The year was 1983. I would have been 3 or 4 years old. My parents sat me down and forced me to make a very difficult and important life choice;
Pac Man or Donkey Kong?
In this context, Pac Man meant the Atari 5200, and Donkey Kong meant Colecovision. And, yes, these were my only options. My family considered the Atari 2600 to be antiquated even then, and the Intellivision was evidently only suited for stuffy old assholes like George Plympton. I didn’t know.
So I went with Pac Man.
Indeed, my very first console was the Atari 5200 Supersystem! And I don’t give a piping hot shit what 10-year-old AVGN fanboys and millennial hipsters on the Internet say. I stand proudly by that decision. That system kicked major ass!
The Atari 5200 had a lot of really great games. It had the proper version of Pac Man (completely unlike the worthless Atari 2600 one), as well as virtually arcade perfect versions of Berserk (featuring authentic voices), Kangaroo, Pengo, Dig Dug, Jungle Hunt, Popeye, Q*Bert, Joust, Moon Patrol, Pole Position, Mario Bros., Ms. PacMan, Defender, and so many more. Plus, The 5200 version of Pitfall 2 had an exclusive second world! I was never able to figure it out, but still, pretty sweet.
Looking back, this was a pretty major decision. I love both of those games, and I remember it being very tough to come to that conclusion. Though, honestly, I probably didn’t come to it because of the pros and cons of either port or console. I doubt I was that savvy at 4. It was probably because that while Donkey Kong had the far superior breakfast cereal, Pac Man had the better Saturday morning cartoon show.
But, whatever. I loved my Atari 5200. Yes, it’s true that the controllers kind of suck, and emulation has rendered old arcade ports all but completely irrelevant, so I can see how it may not seem so great now. But owning it back in the day was a much different, and much better, experience.
But then, sadly if not predictably, the controllers died. So, around 1987, Dad brought home the Nintendo Entertainment System. The version that just had the single game cartridge of Super Mario Bros. Plus we got Donkey Kong and Baseball. I would have been 7 or 8 years old, so I became a full-blown Nintendo kid. And I still am. I never looked back.
Well, obviously I eventually did look back…
By the time I was in my early/mid twenties, my collection was massive, but not yet worth a whole lot. I had some rare and neat items. Stuff that would apparently sell for a lot of money nowadays. For Atari, I remember Custer’s Revenge and Kool-Aid Man were in there. So were complete boxed copies of Spider-Man and The Empire Strikes Back (R.I.P. Parker Bros.). Plus some commons like PacMan and E.T. For NES, I had Mega Man 3, Rescue Rangers, and Amagon still in original shrink-wrap. I got them at a flea market for $20 each sometime in the late nineties.
Yeah yeah, sure you did, blah blah bah.
The point is, eventually I had to sell it all off. I made, let’s say… a “life choice” (of which I may or may not elaborate on some other time) which made it not only impossible to keep such a huge collection, but also enticing to sell for the money.
So I did.
I don’t regret much in life. But I regret selling my NES.
The purpose of this column or blog or whatever is to express the musings of an aging Gen-Xer who enjoys the hobby of retro gaming. Collecting again from scratch, I was surprised to discover how morbidly expensive this shit is now. For instance, I just paid $8 for a Super Mario/Duck Hunt cart. Eight. Dollars. Maybe it’s the area I live in (Eugene, Oregon), but that seems a bit high to me. Those carts used to be so common and cheap, I once gave them out on Halloween. True story.
However, I DID score a perfectly working NES for $40! So, you win and you lose. Besides, that cart was absolutely worth eight bucks. Powering up the original Super Mario Bros. and playing through world 1-1 was like reuniting with an old friend. For less than $50 I have skin in the retro game collecting… er, “game” again. And I’m damn glad to be back!