It’s funny how things come full circle sometimes. One day, you’re wondering what life is like on the other side of the tracks, and the next thing you know, you’re there.
These days, Nintendo seems to be in the position of “alternative game console.” They make the consoles you might choose to own as a supplement to another. Even the original Wii, with how phenomenally successful it was, was treated like a second-class citizen for most of its generation. Owning a Nintendo console as a primary gaming platform certainly provides a unique experience.
It’s funny to remember that there was a time when Nintendo was the main gaming platform for most people. They held the position that Sony or Microsoft have usually been associated with for the past 20 years. In the late ’80s, the NES was the gamer’s game machine. Any other platforms tended to fade into the background.
I, of course, was a Nintendo kid. I probably don’t need to reiterate how much of my attention was monopolized by Nintendo’s consoles. But that’s not to say I had no interest in other game systems. I was aware of Sega’s Master System and NEC’s TurboGrafx-16, and while I didn’t know a whole lot about them, that’s also what made me more curious.
What was it like to grow up with one of those systems instead of an NES? I assumed it was somewhat similar, but just with different games. Master System owners were playing Alex Kidd and Phantasy Star instead of Mario and Zelda. TurboGrafx fans were reading issues of TurboPlay instead of Nintendo Power. I’m sure it was a matter of preference of which games were more appealing, but at the end of the day, fond childhood memories were being made nonetheless.
Over the different console generations, it seems there’s always at least one “runt” console that goes ignored by the general public, but yet goes on to be well regarded by those who owned it. The Sega Saturn, the Sega Dreamcast and the Nintendo GameCube are all systems that were looked down upon during their initial run, but are remembered in a much more positive light after the fact. That always fascinated me. A platform’s true value always seems to shine through over time.
That’s not to say that all unsuccessful consoles are unfairly ignored masterpieces. It’s difficult to find die hard fans of the Phillips CD-i or Atari Jaguar. I’m simply noting that a console’s popularity is not directly related to its actual quality.
Those that did own the “alternative” consoles had a distinctly different gaming experience than those who followed the mainstream. I think that’s part of what attracted me to the Dreamcast. At the time, I knew it was a bit off-center, and having been disillusioned by the gaming experiences I had been having, I was looking for something a little different. The Dreamcast provided exactly that. So much so, in fact, that it has since become the poster child for under-appreciated game consoles.
Shortly thereafter, Nintendo began finding itself in that exact same position with the GameCube, the Wii U, and in a certain way, the original Wii. I was along for the ride with all of them, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that Nintendo had gone from being a “mainstream” platform to the “alternative” game console, and I was having that unique, more niche experience that I was curious about so many years before.
At the risk of sounding a bit “hipster,” maybe that makes the experience a little more valuable. Many kids had an NES; not so many had a Master System. A lot of people now own a PlayStation 4; but far fewer a Wii U. It’s a rarer experience to live through. Not necessarily one that will result in any better or worse memories, but perhaps more personalized ones.
Not that it really matters one way or the other. We all pick whatever platforms have the games that appeal to us specifically (and some people just buy all of them). Whether or not a platform is mainstream is arbitrary. But if I wanted to know what it was like to be an alternative gamer, well, here I am.
Be careful what you wish for.