This is it, folks. After several months, we've finally come to the end of this series of NES rentals. Been a trek, hasn't it? Lots of arcade ports, some classic Disney games, a few oddballs...and this. There's only four games in this installment, but I've got lots of thoughts to share afterwards regarding this console, the games I rented for it, these three rental series as a whole, and something else too. But before we get to all that, let's finish off this list here. Here we go...
Earlier in this series I mentioned that I rented Godzilla for the NES and that I thought it was pretty terrible. After that, I remember playing Rampage and thinking that when compared to that other game, Rampage was a masterpiece. Once again, I think my dad picked this one out. If you have never played or don't remember Rampage, the object was simple; you take your monster and level all the buildings on the screen and move on to the next one. The army attacks you and occasionally explosions and fire from buildings can cause you damage. You can replenish your health by eating people. It's a lot of fun. At least, it is at first. My biggest memory of renting this is playing this one night and beating what felt like twenty levels or so while my dad sat on the couch reading. And while I was enjoying myself, I was beginning to wonder just how long this was going to last.
This is the problem with the Rampage series as a whole. While it's fun with multiple people and in short burts, it also gets old kind of quick. While the graphics improved and the cities got larger with each game, there's no variety in the gameplay. Each new level simply presents the same idea over and over again. This lack of depth has always hurt the game on home consoles. It's much easier to digest as a quarter munching arcade game. And looking back on it now, the NES port really isn't all that great. It left out the giant wolf character and the limitations from arcade to console just become more apparent with time, making an already redundant game even more so. Still, I can at least say that for that one night, I had a lot of fun with Rampage on the NES.
I'd like to start my story about Gumshoe by saying my father and I are both intelligent people. I have also always enjoyed reading and both my parents have always encouraged to read instructions and pay attention when doing a new activity for the first time. That being said, the day this was rented both my dad and myself failed to notice the icon on the corner of this box that said "Zapper." We also didn't notice the back of the box mentioning that Gumshoe was in fact a light gun game. How this happened, I couldn't tell you, but it prevented us from ever being able to play this game. So we take this home and turn it on. The game starts and our little guy starts to walk across the screen. We press buttons on the controller and nothing happens. So we continue to press buttons even harder, and nothing continues to happen. Our little guy just keeps walking and walks right into a wall or off a cliff or something to that effect. So we try to fix it by turning the game off, unplugging and plugging back in the controllers...etc, to no avail. In the end we just turned it off and I thought it was dumbest game I'd ever seen.
My aunt and uncle came over and I invited Brent to come and see this amazing new uncontrollable game. He laughed and I think he may have tried to goof with it himself, but if he did it didn't work. And that was pretty much the end of Gumshoe in our house. Now several years go by and the little kid who rented this game is now 34 years old and writing a series of articles about NES games he rented. He remembers Gumshoe and gets curious and goes to youtube to watch somebody else play it. And as he watches, he thinks to himself "Oh...that's what you were supposed to do..." Seriously folks, looking at the box art again I can't believe how we missed that all those years ago. What you have to do is take the Zapper and shoot the guy to make him jump, and then shoot all the bad guys and things coming at him as he walked through the level. It doesn't look like it was that great a game, but I'm also pretty sure had we known what to do, my dad and I would have enjoyed it back then. Oh well. Makes for a good story, anyway. And one good thing did come out of it; because of this game, I learned that gumshoe was slang for a detective.
That wraps up all the games my family and I rented. The other two games on this list our games my cousins rented, and I was there with them when they did so. I then got to go back and play it with them, making these games part of my memory. As such, I feel they deserve a place here.
My aunt and uncle went to a different video store then my family did, one of the more local smaller places as opposed to the major chains. Which is perfectly fine of course. Since my family always went to the same place, it was cool to see something different for a change. While the adults went to go pick out some movies, Brent, his older brother Matt, and myself perused the NES games. I don't recall who found it first, just that after looking at the screenshots on the back of the box, I thought it had a Castlevania-ish vibe to it. I also wasn't sure how to pronounce the title of it. Brent and Matt said it A-sty-nax, without the middle "A," so I just said it the same way. We then rented it and brought it back to their house. We started it up and watched the opening cutscene. It showed a guy who is visited by a faerie who informs him he is the heir to weapon Astyanax or something to that effect and she transports him to another realm that he must save in order to get back to his own land. While Brent and Matt just chuckled at the whole thing, I remember thinking it was kind of neat at the time and wondered what it would be like if such a thing happened to me.
It really wasn't much like Castlevania, but Astyanax was still pretty cool. The level screen loaded piece by piece in a spiral shape, which looked neat. It played like a standard hack and slash with platforming mixed in as well. The bosses were a particular highlight. I've only shown one in the screenshots but the sprite work for all of them is pretty impressive to me. There was a big tree monster, a giant Medusa, dragons, and more, and they all looked really cool. We all took turns playing it, each making slightly different progress. Then somehow Matt found a code that I think granted invulnerability. Keep in mind there was no internet back then, and I don't remember them having any magazines that featured this game. But Matt just experimented with button presses and figured one out somehow. Yes, it's cheating I admit, but it was nice to play through the whole game, see all the cool bosses, and find out how the story wrapped up. I think the only time he got stuck was on a maze, until he eventually figured out to go in the doors with a skeleton in front of them. It was fun night, and I look back on it fondly.
This was rented in the same way as Astyanax, and I think what initially attracted us to it was that it looked kind of like Skate or Die but bigger and with more to do. And since we all liked Skate or Die, we figured we would like 720 as well. Quick oddball thing I remember about it; With Astaynax, when we got it back to their house we played it in either Brent or Matt's room. With 720, we played it on the big tv in their living room. Not sure why I remember that and what it has to do with actually playing the game, but I recall it just the same. In many ways,720 was just like we thought; similar to Skate or Die, but bigger and with more to do. Sort of, anyway.
In Skate or Die, the hub was a single screen with nothing to do it in except go between events. In 720, the hub was a large boardwalk, complete with it's own map and ramps and things to fidget around with in between events. At each corner of the map was an event like a half-pipe or a slalom to compete in. It took place over a few days and the events cost money to enter. Doing well would earn you more cash to enter tougher versions of them later. What I remember most though about 720 is a swarm of bees. Skate around long enough and a swarm of bees will appear and chase you around. Though they were a huge nuisance, it was hilarious to watch Matt try and outrun them and how frustrated they used to make him. After I left their house, we had family get-together at my grandparents house and I asked Brent about the game. If I remember right, he said that Matt was able to get pretty far into it in the end.
And there it ends. Seven articles and sixty four games later, we've finally come to the end of this series. But like I said before, I've got a lot to say about the NES and all these rental memories of mine. I've written about a few topics here; playing video games with cousin, books I used to read, growing up in a Christian household, toys I played with...but it was these looks back at renting different generations of Nintendo games that have filled me with the most nostalgia. What makes a childhood? The answer to that question is different for everybody. But a for a kid named Brian who was born in 1983 and grew up in the high desert of Southern California, it consisted of several things; a loving family. Routine trips to the video store. Hot Wheels and Micro Machines, Legos and action figures. Wooden boards that were used to make forts and imaginary vehicles in the backyard. Plastic guns that fired foam darts. Nights spent under the sheets with a flashlight, and afternoons spent with the company of animated ducks and chipmunks. The list could go on and on, but I think the biggest thing, the one that stayed with me the longest, were little grey cartridges.
Even though this series was only about rentals and didn't include what I owned, played at a friends house, borrowed...etc, it's impossible for me to look back on them and not see myself. They reflect my interests and what I thought was cool at the time. (Usually.) I see the people I played some of those games with and I remember the discussions I had about them. As I've said before, Nintendo is something that grew up with me. The 16-bit era, along with the great games it produced, also represents the time of my life were I had zero responsibility except school and I was old enough to appreciate it. It brought me back to to those days of going to out to eat on regular basis, and playing games and watching movies together. It was it's own special kind of wonderful. The N64 was my teenage years, and with it came more social interaction and hours spent playing multiplayer with my best friends. We didn't just play games, we shared life with each other. And included with those teenage years are the moments you'll take with you for the rest of your life. Like Ocarina of Time or Super Mario 64, even if they have may have been surpassed by other things, you don't forget how they made you feel. Of course there were also weird blunders and misfires that can only happen when you're a teenager. And yes, the N64 had plenty of those too.
Looking back on the NES though, I really didn't think I had that much to tell, other then what I had already written about in Playin' Games With Brent, Part 1. It's why I didn't think I was going to write about NES rentals. But then as I made my list, I began see, just like before, the mirror into the past. I remembered renting and watching tons of Godzilla movies. I remembered the exhilaration of being able control my favorite cartoon character. And looking back at the box art for so many of these games was a lot of fun too. I see so much of the innocence, the imagination, and the silliness of childhood. For as much as I loved to play with my toys and read, I don't think anything fed my imagination quite like Nintendo did. And I think one of the reasons for that is that for me, part of the game was played in my head. NES graphics couldn't match the art on the box or in the instruction booklet, so I filled in the gaps in my mind as I played. On screen, I may have seen this...
Now this looks cool and all, don't get me wrong, but while that was playing on screen, I saw this in my minds eye...
It's sort of hard thing to explain, but I think those of you who were children when the NES came out should know what I'm talking about.
So do I miss that time? Yes and no. I miss parts of it. Even though it was only hardware limitations, I do miss filling the blanks of these games with my mind. It was a lot of fun, and probably one of the reasons I always looked forward to the next game I was going to play. I also miss being naive about certain things. For example, I miss when Super Mario Bros 2, was simply Super Mario Bros 2, and not knowing it was a re-skinned version of Doki Doki Panic. (Doesn't make me love the game any less, but still.) As much as I enjoy learning about video game and Nintendo history, and I can't help but feel like it makes some of these old games lose something. But more than anything, when I look back on the NES and the many happy hours spent playing, I feel thankful. I wasn't a grandparent when it came out, I wasn't in college or an adult buying it for my child...I was only a few years old and just starting life. And I absorbed all those little sprites and silly game plots like a sponge. I own the Mega Man legacy collection for my 3ds, which features Mega Man 1 - 6. I was reading a discussion on the board for the game on Nintendo's Miiverse community, and it asked what was the first Mega Man game people had played. The person who asked the question said the most recent Smash Bros was her first experience with Mega Man. Another person said their first game was Mega Man Legends. I read a few more responses and I was the only person on there to have first played Mega Man in it's original format. I realize no one has control over when they're born, so I'm thankful to have memories like that. And I'm thankful to my cousin's family who had me over so much and let me play their system. I still can't play Ninja Gaiden without smelling my aunt and uncle's cigarettes.
In then end, I owe an awful lot to the Nintendo Entertainment System. It birthed a lifelong love of video games, of Nintendo, and it came into my life at the exact right moment to grow with me, and give me a deeper appreciation for what would come after.
Speaking of which, I remember when I first felt the winds of change from Nintendo. When I talked about renting the Little Mermaid game, I said I first played it at a station in our local mall. One day, my dad and I were walking by there and we stopped to look at a tv showing some gameplay. There was no controller to play it, but the game being shown was a new Mario game, and that's all it took to get my attention. And it looked really cool.
As I watched, I marveled at how cool the graphics were, and that a question mark block was flying. My dad went to ask what game it was and when he came back, he said it was called Super Mario World and that it was for the Super Nintendo. I found the whole thing to be completely unfair that we had to get a whole new system to play the new Mario game. I did play Super Mario World for the first time thanks to a very kind sales lady at Montgomery Ward, and the Super NES went on to become my favorite system of all time. So I'd say things worked out pretty well. ;)
And now, as subtitle for this article has suggested, I confess that this will be my final contribution to Retrojunk. I had a few more things I was going to write about, such as part two about books I read, an article about Mega Man X, and a series about live action Disney movies from the 60's, 70's, and 80's. But the further I got into this NES stuff, the more I knew it was time to be finished. But I cant leave without saying a few things first. When I first found this website back in 2005/2006, I was finishing up a term of service in the Air Force. Maybe it was because I just don't have the military mindset and I needed to hear a different voice, but for whatever reason, Retrojunk showed up right when I needed it. I can't say what a blessing it's been to hear from folks who remember what it was like to have sleepover, go to the video store, or have the same fond memories of cartoons I used to love. I learned a few new things, too. Heck, I saw The Monster Squad and Child of Glass for the first time thanks to this website.
When I started to write about my own memories, I gained some wonderful insight into those carefree days many years ago. It helped my understand myself, who I was, and how these things help form who I am now. And with that insight, came a much deeper appreciation. I also enjoyed the comments from those who read what I had to say. I always tried to provide a story or anecdote with my memories. Rather then just list things I liked, I wanted to provide how they were a part of my life and looked forward to. I wrote more about video games than I initially intended to, but I hope my voice on the subject was a fresh one regardless. But I also realize that those days I remember only get further and further away. The memories will always remain precious to me, but it's time to dwell in the present. To all who found these musings of mine worthy of their time, you have my sincerest gratitude. The same goes to all here who have provided your stories which have entertained and blessed me so. So for the last time, stay retro folks. Hold those memories close to you. And thank you for reading.