It’s a common trend in the media to claim that nothing good can come from playing video games. After what I went through last year, I can safely call bullshit. But I suppose I should introduce myself before I explain myself, huh. My name’s Joe, I’m seventeen years old, and a freshly minted retro gamer. Shortly after my birthday, I added a NES to my growing collection of retro game systems. It came with a small additional box that contained four games. Among them were Blaster Master and Batman, two favorites from my childhood. I grew up with the system, but parted with it after getting a Super Nintendo. I examined the cartridges and noticed how filthy the contacts were. They were in dire need of a cleaning. I went to the downstairs bathroom where my parents kept some of their cleaning products for some cotton swabs and rubbing alcohol.
I was halfway down the stairs when I heard three obnoxious knocks on the front door. I opened the door, and there stood a friend of mine from school. Her name was Andy, and like me, she was a gamer. She asked me if my NES had come yet, and held up a box of games. I invited her up to my room after gathering some cleaning supplies, and prepared for some retro gaming fun.I had Andy clean the dirty games while I sifted through the games she brought over. Several of them were quite rare. I held up a copy of Duck Tales 2 in one hand, and a copy of Bubble Bobble 2 in the other. Andy was a much more accomplished gamer than I was, and had a collection that dwarfed mine. I put the games down and continued to go through her games, and found a copy of another game from my childhood.
It was Kid Icarus. Seeing that familiar 8-bit rendition of Pit, the main character, brought a big smile to my face. I knew it was going to be a fun night, since playing with a friend in the same room was an experience that couldn’t be topped by any online game. Andy and I went through several of the games in about six hours, starting with Duck Tales 2 and ending with Blaster Master. It was nine o’ clock when we stopped, and I was ready to call it quits. Andy joshed me about my fatigue for a minute, and finally gathered up her games. I saw her out the front door, and went back up to my room. I gathered my own games together and put them on top of the NES, and noticed something out of place among the stack. Andy left her Kid Icarus cart behind. I thought that was pretty dumb of her, but I thought to myself how great it would be to revisit that game on my own.
I knew I should’ve gone to bed, but I had to pop in Kid Icarus for at least a little while.The opening theme song played soon after booting up the game, and I hit the start button with great anticipation. The first level started, and a wave of memories flooded into my mind. The game was just as hard as I remembered, and I lost many lives before beating the level. I forgot that I had to grind for points to power Pit’s health up. I also remembered that defeating as many enemies as possible was important for getting the weapon power ups. I wouldn’t stand a chance in the later levels without them.
I happily remembered beating this game once as a kid, but then sadly remembered why I didn’t beat it again since. When I was six years old, I had another friend who was into games. Her name was Sarah, and yes, another girl who played video games. Well, she would when she came over my house. Her parents weren’t crazy about video games, so they didn’t let her have a NES of her own. Before I exposed her to gaming, she just wanted to play wedding all the time. I wasn’t crazy about that, so handing her the controller was one of the smartest things I remember doing. She liked every game I had at the time, but her favorite by far was Kid Icarus. It might’ve been because Pit resembled cupid to her, but who was I to question her? She wasn’t that good at the game, and admittedly, neither was I. We didn’t care, though. We always had fun playing together.
After my parents got me the Super Nintendo, they told me I had to get rid of my NES. They told me I could sell it at a nearby flea market, but I had a different idea. I knew Sarah would be crushed if she couldn’t play our favorite games anymore, and she didn’t have a game system of her own. I asked my parents if I could give it to her instead. My parents were hesitant about it, since they wanted to make back some of the money they spent on the Super Nintendo. I pleaded with them for about an hour, and they finally relented. I visited Sarah the next day, and I presented my NES to her. She reacted like a puppy on speed, and hugged me for what seemed like hours. Her parents wore happy faces, but I got the feeling they didn’t approve of my gift. They didn’t seem to do anything about it, though. Sarah talked to me nonstop about the progress she was making in Kid Icarus for a long time.
Sarah and I hung out together up until middle school. It was a hard time for me, as I was beginning to go through puberty. I was beginning to see girls in ways I never had, and I felt awkward whenever I asked Sarah to play games with me. Trying to put those feelings aside, I went over to Sarah's house one day for some serious NES action. I remember fantasizing about how cool it would be to finally get past Area 3 in Blaster Master, or topple The Joker in Batman. When I arrived, I knocked on the front door excitedly. I felt a burst of cold air hit me as the door opened, I and found myself face-to-face with her dad. I asked if she was there, but he didn’t answer me right away. He looked confused and startled by my question, but I just asked him again. He then became frustrated with me, and he harshly told me never to come back again. He shut the door in my face, leaving me with no choice but to go home.
I was at the fifth level of the game when I came back to reality, and saw that an hour had passed when I looked at the clock. I turned off the NES, and prepared for bed. I didn’t get to sleep until midnight, though. I couldn’t stop thinking about Sarah. I didn’t see her again since that day, and she never came to school again. Nobody knew what happened to her, and I never heard about anything concerning her appearing on the news. I knew that eventually, I would have to move on and make new friends. I met Andy a year later in eighth grade. She initiated a conversation with me when she saw me doodling pictures of Mega Man on my homework sheets, and we became friends from that point on. Since Sarah disappeared off the face of the earth, Andy was the closest thing I had to a best friend. She was heavily into gaming even back then and she made me into the passionate gamer I am today.
The next morning, I woke up in a trance-like state. My mind seemed to focus on the NES, and the Kid Icarus cart I neglected to remove from the slot. I felt the urge to complete the game, but one glance at my clock reminded me that I still had a Friday of school to get through. I received a text from Andy saying that she wanted to come over and retrieve Kid Icarus, so I guess I wasn’t going to beat it anytime soon. Maybe I could convince her to sell it to me, or at least let me borrow it for a little while. Either way, I’ll have to come right home when school ends to greet her. I didn’t bother eating breakfast before leaving for school, and my lack of energy might’ve caused me to space out behind the wheel. I drove my crappy little Windstar down the wrong road, and I didn’t catch my mistake until five minutes after the fact. I pulled over to the side of the road, and found myself fairly close to Sarah’s house. What the hell?
What were the odds that a simple error would lead me there of all places? I let out a slight groan, and looked for an empty driveway to turn myself around in. As I was looking, I saw something amiss about Sarah’s house. There were several large boxes on the front lawn, and a large white truck that blocked the driveway. I stopped again to get a better look, and saw Sarah’s parents come out the front door. I hadn’t seen them in a long while, so I couldn’t help but stare at them. They inevitably took notice of me, resulting in a very awkward stare down. Sarah’s dad signaled me to come over after those weird few minutes, and I felt obligated to comply. I stiffly walked over to him, feeling uneasy. He reached out to shake my hand, and greeted me like a friend he hadn’t seen in a while. He chatted me up about how I was doing, and what was going on with the house. He told me they finally decided to move on, and they were moving the last of their belongings to their new abode. Sarah’s mother went back into the house after telling me she had something to give me, and came back out with a box in her hands.
I took the box from her and looked inside. It was my old Nintendo, and the games I gave to Sarah. She told me that they were going to call me over later to give it all back to me, since Sarah wasn’t around to use it anymore. Did she mean to tell me that even they didn't know what happened to Sarah? I wanted to press them both for more details, but I stopped myself before I could say anything. I just thanked them, and went on my way. I was in another world for the rest of the day. I didn’t pay attention in any of my classes, and I got sent to the office for dozing off too many times. But hey, at least I was awake for the drive home. When I got out to my Windstar, I decided to go through the box of games I got back. I wanted to make sure everything was there, and see if there was any damage to be fixed. The NES itself looked alright; it just had the usual signs of use. The games had dirt and gunk on the contacts, which didn’t surprise me. I’d have them working in no time after a little cleaning. Something was wrong, though. Not everything was in that box. Most of my old games were there, but my old Kid Icarus was nowhere to be found.
I guess Sarah’s parents couldn’t find every game I owned, but I still felt annoyed that it wasn’t there. I probably should’ve shaken it off, but it couldn’t hurt to see if they could dig it up for me. They wouldn’t be leaving until a few days later, so I made a quick trip back to Sarah’s house. Nobody was around when I got there; the property seemed devoid of life. I got the impression they rushed out of there, since the front door was wide open. I stared at the opening for a little while, and finally I convinced myself to go inside. I may have been trespassing, but I desperately wanted that game back. The house was completely cleared of furniture, and every other door was shut. I felt compelled to look in the cellar first, because where else do you keep old stuff? Much to my surprise, it was absolutely freezing down there! Even colder than it was outside! Before proceeding, I searched for a light source and hastened my search. There wasn’t much down there except for a few apple boxes and a jar curiously placed in the corner. I went to examine the jar, and it had a label on it that said “Chicken Feet”. I was charmed by this discovery, but I had to get back on track. I was here for a game, not a snack.
I bumbled around, looking all around for anything out of place. I wasn't able to think straight due to the cold, but I eventually noticed something lodged into a space on the ceiling. It was a square object that resembled an NES cart. Upon closer inspection, I saw that it was an NES cart. That had to be Kid Icarus; I knew it was here somewhere! I grabbed one of the apple boxes without hesitation, and I went to retrieve my prize. I grabbed my game, and hauled ass out of that house before anyone came back. When I got back to my Windstar, I examined the cart closer before going home. The condition of the game was awful, much worse than the other games. The label was completely faded, and the title could barely be seen. The contacts were much worse; they were completely rusted. Beyond the look of the game, simply holding the game didn’t feel right to me. I stared at the cart for ten minutes, and I noticed I was still freezing. The day started out cold, but it seemed to get more so after I went into that house.
I set the cart down on the passenger seat, and made my way back home. I cranked the heat up a bit, but it didn’t help at all. Was the heat not working? I tried to deal with the cold as I drove home, focusing my mind on what to say to Andy about her Kid Icarus cart. Mine seemed to be a lost cause, so I hoped I could get a few more days with it. I never got to ask her for it, though. My mom told me that Andy came by earlier, and she allowed her to go into my room to get her cart. She went into my room without me being there. Hearing that gave me a nervous tick. I didn’t bother bringing my games up for cleaning; I just threw myself onto my bed and went to sleep. I woke up at dinner time after experiencing a strange dream. I was wandering around my backyard as a child. It was cloudy and unbearably cold like earlier, yet I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt. Over by where a sandbox used to be, I saw a girl looking up at the sky. I was facing the back of her, but I still knew who it was.
I could never forget Sarah’s chestnut brown hair. It went right down to her waist, and I didn’t know anyone else with hair that long. I looked up to see what she was looking at, but the sky was completely gray. I looked back down to see that she was gone, and in her place was something that looked like a lace clothe. It looked like the clothe Sarah would put over her head when she made me play wedding with her, only it looked like a dog dug it up from the ground. I sat up in my bed blankly staring at the wall, trying to make sense of that dream. My thought process was interrupted by my dad calling me down for dinner. He made his homemade pizza that night, and was desperate for an opinion. I let the dream wait until later, and went downstairs to eat. While I was at the table, I felt that I should bring my games inside. The pizza honestly wasn’t that good, so I excused myself from the table early and went out to my Windstar. When I opened the door, I felt wave of cold air hit me. It felt like I stuck my arm in a freezer and left it there for three hours. I grabbed my stuff quickly, and went back inside. What was I going to do with that van?
I went straight up to my room, brushing off my parents who inquired about the box I was holding. I set the box down on my bed, and prepared to clean my old games. The only game I bothered to test before cleaning was Kid Icarus, since I was so sure that it wouldn’t work. It seemed to have a little bit of life in it, since I was able to see the title screen come up. But that was as far as I could get with it, as the screen immediately went gray when I pressed start. I cleaned it a few times more, and even blew into the cart like the old days. Nothing. I guess that one instance of the title screen was all I was going to get. I went ahead and cleaned the other games, and got them working after a rigorous cleaning session. It felt good to play them again, even though I should’ve used that time for homework. I went to have a shower after I finished my gaming marathon, and made the water as hot as I could make it.
I couldn’t get over how cold it got that day, and I craved extreme heat because of it. I even set the heat in my room to seventy-five degrees before leaving for the bathroom. Normally I would’ve shrieked when the steaming hot water hit me, but I welcomed it and enjoyed my cleansing for a good thirty minutes. My face looked like a cherry pie when I got out, but I didn’t give a damn. While I was putting my clothes back on, the bathroom door opened slightly. A cool breeze came through the crack, but this one was more soothing rather than biting. I finished putting my shirt back on and left the bathroom, intrigued by what just happened. Nothing was there, of course. The house wasn’t usually drafty, but I guess my mom could’ve left a window cracked open while cleaning. I went to my room and was surprised by an unusual happening. The room was almost completely dark, with the TV being the only light source that worked. I didn’t remember leaving it on, and I definitely didn’t remember leaving the NES on. But the thing that hit me the worst was the temperature. I struggled up the stairs to see what was happening, feeling like a thousand tiny needles where piercing my limbs.
The title screen for Kid Icarus was on the TV, and the controller was placed on the floor by the bedroom door. I didn't take the cartridge out of the system after my final attempt at cleaning it, but I'm positive I turned the system off! Was this some kind of stupid joke? No, it couldn’t have been. This cold didn’t feel natural, it was just like the cellar at Sarah's house. All the while, the welcoming title music of Kid Icarus finally caught my attention. I picked up the controller, and sat myself down to inspect the TV. I tried hard to get Kid Icarus working earlier, and to no avail. Why was it suddenly working now? I tried to shut the system off, but a horribly digitized voice erupted from the TV.
The voice stopped me dead in my tracks. Did the game just tell me "no"? Was such a thing even possible? I didn’t know what else to do, other than hit the start button. I was again treated to a poorly digitized voice.
I know it had been a while, but I'm sure Kid Icarus didn't had voice samples. I only played Andy’s copy the day before, and that version just had standard NES sound effects.
The game didn’t throw any more voices at me when I started playing; the game was exactly what I remembered. It played like the same balls hard Nintendo classic I was used to. Except I was playing while suffering through that maddening cold, and trying to figure out those voice samples. It couldn’t have been a coincidence that it yelled “No!” when I reached for the power button. I stopped thinking about it for a bit so I could focus on the game, but the cold was seriously beginning to get to me. I tried to get up to put some more clothes on, but a static shock from the controller stopped me. I then heard another voice.
“Don’t leave me!”
That voice came in clearer than the other two, and I recognized it somewhat. I don’t know what came over me, but I felt that I just had to proceed in Kid Icarus at that point. I’ve had strange things happen to me before, but nothing quite like this. It seemed so irrational for me to think that Sarah had some connection to my game, but I had to find out more, and the only way I could find out more was to see as much of the game as I could.
Fighting the cold was the hardest part at first, but I slowly began to adjust to it. Actually, it seemed to get warmer as I progressed through the game. Every time I beat a level, in fact. This turned out to be a real confidence boost for me, and it inspired me to play harder. I smoothly played all the way up to the final fortress level, but I started to lose lives while trying to avoid the eggplant wizards. Those guys could turn Pit into an eggplant, effectively disabling his ability to defend himself. I tended to die while looking for the person who makes Pit human again and the maze-like structure of the level didn’t make things easier. I spent an hour on that level alone, but I persevered and obliterated the boss.
The final level where Pit takes to the air was a cakewalk, since I managed to get all of the weapon upgrades and the long-ranged bow. I trashed Medusa, but I didn’t get all of the power-ups for the best ending. It didn’t seem to matter, because the temperature completely returned to normal after Medusa fell. I breathed a heavy sigh of relief as I watched the closing text appear on the screen, and another voice played to me. However, it was too muffled for me to make it out. The screen went gray like the last time; it didn’t even show me the credits. I tried turning the game on a few times more, but I was greeted with the typical gray screen every time. I sat in front of my TV for the rest of the night, trying to make sense of what happened.
A year passed since that night. I continued to collect retro games with Andy, especially for the NES. I convinced Andy to sell her Kid Icarus cart to me, and she gave me a great deal on it. I still kept my old copy, though. I displayed it on my shelf alongside a few other prized games in my collection. It didn’t work at all since that night, but throwing it away didn’t seem right to me. I was preparing for my last year of high school when Andy called me up for something; she didn’t give me any details and just told me to meet her downtown. She seemed unusually excited, which isn’t that unusual for her. I decided to meet up with her; my books and pens weren’t going anywhere. I drove along downtown until I saw Andy sitting on a bench, and found a place to park reasonably close by. Sitting with Andy was another another girl,with chestnut brown hair tied back in a ponytail that went down to her waist.