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Bringing the Video Game Feels:
When We Were Playing With Power
I’ve always found the connection between our physical senses and memories to be fascinating. The smell of a screen door can bring back a long forgotten childhood memory. A certain piece of food might remind you of the night you met your spouse. An annoying pain in your foot reminds you of that game-winning goal you scored for your high school soccer team. Any memory stored in your brain could be conjured up at any time from things you can’t control. How is that not fascinating?
If you missed the first journey into classic gaming, be sure to read up on the Sega Master System right here. Now, let’s dive back into this trip fantastic and surf the 8-bit waves of a video game classic: The Nintendo Entertainment System.
Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
Ah, the console that made video gaming cool again after Atari ran consumer trust into the ground (literally). The first time I really had a chance to play the NES was when my parents rented the entire kit for me from a local video store called National Video. I remember the black and orange gun-like case it came in and, like Link opening a treasure chest, flipping the clasps up to find the treasure deep inside. The rental came with the basics, Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt, which was all I needed during the handful of days I had with it.
I’m unclear if it was in 1988 or 1989, but in one of those years my parents and grandparents eventually bought me an NES console for Christmas as a joint gift. Of course, it was the last gift that I opened that day and I vaguely remember unwrapping it with all the excitement I my little body could contain. The action of sliding the foam packaging out of the box to reveal every NES piece wrapped in plastic glory is the stuff of legend. Even something as mundane as plugging the RF cables into the back of the TV, flipping to channel three and powering the console on for the first time was downright magical as a kid. You never forget those moments of absolute wonderment. You know, those moments where you’re almost blacking out from blowing too hard into the cartridge because the game isn’t turning over (which doesn’t actually do anything, by the way). Man, we were stupid in the 80s.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (The Arcade Game) (1989)
Ninja Turtles – along with Ghostbusters – were my life growing up, so the first time I laid eyes on the TMNT coin-op arcade cabinet in all its local mall splendor, I was shell-shocked. I stood there watching the demo run as Donatello jump kicked Rocksteady repeatedly to save April from a burning building. My uncle had taken me out for the day and gave me some quarters to spend on my budding video game obsession. Guess which machine ate those quarters? I went back to his house afterward reeling from the experience; praising how tubular the game was and running around the house pretending to be a ninja turtle.
Obviously, when Konami ported the game to the NES, I was totally stoked. At this point, I was still renting games, but thankfully a few of my friends had their own copy. I assimilated myself into their family just to play this game, eating their food and staying as long as I selfishly could to continue clubbing Foot Soldiers over the head. All in all, it was time well spent mashing the ‘B’ button for hours on end and completely ignoring any form of real physical activity.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project (1992)
Riding on the highs of “Turtlemania” came TMNT 3: The Manhattan Project. This game was possibly my most rented NES game and, despite those rentals, I failed to beat it even once. When you’re a kid, you have no concept of strategy and your reflexes haven’t been finely tuned just yet. You’re just jazzed to be playing a game instead of being outside frolicking in the sun. I do remember ALMOST beating it with a friend one time. We were really close and on our final continue. He went down first and I went shortly after while travelling up everyone’s favourite old school level mechanic, an elevator. It was probably all that excitement that got us killed in the end. It’s really shame. We were bouncing off the walls from being so far in the game, when we should have been paying attention to the screen. As The Shredder would say, “Fools! Clumsy fools!”
The song that plays during the surfing level is a track that has been stuck in my head since the day I heard it. Not sure why, but it’s something that stuck with me for 25 years. It’s actually the same song from the video above. Have a listen!
Yo! Noid (1990)
The 80s and early 90s might have been the only time in gaming history where a restaurant could make a platforming game and get away with it – Domino’s Pizza being a clear example. Their mascot, The Noid, is a hideous-looking, big-nosed villain in a red rabbit suit whose sole occupation is to ruin pizza before it even has a chance of being delivered. Sounds like a perfect character for a video game, right? Wrong! The 80s were black and white, relegating evildoers to the bottom of the neon coloured barrel. So, in an amazing reversal of roles, they transformed The Noid into a city-saving protagonist out to stop his evil, green twin from doing, uh, I’m not sure what honestly. All this political pizza intrigue has me craving a Domino’s pizza right now.
The Noid is such a messed up character that I find it hard to imagine a child hanging posters of him/it in their rooms or snuggling this long-eared creep as they drifted off to Candyland. That might just be my own lack of exposure because I definitely have no recollection of even knowing what this “man-thing” was outside of a game that I happened to randomly rent one day. All of this truly doesn’t even matter an ounce because the defining memory that I have with Yo! Noid isn’t with the game itself, but is tied to something that is unquestionably too cute.
It turns out I liked this game enough to leave my dad a handwritten note suggesting he give this “amazing and fun” game a try after his eight-hour shift at work. In reality, the note was probably illegible. Why I left him one is beyond me because he’s not a gamer and probably didn’t even see the poorly-written note lying on the console. As a matter of fact, I might put more strain on my parent/son relationship by interrogating him on whether or not he even read that note a quarter of a century ago. This might be the straw that breaks the family’s back and right now the straw is mighty heavy.
M.C. Kids (1992)
Good old brand recognition. Here’s yet another food chain sticking their greasy faces into an industry in which it didn’t belong. But what the heck, the 80s was the renaissance of gaming and anyone could have their own platforming game a la Mario. “Who cares what the story is,” said Ronald D. McDonald. “Throw two characters in there – one black because we’re progressive like his flattop and the other white so it moves more units. Perfecto! We’re more golden than the arches. Seal and ship worldwide!”
As fate would have it, Jumbo Video had this gem in stock one day when I returned a barely functional copy of some forgettable misery. Honestly though, the game isn’t all that bad for a Mario clone. It also does a few new things unseen in other games at the time like being able to travel through levels upside down.
My favourite memory of M.C. Kids is making my dad laugh hysterically by simply pushing the down button to the beat of one of the songs. It’s not even all that funny, but he loved it and I loved it too.
I could go on forever listing games and the moments tied to them, but those listed above have been the strongest and most memorable. Below are a few more games that I vaguely remember with a small recollection of a memory.
Bionic Commando (1988)
My friend at the time, Willy, owned Bionic Commando and we would take turns playing it from the beginning. The bionic arm was a really cool concept at the time and I remember swinging to a light post to the beat of the music. Dancing seems to be a recurring theme here.
California Games (1987)
The day I was released from the hospital after having my tonsils, adenoids removed and tubes put into my ears, I came home to California Games. I sucked at this game hard. I couldn’t do the halfpipe, surf or hacky sack. I didn’t mind though because my throat was a mess and I was home from school puking all day.
Phew, I’m exhausted. I need some time to recover before digging so deep again. Until I can muster up the strength for part three of this vision quest, take a read through part one, if you haven’t already. Stay tuned!