Well, it’s certainly been long enough since the last time I wrote on this; perhaps it’s time I continued.
As I noted last time, I’d recently moved to another town, complete with its own local mom ‘n pop-type video store. Unfortunately, while they were a great place to go for movies that was just up the street from where we lived, it was somewhat lacking when it came to video games. They carried Super NES games as time went on, at least, but they would pick and choose their selection, at times missing out on some bigger titles.
Fortunately, that’s where Blockbuster came in handy. Located the next town over around a major shopping area, that was the main place I’d go to rent the newest Mega Man games or Darkwing Duck for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Naturally, when I finally managed to get my own Super NES a year after its release, Blockbuster is where I would go to rent most of the latest games that I wasn’t too quick to buy (more out of a lack of money and having to prioritize), from Super Star Wars to Super Castlevania IV and Star Fox to Stunt Race FX.
Nintendo had held its own competitions, such as Nintendo PowerFest ’94, the Super Star Fox Weekend, and of course, the Nintendo World Championships– all of which I came absolutely nowhere near being able to participate in, because I lived the sticks, and there were never any competitions held throughout the entire state. Oh, sure, Los Angeles can get it for two weeks, but– anyway, as you might imagine, the opportunity to participate in something of the sort was nothing less than completely enticing.
The first year had competitions held over three weeks between the two dominant systems of the day, the SEGA Genesis and the Super NES. SEGA kids got to take on NBA Jam, Virtua Racing, and hometown hero Sonic the Hedgehog 3, one game per week over the three week span. On the Super NES side, things felt slightly-less favorable. Rather than an “everyone must own it” title such as Sonic, we faced off in Clay Fighter: Tournament Edition, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters, and the one shared title between the two sides, NBA Jam.
Naturally, I went with the system I owned, the Super NES. Fortunately for me, I’ve always been decent(?) at fighting games. Capable of winning a match without resorting to button-mashing, at least, though I’m sure there’s no small number of people who could mop the floor with me (then again, I’ve been known to go on some unbeatable streaks among friends). Fortunately, I already had experience in tournament fighting with the Heroes in a Half Shell… just not in an actual tournament setting. Clay Fighter took some practice, and NBA Jam required just that much more– the last time I touched a basketball game prior was Arch Rivals in my dad’s arcade years prior.
The tournament setting wasn’t much, either. Just a corner of the video game section by the front window with a folding table set up (the kind wrestlers put each other through on occasion), a folding chair, and a regular television hooked up to a console. The Wizard‘s Video Armageddon, this wasn’t. Then again, it was at the local level.
So there I was, competing for the first time with the odds stacked against me… and naturally, I lost. At least I got some Marvel Comics cards and some other odd swag out of the deal, though darn if I can remember any of it.
Fortunately for me, there would be another chance at redemption and glory.
As noted by SEGA-16 (who I thank for the 1994 championship image above), things were a little bit different from the previous year. Rather than just grabbing games off the shelf to play, Blockbuster opted to follow Nintendo’s lead and see to the production of special game cartridges for the event.
On the SEGA Genesis side, players would engage in a two-in-one tournament game cartridge featuring Judge Dredd and a follow-up to the previous year in NBA Jam: Tournament Edition. The totals would be combined for a final score, and players could participate once a week over the course of three weeks to try to get the best possible score they could.
On the Super NES side, things were a little bit different. Unlike SEGA, there was only one game to play, and unlike the previous year, this time it was a first-party title from Nintendo itself. And this time, it was my game to win:
Donkey Kong Country, one of the biggest releases of the Super NES era– not just a killer app, but a SEGA-killer app. The game was huge at the time for what it brought to the Super NES; it was one of my favorites then, and remains so today. Advantage: Me.
This version of the game was a relative no-frills affair: No title screen, no maps, just DK busting out of his jungle treehouse and getting right down to business. The player’s goal was to get as high a score as possible within five minutes, and they were given a whopping 50 lives to do so. You’d get points for gathering bananas and bashing Kremlings, but the big scores came from reaching the end of the level. Once the time is up, the game freezes so the staff on hand can record your score, then it has to be reset.
I worked to hone my craft, practicing the game as much as possible with a five minute time limit, and managed to more or less perfect the first few levels; going through them was practically like one non-stop, smooth motion of running, jumping, and rolling. I was pretty well convinced I had it knocked, and it paid off– mostly.
After the three weeks had passed, I was declared the champion in my age bracket for that store. In addition to a certificate, I also received a special card for “a year’s worth of free game rentals.” Unfortunately, the “year’s worth” only amounted to two free rentals per month– generally considered a rip-off by most anyone who has ever heard about it. I think there might have been some other bonus for winning, but that was the main thing.
What got me, though, was that this was as far as I got. For years, I figured maybe whoever was in charge at that location was too lazy to send our scores in so we could advance to the next level of competition. As it turns out, that was apparently not the case. As I’ve only now discovered, as per SEGA-16: “The whole affair was much smaller than the first ‘World Championship,’ and “there were no more state finals, and store champions wouldn’t qualify for the next round unless they met a certain nationwide average.” I can only assume it was a rather tight average, but I guess I’ll never know– and I still feel a little ripped off there. Alas.
As a result, I didn’t get to win one of the limited number of Donkey Kong Country Competition Cartridges, either, though there are still a good few that seem to be floating around out there. They seem to pop up on eBay occasionally, though, and are now largely in the dominion of those who can afford to pay high prices for such collectibles.
Due to numerous other factors (seriously, read the SEGA-16 article, it’s very informative about the championships and the business surrounding it), there would not be a third Blockbuster World Video Game Championships. As a result, that pretty much put an end to my days of competitive video game playing outside of a circle of friends (mind, this was well before the internet and online gaming was really a thing).
The other thing that sticks out to me about that time is that it was when I more or less rediscovered GamePro magazine. It had always been around, but it was seldom (if ever) the first magazine I would turn to, though that changed when I learned it was sold for less at Blockbuster. I think they knocked off enough to negate the tax, and for as long as it was available at Blockbuster, I collected a good few issues.
Beyond that, things were largely mundane. Blockbuster would get games, and I would rent games, and with the eventual closure of the local video store, it became the place for movies, too. Naturally, as the 90s wore on, the stock changed with the times and soon PlayStation and Nintendo 64 games would become the norm.It was during that transition that things were interesting again, though. Blockbuster was frequently the go-to place for demo units, including those of systems I’d never own. So in addition to trying out new PlayStation and Nintendo 64 games, I also got to play some SEGA Saturn titles (I still fondly remember what I got to play of Bug!) and Nintendo’s own Virtual Boy. Regrettably, I don’t remember that one hosting anything more from its meager library than Mario Tennis, which was a decent enough game. However, the stuff I really wanted to try out– Teleroboxer, Red Alarm, Mario Clash, and the cream of the crop, Virtual Boy Wario Land– never graced that particular machine.
Personally, I’d still love to get my hands on a Virtual Boy for Virtual Boy Wario Land alone. Actually, I just want one in my collection, but gamewise, I want to play Virtual Boy Wario Land. Despite the failure of its home hardware, it’s said to be quite a good game, and I hope that at the very least, they might remake it on the Nintendo 3DS. Why not? Most of the work is already done, as far as art, music, and design goes.
Eventually, as the 90s came to a close, another move was on the horizon. That wouldn’t bring an end to my Blockbuster visits, however– in fact, I’d soon go on to be more involved with them than ever before.
Next time: Working at Blockbuster and running the Game Rush.
For those who wish to read up on the full story of Blockbuster closing and the thoughts of others on the matter, please visit the following links:
- Blockbuster Officially Killing Off Remaining Stores And DVDs By Mail – The Consumerist
- The Sun Sets—For Good—on the Blockbuster Night – Kotaku
- Why I Mourn Blockbuster Video – Forbes
- End of an Era: Blockbuster Video, R.I.P. – Topless Robot
- MovieBob’s Re-Tales: Blockbusted