Hello fellow Towelites and Generation Pong (Pong-ites? Pongs? Pongers? How would I even say that?)

I figured I would follow up my first memory of childhood with one of the biggest events in a kid’s life – a kid fascinated with video games that is. Here is another story of Generation Pong.

Let me set the scene for you. It’s around 1988, a few years after the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was released in Europe. I mention Europe because I had just moved to Greece with my mother only the year before that. In fact NES was released in ’85 in the States, ’86 in Europe, but Greece was a little behind the electronic world at the time, and the Nintendo had just come there the year before, in ’87. Being from the States though, I was lucky, and had brought my original NES with me – that being said, I think I only owned Super Mario Bros, Top Gun and Double Dragon at the time.

My mom tried her best to help me adapt to the change (I had left my siblings and father behind in the States). She recognized my love for video games, so when she heard of some kind of “that-thing-you-keep-playing-on-the-tv” tournament going on, she asked me if I wanted to try. Well, duh!

I guess with Nintendo being newly released to the country, they were having a tournament to boost popularity and sales, with the NES and games as prizes. Now, the best way to picture this is literally the movie “The Wizard” with Fred Savage (which I ended up seeing a few years later and was SO excited about). I’m talking huge screens lined up, neon lights, fog machine… the whole shebang!

Thinking back on it, it seems kind of silly and a little tacky. But for a 9 year old, this was the coolest thing ever! So cool in fact, that I don’t remember owning the NES (which I did) beforehand… most my detailed memories involving my Nintendo begin here.

So, we go the first day, and we had to sign up for a drawing. Luckily, Nintendo was still new to the country, and not as popular as it was in the States; the crowd of kids was not that big… maybe around 30?

And so everyone is seated, the lights turns off, the fog machine is fogging things up, the neon lights are shining, and the Presenter steps up to the podium in the middle. Behind him, the warm glow of 8 televisions bathe the background with their blue screens of no-input. One by one, he names kids off… 16 in total. I do not remember exactly, but it was near the end of the list when my name was called. I wanted to pee my pants in excitement!

The first 8 kids go up to the stage, seat themselves in front of the 8 screens, the fog machines blast and, and the Mario theme starts blaring through the huge speakers. The screens finally flip from blue to on, and the Super Mario menu displays on the TV. All the kinds (including myself) cheer with excitement. After an announcement of the rules – get the most points in 3 minutes – the games begins, and all the Mario’s start dashing to the right.

I remember leaning forward and observing it all. Seeing who lost, who didn’t get the coins, who spent too much time getting the coins… I remember thinking I was good, and I could handle the competition. I sat quietly there until their turn ended, and the next 8 kids (including myself) got to play. I was so nervous, my palms were sweating (these days, this only happens when I play my friend Ish in Street Fighter or DBZ, or when I play Mario Kart).

The game started and off I went. I dodged, ducked, dipped, dived and… dodged again. I gathered coins, stomped on Gumbas, kicked some Koopas and captured some flags; all without tripping up, loosing and wasting too much time. But as the time ended and I leaned back to see the others scores, I realized I hadn’t done as well as I thought or hoped.

The Tournament was to select the top 8 for round 2. Then the top 6 would go to round 3 (and win a NES game), which was to be played the following day. 4 of those would win another game and go to round 4. The top 2 would face off for the win. Fortunately, I was in the top 8. I don’t remember too many details, other then I was actually much calmer the second round. And this ended up showing in my score as well… off to round 3. I made it to the top 6, winning me Excitebike.

Let me tell you, I was one happy boy. I went home that night and tried out my new game for a few. As I realized you could make your own boards, and how I would lose myself in this, I remembered the next day were the finals. So I put Mario back on and began to practice.

I tried everything, timing myself over and over. Finally, I found a path that just brought in the doe! Turned out, one of the most enemy and coin filled boards (at least within the 3 minute time frame) was 2-1. And yes, of course I new about the kick-the-shell trick later on(5-1); though I remember it was either not worth it due to time to get to it, or just points overall in comparison.

So… 2-1. The problem with that was to get there with enough time to reap the benefits. I remember having timed out every gap, enemy, brick and coin that I needed to jump, stomp, smash and collect. One smooth run through each board, 5000 points at the flags. Here was the kicker though… 1-4, Bowser’s castle (and the first version of Bowser). There were almost no points on this board. Now, this was tested, and it was still worth it if I could make it to 2-1. I remember having timed that board flawlessly, one straight motion, dipping and sliding right over Bowser straight to the next board. And when everything went perfect, my score was outstanding… way higher then what I saw at the competition. So I practiced this over and over that night, and the following day. I perfected it.

When the time came, and I sat down with the other 5 kids: I did my thing… I rocked it! Mario’s blood ran in my veins, and as you all know from my first Generation Pong story – I was born for this. My win for that round: Metroid! On to the final 4.

Though not an actual picture of my tournament, it was pretty much like this (maybe not as huge of a “set”)

Unfortunately, this is where my streak ended. The pressure was on, and I had to kick it up a notch. Everything was going perfectly during my run, but all in vain… 1-4, as I had feared, was the end of me. I jumped too soon, hit Bowser, lost my life and had to start the board over. I made it to 2-1, but not with enough time to gather the points I needed.

Surprisingly, I was not that upset. I had one of the best times of my life, and I was, for some reason, extremely intrigued to play this Metroid game I had never heard of. I remember on the bus ride home just turning the case over and over and looking at the pictures. There was something about this game…

Metroid has come to be an important part in my life… in many, many ways (including my love for film). But Metroid, my friends, deserves its own story. So, until next time… have a good one Towelites.

Hope this brings back your own memories of playing with friends and getting sweaty palms!