Friday, August 28, 2020

Top Riders!


I recently decided to do something I'd been waiting six years to do: break out my Top Rider inflatable motorcycle controller!

Back in 2014 I remember buying a big lot of miscellaneous Famicom stuff off of Yahoo Auctions and discovering this in it.  I had never seen one before so I blew it up and gave it a go, as documented on this post here.  If you read that post you'll notice my main take away was "Nice accessory but way too small for a grown man with bad knees".  This is an actual photo I took of myself on it that day which accurately reflects how awkward it is for a grown up:

I planned on selling it but my wife was pregnant at the time and we had just found out the baby was going to be a boy. She said to me "Why don't you keep it?  Maybe our son will like it!" 

This convinced me.  I didn't mention it in the post, but looking back at the comments on it I said something a bit prophetic:

I think this would be great for little kids. Actually we are going to be adding a little boy to our family in a couple of months and the main reason I think I`ll hang onto this is to see if he wants to play it in about 5 years!"

So instead of throwing it on my sales thread over at Famicom World I decided to keep it.  I put it in a box where it had remained for over six years since I made that post.  

And in keeping with the summer of 2020 being the summer of Famciom at my house I decided now was the time to see if little kids still like this thing.

Introducing this toy to kids is a bit of an art, but its not hard.  We were sitting in the living room watching Paw Patrol and I looked at my son and daughter and had the following conversation:

"Do you like motorcycles?"

(interest piqued) "Yes."

(increased tone of voice) "Do you want to go for a motorcycle ride?"

(getting more excited) "Yes." 

(peak tone) "In the LIVING ROOM????"

(going nuts) "YES!!!!!!"

(back to normal tone) "Kay, uh....give me a minute." (leaves room).

I remember blowing it up with my own lungs back in 2014 and that nearly killing me, but now our house is equipped with an electric air pump (for our kiddie pool) so that made things a lot easier.

While I did that, the kids got their bike helmets, which I thought was a nice touch of added realism.

The game, I must say, works much better with little kids on it than middle aged men.  First my son took the wheel and my daughter got on the back seat, then they later reversed.  He is pretty good at it, the controls are simple and he got the hang of it right away (except for the high/low gear thing).  It still functions quite well as a controller.  My daughter is a bit young and more or less oblivious to the game play, but she really loves taking the handles and jumping up and down on it.  She needs someone to hold it for her because her legs aren't long enough to reach the ground yet (kind of the reverse of the problem I had with it).  So usually when she rides, I set it on the floor in front of my chair and wedge the back between my legs so it doesn't fall over, then let her go to town with it (usually not even bothering to plug it in or anything).  

I'm kind of amazed at the quality of this thing actually. Its more than 30 years old and yet despite having survived all of that (it was already well worn when I got it), it has stood up well to the absolute brutal beating that my kids have dished out on it over the past few days - mainly consisting of the aforementioned being jumped up and down on.  They built this sucker to last!

I'm kind of sad that one big change that has happened since 2014 is that the price of these things have gone through the roof.  I don't think I paid much for mine (its used and didn't come with the box or manual), but I was in Super Potato the other day and saw one with a price tag in the $500 or so range (can't remember the exact amount).  At that price, nobody in their right mind would buy one for their kids to destroy, which makes me wonder if my kids might be giving the Top Rider its last hurrah. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

The Famicom Rides Again


These are some happy Famicom games inside a happy Famicom.  

They have an interesting story which began back in the 80s.  A mom and dad  bought them for children who had seen them on the shelf in the toy section of their local department store.  Ice Climber  came first, SMB 3 a couple years later.  The kids loved them and played for hours.  They had pride of place in the family home, the Famicom nestled beneath the big TV in the living room.  The kids would invite their friends over to play and Famicom parties would follow.

Famicom games love being the centre of kids' attention.  This happy state continued for a few years.

Then something horrible happened.  The kids grew older.  They no longer loved Ice Climber and SMB 3.   Neighborhood kids no longer came by to play together. They stopped playing games altogether as they became teenagers.  The Famicom lost its prized position beneath the living room TV, replaced by a VCR. 

The Famicom and the games went into a box, which went into a closet to collect dust.

Years passed.  The kids became adults and left home.  The parents, now older, cleared out the junk that their kids had left behind, including the Famicom and games which they disposed of at a big recycling shop.  

They passed around the second hand market in limbo for a while, getting mixed in with other games similarly discarded by other families.  Eventually a  man in his 30s who was collecting Famicom games bought them and brought them to his home.

But this wasn't a reprieve.  They gathered dust in a box on his shelf for several years.  The man had too many games and too little time to spend playing most of them.  The games remained sad and lonely, reflecting on the good old days when they were the centre of childhood attention.

One day the man and his wife had a baby boy.  They loved him very much.  Three years after that, they had a baby girl.  They loved her very much too.  They made a happy family.

But the Famicom games continued to collect dust in a box. The man had even less time for them now that he was a father.

Then a couple of years later, a deadly pandemic swept the globe, terrifying people and forcing them to stay home.  The man's little boy and little girl couldn't go to school, couldn't play with other children, or even go to the playground.  This made them sad.

The man, wanting to make his kids happy, thought of what he could do.  He remembered the dusty box with the Famicom games in them.  He brought it down from the closet, blew the dust off and carried it down to the living room.

The boy and girl became excited.  What did their father have for them?

"I think you'll like this!"  he told them as he cleared a spot under their living room TV to put the Famicom.

The kids jumped around in excitement.

The man  turned the TV on, blew on the connectors for Ice Climber, put it in the slot and flipped the red switch.

Nothing happened of course.  You can't just toss a Famicom cart that hasn't been played in decades in and expect it to work the first time.  But after a few tries the man found the exact right position for the cart in the slot and the game worked.

The kids were by now almost literally bouncing themselves off of walls in excitement.  

"This is a Famicom" the man said to the boy "lets play".

And with that, the story of the Famicom and the games had come full circle.  Today they again sit under a living room TV, and are the  most beloved plaything of little kids once more.  

The End.


As I mentioned back in April, I pulled my Famicom and a few games out of the closet and gave them to my kids (mainly my son since he's old enough) to play with while they were stuck indoors with a lot of time on their hands.  That was four months ago and the Famicom has basically spent the summer of 2020 as the Most Amazing Thing Ever in my house, which I think is really neat.  Its probably been a while since a Famicom has been so loved, so I wanted to do a post about that.

I've given my kids about 20 carts including a lot of the classics (all the Mario games, Donkey Kong, Adventure Island, Ice Climber, Galaxian, Pac Man, etc) and my son especially loves them. My daughter likes SMB USA because it is pink.

The neat thing about giving kids a game system with colorful carts is that the carts themselves become toys.  We keep them to a 1 hour limit of game time per day, and always make sure they play with one of us (usually me) so that the Famicom is a socializing activity rather than an isolating one.  The games don't just sit there when they aren't being played though, they become cogs in the larger Lego and other block related toy ecosystem that exists in our home.  

My son loves to construct levels in an imaginary game with them.  This one is a water world, inspired by the ones in SMB and SMB 3:

He also likes to use them to construct streets that he can race cars on:

This here is a Famicom cart maze he built for Lego mini figs to go through:

Its been really fun watching all of this unfold, and even participating in it, over the summer.  

I'm not sure how long it will last.  The big difference between kids in the 80s and my kids is that my kids live in a world in which like 5 subsequent generations of increasingly powerful video game systems exist, so at some point they'll probably jump ship from the Famicom to one of those.  I of course own many other systems, but have been deliberately avoiding bringing them out because I know once they get a taste of a Super Famicom (let alone a Switch) the poor Famicom will go back to collecting dust.  At some point I'll let that dam break, but for now I'm very happy to see these Famicom games getting so much attention.

I'm also kind of happy that my son at least will grow up having some really nostalgic memories of how playing the Famicom with his dad got him through what would otherwise have been a kind of depressing summer during the pandemic in which he was kept away from his favorite places!