The Internet is buzzing today with nostalgic news of the Nintendo Entertainment System's twenty-fifth anniversary and I feel that I can't let the day pass without saying something about the console that started me on the road to life-long video game enthusiast, but I've already shared my NES origin story with you and told the tale of the time I bought my very first NES game. The world doesn't really need another explanation of why Super Mario Bros. 3 is such a great game, so instead I thought I'd go in the other direction and tell you the story of the very last NES game that I acquired. Every console has a final chapter, and while the very last first-party NES game would reach the finish line in 1994 with Wario's Woods, my own personal dropping of the NES curtain came in January 1993 when I bought Capcom's Mega Man 5.
I really should have known better, but I went ahead anyway. 1993 was a difficult year for Super Mario fans such as myself. Super Mario World had been released two years prior, while the next Mushroom Kingdom adventure was still two years away. What was a Nintendo fanatic supposed to do to bridge the gap? The Software Toolworks must have sensed the building demand in the marketplace, because the company licensed everyone's favorite plumber for a series of edutainment titles based on the popular Super Mario franchise. The gaming magazines of the day made it seem palatable - almost enjoyable, even - but after all these years my one gaming regret involves that boring summer day when, at the age of twelve, I walked up to the gaming counter at K-Mart and said "I would like to buy Mario Is Missing."
Longtime readers know that I have a certain fondness for the wannabe mascot wars of the 16-bit generation. I've championed for Bubsy and Plok, after all. Today it's time to direct your attention to Sunsoft's attempt at cashing in on the "radical mascot with an attitude" era of gaming history, or rather Sunsoft's continued attempt. The company pinned its hopes on Aero the Acro-bat for the Super NES and Sega Genesis, and while the first game in the series was relatively easy to find, the sequel that was produced a year later in 1994 was downright elusive.
I spent many near-sleepless nights trying to finish the first Aero and had even stumbled upon the stage select code before it had been published in the gaming magazines of the day, so I knew I had to have the second. I went to every store in my little hometown and surrounding areas that sold video games, but nobody even knew the game was created, let alone for sale. Remember, this was the pre-Amazon.com era. Finding obscure games such as Aero today is as easy as punching up eBay, but at the time I was limited to the whims and sales trends of retail stores. As much as I loved Mario and his pals, the Mushroom Kingdom characters had taken over the shelves. There was no room in the Nintendo section for a plucky little aerobatic bat.
I haven't always been a popular game journalist. Yes, it's true. Once upon a time I was just a regular gaming guy who grew up with dreams of working in the video game industry, but getting my foot in the door seemed impossible. Pursuing the idea was always one of those things that I'd put off for "later", but then one day it looked as if there would not be a "later" for me. After a long illness and a brush with death I threw myself into working towards my goal of becoming a video game reviewer, and if you've been a long-time PTB reader then you already know how the story ends. What you probably don't know is how the whole thing began, and ultimately it's the tale of how I acquired Tom Clancy's Splniter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow for the Nintendo GameCube.
I'm ready to admit it: I once clamored, begged, and schemed to acquire Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind for the Super NES. I'd read the Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly previews and reviews of the game just before June 1993 hit, and as the sixth grade at elementary school was coming to an end for me, I began calling local stores and scouring shop shelves for the game. I'd gathered up all my loose change and allowance savings into a $50 pile and gave standing instructions to my parents that if they found Bubsy in their travels, they should buy it and I'd pay them back. I even had the Nintendo Power character poster hanging on my wall next to all of my other gaming decorations. All of this fuss over a game that just about everybody decried as yet another animal mascot platforming rip-off, but so what? I knew I was destined to save mankind from the Woolie invasion.
Considering that this week would have been the week of E3 2007 had the grand event not been scaled down to the new "business summit" format, it seemed only appropriate to share the story of the game I bought to play during my week in Los Angeles back in 2005. You see, as a child it was a family custom that my parents buy me a new Game Boy game to play while riding in the backseat on our family road trip vacations. Each year while tagging along with my parents while they bought vacation supplies I was allowed to pick out the game of my choice to enjoy during those long stretches of endless interstate highway. The practice came to an end when I became old enough to drive and, appropriately, didn't have the opportunity to save the princess while taking the wheel myself. For our final family road trip in 1999 I didn't even bother to bring the Game Boy. It seemed that the traveling game tradition was dead.
Prepare to be shocked: at one time I very nearly walked away from video gaming. After graduating high school in 1999 at the age of eighteen I moved away from my childhood home to the big city to go to college, meaning that my spare time was spent on studying and my spare money was spent on setting up my new life. I had all of my classic Nintendo consoles hooked up at my new apartment and still enjoyed time with my Nintendo 64, but as the line up of compelling new games began to dry up I began playing less and less.
When the Game Boy Advance debuted in 2001 and the only new Super Mario game available was a port of Super Mario Bros. 2 (a game I already owned twice over in different incarnations), I expressed a mild interest, but was in no great hurry to pick one up (in fact, I never actually did). Then the Nintendo GameCube landed in 2001, and once again without a big new fantastic Super Mario game to back it up, I just couldn't work up enough interest to spend $200 on a new console. There was something on the horizon that I wanted, and that would be the game that eventually became known as Super Mario Sunshine. Until it was released, however, I decided to sit things out and wait.
For some reason a lot of people like to be the first to do something. In the old days that meant being the first to climb a mountain or the first to walk on the moon. Many of us will never have the chance to do those things and are limited to the little firsts in our own lives. For some people that means clinging to getting the "first post" on a blog entry, but for those of us in the position of reviewing video games, we often get the chance to be the first among our circle of friends to play the latest hot game. Look around the Internet and you'll find a bunch of game journalists posting photos of themselves (or their hands) holding the newest craze about a week before you'll get the chance to buy it for yourself.
I try not to shoot my mouth off about what I have that you do not (although I am still shamefully guilty of bragging from time to time), but back in 1991 on the elementary school playground I had the need to own the hottest new game before my friends. It was a lofty goal that seemed almost unattainable, but then two events came together came together one week with remarkable timing: my father was about go on a business trip, and Capcom was about to ship Mega Man 4 for the Nintendo Entertainment System to stores. I gathered my saved allowance money and handed it to my father as he left for Raleigh, North Carolina with a simple request: find that game!
All this recent talk of a possible new Ghostbusters video game for modern consoles has me thinking of the old games based on the franchise that I played as a child. It would be far too easy to praise the fantastic Ghostbusters game for the Commodore 64 that I played relentlessly once upon a time, so instead the time has come to share the story about how I acquired what has to be the absolute worst game in my Nintendo Entertainment System library.
I was devoted to the Ghostbusters franchise in my youth. I got my start with The Real Ghostbusters cartoon, and somewhere around the age of six or so I found out that there had been an actual Ghostbusters movie that preceded the cartoon. My parents had kept that little fact from me for quite some time, concerned that the film would be too frightening for someone of my young age. Eventually the movie turned up on television one Saturday night, and since all movies are edited for broadcast, they decided to let me watch since the truly frightening stuff would have been removed or toned down. After seeing the film I became even more hooked on the franchise. I started reading The Real Ghostbusters magazine every month, and it was in an issue from late 1988 I learned of the film's upcoming sequel, Ghostbusters 2. As you can imagine, euphoria set in.
Ever since the Nintendo Wii was released I've been flooded with games to play. Reviewing games during a new console's launch window is hectic, as every week something new lands on my doorstep, plus let's not forget all of the games that I want to play for myself. The little game cases are stacking up, some of which are still shrink-wrapped. I've had Red Steel in my home for a month now and haven't had a chance to crack the seal! I picked up Psychonauts cheap for the Sony PlayStation 2 and haven't even thought about when I'll have the time to tear into it. All of these games atop my television remind me of the time first time I was (from my young point of view) flooded with games to play and was faced with that eternal question: which game to play first?