A while back I told the story of my not having an NES until 1991.  I’m sure some of you wondered how a hardcore gamer such as myself could have survived such a long time without one.  It wasn’t easy, I can tell you that much. But today I’m going to share with you my harrowing tale of survival, as I managed to struggle through the golden age of gaming without the world’s game machine of choice.

For starters, I did have my Atari XE.  The XE was Atari’s answer to the Nintendo, with the main difference between the two being that companies only made games for the Atari XE for about 20 minutes.  The majority of the system’s games were actually Commodore 64 titles that had been converted by hackers and pirates and made available for download over BBSes.  They were faithful to their original versions, except that they froze up a lot, had screens missing occasionally, and when you started one, you were treated to a loading screen either boasting about how great the guy who cracked the game was, or else a tribute to significant historical events, such as when “The Nature Boy”, Ric Flair,  won his second NWA title (“May he hold it for years to come — WOOO!”).  The rest of the Atari XE’s library was various homemade games, which I can only describe as being maddeningly bizarre.

The Atari XE computer system

The classic Atari XE computer system.

The Atari XE was fun for a while, but eventually you get sick of playing games where you steal lawnmowers, rescue people falling off Ferris wheels, or guide a severed head through an electrified maze just to get a hat.  It wasn’t long before I was looking for a better gaming fix.  PC gaming looked to be the answer.

In 1988, PC gaming wasn’t what it is today.  If you’ve never experienced the joy of CGA graphics, try to imagine a Nintendo that was only capable of using the colors green, light blue, pink and white.  Most games looked like a girl’s cartoon that had been thrown into a blender.  For the most part I played cool games like Hardball, Test Drive and FaceoffJoe Montana Football came out in 1990, and was light years ahead of console football games, with the ability to call audibles, play an entire season, and edit players.

Of course there were some stinkers, too — Don’t Go Alone and Kings of the Beach Volleyball come to mind.  There were also the adventure games — titles like King’s Quest IV that required you to wander around desperately trying every random act you could think of in hopes of solving one of their illogical puzzles.  A lot of people have felt saddened by the demise of the classic PC adventure game, but those people, I sincerely believe, have never played Manhunter: New York.  Adventure games weren’t really games; they were slick ploys to get you to buy hint books.

Manhunter: New York

Manhunter: New York's edginess was nice, but its oh-so-cryptic gameplay was a complete chore.

Eventually, our 2.77mhz PC wasn’t fast enough to play the newest games, and it became time for us to move on.  There was one desperate year where I adopted the tactic of going to my friend’s houses and playing Nintendo with them.  I had a friend named Dan who always wanted to play games with me, so I went there a lot.  Unfortunately, all Dan ever wanted to do was play Super Mario Bros. 3.  This wasn’t so bad, except that he was obsessed with the suit that would turn you into a statue, which you could only get in the 6th world.  So I would get to play about 2 stages before he’d warp us there.  This was, naturally, the ice world, and seeing as I hadn’t played the game before, I didn’t handle the slippery conditions very well and died a lot.  This never stopped Dan from going after that damned suit every single time we played, though.

The only other game Dan and I played together was Battletoads, and all he ever wanted was for me to clear the speeder cycle level for him.  After I did that, he went back to playing and I went back to stealing his football cards…err, I mean watching him play.  Now that I think about it, Dan was kind of a jerk.  I was very glad when I got my own NES and learned how to consistently destroy him at Tecmo Super Bowl.