In the late 80s, playing games on a TV meant owning a Nintendo Entertainment System. Heck, back then simply being a young boy meant owning an NES, as far as my friends and I were concerned. If you had an NES, you were a somebody. If you didn't have an NES, you'd spend an entire year riding your bike up the street to hang out with the usually intolerable Paul Paboojian (named changed to protect the intolerable) just to get a chance to play as Luigi because your STUPID PARENTS didn't realize that owning an NES was the SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE UNIVERSE until your seventh birthday when a trip to Circuit City granted you a proper place in suburban childhood society.
In those blissful, early years of my gaming education, Nintendo's position was so dominant that the phrase "play Nintendo" was at least as common as the phrase "play videogames" in popular parlance, and was understood to mean the same thing. The Atari 2600 was practically obsolete before most kids I knew were born, and while we were all dimly aware of the existence of the Sega Master System, the fact that I didn't know anyone who knew anyone who had one meant it may as well not have existed. Back then, Nintendo meant videogames and videogames meant everything.
I don't remember the date, but I clearly remember the day, sometime in 1990, when that simple equation got a little more complicated. I had dragged my parents to Toys "backwards R" Us and rushed to the Nintendo-filled aisle 2, as usual, when I happened upon a display featuring the Sega Genesis and a copy of Altered Beast. Five minutes of play later, I was already utterly convinced of two things.
First, it was clear that the NES wasn't going to hold up much longer on purely technical terms. This much was unavoidable. When I first saw my human character transform into the titular beast via that iconic full screen animation, I was quite sure I had never seen anything so amazingly cool-looking in my short life.
Second, playing Altered Beast convinced me that Genesis games just weren't as fun to play as Nintendo games. The simple walk-forward-and-punch-stuff gameplay didn't even hold up to a simple brawler like Double Dragon II, much less to the elegant design and endless imagination of Super Mario Bros. 3.
Obviously, it was patently unfair to evaluate an entire system's library and prospects based on five minutes spent with a single game in a crowded Toys R Us, but you know what they say about the importance of first impressions. From that day forward, I was sure, as only a seven-year-old could be, that Nintendo represented all that was true and good in videogames while Sega and its Genesis were just trying to fool people into playing stupid, unfun games using flashy graphics.
Don't get me wrong, I wasn't a system bigot. When I had the chance to spend three straight, uninterrupted hours playing through Bonk's Adventure on the TurboGrafx-16 at day camp that summer, I took it. When my best friend Mason wanted to play Joe Montana Sports Talk Football on his Genesis rather than Mega Man 3 on his NES, I humored him, even though I didn't really see the appeal.
But my first Genesis experience, combined with the steady stream of propaganda-filled previews filling my monthly edition of Nintendo Power, convinced me that my gaming future rightly lay with the Super NES. Like a virgin waiting for the wedding night, I knew with metaphysical certainty that waiting would be worth it in the long run. I knew a few more months replaying Super Mario Bros. 3 four billion more times would pay off in years of gaming bliss once I was playing with Power... Super Power!