Playin' Games With Brent Part 1

The NES years
June 11, 2014
Hello once again, fellow retrojunkers. Let me start by saying a big thanks to all who took the time to read my first article. I know that my upbringing may seem unusual to some, but I had good times as a kid. For this article, I’ll tread on some territory that’s more familiar to you. Like most of you, there was an NES in my house when I was a kid. Unlike most of you, it actually belonged to my dad. You’ll have to forgive me here because I’m horrible at remembering specific years, but I do remember that when I was still just a wee lad, my mom got my dad an NES for his birthday. I’m sure she was unaware of the beast she was unleashing at the time, because one of favorite hobbies was introduced to me that evening. Throughout the Nintendo’s life cycle at my home, however, we only came to own 3 games. The first was the Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt combo included with the system. We also had a light gun game called Hogan’s Alley, and Super Mario Bros 3, which as you all know needs no introduction.

To this day, I know of one other person who owned this.
Even though the NES was my dad’s, I got SMB 3 for my birthday one year, and it was quite the event. The whole party was completely Mario themed; Mario paper plates and napkins, Mario cake with Mario figurines on top, Mario was amazing. I was wearing a sweater that said “I’m a Toy’s R Us Kid” that day and I also got a bike. But Mario 3 stole the show. It seemed like everybody I knew at the time was gathered at my house for the occasion, and once the game was unwrapped, everything else was just an afterthought. But I digress..
Like I said before, the NES was a gift for my dad’s birthday. As I mentioned in my previous article, I was born in ’83 so I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4 years old at the time. That night, I was introduced to video games. Arcades, pinball machines…I had no clue none of these things existed until that console entered our home. I was instantly caught up in Super Mario Bros. To my young eyes, it was probably the coolest thing I’d ever seen at the time. A whole new world was unlocked to me and I always wanted to know what was coming next. Granted, the whole family was so bad at it when we got it, by the time my dad finished the first level we thought we’d completed the game. This feeling only intensified with each Toad who told us that the princess was in another castle. Anyhow, my cousin Brent, who was my age, also had an NES. But unlike our 3 games, he and his family had a Vans shoebox that over time would become filled with many of the consoles greatest hits. For example;

Castlevania 1 – 3
Mega Man 1 – 4
RC Pro-Am
Ninja Gaiden
Blaster Master
Skate Or Die
My cousin filled the best friend role in my life for a number of years and I spent a good deal of time at my aunt and uncle’s house. However, since the NES was my introduction to video games as a whole, these amazing games also presented something of a learning experience for me. Even though he was the same age as me, Brent along with his older brother Matt picked up on the fundamentals of video gaming right away. I took a little longer. Let me explain…
At home when we would watch my dad play Super Mario Bros, we would always get excited when he would get to “the dragon.” You may know this dragon by his proper name; Bowser. I didn’t read instruction booklets back then so I didn’t find out until later that all those walking mushrooms and turtles had actual names. (I’ve actually become something of a stickler for remembering the names of video game creatures. It got to a point where people kept getting annoyed with at me because I was always correcting them.) Needless to say, since it was the only game we had at first, I assumed every game had a “dragon” at the end of it. So there I was at Brent’s house, watching Matt play Mega Man 2, and I asked “When do you get to the dragon?” This is interesting because as most of you are aware, Mega Man 2 does in fact have a dragon it. Matt said “Not until a lot later.” He then got to the boss of the stage and I promptly said “isn’t that the dragon?” They both told me no, it was whichever robot master they were fighting at the time. Eventually they came to realize what I meant when I said dragon and every time I asked about it, one of them would chime in and say “He means last guy”. Last guy was my term for boss for years thanks to them.
I spent more time watching them play than playing myself. Back then, I wasn’t very good at video games and never got very far on my own. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying myself. I loved seeing every new level, every new enemy sprite, every new boss…I could hardly wait to see what was around the corner. Ninja Gaiden was a favorite of all of ours. I could never get past the 2nd stage on my own, so I would watch Matt and Brent play it. We used to find the cutscenes hilarious because of all the corny dialogue, and would watch them just to have a good laugh.

Something about this scene in particular was always funny to us.
But as I sat there watching them play, I couldn’t help but throw in my two cents worth on the action from time to time. Take the following screenshot:

At this point I would besiege Brent with ridiculous questions. As he ventured through the stage, the conversation went as follows;
Me – “What would you do if a giant monster came out right now and killed you?”
Brent - “That would suck!”
Me – “What would you do if Superman flew out and killed all the bad guys?”
Brent –“That would be awesome!”
Me – “There should be an item that does that. Smack it with your sword and like the Superman S falls down.”
Brent – “Then it would be too easy.”
Me – “Yeah…that would still be cool though.”
This was normal conversation for us. I’m pretty sure I drove him crazy. But there is one more memory of Ninja Gaiden I have to share, because I will never forget it. It was the night that Matt beat Ninja Gaiden using the Holy Grail of 8 and 16 bit paraphernalia: The Game Genie.

Brent had one for his NES and Genesis. I had one for my Gameboy. I used to read through the codebook like it was literature.
As we all know by now, NES games were nerve shreddingly difficult, but at the time we didn’t know that because it was all we had. I don’t remember what code he used, but I do know there was no invincibility code. It was either infinite lives or something so you didn’t go back to the beginning of a stage when you died at a boss. I’m not sure. But the night was epic. Armed with Game Genie, Matt began his journey. He made his way past the city street and into the bar. He climbed the second stage platforms. He gave chase to the thief in the cabin and made it through the jungle. The excitement really began once he defeated Bloody Malth and the twin statue monsters. That’s as far they’ve gotten on their own. Nobody had ever beaten the stage after before. Even I tried it, though my efforts were futile. For those of you who weren't born yet, let me set this up for you. Due to the previously mentioned difficulty of most NES games, seeing a game through to its end was not a given. Beating that level or boss you've been stuck on for months was a monumental occasion, when it did happen it was accompanied by strange side effects. First of all, the start button disappears. I've heard that it just seems that way because you're caught up in the moment, but I'll swear any day that the console knows when you're doing good and the button simply recedes into the controller. You're clearly on some kind of magical rhythm now and pausing the game would only interrupt it. Also, things like relieving oneself become completely obsolete. In fact, distractions of any kind are inexcusable. I guarantee you that if the President of the United States himself walked in that room and tried to talk to us, Brent and I would have only demanded that he shut-up. So Matt made it thought Jacquio’s lair and the final battle began! Me and Brent were amazed. How many forms did he have, 3? I think it was 3. Matt died over and over again, but still pressed on. We began to wonder how any mere mortal was supposed to do this on their own when finally, and I’m pretty sure with only 1 hit left before he died, Matt beat the game. We cheered, we roared,…and then we watched the ending. I don’t know how many of you have ever seen the ending of Ninja Gaiden, but it’s not worth the pain it takes to get there. The castle crumbles, Ryu and Irene share a moment, and that’s about it. I told this story to a guy who works at my local gamestop and he only smiled and nodded his head. He knew where I was coming from.

Contra was a different matter altogether. I would play this with Brent and when we did, we would always use the thirty-man code and I would lose all of them by the middle of the second level. I would then proceed to steal his lives one by one until he’d have to demand I stop. Contra was the epitome of 80’s cool. It was everything a young boy could dream of in a Nintendo game. Two men battling aliens with machine guns and lasers and the end boss was giant freaking heart! I remember watching it beat faster and faster as Brent poured bullets into it until it exploded…it was epicness personified.

Admittedly it didn't put up much of a fight, but you really can't top this for a final boss fight.
The giant jumping Gollum boss at the end of stage 6 used to crack us up. The way he jumped was so funny to me that I kept dying because I was laughing. Brent’s “boing” sound effects didn’t help it any.

In my mind, Contra continues to remain the greatest coop series ever made.

Blaster Master was cool because that was the first time I had seen an overhead perspective. The first time I saw the little guy jump out of the tank and enter a door I think my head exploded with amazement. You had a tank which you could get in and out of and then you could walk around and shoot enemies form an overhead view. It was like 2 games in one man! Again, I never got past the second stage back then, but I heard stories of the bosses Brent and Matt had fought. I remember that opening cutscene with Jason chasing the frog down the hole. That really was a testament to what 8-bit gaming was. A kid chases a mutated frog down hole, finds a tank, suits up, and then we have a game. Brent and Matt found the whole thing to be absurd and funny, which it is, but at the time I was so caught up in it, all I could think about was finding that frog. Little did I know it would be a boss. Maybe it was silly, but Blaster Master remains an NES classic, despite how balls hard it is, and I miss that sort of ridiculous and simple innocence that gaming had.

NES storytelling, folks. It was either this or somebody getting kidnapped. The music during this cutscene is pretty cool though.
I could come up with many more stories from this period, but I think you get the gist of it now. I’ll end with some anecdotes. Brent had a huge a collection of game magazines, Nintendo Power, Electronic Gaming Monthly, you name it. He had a couple of the comics Nintendo made and one day he just gave them to me.

These were the two I had. I don't for the life of me know what happened to them though...
I was and remain a huge fan of the Mega Man series. Brent had the Mega Man 3 poster from Nintendo Power in his bedroom, the one with all the bosses in front Gamma, and I would just stare enviously at the awesomeness of it.

It's a little cheesier than I remember, especially Needle Man, but this is still my favorite poster to come out of Nintendo Power.
I remember renting Mega Man 4 from blockbuster video and I think back then you got game rentals for three days. I stayed the night at my grandma’s house that evening and tore into it. I could get to Skull Man easy enough, but I couldn’t beat him. Not long after I rented it, Brent and Matt bought the game and when I watched them playing it, I asked them how they were charging their shot. Brent said you just hold down B. I had the game for three days and I never knew that! I also remember going up to the mountains one day to cut some wood with my dad and my uncle. I wasn’t excited about this at all, but I was told Brent was going to be there so I was at least looking forward to that. When we picked up my uncle, Brent wasn’t with him and when I asked why, my uncle said that they had just got Castlevania 3 and Brent wanted to stay home and play it. Even though my dad let me use a hatchet that day, I all I could think about was how lucky Brent was. In time, I would play quite a bit of it at his house. I actually managed to get to Dracula’s castle on my own. I was told that Matt got to Drac himself once but he had one hit left with when he did so. Dracula threw a fireball at him and he died. (Years later, the same thing would happen to me with the final level of Battletoads.) Back then, I used to like Alucard because he could turn into a bat. But over time, I've come to prefer Grant and his wall climbing ability much more.

Trevor, Grant, and a pre-Symphony of the Night Alucard.

And that's pretty much that. I hope you all have enjoyed this article. I'd like to tell you all about what Brent and I did in the 16-bit era, but I may hold off for a bit. I know there's already a plethora of video game related articles here and even though I meant what I said about no top tens or reviews and such, I don't want to be white noise. Until next time, stay retro folks. Later.
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