I vividly remember the first Nintendo game I played.
It wasn’t long after the 1985 debut of the Nintendo Entertainment System in the US. I was around five years old and at my babysitter’s house in Fremont, California. It was a summer day, and we were calming down after playing outside.
My sitter, who also took me for my first ride in a classic Volkswagen Beetle, sat my younger brother and me down in front of the living room TV. She’d just gotten a Nintendo and wanted to show it off.
She pulled out the controller, flipped the TV to channel 3, then took a game out of its holding case. I watched as she blew along its bottom to make sure there wasn’t any dust.
Then she popped it in and turned it on. Music started playing and the title appeared: Rad Racer.
The game was crude by today’s standards, but my younger brother and I were mesmerized. We watched as the car on the screen sped up, moved around, steered past other cars on the road and eventually crashed.
Then it was my turn.
I laughed hysterically.
Then I did it again — and again. I sped up as fast as I could, then veered the car off the course.
I was totally hooked.
The truth is, few companies get kids as well as Nintendo does. And fewer still have such a deep catalog of the kind of engaging and fun games that have kept me playing over and over again for the past three decades.
There’s the silly boxing game Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (or Punch-Out!! as it was later called) on the Nintendo I started with. Or the cartoonish but beloved spaceship dogfighting game Star Fox 64 on 1996’s Nintendo 64. There’s nearly every version of the racing game Mario Kart, too.
Now that I have an infant son, I’ve started drawing up a list of the nerdy stuff I plan to introduce him to. Nintendo games are high up there, alongside stuff like the Star Trek (except the odd-numbered movies) and Star Wars (sans the prequels — “what prequels?” I’ll joke.)
But now that Nintendo’s next-generation video game console, the Nintendo Switch, is coming to store shelves — it arrives Friday — I’m looking at the likely device my son might use when he’s ready to start playing his own games in a few years.
So, should I get him one?
Leading up to the Switch
Having a kid has made me weirdly nostalgic, which is lucky since the world has gotten that way too. My childhood comics are being turned into blockbuster movies. Music from the 1980s has gone from an ironic eye-roll to inspiration for hits from Taylor Swift and the soundtrack for Netflix’s “Stranger Things.” And neon is back, though much more tastefully.
Nintendo, savvy company that it is, has been tapping into this trend as well. Last year, it released the NES Classic, a video game console with 30 of its best hits from when I was starting out, like the adventure game Metroid and the arcade classic Donkey Kong. The $60 device is still hard to get your hands on, nearly four months after its release.
Looking through the library of built-in games brought me back to all those times I played games with my younger brother and friends.
But it also reminded me that Nintendo is one of the few entertainment companies that’s been in the background for pretty much my whole life.
There were so many parties and sleepovers where my friends and I would gather to play R.C. Pro Am, Ice Hockey and Super Mario Bros 3. Once, one friend and I brought our GameBoy handheld consoles to school so that as classes let out we could throw an impromptu competition to see who was best at Dr. Mario, the Nintendo-ized version of Tetris using medicine pills and “viruses” instead of puzzle pieces. Our parents showed up before we could finish.
Fast-forward a couple decades, and my wife joked early in our relationship that she’d only move across the country to California, where I was going to grad school, if I bought her Guitar Hero. When she visited a few months later, I pulled out a plastic guitar and shiny new Nintendo Wii, ready for her to rock her heart out. We’ve been married six years.
Nintendo Switch is the hybrid console with tons of potential
Nintendo’s newest console is an impressive machine with an outstanding Zelda game, but its success will depend on more games, a solid online experience and access to legacy Nintendo games.
Is the Nintendo Switch worth it?
For all I know, my son won’t care about video games. And while that may upend my theories on nature versus nurture, I do understand his and my interests will not always overlap. He is not my mini-me.
But I’ll be ready if he is, and that means seriously considering the $300 Nintendo Switch.
After handling a review unit for a few days, and admittedly playing only one game (the latest in the Legend of Zelda adventure series, Breath of the Wild), I’m sold — almost.
It’s everything I wanted as a kid. The sleek 6.2-inch tablet weighs less than a pound even with the detachable controllers on either side. But it’s not just for gaming on the go. It can also hook up to my TV.
And it offers more than watered-down “mobile” games. For example, Breath of the Wild is beautiful and immersive and happens in a world as large as any other I’ve ever played in.
True, its average three-hour battery life is giving me flashbacks to those traumatic childhood moments when my GameBoy died at the worst possible time, but I recognize batteries haven’t exactly improved at a gee-whiz pace.
In short, the Nintendo Switch is the tweener device the childhood me always wanted. And I’m betting my son will want it too — once he learns to walk and talk, that is.
Nintendo’s launch title, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, screams charm and fun. I’m only a few hours in, but the playful mystery and exploration that’s made Zelda one of the most successful video game franchises in history is clearly there.
One glaring downside for the Switch is that there aren’t many games at its launch. It’s hard to judge as a complete package until we see more of what it can do.
Fortunately, there are still a few years until my son starts playing. So if you’re listening, Nintendo, and you want my money now, here’s how to get me, hook, line and sinker: Sell me all those old games I loved, playable on this new device.
I want Punch Out!!, R.C. Pro-Am, Star Fox, The Legend of Zelda; A Link to the Past (and its sequel, A Link Between Worlds) and those Mario games. I want all the titles that tug me back to my childhood memories of playing for hours and hours, laughing and joking with my brother and friends.
And since I have a wish list going, why not make a deal with Sega and bring to the Switch some of those games, like the action-oriented Sonic the Hedgehog? I’m talking titles like the funky adventure series Earthworm Jim. They’re already on my smartphone, why not the Switch too? (Nintendo didn’t respond to a request for comment.)
In the meantime, I’ll be watching from the sidelines. But I like what I see so far.
Batteries Not Included: The CNET team reminds us why tech is cool.
CNET Magazine: Check out a sample of the stories in CNET’s newsstand edition.