Okay, the year might not be exact, but it makes for a swell-sounding title.
So let’s roll with it, shall we?
I recently made an impulse buy –– one of only a handful I can recall in recent years –– and I bought myself a SNES Classic at my neighborhood Target. When news first dropped about it, I wasn’t all that eager to fire up Amazon Prime and try to snag one before it sold out. It only came with 21 games versus the 30 classics pre-loaded on the NES Classic, and some of the games weren’t ones I enjoyed as a kid. But when I saw four of these elusive entertainment systems sitting behind a locked glass case at Target for the ripe price of $79, I figured, well, I didn’t get anything for my 40th birthday, so I’ll consider this a belated gift to myself.
And hey, I continued, it’s been a damn rough intro to the start of my 41st year. I had to say good-bye to my Buffy cat after 16 years, went to the doctor once for a strange chest pain that turned out not to be a heart-attack, and I’ve had to adjust myself to some changes at the workplace, which feels more like a workplace more than it ever has in five years of my employment.
So yeah, I earned it. And I bought it. And so here I am, playing this SNES Classic every night for an hour and a half before bed. And each time I touch those slightly more textured controllers, I’m brought back to the early nineties doing the same thing: sitting somewhat further away a my tiny 12” TV and trying to adjust the rabbit ears for the best color and clearest picture quality.
See, prior to picking up this miniaturized treasure from my youth, I’d always thought of myself as an 8-bit man. I mean, I spent countless hours playing Mario Bros. with my dad after he got me an original NES with Zapper and R.O.B.; throwing shuriken and exploring new dimensions on foot and by kite in Ninja Kid; cracking my morning star as Trevor Belmont in Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. And saving a ridiculous amount of damsels in distress –– from Pauline and Princess Toadstool to Olive Oil, Marian, and April O’Neil. (Ah, the eighties!) So naturally, I thought that owning an NES Classic would be the perfect way to recouple some severed links to my childhood that seems to get further and further away from me the more I grow into a man.
At Christmas, 2016, my fiancée reprised my father’s role from back in 1988 and surprised me with an NES Classic, which were sold out at the time, and going for mad money on the secondary markets. I couldn’t wait to plug it in and play. And I did. Two years later, though, I can hardly count on my two hands how many times I’ve played it in total. There are actually games on this system that I still have never played, that I really want to play, like StarTropics and the original Final Fantasy, but I don’t because of the time commitment. Sure, it’s partially because I work full-time and write most nights and on weekends. But I always make time for a chapter or two of an Arthur C. Clarke novel or a episodes of Seinfeld. I could make time for a little NEStalgia.
Pause. (Back to this in a minute.) Flash forward >>
The SNES Classic, however, has already proven a very different story. From that first fateful night I gave into my impulses and brought it home, I plugged it in, and I have been playing Castlevania IV ever since.
As I mentioned earlier, there are not a lot of great games on this mini system, but there are a bunch that I’ve always wanted to play, like Super Metroid and Mega Man X, especially after listening to Retronauts talk in depth each of these franchises, (here’s the Super Metroid one, and here’s the Mega Man X one), Yoshi’s Island, Final Fantasy III, and Secret of Mana. (Though it’ll probably take me a while to find time to devote to those RPGs, as well as Super Mario RPG, which I hear is simply fantastic.) But maybe it’s the superior graphics, or the music of these practically legendary titles, or maybe the stories themselves that make the games on this system connect with me on a deeper level.
Anyhow –– back to the main plot point of this post: what my immediate favoritism for the SNES Classic over the NES Classic made me realize is that as much as I like to think I’m a child of the eighties, I’m not. Sure, I was born in 1978 and I grew up through the age of long hair, leather jackets, and Guns N’ Roses, but I was made during the nineties. Grunge music. Beepers. And the Super Nintendo Entertainment System.
I’ve written about how video games and their instruction manuals helped inspire me in my own creative writing. But sometimes, you’ve gotta connect with the game –– the actual thing itself –– because that’s what has the strength to reach beyond the years and tug at the roots deep down inside who we are.
Sometimes, you’ve got to reconnect with the inspirations behind why you wanted to be a writer. A creator. A filmmaker. A novelist. And sometimes, that means going back to the source of when you decided to become what you want to become. That first film that made you pick up a camera and shoot your own. That initial novel that made you feel like you had the same power with words to tell stories that would command a reader’s attention and imagination.
Sometimes, it’s in those down times where our drive to create and tell stories and be something more than just another cog in a corporate wheel gets reinvigorated. In my case, it takes the form of all those 16-bit games from my youth that allowed me to become the character, make my own destiny, be it a side-scrolling platformer like Super Mario World, a beat-‘em-up like Batman Returns or Knights of the Round, or the more exploratory worlds of Final Fantasy II and III.
The SNES Classic is doing just that: it’s helping me pull out the weeds that inevitably grow within the once fertile Kirby’s Dreamland in each of us, and escorting me like a 16-bit Virgil back to my roots as a writer. Who would have thought something so small and unassuming could pack the power to not only conjure up our fondest memories, but empower me once more to go for the gold coins on the screen, but the ones in life.
And we all can use a 1-up now and again, too.