The Best Christmas Present of All Time

In 1985 the cockroach of gaming systems, The Nintendo Entertainment System, was released in North America, just in time for Christmas purchase. Since then, PTSD has become a commonplace phenomenon, even for those who never spent a single hour in combat. My eye still twitches with anticipation whenever someone mentions Metroid.

Psychological trauma aside, there are countless reasons why this is one of the greatest Christmas gifts of all time. Got friends? No? Fuck ’em! Who needs friends when an 8-bit sprite’s existence hinges upon your every whim? You’ve got a nintendo entertainment system!

Got emotional control? No? That’s ok, because the NES can take a beating . . . and shots from pump BB Guns, dips in vats of acid, whatever. The cartridges were virtually impervious to everything, except dust. I have seen them survive gun shots, get dashed against walls, get stomped, survive spearing with N64 paddles. But you take one of the CD’s from the newer systems, they won’t survive the abuse those old cartridges did. Just ask my old copy of Resident Evil II, or any of the games my friend had for his Sega Saturn, except the movie edition of Street Fighter. That game has nothing to tell, and deserved to be destroyed, regardless of difficulty.

Nintendo wasn’t just an entertainment system impervious to nearly all damage, it taught people the value of venting. I have watched so many friends lose a life, take a game out of the system, stomp/smash/bite the cartridge and then calmly stick the game back in their system and start it up like nothing ever happened. Alright, maybe that was just me.

The NES was also like Mr. Dressup’s tickle trunk.

"And this, children, is where I keep the bodies"

It let you be anything you wanted to be:

a half-naked zombie hunting hobo

A street fighter named "Bimmy" (Props to the Angry Nintendo Nerd for calling this one.)

A zombie head vomiting on New York City's skyscrapers

Noah (Who knew Noah was so ripped? It's no wonder he was among God's favored).

John Holmes in an elf costume. (I don't see it. Some believe Link's crouching stance reveals more than just a bulge shot).

Years later, talk of the Nintendo Entertainment System brings folks of different backgrounds together. How many of you reading this blew a cartridge clean, or blew inside the system? How many drew an alcohol-covered Q-tip across the innards of a game? How many of you wedged one of your paddles into the system to hold the cartridge down, or snapped the cartridge off the edge of the system and you pressed it down into the innards of the machine? There were hundreds of tricks used to make the NES function properly. And like the 100th monkey syndrome, those tips and tricks spread. Even the less conventional methods of getting the NES to properly function–leaving the system on and pulling the cartridge out, smashing the game into the top of the system, and throwing the paddle at the television–caught on, which is probably why my system will now only play Mighty Bomb Jack.

Speaking of tips and tricks, anybody else spend their allowance on calls to Nintendo Power? I sure as hell did. And who can forget the ultimate film homage to the NES, The Wizard:

If someone says wizard and your thought process bypasses Harry Potter and Selena Gomez and goes straight to Fred Savage and his mute younger brother's awesome gaming skills in this flick, then you're . . . my new best friend.

So this Christmas, as I play through the first Super Mario Brothers game yet again, I want to take a few moments out of my game time to thank Nintendo for their decision to stop making card games for Yakuza and start making video games. May you kick Microsoft and SONY in the ass for years to come.

Madballs on Retro Bizarro

How did I miss these?

When I think back to the toys I played with during the 80s, a few highlights come to mind. My Pet Monster was one of my favorites. The cartoon aired on a few of the Canadian stations we managed to pick up at my house. I used to rent the movie from the local corner store until they started offering NES games. But I never got my hands on the actual toy. I had some smaller knockoff version.

I really liked Gremlins too. The toys rocked, but the movie made me cry. Sometimes I still wake in a sweat deep in the night screaming “Gizmo! Noooo!” At least I don’t wet the bed anymore. Now I go in the laundry basket when I sleep walk.

Now Madballs, I could afford those. And we had a hell of a time with them.The only problem was figuring out how to play with the damned things. They looked cool, but what did they DO? We tried using them to play golf, baseball, soccer. That never worked. But boy did they bounce, like a dry sponge on pavement. Seriously, watch the commercial I posted below. Those kids slam those balls into the pavement and . . . nothing.

And almost any traditional sports balls worked better as tools for vandalism than a Madball. Madballs wouldn’t break windows like a real baseball, but you could make your friends wince when you lobbed one at their heads, and the only thing that grossed out my cousins more than a Madball was throwing a frog with a firecracker in its mouth at them. We weren’t allowed to play with firecrackers without supervision, unfortunately, so Madballs were about all we had.

and this?

There are toys from my youth that I’ve forgotten over time. But Madballs keep cropping up. A few years ago they were re-released for a short time. I picked one up at the local drug store and decided, against better judgment, to open it. Then most of the paint peeled off the front of Oculus Orbis and it was ruined. I should have left it in the package.

About a decade before that, one of the video rental businesses shut down, and I found a VHS tape of Madballs cartoons.

I don't remember these.

The cartoons are horrible, just like Garbage Pail Kids and all of the other cartoons released during the 80s. But the nostalgia factor cannot be denied, and I find myself still popping it in from time to time.

The premise: the Madballs fight against a fascist warthog Madball and his henchmen for the right to rock and roll. With the help of a few friends, the Madballs band plays shitty old rock tunes from the 50s under public domain, and recycle the same shitty jokes every other cartoon from the 80s used. But damn, do they look cool while doing it.

And while My Pet Monster and other toys have long since been laid to rest, Madballs are still alive and kicking, appearing in an Ipod game called Babo Crash HD. The re-release of the original toys was successful enough to warrant the generation of new characters, and another re-release in which you can squeeze the Madballs to reveal their innards (pictured above). I’d like to get my hands on one of those.

Below you can check out one of the old commercials for Madballs, which, incidentally, I don’t remember either: