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Why we’ll always love Toys ‘R’ Us: It was gaming’s first megastore

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Toys ‘R’ Us filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy earlier this month. Since then, reports have found that the company is profitable except for the sizable debt it took on as part of its restructuring under private equity firm Bain Capital in 2005. It will now use Chapter 11 to get out from under those crippling interest payments, and it could likely return stronger even if it will have a harder time raising capital going forward.

Above: Oh, man! I want Shinobi and Golden Axe and Double Dragon and ….

But while the future of Toys ‘R’ Us is uncertain, we wanted to look back at its history — especially as a video game retailer. During this week’s GamesBeat Decides podcast, PC gaming editor Jeffrey Grubb (me), reviews editor Mike Minotti, and managing editor Jason Wilson all recalled shopping at the store as kids.

Mike and Jason talked about walking down the towering game aisle, which didn’t have any actual games in it. Instead, Toys ‘R’ Us customers would look for the new release they wanted to buy, grab a slip, and then take that to the check out. Once you purchased the slip, you could take it to a special cage where a store employee would exchange your slip for a copy of the game.

You can hear our conversation about Toys ‘R’ Us by clicking play on the video at the top of this story or by listening to the audio version of our latest podcast episode right here:

Above: I want one!

Image Credit: Reddit/LegoGuy23

But for me, Toys ‘R’ Us is most closely tied to the Nintendo 64 (Jason’s so old he was buying Intellivision games there!). I had read everything I could about Nintendo’s new console in gaming magazines and the very early internet (I was NeoJobe64 on AOL — shoutout to everyone back in the Nintendo chat room in the Arts & Entertainment section). So I knew a lot about the system and its marquee launch game Super Mario 64. But none of that prepared me for how blown away I was when I finally got to play it on a trip to Toys ‘R’ Us.

Nintendo sent out these massive kiosks to Toys ‘R’ Us with the game, and I remember gripping the controller and booting up this 3D Mario and kinda losing my mind. It was better than I ever could have imagined, and I think I probably played for an hour.

Maybe my parents noticed how in awe I was (or they noticed on one of the many return trips that I played the system for an extended period of time), because the N64 was the only time they ever bought me something like a video game console at launch.

On September 26, my parents drove the whole family to the store. I got to get the slip for both the system and Mario 64. We walked to the checkout, and I got to do the exchange at the game cage. And then, the whole ride home, I read both boxes and stared at the pictures.

The rest of the night, I played Super Mario 64 on the big TV in the family room while everyone else watched.

Toys ‘R’ Us may not build memories such as mine anymore, but I bet plenty of kids still are thrilled to go there even with the existence of Amazon. Hopefully, after its bankruptcy proceedings, it still will.

The PC Gaming channel is presented by Intel®‘s Game Dev program.



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