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Smith: How a retro game console helped me bond with my wife

Nintendo put a price on my childhood last week, and I gladly paid it.

Who wouldn’t pony up $80 for a 200-hour nostalgia trip? The Super NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) Classic hit store shelves Sept. 29, pre-loaded with 20 classic, early 90s Super Nintendo games and the never released “Star Fox 2.”

I was lucky enough to grab one the morning it came out, but a lot of my fellow gamers weren’t so fortunate. Pre-orders for the system sold out months before the console’s release, and store shelves were barren by the end of launch day.

After a weekend of vigorous play testing (including an all-night marathon that lasted until 10 a.m.), I’m happy to report the system is worth more than $80. Unfortunately, if you want one before Christmas, you’ll likely have to pay an online hardware scalper at least twice the asking price.

The Hardware

I knew the Super NES classic would be tiny, but seeing it in person was eerily surreal. It looks exactly like the original, but is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. The two controllers that come with it, however, are an exact replicas of the originals, only sturdier and lighter.

Too bad the controller cables are so damn short.

Measuring about 5-foot long, the cables are two feet longer than those of the NES Classic, but not nearly long enough to reach from my entertainment center to my recliner. The HDMI cable that comes with the system is also way too short, so I had to improvise.

And by improvise, I mean draping cords across the width of my living room, creating an unsightly mess of taught tripping hazards. I keep an extra-long HDMI cable hooked to my TV at all times, leaving the loose end available for when I want to hook my laptop to my TV. It works just as well with the Super NES Classic, giving me the room to put the system on my ottoman and place it in the middle of the room.

It still wasn’t enough. The system has a handy but poorly explained rewind function that lets you retry difficult sections of a game, but to use it, you have to go the system’s home screen and make a save file. Instead of putting a “Home” button on the controller (a standard feature introduced by the Xbox 360 back in 2005), you have to use the reset button on the console. That means it has to be sitting right next to you, forcing me to drag my ottoman all the way to my recliner.

What the hell was Nintendo thinking?

It’s a small but notable caveat for a stellar little machine that displays every game in beautiful 720p resolution. These games didn’t look this crisp when they first released. Not on my childhood TV, anyway.

The Games

Much of the media hype has been focused on the system’s extra game — “Star Fox 2.” The spaceship shoot-em-up was notoriously axed right before its planned 1996 release, and its assets and concepts were ported over to the then-upcoming “Star Fox 64″ for the Nintendo 64 console.

Ironically, it isn’t that great—compared to the original. The graphics are a bit better, but the open world exploration system is a mess, and most of the battles are presented from a boring first-person cockpit view. The best parts of the game, such as your spacecraft transforming into a walking tank, are implemented much better in “Star Fox 64.”

You still should give it a try, though. I know some gamers who adore “Star Fox 2” (it’s definitely experimental), and it provides fascinating insight into Nintendo’s quality control. “Star Fox 2″ doesn’t live up to the quality of the rest of the titles on the system, and it looks to me as if Nintendo ate a financial bullet to protect their reputation.

I was a pre-teen back then, and didn’t give much thought to critical analysis. I liked what I liked, and constantly scoured gaming magazines for even more games I would like.

Now that I’m looking at these games through the eyes of a critic, I’m even more impressed. They’ve aged, sure, but in the same way classic films such as “Citizen Kane” and “Casablanca” have. Those beautiful black-and-white visuals still pop 80 years later, just like the striking, two-dimensional pixel art of these Super Nintendo games. The games’ simplistic story-telling is still charming, much like the broad over-acting in “Citizen Kane.”

I wish I had the room to review each game individually. “Super Metroid,” “Final Fantasy III” and “Super Mario World” are three of the greatest games ever made. But I’m just cherry picking from a library of true classics. Aside from “Star Fox 2″ (counted as a “bonus game”), there are no misfires.

The Joy of Couch Co-op

Couch co-op (games you can play on a couch with a friend) have made a big comeback lately, and it’s easy to see why. The 80s and 90s were the golden era of couch co-op, and many of these games, such as “Contra III: The Alien Wars,” “Donkey Kong Country” and “Secret of Mana,” are still better than a lot of modern co-op titles.

My wife and I spent the majority of our weekend trying them all out, and we didn’t want to stop. For her, it’s a fun way to spend time with me. For me, it’s a chance to natter on about my childhood memories associated with each game. That inevitably leads to even more tales from my youth.

God love her, she’s actually interested in the minutia of my memories. If I told my childhood self I would land a wife who enjoys playing video games with me, I surely would have swooned from happiness.

Smith: How a retro game console helped me bond with my wife | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
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