A couple of weeks ago I took a quick stroll through the flea market going on at the Cross County Mall, mostly just to people-watch before heading home from work. And while I had a few dollars in my pocket, I wasn’t expecting to find much of anything. Flea markets were never really my bag; they were always something my parents dragged me to as a kid, and unless I could find the motherload of old comic books from some random dealer, I never had much interest in items like musty candy dishes and boxes of old tools.
But there I was, a grown man on a Friday evening picking my way through a cardboard box of old Nintendo games I found at a sellers table. And by “Nintendo” I mean the original classic machine that started it all, the Nintendo Entertainment System…you know, the thing your kids begged you to buy them for Christmas every year from 1985 to about, say, 1991, the year when this week’s archive clip, a Wal-Mart ad for a one-day sale from the Nov. 16, 1991, Journal Gazette, was taken.
1991 was actually pretty late in the NES’s lifespan, all things considered, which accounts for these pretty sweet deals. At the time, the Super Nintendo, the thing your kids begged you for every Christmas from 1992 to 1996, was being shipped off to Wal-Mart and K-Mart shelves near you.
Pressure was on to keep selling those “classic” Nintendo’s until they couldn’t sell any more, as such, Wal-Mart was offering not one, but two different “sets” for the video game enthusiasts of the house, including the “Power Set” which included the Nintendo, the Zapper, and (not pictured in that grainy clip) the Power Pad, a roll-up vinyl mat with the buttons built into it intended to assuage the fears of moms everywhere that their sons were slowly turning into Dubuque hams over the summer while we did nothing but crush up Tostitos into single serve microwave cups of Cheez Whiz. Ironically, the “Sports Set” did not include the power pad.
Eighty-eight dollars for either set? Not too shabby. That’s easy for me to say now. Back when this ad ran, I would have just been entering my teens and $88 might as well have been a million. Heck if I don’t remember walking into that very same Wal-Mart a few years earlier and upon finding Super Mario Bros. 3 on the rack, going at the time for about $45, and promptly took it in my pudgy hands up to the layaway desk with the intent on paying it off in $five installments over the course of the year.
But who am I kidding? You all know I already had a Nintendo in 1991 and was already making preliminary drafts of Christmas-time pleas for its successor. In fact, I was one of the lucky few who had a Nintendo Entertainment System pretty much right out of the gate when I received the “Deluxe Set” as a present probably somewhere around 1986 or 1987, a set which consisted of not only two controllers (perfect for the only child in your family), the Zapper, and R.O.B. the Video Robot, a relic of the early NES era included by Nintendo to only convince retailers wary of getting into the video game craze again after the still-recent market collapse brought on by the legendary twin failures of Atari versions of “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” and “Pac-Man” that it was an electronic toy.
While forgotten now, R.O.B. actually was a nifty little device, a goggle eyed hunk of plastic who could actually read his “orders” off the screen without being plugged in; orders that would let him perform any number of functions as long as that number only went up to four.
So early was my entry into the Nintendo Era that Super Mario Bros., the huge game at the time, wasn’t even bundled into the system yet. Instead I got Duck Hunt and Gyromite the latter one of the two games specifically made to be used with R.O.B, and maybe the only video game ever that featured green critters called “Smicks” that got distracted by turnips. Credit my parents for also throwing in Excitebike, a game that let me live out my dream of being a BMX racer from the freedom of the living room.
And that was that. The video game fascination I had been nurturing thanks to my Atari 2600 and countless trips to the Aladdin’s Castle Arcade in the mall exploded into a full blown obsession. And while video games continued to evolve over the years, I stayed brand-loyal to Nintendo products; Don’t speak to me of PlayStations and Xboxes. They’re great if you want to play games that give you migraines or if you prefer military weaponry; but it’s just not what video games “are” to me.
There was a time there a few years ago when I considered just boxing my NES, and it’s Super Nintendo cousin, up safely in storage and moving on; at the time, old NES games were practically being given away at every video store in town, and the last time I played it for any length of time was when my Wii broke and I needed a fix.
But then, a strange thing happened. I discovered from seeing the insane amount of channels about the subject on Youtube, and from friends I know that have kids with NES Controller-style cases for their smartphones, that suddenly time had passed enough that now such things are collector-cool. Or at least cool adjacent…which is why I didn’t feel too square pausing at the flea market last week.
So, kids of today, whatever it is you’re into, and that you’ll stop being into around your late teens, take note; just add on 20 more years and suddenly you may be glad you still have whatever those things are in your possession. Warning: there are exceptions. Let me tell you about “Pogs” sometime.