Of Geckos and Men
The repercussions of playing Gex.
New Smyrna Beach, Florida, December 1998
My grandparent's house is great and all, but you know what's missing? A Nintendo 64. My family and I had just gotten one last year and, like all good little boys, I was addicted. Since my early gaming days with Mario on the SNES, I was always on the lookout for Mario, and this new 3-D Mario game looked awesome. We'd put the N64 to good use before Mario though. I had just warmed up to Diddy Kong Racing and blown Andross to hell on Starfox 64. Ahh, good times. So it was a source of great joy to me when I overheard my family talking about renting a Nintendo 64 for the duration of our vacation. Oh yes, things were about to get awesome.
We went to the video rental store and got the console and a few controllers. But what's a big plastic box with a few cords and plugs without some games? Well . . . it's a big plastic box with a few cords and plugs. Anyway, my uncle picks out one of those Madden titles. I think it had roman numerals . . . but I wasn't paying attention to what they were after. I was looking for Mario. But as I perused the shelves, I ran across this:
I don't remember what I was thinking when I saw the cover, but I'm pretty sure it was synonymous with "snazzy". I looked at the back of the box, AND BEHOLD:
I think what sold me was the lightsaber. A gecko in a stormtrooper-outfit-knockoff fighting off aliens with a lightsaber? Count me in! We rented it along with Madden, my hands gripping the rental box of Gex as if at any moment it would hurl itself out of the car and flee into the surrounding swamplands. This game would be good.
Well, it would be good when I played it. My father and uncle hogged the console for the rest of the day playing virtual football. I gave it a shot and ended up feeling like Ray Finkle. Minus the cross-dressing and kissing of men, naturally. But soon, the play-offs were over, the older people went to bed, and that evening, the gecko emerged from his cozy little nook in the game cartridge, and showed me the psychotic wonders of his game.
I began the game with its cartoon-theme level. Among other things, I smacked Elmer Fudd-clone (grr. . . clones) upside his fat head, and got crushed by a lady fat enough to make the Klumps blush. There were levels with themes of horror, kung-fu, sci-fi, technology, Godzilla, the prehistoric era, Titanic, even Gilligan's Isle and Indiana Jones! All these levels and a few more, each with three primary objectives and two bonus objectives to be completed. This felt more involved than Super Mario 64! Lord knows it was certainly more . . . well, let's just say it was different.
I almost beat that game in one sitting. From 7:00 p.m., I played until about 2:30 a.m. I had just been completing the primary objectives so I could hurry up and beat that evil, evil Rez so I could stop him from taking my Muppet Babies. I mean, I only had five days to complete the game! So here I was: the last level before I had to fight Rez. The last red remote to beat the game. I was halfway through, battling the oppressive techno music and risking life and limb through the endless disco rooms, when . . .
I broke down. In real life. I bawled my eyes out. My parents had to come, pick me up and put me to bed. In my defense, I was only eight, so . . . yeah, weak defense, but you get my drift. I know that I was weeping due to fatigue and self-enforced sleep deprivation; but in my mind, at that moment in time, I was crying because I missed the first level. I wanted to go back to the green grass where flowers non-chalantly smacked Gex on the head with hammers. Where Gex's pink rabbit costume was a spoof of Bugs and he would yell out at random moments, "Hey, I feel like I'm trapped in Boy George's pants!" I was in the game. I was a part of the game, and Rez had broken me. Let me crawl back to relative peace and my false sense of security. Or that's how my weary 8-year old brain interpreted the situation anyway.
Next day, I didn't play the N64 at all. Mainly because Gex 64 had the gall to undermine all my hard work and require a memory card in order for me to continue where I left off (or at least memorize a 40-character password). But despite the crushing sense of hopelessness I felt, I still loved the game. But let's face reality here, it's an easy game. It can be extremely frustrating, mainly due to some of the worst camera mechanics in a video game ever, and also because the controls are as sticky as a gecko's foot-pad. And on top of that, the lightsaber is a gimmick, much as the cake is a lie. Gex will wave it around for a second before you have to go back tail-whipping the cranium off of some Trekkie alien. It really is a mediocre game, but it carved a place in my heart for itself, and from that day in New Smyrna, I loved all things gecko-related.
When we got home, my first order of business was to locate and purchase a copy of Gex 64: Enter the Gecko to play. I was ready this time. I knew how to do things: pace myself, and have that pen and pad ready for those unbe-friggin-diculously long passwords. In a matter of days I had beaten the game. I killed Rez and saved my beloved Beast Wars (Muppet Babies had made room for Waspinator and his inability to fight).
It was because of Gex that geckos became my new favorite animal. Toys, trinkets, heck, even the Geico commercials held my attention span whenever they had that kooky lil' guy on! The game even motivated me to want to take care of geckos as pets. Mind you, I had grown older and matured to the point where I could scavenge for pill-bugs and grubs for my lovely reptile. My obsession even manifested itself to the point where I christened the leopard gecko my mom got me, "Gex". I was positive Gex was a dude, but after looking at a book about keeping and raising geckos, Gex turned out to be a chick after all. There's a reality check for ya.
I still have Gex 64 and play it every so often. I think it's one of the coolest games on the N64 despite all of its shortcomings. It was one of the old stand-bys when I wanted to play something, and it still is. I tried the sequel Gex 3: Deep Cover Gecko (shouldn't it be Gex 2 at least?), and found it to be as good as Gex, but not better. Everyone has "their" video game. The one they played that really got to them somehow, and no matter what the critics say, that game is their baby. Though I am loathe to say it, there's probably someone out there who absolutely adores Shaq Fu, though the chance of that is slim. Gex 64 wasn't a pivotal role in life (it would be sad if it was), but it certainly influenced me enough to where I cared for my very own gecko. Unfortunately, she died a couple years ago. My buddy (still my pal) was taking care of it and accidentally left the heating lamp on during a summer day. She buried it for us though, although the dog dug it up and ate it seconds later. Still, geckos will always "kick some tail", and I'll never forget Gex. Either of them.