Not too long ago, my husband showed me an old advertisement celebrating a new Toys “R” Us store opening in Toronto and nearby satellite cities. The lucky children of 1984 who attended the ribbon-cutting could meet Geoffrey, Garfield, Snoopy, some loser Care Bear, and the one and only MISTUH TEE.

The ad still makes me wonder if the Toys “R” Us I frequented as a kid is amongst the venues opened at this event. That very same Toys “R” Us is still standing, and as far as I know, it does decent business. I have a pretty good memory, and I can’t remember a time when the store wasn’t there. So I can assume it opened in ’84. Maybe even earlier.

Maybe this is a petty, silly thing to say, but it’s an unusual privilege to have one of your childhood staples loom large through your adult years – especially when you live in a big, ever-changing city. My special and eternal Toys “R” Us is where I bought my NES, much of my NES library, my SNES, and much of that library.

See, Canadian retail is a weird animal. The enormous failure of Target is one indication that we’re not quite as retail-aggressive as our southern cousins. Moreover, we pay more taxes, we live more modestly, and shit just costs a lot more up here. So the few ginormous box store imports that eventually made it up here took their time doing so.

This is my long-winded way of saying there was no Wal-Marts here when I was of NES-playing age. Nor was there many EB Games / Gamestop locations, or independent game stores. If I wanted a game, I went to the aforementioned Toys “R” Us.

Strangely enough, even though I bought several games at that Toys “R” Us, there’s only one purchase I remember the specific details of: Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I wanted an NES game for some birthday or another, and my mother looked at the prices ($80+, plus tax) and said “lol.” But I noticed Castlevania III was on sale for $20, and being a big fan of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, I said “Please?”

Best purchase, imo.

toys_r_us1

Those ugly-ass xylophone bars screamed “DROP YO CASH HERE”

 

These days, Toys “R” Us has separate sections for its games and systems. These areas are equipped with cameras and anti-theft beepers, which theoretically makes it difficult to stuff Skylanders up your shirt and take off. But when I was a kid, purchasing a game from Toys “R” Us was a real solemn, multi-tiered event.

You looked at pictures of game boxes on hooks and made your decision. Then you slipped the relevant plastic number tag off the hook, and presented it to a person sitting in a little glass booth with airholes thoughtfully punched in the side.

Okay, so the holes were for vocal interaction, not breathing. Still, I like to imagine the glass was bulletproof. This was a real solemn corner of the store, and it served a very important purpose.

You presented your tag, and you got your game. Or your game system. Oh, man.

I don’t want to go on about how buying games was a damn ceremony when I was young, and how regretful I am that kids today will never experience it because cheap / free / downloadable games make the pastime seem more disposable.

Oh, crap. I just went on, didn’t I?

The point is, regardless of how the games industry has changed over the decades, I’m glad such an important part of my personal game history is still standing.

And, in a way, buying NES cartridges at Toys “R” Us actually did cheapen the sacred novelty of buying video games. We bought our Atari games at Consumers Distributing, and man, was that ever a song and dance.

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  • http://www.nyteworks.net/ LBD “Nytetrayn”

    What I miss was when Toys R Us was more like a Sam’s Club/CostCo or grocery store of toys, practically floor to ceiling and dense. It was glooooorious. This is one of those times when it really was “better in my day.”

    Sadly, the way it is now is far less impressive. More like any other department store’s toy section, but just spread out more, I guess. If they told you everything they had was out on the floor in those days, you could easily believe it.

    I loved when they had the World of Nintendo stuff, with all the merch in one handy location– that’s where I first laid eyes on my Mario plush. Or at least, one like the one I eventually got.

    Also cool were the internally-lit glass display cases for the game consoles and pricier electronics, usually in that first aisle opposite the board games lining the wall as you enter the store, all before crossing into the next aisle where the actual games were.

    In conclusion, I would just like to say “Get off my lawn.” Thank you, and good night.

  • TheGameroomBlitz

    Geez, I can totally relate to this. Toys R Us was locked up like Fort Knox when I was a kid… all the electronics were either behind glass or otherwise hidden from view. You’d take a blue and yellow ticket from a pouch in front of a picture of the game you wanted, purchased that game at the counter, and received it from the mysterious man behind a cement wall. If you were the shoplifting type, it just wasn’t gonna happen at a Toys R Us.

    That did bring a sense of wonder and mystery to game purchases. I remember doing this with late Atari 2600 and NES releases, all the way up to the Sega Saturn. The last Saturn game I purchased at retail, Panzer Dragoon Saga, was retrieved from behind the concrete wall. (In retrospect, they had TWO copies, and I should have bought them both, especially since they were clearing them out at $20 each. Sigh!) After I moved back to Michigan from Arizona, I visited another Toys R Us, and they had replaced the concrete wall with something called the “R-Zone” (not to be confused with the awful game system of the same name). I mean, they still had games, but as you pointed out, buying them seemed less special. They were all in an enclosed area with a cash register and a gate at the end to keep the customers honest. Maybe it was more convenient, but it didn’t inspire awe like the tickets and the wall had. They were no longer treasures held under lock and key; just products.

  • HeatPhoenix

    I’m not that old just yet and I don’t think we ever had the plastic tag thing over here in Holland, but… I do remember when the GBC was the hot thing. The Toys ‘R Us near Rotterdam was HUGE and had a huge standee for GBC games. I convinced my niece to buy Super Mario Land 2. She wasn’t really into games but just wanted the newest things to seem cool to the other kids on the playground, she stayed like that all the way until the end of High School (buying a PSP and PS3 for that reason later). And yet for some reason she was able to beat the final boss of Super Mario Land 2 and I wasn’t…

    Another thing that makes video games a lot more disposable these days is disposable income, ironically. I can just buy what I want and if I don’t REALLY like the game in the first 45 minutes I can just put it down and play one of the 10000s other games I’ve bought/can buy.

    They also had Jazwares stuff at some point but that’s a whole other story.