By Guest Writer Zach Miller
It was late 1989 that heralded my first gaming system, although it wasn’t an NES. My 8th birthday resulted in a Game Boy and three games. The handheld came with Tetris, but my parents got me Super Mario Land and my grandma got me The Castlevania Adventure. Of course the Gingras boys also had their own Game Boys, but I don’t remember if Andrew ever had one. My mother became hooked on Tetris, which is ironic considering that today she doesn’t give games a second look. Back when I was eight years young, my coordination skills were such that playing any game that required quick thinking and quicker reflexes was near impossible. I trained on that Game Boy. Although it weighed as much as a small toaster oven, I loved playing it. Super Mario Land provided significant training opportunities: I became quite good at it, and even found a ton of secrets that I was convinced nobody else had ever found before (invisible floors, floating platforms, etc.). World three, though, stumped me. I was simply unable to get past Dragon Zumasu, an enormous seahorse who spit fireballs and was guarded by a big bouncing eyeball (or something). No matter how hard I tried, the eyeball was always the death of me. The end of the level was right there…but my hopes were being dimmed. In desperation, I asked my father for help. The man had never before and has never since played a video game, but he noticed that you could shoot out the blocks behind Zumasu and reach the end of the stage without actually beating the boss. I was denied the high score for killing the monster, but I didn’t care. Within a month I had beat the game.
I remember the exact moment I beat that game. Hands sweaty and body itchy (I used to itch like crazy when nervous), I had just beat the giant cloud boss who was the guardian of Lord Tatanga, the ultimate boss of Super Mario Land. Enya music was playing, and I was sitting on the love seat in the living room. I called my parents over to watch this historic moment. At first, Tatanga’s eruption of fireballs seemed overwhelming, but I quickly noticed a pattern. I found a few safe spots and held down the B button with determination, my brow sweating profusely—it was now or never! One of the problems with Super Mario Land was that bosses usually made a weird noise when hit (sprites didn’t flash back then) but Tatanga didn’t make a peep. I wondered if I was doing any damage at all, but then the screen began shaking, Tatanga exploded, and I rescued Princess Daisy. We went to Round Table Pizza to celebrate. You’d think that the next notch on my belt would be Castlevania, but that proved not to be the case. I was able to, after many tries, to reach the last level with relative ease, but the moving spiked platforms (which killed you instantly with one misstep) always did me in. I gave up, put the game away and forgot about it. Over a year later, I picked it back up and beat it surprisingly quickly. My gaming skills had simply needed to improve, and during that year they did.
There were countless Game Boy games whose titles are lost to the recesses of my mind that the Gingras boys and I played. We’d hook up Game Boys every chance we got to play two-player games. My two-year love affair with handheld gaming, though, ended abruptly in 1991, which was the year I bought my own NES. Yes, just a year before Nintendo was to release the superior SNES, I was just getting around to picking up some outdated hardware. But you have to understand that I’d done extra chores and saved my allowances for over a year to buy a specific NES bundle pack at the local Fred Meyer. This was the ultimate NES experience: Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, Olympic Track & Field, two controllers, a Power Pad, a light gun, and of course the NES itself. I have no recollection of how much this bundle cost, but it certainly set me back. I was more than willing to take the financial plunge (then and now). Duck Hunt only held my interest for as long as it took me to realize that you could never actually beat it. Also, like most of us, I held the light gun approximately two centimeters from the screen to shoot the ducks, even though the instruction booklet clearly stated that you should fire from twenty feet away. The sprinting game got me a lot of exercise, but I never beat the Gold medalist, Cheetah. The bastard always took me down in the hurdles. The racing game was fun because it featured split-screen two-player mode, where two runners could sweat it out for first place. Super Mario Bros. owned my soul, and after finding all the warp zones, I perfected my craft until I was able to beat the game in less than ten minutes. Nine or ten years later I would enter an SMB high-score contest in the dorms. I lost, but impressed everybody with my record-breaking time.