I’ve been playing video games since I 4 years old. My first “gaming” system was an Atari 400 and was replaced (actually it was added to by) an Atari 800XL in the mid-80s. I was a military kid who lived in secluded base-housing and, essentially, only knew my family. I just assumed that everyone was playing Centipede, Missile Command, Frogger, and Pac-Man. In addition I had loads of games that almost no one has heard of but remain my all-time favorites; Sea Horse Hide n Seek, Ducks Ahoy, and Movie Musical Madness. It wasn’t until my father retired from the USAF and we moved into “civilian” life that I first learned of what kinds of systems were popular.
I had an Atari…but never heard of an Atari 2600. My memories of Pac-Man are slightly different from most others…the 400 and 800XL computers I had played different versions that actually (to me) looked superior to the 2600 version. I only ever saw Commodore 64s and Apple IIs in school. I never heard of Colecovision until I saw it on VH1’s I Love the 80s and never heard of Intellevision until James Rolfe did a video about it. I DID hear of NES almost immediately after my we left the military lifestyle.
I can remember being in my elementary school cafeteria in my private school blue shirt and slacks and a vicious little rich kid snarling at me, “What? You don’t have Nintendo?! What’s ‘Atari’?” I remember telling my mom that and she said, “I bet our Atari has better graphics than their ‘Nintendo…'” And I immediately agreed. And the game was on.
Over my lifetime I’ve seen numerous competitions in video games, systems, and gaming culture in general that are all just as frivolous and subjective as this one. Sega vs. Nintendo. Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat. Sony vs. Microsoft. It’s been fascinating to see them come and go, and each generation of hardware and software customers act like it’s the first time these things have ever been discussed. I’ve been thinking a lot about all these various, senseless wars I’ve witnessed during my gaming life and thought I’d start sharing some of the most memorable. Since this is just a little intro I thought I’d start with a brief look at the Atari vs NES.
Of course the Atari 400, which came out in 1979, and even the updated 800XL had nothing, hardware-wise, on the NES. The NES came over from Japan with a library of games that would become classics (and some hardware strangeness that would fall into pop-culture obscurity). Since the NES clearly has the edge in nearly every technical sense, I thought I’d look at just one thing that strikes me as amusing in terms of my old Ataris compared to the NES.
I started watching AVGN when the new Ghostbusters game was set to come out on current-gen consoles. I heard a funny online reviewer had reviewed the NES Ghostbusters game and I was intrigued, I didn’t know there WAS one. I turned on his review and was alarmed to see him reviewing a game I knew…only I knew it from my Atari 800XL…I knew it on floppy disk……and I knew a MUCH better version! Smoother gameplay, more “ghostbuster-y” graphics, and less idiotic additions (like the gas station…) Granted it was still a monotonous “wtf is going on?” kind of game, but the NES version looks like a butchered port…of an Atari game. The Atari version was no masterpiece…but it’s definitely competitive with the later NES version!
That little fact did indeed help remind me that, although the most popular system might dominate the market, the reviews, and rewrite the history, for the minority of us who lived with other brands…we might have found a nice classic gem.
In two weeks I’ll start versus mode in earnest, and will try to do one every two weeks. The first one will be the most appropriate way to start such a contest and has been a heated debate for almost 20 years…ladies and gentlemen…it will be: Street Fighter vs. Mortal Kombat!