Back in November, 2012 I wrote an editorial about the potential success or failure of the Wii U. I was pretty harsh on Nintendo, but I stand by what I said and my concerns regarding the Wii U’s relevancy in the wider console market definitely still exist, especially going into 2013 where the release of Microsoft’s and Sony’s next consoles is a guarantee. I experienced some nasty backlash from readers on Twitter and in a few emails, and I had some messages from people who agreed with me and thought it was a good editorial. But, in my close circle of friends the discussion raged on. In phone calls and text messages we continued to debate the Wii U. At one point I said to everyone involved in the discussion that the only way I’d be buying a Wii U is if another Yoshi game was released.
Yesterday, during Nintendo Direct, a new Yoshi game was announced—the first since Yoshi’s Story in 1998. Well played Nintendo, well played. They made me eat my words, every single one of them. And not just in a “here, Jon, have some soup” kind of way either. Nope. They crammed that shit down my throat like an evil Betty Crocker force-feeding me Fruit Roll-Ups. I couldn’t deny it. I wanted a Wii U right then and there. It didn’t matter anymore. Because, after years of doubting, after years of eye-rolling every time a new Zelda game was announced, the one I had been waiting for was happening. It was real. It was in development. I couldn’t have been more ready to give Nintendo my money. But, shortly after the euphoria wore off I couldn’t help but feel like a hypocrite. Only I knew what I felt, truly felt, about Nintendo. Ever since the Wii I had basically lost all interest and faith in the Nintendo brand. I didn’t care anymore. Or, so I thought. Because if I didn’t care, then why was I so excited for this Yoshi game? Why would I get the same adrenaline rush I felt when the PlayStation 2 came out and I just had to have one? Well, because I wasn’t as done with Nintendo as I thought I was.
It was a scary moment. Not in the same way that seeing your grandparents naked would be scary, but scary nonetheless. Everything I thought I knew about how I felt about Nintendo was wrong. There was a disconnect somewhere. And that’s when I got the idea to write this column. I’ve got to talk it out, so to speak.
Technically, the first console I ever played was the Atari 2600, and technically the first videogame I ever played was Asteroids for the Atari 2600. But, I don’t really count either of those as my “firsts” in their respective categories. I mean, the console was owned by my grandparents and was my uncle’s main source of entertainment as a child. It was either play Atari or be forced to watch VHS tapes of old Jerry Lewis movies by my grandmother. So, I never really formed a connection with videogames over the Atari 2600 and Asteroids. It was just something I did to stave off boredom and occupy my time at my grandparent’s house.
I had heard of Nintendo, but didn’t really know what it was. I knew they had this thing called an NES. I knew there was this guy called Mario and that he was supposed to be pretty cool. My family never owned an NES and I never played Super Mario Bros on that system. For the earliest parts of my childhood, Nintendo was this weird, ethereal, almost ghost-like entity; it would make itself known on the peripheries of my life, but it would never reveal itself to me. I imagine that was what it was like for most of us that were born in the last few years of the ‘80s. Our parents knew what videogames were, occasionally played them, but never really introduced my brother and I to that form of entertainment. People born in the late ‘80s are like the Lost Boys of gaming, people who had to sort of feel their own way through the early ‘90s of gaming, because no one ever really bothered to tell them what gaming really was. Then again, maybe no one really knew what gaming was back then.
All of that began to change when my family got a SNES. I still remember the day perfectly. It was November, 1991. I was three years old. It was the weekend and my mother took my brother and I shopping for Christmas presents for my Dad. We went to the mall and didn’t find anything and I was under the impression that we were giving up and going home. The next thing I knew we were pulling into the parking lot of a Toys “R” Us. My brother and I followed my mother into the store and after several minutes of wandering the aisles I tugged at my mother’s purse and asked her what we were doing there. She told me that we were getting a SNES for my father for Christmas. I didn’t really know what that was because I was three, and I had no way of knowing that it would, later in my life, be one of the reasons that compelled me to write about videogames.
That year at Christmas my father was ecstatic. I still remember him hooking it up to our television late into the night. Christmas came and went. 1992 was rung in with a countdown. I still hadn’t touched my father’s SNES. My parents always made sure my brother and I were outside doing something. Then Easter came that April, and that year for Easter my mother had bought my brother and I each a Nintendo Gameboy with a copy of Tetris, because my brother and I absolutely did not share things. I loved my Gameboy. I suspect my mother began to regret getting us Gameboys that year, because no sooner had we put in the 4 AA batteries needed to run the thing that they were dead and my mother was buying another pack of Duracells, and batteries were not cheap back then folks.
We played Tetris for a year, until 1993 when my father began to work the late shift at the federal prison he was a guard at. That was the year that my mother, after relentless begging from my brother and I, finally let us put our hands on the controller of a SNES. The first game I ever played on it? Super Mario World. Super Mario World would play host to many of my “firsts” in videogames. It was the first game I ever cussed at. Imagine the look on my mother’s face when she heard my 5-year-old self call Mario an asshole. It was the first game to cause me to throw a controller out of frustration. It was also the first time I ever experienced multiplayer. Although, multiplayer was very different in those days. My affinity for Luigi was fostered with Super Mario World. I was the oldest sibling. Logic would dictate then that I was always player one, I was always Mario. But, that wasn’t at all the case for me. My favorite color was green, so I nearly always demanded to be Luigi. It was strange: In my house, Luigi was the one who was fought over because he was the one I wanted to be, and, of course, anything I wanted my brother wanted too. My brother and I would go on to play many games for the SNES. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Killer Instinct, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and the atrociously awesome Jurassic Park game all found their way into our collection. Some of my favorites were Bubsy in Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind (hey, I didn’t know what a good game was back then), Double Dragon, and Clay Fighters. But nothing would compare to what is my all-time favorite game, Yoshi’s Island. Now and forever I shall praise that game for its brilliant level design, excellent music, excellent art direction, and its ability to distinguish itself as different despite being connected to such a monumental icon in Mario. The ending of that game and the song that goes along with it still make me well up with tears almost 20 years later.
But, all of that changed in 1996 when my parents divorced and my youngest brother was born. My mother became a single mom with a newborn and two children to provide for. The household income was gone, as my father was the only one in our family who worked. My mother, who hadn’t had a job since becoming pregnant with me, had to somehow find work after having been out of the workforce for eight years. It was a hard time. We were poor, and I can remember many nights where my mother would go without eating so that my brothers and I could have food. So, when the Nintendo 64 was released in 1996 you can bet that there was no talk of getting one. Luckily for us, several of my neighborhood friends had a N64 purchased for them. It didn’t take long for me to become one of those kids. You know, the ones that were clearly spending so much time at your house because you had something they didn’t have at home. Yeah, that was me.
It was at that time when videogames really became a big part of my life. I wasn’t a happy child after my parents divorced. I fought constantly with my mother and brother, sometimes violently. The only thing that seemed to make me happy, the only thing that offered me a respite from the chaos of my adolescence was videogames. It was there, in videogames, where I wasn’t judged by classmates for coming from a broken home; it was there, in videogames, where the piercing eyes of alienation averted their gaze. On the weekends, I could be found playing 007 Goldeneye, Mario Kart 64, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and one of my favorite games for the N64, Gauntlet Legends. Those and many more, I got lost in. I would play for hours, even days sometimes. My mother thought I was retreating inward, spending all my time with those “wretched” videogames. She was concerned, and understandably so. I didn’t talk much, I didn’t have any friends, and I fought a lot with my family and at school because I was picked on by almost everyone. I was the slightly chubby kid with glasses and sores on his face. But, I wasn’t retreating inwards, despite what my mother thought. I was breaking open new doors and smashing through windows, I was discovering wonderful new worlds. I was interacting with characters that understood me. From 1996 to 2002, my N64 would be my best friend, my closest confidant. It was Nintendo who would steward me through my childhood and into those dreadful teenage years.
In the summer of 2002, while my brothers and I were spending the summer with my father in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, my mother had moved us into an apartment with her parents in Bismarck, North Dakota. She hadn’t told us she was doing this so it came as quite the surprise. My brother and I were enrolled in school and started that August. I still remember the first week of school. I couldn’t shake off the feeling that I was the new kid. No one talked to me, and I didn’t talk to them. Friday came and I decided to play through The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask that weekend. It was that weekend and that game that would cause me to ask myself some serious questions, even as 13-year-old. There’s a quote in that game, said by the Child on Moon, which goes: “Your true face... What kind of... face is it? I wonder... The face under the mask... Is that... your true face?” When that line of dialogue came up on the screen, I lost it. I started crying and the tears wouldn’t stop for another hour. Something about what the Child on Moon said resonated with me and my situation. Majora’s Mask broke me. It had caught me, made me realize how implicit in my own unhappiness I was. I had been living out of a trunk full of costumes and masks ever since my parents got divorced. It was then that I made a decision. I didn’t like the person that I was, and I was going to do everything I could, make every conscious effort I could, to try and change that. I went back to school, started talking to people and eventually fell into a group of friends, and not just any groups of friends, but a group of friends who also played and loved videogames. It is a group of friends that, even though we are scattered throughout the country as adults, I still talk to and see on a regular basis.
2002 was also the year that I got a Nintendo Gamecube, having saved up money from Christmas and my birthday. I would go on to get an Xbox and PlayStation 2, but I still regard the Gamecube as the best console of its generation. I cannot tell you the number of games that my friends and I bonded over. Of course, Super Smash Bros Melee was standard fare at any gathering I had with my friends, and it wasn’t at all uncommon for us to go 24 hours or more without stopping. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Super Mario Sunshine, and Mario Kart: Double Dash are just a few of the first-party Nintendo titles that I remember so dearly from my time with the Gamecube. The era of the Gamecube was also a time when Nintendo had better third-party support for their console than they do today. Soul Calibur II on the Gamecube was the best version of the game; I don’t care what anybody says. It played better, the Gamecube controller was better suited for the game than its Xbox and PS2 counterparts, and, for crying out loud, it had Link as its exclusive character. Resident Evil 4 was also, arguably, the best on the Gamecube. And don’t even get me started on how much I preferred the Gamecube version of Time Splitters 2 to the PS2 and Xbox versions. All through high school I played Nintendo’s little purple box. Life was improving for me. I had a large group of friends and was generally a happy person. I was somewhat popular at school, so much so that in my senior year my classmates saw fit to vote me “Most Likely to Become President.” I did well in school, but that had never been a problem for me. Don’t get me wrong, high school was a process of self-discovery. There was a lot of work I did to try and become a better person, certainly a less hate-filled person. I’d like to think it worked.
In 2007 I graduated high school and went to college. I knew Nintendo had released a console in 2006. Hell, I even played the Wii shortly after it got its retail release. But, the last system I consider a truly great Nintendo system is the Nintendo Gamecube. The Wii didn’t interest me; it never really sold itself to me. I mean, by that time, I was old enough to have had a job and I actually had to think about what I was going to spend my money on, because I didn’t have much of it. 2007 was the beginning of the end of my relationship with Nintendo. I bought an Xbox 360 and have had one ever since. I’ve enjoyed my time with Microsoft’s console; I have ever since the original Xbox. And, I’ve enjoyed every single one of PlayStation’s consoles since the very first as well.
Article by Jon Hamlin
Jon Hamlin is a freelance game journalist living in the San Francisco Bay Area. He plays too much Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and enjoys a good glass of wine. Occasionally, he can be found commanding his legion of doom on Xbox Live as GeniusPantsPhD. Follow him on Twitter @WordsmithJon, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Articles by Jon.