Arcades & Heirlooms: A Vintage Video Game Experience

By the time most of my classmates were saving up to purchase a PlayStation 3, I was still raving about the late, great Sega Genesis. Games like Mortal Kombat and Tekken, with anchored backgrounds and minimal moves, were rendered obsolete by stealth shooters, headset communication, and pseudo-3D graphics, but my lack of resources led me to embrace retro video games and their steep learning curves.

It all started in the mid-nineties when the grade school version of myself inherited my older brother's obsolete Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It came with old school games like Super Mario Bros., Super Contra, and Excitebike, all of which were released before I was even born. Still, I welcomed these vintage distractions and blew feverishly into the cartridges to prevent the accumulation of dust. In some ways, I became a budding video game historian, even venturing into the world of Pong and rummaging through the bins of tag sales for heirloom games to add to my growing collection. 

If you'd asked a younger me whether I thought that retro games would come into fashion again, I probably would have answered yes. The 2016 release of the NES Classic tells me I am not the only one who longs to return to the times when Duck Hunt ruled the TV set. There is no denying the progress of modern games and realistic graphics, however vintage consoles will always hold a special place in my heart.  

Among my favorite indulgences is Namco's 1994 release of Tekken, one of the first fighting games to use 3D animation. While it only scores a 75% approval rate on GameRankings, even the creator of Mortal Kombat has declared his appreciation for his competitor. While I wouldn't say that I am a cultish fan, I was thrilled to discover there is even a stand-alone arcade version of Tekken. I’m not planning to invest in an arcade machine anytime soon, but the coin-op version offers ample opportunity for friendly tournaments. 

Another arcade machine that I’m always thrilled to see is the classic Donkey Kong, a video game mainstay. This iconic game was released by so many developers it's unlikely you haven't given it a try in one form or another; I happen to be a sucker for the Nintendo version. It’s hard to believe that the banana-chomping, muscled ape character was born way back in 1981. His creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, was a mastermind of design, as I’m sure you know. Next time you visit an arcade, look out for Mario’s first appearance in the original Donkey Kong, which predates the original Mario Bros. game. 

By the time I reached high school, I was clutching Paperboy the way my friends were clutching copies of Halo for the XBOX. The difference in our preferences was colossal, but at least I could say I'd finished my games. Retro video game sentiment was rare back then—now, it has reached a point of maturity that is undeniable. Akin to a music expert's search for rare vinyl records, there are video game collectors that seek out and safeguard the mementos of the past, and I am proud to be one of them. 

I find it hard to put into words why I prefer vintage video games to modern ones. However, since my life is constantly overrun with screens and technology, I guess I am desensitized to realistic graphics and underwhelmed by complex narratives. I believe that the original creators did their best to generate meaningful, creative games within their means. Simply put, I cannot deny the pure pleasure I get from eating magic mushrooms in Mario Bros. or wielding the Zapper alongside the duck-clutching puppy of Duck Hunt.

Guest Blogger Jessica Kane is a writer for The Pinball Company, the best online source for new, used, and refurbished pinball machines, arcade cabinets, and more!

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