Donkey Kong Country, Competition, and the Age of Ignorance

Discussion in 'Heart of the Revolution' started by John Kane, Mar 9, 2018.

  1. John Kane

    John Kane Novice

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    Being a child of a traveling family, my sister and I grew up without a constant set of friends. Instead we had Mario, Link, and Samus to take us on adventures. A product of the early 80's, we got on the Nintendo-train at what turned out to be a key turning point in the game industry just after the gaming crash of 1983, the year I was born. One day we walked into Kay-Bee Toys and soon left with my Dad's birthday present in tow: the NES.

    It was glorious and might as well just have been my birthday present. Having moved four times to three different states by my pre-teens, my sister and I found ourselves with a lot of time to focus on the only cartridge that we had access to. Having Mario Bros., Duck-Hunt, and Track and Field (complete with the Power Pad) however, more than made up for that shortage.

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    Happy Birthday to not my Dad

    Even though I was the younger of us two, my sister preferred to let me play while she would watch and cheer as we finally axed the final bridge Bowser was on and beat the seemingly impossible. I had done it; I had finally killed video games... or so I thought. My dad dropped Zelda 2 in front of us randomly one day. I was all in. It was Mario with weapons to me, and the artwork in the manual sold it even more. Through putting our heads together with kids in my grade, Dark Link went down weeks later. This memory stands out specifically because I accomplished the feat on a Sunday morning. The only Sunday morning our Dad let us skip Church so we didn't have to turn the NES off after spending hours trekking through the final gauntlet in the early morning. Priorities.

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    The first boss I ever really fought

    A reward of sorts showed up in our mailbox soon after, a magazine with a giant cartoon picture of a blue guy with a cannon for an arm. It felt like the doors of the universe had opened up all at once. I had no idea there were so many games out there, and to top it off the magazine came with a new game I never even knew was possible. Dragon Warrior was way out of my league for my age, but that's where my older sister came in. She was the brains, I was the brawn, and we soon put that game to rest. My Dad would stay up at night trying to keep up with our pace. Blockbuster Video soon opened up nearby, expanding my horizons that much more. We could take home any of these games without really buying them? This would be a double edged sword, though.

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    The box art alone blew my mind

    Rental was a whole new concept to me, this took gaming to the next level (pun intended). We could take home any of these games without really buying them? The first game we rented was something I saw in Nintendo Power with a spaceman shooting aliens, but there was no way we could have beaten that journey in the weekend we were allowed to rent it, even with the help of the magazine at our side. After we sadly returned Metroid to Blockbuster was when we learned how much shovel-ware crap was really out there in the gaming world. We struck out over and over, the odds were against us. I wasn't really into reading game reviews in NP at that time, which in hindsight would have given us a lot more fulfilling gaming weekends. I had begun to think that the great games I grew up on were just a flash in the pan, and all there was left to play were broken and boring.

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    Just about sums it up

    One day, the Master Sword arrived in the mail and beyond that cover shrouded in lightning was something I never thought to be possible. Graphics became a thing suddenly and shortly became a reality in our lives as the Super Nintendo hit the shelves. All of my favorite games received amazing face-lifts and soon our entire street spent our nights split between the two lucky kids' houses whose parents had picked one up for themselves. My birthday came in a few months, and then I had my own to covet. Except when I unwrapped the box, it was something called a Sega Genesis. A year later I traded it with a friend for an SNES; I still have no regrets in that decision.

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    What's a 16-Bit?

    In the following months, our family was at the mall and our Electronics Boutique had a brand new game demo of something I was reading up on in NP: Donkey Kong Country. No one was there, so I was free to run the machine with my friend. Everything clicked: the graphics were revolutionary, the gameplay was just like Mario but much more in depth, and the music sunk its claws into me as soon as the first drum struck its beat. It was the first game I ever picked up day one, and the first game I ever fully cleared. Even after that, I just kept playing over and over, not able to get enough. In the coming months I would eventually stumble upon a literal game-changing flyer at Blockbuster. They were having an official nation wide competition for Donkey Kong Country. Sign me up!

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    90's life goals

    Applicants had three tries to get the highest score, once per visit once a week (I see what you did there, Blockbuster). That was all we were told, not how the competition works or what is worth points, just...get the highest score ready-set-go! The winner would progress to the next rank and eventually maybe win a trip to the finals, for a shot at some great prizes. My first chance arrived, and immediately after entering the first level, a timer started counting down from five minutes. My muscle memory kicked in and I just went as fast as I could. I never knew what the point values were, didn't have time to focus on that, but I did get a big boost upon completing a level. The timer ended and my turn was over a few levels in. They said "Thank you" and I left for that day, no clue of my results.

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    Dont think just run
    A week later was round two, the scores were also posted, and I was first!... in my age bracket?? I looked up and the best score was in the Teen division, with a slightly higher value than mine and only the top score overall wins. Internet wasn't a thing, nothing in the magazines and no one to talk to about strategy, so I just speed-ran as fast as I could. When I came back for the 3rd try, the difference was even bigger, he had plowed ahead, but how? I guess the third time was the charm for him. He got me: I was defeated. Playing sports growing up conditioned me for losing at things, so I wasn't crushed, I was more let down at myself. I still managed to score 1st among my age bracket, which was some form of nerdish street cred I guess? On my way out of Blockbuster once the final scores were up, they pulled me aside and handed me a gift card. It was for a year of free rentals.


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    The amount of content entering my life (1995, colorized)

    The gates had opened and it was a massacre of gaming. Mario World, Zelda, Metroid, Megaman X, Supa Castlevania, Supa Everything: it was all there for the taking, and boy did I take. This was also around the time that the Squaresoft trinity of Final Fantasy, Mana and Chrono landed. I made some good friends with kids on the block that summer and would field requests if anyone wanted to play a certain game, even loan my rentals out. We moved again a few months later out of state.

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    Dragon Ball is turning into my preferred news source these days
    In the long run, I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to move around and meet all these cool people. It was easy to get to know new faces because we were kids and video games are video games. These days I'm settled in a steady location, still occasionally throwing a classic game on for nostalgia's sake. I've got good friends here, a lot of whom are gamers at heart as well. We also compete at Donkey Kong when a new one comes out, but now with alcohol as the reward/penalty for dying. Drinky Kong Country: Tropical Blend. Social media has also allowed some of us from back in the day to get back in contact, and we still reminisce on the times when the only thing that really mattered was hanging out and beating the boss.


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    Last edited: Mar 12, 2018
    Paul Tamburro and Jason Faulkner like this.

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