Most of my childhood memories pertaining to video games revolve around a person. Sometimes it’s a friend, sometimes it’s a loved one – usually, it’s someone I would have played games with, or someone who would have at least enjoyed watching me play them.
This post is not about any of those people.
Remember that feeling you had growing up, when you just *knew* the person you were talking to had next to no knowledge about a subject you knew TONS about, so to avoid any awkwardness, you just avoided the subject entirely?
That’s how I felt with both of my grandmothers and video games.
I ate, slept, and breathed video games, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and NASCAR racing for the longest time, but I never brought those subjects up with either one of them. I’d much rather talk with Mémère Joe about her beloved Toronto Blue Jays, or talk with Nan about boats – y’know, she had to like boats since she had to travel on one to get to New Brunswick from Newfoundland… right??
Whether it was family or not, my childhood conversations always seemed to go better when the other person didn’t have to pretend to know what I was talking about.
Oddly enough, I still manage to retain a game-related memory of both of my grandmothers.
1990 – Codemasters
It was quite rare to find unlicensed NES games at a massive chain rental store like Blockbuster Video, mostly due to their fear of facing backlash from Nintendo. I remember renting Tengen’s Super Sprint from Major Video once, but even then, I thought the cartridge was legit at the time… other than that, I always found the Camerica, Color Dreams, and even Famicom games at convenience stores around the province.
One such store was Baie-Sainte-Anne’s Day & Night Variété. Whenever I’d go to that little store in “la Grande Rivière”, I couldn’t wait to check out the various oddities they had to offer. Baby Boomer, Quattro Adventure, Crystal Mines and Bee 52 are the ones that stick out the most, although my discovery of Bio Miracle: Bokutte Upa was the one that left the biggest impression on me.
Camerica Games’ Quattro Sports was another one I managed to rent a time or two. The first time I rented it, however, it proved to be quite the struggle.
At first, I was attracted to the game’s shiny gold cartridge. If Zelda and Zelda II came in gold, and they were awesome, then Quattro Sports was going to be four times as awesome!
The same game, but probably better because of the gold-ness.
Unfortunately, the cart and my NES’ 72-pin connector had other plans. No matter how many times I tried, I just couldn’t get the game to start without those patented “glitched up” graphics.
I tried wiggling the cartridge. I tried inserting it at 95% and pushing down on it as the top of the cart scraped the front of the slot. I tried flipping the dip-switch on the back of the cartridge. I tried and tried (and tried) blowing on it until I was blue in the face… I’m pretty sure I blew hard enough some saliva came out a few times, which then had me worried I had somehow damaged the cartridge beyond repair.
Common knowledge then, common knowledge now…
This is bad.
Just as I was about to give up, I popped the cartridge in as delicately as I could, powered it up and BAM – it was crystal clear! I was so excited, I couldn’t even believe it. I even risked pressing the Reset button on my NES, and shut it off a time or two to see if it would keep working the next time I came back to play it. I was good to go, so long as I didn’t take the cartridge out.
I remember thinking it was quite a fun game at the time. There were pretty decent baseball, soccer and tennis games on there, but the top-down BMX bike game is the one I played the most.
Like any other game I’d rent, I’d play it for a while, get bored, then go outside. The next morning, I showed my cousin Hélène the cool new sports game I rented. She owned a Sega Genesis, so I took as many opportunities as possible to show her why Nintendo had the superior console.
After playing for a while with her, I left and went downstairs to do some coloring in an activity book of some kind. She came down about 15 minutes later, very excitedly saying she had just gotten to World 3 in Super Mario Bros. 3.
“Wait… Super Mario Bros. 3… YOU TOOK OUT QUATTRO SPORTS??? IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO GET THAT GAME GOING!!! NOW I’LL NEVER GET TO PLAY IT AGAIN AND IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!”
I was livid, and being quite loud about it if I remember correctly. Mémère Joe, who never raised her voice at me or anyone else, ever, stepped in.
“OKAY, OKAY, C’T’ASSEZ!! André, calme-toi, c’est pas la fin du monde. Mange ton poulet pis tes frites.”
As she put the chicken nuggets and fries in front of me (which she had been making for us as we colored and played games), it dawned on me just how rude I’d just been to Hélène in front of Mémère.
I made my grandmother raise her voice, and I had never heard her raise her voice with anyone. She was the nicest lady in the Baie, and anyone who ever met her would tell you the same… that morning, I felt like the biggest jerk of all time.
I ate my chicken nuggets in silence, apologized to Hélène, and ended up having no problem whatsoever in getting Quattro Sports to work again.
My grandmother on my dad’s side lived in Newfoundland, so I didn’t get to see her quite as much. After my grandfather died in the late 80’s, Lovetta would make the trip to New Brunswick every couple years or so. Everyone called her Lovie, but to us grandkids, she was Nan.
One day after school, I managed to embarrass myself in front of Nan.
Wal-Mart has been in my home city of Fredericton for 20-ish years now. It replaced Woolco, if you Canadians reading this can remember that chain. Even though my sister and mom were quite excited to finally have a Wal-Mart on this side of the US border, this store seemed like any other to me.
Eventually, they built a McDonald’s INSIDE the Wal-Mart. All of a sudden, this place didn’t look so bad.
I didn’t eat there all that often, but it was fun to try and convince my mom I could get away with eating a quick cheeseburger and still be hungry for supper. I was, after all, a growing 14 year old boy.
People would always say “Where are you putting all that food? You must have a hollow leg!”
In early ’98 or so, the restaurant got a small kiosk that held a few 14-inch televisions and a Nintendo 64 hooked up to each of them. Not only could I wait for my mom at McDickle’s and soak in the scent of burgs and fries, but I could also kill time by playing games on a console I didn’t own!
On one trip to Wal-Mart, my mom seemed to be in a rush. Nan was with us, and she gave me a few bucks so I could grab a bite to eat while I waited for mom to shop for whatever she needed.
Unfortunately, the service was quite a bit slower than I expected it to be because I just had to order a McChicken sandwich, which they had to prepare from scratch just for me. I was – and still am – a patient guy when it comes to waiting for food, so I went over to the N64 kiosk to play a bit of Bomberman 64.
It’s cool that someone has one…
it’s just too bad it’s completely useless.
The game wasn’t too bad – I hadn’t played too many N64 games yet at that point since I was a PlayStation owner, but I liked the overall look and feel of it. It was still pretty early in the days of 3D platforming, so it didn’t take much to impress me at the time.
It had only been a few minutes, but it still felt like a while in waiting for the food to be ready. By the time I walked back to the counter, they were just finishing up. I was about to rush to a seat to scarf it down before Mom got done with her shopping, but she was already right behind me and ready to leave as I got my tray of food.
For some reason, I had my panties in a wad that day. I’m not sure if I had a bad day in class or what, but when she suggested I should put it in a bag and take it on the road with us to the Big Potato (a local store that sells produce), I got angry. I wanted to eat it when it was nice and fresh!
After all, they had made it just for me.
After some disagreement between us at the counter, Mom asked for a bag to put it in, which the cashier handed to her. For some reason, I was beyond embarrassed about this. I was still mad as I walked out the Wal-Mart doors and to the car where Lovie was patiently waiting for us.
I ate my McChicken and fries in the car, but I still held some frustration for not being able to eat it in the restaurant. When we got to the Big Potato, I didn’t go in. I stayed behind with Lovie and waited in the car.
“Was your sandwich good?” she asked.
“Yes, but it wasn’t worth the embarrassment.”
“Ohhh Andre, you can’t sweat the small stuff, m’love. It’s no big deal when all is said and done.”
Once again, I felt like a huge jerk in front of someone I didn’t get to see all that often.
I’m still not sure what I was so embarrassed about – all Mom did was take the food off the tray and put it into a plastic bag – WHICH, by the way, was the first time I walked out of a fast food joint with food in a non-paper bag… that was weird.
In any case, neither one of those moments were particularly proud ones. The past few days have made me reflect on the days I spent with my grandmothers; Mémère Joe passed away in 2006, while Nan passed away in 2008, and although it’s a bit sad they’re both gone, I can’t help but have a smile on my face at the though of all the *other* times I got to spend with them.
I haven’t really written a straight-up review of anything since my first year at Saint Thomas University when I wrote album reviews for the Brunswickan, which was actually the newspaper for the other university on campus – the University of New Brunswick. They were just two-or-three paragraph blurbs about various nü-metal albums of the day, and weren’t exactly the most well thought-out things I’ve ever written.
In any event, this review of Majora’s Mask may get a bit long-winded, but it needs to be written. The game has garnered a lot of attention as of late – you know, because Internet – and I felt the need to at least get my opinions on the game out there.
Time to see how deep the rabbit hole goes…
what could possibly go wrong?
The first aspect of gameplay I need to talk about is right there in the game’s title. Masks played the role of “fun little side-quest” in Ocarina of Time, and collecting them all really wasn’t high on my Give-A-Hoot List. Sure, you might’ve gotten some different responses from NPC’s when you spoke to them, but that wasn’t nearly enough to motivate me to seek out all eight of them.
After chasing Skull Kid through the forest in Majora’s introduction sequence, you’re given some not-so-subtle hints that masks play a much bigger and more functional role this time around. To begin with, you’re not Link… well, you are, but Deku Link honestly feels like something out of another game entirely.
Of all the forms you get to play as, Deku Link’s is pretty much the least interesting.
At the end of a tutorial-like segment to get acquainted with your special abilities, you meet the character responsible for this whole shemozzle at the base of Clock Town’s main tower – the Happy Mask Salesman. Majora’s Mask was in that massive backpack of his before he was ambushed by the aforementioned Skull Kid, resulting in the evil mask being stolen.
Good going, guy.
The game’s title + assuming\hoping you don’t have to play as Deku Link for much longer + an introductory character with a huge bag of masks begging you to get an important mask back = “gee I wonder if masks play an important part in this game?”
I didn’t, really… but thanks.
So that’s the first part about this game that bugged me on my first (incomplete) playthrough – sure, the idea of changing into characters was kinda fun, but don’t take a sort-of-boring thing from the first game and make it the next game’s MAIN THING!
Anyway, counting the three main form-altering masks (Deku, Zora and Goron), there is a grand total of 24 wearable masks that Link can find which grant him special abilities. For example, one mask gives him the ability to bomb things by running up to them and pressing a button, while another alerts him to the nearby presence of fairies to regenerate health.
Some masks don’t serve much of a purpose, other than to help complete some side-quest involving an NPC. Collecting all of them can be quite the painstaking process, sometimes involving long waits (even with the in-game clock sped up), and the payoff at the end of the game is barely even worth it.
Unfortunately, I was already somewhat disinterested before changing back to Link’s normal form. Like I’ve done with many other games, I eventually came back to it and soldiered on. Surely, there must be more to it than that.
The other big thing about Majora’s Mask is its three day cycle. Clock Town and Termina’s residents are fearful of the moon looming overhead, and for good reason – not only does it have a freaky face on it, but it’s also getting closer and closer with each passing moment. In just three days, just as the “Carnival of Time” is in full swing, Mr. Moon will crash into the Earth (or whatever planet it takes place on) and end life as they know it.
The in-game clock is definitely one of the most interesting aspects of the game. At first, I thought it might be similar to a Mario game or any other platformer with a time limit, and that I’d feel pressure to complete tasks as quickly as possible and only succeed in the nick of time. Thankfully, that’s not the case.
Though the length of “one day” lasts about 18 minutes, there are two songs Link can learn on his Ocarina to change the flow of time – one to slow the clock down to half-speed, and one to speed it up to twice as fast. If you’re like me and enjoy taking your time to explore, you’ll be playing the “half-time” melody about as much as you played Zelda’s Lullaby in Ocarina of Time.
At the very end of the first act, you learn another song that saves the game and takes you back to the first day in the cycle. Here’s where it gets a bit weird…
As though this wasn’t weird enough…
From the very beginning of the game, you have a very clear goal – to save the world from impending doom. To do this, you must summon the “Four Giants” referred to at the beginning of the game… using past Zelda experiences, you can fairly easily deduce that each of the Four Giants are found at the end of four separate dungeons.
What’s strange is the side-quest-like things you have to do in order to get to these dungeons. For example, to get to the Snowhead Temple, you have to do the following;
Visit the Goron Village to trigger a conversation with Kaepora Gaebora…
Follow the talking owl on an awkward invisible platform chase…
Get the Lens of Truth at the end of the chase…
Go back to solid ground and use the Lens to talk to the ghost of the Goron Darmani…
Follow him on a chase all the way back through the way you entered the area…
Scale a tall cliff to enter the cave in which Darmani resides to get the Goron Mask…
Go all the way back to the Goron Village and enter the main hall as Goron Link…
Speak to the Goron Child and find out why he’s crying…
Seek the Goron Elder, only to find he’s encased in ice…
Look around for some kind of hot substance to melt the ice…
Find some, melt the ice and speak to the Goron Elder…
Learn the *first part* of the Goron Lullaby…
Return to the Goron Shrine and play what you know for the child…
Learn *the rest* of the Goron Lullaby from the child and put him to sleep…
Travel through the treacherous Snowhead Mountain path…
Use the Lens of Truth to be able to see the somehow invisible Giant Goron in front of the temple…
Play the Goron Lullaby to put the Giant Goron to sleep, who then falls off to the side to reveal the temple’s entrance.
While I certainly understand the concept of changing the way you progress and get to the next objective, they felt like menial chores that would normally be reserved for side quests. Once again, it was something that was once optional but was now necessary.
On top of all that, one of the most interesting aspects of Zelda games up until then was the dungeons themselves – Majora’s Mask has four fairly challenging and well thought-out temples before the game’s final act, and that’s it. The rest of the game’s fortresses in-between dungeons aren’t too bad, but feel a bit tacked-on; sort of like Ocarina’s Bottom of the Well and Gerudo Fortress stages.
I’d rather have more steak and fewer potatoes, if you know what I’m sayin’.
Here’s the flipside to all that side quest-like stuff the game treats as the main attraction – in terms of the writing, the situations these characters are faced with and how you get to help and interact with them, it’s among the most heart-felt and emotional stuff in the entire series. No Zelda game does it better, if you ask me.
Sure, the gameplay in dealing with some of these situations can be a little on the bland side, but even those little and seemingly meaningless interactions with the Gorons give you that warm and fuzzy feeling inside. “I helped make the end of the world not-so-crappy for you! Hooray!”
Some of the subject matter can actually be pretty dark, which is another thing people enjoyed. Nintendo games have often shied away from topics like religion, and are quite well-known for censoring any reference to tobacco or alcohol. One challenging sequence deals with one of those things, albeit indirectly.
Romani Ranch is somewhat like Ocarina’s Lon Lon Ranch in that it’s where you find Epona (again). The Ranch is also the main provider for Clock Town’s “Milk Bar”, which is a nightclub-like area Link can only get into with special membership.
“Hey bartender… hit me with your finest buttermilk.
On the rocks.”
The Ranch’s caretakers are a little girl by the name of Romani and her adult sister Cremia. Romani says that her big sister won’t let her try the Ranch’s signature product – Chateau Romani – until she’s old enough to drink it.
However, if you visit them on the Final Day, Romani is delighted at the prospect that her sister is finally letting her try the Chateau Romani later that evening. Speaking to Cremia reveals that not only has the adult sister accepted that there is no hiding from the end of the world, but that there’s no reason to tell her little sister the fate that awaits Termina and its residents.
Cremia’s allowing Romani to drink Chateau Romani – an obvious nod to many wines from France having the word “Chateau” in them – allows the older sister to acknowledge the younger one’s passage into adulthood. Furthermore, it’s believed by some game theorists (yep, they exist) that Cremia intends to get Romani intoxicated enough that she won’t be able to feel the inevitable chaos that comes with the Moon collision.
Sheesh! Talk about sad.
My main gripe about these amazing little interactions is the fact that you constantly have to go back to the First Day. If you help someone out, get something out of it, then save the game, it essentially undoes everything you just did.
If you help Romani get rid of the aliens at the Ranch (long story) and then happen to visit her later on, she’ll tell you all about her plight all over again. It gave me a helpless feeling, one that came with the thought that no matter how many people I try to help, I just end up having to go back and un-do everything to help someone else – usually myself.
Majora’s Mask changes things around a bit from a gameplay perspective and makes you connect with its characters in a way that had never really been done in a Zelda game before. Truth be told, the only other time I felt an awww-inducing emotional moment was during Wind Waker.
When Link leaves Outset Island for the first time and his grandmother watches from his front porch, I’ve gotta say… that got me.
In the end, I absolutely suggest you play Majora’s Mask if you haven’t already. It has some of the best storytelling in any game in the series, as well as some of its most memorable music. It’s not for everyone, but there’s only one way for you to find out if it’s up your alley.
Verdict – DO IT UP!
I recently got my hands on the soundtrack for The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which was a free gift for achieving “Platinum” status over at Club Nintendo. After popping it into my car stereo and listening to it for a couple days’ worth of travel, I couldn’t help but be brought back to the various memorable moments the game had to offer.
For all the praise this game has gotten in recent years – including “Operation Moonfall”, a campaign to have it remade like Ocarina of Time was for 3DS – Majora’s Mask lives on as a polarizing figure in the franchise’s history. Some love it, some love to hate it.
So where do I stand on this whole Ninten-debacle? I don’t normally do full-on game reviews, but this one was begging for it.
2000 – Nintendo
To understand the draw of Majora’s Mask, you first have to look at the Zelda series as a whole.
Ever since the original NES classic was released, the formula was more-or-less the same in every game in the series; explore, complete a dungeon, mingle with NPC’s, explore some more, repeat. Each game had a different hook, and the potential was always there for an entry to resonate with players less than the last one;
The Legend of Zelda (NES) – The original, straightforward Zelda
The Adventure of Link (NES) – RPG-type levelling up and side-scrolling levels
A Link to the Past (Super NES) – Light World\Dark World, with puzzles exploiting that mechanic
Link’s Awakening (Game Boy) – Mixing and matching inventory items
Ocarina of Time (N64) – Time-travelling between young and old Links
Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons (Game Boy Color) – Closely-related “twin” games, one focused on action, the other on puzzles
The Wind Waker (GameCube) – Cel-shaded with lots of water, lots of boats, and lots of sailing
Four Swords Adventures (GameCube) – 100% linear levels and stages with multiplayer as an option
The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance) – Being able to shrink down to a microscopic mini-Link
Twilight Princess (GameCube\Wii) – Being able to turn into wolf-Link
Phantom Hourglass (DS) – Touch screen controls, more boats and sailing
Spirit Tracks (DS) – Touch screen controls, trains
Skyward Sword (Wii) – 1:1 sword controls, using birds for transportation between two different worlds
A Link Between Worlds (3DS) – Turning into a painting to walk *in* walls
With all of that in mind and out of the way, what was it that made Majora’s Mask so special? What made it stand apart from the rest of the pack, and made fans stand up and defend the game’s various oddities in the years following the game’s release?
There were a variety of things that developers wanted to try in Link’s first outing on the N64 but couldn’t, either due to time constraints or technical limitations. Soon after the release of Ocarina of Time in November of ’98, a new Zelda Gaiden (which essentially translates to Zelda: Side Story) began development.
The tacky-looking Zelda Gaiden screenshot I remember seeing in Nintendo Power.
This mixed-bag of unused ideas came together to form a game that would change the traditional Zelda progression model and offer something completely different.
Unfortunately, with mixed ideas came mixed reactions from the Zelda faithful. The game scored pretty high with critics, but the game’s darker and generally sadder tones made the game slightly less accessible to happy-go-lucky gamers like me.
I mean, c’mon – I played games in my teens to escape and have fun, not to get bummed out about characters experiencing the end of the world!
In the second part of this entry, I’ll take a look at the various gameplay elements and quirky characters that make Majora’s Mask the most unique game in the Zelda series.
Thankfully, my lack of updates for the past week hasn’t been due to anything but me taking a nice trip down south. No, I didn’t travel to a sunny white beach or tropical island paradise or anything of the sort, but it certainly was one of the most relaxing vacations I’ve ever taken.
And there were games… ohhh there were some nice games.
The whole purpose of the trip was our annual pilgrimage to northern Pennsylvania for a NASCAR race at Pocono Raceway, a tradition our family has looked forward to every year since 1995. While the race itself is undoubtedly the main attraction on these trips, there are many places in the good ol’ U.S. of A. where one can find a good deal on video games. Much better than here in New Brunswick, that’s for sure.
The top-loading “NES 2″
This wasn’t on my list of things to look for, but when I saw this thing on the shelf at Game-X-Change in Waterbury, CT (a chain of stores featured in The Game Chasers show on YouTube), I couldn’t pass it up. I’ll probably only use it seldomly, but it’s such an interesting piece of gaming history, and that dogbone controller is just so cool… that, and it works way better than the original NES did.
No blinking blue\red\green\garbled screen when you power it on!! Wow!
Blades of Steel (NES)
I got this game on the Wii’s Virtual Console, but the fact that it’s one of my favourite sports games on the NES meant that I couldn’t pass it up when I found it for $4. My friend Katie next door owned it (well, her father did) and I quite vividly remember LOVING not only the hockey itself, but also the little Gradius mini-game in-between periods.
Time for some 8-bit hockey tournaments with friends!
Pokémon Blue Version (Game Boy)
This is the only Pokémon game I’ve ever played, and I must say that I enjoyed it quite a bit back in the fall of 1998. It also served as my introduction to a new phenomenon called “emulation”.
Early in Grade 10, I asked my friend Tyler what this Pokémon craze was all about, and he showed up the next day with a floppy disk; “Put this in your computer, double-click on what’s in there, then have some fun.”
I couldn’t get over the fact that I was playing a Game Boy game so easily on a big screen. This was quite clearly not legal at all, but it was amazing!
It reminded me of this amazing thing.
I can completely understand how people of all ages get addicted to this series. By the end of that first night in front of my PC, I HAD to catch ‘em all. I never did, since my obsession with all things Star Wars would take over a few weeks later with the release of the first trailer for The Phantom Menace.
Still, catching ‘em all in Blue Version is on my bucket list.
Metroid Prime Hunters (DS)
I don’t know much about this game, other than the fact it was released pretty early in the DS’ lifespan. If the frustrating and cramp-inducing controls of Phantom Hourglass are any indication, I might not get on board with this one… still, it won’t hurt to give it a shot.
F-Zero GX (GameCube)
I”ve only ever played this briefly, but if it’s anything like F-Zero X on N64, I absolutely can’t wait to play it. Apparently, it’s quite a difficult game, but racing games are my thing.
Bring it on!!
Activision Anthology (PS2)
As I may have mentioned before, I love these compilation discs with all the old school titles on them. Capcom, Taito, Midway, Sega and Data East (to name a few) have all released at least one of these, and there are only a couple more of them on my wishlist…
I’m lookin’ at you, Tecmo Arcade Classics. You’re next!!!
Medal of Honor: Vanguard (PS2)
I had somewhat grown tired of the WWII shooter genre by the time this one came out. Still, I’ve always preferred the Medal of Honor series to Call of Duty, and when I found this one for cheap, I couldn’t help myself.
Medal of Honor: Advanced Warfighter (Xbox 360)
Speaking of cheap, this game is only a year old and was actually half the price of Vanguard‘s. I’ve heard it’s somewhat bad, but I’m sure it’s not *that* bad… is it????
Fallout: New Vegas – Ultimate Edition (Xbox 360)
I actually already owned this for PS3, but I decided a little while ago that owning a shooter on Sony’s console when it was also available on the Xbox 360 was a disgrace. The PS3 controller’s triggers are cushiony and feel incredibly cheap, so any action or driving game that makes heavy use of them can be quite frustrating because of it.
I haven’t even played Fallout 3 yet (like Mass Effect, I know I’ll enjoy it), but when I found this in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, I couldn’t pass it up!
Surprisingly, I’d never really owned the NES version of this game. I mean, yeah, I have the Classic NES Series version on Game Boy Advance, and I was able to unlock the original on GameCube by beating both Prime and Fusion (I even bought the GBA-to-GC link cable especially for it, and haven’t used it since)… but that’s not really owning it the way it was meant to be owned.
At least, I don’t think it is. Metroid is an absolute classic, so when I saw it at Game-X-Change, I went for it.
The Hyperkin Retron 5
Here it is – the main reason (besides the race) that I was looking forward to my trip to the US.
It’s not like I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to buy this somewhere nearby. Moncton’s Spin-It! and Fredericton’s Geek Chic stores usually sell this sort of console, but usually at some crazy marked-up price to make a profit. The Retron 5 site and even ThinkGeek sell it as well, but then I’d have to pay for shipping.
Ugh, and having to make sure I was home – and wearing pants – when the package would be delivered was just too much. Finding one on store shelves – preferably at the $140 price tag they were selling it for online – was my goal.
At the Game-X-Change in Waterbury, I walked in and immediately zoned in on a Retron 5 box on the shelf. My excitement quickly turned to dismay as I read the sticker in the top-left corner of the box that said “DISPLAY ONLY”. I decided to just look around to see what I could find, and as you can see above, I did find a few good deals.
After I brought my games to the cashier, I saw that there was a Retron 5 hooked up to a TV behind the counter. Staff had apparently only set it up a day or two earlier to test games and give customers reassurance that the cartridges they were buying actually worked.
I didn’t push my luck, but I did start talking about being from Canada, how I was in the (general) area because of a NASCAR race, and that one of my goals was to find a Retron 5 of my own.
To my surprise, the clerk behind the counter said “I can sell you the demo unit I have, if you want it really badly. My boss said we should use it to test, but that if someone really wanted it, I could sell it to them.”
That had my attention, but what were they selling it at? After a quick price lookup, he nodded at me and said those magic numbers… $140.
I was absolutely stunned. I couldn’t believe my luck! I ended up seeing the console twice more in other stores at $200, so to walk out of that place with a $140 Retron 5 is quite something.
The thing has its quirks, but it really is an amazing little console. I’ll let Pat the NES Punk lay it all on the line – his review was actually the one that sold me on it in the first place!
To top it all off, the race went off without a hitch. The forecast had called for rain pretty much every day there was something going on at the track, and since that happens pretty much every year, I decided not to let it get me down. I always worry that we’ll travel that far, spend an insane amount of money and time only to have it rain on race day. They usually just run it the next day, but that’s no fun – it also cuts into some serious game-chasing time!
Alas, it didn’t rain a drop on race day.
In any case, the race itself was quite entertaining, and I took video from the grandstands as Dale Earnhardt Jr. took the checkered flag. I also caught my reaction (which was just me being ridiculous) and then uploaded it to YouTube, thinking it’d get a couple views… to my great surprise, I got a Twitter message from a guy that worked at ESPN saying they were making a compilation video of people reacting to Dale Jr.’s win, and that they wanted my video!
This face was on television for the whole world to see.
YOU’RE WELCOME, WORLD.
So that’s about it! What an epic and unbelievable trip. I needed that, for sure.
Up next, I talk about one of the most polarizing games in Nintendo history!
I’ve often been asked why I bother going to countless flea markets, yard sales and pawn shops looking for old games. In this day and age where the majority of older games can easily be playable with emulators on most PC’s for free (even those from the GameCube\PlayStation 2\original Xbox era) I suppose that’s a fair question.
At the same time, there’s a feeling of authenticity that comes with playing the game on the actual cartridge or disc it was made to work from. I totally understand that the developers who made these older games don’t reap any benefits from me buying these games used, but it’s not a question of “doing it legally” for me… it’s about the idea of playing the real deal.
It’s like finding the recipe for Big Mac sauce on the Internet, and you try to make your own two-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions on a sesame seed bun. I mean, it’ll probably turn out pretty good, but it’s just not quite as good as when McDonald’s makes it for you.
Authenticity on a bun.
Because of that, roms just don’t cut it for me anymore. Although the Wii and Wii U’s Virtual Consoles are nice, it’s just not the same.
That being said, there are times I wish I was okay with the cheaper option…
$200 cartridge only.
As you’ve probably guessed, Power Blade 2 is the sequel to the number 90 game on my Top 100 list, Power Blade. I enjoyed the original quite a bit and rented it often, but I only rented this one once and didn’t get to play it all that much for some reason.
If this game reminds me of anything, it’s that a Nintendo Power article’s unique drawings could go a long way in determining whether or not I wanted to play a game.
In the article for Power Blade 2, there was a lot of emphasis on the different suits Nova could wear, as well as the special abilities each suit gave him. I honestly could not tell you which suit did what without looking it up, but I remember thinking “WHOA – the first game only had a silver suit, and this one has one that’s red, one blue, one yellow and one green!”
Amazing how mere colors could hook you into playing a game…
Also, I guess this explains what the suits do.
I guess the main reason for this game being so expensive these days is the same as a few others – it probably didn’t sell all that well, so it being uncommon means that as more and more game collectors pick it up, the more they’re able to charge when a sucker like me goes looking for it!
Maybe someday, Nova… maybe someday.
Anywhere between $265 and $340 cartridge only.
Of all the valuable games in this post, Bubble Bobble Part 2 (ignoring Rainbow Islands completely, apparently) is the one I played and enjoyed the most growing up. It’s more or less the same idea as the first game, but with more vibrant and detailed graphics – at the expense of the frame rate, unfortunately. There are also a few levels that actually take up more than one screen (side-scrolling in a Bubble Bobble game???), and more frequent boss fights.
The main reason this game is harder to find these days is that it was released quite late in the NES’ lifespan, a full two years after the Super NES was released. Many folks had already moved on to the newer console, so quite a few 8-bit games flew under the radar after 1991.
Like at the end of the first game, seeing a HUGE version of a regular enemy was amazing.
So, after losing my baby teeth, my primary teeth came in pretty crooked. It was pretty obvious I was going to need braces, and in Grade 4, I went in for my first (of three) appointments to get it all done. After getting only 4 of my top teeth done the first time around, I went back again later to add four more on the bottom, and then one final time to have them put on every tooth.
On the same day as that last appointment, we also put my cat Fluff down… that day sucked.
Anyway, there were 4 years of countless appointments at the orthodontist to tighten things up – a little tweak here, a little tweak there… it was a lot of work to get my teeth into the position they’re in today, and I’m incredibly thankful to have gotten all that work done.
To get at this point was incredibly painful, however. I definitely realize there are many more painful things a person can go through – seriously, cancer patients deserve all of the fist bumps – but I can’t stress how much of a wimp I was as a kid. Still am, actually.
I’d take my mind off the pain by playing tons of games…
but boy, did I ever need that pain.
In any case, it was the day of one of these check-ups that I rented Bubble Bobble Part 2 for the first time. My teeth were absolutely throbbing by the time I got home and started playing it… and that is quite literally all I remember when I think of this game; dental pain.
Anywhere between $274 and $400 cartridge only.
Also lost in the late shuffle of NES releases was Panic Restaurant. I don’t have much to say about it except for the fact that I’ve never played it. It’s about a chef whose restaurant becomes infested with living food and kitchen supplies, and it’s up to him (you) to bash them all into oblivion with his (your) frying pan. Sounds like fun!
If you ever find a copy of this game in your travels for less than a hundred bucks, it might be a good idea to pick it up (if only for the re-sale value).
Aside from the unlicensed carts, Stadium Events and Nintendo World Championship carts that fetch a ridiculous amount of money (we’re talking four and five digits-worth), these next couple games are some potentially fantastic flea market finds.
Anywhere between $550 and $750 cartridge only.
Little Samson is another one of those NES titles that was released after the Super NES hit stores, and sales for the game suffered because of it. It’s pretty hard to find due to being deemed a failure and subsequently being pulled off the shelves, but the crazy prices can also be attributed to the fact that it’s quite fun to play!
You can control four different characters at the touch of a button, and each which have their own unique abilities to help explore different parts of the game map. Like Mega Man, you choose the levels you want to play and can re-visit them after completion to get stuff you missed the first time around.
While it definitely seems like the kind of game I’d enjoy, I doubt I’ll ever have an income high enough to justify purchasing it.
This episode of The Game Chasers is a few years old and the game is worth more than that now, but Shady Jay definitely (to quote the show) caught this flea market vendor slippin’.
The final part of this post is dedicated to another sequel to yet another underappreciated game. The Flintstones had themselves a pretty solid platformer with the fairly common Rescue of Dino and Hoppy, but decided to take a rather interesting route for the sequel.
Anywhere between $650 and $1,000 cartridge only.
Back when Blockbuster Video was the king of video store chains, it would be fairly common for them to get certain titles a while before hitting retail store shelves. This exclusivity helped boost Blockbuster’s numbers, as well as help companies garner extra hype for their game ahead of the actual release date. It was a win-win situation!
Surprise at Dinosaur Peak was one of these exclusive rentals. Due to its late release in the NES’ lifespan and lack of popularity as a rental, the game never actually made it to retail stores for regular sale. In fact, the first people who can claim to have owned the game relatively early on probably picked it up when their local Blockbuster store liquidated its NES game inventory for one reason or another.
It’s one of the hardest-to-find games in the NES library, but don’t lose hope! You could get lucky!
These guys certainly did.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at one of my favourite gaming companies. For all I know, this could be the tip of the iceberg! The blog’s downtime has given me time to think of a few ideas for the site, and I intend to expand beyond the regular “childhood memory” posts… y’know, just to switch it up a bit.
Until next time!
After a bit of downtime, the CPB blog is up and running!
As a celebratory first post, I’ve decided to write with a slightly different focus than I usually do. Instead of looking at one or two games in particular, I’ve decided to look at one of the most underrated video game companies from my youth – Taito.
There are several publishers this entry could have been about; Sunsoft, Jaleco, Taxan, Data East, Hudson Soft, the list goes on. There are some fantastic games strewn among each of these publishers, and a few of them landed on my Top 100 countdown.
In recent years, “video game hunting” has become a fun hobby of mine. I’ve read countless articles about game collecting and watched a ton of YouTube videos about it, and there’s just something about the search for rare and hard-to-find games that get the blood going.
As I built myself a wish list of games I should try to keep an eye out for, I couldn’t help but notice that every Taito game on it seemed to be way out of my price range. In fact, of the top ten rarest and most valuable *licensed* NES games, half of them were released by Taito!
With that in mind, I figured I’d try and shed some light on the games they released, and why some of them are so hard to find today.
Taito was the company responsible for the massive arcade hit Space Invaders in 1978, but to me, they were always known as the makers of Bubble Bobble.
Surprisingly don’t see this one around too often, considering how popular it was.
$25 cartridge only.
There were so many hours of my childhood spent playing that game with my father and my sisters, humming that non-stop music, bubble-hopping my way up to higher platforms, and shrieking in fear at the sight Baron von Blubba.
I had nightmares about this guy…
Bubble Bobble had a quasi-sequel in the form of a similar-looking (but human) protagonist in Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble 2. Instead of bubbles, you shoot rainbows at your enemies as you climb vertically-scrolling stages up high into the sky. The controls were almost identical to the original, and I had quite a bit of fun stomping on the rainbows to make them fall and take out any enemies below.
Not the rarest game, but definitely not easy to find.
$40 cartridge only.
This is going to sound strange, but have you ever had a memory tied to something, and it was only a brief visual image? Like, I know I had just rented the game somewhere nearby, but why on Earth does this specific place stick out in my mind? In any case, I remember being excited to play Rainbow Islands, and looking at the cartridge label while at this very intersection.
This is near the Oromocto, NB hospital, outside of Fredericton. We never drove to Oromocto to rent games, so we must have been there for some other reason… road trip? ER visit? Whatever it was, I can’t recall.
One of the first NES games I was ever witness to was actually one I was told I was too young to play. Renegade was one of my friend Stéphane’s games; he and his family lived in Shediac, New Brunswick, and it was he who first introduced me to the NES. Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt blew my young little mind and had me hooked for a while, but it wasn’t long after being left alone with the console that I “broke the rules” and popped in Renegade.
Easily found, probably because it wasn’t that great a game.
$10 cartridge only.
Compared to the other games I had been playing that night, the controls for Renegade felt awful, and I wasn’t very good at it at all. I can still play it today and not make it past that first screen (the one where they’re down in the subway station).
It was one of the first games I had ever played, and because of that, it will forever hold a special place in my mind.
Stephane’s family’s house was in a subdivision next to a drive-in theatre… I remember seeing its screen tower over the houses in front of it!
(This isn’t nearly as huge and amazing as I remembered…)
Another random Taito game from my childhood was Kiwi Kraze. This was the first time I heard about a kiwi being something *other* than a small, fuzzy fruit I was too fussy to eat. You play as a small yellow bird – a kiwi – that shoots spikes and travels from one end of New Zealand to the other to save all his kiwi friends.
So, it’s a game where you play as a kiwi, and the goal is to save all your Kiwi kiwi buddies. Yup!
It’s pretty straightforward and easy, but I enjoyed it. I’ll always associate it with being downstairs in our unfinished basement, playing the game, then turning it off to watch shows like DuckTales, Fun House and Tiny Toon Adventures on CTV… ahhhh the 90’s.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen this game in my travels, actually.
$30 cartridge only.
I’ve already made a post about one of my favourite Taito games, Power Blade, so the last remaining Taito game I remember playing is The Flintstones: Rescue of Dino and Hoppy. I’ll save the talk of the extra-rare games for my next post!
In any case, this Flintstones game is actually quite good. It’s a platforming game where you play as Fred and bash enemies over the head with a club. You can hang from ledges and pull yourself up, and the level design takes advantage of that mechanic a little bit. I always found the graphics to be nice and colorful, and even though I didn’t watch the cartoon at all, I definitely enjoyed the overall feel the game had.
I’m not sure if my memory for this game comes off as creepy or not, but I’ll share it anyway!
When we rented the game for the first time in Baie-Sainte-Anne, the instruction manual came with it. I’m not sure why, but it seemed that one of the game’s previous renters had sprayed some kind of woman’s perfume on the manual. Now… instead of being grossed out or repulsed by it, I couldn’t stop sniffing it. It smelled fantastic!
I mean, I didn’t rub it all over myself and wear it as a perfume of my own, but I’d definitely wave the booklet around in between levels to get a good whiff! It just smelled so good. If I were to ever smell that same scent today, I’d be like “GET ME TO AN NES WITH FLINTSTONES, STAT!”
I’ve seen this one around here and there, but without the smell.
$20 cartridge only.
In the next post, I’ll talk about those Taito games that, for one reason or another, have managed to increase in value since they were released 20 years ago. Stay tuned!
Even though I love playing older video games, a bunch of them bring back very strange, sometimes even sad memories. To play them now puts me right back in that state of mind I was in when I played them then. It’s almost like stepping into a time machine, and experiencing those same feelings I did back in the day.
Some might say that’s a bit strange. They might ask, “Why not live in the now? Why not focus on what’s to come, instead of something long since gone by? Don’t you think living in the past is a little… weird?”
To be honest, those questions have bounced around my mind quite a bit over the last few years I’ve written on this blog. As a person who has always been fascinated by the general subject of “history”, I guess it’s only natural for me to reflect on my own personal history.
We all have our quirks, I guess.
1996 – Naughty Dog
The general consensus about a person’s early teenage years is that they can be a bit awkward. While there are undoubtedly several well-known reasons for this – reasons I don’t much feel like getting into – I never considered mine to be all that bad.
Unfortunately, there was some stuff going on at that time that would be hard on anyone’s head, much less a 13 year old. A few family members had been diagnosed with Cancer, there was some uncertainty with jobs and money around the house (the worry ended up being all for naught, by the way), and I kept having friends whose families would move away and lose touch.
I felt like I was in a funk… but I still had NASCAR, and I still had video games. That’s healthy, right?
In any case, it was in March of ’97 that one of my great aunts in Baie-Sainte-Anne succumbed to Cancer a mere three months after learning she had the disease. It had been almost five years after my grandfather had passed away from natural causes, so handling the quick descent from “healthy” to “ill” to “deceased” was quite different for me, and hard to witness.
On top of what was happening in the Baie, another great aunt of mine (on the other side of the family, in Newfoundland) passed away the same day as the other’s funeral!
It was a rude awakening that the people I had grown up loving were starting to disappear.
In May of ’97, we went to the Baie to take care of some loose ends. Well, Mom did – I just tagged along as I always did, and brought some video games along to keep me occupied.
I rented a Sony PlayStation from Blockbuster Video with Andretti Racing and Crash Bandicoot. I had played the first stage of Crash SO MANY TIMES on a demo disc that I absolutely had to give the full game a try.
He seemed to be the front-runner to challenge Mario’s reign at the top of the video game heap, so I had to check out the competition!
PlayStation Interactive CD Sampler Vol. 3
No downloading. Just buy a magazine, and the demos are yours to play.
Crash Bandicoot – the first one, at least (I haven’t played any others) – turned out to be quite good. As I sat in that old mini-home and played Crash and Andretti Racing, it sort of helped me get over the fact that it was a lot quieter in the house. Melda was gone, her cats were gone, and that was just the way it had to be.
It sucked, but life went on. There were other things for me to look forward to.
I remember the weather on that trip being quite sunny and warm. Spring has always been my favourite season, but with the way things had gone in recent months, I soaked in as much of the nice weather as I could.
Next to Melda’s mini-home was a storage shed, and I could easily climb up on a few things to get onto its roof. Armed with my Walkman, a flimsy set of headphones and a mix-tape with three No Doubt songs and various dance tunes from the day, I climbed onto the roof of the shed and just contemplated stuff.
It was around this time that I thought “wow – this No Doubt rock thing is way more interesting than the rest of this mix tape!”
It had a bunch of songs from…
Now! 2 (Canada)
This is the Canadian one, but there were several “Now” compilation series around the world. There was lots of dance\pop junk on it, but I still quite enjoy this one… and it had the Imperial March jingle in it??
Anyway, No Doubt ended up being the seed that grew into my current love of rock, and I’ll always be able to go back and listen to Tragic Kingdom – or play Crash Bandicoot – and be right back in that moment, sitting on Melda’s shed’s roof, looking at the water, thinking about stuff.
The mini-home and shed are gone (and this tree would be creeping into the front door), but the memory remains.
Oh, and here’s a hint about the game we’ll be playing for our next Nostalgicast!
Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out…
It has happened again; I’ve neglected the ol’ CPB for far too long.
There’s certainly no lack of anything better for me to do, and it’s definitely not due to a lack of interest in video games (old or new). I’ve had a chance to complete a couple of the games I wrote about playing a few months ago, and I’m still playing the heck out of Minecraft: Xbox 360 Edition.
I even purchased the PC version of Minecraft.
So it begins……. all over again.
A little while back, Jordan and I were talking about what was next for this blog. Naturally, I wanted to keep writing as long as I had memories to share. I still have a bunch more to write about, but I was hoping we could do more with it… something to keep it fresh and exciting.
Enter the ControlPadBlues Nostalgicast.
Since YouTube is crammed with people playing games with commentary about everything and nothing all at once, our idea was to have our own take on the traditional “Let’s Play” videos. We established a few guidelines that might be able to separate ours from the rest of the pack;
- Instead of talking about random subjects, commentary would focus on the childhood memories that come flooding back during gameplay.
- No profanity, since there’s plenty of it out there already. If we do use profanity, it would be “bleeped”… because it’s funnier that way.
- No set schedule for video releases. Jordan and I are 30 year-olds with busy lives and these videos (like the blog) are done for our own enjoyment. What’s fun about a “deadline”, anyway?
At the end of the day, this is not only a fun way to keep games fresh, it’s also great way to keep in touch with a friend that lives more than 800km’s away.
That being said, here’s the little trailer I made for my YouTube channel, followed by the second episode of the CPB Nostalgicast. The first one (based on Super Mario Bros. 2) was 50 minutes long, so the second and much shorter episode will give you a better idea of what we’re aiming for.
Enjoy! I know we sure as hell are.
There are games that I rented through the years that were really not that memorable. For some reason, even though I didn’t have fun with it at all, Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum still manages to bring back memories of a pretty fun day in our little neighborhood.
1990 – NES
In reflecting on this game’s lanky visuals and awkward controls, I thought for sure it was an LJN title.
It’s quite baffling that even with the best source material – X-Men, Nightmare on Elm Street, Back to the Future, The Karate Kid, Jaws, among many others – a company could still manage to consistently make games that were genuinely difficult to have fun with.
It seemed like LJN always found a way to screw it all up…
Dash Galaxy was actually a Data East title, however. Having released classics like BurgerTime and BreakThru in the 80’s, they struggled to compete with other smaller publishers like Taito and Sunsoft. They managed to break thru with a few other hits (see what I did there?), but with the exception of Caveman Ninja – also known as Joe & Mac – there weren’t enough quality titles to save Data East from bankruptcy in the early 2000’s.
This has been on my wishlist for a while, but I can’t find it anywhere… even online.
Sad face. :(
Dash Galaxy in the Alien Asylum seems to be a love letter to the early batch of sci-fi movies and TV shows. The game’s box art, title screen and short introduction scene are reminiscent of something you’d see in Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, or even The Jetsons.
Not a bad concept, but it didn’t translate into anything all that fun to play.
The game suffers from a bit of an identity crisis as it tries to be two things all at once. On one hand, you have the top-down, block-pushing puzzle element, which serves as a way to travel from one level to the next. Once you get into the levels themselves, you control Dash in a side-scrolling environment to collect items you can use on the puzzle side to progress further into the game.
There isn’t much shooting going on, so it’s no Mega Man or Contra by any stretch of the imagination. Instead of killing enemies, you’re relegated to avoiding them as much as possible, although touching them and losing precious oxygen is sometimes unavoidable.
The controls aren’t great, but they might not be so bad if the enemies didn’t have such unforgiving patterns. As you’ll see in the video below, there are times that the player has to stop bouncing on a platform, wait a moment, then start the process all over again just to collect a star. It’s a tedious part of the game that happens way more than it should.
I’ll be the first person to tell you that graphics don’t necessarily make or break a game… but these are really quite bland, aren’t they? There’s no character on the screen that looks interesting enough at any given time to make me care about any of them.
The morning after renting it at the Co-op, I went down to the basement and played it for a few minutes. To put it mildly, I wasn’t impressed.
I didn’t get to rent something every weekend, so I had to pick my game of choice carefully on our trips to the video store. Whenever I got home to something I didn’t enjoy, it was quite a bummer. It’d have to wait until my mom was feeling generous enough to rent another game for me.
On that Saturday morning after dejectedly turning off my NES, I didn’t let the wasted rental opportunity get me down. It was a sunny and warm day outside, so my friend Michael and I went around the block on our bikes.
We’d always look for trails in wooded areas, park next to a small brook and look for tadpoles, that sort of thing. This time around, we may or may not have broken the law… I can’t be sure of this, but I do know we bypassed a locked gate that had a sign on it. What the sign said, I can’t remember, but it was probably “No Trespassing”.
It wasn’t a long bike ride, or anything, but it was fantastic to see a side of our neighborhood that we had never seen before. Thanks to the joy of MS Paint, I’ve highlighted the bike trails we took that day.
This goes without saying, but that ended up being way more fun than staying in and playing Dash Galaxy would have been.
I know this wasn’t much of a post, but I also wanted to say that I’m working on a pretty cool project with my good friend Jordan. We’re still in the process of crossing our T’s and dotting our……………. lower-cased J’s……….. and I’m greatly looking forward to sharing more news about that in my next few posts!