Skip to main content

The N.E.S, Christmas, & Me

Phase 1: Now You're Playing With Power

In 1986 I had just moved back to America after living for 2 years in Jamaica. It was my first time stateside after my parents had broken up, and as it has been for most of the rest of my life - just my mom and I. I had to get used to quite a few things you don't ever think will come up but to a 8 year old they're pretty big. I had to remember that it was "eraser" and not "rubber", I had to figure out what the heck football was (I never liked soccer or cricket), and on t.v. they advertised this awesome thing called an NES.

I was not tech-deprived as a kid. Already up to this point I had owned a Commodore 64 (I had a book on how to program BASIC games that I would spend days with) and an Intellivision (to this day Burger Time is the only video game my mom has seriously played - and she was good at it). But this NES thing was clearly different. It had awesome graphics and cool controllers. And one version even came with a robot! Robot! The only other competition out there at the time was the Sega Master System, but it didn't have the cool catchet with the crew I hung with.

So I come home from school one day, a few weeks before Christmas. I'm already on my annual countdown extending from my birthday. As I always said, having a birthday on December 6th was optimal. It was close enough to Christmas (19 days) that December was present-packed for me, but it wasn't so close that people felt like it was okay to give me "combo" gifts (folks born Dec. 20 and after, I feel your pain). Under our Christmas tree in the living room is a giant box.

Now while its clear what this giant box is right now, 1986 Oliver had no idea. I just knew that it was something AWESOME. Granted, I was an only child and the vast majority of the tons of presents we had under the tree were mine, but that giant box to the rear of the tree just pulsed with AWESOME.

Fast forward to the opening of the presents. I decided to play a game of delayed gratification and opened one of the smaller boxes laying on top of the giant box.

"No, don't open that one yet because it'll ruin what's in the other big box," my Mom says.

WHAT? This has now amplified Christmas beyond comprehension. The giant box is clearly awesome, but what's in the little box makes the giant box better?


I ripped the paper, my ears filled with noise from my actions. I don't care what kind of mess it makes. It's Christmas, I'm 9, there's a big box and I'm determined to get to the bottom of this mystery that was nearly driving me insane.

Nintendo. I got a Nintendo. I got a freaking Nintendo. And it's the one. With. The. Robot. Nintendo! I was on the cutting edge of technology, a major league vanguard of the techno age. What I had in my hands, at about the size of a toaster, was 8-bit power that when connected to your TV transported you to another world.

And the other smaller box? It was Duck Hunt! Yes, I could use the lightgun to shoot ducks and clay pigeons and have that dog laugh at me incessantly.

Life was now complete.

Phase 2: The Cartridge Is Gold? Gold.

After a year of play, I still loved my Nintendo. I was an early subscriber to Nintendo Power magazine, and while the hookup of R.O.B. the robot to play Gyromite had sort of outlived its novelty, I was one of those kids who while never really good at any of the games, discussed them incessantly with friends and family and anyone who would listen.

Then came the ads for this new game. To this day I'm able to recite most of the rap: The Legend Of Zelda is really rad, those creatures from Gannon are pretty bad.

This was at the top of my Christmas list. And when I got it the cartridge was gold. Gold! It stood out so gleamingly from the rest of my NES games in their gray cases. And you could save your game on the cartridge. I know this dates me horribly, but this was a revolutionary thing. Zelda was so expansive an adventure, you had to save your place and come back to it. Nutty!

Phase 3: Super Mario Acid Trip

So my initial Nintendo experience was different from most because my Mom bought the robot-themed system it didn't come with Super Mario Bros. I had played it on my friend's system - before XBox Live we had this thing called trading games with your friends in real life, aka meat space - but I didn't have the connection with Mario that many did, though I knew it was a big deal.

That said, I had to have Super Mario Bros. 2. People forget now, but the Christmas season that Mario 2 came out it was almost at Tickle Me Elmo levels of scarcity and demand.

Brilliant theorist that I was (am) I convinced myself that my Mom was not going to be able to find this game on her own. So I busted out the big BellAtlantic yellow pages book and every day after school I methodically worked my way through the toys section, asking every retailer if they had Super Mario Bros. 2 in stock. Each response was no.

We were spending Christmas at my aunt's house in Brockport, NY, and I had convinced myself that the Mario dream had died. I would be able to get it sometime in the New Year, which had none of the appeal of getting it now.

Cut to us opening gifts, and of course I get some cool toys and (yech) shirts and the like. And then I open what I thought was a book from my Mom.



To this day I can remember how loudly I screamed, I'm sure the neighbors heard me. I yelled so loud I lost my voice, alternating between "Super Mario Two!" and "Thanks Mom!"

Mario 2 is by far the trippiest Mario ever. You pick up vegetables, there's crazy mask-wearing bad guys, you can use the Princess and fly, and Luigi is great at jumping for no good reason. But for me, it's still the best Mario ever.

After the fact I learned that my Mom had been on a Mario hunt of her own, driving all over Maryland and D.C. to find this game her son was lusting after. Finally she had found it, and had purchased it at an inflated price (thanks, supply and demand) and had kept it under wraps even through transporting it to Brockport for Christmas.

I never beat it. I rarely beat games. But it still rings awesome for me. My mom was able to somehow move mountains to make these Nintendo moments for me, and in turn led to some super-fun video game fueled Christmases.

I was playing... with POWER.