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How To Pass the Time During Coronavirus Lockdown? Try Some Good Old-Fashioned Nintendo


We’re all trapped at home. There’s nowhere to go, no one to see, except for the same familiar faces that inhabit your house or apartment (and if you live alone, that might mean your own reflection). The only excitement seems to be in an occasional carry-out meal and a bottle of wine. So what to do with all of this new-found free time?

The internet is full of erudite and productive suggestions, and I can even think of a few myself: start making your way through classical literature, learn how to sew, write some letters, maybe finally try out that online course at the Thomistic Institute. Sure, I’m doing some of that. I’ve spent a good amount of time tackling landscaping projects, spring-cleaning my house, and reading.

But you know what else I’m doing? I’m playing the heck out of an original Nintendo Entertainment System—and loving every minute of it.

The Original Games Aren’t as Easy as You Think

Why did I choose the NES, when I have a PlayStation 4 with some of the most celebrated games of recent years, like “The Last of Us” and “Red Dead Redemption 2”?

There are a few reasons. First, my gaming skills hit their peak right around the time the Nintendo 64 came out, which means I can really only play two-dimensional video games. As proof of this, in college my sister and I once tried to play “Super Mario 64.” After a couple hours, we still hadn’t found our way out of the first room. It never occurred to us that you could jump through the paintings. (Also, 3-D videogames make me dizzy.)

Then there’s the nostalgia. Just hearing the music from “The Legend of Zelda” brings back such a rush of memories—sitting in our family room as a kid with my older brother and his friends, discovering all of the tricks and secrets to the game, such as where to burn a bush to access a cache of Rupees, which shop sells the cheapest shield (hint: you need the candle to get it!), where level four is, and how to kill Ganon in level nine. And then of course the second quest begins.

Part of it is that I love the simplicity of these games. They aren’t mindless, but they are streamlined and straightforward. They remind me of a time when we were pleased with such basic animation and music. We just couldn’t believe that we were making things on the screen move by pressing a few buttons. It was, and is, amazing.

But don’t let the simplicity fool you. These games are not that easy, especially for people who have been playing the newer games in recent years, like my husband (who shall remain nameless but may or may not be the political editor of this publication). The controllers are less responsive, and require a certain deftness of touch. What can I say? Some people have it, some people don’t.

Here Are Some NES Pro Tips

I’ve been focusing most of my attention on “The Legend of Zelda” and “Super Mario Brothers 3,” which is pure joy. It’s like I have wings and I can fly. No, really. If you get the leaf, Mario can fly once he gets a running start—and it’s great. You get to wear the frog suit in the water-world (world three), and then there’s the boot to wear that lets you walk over those plants.

Just recently I biked over to my sister’s house (no driving for non-essential business!). Her husband lent me “Super Mario Brothers” 1 and 2, as well as “Final Fantasy” and “Duck Tales.” (He’s also the one who gave me the NES for my birthday a couple of years ago.)

You have to watch out if you’re switching from Mario 3 back to Mario 1—maneuvering Mario isn’t quite as easy. You also have to remember that if you have a flower and therefore have fireball power and you touch a bad guy, you immediately shrink to a little Mario, unlike in Mario 3 where there are gradations of harm. Also, you don’t come by free lives as often, which means things can get pretty frustrating. Just stay calm and don’t give up.

One very important question that arises when playing the Mario games is whether to warp. Both have merit. Do you enjoy the thrill of jumping between worlds, skipping over some of the levels you’ve played most often? Or is it more advisable to stretch things out as long as possible?

After all, we don’t know how long this lockdown thing will last. Why not both? Play through it without warping the first time, so you can have the satisfaction of a true victory, then go back later, maybe after taking a Zelda intermission, and warp around.

I tried to play “Duck Hunt,” as I have the original gun that came with the NES, but sadly the gun doesn’t work with flat-screen TVs (and they say technology is our friend). Unfortunately, I got rid of my old TV from college a couple of years ago. I knew it was a bad move at the time, I just didn’t quite know why. At least I still have my VCR and VHS collection.

So enjoy your Aristotle and your penmanship notebooks. Have fun reading Hegel. Next up for me? Ordering the Super NES so I can play the original “Mario Kart.”