Most of the time I feel like I’m pretty in tune with the geeky nerd milieu having an appreciation for comic books, cartoons, toys, and general pop culture.  There are areas where I feel seriously deficient though, in particular gadgets, but more importantly video games.  If there is anything in this world that has the reach and power to bring together almost all of the splintered groups and cliques in our society it’s a well constructed and executed video game.  This has been true since before the first Pac-Man arcade cabinet was placed in the corner of a Pizza Hut, when teens were hanging out and playing pinball and table-top bowling in soda shoppes.

On the one hand the mass appeal of games in general is so rooted in our culture that it’s hard to imagine any household in the world that doesn’t at least have a chess board, some dominoes, or a set of Rummikub tiles.  The culture moves with technology, so even when we have a character like R.J. MacReady surviving in the frozen wasteland of the Antarctic in John Carpenter’s the Thing, he’s playing computer chess.  The mass appeal of video games just makes sense.  On the other hand the intricate plots, insanely anal retentive button combo sequences, and the tendency towards extreme genre themes really should keep the audience for games at the niche level.  When I bring up my favorite episodes of the Justice League Unlimited cartoon in conversation with most co-workers I get that blank, sort of bemused stare in return belying their true inner reaction which is wondering if I’m really a moron or if I’m borderline retarded for watching cartoons as an adult.  But if World of Warcraft, Grand Theft Auto or even the new Ghostbusters game is brought up they become a virtual fountain of nerdy, excited info.  I don’t understand the disconnect.

Anyway, this is a very long way of getting back to the point, which is that I’m not really into video games.  I should be based on most of my interests, but I’m not, at least not since I was twelve, which is when these great Topps Nintendo themed stickers were released back in 1989…

The summer of 1989 was probability the apex of the era of classic video gaming.  It was still common to find arcades in most suburban strip malls, Nintendo Power was in full swing with a very successful first year under its belt, and the Wizard was mere months away from opening in theaters.  In fact, by the time that flick bombed during December of that year everything was beginning to change, though that’s a story for another time.  In ’89 classic gaming was still king, and this sticker set features some of the best that Nintendo had to offer at that point. 

Though I was weaned on the Atari 2600, the NES was my console of choice, not that I had a lot of choices.  The video game market was pretty much overrun by Nintendo and that goofy little meatball Mario was the new Pac-Man.  Though I spent a fair bit of my parent’s mad money on renting a million NES games from the local video store, there was really only one game that kept my interest, the original Super Mario Bros. 

For me, the most important aspect of video games is the value of repeat playability.  Most Atari and early arcade games were designed this way, eschewing plot and story for exponentially difficult versions of the same levels that seemed to go on infinitely.  Super Mario Bros. both epitomized and broke this convention.  The game introduced a very structured environment with a clear beginning, middle, and end goal, but at the same time kept the difficulty level of the gameplay moderately stable so exploring every little facet of each level became key.   For the first time the idea of playing a video game wasn’t just about surviving through level after level, but to also systematically stomp or fireball every enemy while also making sure to bust every set of bricks, unlocking every single hidden coin or 1-up mushroom.  I spent more time trying to perfectly uncover every single hidden block, getting more than 100 lives by trapping a turtle shell in mid bounce-back, and finding every single warp zone than I did trying to fight Koopa and rescuing the princess.

By the time Super Mario 2 came out I was a maniac for the franchise.   I can’t express how jazzed I was that the designers integrated the concept of picking up objects, digging up veggies, or having the ability to play different characters (each having a slight advantage over others.)  It was simply mind blowing to me at the time.   Anyway, Mario was my main man even though that Toad sure could dig.  As far as these stickers go, I think they’re pretty neat.   In particular I like the roadster Mario because it’s a completely unintentional foreshadowing of the Mario Kart games that would come.  Also, it looks like he’s driving a larger version of the car token from Monopoly.  I also like the use of multiple stickers on a single card.  This calls back to the Fleer Pac-Man and Topps Donkey Kong game cards from earlier in the 80s.  Typically Topps only has one full or die-cut sticker on each card, though they did go the multiple-sticker route with the Superman movie stickers from the late 70s.  Anyway, it’s a nice touch that makes these stickers feel more in line with mini sticker sheets from Hallmark or something.  Also, I have to say that the art on the Princess and Birdo stickers is pretty rough which is a little strange seeing as the game had been out for a while before these sticker cards hit store shelves.   I guess Topps didn’t work too hard to find nicer art…

This set of stickers consisted of 33 cards and featured characters from three game series in addition to the Mario stickers above including the recently re-titled Punch Out!! (Nintendo didn’t re-up their license with Mike Tyson to keep his likeness and moniker associated with the game), the Legend of Zelda, and Double Dragon.   I was a pretty big fan of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! and the first couple of Double Dragon games, but I didn’t get into Zelda until awhile later when the 1st Super Nintendo game was released.  I really love these stickers though, in particular the Zelda and Double Dragon stickers because they used some of the more Japanese styled artwork.  The art on the Punch Out stickers looks like it was copied from the production artwork for the game box and instruction booklet.  It’s a little bit more ghetto in that respect.

Each of the cards featured random game hints on the back, no doubt culled from the experts at Nintendo Power.   This just reminds me of the Nintendo Game Counselor 900 number that used to be in place.  I never called it, but I always wondered what it was like to talk to the experts…

I’ve certainly turned into a crusty bitter old man when it comes to video games, as looking at these stickers just reminds me how much I used to love the "good stuff" that was out in the 80s.  I’ll be honest, I have little need for 3-D modeled graphics, 1st person perspective, or extravagant cut scenes.  Give me an 8-bit side-scroller any day…