The Super Nintendo celebrates its 25th birthday here in the US! Released in late August of 1991, it’s hard to believe it’s been a quarter century since the SNES has dazzled and delighted an entire generation of gamers. In honor of this grand milestone, I figure now’s as good a time as any to share my first experience with the SNES nearly 25 years ago. The following story was published originally in Rob Strangman’s Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman (2014).
MY SUPER NINTENDO GENESIS
IT’S BEEN SAID that every gamer, regardless of the generation they were born in, recollects back fondly on their gaming childhood. There’s a certain sense of wonder, awe and magic when you combine quality video gaming and the pure innocence of a child. While I love gaming now as an adult, there are pros and cons to gaming as a kid, and gaming as an adult. Although I feel I’ve matured in my gaming tastes over the years, nothing can ever recapture the pure adulation of video game discovery through the impressionable eyes of youth. There was also the fact of perusing through glorious 400 page video game magazines, renting games every weekend and having excess time to game that today is no longer viable, for the most part. So, while every gamer will claim their generation had it best… for me, I can’t think of a better year I’d rather be born in than good ol’ 1983.
Being born in ’83 meant that I grew up, literally, with the classic 8-bit Nintendo. Living with my game loving uncle growing up, he bought a Nintendo for my brother (Kevin) and me circa 1987. I was four years old at the time, and the NES was just beginning to hit its stride and complete domination of the video game market. There was a mom and pop rental shop down the road called Evergreen Video that my dad would take Kevin and me every Saturday afternoon. It was thanks to Evergreen Video (and our local neighborhood friends) that we got to experience such classics like Contra, Mega Man 2, Battletoads, Double Dragon II, TMNT II: The Arcade Game, and Beetlejuice. Wait, no, scratch that last one. Point being, it was a glorious time to be a carefree kid, living in suburban America, enjoying the prime of the 8-bit NES with my brother, our friends and our crazy Uncle Jimmy.
But, like all good things in life, it had to come to an end at some point. Even at 7 years old, back in 1990 I could see the writing on the wall for my dear old friend when my uncle bought a Sega Genesis. Sega’s 16-bit monster absolutely blew me away. I remember before Uncle Jimmy bought it I saw it in action for the first time at my friend’s house. Denny showed me the box to Altered Beast, and it was love at first sight. As a staunch lover of all things monster-related, Altered Beast’s sleek box art displaying a savage wolf man amidst a barren wasteland instantly won me over.
“How big do you think the cartridge is?” Denny asked me, with a big grin on his kisser.
“Um, bigger than Nintendo?” I figured since Genesis was clearly a leap in technology that the cartridge needed more room to fit it all in.
Imagine my shock when Denny opened the clamshell to reveal a tiny little cartridge. He plugged the game in. Not 30 seconds later, I had to scrape my jaw off the floor. What I saw that day blew my mind; I knew the future of video gaming had arrived. It’s always hard to see a dear old friend slowly fading away. While my brother and I kept the NES alongside the Genesis, the 8-bit NES went from being my virtual best friend to something of a semi-dust collector. 1990 was definitely the year of the Sega Genesis.
But then, 1991 came. My friends began whispering around late summer of that year about a new Nintendo system coming out. They were touting how it would be the NES on steroids. Hence the name SUPER Nintendo, and that it was going to battle the Sega Genesis for video game supremacy. There seemed to be, in those days and at least in my young 8 year old eyes, a shroud of mystery and mystique surrounding the impending arrival of the SNES. If it truly was going to be the NES to the 10th power, then heads were going to roll. They say you never forget your first time. I can certainly agree with that.
December 1991. For Christmas vacation my family drove Kevin and me to Lake Tahoe. Along with four other families, we were going to sleep over together in a gigantic cabin that the parents rented out. Now there’s something you need to understand. This was my gaming crew back in the day. Between the five families you had 16 kids ranging from 5 to 13 years old, and we all shared a love for one another and video gaming. You had the brothers, Tommy and Denny. Denny was the one who first introduced me to the Genesis and Altered Beast. These were the cats that owned all the latest gaming shit you could only dream of having, too. All our parents got along like best friends, and it just so happened that the kids liked each other a lot, too. I could go on and on about those cats that I ran with back in the late ‘80s to late ‘90s. It had to be some of the most legendary sleepovers in the history of mankind. Imagine 10 parents and 16 kids thick as thieves. The parents would talk, reminisce about their glory days, laugh, karaoke and dance up a storm downstairs while the kids would be upstairs gaming or making random silly home videos past the witching hour. I remember times where we even stayed up until 2 AM. Whenever I think of my childhood, I can’t help but think of those gaming brothers and the countless epic memories we forged.
But I digress. Back to that fateful day of late December 1991. We all checked in, put away our things and began scoping out the humongous 3-story cabin. I remember it was freezing. My best friend in the group, Zack, and I were going to share a room with the brothers, Brian and Bryce. I was closest to these three. Within the whole group you had three different sub-groups. I was sort of the “leader” of my sub-group, due to age. My group was the 1983-1986 kids. The other group composed of the kids born from 1978-1981. And then you had the girls in one entirely separate sub-group. I was unpacking my clothes when Zack’s older brother walked in.
I have to pause here and provide a little context on Zack’s older brother. In the years to come following this weekend get away, pretty much everyone in our group affectionately referred to him as Sushi-X. It was due to his fervent love for EGM. Also, he was the best damn Street Fighter II player we ever saw.
So enter Sushi-X. He started telling us how our room was haunted. Now, mind you, I was 8 years old at the time and very impressionable. While I loved ghost stories and all that, I never wanted to experience one for real! Sushi-X, you have to understand, was sort of the unspoken ring leader of the group. Everyone respected him; at 13 he was the oldest at that point in time. I always sort of looked up to him as a gaming sensei and a life expert, just because, well, he was 13 and like I said, I was a very impressionable 8 year old child. Sushi-X began telling us this tale of an old lady who once lived in this cabin, and how she slept in the very room that I was going to sleep in that night. He said she committed suicide right here, right where we stood unpacking our clothes. I remember all four of us – myself, Brian, Bryce and Zack – staring at each other in wide-eyed terror. Sushi-X spoke in such a matter-of-fact tone that I think we actually bought his BS lies. Again, the pure innocence of being that young!
Thankfully, Tommy was also sort of an alpha male, and he always matched Sushi-X in stature within the group. Tommy ended the ghost story madness when he rushed into our room and cryptically declared, “Hey guys, if you’re ready to be blown away, come to the living room.”
I remember Sushi-X looking at me like, “Whoa, this gotta be good. Forget this ghost crap, deuces y’all!”
Good old Tommy. He saved the little guys as Sushi-X was the first one to bolt for the door. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as Zack asked me, “Do you think my brother is telling the truth about that ghost lady?” It was all I could think about as the four of us followed behind Tommy and Sushi-X to the living room. As exciting as Tommy’s tease was, I was too preoccupied thinking about whether or not the room I would be sleeping in later that night was, indeed, truly haunted.
Once in the living room, I saw everyone sitting there. In front of us all was a TV and a black zipped bag. All eyes were fixed on Tommy and that bag which conspicuously sat beside him. Like a good brother, Denny was right next to Tommy, with the same big fat grin on his kisser that I had seen the year before when he revealed to me the cartridge size of Altered Beast. Suddenly, I forgot all about the ghost lady as a sensational feeling of excitement raged through every fiber of my being. I knew whatever this announcement might be that it was going to be monumental. Indeed, it would be a historic moment in time for this gaming group and a classic tale to be retold in the generations to come (wink).
“Well, now that everyone is here,” Tommy began, scanning the room and pausing for dramatic effect. He was always such a pro at being a showman. “Denny and I are proud to share with the group what we have brought. It’s inside this bag right here.” Tommy looked down and pointed to the black bag. He was surely milking this moment for all it was worth.
“While we’re still young!” interjected Nathan, the group’s token comedian. Everyone laughed. You could feel the palpable buzz and energy in the room as the moment of truth neared.
“Everyone’s a critic,” Tommy responded. I always admired him for his quick wit and repartee. Plus he certainly was always a straight shooter, never making up scary ghost stories just to rib on others. I’m looking at you, Sushi-X! “Alright, alright,” he continued. “Denny, if you would, bro.”
All 30 eyeballs in the room now shifted to Denny, who leaned over to unzip the bag. He looked at all of us, smiling, as he reached in. “What is it, what is it?!” he joked, as he held his hands in the bag for a solid 10 seconds. Like his brother, Denny knew how to milk a moment! Finally, after all the hoop-la he pulled out the brand new 16-bit Super Nintendo. Gasps erupted from the group along with shouts of joy and shock. No one in our group had yet to own the SNES, and now we just found out that Tommy not only owned one, but it was RIGHT HERE in the flesh ready to be played! The girls rolled their eyes as if to say, “That’s the big deal? Yuck.” They left while the rest of us crowded around the machine, as though we were fawning over a new born baby. We all wanted to be first to hold this new bundle of joy. It was an instant classic. A grand slam. The SNES completely, pardon the pun, changed the game.
What followed were hours and hours of F-Zero and Final Fight being played to death. Since I was in that second sub-group, and as these were single player games (prolonging the wait even further), there was an unspoken pecking order. Classic group dynamite, you understand. Thus, I never got to play either game that night, as the alpha males in the first sub-group (1978-1981) rotated turns. Even my brother got his licks in, and I remember thinking to myself what a miscarriage of justice it all was. Finally, nightfall came. After dinner we did some channel surfing. We came across Godzilla vs. Mothra. I’m a HUGE Godzilla fan, but our token comedian Nathan was doing his best Mystery Science 3000 Theatre impersonation that night, making all of us, including me, laugh our butts off. We had another late night as the group was infamous for, before finally crashing early in the wee morning hours.
The cabin groaned as I opened my eyes. I sat up and noticed my roommates Zack, Brian and Bryce were nowhere to be found. I chuckled to myself, figuring that they probably woke up early in order to make a beeline for Tommy’s Super Nintendo. I would have done the same if only I hadn’t slept like a hibernating bear. Opening the door, a cold chill instantly swept over me sending shivers up and down my spine. It felt like someone took electrical wires and brushed it across my back. I looked down the hallway, which was cloaked in an eerie darkness. It suddenly resembled a demonic hallway from a horror movie. I called out to my family and friends. No response. I had a Home Alone flashback. Was I, for the first time in my life, home alone? I shouted out again. Silence, except for the odd noises the old cabin was emitting. I began tip-toeing downstairs, making my way to the kitchen. Maybe everyone was at the breakfast table. Somehow, before I even reached the bottom step, I knew it was a false sense of hope. Sure enough, in the kitchen all I found was a note taped to the refrigerator.
Everyone left for brunch. We will be back soon. Sorry, I didn’t want to wake you up. You had a late night and I wanted you to get the extra rest. Make some Honey Nut Cheerios, and don’t watch too much TV.
Fantastic. Now I was trapped all by myself in this… this… THIS CABIN FROM HELL! I opened the fridge to take out the milk and spotted a cold can of 7 Up. Being my favorite soda, I wanted nothing more than to down that sucker right then and there, but I realized if I did I might have to use the restroom, and there was no way I was heading down that demonic looking hallway! Ah, the dilemma of my youth. I relinquished my grip of the can and closed the fridge with milk in hand. The cabin continued hissing, making all manner of strange noises. Boy, it’s so much more amplified when you’re all alone. I suddenly thought of the ghost lady Sushi-X told me about the day before. Damn you, Sushi-X. But, even at 8 years old, I was a fairly resourceful kid. See, I had this theory. Ghosts and spirits would never mess with you if you had the radio or TV on. Any kind of noise would repel them. Hey, I was 8, OK? I made my way over to the living room and immediately turned the TV on. I came across one of my favorite wrestlers, Hulk Hogan, on a WWF show. I always had an affinity for pro wrestling. I loved the larger than life characters and the in-ring artistry and mayhem. Seeing the Hulkster ramble on in one of his classic pre-taped backstage interviews, talking about praying, training and eating your vitamins was more than enough to make me forget about my current quandary: I was the lone prisoner stuck inside the cabin from hell.
But then, without warning, the show came to a close. I immediately felt unnerved by the dreadful atmosphere of the cabin. Have you ever felt a PRESENCE in the room with you? That someone, or SOMETHING, was watching you from the shadows? That’s exactly how I felt on that cold and dreary December morning of 1991. And then, it happened. My eyes spotted Tommy’s Super Nintendo lying on the floor. Of course! I was shaking but this time, it wasn’t because of the freezing temperature or my fear of what might have lurked in the shadowy cabin corridors. I was shaking because this was a historic moment, a monumental moment of firsts: first time being home alone, and first time experiencing the almighty Super Nintendo for myself in ALL its glory. Hey, it’s true what they say… you never forget your first time.
Powering up F-Zero, I was instantly transported to Mode-7 Heaven. Every single racing track blew my mind. I couldn’t believe how fast it played, and how AMAZING the game looked. And that MUSIC… oh man, it would haunt me forever in a way that would make any spirit of that cabin, if there were any at all, extremely jealous. F-Zero led me from thinking about ghosts to obsessing over intergalactic racing warfare! Later I plugged in Final Fight and found myself saving the good citizens of Metro City one jaw-dropping stage after another, as I smeared the streets with the blood of the hooligans from the Mad Gear Gang. I had never seen such state-of-the-art arcade-like graphics before. The characters were unbelievably HUGE and at times I found myself wondering, “WHERE THE HECK IS THE COIN SLOT?!”
I played both F-Zero and Final Fight with a grand deal of euphoria until my family and friends came back. Yes, part of me was ecstatic to no longer be alone in the cabin from hell, but something funny happened during my inaugural play through with the Super Nintendo. It made me forget about malicious ghosts and evil spirits. Instead, it transported me to the future of video gaming, where you could snap a bastard’s neck in two and soar 200 feet across a race track suspended high above a futuristic city – all in stunning graphics and sound. The new generation of gaming had officially arrived, and it was nothing short of awesome. I never looked back.
Now, nearly 25 years later since that epic and infamous family-friend weekend to Lake Tahoe, I still remember certain aspects of the trip as if it happened only yesterday. I remember the big snowball fight we waged against one another. And how Zack, Brian, Bryce and I got a SMALL measure of revenge on Sushi-X when we caught him off guard and pelted him with four lumpy snowballs in stereo. I remember trying to ski and falling on my ass, making me look like that which I fell on. I recall how freezing and creepy the cabin was, especially during the night time and how you would get chills up and down your spine whenever crossing one of its various “cold spots.” Hell, I remember being ditched for breakfast! But most of all, I will always remember, with great affection, a real deep fondness of the first time I ever experienced the Super Nintendo. It’s a precious memory that will remain embedded in my gaming heart even decades from now, long after the Tahoe snow has faded.
I still keep in touch with the old gaming crew, but like many things in life, it’ll never be like how it was once upon a time. I guess that’s why many fondly refer to those halcyon days as the good old days. But, rather than weeping over times that have long passed, I rejoice that I was fortunate enough to be there when it happened. As I said at the beginning, most folks like to claim their generation as the best because each person’s childhood is unique and precious to them. Likewise, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt that the years 1987 to 1995 was a special time growing up in suburban America. I basically grew up alongside the 8-bit Nintendo, the 16-bit Sega Genesis AND the Super Nintendo. It was a spectacular period in gaming’s history, and there’s a reason many fondly refer to that time as the “Golden Age of Gaming.” All in all, I considered myself pretty dang lucky.
Happy 25th birthday, SNES. Thank you for supplying us with an epic quarter century of awesome games and even better memories. Here’s to another gawd damn 25 years!