Playing with Power

[NOTE: Since CJ has been slowly republishing previous posts from his personal blog here, I figured that I would do the same. I'll occasionally be posting some of the more interesting entries from my now not-really-used 1UP blog.]

Despite having plenty of competition in the form of the Sega Genesis, the name Nintendo was pretty synonymous with video games back in 1990. Thanks in no small part to Super Mario Bros. 3, the Nintendo Entertainment System was still holding its own against Sega’s 16-bit machine.

Helping to keep the Nintendo hype train going that year was the Nintendo World Championship, a massive video game tournament that was held in over two dozen cities across the U.S. Nintendo nerds would flock to the event to check out tons of NES games (including some titles that hadn’t been released yet), enjoy some Nintendo-themed activities, and potentially compete in the big game competition. For a kid back in those days, this event was a little slice of heaven.

As we were big Nintendo nerds, my friend Jim and I attended the Chicago NWC. Since we were only 15 at the time, Jim’s mom had to drop us off at the event, but admittedly, a videogame tournament isn’t really someplace at which you need to worry about looking cool. The only games I remember playing at the show are Pinball Quest (which I recall enjoying significantly more at the show than when I rented it months later) and Wrath of the Black Manta (which I quickly deemed as not nearly as good as Ninja Gaiden).

nwcreprocart01I also remember having a 5-10 minute conversation with a Nintendo Game Counselor, one of the good folks you would call when you needed tips on beating a game (I had to call for advice on beating Judge Doom at the end of Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). Like most kids, I was fascinated with the concept of “playing videogames for a living,” and grilled this poor guy about how I could go about getting such a dream job. In my youthful naiveté, I’m pretty sure I asked him what I would need to study in college to land that Game Counselor gig.

He was quite a nice guy, and he seemed genuinely pleased to be talking to a bunch of kids that wanted his job. He was also nice enough to not bother explaining that we really didn’t need a degree to flip through giant binders so that we could tell kids that “Dodongo dislikes smoke” means to throw bombs at the things.

Of course, the main attraction of the NWC was the tournament, which you actually had to pay extra to compete in. At the time, I didn’t want to waste my money competing because I knew that I wouldn’t win. Now, however, I wish that I had dropped the $5 or whatever the cost was just for the experience. Jim entered the contest, though, so I was able to do a little cheering from the sidelines (he lost anyway).

nwcreprocart02The contest consisted of playing a timed version of a special NES cartridge. The game began by making the player collect 50 coins in Super Mario Bros. and then completing a race in Rad Racer. Once those were finished, the players ran out the clock by playing Tetris. When time ran out, the scores from the three games was tallied up, and the highest scorer moved on to the next round.

The interesting part of all this is that the semi-finalists in the contest were given a copy of the NWC tournament cartridge. The carts are the standard NES gray with a black and white label and a small hole cut into it where you could access a few DIP switches. The switches allowed you to alter the amount of time that you had to play the three games. There were 90 of these carts given out to contestants, and 26 more carts were given out to winners of a Nintendo Power contest. The Nintendo Power carts had a fancier label and were housed in a Zelda-esque gold cartridge.

Not surprisingly, these NWC carts (especially the gold ones) have become incredibly valuable over the years. When one shows up for sale, they go for thousands of dollars. This, of course, puts them well out of the price range for your average gamer, but thanks to the good folks at RetroZone, anyone can pretend that they’re competing in the Nintendo World Championship.

nwcreprocart03The company has created a reproduction cartridge of the NWC cartridge, complete with adjustable DIP switches, and it’s being sold for only $55. Sure, it’s a bit expensive, but it’s considerably cheaper than what you’d pay for the real deal. The game even comes with a box and an instruction book featuring high score tips from NWC finalists, Rich Ambler and Thor Aackerlund.

To insure that no one tries to pass off this repro cart as a legit version, the cart is housed in a snazzy, clear blue shell. The DIP switches are even located in a different position than on the real cartridges.

The repro cart has been around for a while now, but RetroZone seems to manufacture small numbers of them in bursts. They’ve been out of stock for ages now, but the other day, they put more up for sale on their site. I quickly ordered one, and it arrived a couple days ago.

As an NES junkie, I’m very pleased to have this goodie in my collection. Sure, it’s not as impressive as having an actual NWC cart, but I’m not so nuts that I’m gonna drop a few grand on truncated versions of games that can be bought for a couple of bucks each. This version will do (for now). nwcreprocart04Special Bonus!!! - On my first attempt at playing the game (using the official NWC time limit of 6 minutes, 21 seconds), I scored a whopping 223,790. Considering that the highest score during the finals was 2,809,995, it was probably for the best that I didn’t enter back in ’90…

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  • lawblob

    Very cool.

    When I was 12 I participated in the Nintendo Power Championships. I actually played directly against Thor (kid who won), and in our initial heat, he had the high score and I had second highest, but he let me sit in the red throne chair in the semi-final round. I think I had something like 360,000 points and he had 457,000. I remember reading that by the time he played in the final, he had over a million points. I was so jealous of the Geo Metro he won… bastard.

  • Valerie

    My brother was the finalist from Portland Oregon. We went to Universal for the finals. At that time he was 11. It was a cool experience. When we were little I always wanted to play the cool game he got when hw won. Not sure at what point he got it though. I was only 9. Little did I know that game would be going for so much these days!