Nintendo World Championships 1990

NINTENDO_BOXIn the last weekend of May, Nintendo held a new Nintendo World Championships at Best Buy stores around the country.  Participants played the championship mode on the 3DS NES Remix game, and winners will play in the finals in LA during the week of E3!  You may have read about many people on the Internet getting all excited over all this.  But why?  What’s the big deal?  Well, it’s because for people who grew up in the NES generation, the original Nintendo World Championships 1990 was such a monumental event for those who attended it.  Including me.  So in this blog, I’m going to share with you my experiences with that original event, and how it shaped me as a game reviewer today!

And in case you’re wondering, no I did not go to the new Nintendo World Championships at Best Buy.  Even though there was one in my area that was doing it, it was still kind of a ways away, and I had previous engagements anyway.  Plus, it was only the competition, which I wasn’t really much interested in.  The original one back in 1990 was WAY bigger, and it was like a mini-E3 with more stuff to do than just the competition.  I don’t know if the event was that big in other parts of the country, but it sure felt big in Dallas.  It was such a good memory for me and it was the first spark that let me know that someday I wanted to be involved with this video game industry somehow.  That’s why I hold the event with such regard in my life.

Anyway, the old championships in my area were held at the Dallas Convention Center, in one of the big long rooms where they would usually do car shows back then.  You know it was going to be big when you saw the giant inflatable Raccoon Mario out front.  This was about the time that Super Mario Bros. 3 was released, and it was a highly anticipated game.  Us kids didn’t go see The Wizard movie for its ‘story,’ we went to go see it because they were going to show a few minutes of Mario 3 footage at the end.  That’s how much Nintendo had a grasp on our lives in those days!

Even back then, the big deal at the event was still the competition.  I think when we bought our tickets outside; we had to sign up for a time to compete.  They had a bunch of TVs in the back where everyone played the competition games.  There was also a big screen where people would sit in chairs on a stage and people could see them playing in the finals in the area.  I won the first round, which wasn’t hard to do, but it was cool because I got a T-shirt!  The games that were played in the competition were short bits of Super Mario Bros, Rad Racer, and Tetris.  You had to collect 30 coins in Mario, make it to the first checkpoint in Rad Racer, and any time left over was for getting a high score in Tetris.  You probably already know about this, but the cartridges they used for that competition are sought after by collectors, apparently.  What was fun about the competition was that I went with members of my family who came from Alabama, and since my cousins and I won the first finals, they decided to stay an extra day so we could go back to the event!  Oh, one last thing about the competition.  The winner of the whole thing was a guy named Thor Ackerlund, and I went to elementary school with him (you don’t forget a name like that)!

They also had a section with booths where companies were previewing upcoming games, so it was like a mini-E3!  Nintendo was showing Super Mario Bros. 3, which always drew a crowd.  I remember Capcom was there, as they had a costumed Mega Man walking around their area.  Capcom was showing new and upcoming games like Mega Man 2, DuckTales, and Rescue Rangers.  I can’t remember some of the other games, but I think Tecmo was there, showing off Ninja Gaiden 2.

Back then, HAL Laboratory had a US office and I was really into one of their games at the time called Adventures of Lolo.  It was a maze puzzle games starring a little blue ball, and Lolo and his girlfriend Lala can be seen in Kirby games even today!  Anyway, HAL was also at the Nintendo World Championships and were showing off the upcoming Adventures of Lolo 2, so I hung around their booth a lot playing the new game and talking with the HAL employees there.  They were both Japanese, and one could speak English and the other one couldn’t.  We all had fun talking about games together and playing jokes and just having fun.  In fact, on the end of the second day, they even bought me ice cream and when we left, they both thanked us for hanging out with them.

One cool thing that I didn’t think about until recently is who that one HAL guy who couldn’t speak English might’ve actually been.  Now, this is all just speculation, so it probably isn’t true, but this guy was very young and not too much older than I was.  I’d say he was about 18 or so, maybe just started working there.  Now, I don’t remember his name, but I do remember that when he showed me his business card, his name started with an S, ended with an I, and had a K somewhere in the middle.  For the longest time, we just called him Suzuki because we couldn’t remember his name.  But what other name could match that description of someone who started working at HAL at a very young age?  Could that have really been a young Sakurai, future creator of Kirby and Smash Bros?  It seems unlikely, I mean, why fly him from Japan to the US for this event?  But even so, it’s still a fun possibility to think about.  Especially considering we kind of played a joke on him and got him a little embarrassed.  I won’t tell you about what we did here, but if you send me a message, maybe I’ll tell you.

But there is one famous person that I met at the Nintendo World Championships FOR SURE!  And that was Howard Phillips.  Back then, he was kind of the ‘face’ of Nintendo of America, kind of like how Reggie is now.  He was at this event in Dallas, and when I saw him walking by, I made sure to talk with him.  It didn’t matter if he was busy; he was still very friendly to me and made sure to talk with me about the games that were shown.  I remember he asked if I had played Super Mario Bros. 3 yet.  I told him I did, and I liked how the bushes had eyes and danced around on the map screen.  He asked what my favorite games were at the show and I said Rescue Rangers and Adventures of Lolo 2.  He then gave me his business card and signed the back.  I still have that business card today…somewhere.

On the other side of the area where they had the game booths, they had rows and rows of tables with Game Boy demo kiosks.  Back then, stores would have displays with a Game Boy that you could play to try out a new game, and they usually sat on a countertop.  Well they had a bunch of those here with new games you could try out.  I remember played a crappy Wizards and Warriors game and a Lolo ripoff starring a tomato named Kwirk.  But there were also a lot of Japanese Game Boy games that you could play that I’m sure never even came out over here!  Maybe they were planning to release them here back then, but changed their minds along the way.

The event was definitely geared toward kids, as could be seen by the small stage they had set up with Super Mario Bros. props in the background.  You could record yourself on this stage dancing and making a music video.  But even then, I thought that was pretty stupid.  And seeing how empty the stage was most of the time, other kids must’ve thought it was dumb, too.  I would’ve loved to have kept some of the stage props, though.  They had a giant plush Goomba and a pipe with a Piranha Plant sticking out of it.  This was significant because while you can get lots of Super Mario toys and trinkets now, back then they weren’t so common.

One last kid-related attraction was a booth where they were giving out Super Mario fruit snacks.  See, told ya that Nintendo had us kids firmly within their grasp back then.  The funny thing about this booth was that we left on the last day of the show pretty late, when everyone was packing up their things and whatnot.  I guess the fruit snack folks didn’t want to take all the extra stuff with them, because they gave me a whole big box of fruit snacks to take home.  I must’ve packed Super Mario fruit snacks in my school lunches for the rest of the year!  There was also a café place where you could grab some food and sit down, and they had a stage on the opposite end of the building, but I didn’t really pay attention to those things too much.

And that’s all that I remember about the Nintendo World Championships 1990!  As you can see, it was a very memorable event for me.  When I go to an event now like E3 or PAX, I feel like I’m doing what I was MEANT to be doing.  And that Nintendo World Championships was the first spark of that feeling.  Did you go to the Nintendo World Championships back then?  How about the new one that they just had at Best Buy stores?  Tell me about it in the comments section if you did!  Later!  –Cary

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