I know a lot of people on this site have written about their memories of their first game console in the 90's whether it was a Sega Genesis, a Super Nintendo, or a hand-me-down Nintendo Entertainment System, but another one and a vivid one at that won't hurt...
Where do I start with this big part of my childhood? I guess I should just start at the beginning. Kindergarten.
1991. It was the summer before Kindergarten, and my family and I noticed some new neighbors in the big house behind ours which had been vacant for some time. It was a father and two kids, a boy and a girl. His name was George, and he and his wife, Pam and their kids Keller and Allison had recently decided to move to little 'ol Bay Village, OH because of its great schools and beautiful location off of Lake Erie. Anyhoo, George was outside with his kids setting up a jungle gym in their backyard, and that is when I met his son, Keller. Let me tell you, Keller was probably the first best friend I ever had besides my cousin Justin, who was three at the time. Even though we were friends, its not to say we didn't ever have any fights (he was quite rambuncious and liked to rough house. Boys will be boys). Even so, Keller was the one who introduced me to one of the most wonderful things I had ever seen (and still believe to this day to be...), the legendary, 16-bit, blast-processing, beast of epic proportions, the SEGA GENESIS. TA-DA!! ^_^
I must tell you again it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Up until this point, my only exposure to videogaming was my Aunt Gretchen's tired old Mattel Intellivision (I'm not knocking the system, just building up the Genesis to the gaming god it was) with two or three dozen games (I can't remember, I was only six. All I remember is that they were all kept in an old Sunkist orange box) most of which were sports titles, Atari clones (Space Armada [Space Invaders] or Astrosmash [Missile Command], anyone?), Ports (Frogger, Lock and Chase, Burgertime), or games based on numerous 80's licenses (TRON, Kool-Aid Man, Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, etc.).
There also wasn't really much of a mascot for the Intellivision unless you count the 'Intelliman' who was first designed for all the sports titles on the console, but then grew to become the unofficial mascot for the Intellivision. He also became the standard human sprite model in any game featuring human characters, even the female characters. There was no 'Intelliwoman'. Sexist indeed.
Sega to me was one of the first consoles I remember to have a real mascot and his name was Sonic the Hedgehog. Now those three words and everything else that embodied 'the fastest thing alive' would go down in history as the first contender to really challenge Nintendo's Mario. Sonic was also my first hero. Not Superman. Not Batman. Not even the Amazing Spider-Man, but it was Sonic. He changed my life. I could write a whole article alone on what he means to me but that is another article for another day.
The first time I laid eyes on Sonic it was a special moment. I saw the standard "PRODUCED BY OR LICENSED BY SEGA." start up screen, then the Sega logo (which sounded like a choir of angels the first time I heard it. I kid you not.), then the "Sonic Team Presents" screen, and then the piece de resistance, the title screen, accompanied by the now classic, Sonic the Hedgehog theme! It was really funny the first time I tried to play the game because I remember that I found it to be incredibly hard. I don't even think I got past the first level. I could only envy Keller's prowess in his ability to get to the fabled second stage, Marble Zone.
Another of my first Sega adventures was the wacky, hilarious, and sometimes freaky world of Toejam and Earl (another topic I could write a whole article on, but I'll save that for later). I was introduced to this game through my Aunt Gretchen, who babysat Keller and Allie many times. I remember her drawing the characters for me one day and I asked her what she was drawing. She told me that they were Toejam and Earl, two characters from a game that she played with Keller one night she babysat him.
The next time I got to hang out with Keller (and many times after that, including two times that I borrowed it for my own Sega Genesis; I'll get to that shortly), we played Toejam and Earl and it was unlike anything I had ever seen or played before. If Sonic held a mere candle to the Intellivision, TJ&E blew it straight out of the water. I mean we were throwing tomatoes, bouncing, running, jetting around (on rocket skates), flying (with Icarus wings), swimming (with a cute little inner tube), opening presents, falling, squishing each other; running from a wide variety of scary earthlings (TJ&E were aliens from the planet Funkotron), the worst of which being the maniacal dentist, the boogey man, and the terrifying mailbox creature from HELL (to this day, he still makes my blood curdle and makes me shriek like a little girl). This game still amazes me and if I ever get a Wii, it will be the first (and perhaps the only) Virtual Console title I buy.
My cousin Justin (who also lived in Bay) would sometimes come over too if he was already hanging out with me. I think hanging out with Keller and I while my aunt babysat might've fueled his love for Sega too (my other aunt and my uncle also had an Intellivision, so he and I were in the same boat). I remember most of the games I played with Keller:
-Sonic The Hedgehog
-Toejam and Earl
-Ecco the Dolphin
-Joe Montana Football
-Mario Lemeux Hockey (Keller used to play hockey as a kid so he loved this game)
-Sonic and Knuckles
-Sonic the Hedgehog 2
-Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Now I'm sure we might've played more games than that, but again, it was so long ago I may have a few gaps in my memory, but I still know one thing, from that time I knew I loved Sega and that I would eventually have one. It would be three years before I would have one and that was a long time. Let's just say I was almost convinced that I wanted a Super Nintendo instead...
Keller wasn't my only friend at school. That year, I made some friends that I carried up through high school. A lot of those friends I made had older brothers and sisters who were raised on NES therefore making a lot of them Nintendo fans from the time they could hold a controller. I spent a lot of time playing Super Mario and many other Nintendo games with them. Super Mario Bros. 3 was and still is the best Nintendo game I played during this time period. I still went to hang out and play Sega with Keller during this time, but I was slowly becoming a Mario fan because more people I knew had NES's than Sega's. Then when the Super Nintendo came out that Christmas, a lot of my Nintendo friends made the switch and we started playing games like Super Mario World, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past, and TMNT IV: Turtles In Time, a port of the great TMNT arcade game (I was also a TMNT freak through most of the 90's; another article...)
In 2nd grade, I would go as far as to dress up as Mario for Halloween:
1993. My transformation from a Sega fan to a jaded Nintendo zealot fanboy (which are a dime a dozen) was almost complete. I even remember dragging my Big Brother (a mentoring program for kids with single parents who need a mother or father figure) to see the abyssmal, Super Mario Brothers movie (you all know the one with Dennis Hopper as King Koopa and Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo as the Bros. Mario). But then something wonderful happened. That christmas, after I had harped and harped for months over how badly I wanted a SNES, my aunt got me the one christmas gift that brought me back from the darkside and back into the light of my fickle former Sega fanboyism. It was the Tiger Electronics Sonic The Hedgehog 2 LCD Hand Held game.
Ahhhhh...the Nintendo giant had been toppled!!! ^_^ This was also the year Sonic The Hedgehog SatAM and The Adventures Of Sonic The Hedgehog began their broadcast. It was a good time to be a Sega fan and my fandom had been reaffirmed. I played Sonic 2 all the time until one day it wore out, like most favored toys do. I'm sure my family was slightly glad for that, because for a while I became a battery fiend stealing 'AA' batteries from every device in the house that used them just so I could play Sonic 2. Remotes, walk men, my sister's toys, I was a little creep.
1994. The year that changed everything. The year both my cousin and I got our Sega Genesis systems. I was now in third grade, a lot of my Nintendo friends had deserted me and started making fun of me because I was the chubby kid with the goofy last name (Woodburn, which I am honored to have because it was my Grandfather's last name) who liked Sega. It was rather heart breaking but I didn't give a shit because I made friends with another kid who loved Sonic and Sega. His name was Trevor. Even though he loved Sonic, it seemed like he liked Dr. Robotnik and his creative badniks even more. Funny, it was the first Dr. Robotnik fan I had ever met. Anyhoo, I continued to play Sega at Keller's a couple times a week (c'mon, we were backyard neighbors!) and I knew through determination and continued begging that I would have a Sega Genesis.
September 20, 1994. It was my cousin, Justin's 6th birthday. He and his family (my Aunt Robin, Uncle Harry, his sister Alaina, and most of his dad's relatives) and my immediate family (my mom, grandma, grandpa, Aunt Gretchen, my sister, Heather and I) had a party for him at his house while his family still lived in Bay Village (they moved to Olmsted Falls in 1997). He got many presents like most kids do (he got a lot of Jurassic Park stuff that year because he was crazy about dinosaurs for a while) but no present would be more influencial than the last one he would open, a Sega Genesis Model II Console with Sonic 2 included!! IT WAS AWESOME!! I remember his dad hooking it up in his room (yes, he was lucky enough to have a TV in his room at age six. I didn't have a TV in my room until I was fricken 18 years old!!) and we played that thing like crazy until long after most of his dad's family had left and my family was dragging me home. I was so jealous!!! AHHHHHH!!! ^_^ But that jealousy wouldn't last for long. My glory day would come.To this day, Justin still has the Sega Genesis in his basement hooked up next to his PS2.
Fast forward to December 1994...
I think it was a week or even two before Christmas I remember going to the Great Northern Mall (Now, Westfield Shopping Towne, still the same mall only remodeled and renamed) to visit Santa Claus (This guy had could've been the real deal, he had a real beard and his name was even was Kris...) and tell him what I wanted for Christmas. Now I remember my sister asked for an American Girl doll and I got the whole schpeal from the big guy asking if I'd been a good boy this year. Of course I said, "Yeah, I guess so." and then he asked me what I wanted. I told the big guy that I wanted a Sega Genesis and thats it. He then said, "Are you sure?" and I said, "Yeah, but if you want to surprise me with anything else, that's cool too." He then said, "I'll see what I can do..." So that was that. The rest was up to Santa and God...
December 25, 1994. Christmas Day. Man. Was I ever a naughty boy. Even though I was tired from going to the late Christmas service at my church, I remember getting up a couple times early in the morning because I was so excited that Santa had come while I was sleeping (a.k.a Mom and the gang finished wrapping my sister's and my last few presents). My stocking was so full, I think it fell down and sat below the mantle. I even noticed that the cookies had been eaten and the milk was drank. (Mom/Aunt Gretchen/Grandma/Grandpa...LOL!! ^_^ I'm gonna be a slight jerk to my kids someday like Calvin's dad in Calvin and Hobbes and say "Santa would probably like a beer." Hope they don't catch on...) Anyway, after being told to go back to bed or else "I'll tell Santa to come and take all your presents back." about five or six times, I finally got up at about 7-ish and sat in the living room with my Grandma by the Christmas tree. I wish I could remember what we talked about (more than ever now that she's been gone for almost three years) but I was sooooooooooo excited. I saw a fairly big box wrapped in green paper with candy canes on it that had a gift tag on it that said "TO: ANDY, FROM: SANTA". I knew that had to be it.
A little bit later, at like 8:30am or 9am, everyone began to shuttle into the family room to be together and open Christmas gifts. We all began to open our gifts and believe me, it was a veritable treasure trove. I think it was like the second to last gift I opened, but it was a great moment. I don't think I was nearly as excited as the N64 kids, but I was ecstatic. I do remember however, hugging the box before opening it. Besides the pack-in game of the time, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, I got two other games from my mom.
The games were Sonic Spinball (essential) and Goofy's Hysterical History Tour (a strange and rare gem, but fun anyway. Plus, you gotta love Goofy). I also seem to remember that the UPCs had both been cut from the back of the two games my mom had bought me. Little did I know, Sega had a special promotion with the purchase of two games. She had sent the two UPCs in for a free game of your choice from a list and that game would come in February. That game was Disney's Aladdin.
I quickly dethroned the Intellivision and hooked up the Sega to play it. Unfortunately, I didn't hook it up correctly and I thought it was defective because I didn't get any sound. Luckily, my uncle Larry figured out what I was doing wrong and fixed it the next day. I'm pretty sure I just had a loose RF connection...LOL!! Retard alert!! ^_^
A little later on in the day, everyone in my family came over to my house (since 1997 we've had Christmas at my Aunt Robin's new house, because it's bigger) to exchange Christmas gifts, have Christmas dinner and just have a nice time together like always. I got so many nice things from everyone and dinner was great. I also remember my cousin Justin bringing over Battletoads (Sega Genesis version, of course. He got it as a Christmas gift.) and he, my other male cousin, Tim, and I played Battletoads and the 2-player mode on Sonic 2 until my parents and my aunts and uncles managed to pry us off of the electronic crack for the night...but that didn't stop me from playing it at 3 in the morning with Tim (My aunt Teryl, uncle Larry, my cousins, Tim and Shannon lived in Toledo and the drive was too long, so they stayed the night at my house) and getting yelled at again. LOL! ^_^
Anyway, I plan on writing a part 2 further chronicling my adventures in Sega-dom. I just wanted to get this part out in time for Christmas since everyone is writing Christmas articles and forum posts lately...more to come...^_^