I was ten when the NES officially launched in New York back in October of 1985. Up to that point I had played lots of video games on our family’s Atari 2600 and our recent acquisition: the Commodore 64. While I had played and enjoyed some of Nintendo’s offerings in the arcade and on the two systems we owned, I don’t think the name of the company really resonated with me. If you had asked me back then who created Donkey Kong I would have probably answered Atari, because that’s where I played it. It wasn’t until 1987 that any kid growing up in the United States began to recognize the name Nintendo. The NES was catching on in a huge way and television commercials invaded the airwaves and in-store demo kiosks sprung up seemingly overnight. Once I played Super Mario Bros. at our next-door neighbor’s place I was a believer. I needed one of these gaming systems in my life.
I pleaded for the next year and half to get one, but the parents said I had enough games for the Atari and for the Commodore and that Super Mario Bros. would eventually come out elsewhere. Of course, this never came to be and eventually my Mom caved in and one weekend in September of 1988 we went to the store and purchased the NES Action Set, which came with the gray Zapper, Super Mario Bros., Duck Hunt, two controllers, and the Control Deck. My parents fronted me my Birthday money and I was able to pick out one game.
But, which one would it be? There were no such things as video game magazine or web sites back then. All I had to go on was what was looking at the magnificent assortment of NES Game Pak box art. Oh, and of course I had played several games previously at friends’ houses. I spotted Ikari Warriors II and immediately thought I should pick that one up because I enjoyed the first one. The fact that it was two-player simultaneous play was a huge factor in my reasoning. However, one other box kept catching my attention, and that was The Goonies II. Like most kids who grew up in the ‘80s, I loved that movie and watched it over and over again. Even at that young age I knew that games based on movies or television shows were often pretty horrible. Anyone remember E.T. or Raiders of the Lost Ark on the 2600? It was a risk, as I literally didn’t even know this game existed until I saw it on the store shelf, but I took a gamble and The Goonies II became my first purchase on the new system. Looking back, it was the right choice and it’s a game that I have fond memories of still today.
So, what does any of this have to do with the Super Nintendo? Well, the NES turned me into a huge video game fan, even more so than I was before. So, you can imagine my excitement in 1989 when I read all about the next Nintendo system and what it might bring. The Genesis and TurboGrafx-16 were just launching and although I had no interest in buying them, I looked at the screenshots of the games and would imagine what a new Mario would look like with 16-bits of power. The build-up for the Super NES launch was a long one, as it wouldn’t arrive in the United States until August 23, 1991. I had saved up my own money to buy this system, as my parents were not going to spring the cash this time around. It would cost me twice as much as the NES – a full $199.99. I’m not sure why, but I had decided to mail order the console from some place in California. They had an advertisement in Electronic Gaming Monthly that basically guaranteed they’d get it first. As the date approached, I was so eager to get this system that I would call them up and ask them if they had come in yet. I’m sure they were annoyed with me calling every day. A couple of days prior to launch they were happy to tell me that they had gotten the SNES in and were in the process of shipping the orders out. I remember being obsessed with getting it. We had a family reunion the weekend prior and I’m sure I talked nonstop about it to anyone who would give me the time of day.
Then the big day came, the day I was supposed to get my Super Nintendo via UPS. Now, normally the brown truck would show up at our place around three p.m. in the afternoon. In between playing outside in the yard, I had my face pressed against that front window all afternoon waiting for it to drive up. Three o’clock came and went and I began to doubt that it would show up. Four o’clock and still nothing, my excitement had turned to sadness. Five o’clock and I came to the realization that I wasn’t going to get it that day after all. I sulked up to my room and my Mom yelled up the stairs, “UPS is here!” and I couldn’t believe it. I thought for sure she was screwing with me. I rushed down that flight of stairs and sure enough, there was the UPS man walking up to the door with a box! I signed for it and went inside, opened it up and then, well it was time for supper, so I got to read the instruction book while I ate. I set up the system and played all the way through the night into the early morning, amazed at the colorful graphics and big sprites of Super Mario World, the only game I had for it. I had called my other friends and told them I got it and they were soon over to try it out. It turns out that Mail-order Company was right – I had my SNES a good two weeks before anyone around the area even saw one on store shelves. It was such a different world back then, with no hard street dates and games and systems releasing in waves across the country.
To this day, the Super Nintendo remains my most lusted after product – the one that I obsessed over for years before its release. It had a lot to live up to in my mind, as I had hyped it up so much that it would have been easy for it to fall short. It never did. It still remains my favorite Nintendo system and is home to so many fantastic games. The first few months saw classics like Gradius III, U.N. Squadron, Super Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super R-Type, Pilotwings, F-Zero, ActRaiser, and the ever-amazing Final Fantasy II. The sound chip inside the SNES was a thing of beauty. Some of my all-time favorite gaming soundtracks stem from it. The first time I heard ActRaiser’s music I was blown away. The atmospheric music in games like Final Fantasy II and Super Castlevania IV are sublime.
When you look at the Super Nintendo from beginning to end, it really had one of the most amazing gaming libraries in history. From the start it had fantastic titles lined up and it’s kind of crazy to see how quickly the system had so many great games. This was in part because the Super Famicom had been pushed back from 1988 to 1990, giving developers a much longer time to create their games. In addition, the competition from Sega and its Genesis was moving into high gear by 1991 and Nintendo knew it had to come out swinging with a steady lineup of games, both internally and from its third party partners.
It’s crazy to think that during the summer of 1990 I was completely engrossed in playing through the original Final Fantasy game on the NES. Just over a year later I was playing Final Fantasy II, which in actuality was part IV, leapfrogging over the other two NES games that never got localized. It was such an upgrade that I was completely floored by all facets. The graphics, the music, the gameplay, and the twists and turns of the story kept me captivated from beginning to end. Of course, you only need to fast-forward to April of 1992 and already games like Contra III: The Alien Wars and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past were hitting the console. Like I said, Nintendo wasn’t fooling around and the result is one hell of a gaming library, and for those that lived it, a wild five years of gaming bliss.
If you missed it, be sure to check out Nintendo Times Radio Episode 4. Our feature presentation is discussing our favorite top 10 SNES games of all time. There are some surprises in there and I tried to get as much music in that episode as I could. If you’re only interested in hearing our SNES discussion, fast forward to about 1:19:22 and you’ll be good to go!
I still have my Super Nintendo hooked up to my TV to this very day. It’s the same one I bought back in 1991 and works perfectly. I still throw some carts in from time to time to relive past glories. What about you? What are your favorite SNES games or memories? Let us know in the comments below!