If you believed YouTube, the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES is the most definitive retro console in the world.
Certainly, I respect its place in the history of video games and indeed do credit it with helping keep the home video game market alive after the 1983 video game crash. But that was America!
Here in the UK we weren’t all that bothered with video game consoles anyway until at least the second half of the 1980s. We were happy playing games off cassettes with our ZX Spectrum and Commodore 64 microcomputers and when consoles did hit hard on these shores it was actually the Sega Master System, one of the big losers in the US market, that took precedence.
The NES on the other hand, while a cultural phenomena in the US, barely made an impact. I got my Master System when I was 6 in 1990. At that time I knew a lot of people who had Master Systems, I knew a handful of people who had a Commodore 64 and I knew two people who had an Atari 2600 (strangely)! I didn’t even see a real NES until about 1996 when a friend’s parents bought him one at a car boot sale for next to nothing along with two games – which rather obscurely were Godzilla and Days of Thunder. At that time we had ditched our 8-bit Master Systems for 16-bit Mega Drives and he had no real interest in it to the point where he loaned it to me for months at a time but only having the two games it didn’t leave much of an impact on me.
Fast forward to the beginnings of my renewed interest in old video games and my appreciation for the NES grew rapidly thanks to the abundance of US-oriented YouTube channels. Despite this, the nostalgia factor meant that my main goal was to build a complete PAL-region Sega Master System collection which given my limited funds left little room for the NES.
Then, as has been the case several times on my retrogaming journey, my wife’s quite extended family intervened. I swear I could never run away from her with my daughter without bumping in to one of her relatives! They are everywhere. I don’t think I would be safe in Outer Mongolia. Anyway, I received a message on Facebook from her cousin in Oxfordshire who had found her game console from when she was child and wanted me to price it up for her as she was going to sell it on Ebay. To my surprise it was an NES complete with two controllers, a zapper (light gun), a carry case and a handful of games.
Naturally I was frothing at the mouth at the sight of it but being the honest person I am I gave her a price which I believed was accurate but beyond my means. A few days went by and I couldn’t help but feel I had let it slip through my fingers. When I learned that she was yet to sell it I spoke to my wife about offering to pay for it over a period of time and she agreed we could do it. Better yet, since we were family we were offered it at a reduced price – RESULT!
It took several patient months to finish paying for it which meant that my Master System collection had to be put on hold for a while. All that was left then was to drive up and get it; a round journey of over six hours that involved a quick drive-by of RAF Brize Norton but sadly there were no Hercules or C-17s flying by. I brought it home, plugged it in and booted it up thus beginning my journey in to discovering the NES.
In terms of games there was a nice little selection already including the obligatory Super Mario Bros & Duck Hunt combo cartridge as well as The Simpsons; Bart vs. The Space Mutants, Pinbot and Guantlet but naturally having been force-fed NES games by YouTube I wanted more but wasn’t about to give up on my original ambition to collect for the Master System. Trolling around on Ebay I spotted the answer. I could have some of the most popular NES games of all time all on one cartridge for just £30! It was the Super Games 150-in-1 cartridge and included some of the greats like Ninja Gaiden, Castlevania and Contra to name but a few. The cartridge is normally set to the US/Japan NTSC region encoding but I read online that simply resetting the console five times puts it in to PAL. I was fortunate however to find one that had been permanently set to PAL which means I didn’t have to fuss about everytime I wanted to change the game.
And there we have it. An NES complete with an essentials collection. I even have a few Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES) games on there thrown in for good measure. I know it’s not the NES-purist’s way of doing it but I am a Sega fanboy after all. It wasn’t all roses however as a handful of the games on the cartridge glitch terribly but that’s about 5 games in total. All the big games like the Castlevania and Ninja Gaiden series work perfectly and those were the ones I was after. Sadly, no Ghosts ‘n Goblins.
Well, it has been a month and a half now since the NES made it to the Wilkins household. So what does the Sega fanboy think of it? Is it worth all the online hype we get from the Americans?
Well….for the most part…YES!
I adore my NES. I really feel like I have missed out all these years having neglected Nintendo. For a week I was truly addicted to Ninja Gaiden. Hands down I consider it better than the Master System’s Shinobi which I have never been truly fond of anyway. Of course, like the majority of players I couldn’t get passed Stage 5-3 which is extraordinarily difficult. While very similar in gameplay I am rather bad at Castelvania although in my defence I haven’t given it as much attention as Ninja Gaiden. A game I adore but had never heard of before is a Famicom game called Ultraman Club which is a very Mega Man-esque game. I could list all the games I have played so far and what I thought of them but then this would go on for pages and pages plus I haven’t played them all yet. I will talk more about my thoughts on the games in the future.
There is a…BUT…when it comes to the NES though.
Being a Sega fanboy used to the bright, vibrant colours of the Master System I find the NES’ graphics to be dirty in comparison. Honestly, there are some levels of Ninja Gaiden that wouldn’t look too out of place on the ZX Spectrum. It’s not a major criticism because excellent gameplay more than makes up for it.
So, in conclusion; am I about to discard my Master System for the NES? Not yet. I am at a point now where I recognise both console’s strengths and weaknesses but while I do love the NES and have spent much of my relatively little free time with the little grey controller in my hand, it hasn’t torn me away from the Master System especially now I have returned to collecting for it. Maybe, nostalgia for me has been the deciding factor in that but I do maintain the Master System has some great games and I continue to discover new ones I have never played before.
What I will say however is that the NES and the Master System have both kept me well clear of the Mega Drive, Mega CD and SNES. Maybe I am an 8-bit guy which frankly I have no problem with.
Thanks for reading.