As hard as it may be for you fine readers to believe, there was a time when the Nintendo Nerd was the Nintendo Kid (don’t picture it, just go with it). I was a little tyke running around and biting ankles, as tykes tend to do. When my parents needed to quiet their hyperactive youngster, the easiest way was always to plunk me in front of the television with a Nintendo controller in my hand. Whether I was transported to magical adventure in the Mushroom Kingdom or decapitating Sub-Zero, my little eyes were transfixed on the screen and my parents got themselves a few precious hours of silence. It was a win/win scenario, and a gaming addiction was born. As you can imagine, my letters to Santa were always filled with video game requests, and since that meant I would also be silenced over the Christmas holidays, my parents or Santa (depending on your beliefs) always delivered the goods. As a result, Nintendo always claimed a key role in my youthful yuletide adventures and with that magical season approaching, I thought I’d share a few delightful holiday memories provided by Nintendo. For many folks of my generation, Mario and Santa were inseparable buddies of holiday cheer.
Like any kid who learns the truth about Santa, anytime I was left alone during the months of November or December, I would scour the house for hidden presents. It’s one of those annual X-mas traditions that rarely make it into TV specials, but every youngster shares. My greatest discovery came in November 1991, when I tore a small piece of wrapping off of a mysteriously large box in my parents’ closet and saw Mario riding Yoshi for the first time. I knew a Super Nintendo was coming on Christmas morning and was so excited that I would return to the closet every few days to confirm that it was in fact still there. I was caught once by my father and fled the scene. We never discussed it, and I never went back. Then on Christmas morning, no Super Nintendo. I was crushed, but that was just a ruse to trick an easily fooled seven year old. I rounded up my toys and enjoyed a lackluster play in the living room while my parents giggled. I thought about how cruel they were and how my snooping ruined what had promised to be my greatest Christmas. Then I noticed something under the couch. It was another present, a big one. It was the Super Nintendo; a mischievous middle-aged man had managed to successfully pull one over on a little kid. It ended up being my greatest Christmas surprise and I played the shit out of Super Mario World for the rest of the holidays. By the time I returned to school in the New Year I was filled with tales about conquering Bowser and his buddies and raved about how 16-bit graphics were the pinnacle of what was possible in game design.
From that point on, every Christmas morning was marked by a new game. F-Zero, Super Star Wars, Donkey Kong Country, Mario Paint (ok, so I didn’t always pick a winner); each was giddily unwrapped and played endlessly until I passed out in front of the TV, thanks to turkey and the flightless bird’s secret partner tryptophan. In 1996, my mind was blown by the 3D gaming offered by Mario 64 and the high-speed joy of Wave Race 64. Later Christmases saw me pour hours into Link’s quest in Ocarina Of Time (I believe at the time I claimed that it would be impossible to create a more epic game. Whoops!) and when Goldeneye was released, suddenly I became social in my gaming and Christmas breaks were spent jumping from household to household in an endless series of Goldeneye tournaments where Oddjob was banned and looking at another player’s screen forfeited a turn (despite the fact that we all did it).
Yet, Nintendo didn’t deliver the goods every year. For most Christmases the big N delivered endless joy, but not 1995. Nope, that was the year when I was convinced Nintendo would finally deliver on all of the promise of virtual reality. That’s right, I’m talkin’ bout the Virtual Boy. Sure, I was skeptical of the limited red’n’black color scheme, but it looked like a virtual reality helmet that I’d scene in sci-fi movies. I could not have been more excited when I opened up that bad boy and even pretended to love the thing for months. Admittedly, Teleroboxer was a fan-fucking-tastic game that would be fondly remembered if the system sold more copies than the one they shifted to my parents, but other than that the Virtual Boy was disappointment. It was impossible to comfortably position the system for use, and playing for longer than five minutes ensured that my eyes were screwed up for the rest of the day. Yep, that was one damn disappointing Christmas gift that was routinely mocked by my friends until they played Teleroboxer (I swear that game was great. I’m hoping for a 3DS sequel, but I’m probably the only one). However, I’ll forgive Nintendo for one crappy Christmas, since they made so many others special.
Now that I’m sort of an adult, I buy my own systems and games when they launch. The instant gratification is nice, but something’s lost. There was something nice about the anticipation of waiting for Christmas to get a new game or system. You’d try display models in stores, sweet talk friends with early birthdays into letting you play their copies for a few minutes, and dream endlessly about what it would be like to have unlimited access to the shiny new game in the privacy of a dingy basement. These days my Christmases are all about spending time with friends and relatives. It’s nice, but socializing is no substitute for childhood vegetation. I miss my videogame experiences being based around the most commercial of holidays. December 25th just ain’t the same without an annual Nintendo fix.