(This post was inspired by an episode of Retronauts from last month.)
For my fellow readers who grew up in the 1980s, you know that Nintendo reigned surpreme. Not just the Nintendo Entertainment System and its games, but look at how Mario, Link, and other characters that jumped from the game screens to foodstuffs, t-shirts, cartoons, and a slew of other merchandise. Nintendo mania was in full effect for quite some time, with the late 1980s and early to mid-1990s arguably being its peak.
Though the NES was the big toy of choice for my peers in grade school, I never had one. My parents were very anti-video games when I was growing up; I didn’t own a video game system of any kind until 1993, and I didn’t have an NES until 1997 or so! When I was a kid, this really stunk on ice. Sure, I was able to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon playing video games in friends’ living rooms, but being at home without them was lame, and of course I was relentlessly picked on about it at school.
So how did I get my Nintendo fix at home, with no video game systems of any kind within reach? Get ready to laugh.
I ate the cereals, read the comic books (published by Valiant!), and watched Captain N: The Game Master and The Super Mario Bros. Super Show. In retrospect, all of that stuff was garbage, but I didn’t know any better as a kid; and again, with no real Nintendo experience at my house, I took what I could get.
It gets worse. I wanted to play Nintendo games at home, but since I didn’t have an NES…I’d build game characters out of LEGO pieces, and create levels for them to run around in. My Mario and Samus mini-figures didn’t look much like their onscreen counterparts, but my Mega Man attempt wasn’t too far off. Beyond that, I think I tried making a Mario animation or two on the Etch-A-Sketch Animator. (Remember that thing?)
I was a lonely child. Shut up.
The Laughing Man obscures the really dorky face I was making that
1980s Christmas morning. At least I’m still throwing up the metal fist.
As you can see, I also had a pair of Nintendo Power pajamas. Which is a bit weird, because I never had a subscription to the actual magazine. Naturally, my friends did, so I begged them to borrow copies that I could pore over endlessly. On a few lucky occasions, they even gave me the fold-in posters that they didn’t want. Most of them were for crappy games, but again, I took what I could get. I was that pathetic.
For all of the sadness and embarrassment that period represents for me, I do look back on Nintendo mania itself rather fondly. It was a rather unique period in the history of the medium; even now, when video games are mainstream, we don’t seem to have the amount of merchandise, advertising, and tie-ins devoted to a particular company, with much of the popularity attributed to positive word-of-mouth. We didn’t have social media or even email to use back then, so it was all schoolyard talk and direct advertising.
To this day, the phrase “play Nintendo” is still synonymous with “play video games,” not just one from Nintendo itself. No other video game hardware manufacturer has accomplished anything like this (though Sega came close during the Genesis era). Playstation and Xbox are huge brands, but that’s it; gamers love the brands, but they’re not fawning over the parent companies the way we did over all things Nintendo so long ago.
If only Nintendo could recapture that magic…the Wii just wasn’t enough! Bring back some Mario cereal, but make sure it doesn’t taste like shit this time.