Tag Archives: Nintendo

8-Bit Christmas is the Fruitcake of 80s Nostalgia Novels…

This is the first year in a long time when I’m doing my best to get into the holiday spirit for the Christmas season. For a good portion of my life Halloween has basically been my “Christmas”, and for all intents and purposes the period between November 1st through to January 1st is usually a time when I duck my head down and try and run as fast as I can through the rest of the year trying my best not to knock down any family and friends along the way. It’s a mixture of being burnt out after celebrating a month-long Halloween, and trying to fend off the insanity that comes with trying to find the perfect gifts, visiting with a modern fractured family and trying my best not to go broke in the process. But this year? I’m going all out by letting go of my worries and embracing the holiday.

So I was pretty stoked when I was approached by DB Press to take a look at the first novel from scriptwriter Kevin Jakubowski titled 8-Bit Christmas. Being described as “…A Christmas Story for the Nintendo generation…” (by author James Frey), 8-Bit Christmas tells the story of one kid’s epic quest of Super Mario Bros. proportions to secure a NES for Christmas. Amidst flaming wreaths, speeding minivans, lost retainers, fake Santas, hot teachers, snotty sisters, “Super Bowl Shuffles” and one very naked Cabbage Patch Kid, Kevin’s book vividly weaves a nostalgic tale of Christmas magic and 8-bit glory. Honestly this book being touted as packed with 80s era Christmas nostalgia sounded like just what I needed to kick off my own attempt to embrace the holiday again.

8-bit christmas

First and foremost, 8-Bit Christmas delivers on the nostalgia. Set in the late 80s and centering on Jake Doyle, a nine year-old who covets a neighbor’s NES to the extent where it borders on single-minded stalker-level obsession, the book makes reference to practically every major pop culture aspects from the decade. The Super Bowl Shuffle, baseball card collecting, Showbiz pizza and the Rock-Afire Explosion, the Pizza Hut Book It program, KangaRoos zipper pocket shoes, Max Headroom, Members Only Jackets, Moon Boots, as well as a litany of bands, cartoons, movies, TV shows, and toys way too numerous to name. Karate Kid references? Yup, there’s more than the entire Cobra Kai can battle. Star Wars? G.I. Joe? Transformers? Go Bots? Strawberry Shortcake? Cabbage Patch Kids? Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Much like Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One before it, the novel is an outlet to celebrate all of the stuff we 30-Somethings loved so much about our 80s childhoods, and all of our hyper-collective shared experiences. If there’s one thing our generation does well, it’s bonding over the insane level of pop culture awareness and merchandising from that decade. Jakubowski does an admirable job of shoehorning in so many references, and touching on so many aspects of what it was like being a kid during that time that I’d be hard-pressed to imagine any rock he left unturned. Well, he does skip over the mentioning branded lunchboxes when comparing and contrasting packed lunches versus buying the hot tray at school. Is every reference accurate and researched? No. He fudges release dates (mentioning the Karate Kid cartoon as a favorite even though it didn’t debut until a year after the winter of ’88 when the book is set) and mashes together experiences (like listing cartoons that only aired during the after school animation blocks or on cable like Inspector Gadget, Transformers and G.I. Joe as Saturday Morning cartoons.) But when you consider the sheer volume of nostalgic references, nit picking the errors and decade blending is pretty pointless.

8-bit christmas 2

Where the book sort of falls apart for me can be summed up by James Frey’s pull quote from above which evokes the film A Christmas Story; Jakubowski doesn’t just shoot for ACS‘s tone, he basically uses it as a point-for-point outline. Whether it’s aping the aged and slightly sarcastic narration of the main character reflecting on his youth, the plot device of a kid yearning for that one specific Christmas gift and then dealing with parents that basically tell him he’ll shoot his eye out with the NES Zapper, being forced to wear an item of goofy, girly clothing, reminiscing over the old man’s curmudgeonly ways, dealing with an annoying and whiny younger sibling, battling the town bully, or using the exact turn of phrases that seem uniquely in the voice of A Christmas Story, the book starts to feel a little hollow when you get past 80s homages. This is amp-ed up by a sort of ridiculous conceit that in 1988 only one kid in an entire Illinois county has a Nintendo Entertainment System, and only because his parents are filthy stinking rich. Having grown up in a decidedly middle class family with plenty of friends on both sides of the financial spectrum, I’m having a hard time remembering many kids who DIDN’T have an NES. Amp the story up even further with a Footloose-level county-wide ban on both owning AND selling Nintendo after the system is blamed for the accidental death of a yappy dog and all the reader is left being able to relate to is the plethora of 80s references. I think the problem lies with Jakubowski slavishly relying on A Christmas Story for inspiration. He riffs on Ralphie’s obsessive daydreams in that film as a jumping off point to tell Jake Doyle’s story, but forgets that with the exception of an all out attack by a pack of wild neighbor dogs on the family’s beloved turkey and an outlandishly sexualized leg lamp, that film is pretty firmly grounded in a very believable reality. 8-Bit Christmas has its head in the clouds and packs the book so full of wacky adventures in addition to Doyle’s Nintendo obsessed daydreams, that for me it was hard to relate to the story. As a film it would probably be easier to get behind, with only an hour and a half’s investment, but spending 8 or so hours reading a book it just sort of left me a little cold. It also doesn’t help that the singular obsession with obtaining an NES overshadows most if not all of the Christmas spirit in the book. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that instead of helping me get into the mood the book kind of reinforced a lot of insanity I’ve been trying to avoid for the past 15 years.

When all is said and done, even though the story didn’t resonate with me as much as I’d hoped, I can’t help but recommend 8-Bit Christmas purely on the richness of the 80s pop culture experience. There are enough obscure observations to balance the obvious references and that alone makes the book a worthwhile read.  It’s so literally heavy and densely packed, it’s like the fruitcake of 80s nostalgia novels…

The Day of the Nintendo Dead!

One of the things I love about hanging out on Twitter and Facebook is the opportunity to see some pretty awesome artwork, both in-progress and finished pieces that tend to melt my eyes with their sheer radness.  Lately I’ve been following the development of a series of Nintendo/Day of the Dead mashup screen prints by the supremely cool Jesse Acosta

JesseAcosta Art

I love these interpretations of Link, Mario and Mega Man!  Jesse’s been jumping feet first into the world of at-home screen printing and has been documenting his process as he’s worked on this series of video game dead characters.  I’ve been insanely curious myself, so it’s been fun watching him experiment and adjust to get these looking sharp.

I can’t wait to get these framed and put up in my new place…

prints

We’ve also been chatting a bit about movies and he’s got me super curious about the world of luchador flicks.  Being the super gracious guy he is, he sent me a copy of a really insane flick called Santo Las Momias de Guanajuato (or roughly The Saint vs. the Mummies of Guanajuato).  I can’t wait to get a chance to watch the flick and write up a review for the Cult Film Club.  He basically described it as the Latin wrestling hero version of the 60′s era Adam West Batman TV series, which sounds like fried gold to me!

Santo DVD

Jesse also included some of his mini comics in the care package, which were a really fun read.  If you get a second, do yourself a favor and check out Jesse’s blog, or hit him up on Twitter, you’ll be glad you did!  Also, check out his store where you can snag these Nintendo Dead designs on a T-Shirt!

I’ve rigged all the cabinets so you won’t need tokens…

Getting back into the swing of things around here and as luck would have it this week’s League assignment is a real peach!  Submitted by Jason over at Rediscover the 80s (who just started a pretty rad podcast that I totally am way behind in pimping), the topic is all about building a dream arcade in our homes.  Though I’m not much of a gamer these days, I did spend a decent amount of time playing the stand-up cabinets at the local pizza joints, mall arcades, Showbiz and Chuck E. Cheese’s, and even in the converted utility closet of the 7-Eleven that was in my neighborhood growing up.  That being said, my dream arcade would probably fit in a utility closet now that I think about it…

So what would be in my dream arcade closet?  Only four cabinets.  Well, three cabinets and one cocktail table unit.  First up, the classic (at least for me), Galaga…

Galaga Small

This is my go-to game when I’m in the mood for a truly old school arcade experience.  It’s also the game I judge most pizza places on.  Sure, if a place makes a good NY style pizza, that’s good, but if there are arcade cabinets in the joint and Galaga is missing, so too will be my patronage.  For my money (and I will drop a considerable amount of coinage in a Galaga cabinet when I have a belly full of pizza) there no better combination than securing that double spaceship with the taste of sausage and onion in my mouth that was just recently washed down with coke sipped out of a clear red plastic cup.  Just a bit of heaven if you ask me.

Plucking some similar pizza place-centric nostalgia heart strings would be securing a Mrs. Pac-Man cocktail sit-down table.  Faux wood grain trim would be essential too…

Mrs Pacman Cocktail

Can’t count the number of times I played a unit that looked just like this while waiting for my personal pan pizza at my local Orlando area Pizza Hut as a kid.  Did I mention that the personal pan pizza in question would have invariable been free based on my appetite for reading and the Pizza Hut Book It program…

Now the next cabinet is not an arcade game in the strictest sense, but it did provide an arcade experience, and that’s the Nintendo PlayChoice-10…

PlayChoice-10

This unit was basically a way for Nintendo to “advertise” for the NES system by housing it and 10 games into one arcade cabinet.  We had one in my local 7-Eleven when I was growing up and it’s where I spent a good deal of time playing games like Ducktales, Goonies II, and more importantly Lifeforce.  I also learned a neat trick where if you could pull both of the joysticks to the right and mash down all the buttons you’d get free timed play on a handful of the games in the cabinet.  I used this method to play a shitton of Lifeforce before breaking down and begging my mom for an at-home copy of the game.  In other words, mission accomplished Nintendo.

Rounding out my dream arcade would be my favorite arcade game ever, a 6-player X-Men game cabinet…

X-Men Small

Not only was this game based on Pryde of the X-Men, my favorite X-Men cartoon of all time (the one-shot failed pilot produced by the wonderful folks over at Sunbow), but it features one of my favorite X-Men characters, the much underrated Dazzler.  My four friends during middle and high school were all X-Men nerds like me, so between the five of us we used to rock the crap out of this game at our local arcade/go cart track called Malibu Grand Prix.  All of us would beg our parents to go there for birthdays just so that we could spend a couple hours plunking quarters into the above machine.  I’m pretty sure we even came close to beating it one or two times.  Hands down some of my favorite arcade experiences surrounded time at the joystick playing either Wolverine or Dazzler.

About 10 years ago I ran across a very reasonably priced 6-Player X-Men cabinet, but was plagued with the ultimate nerd conundrum of how to justify a car payment on something so big and loud that would be next to impossible to move without a professional team and a forklift.  In the end I passed, but there has always been a part of me that regretted it…

So there you have it.  The Branded in the 80s Arcade.  Small, sure.  But for me, arcade heaven.  Pass me a slice of sausage and onion, and don’t worry, I’ve rigged all the cabinets so you don’t need tokens!

If you liked my shenanigans this week, why not check out these other rad League participants…

Pax, Cavalcade of Awesome (and my rad Cult Film Club co-host), lists his top 10 arcade games!

Classick Material, Cold Slither Podcast, goes the extra step and makes a fantasy show about his favorites!

Rich, The Nerd Nook, Moonwalks over to the 7-Eleven to play some Street Fighter II!

Kal, Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool, has a bone to pick with Dragon’s Lair!