Memories in Green: Playing the NES With a 1990s CRT Screen (Monochrome May Special)

Welcome back to Monochrome May, The Splintering’s month-long celebration of all things chromatically-challenged. 

In the early 90s, my parents acquired our family’s first computer. We picked it up second-hand, so it’s fair to say that it was not state-of-the-art, even by the standards of the time. But what is most important for the purpose of this story, is that it came with a very basic, monochrome green screen. 

Things were so much simpler back then, life didn’t revolve around the internet, and our computer was basically used as a fancy word processor. It therefore didn’t get much use on a day-to-day basis, a week-to-week basis, or even a month-to-month basis, depending on the time of year. 

At roughly the same time, my brothers and I had daisy-chained the RF adapters for our video game consoles on the back of our television. This included a SEGA Genesis, SEGA CD, Super Nintendo, TurboGrafx-16, a SEGA Master System, an original NES, and possibly even an Atari Jaguar, depending on the exact timeframe. Were we spoiled, yes, we certainly were. I admit that. 

It looked a lot like this

In any case, with so many RF adapters plugged into each other, the resulting image on the screen was becoming degraded. 

Necessity is indeed the mother of invention, so one of us (likely my older brother, but it’s tough to recall so many years later) decided to free up one link in the RF chain by connecting the NES to the green computer screen rather than the television. It should not have been surprising that it worked, but what was surprising was how much the monochrome downgrade breathed new life into Nintendo’s 8-bit machine. Perhaps our enjoyment was similar to the modern trend of releasing “demakes” of more advanced games, which is when a typically independent developer releases a version of a game on inferior hardware, such as the Halo demake programmed for the Atari 2600 by Ed Fries. 

Glorious

For one reason or another, we were able to play and enjoy the games on a slightly different level. Without the distraction of color, I personally paid more attention to the 2D pixel art and the animations. In a couple of rare cases, I found that the games were even better on this simplistic green screen. For instance, I preferred playing Kirby’s Adventure this way because it looked more like the Game Boy predecessor, Kirby’s Dreamland. Not only did the redesign of making Kirby pink for the NES look strange to me, some of the stages on the console were a little bit too bright, and the monochrome touch muted the visual noise a bit.

Of course, examples of games that were subjectively “better” were rare, there were plenty of games that didn’t fare as well. Mega Man’s weapon swapping didn’t result in him wearing a different-colored suit (he was always green). This was a similar issue with the blue and red rings in the Legend of Zelda, but it didn’t matter as much as it did in Mega Man. There are also a handful of games that are rendered unplayable without color. For example, The Simpsons: Bart Versus the Space Mutants required you to spray paint over the color purple, and if you can’t discern what objects to paint, you simply can’t progress. 

Find the purple! Annnnnd… Go!

Of course, I’m sure there are plenty of 80s and 90s kids who still played their games on a black and white television, so the above experiences might have seemed commonplace to them. One slightly unique aspect of our experience, though, was that it somewhat coincided with the release of the original Game Boy, which was still relatively new at the time. If you remember the Game Boy demo units that Nintendo placed in department stores, you might recall that they had a separate, larger green screen positioned at eye level, so onlookers could watch the gameplay in action (which was usually – but not always – Tetris). As silly as it might seem, playing our older NES games this way made us feel like we had one of these demo units in our own home. 

The original Nintendo Game Boy retail display. It was pretty cool.

What can I say? We were kids, and kids are easily impressed, right? Did you ever connect your consoles or computer games using unusual or unorthodox means? Let us know in the comments below!

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of our Monochrome May content here.

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