middle of the room. A boss is a major enemy at the end of the stage that must be defeated to continue on in the game. I didn’t know you were supposed to throw the ball at the boss to beat it. I figured the object was to sneak past it, and I couldn’t figure out why the screen didn’t scroll any further. I also thought the music sounded like it was laughing at me, so I named the boss “The Ha Ha Ha.”
My dad fared better at his game, Rescue: The Embassy Mission. He eventually was able to beat it on the easy level. Dave was kind of scared of the game as he didn’t like the sound made when the enemy fired at you when you touched a spot light, or if you fell off the rope climbing down to break into the Embassy to rescue the hostages, and clear out the enemy.
I have always had social issues, but Nintendo provided me with something to talk about to people at school. Nintendo actually gave me something in common with my classmates. I remember learning at lunch that Super Mario Bros. has eight worlds with four stages. I also learned about The Warp Zone to Worlds 6, 7 and 8 after inquiring if there was such a warp zone (at the time I wasn’t able to get beyond the fifth world). A warp zone is a set of pipes with numbers above them, that takes the player to the world of the game that shares its number.
A good grade school friend helped me learn how to play Disney’s Chip ‘N’ Dale Rescue Rangers. He showed me through example that you beat the bosses by picking up the ball in the center of the room, and hitting the boss’s weak spot. Playing with my friend was also a race though. We played it on the two players mode, and in this game both players were on the screen at the same time. My friend would rip and tear ahead through the screens, while I lagged behind. On screens where two routes existed, he told me to take the top route, and he would always take the bottom one, unless he liked the top one better. An example is in Zone B (the areas of the game are called zones) there are four water faucets to be turned off by jumping on the taps. Jumping on the taps was fun, and he wanted to do this every time. I knew Zones A and B from the game playing by itself, and liked “A” a lot since it was a tree. My friend preferred B. He also thought that after Zone A one should go to Zone C as that is where the path led, and likewise after Zone B, the player should go to Zone D for similar reasons.
Nintendo was a life saver during the summer of 1991. In October of 1990, my fourth-grade class went on a field trip to Indian Echo Caverns, Chocolate World, and Zoo America (both at Hershey Park). I am allergic to mold, and the dampness in the caves was conducive to mildew and mold. By spring of 1991, I started to have some asthma problems, and by summer became a major problem. I wasn’t able to walk far at times, and spent most of my day in my bedroom with an air conditioner given to me by my grandparents. The Nintendo was moved from the television in the basement to a smaller T.V. put in my room. Though I wasn’t able to get around much that summer, I did get good at the games I had, eventually beating some of them. Nintendo was also good for the eye-hand coordination issue that I have. Another effect was the elimination of the fifteen-minute breaks rule that made it easier to play games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and made it easier to progress through Dream 2 in Little Nemo the Dream Master (he would run out of time just as he made it to the stage).
There were a number of caveats with Nintendo at first as gaming was a new thing for my family. Dave and I during the duration of my elementary school years could only play Nintendo on the weekend throughout the school year. My parents also had the fifteen-minute rule which was after an hour of play, the system needed to be shut off, and a fifteen-minute break was required to prevent the image from getting burned into the screen. Ironically though this never happened while playing Nintendo, it happened many years later with the expensive flat-screen television they have now. The same television channel was watched so much that the logo at the bottom of the screen with breaking news information got burned into the screen. The funny thing, it happened with just routine daily use—using the television in a way a normal person would use it. A rumor was also circulating about blood and violence being in video games. While this is true with modern video games, there wasn’t much to worry about in their 8-bit brethren. Dave and I didn’t realize that at the time. We got Mega Man 4 for Christmas in 1992, which contained Skull Man. Skull Man made me a little nervous as I was afraid there would be blood in the stage. The stage actually featured fossils of dinosaurs and had volcanos. As the story goes at the end of the stage Dave and I were afraid when we saw the erupting volcanos in the background. We saw “red” in the background, and automatically thought it had to be blood, when in reality it was lava from a volcano which makes sense with the volcano theme.
It’s amazing how such a little machine, and a single event packed so much power in my life. Thank you, Matt and Andrew, for sharing a great machine with me. It improved my social life during my elementary school years and even in college to some extent. When Dave grew up, we had a lot less in common since I never fully mentally grew up. Nintendo has remained one thing that we have in common, and I have in common with people in my age bracket. Though Nintendo has released many different consoles since our first system, Dave and I have faithfully followed Nintendo by buying their products. The Mario Kart series and Mario Party series are both important sets of games that Dave and I still play to this day when he occasionally comes home from Taiwan (where he works), and played regularly throughout both our college years. Another interesting tidbit is that Dave says playing Nintendo the first time is one of his earliest memories!
If you like this blog, please remember to subscribe if you haven’t. The URL to Tom’s Tidbits is www.tomstidbits.net.