Friday, May 13

CDP Wayback Machine - Atari Nostalgia Edition (Part 2).

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(Originally published June 2008.)

Finally, the second half of the CDP's list of the Top 30 Atari 2600 games of all-time. This is my own personal list based on games that I've been fortunate enough to play over the last 26 years, and by no means is a complete document of well-researched Atari 2600 history. Please enjoy.

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15. Asteroids

Proof that classic and timeless games don't have to look good at all to be amazing, Asteroids looked identical on almost every platform it was released for, including the 2600. Most games from this era had no ending; you simply played until you died, and that always gave me an anxiety complex at the time. Even though I loved Asteroids, I'm pleased that we've more or less moved on from 'high score' aspect and focused more on rewarding the victor with a cheap cut scene or poorly-dubbed dialogue. We've come so far.

Semper Fi, SS Triangle. Semper Fi.

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14. River Raid

River Raid always reminded me of Spy Hunter if it was set in a river (such brilliant insight by a published author). This was yet another one of the many spectacular games created by Activision for the Atari 2600, and one of the more popular at the time; everyone I knew had River Raid before I did. I was never any good at it, but I always came back in an attempt to conquer it, which is a sign of a classic game, in my opinion.

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13. Berserk

What an interesting and groundbreaking game. Enemies that couldn't be killed, one of the first examples of speech synthesis in a cartridge, maze-like levels and a Boss that actually killed players in real-life. If you've been previously unaware of Berserk, click the links and get educated on one of the weirder chapters of early gaming history.

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12. Centipede/Millipede

Also known as Panic Attack: The Game, the Centipede/Millipede combo was fast-paced, frantic, worthy only of skilled players and capable of causing all-out brawls between friends competing for high scores. I think I remember getting punched in the face as a direct result of a Centipede marathon. I'm sure I was in the right, whatever the argument was.

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11. Crystal Castles

The older I get, the more I appreciate and enjoy Crystal Castles. Sure, 'Bentley Bear' is one of the more feminine and un-intimidating lead characters in Video Game history, but this was the first attempt at taking a Pac-Man-style game and putting into the third dimension. There used to be a Crystal Castles machine at the laundromat next to my best friend's house in the Third Grade, reminding me that the best memories are sometimes made in the most awkward and depressing places. I'm so happy that I own my own washing machine.

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10. Seaquest

Seaquest holds an interesting place in my heart for being the only game in history that my mother could destroy me at. She loved this game; absolutely adored it for some reason, and practiced hard and often at consistently taking me to task over and over again. She never showed this level of compassion or obsession for any other game since then, which I find incredibly bizarre, yet endearing. From my own standpoint, the sound effects and gameplay are addictive and the premise is fun and endlessly replayable. I love Seaquest, although probably not as much as my mom did.

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9. Breakout

When it comes to simplistic, addictive games, Breakout is nearly on par with Tetris as being stylistically perfect. The 'seconds to learn, a lifetime to master' element shines with full-force here, all but cementing Breakout's status as a game that will be played for generations to come. No honest storylines, characters or objectives to speak of here, just a fun exercise that has entertained millions for almost 30 years now.

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8. Pole Position

The racing game that essentially created all racing games to follow, Pole Position was an arcade staple; In fact, I've seen more of these machines at various arcades over the last 20 years than any other games I can think of, with the exception of Ms. Pac-Man. The Atari 2600 transfer wasn't 100% perfect, but for me, the idea of never having to pay to play Pole Position again was an awesome feeling for my 7-year-old self.

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7. Space Invaders

Oh, man. What else is there to say about Space Invaders? The sheer paranoia brought about by the grating sound effects and ever-advancing alien army. The fact that it's one of the longest-lasting and revered video games ever made. The fact that, even after all these years, it sort of scares me for some reason. There's just something about Space Invaders that we're all well-aware of, and that's neat to me. Maybe the nostalgic feeling of the game has long surpassed the actual credentials that Space Invaders realistically entails, but isn't that what all good things do?

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6. Jungle Hunt

Stage One: Swing through a series of vines. Stage Two: Swim with (and subsequently stab to death) bloodthirsty crocodiles. Stage Three: Jump over/run under advancing boulders of various sizes. Stage Four: Jump over two evil cannibals that plan on eviscerating your girlfriend. Repeat as necessary. The sound was tight, the graphics did exactly what they needed to do, and the realization that the 'girlfriend' you just saved was a pigtail-swinging 10-year-old make Jungle Hunt an absolute must-play Atari 2600 classic.

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5. Frogger

As you've probably noticed with this Top 15 list, it's really hard to list the shortcomings or downfalls of the bulk of these games. When you talk about the greatest Atari and Arcade classics of all-time, you're dealing with games that have transcended their electronic limitations and changed our lives in one way or another. Ranking some of these games is arguably next to impossible; they're all worthy of the highest praise. Frogger is no exception. By taking a simple task, throwing a simple storyline atop of it and adding simple twists to appeal to gamers, Frogger is a perfect example of flawless game creation in action.

With current games boasting 90 minutes of cutscenes, downloadable content, online play and endless button combinations, it's good to remember that myriad options does not necessarily a classic game make.

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4. Spider Fighter

Sweet merciful Jesus, do I love Spider Fighter. Apart from the awesome cover art and downright-disgusting instruction manual art for the game, it is without any uncertainty the fastest and most difficult Atari 2600 game I've ever played. You can click on the accompanying link to see the gameplay in action if you wish, which is an absolute blast and improving on just about everything that its influences had created in the past. When it came to producing quality Atari games, Activision was in a class all its own. There is a 'plug-and-play' game out there now with Spider Fighter on it; I strongly suggest you shell out the $9.95 and own it for yourself.

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3. Missile Command

February 1, 1987. A day which will live in infamy. The Atari 2600 is given to me by my parents for my 5th birthday, which includes a copy of Missile Command. A mere handful of hours later, Missile Command becomes the very first of hundreds of video games that I win. The feeling was incredible, and I've been a changed man ever since. My sister was born the day prior to this, but I'll stand firm in my theory that my Missile Command victory had the longest and most profound effect on me.

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2. Pitfall!

Three years before Super Mario Bros. took over the world, Pitfall Harry made gaming history for the Atari 2600. With an astounding 2.6 million copies sold, Pitfall! is one of the most popular cartridge games ever made, and rightfully so. This was a game; there were objectives. There was a beginning and an end (not a great one, but a definitive ending nonetheless). There was strategy, a time limit, and many different ways to complete your missions. In short, this was a brilliant example of what would later become the home gaming explosion of the late-80's. For my money, Pitfall! was the greatest game ever created specifically for the Atari 2600.

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1. Dig Dug

After all this time, after all these years and after all these advances in entertainment and video game technology, there is one game on this Top 30 list that I will come back to again and again, and it's Dig Dug. It's the perfect combination of strategy, pattern recognition, high score maximization, sound effects and theme music (which only plays if you're moving around, hilariously), increasingly difficult levels and the feeling that you can always get better at it. Dig Dug is a true, original classic. It's still fun, still conjures up good feelings and memories and can be played by anyone. To me, it's what best represents the Atari 2600 Age, and those who were fortunate enough to live in it.

Thanks for reading. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.

Wednesday, May 11

CDP Wayback Machine - Atari Nostalgia Edition (Part 1).

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(Originally published June 2008.)

Finally, the first half of the CDP's list of the Top 30 Atari 2600 games of all-time. This is my own personal list based on games that I've been fortunate enough to play over the last 22 years, and by no means is a complete document of well-researched Atari 2600 history. Please enjoy.

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30. Air Raid

Air Raid is one of only two games on this list that I haven't actually played. I did, however, feel the need to include it for the sheer rarity and mystery that it conjures. The shape of the cartridge. The fact that it's worth thousands. The artwork on the game itself. This all perfectly represents the nostalgia and wide-eyed wonder of the Atari Age.

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29. Star Raiders

Star Raiders utilized a computer keyboard that I didn't have the instructions for in 1986, so for the first year that I owned the game, it was essentially impossible to play. Once I located the manual and keypad directions, it became significantly more fun, as you would imagine.

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28. Bobby Is Going Home

Sure, Bobby Is Going Home was a bit of a Pitfall!-style ripoff, but at least they picked a decent game to cannibalize. I played (and enjoyed the hell out of) this game when I was in the 4th Grade; it belonged to an old friend named Dave. Judging by how rare the game appears to be now, I certainly hope he held onto it.

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27. Atlantis

Combining elements of Space Invaders and Missile Command, Atlantis is a game that holds up just as well as the aforementioned classics (Just to be sure, I played it again last weekend). The only thing I don't like about it is the generic cover art for the cartridge. It's almost as if they knew it was the generic equivalent to Missile Command, so they packaged it as accordingly.

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26. Grand Prix

I hate Grand Prix. Loathe it with the blazing intensity of a thousand suns. A few months ago, I almost broke the game over my knee. Why? Because Grand Prix reminds me that I'm an idiot. With just a tiny bit of memorization and pattern recognition, you can blaze through racetracks like a man possessed. Hell, you could probably train a chimp to play this game better than me. I on the other hand, have yet to get a mere 70-second track devoted to memory. This is, presumably, because I'm an idiot, and Grand Prix sucks for reminding me of that.

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25. Haunted House

Without Haunted House, there might not have been a Resident Evil. Seriously. The survival horror genre hadn't been invented before Haunted House forced you to walk through a dark mansion in an attempt to retrieve an urn from the ghost of the former owner. On long-term influence alone, Haunted House deserves recognition.

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24. Escape From The Mindmaster

This was the other game on this list that I actually haven't played for myself. I did, however, watch someone play it for hours on end (I didn't own the cassette add-on required to play it), and it was positively groundbreaking and expansive for its time and primitive technology. And while it looks to be nothing more than an early example of that maze Screen Saver that comes pre-loaded in Windows 95, the mini-games and twists were more than enough to keep you interested for weeks.

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23. Galaxian

This would be a good time to explain some nuts and bolts that went into this Top 30 countdown. I'm trying to rank my favorite Atari 2600 games of all-time, not 'arcade games in general.' This needs to be taken into consideration when you see that games like Donkey Kong, Pac-Man and Q-Bert have been omitted from the list. The reason being is that while these were timeless and classic arcade games, they more or less sucked a boatload of ass when reformatted for the 2600. Galaxian is a little bit of both; not graphic-intensive enough to suffer when re-packaged, and not memorable enough to sit alongside of multi-format classics like Asteroids and Space Invaders.

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22. Yar's Revenge

Much like Star Raiders, Yar's Revenge was not a 'jump right in' sort of game if you were lacking the instruction booklet. However, once you understood the missions at hand, it became a strategy masterpiece for the 2600; perhaps overrated in 2008 but underrated at the time of release. Also, the sound effects for this game were fairly epic, and I just read that in 2005, a sequel was created. Rad.

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21. Joust

Joust holds a bittersweet place in my heart for being the final Atari 2600 game that I purchased new as a kid. I think it cost me $35, which is absolutely hilarious to me now that I can find used copies for a quarter at the Video Game X-Change at the East Towne Mall.

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20. Adventure

The main thing I want to mention about Adventure is the same thing that everyone likes to mention concerning Adventure. Apart from the fact that it's a groundbreaking-er, adventure game, it's the first instance of an 'Easter egg' in a video cartridge. By following a secret area, a hidden screen reveals the name of the game's creator, thus paving the way for disgruntled developers to implant messages into their games for decades to come.

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19. Defender

Boy, I loved Defender, but did I suck at it. In fact, this game is constantly referred to as one of the most difficult of all-time. I haven't played it on the 2600 or at an arcade for years, and with good reason. I'm too old to get sodomized so violently by a 30 year old game that I look back upon so fondly. It would sort of like imagining your grandmother in hell.

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18. Burgertime

Burgertime was one of those great arcade games that transferred less-than-beautifully onto the 2600, but I still included it because it was still endlessly replayable and just as fun. Also, I'd say that this was a precursor to Tetris in getting my Obsessive-Compulsive disorder on the right track.

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17. Tempest

A 3-D vector game with no ending that was created when the main developer had a nightmare about monsters crawling out of holes in the ground to kill him. You know what; I don't even care that the Atari 2600 port of Tempest never got past the prototype stage; this game ruled.

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16. Kaboom!

This paddle-based game relied on you catching and defusing bombs with buckets of water. Kaboom! was yet another of the 'catching things before they hit other things' game, but a high score of 3,000 points or more got you access into the Activision 'Bucket Brigade;' an exclusive club that I have yet to be invited into.

The conclusion to the Top 30 will arrive tomorrow and round out the week. Sound off in the comments section and enjoy your day.

Monday, May 9

CDP Wayback Machine - Nintendo Nostalgia Edition.

Top 15 NES Games Of All-Time.
(Originally published May 12, 2008.)

The CDP's Top 15 NES Games Of All-Time.

Before we get started, it should be noted that this is a list of my favorite NES games, not some be-all-to-end-all list that I think you'll agree entirely with. Furthermore, if you feel the need to explain in detail why Castlevania was better than Metal Gear, chances are that we're going to end up being friends anyway. Let's go.

Pre-Countdown Honorable Mentions go to: Castlevania (for being scary), Contra (for being extremely difficult without the Konami Code), Ghouls-'N-Ghosts (for being absolutely impossible), Ninja Gaiden (for the kickass storyline), Final Fantasy (for being Final freaking Fantasy) & Double Dragon II (for the Cyclone Spin Kick).

Super Mario Bros. 2.

15. Super Mario Bros. 2

SMB2 is hard. Really hard. Interest-rate mortgage calculation over 30 years, adjusted for inflation with PMI included-hard, as far as this guy is concerned. In fact, I've never actually won SMB2 without the assistance of a certain Game Genie-esque device that allowed me to leap over levels and attack Wart with Matrix-style bullet-time speed. Furthermore, SMB2 wasn't even a Mario game until it was repackaged for American audiences in 1988 (and was featured in the first issue of Nintendo Power, which I proudly own).

That all being said, the music, cartoonish boss appeal and multiple-character selection were all fairly groundbreaking at the time (not to mention the bizarre androgeny of Birdo), and I put many a controller through the drywall trying to reiterate myself with the jumping scheme and new Mario features. I played this game so much as a child, that I named my cat at the time 'Meowser,' a take-off of the bad-ass SMB2 boss, Mouser.

Don't laugh, asshole, I was 7. It's still one of the more clever things I've done.

Ring King.

14. Ring King

Where to start with the awesomeness that is Ring King? The fighters that ranged in color from Simpsons yellow to nearly-dead E.T. gray? The knockouts that could literally eject your opponent from the stadium? Or how about the most unintentional sexual act in NES history, the imfamous 'cornerman bob-n'-weave?' Ring King was a game that was simple to play (the button-mashing controls assured that first-timers could kick any seasoned pro's ass), which meant that the multi-player tournaments were always a blast.

An underrated NES party game, especially when two n00bz would duke it out for the first time. It normally looked like a Toughman competition; just two guys teeing off on the other's face until someone up and died. And what's more fun than that?

YouTube Goodness - Knocked Out Of The Stadium.

R.C. Pro-Am.

13. R.C. Pro-Am

There are many NES-related moments that we can all, as retro gamers, remember fondly. In my opinion, there was never anything funnier than watching someone attempt to play R.C. Pro-Am for the first time. The control scheme, completely impossible to explain or understand (until it became a permanently ingrained part of your central nervous system), virtually assured that the first 20 attempts at Track 1 would consist of 90-degree pinwheeling into every barrier, wall or oil slick in existence. Once you got it down, you were unstoppable, but when your friend took the reins for the first time, the epic failure was pure bliss.

Special attention goes out to the Yellow Car and its 'impossible speed' bursts in later stages of the game; one of the first examples of outright 'cheating' by computer AI. Go to hell, unnamed driver. You're the reason my trophy room is full of bronze wrenches.

YouTube Goodness - Opening Tracks & The Trophy Room.

TMNT2: The Arcade Game.

12. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

I have an extremely fond memory of attending a birthday party at Aladdin's Castle in the 3rd Grade (remember when arcades used to be amazing?). Myself and my three closest friends pooled our ridiculously large amount of game tokens into a small mound under the TMNT cabinet and went to town, winning the game two times in a row.

Girls were gently patting the sweat off of our brows and assisting us with generous sips of Mello Yello as we stayed focused and united. I was Donatello; I was always Donatello. It was one of my most treasured video game achievments; I think we pumped $80 into that damn machine.

I can't even remember who's birthday it was that day, solidly proving that the best memories aren't necessarily the ones that you purposely set out to create.

YouTube Goodness - Rocksteady's Got April!

The Legend Of Zelda.

11. The Legend Of Zelda

If you ever find yourself talking to me at length about something I couldn't care less about (and chances are that you are), The Legend Of Zelda theme music is probably running through my head on a constant loop. I'm ashamed to admit that I jumped on the Zelda train a little late in my childhood, but the joy and reward was just the same. Summer nights spent in a friend's garage, drinking copious amounts of Kool-Aid and listening to C+C Music Factory on the boom box. It's what memories are made of.

Come to think of it, I don't think I ever got that C+C Music Factory tape back. I have a phone call to make.

YouTube Goodness - One Of The Best Commercials Ever.

Excitebike.

10. Excitebike

The overwhelming frustration of overheating mere inches from the finish line. Creating a custom track that launched you directly into a wall on purpose. Tripping up opponents just before an obstacle that sent them slo-mo tumbling for fifteen seconds straight. Excitebike was one of those games that absolutely everyone had, so we're mostly united in our gaming experiences.

I was playing Grand Prix for the Atari 2600 a few weeks ago (a game that I called 'Grand Pricks' in 1988, because I didn't know any better), and it made me long for Excitebike; the image of your character standing yards away from the Top 3 finishers, head bowed in shame, is one of the more psychologically damaging moments of failure in early gaming history. They should have just showed me a picture of my mom getting kicked in the stomach by Darth Vader; it may have hurt a little less.

YouTube Goodness - Knocking Out Track 5.

Tecmo Super Bowl.

9. Tecmo Super Bowl

Forget Madden. It's well-documented that Tecmo Super Bowl is the greatest football game in history. Tournaments are still held all over the nation on a weekly basis, and YouTube clips of 500-yard, quarter-length scampers are plentiful. This is the game that will keep the fond memory of Christian 'The Nigerian Nightmare' Okoye in my head forever, as the game designers simply threw their hands in the air one night and said, "You know what? Screw everything; let's just make him impossible to tackle."

That, my friends, is awesome. "No fair; you can't be the Chiefs!"

YouTube Goodness - Superman Okoye Destroys The Colts.

Mega Man 2.

8. Mega Man 2

Taken from the Mega Man 2 Wikipedia page: "Mega Man 2 was named by GameSpot as one of 'The Greatest Games of All Time.' It was also honored in Nintendo Power's 'Top 200 Nintendo Games Ever' list, ranked at number 33. Creator Keiji Inafune claims the success of Mega Man 2 is what made the Mega Man series a hit that continues to spawn sequels."

I couldn't have said this better myself. Furthermore, I can't tell you how many 'Wood Man' jokes I've made over the years. Heh-heh....'wood.'

Penis.

YouTube Goodness - The Timeless Introduction To Mega Man 2.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

7. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

Well, here's one we can all probably agree on. The cast of characters was comedic and all-encompassing. The 'Dream Fight' code is etched in our subconscious until the end of time (right off the top of my head: 007-373-5963). The sweat-drenched survival of the first 90 seconds with Iron Mike. Trailing behind Doc Louis' bike while jogging in a pink tracksuit past the Statue Of Liberty. King Hippo. It's all here.

Punch-Out!! is one of those games that I will still be playing and enjoying when I'm 50, and maybe by then I'll get the timing down with Super Macho Man. I once had to dodge his 'Super Spin Punch' 38 damn times in a row.

As a side note, I didn't actually win this game until I was in my late teens, and as I celebrated this long-awaited accomplishment alone in my bedroom, I became acutely aware that good memories are worthless unless they can be shared. Hours later, however, I lost my virginity, so I'd say it was a pretty good day for me.

YouTube Goodness - Iron Mike Gets Owned.

Super Mario Bros.

6. Super Mario Bros.

I once read an IGN or GameSpy article proclaiming that "Super Mario Bros. IS gaming." This is unquestionably true; it launched a rebirth of video gaming that has been doing nothing but pick up steam and generate billions of profitable dollars from losers like me for the last 22 years. I cannot offer anything that hasn't already been said in praise of SMB, nor can I properly convey its importance to technology and global culture.

What I can tell you is that the first time I won SMB, I was horribly sick with the flu, and in my overly-hyper celebration, yodeled groceries directly into the box fan whirring in my grandparents' living room. Whatever splatteriffic result you're imagining in your head, I can assure you it was actually far worse. It still didn't deter my celebration; how could it?

YouTube Goodness - Amazing SMB Race.

Metroid.

5. Metroid

Metroid has been considered by many to be the greatest NES game ever made, for a number of reasons. The amazing weapons, storyline and unparalleled code system. The weeks of sleepless nights it took to finally take down the Mother Brain. The twist ending of having to escape the lair to avoid death, even after defeating the boss. And of course, the ultimate twist ending, revealing that our main character and bad-ass hero was actually a woman. That revelation alone transcended Metroid into the stratusphere when it comes to games that had a cultural impact, with endless sequels and legions of fans.

The first time I battled a Metroid, I distinctively remember yelping in terror. Those things were a goddamn nightmare, as I've always had a problem with things that latched onto other things and sucked their lives dry. Like David Spade.

YouTube Goodness - The Final Battle & Best Ending.

Metal Gear.

4. Metal Gear

The beginning of what is probably the greatest action franchise in gaming history. This one had it all: Spying. Traitors. Intrigue. Weapons galore. The glorification of cigarettes. The final twist and realization that your trusted boss has been setting you up for the fall from the very beginning, and it's up to you to take him out once and for all. My 'Official Metal Gear Map' is tattered and held together exclusively with Scotch tape and memories, but thinking back to insomniac weekends spent conquering this game is the perfect definition of childhood happiness.

This game is also noted for its 'Engrish,' with phrases such as "The truck have started to move!" and "I feel asleep!" Oh, and you get penalized if you shoot the prisoners that you're trying to capture, so try not to do that, even though they're sitting there, all tied up and pathetic. Show restraint, Solid Snake (To this day, I'm still baffled that the game designers decided to name their main character after what amounts to nothing more than an erection joke).

YouTube Goodness - The Opening Levels To Metal Gear.

River City Ransom.

3. River City Ransom

River City Ransom has received a cult following and legions of devoted fans (ironically) after being named the 'Most Underrated NES Game Of All-Time' by Nintendo Power magazine. And as far as start-to-finish, vague storyline-driven games go, this was one of the most fun games you'll probably ever play.

Follow the map, beat the piss out of every gang in River City and save your girlfriend. Rob the thugs, hit the stores to buy goods that will make yourself stronger. Nowadays, most games follow this structure; back in the day, River City Ransom was the only game in town. The music was tight, the locations were great, the weapons and violence were supreme and the replayability factor is off the charts. I still play this game.

YouTube Goodness - Basic Clip That Will Convince You Of RCR's Awesomeness.

Tetris.

2. Tetris

Here it is. The game that gave almost all of its fans Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. The game that actually spawned a psychological after-effect known as the 'Tetris Effect.' The game that is so ingrained into our minds and memories that we can actually fantasize about playing a game. Tetris deserves to sit right next to Chess and Poker as one of the greatest games in the history of mankind; a premise so simple and addictive that it changed the lives of arguably billions of people.

It's f***ing Tetris, man!

YouTube Goodness - You're Nowhere Near The Best Player On Earth.

Super Mario Bros. 3.

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

February 12, 1990. I had just turned 8 years old one week earlier, and pooled every penny I had received as a gift and ran to Toys-R-Us. There, behind the glass, hung the greatest Nintendo game of all-time. Super Mario Bros. 3. After seeing SMB3 for the first time in Fred Savage film The Wizard the year before (and what a brilliant marketing ploy, by the way), I knew that it was my destiny to conquer this game like a five-dollar whore.

I had the strategy guide. I had the maps. I had the entire Summer to hone my craft, and indeed I did. In the Summer of 1990, I won SMB3 an astounding 100 times, something that I'd argue that nobody else has ever done. I'd get up in the morning, eat breakfast, play some basketball and win SMB3. The next day, I did the same; so on and so forth, until school was back in session.

As depressing as that may sound, it was actually quite amazing. Friends would come over and win with me. I'd win with one life. I'd win using no Warp Zones. I even won some levels by looking into a mirror. It was probably the best Summer ever.

YouTube Goodness - Mario! Mario!

Thanks for reading. Sound off in the comments section and let us know what your favorite NES games are.