The exposure that I initially got to Nintendo and its plethora of games was severely limited despite my owning the system. It wasn’t really a topic of conversation for me (or whatever you’d call the dialogue between two 5 year olds), and remained a low priority for a while. However, my uncle (the same one who gave us the NES in the first place) and his two sons would infrequently come over and show me the full potential of the system in twofold. First I remember trying the surfing in California Games and finding it amazing despite me never really getting it. At this point manuals were too technical for me, so any game I couldn’t figure out on my own were squandered. But my cousins could play these more complex games that were simply beyond me. This not only showed me a world beyond the running-and-jumping sort of adventure, but also gave me an appreciation for watching games being played.
Second, and probably more mind-blowing was my uncle’s van. My uncle must’ve had a bit of scratch to play around with, because in 1989 he was rolling around with a TV and NES system installed in his van. I only got to play it once, but the best way to describe it would be, “No one man should have all that power”. There’s a sad ending to that, as not long after the van was broken into and everything was swiped. Nonetheless, from my cousins’ varied and seemingly limitless supply of new games, I soon realized that what games other people had to play was more exciting than what games I had. I would go as far as to say that the majority of my friendships up through middle school were at least partially built upon sharing and playing each other’s video games, bonding over our respective collections and the microcosms of the gaming world that we were growing up in.
Point in case, one of my first best friends was a boy named Billy. We met in Kindergarten and immediately hit it off. We played tee ball together, ran all over the place together, and even got to that critical point where I had my first sleepover at his house (that’s still a big deal, right?). Well as I mentioned before, games were rarely discussed at this age for me, but knowing we both partook in games, I wasn’t sure what to expect as we sat down in front of his TV in the side room (while his grandmother watched some made-for-TV horror movie in the other room that I can still see perfectly, still haven’t found the name of that damn flick…). What I encountered was the game and game franchise that I could argue as one of my all-time favorites: Mega Man 3.
Now at this point, I’m pretty sure my library had expanded with TMNT 1 and LoZ if not a couple others (not sure, I’ll have to ruminate on the order I got my games some other time), but the things that Mega Man brought to the table for me were unstoppably savory. It had the password system to track your progress even though we sucked at writing them down properly much less not losing them inside of a week. The option of choosing your path (but fuck that, we had our path of Magnet/Hard/Top/Shadow/Gemini/Snake/Needle/Spark and we stuck to it despite that not being the real way) was not as overwhelming as it was in Zelda, but still let you feel like you had choice. But I gotta say, what clinched the entire game for me was the high jump/pit-vincible cheat.
For those who aren’t savvy to it, if you hold down right on the directional pad of the second controller, Mega Man not only jumps four times as high, but he can also jump right outta pits like it ain’t no thing. This made a game that would have likely been otherwise impossible for us six year olds playable, and more importantly, enjoyable. We even messed around with the toggling the second pad real quick to get the real invincible Mega Man where his life bar was depleted and the music stops, but that glitched up on us a lot. The ingenuity we felt like we had doing these things was immense. And I do mean we: doing this cheat took two people (well, until I got the game and used the leg of a tray to press the second controller for me. That’s right.), and as dumb as holding a button down for player one may sound, it was hugely rewarding and gave us a chance to play symbiotically rather than waiting for our turn.
There was something about the balance of platforming and shooting in Mega Man that was perfect for six year old-me. Shooting was inherently cooler of course, but the one time I tried Contra or games like 1942, they were frustratingly too difficult. But Inafune’s porridge was just the right amount of cartoon-y and action for me to get on board. I’m pretty sure the next day I immediately pleaded to my mom for the cartridge, and the following Hanukkah got the game that dominated that me and the pictures taken that week (always at Snake Man’s level). This is a game that another one of my cousins and I still look back and talk about fondly because of how much time we put into those wrecked levels where you fight the Mega Man 2 bosses. Billy likely doesn’t know that his influence is the reason for my love of Mega Man and perhaps why I enjoy video games as much as I do today, but I wouldn’t take my jump-while-going-through-the-door shenanigans away for anything else.