NVC Question Block: What Classic Game Did You Miss First Time Around?
Welcome to the inaugural issue of our new, weekly Nintendo Voice Chat column. We’re kicking things off by tackling a user-submitted question for our Question Block segment. Listeners of the show are no doubt familiar with the fact we will run into… time constraints… where we can’t give your questions the time they deserve. What better way to tackle this problem than to pick one of our favorite user-submitted questions of the week and answer it here?
Super Ninfriendo Tracy Vincent asked: “Is there a game that came out in your youth, but you didn’t get around to it until much much later? Why did it take you so long to play it – and what are your thoughts when you finally did. Do you think you would’ve enjoyed it more or less had you played it around when it was originally released?”
It wasn’t always easy getting hold of NES games during Nintendo’s 8-bit heyday. Castlevania was one of many popular games from that era that never seemed to be on store shelves – not even the gas station where I rented Battletoads and Batman over and over again (Beetlejuice was also there, but not Konami’s equally spooky and far superior platformer). One of the few hints I saw that Castlevania even existed was through my dog-eared copy of the Ultimate Unauthorized Nintendo Game Strategies, which barely even included screenshots. Still, Castlevania was to be one of the best NES games among my circle of friends, with Simon’s Quest being particularly popular. Castlevania continued to bounce around in the back of my head until I headed off to college a decade later, where I discovered a copy of Symphony of the Night in a random record store. I picked it up for $25 (a steal!) and decided to see if Castlevania indeed lived up to the playground hype.
Short answer: Obviously, it did. Of course, what I didn’t know was that Symphony of the Night was a radical reinvention of the Castlevania series, thereafter splitting fans between those who preferred “Metroidvanias.” Years later, I sat in a Japanese hotel room with Jeremy Parish – ironically one of the people to popularize the term “Metroidvania” – and watched as he blew through a Famicom Disc System version of the original game, pointing out all the unique details that made it special as he went. Would I have loved the original Castlevania if I had played it growing up? Almost certainly. It remains a striking achievement on the NES, with its soundtrack being a particular highlight. I may have even finished it, which is a feat I’ve yet to accomplish as an adult. One way or another, though, Castlevania remains a classic. Maybe one day Konami will bring it back.
Growing up, I pretty much only owned and played Nintendo devices – GameCube, Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS, etc. So I missed a lot of the classic games that came out on other hardware. But my senior year of college, I finally purchased a beat-up, outdated, used PlayStation 2 on Amazon, and that’s how I was finally exposed to a lot of classic RPGs (that have since made it to Switch) like Kingdom Hearts, Chrono Cross, and most importantly – the Final Fantasy series. I played Final Fantasy 7 for the first time over a decade after it came out, and honestly, I didn’t love it. By 2012 it was seriously dated – movement was clunky, it wasn’t nice to look at most of the time (have you seen Cloud’s goofy arms?), and ugh, the writing! I didn’t understand why people raved about it!
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I did eventually get into other Final Fantasy games, playing Final Fantasy X that same year and liking it much better, and then I picked up Final Fantasy 6 a few years after and loved that one. But FF7 never landed, and I never even finished it. That said, after hearing about the big twist of Final Fantasy 7 Remake, I played that all the way through last year, and I think I get it now. Had I played FF7 when it first came out, before people had hyped it up as one of the greatest games of all time and before thousands of other games figured out how to make characters move in 3D environments infinitely better, I think I would have fallen in love just as everyone else did. I’m glad Remake exists both as a challenge to the very idea of a Remake, but also as a gateway to help me understand what made that original so special in the first place.
This will sound like crazy talk, but I never played Metroid in a serious capacity until adulthood. Which is kind of weird because I distinctly remember playing it on a demo kiosk at a JC Penney sometime in the 1980s, making it one of the first NES games I ever played. Being a Nintendo kid in the ’80s also meant it was almost impossible to overlook anything made by Nintendo. I knew about the ‘JUSTIN BAILEY’ password, and even knew Metroid was a girl! (note: I actually knew the main character’s spoiler ending but didn’t know until much later her name was actually Samus).
So as to why I didn’t play it in the heyday of the Nintendo Entertainment System, I just don’t know. It was an earlier game, which probably led me to pass it over when picking out games to rent for a weekend, and to the best of my recollection, none of my friends close enough to loan me a game owned a copy for themselves. I actually played Super Metroid and Metroids Prime 1 and 2 before I got around to the original, and I gotta say, I’m glad I waited. It’s still a solid game, one that holds up today. It’s not the flawless user experience of modern games of the genre, but with a good guide and a few free hours in the day, you can make your way through it fairly easily.
I was pretty excited to discover it still held up when I finally did get around to playing it, and I’ve played through it several times since then. Full disclosure, I still haven’t gotten the best ending. As to whether or not I would have enjoyed it more or less as a kid, I can say its setting and art style definitely appealed to me as a kid, but the game itself probably wouldn’t have.
As I said before, it’s pretty easy to get through now, but back then, I would have found it much more difficult. Not only because of my crappy kid reflexes, either, but because access to game help was nowhere near as easy as it is today. Back then there wasn’t a gaming vocabulary for a “Metroidvania.” The concept of impassable areas, ones you could only traverse with later upgrades, just wouldn’t have clicked with me and I would likely have become frustrated with the game series and never experienced the glory of Super Metroid and the first Metroid Prime.
I’m a kid of the ’70s, so I literally grew up with video games. From the Fairchild Channel F’s blocky magic to Atari 2600 and then home computers like Commodore 64 and Atari 800, I devoured – this time, not literally – thousands of games in the ’70s and ’80s. But my big blind spot happened in my late teens, when everyone was going nuts over console gaming’s second coming: the NES.
The Legend of Zelda is my favorite video game franchise of all time. Yet somehow I missed both the original game and Zelda II when they first came out. My first steps with Nintendo were definitely in the arcades – Donkey Kong in particular delighted and pissed me off at the same time – yet I somehow never felt the need to go and buy a Nintendo Entertainment System. It honestly wasn’t even on my radar, and that entire era of gaming initially passed me by. I think I was still playing Winter Games and The Eidolon when the Zelda craze kicked off.
It wasn’t until a few years later when I picked up the Japanese version of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for my Super Famicom that I discovered the greatness of Link’s adventures. My mind was blown. I had hit pause on gaming for a few years and I couldn’t believe how good games at home looked and sounded… and they PULLED ME BACK IN. Now, I had played games like Ultima that let you explore expansive worlds freely, but it never came with such great visuals and tight controls. It was the combo of (seemingly) free, open world exploration and the use of tools and weapons that made me instantly fall in love.
I would eventually go back and play the many NES games that preceded my SNES favorites. In hindsight, I bet if I had played The Legend of Zelda when it first came out, I would’ve figured out a way to get a NES or even a Famicom Disk System and spent way, way too many hours exploring its world. Going back years later just isn’t the same, as you already understand the language of the game, know the use of many of its items, and even attack patterns of recurring enemies. I’m sure it would’ve been love at first sight, but I don’t have any regrets. A few years without games meant that I was able to focus on college applications, figure out my life, and actually get to where I am now.