“Genesis Does What Nintendon’t!” - Sega Genesis TV Ad Catchphrase (1990’s)
For several decades now, video games score high at the top of many of our holiday wish lists. No matter if you’re using pen and paper to jot it down old school or broadcasting an official Amazon Wish List to family and friends, this year promises to be no different. In fact, those addictive computer simulations are hotter than ever. In the market for and got your game playing eye on Playstation or XBox? Maybe you can’t wait to find a Playstation VR or XBox One under the Christmas tree or stuffed in your sock as a stocking stuffer? Is that even possible?
Whatever your gamer stripe or console brand allegiance, one thing’s certain this year: Ghosts of video game past have come back to not haunt, but joyously celebrate retro video game playing in all its pixelated, digital glory. Classic video game console systems from Nintendo, Sega and Atari have returned in full force to lure us to buy with nostalgia. They're competing for shelf space - and in Ebay auctions - with the most advanced and dazzling new gaming systems.
Attack of The Arcade
Remember when you could only play a videogame in an arcade?
Yes, once upon a time, those bleeping, blooping and buzzing zeros and ones mashed together by programmers were only available for public consumption at boardwalk arcades or in bowling alleys. Diners and the places like K-Mart hosted them too, but the best place to really have a game-a-thon was down at the arcade.
Arcades feel like mystical, magical places. They're darkly lit and usually crowded with the faithful - though if you go on an off time, you pretty much own the place. Arcades throw off a powerful, even monastic or even worshipful kind of vibe. The arcades are still home to game machines which transport us, and for some, create an almost religious kind of game play and interaction.
Today, arcade games can set you back 50 cents or even a buck or more. Back in the heyday of the arcade video game craze - the late 1970’s and 1980’s - it was only a quarter a play. If you had a buddy along with you for the ride, you both pumped quarters into that no arm bandit to no end. Big, hit games like Space Invaders, Pong, Asteroids, Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, ruled the arcade roost for a calmer, less digital time when playing a game at home meant getting out the old game boards of chess and checkers, or gathering around Monopoly or Clue on the dining room table .
When video games finally invaded our homes, the gaming world of the home based arcade changed seismically.
Video Game Home Bodies
I clearly remember playing my first video game over at my Uncle’s house. I was no more than 10. It was a dedicated console - it only played Pong. Immediately after he’d turned it on and I gripped the paddles to control the simulation onscreen, I was completely fascinated. How could we be doing this on a television? The magic of the moment stayed with me, but the funny part was back then I thought to myself, “How could it get any better than Pong?”
Well, it did.
My first console was the classic Atari 2600. I loaded up on Space Invaders and Asteroids. I was so excited about finally getting my Pac-Man cart. One of my all time favorites to play was Berzerk - with Evil Otto. That one, for the time was completely epic. The game's disturbing sound FX and the frantic pacing - still is so unsettling to me even now. Honestly, I never had nightmares about the villain, Evil Otto - it was the waking fright dreams while playing against him that was the problem!
The Atari Legend & The Flashback (1977)
An authentic trailblazer sets the scene for all those to follow in its wake. Atari not only set the scene for home video game play in the 1970’s, it became the gold standard.
Released in 1977, Atari quickly became a hot item - especially since it could do more than merely play Pong, which had finally become old news. When Atari licensed the mega arcade hit, Space Invaders from Japanese company Taito, the VCS - Video Computer System - really took off. The main thing I remember most about the system, after incessantly begging my mother to buy me one, was just how rugged the console and the joysticks were to manhandle. Both components seemed pretty unbreakable, and with the hardcore beating and abuse they took from me and my family and friends when playing, they really were, evidently.
With the near limitless high tech magic we weave today, you can now buy Atari Flashback consoles. It's like using a time machine to travel back to your gaming youth. These retro replicas of Atari 2600 and Atari 7800 can be purchased in places such as Walmart and Target, and are even sold in discount and dollar stores or in drugstores like Walgreens and Rite Aid.
These various Atari flavors have dozens of games built-in and ready to play instantly. Nostalgia is great, but no more juggling and reaching for a new game cartridge, when all you need do is push a reset button to begin a new game is truly a beautiful thing for a gamer.
Nintendo Entertainment System or NES (1983)
Bless his eternal plumber spirit, Super Mario is still going strong.
The Nintendo Entertainment System or NES was launched in 1983 in Japan - called The Famicom, a portmanteau of Family Computer. It was released in North America in 1985 and became the best selling video game system of its time. Instead of creating and programming the games all by itself, Nintendo came up with the now well known third party license system, allowing other companies to author and distribute console software and games.
Back in the day, this was the video game system everyone either had or your friends or one of their friends owned. Titles like Donkey Kong and Castlevania were cool favorites, but Mario was crowned video game king. Super Mario Brothers and its 2 sequels, SMB 2 & SMB3, fairly defined video game playing for years. Today, with its far more powerful consoles like the GameCube and Nintendo Wii, Mario’s super powered adventures continue on a crash course of endless fun.
On November 11, 2016, Nintendo released the Nintendo Classic NES - a scaled down replica of its most famous console. The unit retails for $59.00 and has 30 games built into internal memory - no more cartridge hunting and swapping.
Nintendo seems not to have predicted just how much both retro game fans and curious newbies would want the Classic NES. The retail store lines to get this little nostalgic gems are long and frustrating, with many buyers giving up and trying Ebay - where the device is being sold for nearly 10 times the retail in some cases. Amazon, promising more stock coming soon, was inundated with angry customers when its stock supply couldn’t keep up with the demand. Despite not being a new 4K powered Playstation or Playstation VR or XBox, this little blast from the past is causing quite the sell out stir.
Sega Genesis (1989)
I loved playing Atari - my first console video game system. I loved visiting my friends and playing with their Nintendo NES, but my dearest, deepest and most passionate video game love was reserved for the Sega Genesis.
Unlike the Nintendo's able 8-bit CPU, the Genesis boasted a 16-bit capability - essentially double the playing and graphics power of its competitor. It gave rise to the 'Genesis Does What Nintendon't' catchphrase and the console wars were firmly established between the two companies.
I’d gotten a hold of the Sega Master system - and was jazzed playing the martial arts tournament fun of Black Belt with fearsome sumo boss Gonta and target practice with Rambo First Blood III using the incredible phaser gun, but nothing could quite prepare me for the 16 bit power and majesty of the gaming marvel of the Genesis.
Being double in CPU power over the NES, and having the arcade production muscle of Sega as its owner, the Genesis carved out a loyal following for gamers and hit some of the most incredible high notes with revered icons like Sonic The Hedgehog and Altered Beast and big sports hits such as Joe Montana Football.
A Genesis Device In Your Hand
Back in the 90's, there was also the Sega Game Gear - a portable version of Genesis powered by small cartridges. Today, you can also carry the Sega Genesis game joy in your hand - with a portable version. At Games is licensed by Sega to produce a console Genesis clone for home use and a portable handheld model, complete with LCD screen. Both devices are priced at around $49.00 and the portable - or Ultimate Portable Game Player - not only plays 80 games on the built-in LCD screen, but can also be hooked up via AV cables to your television.
What does the bright, digital future hold for old school, classic video games? If the holiday season of 2016 is any indication, Sega, Nintendo and Atari will keep on churning out retro replicas to satisfy that old nostalgia burning inside us all. Maybe Sony PlayStation and XBox will join the fun eventually? Retro Power To The Players!