As a child of the 1990’s, I had missed much of the original Nintendo generation. I was born in 1985, the same year as the American release of the Nintendo Entertainment System, and my pitiful baby appendages simply weren’t developed enough to properly manipulate the tiny plastic buttons of the rectangular gamepad. Much less put any thought into why a certain portly plumber would suddenly move upward if I pressed the little red button on the right side of the controller.
My first introduction to the system was not until the summer of 1990, when the States were gearing up for the release of the Super Nintendo. While the world waited anxiously for the new Super Mario game (and played a little gem called Super Mario Bros. 3, which I hear is actually pretty decent), I was introduced to the original, packaged, of course, with Duck Hunt.
I cut my gaming teeth on these two games, and often found myself standing half an inch from the screen, with the NES Blaster in my hand, waiting for some foolhardy duck to sweep across the screen. I would pull the trigger and revel in the fantastical sound of the spring mechanism inside- a sound that could be roughly written as “Zip-PWANG!” which is perhaps the second most interesting onomatopoeia committed to paper. More after the jump.
Despite learning to play games with these two titles, I still didn’t really “get” games. I had friends who played them on weekends, and older brothers who neglected their studies to make maps of Metroid on graph paper, but it was little more than a distraction for me. Part of it was because I just wasn’t good enough to actually get into many of the games, many of which forced me to replay the first level over and over and over again. Videogames were simply too much of a timesink, and why on earth would I spend that much time playing it when I could be building with Legos or watching Chip ‘n’ Dale’s Rescue Rangers?
To this day, I’m not exactly sure how I got my hands on a copy of Mega Man 2. I know that somehow, a copy of the game, apparently rented from Blockbuster earlier that day, ended up in the little grey box beneath the family television. On that one particular Friday afternoon I had finished my homework before my brothers, and thus held free reign over the little console. I saw the game sitting on top of it, and decided to blow on the cartridge and place it in the system.
After impatiently mashing the start button several times, I found myself looking at nine faces in little flashing boxes splayed across the screen.
“Wait. What? What am I supposed to do?” I asked, my little 5-year-old brow furrowed in confusion.
My lack of knowledge did not go unnoticed by my brothers, who sat at the kitchen table and glanced at the screen. “Oh, that’s the level select.” He said. “Those are all bosses, and the guy in the middle is you. You get to pick which one you want to beat, and then play them.”
I still didn’t understand. “But then you don’t have to go through the first and second levels if you don’t want to- can’t you just skip to the last level?”
“There isn’t a last level.” He didn’t even look up from his math homework. “The game ends when you beat them all.”
My young mind reeled. Each game I played before was performed under the bullwhip of some draconian slavemaster programmer, carrying a stone tablet with the words “Thou shalt beat this boss to continue, and thou shalt do so with only this many continues.” Apparently the hero of this game slapped the programmer until he cried like a little wussy cootie-filled sissypants (my favorite insult, circa 1990), and handed me the bullwhip. I felt strangely liberated, and immediately identified with the little boy in the blue robot helmet.
In the first levels I played, I died. A lot. But if I was ever tired of playing the same area, I would simply move onto a new one. Each time I would get a little bit farther, but I never felt like I was wasting my time. Each level complemented one another, and the platforming skills I learned in one stage always applied to another. Jumping between ladders in Wood Man’s stage helped me in Air Man’s stage, and the leaps of faith between the invisible drill-headed cloud robots (and oh, but how I hated those invisible drill-headed cloud robots) eventually let me get to the end of Bubble Man’s stage.
I always knew Bubble Man would be the first to die. I mean, his name was Bubble Man for God’s sake. Air Man would always be my second guess, but considering how hard his level was, I had second thoughts about facing him first. That, and I had almost mangled my fingers in a fan in Kindergarten once, and still carried an unnatural fear of fans. Either way, by the end of the weekend, I finally managed to beat Bubble Man, and immediately scribbled the password for beating him down.
That password was the first time I ever really found a feeling of accomplishment from playing a video game. The password was some tangible, physical record of my battle against evil as a young man - the little grid of colored circles was a reminder that I had won something.
Over the next few weekends, I made sure to ask to rent a copy of Mega Man 2, but I eventually lost interest in beating it. By that time, I had gained the confidence to properly approach the more difficult games my family owned, and I approached them with the same mindset that I had gained from playing that game. Every time I died, it didn’t mean I failed- I always tried something new, and learned both what did, and what did not work within the context of each game’s unique universe. It was a lesson I applied not only to video games, but to real life as well.
So I’d like to give a little thanks to the Blue Bomber. In his never ending quest to defeat evil in the world, he taught me to accept failure, and become a more patient person. And with more than a hundred sequels and spinoffs, he certainly has his work cut out for him.