A Personal History of Console Launches Part I

It began with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Its actual launch was a non-event to me. I just wasn’t aware of it. I wasn’t aware of a lot of things at the time. It was grade one and I had been in Canada for a matter of months. I couldn’t speak English yet and our priorities were above consumer electronics: we had a west end apartment with no tables, no chairs, no sofa, no bed and, clearly, no TV. The NES was not for this time.

One of the things that I was aware of was a nearby convenience store’s Jackal arcade machine. I played that. Another store further down the street along Lakeshore Blvd, near a McDonalds, had a Dragon Spirit machine (I think) and another store down that street had some motorcycle game, possibly Mach Rider but I’m not so sure. There were others, like a Ms. Pac-Man pinball machine, but none of this stood out like those three. Jackal was my favourite.

So in lieu of the NES (I didn’t know much of its existence) I had these quarter-eaters. I had no friends and I couldn’t speak or understand the language, but I had these games. They were universal. There were no lingual requirements to play them, just a couple of seconds to figure out the controls. Simple and easy to get into. Games just aren’t as universal anymore.

My parents must have picked up on this. Within months, not only did we have furniture and a TV but, yes, an NES. An NES with an original light gun and R.O.B., no less. I still remember waiting at the bus stop on the way towards SheridanSherway Mall, where that Nintendo was purchased. Soon after we moved to the suburbs of Mississauga where that NES (and others’ systems) would get a lot of use.

By this time, the summer before grade two, my English was better. I ventured out into our new neighbourhood on my first day there for the local strip plaza and its convenience store. There, in the back, they had a couple machines including Bubble Bobble. Over that game, on my first day in Mississauga, I made my first good Canadian friend. For the next few years, many friendships would be bonded over these video games.

The Turbo Grafx-16 later came. Then the Genesis. But we didn’t care. Sure, we had contact with those devices (someone always had something) and we definitely thought Splatterhouse was cool shit and Altered Beast quite nice looking, but the NES reigned supreme.

The NES was all there was and information about the system and its future became a prized commodity. We heard from a friend of a friend of a friend that Japan already had Super Mario Bros. 7, amongst other such tidbits, but there was a need for more official information. Enter the slim and Canadian-only “Nintendo Power Flash” which later became “Nintendo Power”.

These were the pages upon which I gazed into the future. It was Super. The magazine stopped coming after a few issues — I can’t remember why the subscription ended prematurely — but it didn’t squash my taste for the future. The 16-bit future! I didn’t know exactly when it was coming, I didn’t know exactly what games would be there, but I knew I wanted it and I knew that it would be out in time for Christmas. This meant that my parents would have to want it too, and I made sure they got the hint.

This desire grew stronger months before the launch. There was this small import game shop in the local mall back that had a number of systems set up for play. The idea was you pay a few bucks for fifteen minutes play. A sort of console arcade. That store always had these odd and foreign titles that we knew nothing about and exotic looking cartridges (Famicom) and controllers that baffled us. One day, still months before the Super Nintendo, they had a couple of Super Famicoms.

As far as we were concerned, the day that we sat down to play F-Zero and Super Mario World (even if they were in Japanese) was the day the future arrived. That was our launch. The actual launch of the SNES came and went. I have no recollection of it. Perhaps I had seen some commercials and perhaps there was some grade school talk of it, but I don’t remember any of that. All I remember is being wowed by the Super Famicom and the Mode 7 racing of F-Zero and the music and the explosion. Oh man, the explosion. That loud, satisfying bang that occured when you flew off a track and that (at the time) cinematic zoom-out and camera movement to focus on the smoldering wreck. That, right there, was satisfaction.

When Christmas came, I unwrapped a brand new SNES. By my 12th birthday, a month later, I was set: Super Mario World, F-Zero, SimCity, Pilotwings and Final Fantasy II (with Actraiser and Castlevania IV as solid rentals). That was my first ever console launch experience and it remains to this day the best system launch ever.

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