Dragon Quest/Dragon Warrior: Espresso Shot Review

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! Let thy cup runneth full of beany goodness!

If the slight Olde English hasn’t tipped you off yet, today I’ll be talking about the very first RPG I’ve ever played: Dragon Warrior for the Nintendo Entertainment System! Also known as Dragon Quest in Japan, this is the first installment of the long running Dragon Quest series.

This game has many memories associated with it – every game I’ve played on the NES as a child was a challenge, but few have challenged me so like this one. But now I wonder, after almost 32 years since its original release and 29 years for the North American version, how does it fare in my eyes in the present day? Well, its the subject of today’s Espresso Shot Review! Let’s take a look:


Dragon Quest was released on May 1986 in Japan and in North America in August 1989 under the name Dragon Warrior, by Enix, a company producing RPG games before they merged with their rival, Squaresoft, in the early 2000’s to create Square-Enix. Dragon Warrior is considered to be one of the grandfather’s of Japanese RPG’s, setting the base template for all modern JRPG’s to follow.

I will be reviewing Dragon Warrior, released in August of 1989 for the NES, just over three years after Dragon Quest was released for the Famicom.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-0

Story

Dragon Warrior takes place in the kingdom of Aelfgard, a series of modestly sized lands with rivers, islands and the like. Many years ago, when darkness covered the land, a hero named Erdrick brought peace to the kingdom by slaying a great evil and using an artifact called The Ball of Light to banish the remaining dark creatures. He handed it over to the King in Tantegel Castle, ensuring that the kingdom would be protected.

One individual was not a fan of the Ball’s radiance; he was the Dragonlord, a man corrupted by evil magic and who could control dragons. He gathered an army, invaded Tantegel Castle and stole the Ball of Light, casting the kingdom back into darkness. He then went on a reign of terror, razing towns and causing generic havoc before settling down in his castle, Charlock, on an island surrounded by impassable waters near Tantegel.

Years later, a prophet proclaimed that a new hero will emerge – a descendant of Erdrick himself – to save the land. After the Dragonlord kidnapped Tantegel’s beautiful princess, Gwaelin, a man (the player character) arrives at the kingdom, proclaiming himself to be that descendant. The current King, believing him, instructs him to save his daughter, defeat the Dragonlord and bring the light back to Aelfgard.

dragon-warrior-usa-rev-a-1-e1519351446161.png

This is the hero of our story! His name is Roast.

As far as story goes, this is pretty cookie cutter: save the princess, defeat the bad guy, save the world. It was a common storyline at the time when the gaming industry was slowly transitioning to a more narrative structure as opposed to typical high score arcade fare. While common and accessible in its time, today, the storyline wouldn’t find as much traction, given that, in this writer’s opinion, older gamers yearn for more complex narratives. And yet, the simplicity of the story presented in Dragon Warrior makes this game a great, entry-level RPG for a child aged 7-10.

The most charming aspect of the story is the English translation’s use of Elizabethan (aka Olde) English. It gives the story and the dialogue a more Shakespearean, medieval tone and helps make the player feel like they’re in the middle of a fantasy world.

Gameplay

Dragon Warrior is a heavily text-based game. Every action, from talking to NPC’S, to searching for items and opening chests and to attacking and using spells, is controlled through several menu-driven options, accessed using the A button. Menu options include context specific actions like Talk, Search, Take and Door, along with traditional RPG staples like Item, Magic and Status. The interface was designed to be as simple as possible, given the limited number of inputs available to use.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-1

On the field, opening the menu and selecting an action will execute that action in the direction the player character is facing. So, if you wanted to talk to someone or examine an object of interest, you’d have to face in that direction, otherwise you’ll get a notice saying no one is there. Also, to use the Door command, you’ll need Magic Keys. This is a bit irksome, since it would be easier to walk up to a door and press A to open it as opposed to opening the menu and selecting the Door command itself. Future installments, along with remakes, have addressed this, but it’s still a slight chore.

The field is separated into three types: Towns, the Overworld map and Dungeons. Towns are where you can obtain information for your quest from townspeople, buy items and gear and rest to recover HP and MP.

The Overworld is the area where most of the time is spent; players must travel to towns and dungeons to progress with the story. You’ll find random encounters with various monsters. Players will encounter stronger monsters or experience higher encounter rates depending on the terrain. An interesting thing about the hilly terrain is that there’s a slight pause as you walk across, making it feel like you’re actually crossing hills.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-2

Bridges serve an additional purpose besides connecting landmasses, as players will see a clear difference in enemy strength once crossed. This invisible difficulty barrier helps players identify which areas to avoid until they get strong enough to go through without trouble.

dragon-warrior-usa-rev-a-31.png

In dungeons, players will encounter stronger monsters at an increased rate, but they will find rare weapons or items necessary to complete the game. Also, since these areas are shrouded in darkness, a torch or the Radiant spell are required to be able to see your surroundings.

When a monster is encountered, a different set of commands become available: Fight, Magic, Item and Run. Fight makes your character attack with an equipped weapon, with its effectiveness dependent on the players current strength and the weapon’s attack rating. Magic casts spells in your repertoire, like Heal and Hurt. Item allows the use of items in your inventory to use in battle and Run makes your character attempt to run away. You won’t be able to escape all the time; your success rate is based on how high your agility stat is. Upon wining the battle, you gain experience points and gold.

Regarding stats, they are easy to follow and keep track of. Besides HP and MP, strength, as mentioned above, relates to fighting prowess, defense is for taking monster attacks and agility indicates if you attack first before the opponent does, if you are able to strike without missing and if you are able to run away from the fight. Status effects are limited to falling asleep, being prevented from casting spells via Stopspell and being cursed by wearing cursed items; this is expanded in further installments. Compared to the intricacies and nuances of the modern RPG, with its various stats and ailments, Dragon Warrior simplifies it all, making it very accessible to newcomers.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-8

At death, you get a message, saying “Thou art dead.”

If you die, either on the field or in battle, you return to the King with half your gold missing. It’s good in a sense, since you don’t lose progress in terms of leveling up, but if you’re trying to save up for the more expensive items for your quest, then you’re out of luck.

A few problems players could encounter are that the difficulty level ramps up quickly as you progress and that the only way to save is to return to Tantegel Castle and speak with the King. It’s wise to keep some Wyvern’s Wings with you, in case you’re knee deep in more difficult parts of the world, you’re out of magic and need to make a hasty retreat (or if you’re finished playing for the day and want to turn it off.). This archaic save mechanism continued to be a staple in later installments, (instead of speaking to a king, you’d confess in church), whereas other RPG’s settled for allowing players to save on the Overworld or save points within dungeons.

Another major problem is that, besides sleeping at an Inn or speaking to an wizard behind a desk at Tantegal Castle, there’s no way to recover spent MP. This makes conserving magic extremely important, as you can run out of it fairly quickly if you’re not careful.


Visuals

Legendary manga artist and creator of the Dragon Ball series, Akira Toriyama, lent his artistic talents to the Dragon Quest series. He created the artwork for characters as well as monsters, the most famous being the Slime creature, the mascot of the series.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-0

It’s interesting to see how his art style influenced the series over the years, especially Dragon Quest VIII, my favourite of the series. But we’re talking about the very first game, so let’s segue on back…

Graphics-wise, the 8-bit style hasn’t aged well. Colours and textures are very simple and conservative in nature, but in the present day, they look very dated. The overworld sprites, emulating the Chibi art style, look cute and animated.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-5

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-6

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-7

My biggest criticism has to be the dungeon design. It’s very bland in nature. Only when you reach the last area where the Dragonlord lies is there any difference in how dungeons look.

The biggest strength to the game’s visuals is the monster art. Toriyama’s art style ensures that the enemies silly appearances belies their terrifying strength.

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-13

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-14

Dragon Warrior (USA) (Rev A)-15


Music

There’s very little music in the game, but some are quite memorable. One in particular is the title theme when you turn the game on. This title theme would go on to be used in all subsequent entries of Dragon Quest, making it a well-recognized theme.

I’m particularly fond of the overworld music. It gives off a medieval, I’m-crossing-the-land vibe and adds to the atmosphere.

What I found interesting is that the dungeon music drops in octaves as you descend deeper down the floors. It’s an unique approach to identifying which floor you’re occupying, since most times you have no idea which one you’re on in the first place. This has also carried on into later installments.

There are also a few jingles that either have carried over to future installments, like the music that plays when you level up or when an enemy is defeated, or stand out, like the death theme.

The rest of the music featured in game are simple and repetitive, yet pleasant to listen to.


Replayability

In terms of post game content, there really isn’t any. Once you finish the game, you finish the game. This was standard practice at the time for early JRPG games; it was not until the mid 90’s where, as an additional challenge, optional bosses could be fought for great rewards.

The few things one could do would be to either grind for experience to max your character’s levels or to try beating the game at a low level. Both are a slog. The hardest thing someone could accomplish, however, is to speedrun the game. Yes, you read that right; Dragon Warrior can be speedrun. Check out the video below as this runner for Games Done Quick manipulates the RNG to complete the game in less than half an hour! It’s insane!


Wrapup

As I mentioned at the start of the review, Dragon Warrior is one of the original RPG’s in which future JRPG’s modeled themselves after. Positives for the game include its story. which is easy to follow, the pleasant music, the excellent enemy art done by Akira Toriyama, and the accessible, if clunky at times, menu interface. Negatives include the dated graphics, the bland dungeon design, the odd game save mechanics and the steep difficulty curve, which may throw new players out for a loop.

Overall, Dragon Warrior is a fun retro game to play and an excellent way to pass time. I give it:

4 out of 5

4/5

The Games with Coffee Guide to Last-minute Christmas Shopping!

Another day, another edition of “Games with Coffee,” and what a great edition it will be! As of today, Christmas is a little less than a week away: are you ready for it? Or have you run right out of ideas for what to get for your favourite gamer? Or perhaps you’ve put Christmas shopping to the very last minute and don’t know where to start?

Well, God rest thee merry gentlepeople, because I got you covered! Below are a few ideas that you can either quickly run to the store and pick up, if you’re up north here in good ‘ole Canada, or order online: chances are, you’ll be able to get all of the below by Christmas (barring a few additional charges for expedited shipping). I’ll have plenty of links available to access, so no worries. So, keep that itchy trigger finger ready on your mouse and let’s make some magic happen!


Game Ideas

Well besides the obvious items on a gamer’s Christmas list (new systems, latest popular games, everything Nintendo, etc.), here’s an idea for you: how about trying something a little outside of the norm?

Stardew Valley, Axiom Verge, Cave Story+ and Shovel Knight are excellent choices to buy: all four are great games with retro-inspired graphics, poignant storylines, excellent controls and are available on all current generation systems, with the exception of Cave Story+. Check below on where you can find these games:

Stardew Valley:

Shovel Knight:

Axiom Verge:

Cave Story+


Gaming Apparel and Accessories

Graphic T-shirts: for the individual who loves to show off what they love.

Who among us used to hate getting clothes for Christmas? Well, with these selection of men’s, women’s and kid’s game culture T-shirts, your favourite person will hate you a little less this year.*

*Results may vary.

Men’s T-shirts:

Women’s T-shirts:

Kid’s T-shirts:

Ugly Sweaters: for the gamer who wants to rock this year’s Christmas party.

Ugly Sweaters are all the rage these days! Why not get something that reflects your favourite person’s gaming passion? Whether it’s Mario, Sonic or any of gaming’s famous faces, you’ll definitely have some heads turning at your next Christmas gathering! Here’s a few examples:

Satchels, Bags, Cardigans and Scarves: for the lady with a love for fashion and a passion for gaming.

If you’re looking for a great gift for an even greater gal in your life that enjoys gaming, check out these choice selections from EB Games (Canada) and ThinkGeek (everywhere else):

These aren’t limited to just gift-giving alone; ladies, in the words of an almighty master: Treat yo’ selves!


Toys and Games

Nerf Rival Guns: for the individuals who dreams of LARPing a Call of Duty scenario with their good friends.

With a variety of guns available, free-for-alls have never been so much fun! There are plenty of guns available, bit my personal favourite is the Artemis – a shotgun. Check em out!

Funko Pop’s, Nendoroids and Amiibo figures: for the consummate collector.

It figures that figures would be a great gift to give! From the highly collectible Funko Pop’s, to the picture perfect and adorable Nendoroids, to Amiibos that combine collectibility with function, there are plenty of options available! Now, there are too many for me to link, but check the stores; there’s bound to be plenty available!

Board Games: for those looking to game offscreen.

Want to bring the family together without resorting to playing Mario Kart? How about a few board games? Some of gaming’s biggest names have been associated with board game classics, like “The Legend of Zelda” Monopoly and Clue. Others, like Mega Man, have their own board games and there are even some video game inspired tabletop and card games, like Boss Monster. Finally, games like Settlers of Catan are a perfect gift for those who enjoy games like Civilization.

MegaConstrux Pokemon: for the kid or kid at heart.

If you’re kid’s like any other kid, they have vivid imaginations, a desire to build anything their minds can conjure up and a love for all things Pokemon. How do you combine the three? Easy: get them a Pokemon they can build themselves! MegaConstrux has several Pokemon related figures kids will go nuts over, especially Charizard and Gyarados! Heck, I’m a grown man and I want those for myself!

A Raspberry Pi, a Pi Case and the SNES30 Bluetooth Controller: for those who enjoy retro gaming as much as they love building things from scratch.

Ah, the good ol’ Raspberry Pi, giving you the ability to access all the games you used to play as a kid in a device the side of a credit card. If you got a tinkerer on your list who also loves dropping rounds of Super Street Fighter II Turbo on the SNES, then this one’s for you!

For gift ideas, I would go with the CanaKit Raspberry Pi 3 kit, available on Amazon; it has everything one would need to get started. Alternatively, if you have time and resources to spare, you can buy the board, a case and an SD card and really personalize it for the recipient. I highly recommend the Smraza case, again from Amazon: it’s a case divided into seven layers that comes with two heat sinks, a fan to plug into the GPIO on the Pi and a power supply with an on/off button! It’s a great little package!

But you can’t just the Pi and not get controllers? PS4 and Xbox One controllers work with Retropie, but if you want to give that real old-school feel, I recommend the 8bitdo SNES30 Bluetooth Controller. Easy to set up and use, this is the controller of choice to delve into old-school gaming! Here’s where you can find it:


Stocking Stuffers and Other Small Gifts

Books: for those who appreciate a great story on and off screen.

This might sound odd, but books are an awesome gift to give. I say this because some of the best presents I got, besides video games, were books. I’ve gushed many times about the Mistborn series, it’s perfect for those who are obsessed with RPG’s, magic systems and a deep, immersive world full of lore and legend.

Another book I recommend is Red Rising, a science fiction/fantasy set on a colonized Mars. This might sound a bit spoilerish, but I feel that the story is somewhat analogous to God of War, with Kratos’ struggles for revenge, mixed in with undertones of power and politics a la Games of Thrones. My description doesn’t really do it justice, but fans of the God of War series may enjoy it.

Finally, Ready Player One is the perfect book to give a gamer, either young or old. The younger generation will appreciate the plucky protagonist’s journey from rags to riches, while the older ones from the late 80’s and below will fall in love with the heavy retro gaming and pop culture influences that are scattered throughout the book.

Gaming Ornaments: for those who want to combine Christmas with Gaming.

Ornaments make for great stocking stuffers! Check out a few here:

Journals and Notebooks: for those who want to write the story to the next big blockbuster game.

I got this Legend of Zelda journal as a present from my wife and I’ve yet to stop writing in it. In fact, I picked up a second one for my birthday this year. There are plenty of others available, check out below:

Gift Cards: for when you’re truly stuck on what to buy this year.

If all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with giving a PSN, Xbox Live or Nintendo e-Shop gift card. Unlike most other gift cards, the receiver will definitely appreciate it. Bonus if you get them a year-long subscription to PlayStation Plus and Xbox Live Gold: you’ll be appreciated all year round!

If they’re a mobile game lover, an iTunes or Google Play gift card will also go a long way!

Coffee Mugs: for those who literally want to have their Games with Coffee.*

Didja see what I did there? Didja? Eh, I digress, coffee mugs make for excellent stocking stuffers: they’re statement pieces tailored to that person’s particularly favourite game or series and they can drink coffee out of it! Win-win. Here’s some examples:


And that’s that! Hope this helps with your last minute shopping. Today (at least up here in Canada) is the last day you can order online for it to reach before Christmas! (Additional shipping charges will be required…). So get cracking!

As for the next edition, I’ll catch up with you all near the end of the year, where I’ll talk about my Quest status in “The Year In Review.” Of course, I’ll be working on a few Espresso Shot Reviews, which will come in the new year, along with something else. What that is, you’ll have to stay tuned to find out!

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas and hoping you’re spending equal time with loved ones and cherished games this holiday season, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee”, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.

A Reminder to Take Good Care of Your Games!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” How’s everyone doing?

Today’s post is more of a PSA than anything else. Let me set the scene here:


Last month, I went on a cruise up the West Coast, starting from Los Angeles CA and ending in Vancouver BC. As part of my trip preparations, I decided to take my GCW-ZERO system with me, mainly to play a Super Mario Bros. 3 hack.

Now, I’ve had this particular system for a couple years and while it’s a great and versatile unit, it also has its flaws that I didn’t address, or attempt to address at the time. The D-pad didn’t sit well on the unit, and made it register an up-left input instead of a direct up input whenever I pressed the up button. Also, the A button, had a tendency to stick, which made run-and-gun games like “Super Metroid” difficult or nearly impossible to play. Even though there are ways to address those issues, like using silicone grease or taking apart the unit and replacing the buttons with new ones that improved playing performance, I decided not to address them and carry on.

Big mistake.

Long story short, as soon as I got on the plane to LA, the D-pad stopped responding. I tried playing using the stick only to find that control was awkward and uncomfortable after a period of time; it just wasn’t the same. Thus, I was without my preferred system almost the entire trip, which, while only mildly inconvenient, was still annoying nevertheless.

If I was more proactive, I would have addressed these issues much sooner. Thankfully, the guys who manufactured the GCW-ZERO have partnered with a 3-D printing company called Shapeways that provide improved replacement buttons for the system. I’ve ordered and received a full set and I’ll be undergoing the painstaking task of taking apart the system, installing the components and putting it back together again. (Apparently, the process is quite hard. Wish me luck!)

20170602_143650

My next personal project.

This leads me to today’s PSA: Please, please, PLEASE, take care of your systems and games! As mature, distinguished gamers, we pay a lot of money to indulge in one of our favourite hobbies, so it’s important that you make sure your systems and your games are in perfect working order. Proper maintenance will allow you to enjoy gaming to your heart’s content, without worrying that your system will break down or that your games will crash. And if you suspect that something may be wrong, whether it’s major or minor, get it looked at ASAP. It could mean the difference between either getting it repaired without cost or spending hundreds of dollars on getting your stuff replaced.


Do you guys have any stories about maintaining your systems and games? Share them in the comments below! And stay tuned to for the next edition, because I’ll be talking about a video game music site that’s dear to my heart: OverClocked ReMix!

This is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing. See ya next time!

 

“The Legend of Zelda:” How Link’s Altruism Helped Me to Channel My Inner Hero

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” How’s everyone today?

Here up north, we’re winding down the Victoria Day long weekend*, the unofficial start of the summer. We’ve finally left behind the ice, snow and frigid temperatures associated with winter and are left with gradually warming temperatures, the sweet smell of the air after a rain shower and seas of vividly verdant greenery rolling along the hills and valleys around the little town I call home.

The colour green always makes me think of Link, the Hero clothed in green, wielder of the Master Sword and holder of the Triforce of Courage from the Legend of Zelda. His back story varies between entries; he was once a wandering swordsman, an apprentice of his uncle’s, a child of the forest, a boy who came of age on a remote island of the Great Sea and a goat herder on a ranch, to name a few of his incarnations. Regardless of his origins, he is characterized as a strong, noble man who is eternally destined to assist the holder of the Triforce of Wisdom – the titular “Princess Zelda” – in taking arms against Ganondorf, the holder of the Triforce of Power. An accomplished sorcerer and power-hungry leader of the Gerudo desert thieves, he seeks the other two pieces of the Triforce to complete them and fulfill his desire of conquering Hyrule.

While Link is known throughout the gaming community as a character with great strength and bravery, he also possesses untold amounts of kindness and humility towards others. Whether it’s helping a girl round up her Cuccos, making deliveries across kingdoms, islands and oceans, paying for bridge repairs out of his own pocket to help a town’s emerging economy, or even rounding up golden bugs for bug-obsessed princess, there’s nothing Link wouldn’t do to help his fellow man. It’s his altruism**, not his strength or his fighting ability, that inspired many, both in game and out, to become better people.


The first “Legend of Zelda” entry I played was the black sheep of the family: ‘Zelda II – The Adventure of Link’. I was introduced to this game from one of the first friends I made in my new neighbourhood back when I was six. Despite being the odd one out of the whole series, its Action-RPG and side-scrolling elements, as opposed to the traditional top-down views and multiple items to solve puzzles, made me fall in love with the game. More importantly, this was the first entry to really display Link’s altruistic side, like retrieving a trophy from Goiyras for the town of Ruto, picking up the Medicine of Life for a sick child in Mido and even rescuing a kidnapped child in the Island Maze and bringing him back to Darnuia. Even though these ‘fetch quests’ were only used as a plot device to advance you further into this punishing game, it really helped to showcase Link’s character as a guy who’s willing to go the extra mile to help out, something that the first entry (which I played years later!) didn’t really show in my opinion. To this day, I still consider ‘Zelda II’ to be one of my all-time favourite Zelda games.

It wasn’t until after I played ‘Ocarina of Time’ and subsequent entries afterward that I really saw Link’s altruistic personality shine through. Whether it’s in town, on Hyrule Field or deep in enemy territory, I watched as Link took any opportunity he could to assist in any way he can. Granted, it’s the player’s choice in whether or not they accept the task, but the rewards are usually worth it.

Receiving_Biggoron's_Sword.png

Yep, definitely worth it. (Image from Zeldapedia)

Doing these quests always put a smile on my face whenever I completed them. And I found that it felt really good when the person I helped was truly grateful. I imagined that’s how Link also felt when he helped someone out with their problems, whether it’s fetching something for them, playing songs on the Ocarina to soothe their troubles, or just being there, listening to and acknowledging other people’s problems. I found that the gratitude one receives after helping someone out is the best kind of reward, not money or valuable treasures. In that way, I started to find ways to help out the people around me, regardless of how big or how small that act may be.

However, being an altruist isn’t the same as being a doormat – there are times when you’ll have to say no, even if you really want to help. That’s especially the case if you’re already overburdened with other promises you’ve sworn to keep. Just like Link, you have the choice in whether to say “Yes” or “No” to someone requesting your help. It doesn’t do anyone any good if you burn yourself out trying to uphold all the promises you’ve made to others. It’s a hard lesson I’ve learned over the years; breaking a promise or an obligation to help harms that person’s trust in you and harms your credibility and reputation, a difficult thing to get back. The point I’m making is, make your promises sparingly and only if you have the capacity to keep them. In most cases, after you’ve taken care of your other obligations, you can usually go back to that person you declined earlier and assist them with their problems. It’s the smart thing to do, the right thing to do and the mature and distinguished way to be a successful altruist in this day and age.

So, has Link also inspired you to be altruistic? Mildly related tangent: What’s your favourite entry in the “Legend of Zelda” series? Share your thoughts on the comments below! And, if you haven’t already, subscribe to the e-mail list or click that Follow button to keep up with the latest on “Games with Coffee!”

Enjoying the rest of my long weekend, this is Ryan telling you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing.

 *Canadian holiday celebrating Queen Victoria’s birthday, usually on May 24th. It’s colloquially known as the” May Two-Four” weekend, signifying the opening of the cottage season. It’s also the number of beers traditionally required to celebrate this particular long weekend, which is known as a “two-four” in Canadian lingo. The more you know.

 **For the uninitiated, Google’s definition of altruism is as follows: Altruism (noun): the belief in, or practice of, the disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others. In other words, it means helping those without expecting any reward in return.

 

Super Mario Bros. 3 and the NES – On That Day 25 Years Ago…

Good morning ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the inaugural edition of “Games with Coffee.” Ready to get this journey started? Then grab a chair, top up your mug and get ready to travel down Memory Lane, because I got a bunch of questions to ask you:

Do you remember the very first video game you’ve ever played or the first console you’ve ever owned? Do you remember how it made you feel when you turned it on to play it? Were you excited whenever you heard the familiar introduction tunes or jingles? Was your first game challenging or easy? Were you determined to finish it at all costs?

You’re probably wondering, “Where are you going with all this?” Well, I’ve asked those questions for a specific reason: Today I want to talk about the very first video game I’ve ever played on the very first console I’ve ever owned. This game had a pretty big impact on my life and set me on a path that would help shape me to be the person I am today. The vibrant colours, sounds and environments expanded and cultivated my imagination. It’s also helped me to understand how being inspired by something unlikely can achieve great things. Even the circumstances to me owning my first console also taught me a valuable lesson, a lesson I only figured out later in life when I looked back at this moment: How to persevere in the face of adversity.

The game and console in question: Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Nintendo Entertainment System.


1992 was an awesome year. Not just because the Toronto Blue Jays won the World Series (which was extremely important to five year old me at the time), but also because my dad gave me the best Christmas gift a little kid could ever get – a brand-new Nintendo Entertainment System pre-packaged with Super Mario Bros. 3. It almost didn’t happen though because of what happened at the end of 1991, when the recession affected our family.

My dad lost his job and our landlord had no choice but to evict us and sell the house we were renting to own at the time to make ends meet. My dad’s older sister took our family in, while he himself took a night shift job with his older brother in the family business – medical-grade plastic injection moulding.

For almost two years, we shared the same roof as my paternal aunt and uncle, their two grown children and a basement tenant. Initially, my mother was humiliated at the fact that we went from a good job and a house to nearly homeless and unemployed, while my dad was ashamed at putting our family in that position, even though it wasn’t his fault to begin with. It was a difficult period for the two of them.

Shane And I

My brother (left) and I (right), not knowing or realizing what the hell was going on at the time.

I’ve always considered Christmas of 1992 as the catalyst for when things started to change for the better for our family. Even though Dad worked double shifts, he was determined to be an expert in the injection moulding business, doing whatever he could to understand how the machines worked and how to fix them when they broke down. Mom trained to be a receptionist at a private college while learning how to use word processing software a computer (which was up-and-coming technology at the time). All that work eventually paid off when we finally moved into a brand new house in January of 1994, paid for by my parent’s hard work. When I was told this story as an adult, I was floored. I never realized how much they did to get our first house.

Since that day, whenever I put on Super Mario Bros. 3, whether it was emulated or remade, I always think back to the struggle my parents faced almost 25 years ago, and how they fought back to make our lives better.


As for me, it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows when I first started playing video games. Like all new players, I was pretty bad. I didn’t even know what the ‘B’ button was used for; I just kept pressing ‘A’ all the time to jump. It took the combination of me actually reading the manual and an older kid physically showing me how to run in the game for me to get it, but even then I still struggled.

I’d get to World 8, only to get trounced either by the tough levels or by running out of items and lives before I could even hit the final castle. I developed a love-hate relationship with it and I actually gave up a couple times, thinking I would never finish it.

Until one day I did.

It was 1995. My brother and I stayed by our favourite aunt’s loft in the city and we rented the live-action ‘Super Mario Bros.’ movie from the local Blockbuster (remember those?). I remember back then thinking that it was the greatest movie ever, when in actuality, it was so cringe-worthy bad.

super_mario_bros_movieposter

Not the brightest moment for Nintendo, or John Leguizamo (Image by Internet Movie Poster Awards)

Anyways, I was so inspired that when I got home, I did two things – I wrote a crappy fan fiction based on the movie for my third grade creative writing class (only the second time I’ve done that, and it certainly wasn’t the last) and I was going to finish Super Mario Bros. 3, come hell or high water. I even planned it all out:

Step 1: Get some Whistles.

Step 2: Get all of the items between Worlds 1 and 3 (Especially the Juglem’s Cloud at the end of World 2).

Step 3: Play all the Whistles to get to World 8

Step 4: ???

Step 5: Profit!

SMB3_Title

Tonight I dine on – Whoops, wrong series…

I wasn’t joking about Step 4 either; I knew firsthand how challenging World 8 was, but for some reason I breezed through the levels on that day. Levels 8-1 and 8-2 and the Mini-Fortress had stumped me for years, but this time I either cleared them easily or skipped them thanks to the level-skip cloud. Everything was going right for a change. I played smart; I was patient, used my item stash wisely and didn’t rush. And then I arrived at Bowser’s castle for the first time.

It took me almost all my lives and going down to the absolute last of my item stash before I could finish it and I remember setting my controller down in astonishment at what I accomplished. It wasn’t significant by any means – I didn’t cure cancer or developed the technology of the future, but that moment, to me, meant everything. And it was from that really terrible movie that I learned that even the most unlikely of inspirations can lead someone to achieve great things, whether it’s beating a game that’s stumped you for a time or starting a passion project that you’ve been putting off for years.

Super Mario Bros 3_Ending

A Winner Was Me!!!

 


So, that’s my story for today. Now it’s your turn: Hit up the comments below and let me know what your first memories of video gaming were, how they inspired you and what you learned looking back at those days. Also, stay tuned for next Saturday morning’s post where I talk about a smart phone game I’ve recently been obsessed with: Clash Royale.

Until next time, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” telling you to keep gaming and keep brewing.