CHAPTER 12: RETRO GAMES

There’s a sad, almost disposable component to most video games. Months, sometimes years, of anticipation are built for a game and the second it lands, everyone flocks to it like a swarm of locusts, devouring every last morsel of entertainment before moving on to the next thing. Games that once dominated the headlines on video game websites quickly become forgotten as everyone turns their attention to the hot new release. This is why over the past couple of years many companies, with varying degrees of success, have begun investing in games that are constantly updated to keep players engaged with them. The best example of this would be Fortnite, a game that even non-video game playing people have probably heard of that has grown out of a simple, free-to-start game to become a phenomena that has made select people who play it minor celebrities, even millionaires.

This sentiment was perhaps the biggest during the transition to 3-D games when everything that didn’t have a Z-axis component might as well not exist at all. I’m a huge fan of a series of fighting games developed by Capcom starring characters from the Marvel Comics universe, and I feel this quote taken from an archived review of X-Men: Children of the Atom sums up how the industry felt about 2-D games at the time:

“Children of the Atom would’ve been a 16-bit phenomenon in older times, but in our day in age, however, Children of the Atom… bombs”

I had seen this at our local video stores when NES games were shoved aside to make way for the much more powerful Super Nintendo, but it was far more prevalent when consoles like the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 started to pick up steam. I won’t sit here and tell you that I was someone who still saw value in older games, as near immediately after I played something like Super Mario 64, I didn’t want to be stuck on a two-dimensional plain anymore, I craved 3-D. I would rent out games from the Super Star Wars series because I needed a fix after sampling Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire or revisited The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past when all I could think about was what was then referred to “Zelda 64” but it just wasn’t the same.

It was around 1999 when I felt the desire to go back and visit classic games, largely spurred through an introduction to emulators. We didn’t have the internet in my house until 2003 when I came back from my first year of university, but a friend of mine did at his house. One time during a sleepover, he showed me this program that he had downloaded called NESticle, which allowed you to play NES games on your PC. I sat there, overwhelmed by the amount of choice I had at my fingertips. I wasn’t limited to what was available at a local store, I had the entirety of the NES’ library at my disposal. Suddenly I was reminded that games were more than about how many bits a system had or how many polygons they could push. These were the titles that got me into video games in the first place and I hadn’t been giving them the respect they deserved.

There are a lot of easy ways to play classic games nowadays, from small throwback consoles that come pre-loaded with a set number of games, to wonderfully produced compilations and services like Nintendo’s virtual console that allow you to buy and download games from older systems. Back then none of these options were on the table, so the only games you could realistically play from older systems were the ones you still owned. As someone who rented a lot, we didn’t own that many games and the selection that our local stores had was quite limited. What shelf space most stores had was saved for Nintendo 64 boxes and PlayStation jewel cases.

The stores in and around Bay Roberts kept their collection of Super Nintendo games longer than what the locations closer to me did, but there came a time when they put these titles up for sale. There were many heartbreaking trips where I would go to Marie’s or Allan’s Video to pick out an older Mega Man title and saw only a scant few Super Nintendo games left behind that no one wanted. The rental market for retro games had dried up, or so I thought.

Throughout junior high, there was a classmate of mine who kept going on and on about a gas station in his town of Upper Island Cove called Mercer’s. He would boast that Mercer’s would get every single new game that would come out for the Nintendo 64, and part of me wanted to believe him, but I had to see it to believe it. Upper Island Cove is an in-between community sandwiched between the old route to get from Harbour Grace to Bay Roberts before the highway was put in that allowed you to bypass a lot of communities to get to the city. It’s not very large, made up of little more than a few small roads, so there was no way this person could possibly be telling the truth. Except, as I would find out, he was.

One day during the summer of 1999, my mom and my aunt were going for a drive to Mercer’s and asked I wanted to come along. This was my opportunity to see if the rumors were. What I found when I walked in was astounding to say the least. Not only did they have a rack full of Nintendo 64 games, but a section housing older games as well, including games I loved like Mega Man 4, Bucky O’Hare and the original Castlevania, titles I hadn’t seen in years. That night Mega Man 4 came home with me and even though I was only a teenager, I got to feel like a kid again, except this time my video game playing skills were much sharper. The evil Dr. Wily didn’t stand a chance against my now honed video game skills after years of experience. Mercer’s was now very much a location on my rental radar.

My new found love of retro games came from wanting to replay games I loved playing when I was kid and play ones that I had only read about it magazine for the first time, but mostly it came from how much I missed Mega Man. The Nintendo 64 would see many iconic franchises from the 2-D era reimagined in 3-D like Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Castlevania, but my favorite of them all, Mega Man, wouldn’t get a game of his own on the Nintendo 64 until early 2001, and even then it was a just okay port of the supremely under appreciated Mega Man Legends that came to the PlayStation in 1998.

From a one night rental, I thirsted for more Mega Man games, and the universe it seems was more than willing to quench it. On a back to school shopping trip at Wal-Mart, I wandered off to look at the video games as I was prone to do. What was supposed to be a routine browse turned into something I’ll never forget. Wal-Mart had stopped carrying NES games for quite some time, but hanging on a peg, not even sealed behind the glass with the other games was a sealed copy of Mega Man 5, the entry that I had read about but missed out on. I snatched it up as quickly as possible, found my parents and put it in the shopping cart. I wasn’t leaving the mall that day without that game. For those who deeply love the Mega Man series, part five is not regarded as one of the best even though it’s a well made game. To me though, I love it dearly because of the circumstances surrounding how it came to be in my possession.

The only way to buy movies or video games at the T.C Square was at Wal-Mart, but every so often someone that my friend referred to as “Table Guy” would set up shop in the middle of the mall on the weekends. My friend gave him this title because they would set up a few tables to sell used VHS tapes and a few video games. Not longer after I had added Mega Man 5 to my collection, “Table Guy” would help my collection grow a little bit more when one weekend they happened to have a used copy of Mega Man X for the Super Nintendo and the odd spin-off, Mega Man Soccer, sealed and complete in box.

It was around this time that my small collection of Mega Man games began to expand that First Stop Video’s original owner had passed the business along to one of their employees. First Stop didn’t keep a lot of older games stocked on their shelves, but two that did remain as it changed names from Dexter’s to First Stop and then changed management were Mega Man 3 for the NES and Mega Man X3, the last Mega Man game that had appeared on a Nintendo home console in North America.

What would it hurt, I thought, if I asked the new manager if they were willing to part with these games for a small fee. Surely at this point they had more than made their money back  and held little interest to anyone in the community but myself and maybe a few others. Besides, the worse they could say is no. I approached the counter with a proposal: ten dollars for each game. With little thought, they agreed to my terms and now my Mega Man library had grown five times larger in but a few short months.

My Nintendo 64 would go largely untouched with the exception of when a new fall release that I would read about in Nintendo Power that would pique my curiosity. My video game time would be split replaying what Mega Man games I had over and over or loading up ROMS on my PC that my friend would give me on floppy discs. To this day, no matter where I visit, my brain is wired to seek out stores that sell retro games, all started from the thrill of finding a few vintage games in my region that primarily dealt in new releases.

It’s just too bad that we never had a video game store of our own. Now that would have been something else.

One thought on “CHAPTER 12: RETRO GAMES

  1. Pingback: SMALL TOWN VIDEO GAME STORIES: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION | Comic Gamers Assemble

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