My earliest childhood memories of home console gaming was of Galaga and Pole Position II on my father’s Atari 7800. I was a meager 3 and 4 years of age at the time. So, these memories are fleeting at best, and the only thing that ever kept them alive was my dad’s nostalgia for that era. Later, in life, he’d reignite these memories by installing an Atari Arcade compilation of his favorites on our family PC during the Windows 98 or XP era. To this day, my dad can’t really venture into modern games as he clamors for a more simple time. We surely had our fun deathmatch bouts in Goldeneye for the Nintendo 64, but that is about as far forward as he ever went.
My second earliest childhood memories of home console gaming are much more vivid and included Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, Duck Hunt, The Legend of Zelda, and many, many more titles on my Nintendo Entertainment System. Yes, this console, was MY treasured escape into the pixelated corridor of Nintendo’s creations. I was just beyond the halfway point of my fourth year in existence and Mario, Link, Arthur from Ghosts ‘N Goblins, and a plethora of other characters quickly became my avatars for Quests that might look thin against todays standards but were just deep enough for my young mind.
For many, the NES console is one that lives on in infamy within the halls of gaming history. In fact, this was never made more evident than by the explosive demand of the NES Mini Classic console that Nintendo released in 2016. Many children of the 80’s and 90’s waited in lines for hours, scoured internet e-shops for weeks, and even paid premium prices on ebay to secure themselves a token of their childhood. If you claim to be a gamer yourself, you were likely keenly aware of this phenomenon, and if not, then you must’ve been living under a rock.
The trend continued with the Super Nintendo which had even more to offer. I’d battle my sisters to the brink of the finish line in Super Mario Kart. It was also on the Super Nintendo that I discovered the puffy, pink ball with a gargantuan appetite: Kirby. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was never a title that I owned, but was rented frequently from the local video store along with other favorites that I was unable to acquire ownership of like Yoshi’s Island.
Fast forward to 1996. I’m in the last leg of my fourth grade year. I was under a fair amount of stress for a ten-year old. My mom had just scheduled my first surgical procedure (that I could remember) to have my adenoids removed. In retrospect, it was a relatively mild and easy procedure despite the sore throat for the days that followed. But I digress, My dad and I made an after-dinner run to K-mart one evening. I can’t remember what we made the trip for, but I do know the one thing that happened that affected me big time. As usual with every trip to K-Mart or Wal-Mart, I’d pester my parents about spending a few minutes over in the electronics section to swoon over the games shelved for my eye-oggling pleasure locked behind glass and just out of reach. This time, however, was different as it wasn’t necessarily games that I was after, but an entirely new console. I just wanted to see the Nintendo 64 and the games it offered for the twentieth time. It didn’t matter. For me, every time was like the first time. I already knew the games debuting on the console by heart, but that changed nothing. It didn’t stop me from reading the Nintendo 64 boxes for rental at the local video store, and it certainly wouldn’t stop me from checking them out in stores dreaming of the day when I could finally play console games with ground-breaking 3D graphics.
Now my dad took great care of us, but he also wasn’t one to always buy us kids everything we wanted. It made me appreciate the things I did have, and that’s something I would later be thankful for. Mostly, my dad hated the idea of spending money on the little things that would likely be meaningless in the long-term. But, I’ll never forget standing there, mouth agape, just taking in all the glorious next-gen sights. My dad approached me and asked me about the games on the new Nintendo system. Without hesitation, I vomited out every thing I knew about each of the games in the most excited mass garble of verbiage. After a moment, he turned to me and made me a deal I couldn’t refuse. He offered to buy me the console, two extra controllers for my sisters should they want to play, and two games if I agreed to sell my SNES and all of its titles in my possession, the proceeds of which he’d keep. Eagerly, I agreed.
In the month’s ahead, I’d be racing down rainbow road, but this time with both of my sisters simultaneously! I’d soar through Mushroom Kingdom with a winged Mario cap, and eventually, race across the Hyrulian fields on the back of Epona. At one point, I was even able to pummel my sisters in the family-friendly brawler, Super Smash Brothers. I spent several glorious years enjoying my Nintendo 64. Eventually, I became a teenager with a job. I already had obtained a Playstation 2 as a Christmas gift, but my first paychecks went towards a Nintendo Gamecube. This is where my Nintendo fandom began to fade. I still found myself enjoying the Playstation far more. I was growing up, and Playstation became part of that natural progression.
Years later, I owned a Wii for a hot minute, and later sold it due to dust collection. I never purchased a Wii U. Nintendo was all but dead to me. I had truly fallen away from the brand somewhere near the beginning of the Gamecube era, and as much as I tried to convince myself otherwise, the platform just never resonated with me again for quite some time.
I’ve been a Playstation loyalist since the first Playstation and have owned every Sony console since. This is partly what eventually caused a wedge to be driven between Nintendo and I. I turned to the more serious facet of gaming as I became apart of the massive Call of Duty surge that started in 2007, took a couple trips through Rapture’s dark, dreamlike world in Bioshock, eviscerated the Greek Gods in God of War, and much more. I purchased a Playstation 4 console at launch, as well as a Playstation 4 Pro. I was, and have always been, all in when it comes to Playstation gaming.
Enter the Nintendo Switch. For a little over a year prior to it’s launch, Nintendo had been very coy about it’s next console. It was initially dubbed the NX and details were few and far between. Having written Nintendo out of my life long ago, I ignored the rumblings while still being aware of the hype that was boiling beneath the surface. Then, January 2017 came along. I was sitting in my cubicle plugging away at the daily grind, when I took a moment to check the newsfeeds from my favorite various gaming sites. It wasn’t a surprise, but a slight tinge of interest that crept into my head as I saw that Nintendo had officially announced their new console, the Nintendo Switch. I wasn’t excited by any means, but watching the video debuting the console was something I did to give my mind the break it needed.
By the time the video was over, I was genuinely fascinated. I wasn’t sold, but was intrigued by the combination of portability and home console gaming. One of my all-time favorites, Skyrim, was being shown as a tech demo and teased as a possible port. The idea of playing Skyrim, or games like it, on the go excited me. The launch of the Nintendo Switch came and went, and I still hadn’t bought into it. Despite the rave reviews and skyrocketing preorders and sales figures of launch day, I still dismissed the console. Being a father of two little ones myself with a full work load and extracurriculars made the idea of adding another catalogue of games to my already limited game time difficult to say the least.
It wasn’t until my four-year old son and I played Super Mario Odyssey at our local Best Buy in the Fall of 2017 that the desire started to swell within me. My son loves games, but playing them still proves difficult at this age. Coordination is limited. However, we were able to play the game in two-player mode with my son using a few simple buttons to control Cappy. After giving my son a few instructions, we were off to the races. Bolting around the Sand Kingdom, doing the Mario thing squashing Goombas, jumping from point A to point B, and utilizing Cappy to alter the gameplay and transform into Bullet Bill or other Mario staples was absolutely captivating. My wife had to pry the joy-cons out of our hands. This continued for another five weeks. My son and I would pop on over to the Nintendo Switch at Best Buy upon every visit and play. Eventually, we also tried the demo for Mario Kart 8, which to my amazement, was completely accessible to my four-year old son. With the forward motion and steering assist options switched on, he was always guaranteed to pass the finish line and never find himself stuck in a corner. Even if it was in last place, the thrill of finishing a race had him jumping up and down.
That was the final straw. Nintendo stole my heart once again. The Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Kart 8, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild were the primary gifts for our family this Christmas season. My son and I journeyed to each of the magical kingdoms within Super Mario Odyssey to not only find a treasure trove of pure happiness and joy, but also a healthy respect for the very little plumber that started everything. The nods made by the developers to Mario’s more classic 8-bit era, to his polygonal 64 appearance, right down to the cameo appearances, Easter eggs, and secrets packed into every square inch of this game sent me over the moon. With this game I have experienced many things including, but not limited to: a rush of nostalgia, admiration for an art form nearly perfected, the first true gaming experience I’ve been able to share with my son, and just plain fun and whimsy in the imaginative world Mario inhabits. Nostalgia is a marketing strategy that, when executed this superbly, works every time. For adult gamers, Nintendo’s mission feels one and the same with the mythical fountain of youth. I surely felt like a kid again. My son, too, now has the opportunity to experience gaming with the very same brand that sank it’s hooks into me as a child so many years ago. Not only do we play the Switch at home, we’ve now already taken the Switch on the road. My wife found my son and I huddled around a small circular table with the switch perched atop it and joy-cons in our hands while in our hotel room in Chicago over the winter break. It’s a bit of sentimentality that I feel when I can see that the same little Italian plumber that enthralled me as a child and created so many of my memories with family and friends is still taking me on adventures to this day.
I’m excited for Nintendo’s future, and unlike the Gamecube, the Switch hasn’t taken a backseat to my Playstation. I enjoy playing the few titles currently in the Switch’s library, even when my son is in bed and unable to play. My experience with this console, feels like a homecoming of sorts. It’s a home I’m happy to be in again, and hope that experience continues to be cultivated in the future.