Four decades of being a Nintendo fan

WARNING - a long self-indulgent thread is approaching fast. It may or may not appeal to anyone besides me.

I couldn’t tell you the exact month or anything but it was around 40 years ago that I became a Nintendo fan. Donkey Kong was the hottest new arcade game, and back then it was amazing just to control a character jumping and climbing through levels. Everything from the art style to the sound effects and music was super memorable.

One of my uncles bought a ColecoVision in 1982 which had DK as the pack-in title. I had badly wanted a home game system but I felt they were too expensive to ask my parents for. A tech savvy family friend gave me his (not that) old Commodore VIC-20 for my birthday, and this allowed me to properly delve into Donkey Kong at home. The port was made by Atarisoft, and while it didn’t have the arcade-like graphics of the ColecoVision version, I felt it surpassed it in terms of responsiveness and speed. To this day, I think it holds up incredibly well.

By this time, Nintendo’s Game & Watch had become a popular series of portable games in my elementary school. The ones I spent the most time with were the handheld Fire and the tabletop Mario’s Cement Factory. I still vividly remember getting my highest score in Mario’s Cement Factory with numb hands after coming inside from playing in snow.

At the end of 1983, Nintendo opened up a Chuck E. Cheese’s franchise a short drive from where I lived in the suburbs of Vancouver. It was nice to have access to a more kid-friendly arcade free from scary teenagers in Quiet Riot t-shirts with brass knuckles. This location also housed Nintendo of Canada’s first offices, and was quite a small operation compared to their later buildings. Throughout the mid '80s, this arcade became my main source for Nintendo coin-op games. I got to play so much neat stuff, some even before the NES came out domestically. In retrospect, I wonder if Nintendo used it for test marketing.

I had missed the niche light gun games of the '70s so playing stuff like Hogan’s Alley and Duck Hunt was a brand new experience for me. Shooting an invisible beam through the air, what magic is this?

I almost got in a real fight over the original Mario Bros. “Why are you killing me?! We’re on the same side! You’re wasting my money!”. Mario vs. Luigi is serious business.

The Punch Out!! games had so much personality with the facial expressions and voices. “Body blow!” Even though later home versions refined the gameplay, they never matched the art style of the arcade games for me.

VS. Slalom stood out for me because of its ski controls. It was a departure from a typical joystick and using your body movements added an extra element of realism. It was also the first game I played developed by Rare. I was later a fan of other Rare games Nintendo would publish like RC Pro-Am and Cobra Triangle.

1986 had the widespread arrival of the NES in my region. I was hyped to play that new game system that has a frickin’ robot. TV commercials didn’t really convey how R.O.B. worked and that it actually sucked. But it was a great way to get us Tomy robot-loving kids to take notice.

I would soak in checking out the Nintendo system demo units whenever I could, whether it was in Woolco, Compucentre, Eatons, Zellers, or other now extinct retailers. One friend somehow got a Famicom with Ice Climber and Sunsoft’s Super Arabian. The microphone on the controller confused me but the games kicked ass.

A lot of people groaned about early NES/black box era stuff being on NES Classic like Donkey Kong Jr., Ice Climber, Excitebike, and Balloon Fight but I’m glad they were there. To me these are timeless and important to NES history.

Super Mario Bros. was the highlight in 1986. Mario was now scrolling and the sliding/brick breaking physics were a step above anything else in the genre.

I loved my Commodore 64 but console gaming was becoming a force again with these new Japanese-made systems from Nintendo and Sega. I was torn on what to get next but as luck would have it, my youngest sister wanted a Nintendo for SMB so our household ended up with both. It feels good to have never had to choose between Nintendo and Sega.

While I adored Nintendo’s early arcade-y NES games, I really appreciated then scope and ambition of stuff like The Legend of Zelda and Metroid.

I was already a fan of overhead action-adventures having played games like Atari’s Adventure, Mattel’s AD&D: Cloudy Mountain, and Epyx’s Gateway to Apshai. Zelda took this concept much further with a larger world, more hidden pathways, and intricate dungeon design.

I actually don’t remember much backlash against Zelda II. It was fairly common for sequels to depart from the first game back then.

I always loved exploratory platformers (Synapse’s Pharaoh’s Curse, Activision’s Pitfall II, Parker Bros.’ Montezuma’s Revenge, etc.) so having an even larger one with haunting soundtrack, sci-fi/horror theme, and bad ass character upgrades was awesome. The only comparable game in the sub-genre for me at the time was Exploding Fist 2 on C64 but that scratched a different itch with its fighting combat. And it didn’t have a save function.

By 1988 it wasn’t just hardcore gamers talking about Nintendo anymore. NES had gone mainstream in North America. The holiday season advertising for Super Mario Bros. 2 was at a level I had never seen before. There were prominent commercials, store displays, and a new magazine called Nintendo Power. It was a big topic of discussion among people my age.

I thought SMB2 was an excellent sequel. The freedom to pick up objects and use them as weapons or climbing tools was a lot of fun as was having a selection of characters with different abilities.

1989 had the Game Boy launch. I remember trying GB Tetris for the first time at The Bay, a department store that didn’t usually carry video games. It was addictive and since it had Nintendo’s marketing muscle, it was obvious it was going to be a huge success. I got mine in the summer of 1990 at a mall in Washington state. We were down there for my sister’s soccer tournament. She got quickly kicked out of the soccer game for fighting. My parents were pissed off but I was just laughing and playing Tetris on the ride home.

Here are some ads from the Vancouver Sun newspaper in late 1989. Canadians might remember Toy City.

I remember playing Super Mario Bros. 3 at a kiosk before the movie The Wizard came out. It initially had less impact on me than the previous NES games but I appreciated its improvements once I delved into more at home.

My primary source for video game info back then was multi-format magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, Video Games & Computer Entertainment, Game Players, and Gamepro. I was hyped seeing early prototype pictures of the Super Famicom, and really looked forward to its scaling and rotation abilities.

For some reason, a local specialty store called Encore Video Games where I bought Japanese Mega Drive and Game Boy games didn’t have Super Famicom stuff in late 1990/early 1991. I had to wait for the domestic release.

I briefly played it around launch in the summer at a World of Nintendo kiosk in Bellingham, WA. Quite soon after that, a friend rented the system with F-Zero. Holy shit, was that impressive. I was used to console racing games being heavily compromised and choppy compared to arcade games. This was silky smooth and speedy. There were some impressive scaling games on Atari Lynx by that point but their frame rates weren’t as high and they weren’t as complex for track design.

It wasn’t long before I had my own SNES. It was a powerhouse for first-party sequels for years to come. Super Mario World, A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, Donkey Kong Country, etc. still get talked about frequently on the internet given the advancements they made and how well they have stood the test of time.

Just when it seemed like light gun games were dead for home formats, Nintendo released the Super Scope. I wasn’t very impressed with the Super Scope Six pack-in or Yoshi’s Safari but Battleclash and Metal Combat made that bulky bazooka worth it. These were intense boss rush shooters with incredible detail. Sega of Japan may have excelled with light gun games in the 8-bit and 32-bit home generations but they opted out of the 16-bit era, and Nintendo cleaned up compared to Sega of America’s paltry Menacer gun options.

Star Fox was a highlight for new Nintendo franchises. I was always a big fan of rail shooters and 3d polygon games but I didn’t expect one that well made for SNES even with Argonaut’s expertise in 3d computer games.

I was quite impressed at the increase in quality of Nintendo’s Game Boy games as the generation went on. Super Mario Land and Metroid II were well made but didn’t live up to their console counterparts. Link’s Awakening was every bit as good as SNES Zelda, and Donkey Kong '94 turned out to be one of the best puzzle-platformers ever made which was a nice surprise since initial screenshots made me think it was just going to be a rehash of the first game. I bought a Super Game Boy in the summer of '94.

1994 was a big boost for my personal gaming knowledge in general. While waiting for the gaming history book Phoenix to arrive in the mail, I borrowed books like Zap! The Rise of Fall of Atari and Game Over from my college library. David Sheff’s Game Over provided so much behind the scenes information on Nintendo that the public never knew before. In case you’re wondering, the cover of the first edition was just bait for anti-gaming parents. It’s not actually anti-Nintendo.

That book also confirmed a local rumour that Nintendo owned Horizons restaurant on Burnaby Mountain where I lived, as it mentioned Minoru Arakawa opening it. I enjoyed reading about connections to my hometown in Game Over.

In the Fall of '95, I saw a newspaper ad by Nintendo: enter and win an invitation to a Yoshi’s Island unveiling party. I did get an invitation but I can’t say the event was very exciting. It happened a bit after the release of the game which I already received for my birthday. And it was uncomfortable being the only 20 year old there. Everyone else was a either little kid or their parents. Since I already played Yoshi’s Island (which was awesome), the only potentially cool thing for me there was the raffle prizes. I didn’t win anything but the neighbour kid I brought with me won a copy of Breath of Fire for SNES. I thought it was odd Nintendo gave away a third-party game.

I was hyped for Virtual Reality ever since I first heard of it. Nintendo’s answer to that wasn’t exactly VR but I was curious to see what the Virtual Boy was like. My first encounter with it was a demo unit with Mario’s Tennis at Blockbuster Video in 1995. I loved it. It was like its own encased 3d world, similar to Sega’s SubRoc 3-D arcade game I had played years earlier at that Chuck E. Cheese I mentioned. I also liked how it didn’t flicker like crazy like the Master System 3d glasses did.

I managed to play almost every domestic game for it on display at Microplay stores, and bought the system at the clearance price of $30 at Electronics Boutique in early 1997 along with several $2 games (mostly Japanese versions that EB carried). The games mostly had an early-mid '80s arcade vibe to them, making it the first time I really pondered back on my formative years with Nintendo’s games. Unfortunately, I couldn’t play it long before eye strain and headaches would kick in but it was fun in short bursts.

Red Alarm (developed by T&E Soft but published by Nintendo in the West) reminded me of playing vector graphics arcade games like Atari’s Star Wars back in the day.

Wario Land is the probably my mostly highly regarded VB game. The red monochrome contributes to its creepy vibe.

More important than the VB was the Nintendo 64. A friend of mine rented a Japanese N64 at a local store called Wizard Video Games in the summer of 1996. It was incredible. I thought Jumping Flash on Playstation was cool the previous year but Super Mario 64 was on another level. It’s rare to come across someone not blown away by it at the time.

The next N64 game to really impress me was Waverace 64. Those water physics and controls are still spot on. My first encounter with WV64 also happens to tie into a major life event for me. I was nervously playing it at EB while killing time before the first date with my future wife. An added bonus of meeting her is that she worked at a video rental place and I got to rent a Nintendo 64 for free prior to getting my own in 1997.

The N64 era was a step down for Nintendo systems in terms of third-parties but first party content was as good as ever (minus the occasional misstep like Yoshi’s Story). I think most would agree that Ocarina was a landmark title for 3d action-adventures. The partnership with Rare paid off with games like Goldeneye 007, Banjo Kazooie, and Diddy Kong Racing. Paper Mario was a fresh take on the RPG genre. Star Fox 64 and F-Zero X benefitted from much more advanced 3d hardware than the previous games.

Sin & Punishment (by Treasure and some assistance from Nintendo’s R&D1) is a standout game and one of my favourite shooters of all time. Despite the droughts on N64, Nintendo had the nerve to leave it in Japan. I had to spend a lot to import it (I think it came up to around $120 CAD after shipping) and drill some plastic out of my N64 so it would fit but it was well worth it. Upon playing it, I was immediately reminded of 3d arcade run 'n guns I played as a teenager like Taito’s Rambo III and Konami’s G.I. Joe. It was a huge step up from those in terms of level variety, special effects, weapon selection, soundtrack, etc.

Coinciding with the N64 era was the rise of the emulation scene on PC. This allowed me to fill in gaps of past systems, and this new world of internet info and ebay lead to catching up Famicom Disk System games. Researching revealed things I found fascinating. Nintendo released an RPG right around the time of Final Fantasy 1 and Phantasy Star 1 called Ginga no Sannin. Murasame Castle was a neat find. Kaettekita Mario Bros. ditched the momentum-based physics of the original and had product placement.

Finding out the Famicom had proper 3d glasses games in the '80s like the Sega Master System was wild. After buying the Famicom 3D System, I would use the visor to play Sega games as well (it’s darker to look through but is more comfortable). I ended up trying all the games for both systems with both 3d glasses. Nintendo only released one game for theirs, Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally for the Disk System, but there were six third-party games.

Square’s Highway Star was published by Nintendo in the West as Rad Racer, though. I think it has the best 3d effect of the compatible Famicom games.

I bought a Game Boy Color in 1998 but I found it fairly disappointing for first-party games so I won’t spend much time talking about it.

On Boxing Day 2001 I purchased a Gamecube at EB along with Super Smash Bros. Melee. That console packed a lot of power for the price. While my most anticipated first-party games were Mario and Zelda, I ended up being most impressed with the Pikmin series and Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat. I was never much into real-time strategy games aside from the occasional action hybrid like Battlezone '98 but the Pikmin games had more of an adventure feel, and were incredibly charming. Jungle Beat’s bongo controls provided a new rhythmic twist on platforming and the boss battles felt like a throwback to arcade Punch Out.

The Game Boy Advance had a fairly slow start but I finally got mine in 2003. It may not have had a long lifespan but I loved the return of 2d Metroid and finally having the Advance Wars and Fire Emblem franchises officially in English.

Wario Ware was a pleasant surprise for a spin-off. It reminded me a bit of a childhood favourite on Commodore 64 called Lazy Jones in that it was a bunch of minigames tied together and often based on past video games of history.

The bit Generations line by Skip and Q-Games and published by Nintendo harkened back to '70s/early '80s design philosophies. Dotstream is my favourite. It’s just simple lines racing each other in 2d space but it’s stylish and flows beautifully.

I was never big on Kirby games but I gave Canvas Curse a shot when I bought my DS in 2005. It was the perfect game to show off stylus control. Drawing lines/platforms on the fly made for some neat mechanics.

The Wii had a rocky start for me when I got it in 2007 because of hardware issues (I played Twilight Princess on Gamecube in 2006 so I wasn’t in a rush for a Wii that year). I had to go down to Nintendo HQ in Richmond BC a few times because they kept giving me defective refurbished machines. And the used copy of Metroid Prime 3 I bought was also broken. Still, once I had working console and delved into Super Mario Galaxy, it was amazing.

This thread is getting so big that I will cut if off here. I enjoyed a lot of stuff from the past decade, though, on Wii, 3DS, Wii U, and Switch. The Zelda games returning to form with more open-ended games like A Link Between Worlds and Breath of the Wild have been highlights.

And as things come full circle, I’m off to play Arcade Archives: Donkey Kong on Switch. Discuss anything related to the thread topic. Share your own stories.


Nice write-up! I see quite a few parallels with my own childhood (which I’m too lazy to write about right now), even though I almost exclusively played on Sega consoles. Until they stopped making those, that is. When Sega disappeared from the hardware scene, I got a GBA, Wii, 3DS, Wii U and ultimately a Switch, which has quickly become my favourite Nintendo console.

Thanks for the stroll through memory lane!

Also: kudos for mentioning Lazy Jones. I loved that game.

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Donkey Kong on the VIC-20 huh… I really do think the VIC-20 has some of the best home ports of the era. Demon Attack is another one that just plays so well, and Omega Race too.

I will have to give DK a try, thanks!

Before the NES, I was disappointed DK Jr. didn’t get ported to Commodore computers. The ColecoVision port was great but I didn’t own that system back then.

Yeah, at least the NES version plays really well.

The jumping feels so right in NES DK Jr.

And the sound is far better than the arcade.