The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) will always remind me of daycare.
I was born in 1988 — three years after the NES dropped in North America. By the time I was 4 or 5 years old, it was old news. I had a Sega Genesis and the NES’ successor, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, at home by 1993.
However, the a few spots for parents to drop their kids off for a few hours in early ’90s Fresno had them.
When someone mentions “Super Mario Bros.,” the iconic flagship title packaged with the console, I think of my excitement when I found the warp zone for the first time in the daycare room of Dan Gamel’s Health & Racquet (now Sierra Athletic) Club.
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We lived just off of Blackstone and Ashlan avenues back then, and my parents would plop me down on the horrific carpet in this sweaty little room when they wanted a few hours of peace at the gym. I will remember this carpet until the day I die — neon purple with lime-green flecks. It looked like someone murdered Barney the Dinosaur and did not bother to clean up the crime scene. I’m 90% sure that the United States put a nationwide ban on those colors in 1994.
The Nintendo Entertainment System released in North America on Oct. 18, 1985.
A blue plastic chair — the ones with the bolts that allegedly held their legs in place but really just dug into your back — would keep me from direct contact with the carpet while playing “Super Mario Bros.”
One day, I realized that the second level had this row of bricks at the top of the screen that looked as if Mario could run along them. I remember not being old enough to read much of the text or numbers on the screen. Back then, and I suppose even now, most of my game playing was based on trial and error or recognizing some sort of pattern.
I noticed the entrance to the upper layer of the second level at the spot where I usually died —the area where I had to jump from one bridge moving down to the stationary ground and back onto another bridge moving up.
The weird turtle patrolling the stationary ground would always kill me, so I decided to avoid him by jumping on the bricks above his head. If I can do that, maybe I can use the ascending bridge to get to that top level?
And with that, I solved one of my first real gaming mysteries. I followed the path to a little room with three green pipes that flashed something I couldn’t read before placing numbers above each. I knew that four was more than two or three, so I went in that one. It took me to a level I had never seen, where I promptly lost all of my lives.
This was my only experience with the warp zone.
That moment is basically all I can remember about NES games. I vaguely remember “Duck Hunt,” but I thought it was too hard. I couldn’t figure out why this mean dog would keep laughing at me and stealing my ducks. And I remember the gun made this horrific crunching noise when I pulled the trigger and sounded like it had something moving around inside of it.
Bee music columnist Josh Tehee and reporter Tim Sheehan were my only coworkers with memories of the console. They both were big “Duck Hunt” fans, so maybe I was too young.
The console launched as the “Family Computer” or “Famicom” in Japan two years earlier.
Josh also mentioned a robot controller that would stack things when certain things happened in a game. I vaguely remember seeing one of these things once or twice in my life, but I had no idea what they did. Research indicated that this was R.O.B. (Robotic Operating Buddy), a toy packaged with the deluxe version of the console that performed a few actions based on light triggers while playing “Gyromite” or “Stack-Up.”
When I polled my friends, by far the most common memory was the weirdly intimate relationship we had with consoles back then. These clunky boxes had less computing power than a modern calculator, but they also had personality.
These consoles would stop working for no reason. And we somehow all learned that blowing in the games would help if they weren’t loading properly. If that didn’t work, I would place the cartridge in the slot and slam it in with force. That seemed to work better than just pushing it into place.
We must have looked like a bunch of little cave people. We could barely speak or clean up after ourselves, but we knew that blowing on games and smacking them made them work.
If someone smacked or blew into my PlayStation 4, I would have a heart attack. Things change in 30 years.