Hello once, retrojunkers. Let me say I really didn't think I would be writing this series. I thoroughly enjoyed my time bringing you my memories of SNES rentals, and I also had fun looking back on my time with the N64 as well. However, I wasn't happy with the way I ended N64 rental series. When I ended that series, I sort of rushed through the ending of it and I'm really not happy with the way my final thoughts came out. These articles take quite a bit of time to put together, and I guess maybe I was just tired. The other reason I didn't want to do a series of NES rentals is because of just how young I was during my time with it. I was born in 1983, so I was all of two years old when the Nintendo Entertainment System was brought to U.S. shores. I don't know if that's exactly when our family got one, but regardless I was still really
little. So I decided to let the whole thing lie. At least I did, anyway. So what brought all this about? Honestly, I think what made me start to rethink this series was the announcement of this...
I'm not here to discuss the NES Mini. I realize that collectors still have the original console, and that many argue what's the point when you can simply emulate with more games for free. But I think what got me was the HDMI hook-ups for modern televisions and the fact that this console was (sort of) being reintroduced into our lives. I thought, and still think, that that is really cool. (SNES and N64 classic edition Nintendo? Please?) I have a few NES games downloaded from the eshop on my Wii U, but it was thought of holding that controller again to play these games...it just got me thinking. I started thinking about the time spent playing Nintendo at my cousin's house, and how much fun it was. In fact, if you haven't read my first article in my Playin' Games with Brent series, I would recommend you do as it helps set the scene a little for where I was at during this point in my life. Here's a link to it. http://www.retrojunk.com/article/show/4573/playin-games-with-brent-part-1
Anyways, one memory led to another, and I started making a list of games I remember renting for the NES, and when the list had surpassed 50 games, I realized I remembered more and had more stories to tell than I initially thought. It made me think of a few other things that I will touch on when this series is over. But before I get to the rentals, let me share some things with you. As I've said, the NES came to our family as a birthday gift for my dad. But my memory of it actually goes past that. We were at the house of a friend of my parents for a party or something. As we were leaving, I saw somebody moving a character around on the tv, and I thought it looked neat. I think that game may have been The Legend of Zelda. A few years later, I remember being at that house again, and me and some other kids were trying and failing to beat the dam level in the original TMNT game. But getting back to my house, we only ever had three games our NES; Super Mario Bros/Duck Hunt, Mario 3, and Hogan's Alley.
Therefore much of my gameplay experience came from my cousin and renting games. The video store we rented from was Major Video.
Blockbuster bought it out eventually, and we rented some NES games from there, but I'm pretty sure the bulk of them came from Major Video. The other big thing I remember about this time is that my mom played the NES too. She's not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but she played the NES. It was she who first got to and solved the maze in level 4-4 of Super Mario Bros. And I think it was she who first discovered the warp zone in level 1-2. And speaking of Super Mario Bros, my mother, and a family of newfound Super Mario fans, I think it's only appropriate to start this rental list with the following game...
During the SNES years, our routine was going out to eat and renting a game and movie(s) when my dad got paid. When we had the NES, we hadn't started that routine yet. Our game rentals happened when my mom would take my sister and I out while my dad was at work, or on weekends while my dad was out running errands....things like that. One such morning while my dad was at work, my mom took us out and that's when we saw Super Mario Bros 2 on the shelf. We flipped it over and began to read out loud what the back of the box said. I was thrilled! We brought it home, and I remember that a lot of rental games came with instruction booklets back then. I looked through it, loving the hand drawn pictures of enemies that were side by the in-game screenshots of them. (By the way, does anybody else remember that Birdo was originally a boy who thought he was a girl?) But the big thing I was excited about was being able to chose who you got to play as.
My mom and my sister both went with Princess Toadstool and with her ability to float, she became a favorite among all four of us. However, I also really liked Luigi. Not only could he jump high, but I thought the way his legs wiggled when he was in the air was funny. Nobody else in the family took to him, though. We even had some friends of ours who played this game, and they refused Luigi whenever I suggested using him. The other thing I remember is it was my mom who first found the warp zone in 1-3 that takes you to world 4. After that we used it every time we played Mario 2 for the rental period. In fact, it was a very long time before I ever saw world 3 because of it. I used to hate all the digging in world 2, so I didn't mind passing it up. When I finally did reach world 3, I was a little disappointed to find the boss was jus a tougher version of Mouser. But even so, Mouser is one of my favorite unsung Mario characters, and Super Mario Bros 2 is to this day one of my top 5, maybe even top 3 Mario games. And I still would like to see it's villain, Wart, return somehow. Perhaps as a character in Mario Kart or Smash Bros. Maybe with the Nintendo Switch ? I can only hope.
When you think of great foundation titles for the NES, you will think of games like Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Games that created franchises, heroes, and broke ground for the evolving medium. But for the small boy who entered the video store and brought this home one day, Metroid was anything but an epic space adventure. But before I get into that, let me share something else. That day, my mom was preparing me and my sister to go out to rent something. She had decided that when we found something she liked, she was going to ask if we had played it before and if it was fun. What she was trying to accomplish by this, I don't know. (No offense if you are reading this, Mom. Love you lots, just trying to tell the story like it happened.) We got to the video store and after looking around, I came across Metroid. I thought it looked and sounded cool so I showed it to my mom. She asked me if it was fun. I said yes. She asked me if I had played it. I said no. She then asked how I would know if it was fun, and I responded how would I know without playing it. She then saw the error in her logic and we rented it.
Since back then I assumed all video games were straightforward, I started the game up and immediately headed for the right side of the screen. I was not aware that you were required to explore this world and find different items to make progress. I didn't even venture left from the beginning and find the morph ball until my 2nd or 3rd game. Aside from a few missiles, I didn't find anything else during my time with it. Rather, I wandered around trying to find the next "level." When we returned it, I didn't care for the game at all. Years would later I would play through Super Metroid and learn the proper way to play the game. I had friend during junior high and high school, well after the NES had run it's course. He still owned the console and a copy of Metroid. At his house, I gave a genuine attempt to finish the game. I got further than I ever had and found several items, but I still never managed to reach either Ridley or Kraid, let alone Mother Brain. And to be honest, to this day I have a hard time "getting into" this entry of the series. Return of Samus, Super, Fusion, Zero Mission, Prime...I've played them to completion. But whereas classics like the original Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda I still enjoy playing today, Metroid....I guess for me it just really shows its age. Should I manage to obtain an NES classic edition however, I'll probably give it another shot. We'll see what happens. Meanwhile, let us move on.
We all know what Pac-Man is and how it's played so I don't need to go into any of that. Really the only thing notable about it from my perspective is that this version was my introduction to it. Remember I was very young so I had no idea arcade games existed yet, let alone that I was playing a port of one. This is something that's going to pop up a few times throughout this series; renting a game that I ended up seeing in arcades much later as I discovered them. I also know there were two different versions of Pac-Man for the NES; one by Namco and one by Tengen. I'm sure the one I rented was by Tengen because I remember the box art. Also, I'm fairly certain my mom was the one who picked this out.
Since I was new to the idea behind the hi-score oriented games of old, playing Pac-Man the first time was interesting. I kept wondering if the levels were going to change at some point. (To this day, the changing scenery is why I prefer Mrs. Pac-Man.) And like a lot of the old arcade games, I was really terrible at it. Getting to level four or five was victory to me. You can imagine my shock when I found out Pac-Man has over 200 stages in it. The other thing I remember is when playing it, I wished it was different. Looking at the box art made me hope for a platformer. Even though I enjoyed the game as it was, I couldn't help but look at the picture on the cartridge and wish it was something else. In time, I've grown to appreciate Pac-Man for what it is, as well as it's place in gaming history. But let's move on now to something even more iconic...
Just like Pac-Man, this was my first glimpse of a legend. At the time though, I'm pretty sure I was just excited to be playing what I thought was simply another Mario game. I also remember thinking that since this game was called Donkey Kong Classics, there must be some other, newer, Kong game out there somewhere. (I wouldn't discover there was in fact a Donkey Kong 3 until I was in high school.) This is pretty much the same story as Pac-Man, although I enjoyed this game more. I was terrible at it, but I would watch my dad play and he was pretty good. The other thing that I remember clearly is that nobody seemed really interested in Donkey Kong Jr.
I watched my dad play it and he got to the fourth stage once, but after that he and everybody else who played it at our house stuck to the original game. Of the two, I do think the original is the better game, but DK junior is pretty fun too. Plus how often do you get to see Mario as the villain? Anyway, that's kind of all I can remember about renting this game, but I have one more thing to say. Donkey Kong is my favorite Nintendo character. Much of this is due to when Rare when gave him a world of his own, but I can't forget when I was first introduced the big ape in all his barrel tossin' glory.
I don't know remember what it was, but I'm pretty sure when I rented this it was for some type of occasion. I don't know if my folks were going out of town and our grandparents were watching us or what, but it was something. For whatever reason, I also remember going to the video store at night when I picked this out. As the title suggests, you had the option between skateboarding and surfing. Thinking skateboards were cool, I went with that first. Right away, I had trouble. I didn't know that you had to hold back(left) and press a button to jump. Therefore the first several minutes of my play time were spent crashing into obstacles and running out of time. When we finally figured how to do it properly, I enjoyed the game quite a bit. Go long enough and your time stops counting down, which is essential to complete the later levels that are just too long to finish otherwise. Crash, and the timer starts to counts down again.
The surfing game is something I never managed to get the hang of. I finished one or two stages by dumb luck, but nothing after that. I still don't know how exactly to do it right. I don't know if you are supposed to navigate the waves and stay on your board for a set time, if you are trying to get somewhere or what. I gave it a few attempts over that rental, but I played the skateboard far game more. That's where the rental memories end, but not the memories of this game. Somehow a copy of it ended up at grandparents house alongside the Nintendo one of my relatives kept there. During one of the last Christmas parties my grandparents hosted, me and my assorted cousins were gathered in the den. (This was the norm. One year I brought my Dreamcast over and we spent a good chunk of the day playing Soul Caliber. It was awesome.) With no other game there we wanted to play, we settled on T & C, and for about an hour or so, two of them, I forget who, played two player skateboard and got farther than I had ever seen. That may not sound like much now, but it was really cool at the time. One final thing is that there is a never talked about sequel to this game called to T & C 2: Thrilla's Surfari. I like it a lot more than the original and I encourage you to check it out if you have never played it before.
It's impossible for me to think of Mega Man and not think of my cousin Brent. Playing Mega Man, and Nintendo in general, at his house are some my most treasured memories. We both loved Mega Man and we would even draw our own ideas for bosses. Brent had natural talent for cartooning so his always came out way better than mine. But getting back to this particular game, my sister and I were getting ready to spend a weekend at my grandparents and my dad said I could rent a game to play while I was there. We got to the video store and when I saw Mega Man 4, I knew I had found my game. Since I didn't follow magazines at that point, it's existence was news to me and I couldn't wait to get situated at my grandparents house and see who the new bosses were. I was also looking forward to telling Brent all about it. When I had the chance to sit down and play it, I looked over the new enemies and I thought that Skull Man sounded the coolest so I went with his stage first. I got to him easily enough, but he slaughtered me something fierce.
I don't think I beat any of the main 8 bosses while I rented it the game. Well, maybe Toad Man....I don't remember. But even though I sucked at Mega Man 4, I still had a lot of fun. Next time I saw Brent, I proudly announced there was a 4th Mega Man and that I had played it. He had me beat. Not only had he played it too, he owned it. Then something else happened. I was watching either him or his brother play, and they kept charging up their shot. I asked who you had to beat to get that ability. Brent said "No one. You just hold down the B button." I was stunned. The entire time I had rented the game I had never known that. I could instantly see how some of the games enemies and obstacles had been designed with that ability in mind and it made game easier. I have still never beaten it though, which does not surprise me because I was really terrible at video games back then. Mega Man 4 is also the only NES Mega Man game that I rented. Moving on...
I think my dad came home with this one day, but I'm not 100% sure. Let me start by saying I love the anime-ish box art here. In fact, I would say I like it more than the actual game. City Connection is an arcade port, and the goal was to drive you car over all the squares in the city, painting them white. Doing so would advance you to the next level. Eventually you would progress through different major cities all over the world. Naturally, there are obstacles to make this difficult for you. Police must be avoided and there are also cats that like to appear randomly. Hitting one of them results in losing a life. You jump up and between the tracks, but every so often a cat will spawn right where you land. As you might guess, this is incredibly annoying.
Like a lot of arcade games back then, I had fun playing this game but I also wanted something more from it. I thought the artwork on the cartridge was cool, and I would look at it and honestly get all psyched up to play the game and then walk away feeling underwhelmed. This isn't the games fault though. The first video game I ever played was Super Mario Bros. so I compared everything to that type of gameplay at first. Looking back, it is a fun little arcade title, but it's not something I would say is essential NES gaming. But I still think the box art is pretty dang cool.
Speaking of cool box art, take a nice gander at this one. If this doesn't make you want to wrap a bandana around your head and start cracking skulls, I don't know what will. I think I may have played this at somebody else's house and that's what made rent it later. I picked this one out and my dad chose another to rent with it, a racing game called Super Sprint. We'll get to that one in a moment. P.O.W. is a port of an arcade beat 'em up. Playing as a prisoner of war, you blow open your cell and proceed to bash and smash your way to freedom. It's pretty much the Chuck Norris of video games, with defeated foes literally flying into the air after meeting the vengeful fury of your 8-bit fists and legs.
I had the chance to play this again recently and while it doesn't hold a candle to the classic games of this genre for the NES, like Mighty Final Fight or River City Ransom, it's still some good cheesy fun. My biggest memory of that rental is also kinda funny. Like other beat-em-ups, you're not limited to punches and kicks. Enemies would drop weapons like knives and machine guns for you to use. One morning I was playing this and my mom was watching me. One of the guys dropped a knife and I threw it back at him. As I was walking to the next area, my mom said "Brian, did you just throw a knife at that man?" I felt horrible. I started to protest that he threw it at me first and I was just defending myself. But then I just turned the game off and put in the one my dad rented...
...which, as I said before, was this one. I wasn't two enthused about it, but I didn't want to play any of the other three games we had. This was also an arcade port, similar to Off-Road, but with asphalt and Indy cars instead of dirt and trucks. That's probably why I didn't really take to it. Even with it's simple one screen, top down gameplay, you could feel the off-road of Off-road and it was fun to maneuver around all the water puddles, berms, and bumps. Navigating around the occasional cone or oil slick just isn't as exciting. That may not be a fair assessment since the two sports depicted are so different in real life, but the gameplay of these two titles is so similar it's hard not to compare them.
My dad seemed to enjoy it though, and I know I played it with a him a few times. I would also watch him play it solo because he could always get a lot farther than I could. And that's all I can really remember about renting Super Sprint. It would be years before I played it again on an arcade collection for the PS3.
And that's it for this first part. I'm not quite sure how long this series will be. There's plenty of games on my list, but there's quite a few of them where the only thing I remember is the fact that I rented them with no real anecdotes to accompany that. I may end up grouping those together into one article. We'll see. Until next time, stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.