Warp Drive

Monday, August 3, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 2: Back in the Cradle)

With the experience of The Diagnostic School behind me, I moved onward to Murphy Ranch Elementary. My home life would gradually return to normal. I was in that awkward phase between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The Nintendo Entertainment System's reign, however, would continue for another year to come. Our home library was a bit limited, but thanks in large part to Blockbuster Video, we could play a different game each week. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my brother-in-law, David, for allowing me to borrow his gold plated copy of The Legend of Zelda. Of course, as would any true fan of Nintendo, I owned permanent copies of the Super Mario Bros. games - and Duck Hunt. Decades before the Nintendo Wii, I was firing at things on-screen with a pointer device. The NES Zapper was quite a marvel for its time. It was super exciting, but at the end of the day, all I really wanted to do was shoot the laughing dog.

My dad worked for Rockwell International, now The Boeing Company, where he most endearingly crafted parts for the NASA space shuttle program. His official title was that of Power Brake Operator. Dad was exceptional at what he did, but given how demanding his job was, he would often come home tired. On rare occasions, however, he would accept an offer to play Nintendo. Before my younger brother and I became NES wizards, he would actually look forward to a round every once in a while. Excitebike may not have featured a true two player mode, but it too was ahead of its time in that I could design my own courses before testing them out on unsuspecting family members. Square's Rad Racer was another singular experience made more entertaining when passing around the controller. We were astonished by its early use of pseudo three dimensional graphics. I tried to memorize the ever more complicated road maps using a pencil and paper. We found Rad Racer in a second hand shop, but I loved the game in such a way that, in my obsessive compulsive mind, I can still hear the sound the game made when time was running out. That said, some of the most engaging multiplayer came in Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and III. Unlike the Super Mario Bros. series, they featured simultaneous two player cooperative play. There was just something satisfying about knocking foot soldiers senseless; especially with a little help from my friends. In this very precious case, with help from Dad. To the contrary, he would later recall times playing Super Mario Bros. 1-3 with the most fondness. Because, I presume, they were somewhat less competitive in their turn-based approach to multiplayer.


Home: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Shirts

Sleepovers with distant relatives were always a blast. In a few particular instances, they were with my elder sister and brother-in-law. They lived in a second story apartment not far from home. David, always so awesome and funny, owned a Nintendo Entertainment System with a rather formidable collection of games. A collection which prevented my eight year old self from sleeping most nights. I would often wake before sunrise and quickly pop a cartridge into the system. I wondered, of course, if I should have waited for everyone else to get out of bed first. From those early morning sessions, one game springs to mind more than any other: Taito's Operation Wolf. Like Konami's Jackal, it was a P.O.W. rescuing war shooter set in a jungle. However, the game was played from the first person perspective. The NES Zapper was an optional controller, but strangely enough, Operation Wolf was best played with a standard controller. When I was not occupying David's NES, I was learning to weld with him in the alleyway adjacent their apartment complex. We wore protective helmets to shield our eyes and face from flying sparks. Of which there were quite a few. We should all be thankful I was beyond my pyromaniac phase. Still, how cool would it be to shoot fireballs from the palm of your hand?

I saved, arguably, the greatest NES game and memory for last. A game so challenging and immense for its time, I needed the help of my brother to complete its final world. He had a rather unique approach to video games in his youth. It may have taken him a few seconds to realize a pipe was blocking his path forward, but in his mind, he was thinking two or three steps ahead. Where I might permit fear to cloud my reflex actions, he would remain unaffected. Truly, he was a wizard of Super Mario Bros. 3. In contrast to the two earlier Super Mario Bros. games, SMB3 featured a map to explore between levels. This often encouraged us to embark on alternate paths. It could sometimes be as simple as a step in the right direction, but as with one sneaky secret in the game's second world, we needed a special hammer to chisel through rock. As my brother and I neared the eighth and final world, I became ever more fearful of the path ahead. King Koopa awaited our arrival in a world that looked very much like hell. The first screen was simple enough. A lone tank and airship impeded our march forward, but it was just that: the first screen. Awaiting us on the screens to come were creepy hands which could pull Mario/Luigi into levels filled with lava and flying demon fish, more heavily armed airships and anything else the dinosaur king felt his fiery kingdom could not go without. By the time we finally descended on the last stronghold, I had lost the will to go on. I passed the controller to my brother and waited just outside the closed bedroom door, peaking in every once in a while to see how he was doing. It was a nail biting experience. To my great surprise and relief, I peaked back into the room just in time to witness King Koopa ground pound through the brick floor to his demise. I may not possess any photos or videos of that moment, but rest assured, it was something awesome. It was a team effort, but my brother finished the job and saved the Mushroom Kingdom in the process.


Home: Nintendo Shirt

The Diagnostic School seemed a distant memory. I had spent more than a few solid months at Murphy Ranch Elementary. In truth, however, I was quite depressed with my newfound surroundings. I would spend my recesses sitting alone on a swing. All the while longing for the days to come to an end. My displeasure was about to grow worse. As we were returning to class one day, I spotted my old friend from The Diagnostic School in formation with his own class. I desperately wanted to talk to him. I wanted to know what he had been up to in the time since our wretched experience together. I tried to reach out, but was told I could not do so. He was a member of another class and I was not allowed to converse with him. A recipe for disaster only needs two ingredients: A young, very rebellious Michael Haley and authority figures telling him who he can and cannot talk to. I began to act out in class, much as I had years before in my first elementary school. In one rather juvenile case, I dropped an acorn from a classroom sink to the floor below, hitting a nearby student. It was not long before I had the undivided attention of the principal. A special meeting was held to deal with the difficult situation. I was asked to sit in, but I instead chose to wander the campus. I already knew how it was going to end. I was removed from Murphy Ranch Elementary. It was once again time to move on.

Reports of newer, more advanced video game systems began to swirl by the end of the year and it was not long before the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis were known to me. Sega Genesis had, in fact, been on store shelves for at least two years, but it was not until Sonic the Hedgehog was released that the Genesis became Nintendo's biggest rival. One fateful day, Dad drove my brother and I to Toys "R" Us and we were faced with a difficult choice. Behind a glass case, two systems were competing for our attention. One demonstrating a shiny new version of Super Mario Bros. (Super Mario World), and the other, the fastest and most dizzying thing I had seen in my young life. It may be difficult to understand now, but the difference between the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System and newer 16-bit systems was like night and day. It was very exciting. Speaking from personal experience, I noticed leaps in graphical fidelity more so back in those days. Which system did we walk out with, you ask? Well, this is first and foremost a Nintendo story. We walked out with the SNES. Dad was waiting for us. It was time to go home.

It was time to play with power. Super power.


Nintendo with the Haleys