Wrecking Crew: Confessions of a D-pad Demolisher

The fragile lifespan of an NES controller

Wrecking Crew

Retro games (and especially the NES library) were ridiculously difficult back in the day and have stood the test of time as equally unforgiving, if not more so, now. It goes without saying that as we get older our reflexes aren’t what they once were and so beating a game like Ninja Gaiden today versus when we were at our best becomes even more of a feat. Those of us who found our way through without the aid of game genies, cheat codes, Nintendo Power or the tip hotlines, did not do so without our fair share of adversity. Like any war, there were casualties and a fair amount of collateral damage. Stalemates would sometimes cause us to plead and reason with that one-eyed gray toaster. When we realized that the machine was like the Terminator and could not be bargained with we needed to leave the room for a customary cooling off period in order to collect ourselves, bring our blood pressure down to normal levels and plan our next strategy. We took no prisoners in those days and the battle wasn’t over until WE said it was over.

It would be easy to blame my actions on raging hormones or sugar and additive laden “gaming snacks”, but truth be told I was in control and very aware of what I was doing. If I found that in some way the game had cheated me I would see red. My controller would be launched from my clutches headlong into the wall of my playroom.

If you are a regular viewer of the Angry Video Game Nerd videos you know that the creators of NES games wanted to torture us as much as entertain us. To paraphrase AVGN (and the numerous examples he gives in his review videos)

If you fell into the water -> you died
If you stepped on the wrong pixel -> you died
If that thing that looked entirely benign hit you -> you died
If you didn’t keep up with the scrolling of the screen -> you died
If any of the 15 enemies on the screen touched you -> you died
If you didn’t pick up all of the impossible to reach items -> you died.

The games were set up with sometimes clumsy controls that would require you to perform multiple actions for a simple character reaction, like pull back when jumping or pressing both buttons simultaneously for this or that. In addition, the designers thought it was hilarious to create some levels that either lacked a checkpoint or placed it beyond a part so difficult to get through that it was moot.

I’m not trying to justify my controller cruelty, but rather illustrate that myself, AVGN, and scores of other retro gamers were fighting against near impossible odds to complete these 8-bit games. I would compare success, on some titles, equal to finding a piece of dental floss on a snow-covered football field. One such game I developed a love-hate relationship with was the original Megaman by Capcom and I’m quite certain this game alone was responsible for the loss of at least 2 Nintendo controllers. Now I know what you’re thinking… “what a spoiled brat! He lost his temper, took it out on his controller and mommy and daddy bought him another one”. Simply, not the case. I was responsible for all of the replacement controllers.  At first, I had to get really creative and glue the two pieces of the controller together. Eventually, my luck would run out and when they could no longer be hot glued, duct taped or MacGyvered together and then I had to forgo my 2 player games with friends until I could afford to replace my broken D-pads.

I’ll never forget the time that I was playing a particularly difficult game and had gotten quite far when I reached a part I could not surpass. My fruitless efforts were not rewarded for what seemed like hours and just like Bill Murray in Groundhog day I was forced to repeat the same part over and over and over again. When I had had enough I catapulted my controller and it hit the machine. Adding insult to injury it bumped the cartridge slot just enough to knock it loose a little from the pin connector inside and I was serenaded by what sounded like a set of broken bagpipes. I had lost all of the progress from the 3 previous hours and the TV screen looked like a tangled light bright picture.

This was about 1988 or so and even though flea markets and garage sales were a regular thing, finding NES controllers at them was most certainly NOT. By this time the Advantage and Max controllers were out and so I had some form of deterrence (the price of replacements) from skipping them off the floor. From that day on I channeled my frustrations in a much different manner. Game controllers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief and did not resort to the fetal position when I drew near to them. I do not condone the misuse of nintendo controllers (despite the fact that they are lightweight and ergonomically correct for the hurling), but if you find yourself with a controller in need of repair, here is a helpful resource:


Now then, if you are still reading, I want YOU to fess up. Was I just a snot-nosed punk with anger issues or did these near impossible games get the best of you from time to time too? Though I can’t recollect how deep my angers ran with these rectangular anger pads I would estimate that I was directly responsible for at least 3 of their untimely demises and more than one drywall touchup. Let me know your score.

Revised from original post dated: 5.10.2012 8bitbobby.tumblr.com/
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About 8bitbobby

Avid retro game collector and player. Original NES fanboy who is trying to collect every cart released for the little gray toaster (that could). Sharing my love for this system through my blog, twitter and Instagram accounts by way of collection stories and pictures. I love the opportunity to network and converse with like-minded people who share an affinity for the 8-bit games of yesteryear.

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