It seems like we've heard it all here at Retrojunk.com and video game articles are no exception. Gaming is one of the hottest subjects on the site resulting in dozens of new articles each month dedicated to the topic. Sadly most of these game articles mention the same hand full of items leaving some of us with a feeling of "Oh, this again?" So I figured I'd make an article that is completely unique because it's my story. Although I will mention some popular games, I'm going to try and make this article as personalized as I can. So please join me as I take a look back at my love affair with video games, I'm sure you can relate.
Although I can't remember the very first time I played a video game, deep within the hazy memories of my first few years I can remember the first console I ever played and that console was the mighty Atari 2600. I'm not sure exactly why we had a 2600 but I'm assuming it was purchased with my older brother and sister in mind. This had to be around 1987 and although I was only a wee tot, I still had a feeling that I was playing with an outdated piece of machinery (believe it or not). Once my family explained to me what each switch did like changing for black and white T.V. (something I knew nothing about) all of my assumptions had been confirmed, this thing was ancient. Now that I think about it, this was probably the origins of nostalgia for me, the wood panel, it's overall design and that musty vintage smell that old electronics are blessed with, for some odd reason my juvenile mind liked these things.
But what about the games? The Atari 2600 was a simple system and I had the basic concept of gaming down but the games ranged from hard to impossible for me. It wasn't the controller that had me mystified (one button, one stick, not exactly rocket science) but rather it was the games themselves. Looking back, most of the Atari games I played just sucked but I didn't know considering I had nothing to compare them to. I just thought that I sucked instead. I'm sure maybe now you're thinking "Well you probably did suck." but to my defense the sort of games I was attempting to play like Haunted House, Towering Inferno and the horrendous monstrosity known as E.T. were just bad games. Even games that weren't complete pieces of excrement were still entirely too difficult for me. Games like Q-bert, Pacman and Donkey Kong were challenging enough in the arcades but with the graphical restraints and clunky controls of the Atari they were near impossible.
So why did I like the Atari 2600? Playing Atari was a family event, it wasn't always hooked up to the television so every time we wanted to play, Dad would dig it out of the closet, dust it off and curse for a few hours while figuring out how to get it running. Hell, we all did, it was a family effort something even Mom could give a hand at. And once we finally figured out what to do and got everything fired up it was time to play for about 15 minutes and then back to closet it was. Needless to say my love of games had not fully formed yet. It would take more than family togetherness and my newly developed sense of nostalgia for me to truly enjoy gaming. Luckily I had an older brother to help me along the way.
Like I said, the Atari2600 was more of a novelty pleasure to me at the time so it wasn't until my older brother introduced me to the magnificent Nintendo Entertainment System that my feelings for gaming started to come around. Much like my memories of Atari I can't fully remember the very first time I saw the NES but my brother had purchased it sometime around late 87. Within a month or two he had already taken it apart for some reason, the top never made it back on.
The NES was a huge leap from the Atari to say the least; beeps, boops and buzzes turned into legible sound affects accompanied by beautiful music and although the graphics were still just a bunch of blocks and lines I could actually tell what I was looking at. But it was more than just an audio and graphical upgrade for the first time I had the feeling that I was actually in the game to a degree. You see with the Atari system, games required a ton of imagination and artistic interpretation (something I had yet to develop). A great example of this being Atari's Haunted House compared to Nintendo's Castlevania. Which one actually looks like a creepy haunted mansion?
Unlike the Atari, I actually had a shot at playing most of these games with little to no confusion. An upgrade from one button and one stick, the NES controller seemed like it would be more confusing to my adolescent brain but with the better controller came better controls. Due to their simplistic gameplay and unforgettable music, games like Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda became instant favorites. Although I now had games I would consider favorites, I still sucked at them. Being so young I couldn't get passed the first world in Mario nor the first dungeon in Zelda, and with my older brother buying games like Final Fantasy and Dejavu I was fighting a losing battle against the gaming gods.
Speaking of hard games let me share a story that still rings in my head every time I get to a difficult part in a game. One night my brother and his friends rented Mega Man 3. Although I sucked too much to even think about playing a Mega Man game (not that my brother would have let me) I still enjoyed watching he and his friends play. I had stayed up well past my bedtime to the wee hours of the morning (probably only midnight) to watch them beat the game. My brother's friend Jimmy was on the last boss of the last level with only one life remaining. It was getting late and my brother had to drop the game off in the overnight box at Blockbuster, so this was the final attempt at conquering the game once and for all. I had never been this emotionally involved in a video game so it was a huge deal to me when instead of the sweet taste of victory I witnessed the nasty sting of defeat. I screamed out in anger when Mega Man exploded into oblivion but Jimmy looked calm, cool and collect. I asked him why he wasn't even remotely bothered by this clearly traumatic experience and his answer has stuck with me to this day. "It's just a game." He says, "No big deal." Aint that the truth Jimmy.
I have to mention that my brother also purchased an Atari Lynx sometime in the late 80's. Although the graphics were an improvement, the blurry little screen didn't show this improvement very well. A poor game selection and awkward control scheme made the Lynx highly forgettable and added nothing positive to my feelings about gaming. Now it's not that I didn't like the NES and its games but I wouldn't exactly say I was in love with gaming quite yet, just more of a hypothetical crush, if you will. I still wasn't very good at video games and the graphics I'd experienced were still nothing to write home about but that was all about to change shortly.
Unlike the Atari 2600 and NES I remember the first time I saw this next system in vivid detail. One Saturday morning I was losing at Rygar for the NES when my brother comes into the room and promptly kicks me off the television. In his hands is a black box; inside the box was a world I had never seen. My brother rented a brand new Sega Genesis from Blockbuster Video with a fresh copy of Altered Beast. I was completely blown away. Let's start with the sound. I'm sure there are plenty of technical nerds that can explain the exact difference between NES sound and Genesis sound but I am not one of those nerds. The only thing this nerd can tell you is that it was a welcome upgrade to my tender ears. As funny as this sounds now, the clarity of the phrase "Rise from your grave" alone was worth renting it ten times over for me. I had never heard a game system say actual, legible words so clearly. ("I'm bad!" from Bad Dudes doesn't count.)
The most important upgrade for me was the graphical leap from 8-bit to 16-bit. Of course at the time I didn't know what any of that meant (and to be honest I'm still sort of confused) but it didn't matter because I knew 16 was bigger than 8 and these graphics looked better than the NES. No longer did you have to use your imagination to interpret gray blocks as gravestones or green blocks for grass, with the Genesis gravestones were gravestones and grass was grass. The system itself had a more edgy extreme look to it compared to the boxy bland NES, even the controllers looked dangerous, and with an extra button! After the few days were over my brother boxed the black beauty up and returned her to Blockbuster leaving a gaping hole in my fledgling gamer's heart. I just couldn't go back to the NES after everything I had just experienced so I went back to my first and foremost love of action figures.
Just like my first experience with the Genesis I can vividly remember the first time I set my eyes on the majesty of Sonic the Hedgehog. It was summer of 91; I was with my parents at the Sam's Club store preparing for another boring day of grocery shopping when out of the corner of my eye I saw bright blues and greens flashing on a distant screen. I wandered over to the shelf and witnessed the wonder of Sonic the Hedgehog flying across the screen with blistering speed. I had never seen such speed, unlike Mario that lurched across the screen with the speed of a Thanksgiving parade Sonic smashed through the levels killing baddies and snatching up as many rings as possible. It was sensory overload. I had never asked for such an expensive toy (I don't even think I had any ideas about the value of money at age 6) so I wasn't about to ask for the Genesis so I left with only a head full of desire.
Luckily it wasn't long before my older brother (18 at the time) purchased a Genesis with Sonic included. I guess Sonic had worked his magic on him as well. And it was with the Genesis' extensive library of games that I was finally a full-fledged gamer. Games like Streets of Rage, Golden Axe and Revenge of Shinobi cemented the Sega Genesis as my all-time favorite system and for the first time I was renting games on my own (something the NES never swayed me to do). Even though the Genesis prompted me to explore all sorts of games, my favorite for the console was still Sonic the Hedgehog, only later beat by Sonic 2. Personal note: In my youth I once beat sonic the Hedgehog 100 times in a row not kidding, I counted.
On Christmas morning of 1992 I was the luckiest kid on the block, lucky because I got my very own Sega Game Gear along with Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Unfortunately I couldn't get passed the first level. Although my gaming abilities had greatly improved over the years I could never beat the first boss (no rings ever for bosses on this game). Luckily my birthday is only a few days after Christmas so I got some other games to satisfy me for a while. Although graphically the Game Gear was inferior compared to the Atari Lynx, game selections like Mortal Kombat 2, Stryder and Chakan the Forever Man made it one of my favorite toys. Besides, I didn't know any one else with a Lynx. All my friends had Game Boys, and whether or not you agree with me, at the time (for me anyways) the Game Gear blew them away.
Although I hated Sonic 2 for the Game Gear with a passion, the system did have an awesome Sonic title with Sonic the Hedgehog Triple Trouble. I won't go into great detail about the game considering I could probably do an entire article on it alone (maybe I will) but I still hold it up to the same standards as the Genesis Sonic games. If you're a fan of the old 16 bit Sonic franchise and missed out on this classic game, you can find it included in the Sonic Gems Collection for PS2 or Gamecube.
By now I'm sure you've realized that having an older brother had its perks for me; And when my brother brought home a brand new Sega CD in early 93 he was my favorite person. Nowadays a lot of people trash the Sega CD for its terrible games and butt ugly video, but in 1993 it was amazing. Reminiscent of the Atari days most of the full motion video games were too hard for me to play, but this was also because most of the FMV games sucked (Sewer Shark anyone?). But that doesn't mean that the Sega CD didn't have its gems, the best home console version of Final Fight and Sonic CD (my all-time favorite Sonic game) to name a few. If you also missed out on this classic Sonic game, its included in the Sonic Gems package as well. So go out and buy that game! Or download it... whatever kids these days do.
The Sega CD wasn't just a gaming system to me, you see it also doubled as a CD player (something not every household had at the time) and I listened to my first CD on it. The Sega CD also had a CD+G feature used for Karaoke in Japan. As far as I know there were no Karaoke games produced for North America and the only thing that utilized this feature was a disc called Rock Paintings that featured primitive forms of music videos that could only be viewed on the Sega CD. Although most of the selections for the Rock Paintings CD didn't interest me, one artist I had never heard of did, his name was Jimi Hendrix. The fact that the Jimi Hendrix estate had something to do with a Sega product blows my mind, but thank you Sega for giving me my first experience of Jimi Hendrix.
I had a taste of the Super Nintendo a few years earlier when my brother rented one from Blockbuster but it didn't leave a big impression with me. You see he only rented the side scrolling beat em up Rival Turf and since we already had the similar game Streets of Rage I didn't see what the big deal was. It wasn't until my best friend from across the street got his very own SNES that I found out how cool it could be. My friend Jon wasn't into games as much as I was but we still managed to spend countless hours beating games like Star Fox, Super Mario World, Terminator 2 and my all-time favorite Mario game Yoshi's Island. I never really played games with my brother so having a partner took it to a whole new level of fun. Late night gaming highlights included beating on his old television to get the picture just right and shooting darts at his little sister for spying on our gaming fun.
I only wanted two things for Christmas in 1995, Wrestlemania the Arcade Game and my very own Sega Genesis console. I don't exactly know why I wanted a Genesis for myself considering my brother had one for several years. Maybe I wanted my own console to take over to friend's houses or something. Man, now that I look back on it, that was a stupid request my parents should have ignored. Anyway Christmas of 95 I got my own Sega, and the only reason I bring this up is to illustrate just how long I was into the Sega Genesis. Nearly six years from age 5 to 11 is an eternity for someone that young and the whole time I was still obsessed with the Genesis. It didn't end there either, my infatuation kept going even later into the system's life.
Come to think of it, another reason I wanted my very own Genesis was because I had never bought any games for my brother's system. "Why buy games for a system that isn't mine?" I thought. So for the first time I was picking out the games that I wanted and not just waiting for my brother to pick up games for himself. I didn't subscribe to any game magazines at the time so the only way I knew what games to buy was to check out the local Sears or Toys R US and sample the games myself at the demo stations. Although my memories of sampling games at the demo stations are fond, kids these days have it made. When you want to sample a game nowadays you don't even have to leave your houseâ€¦ or put on pants. But back in those days you had to fight off hordes of freeloading children trying to play a free game just to get a few minutes of gaming goodness.
To further stress the point of just how late I was into these older systems, the very next Christmas I finally got my own Super Nintendo. I didn't get a chance to experience the glorious game known as The Legend of Zelda a Link to the Past until the year 1997, six years after its release! One year after that I received a Sony Playstation with Final Fantasy 7 (already a year old at the time). Now that's a pretty big leap if you ask me, but I didn't mind being a late gaming bloomer, so to speak. By this time you could find older games dirt cheap just about anywhere. Not only did pawn shops have a fine selection of older games but places like Walmart had Sega and SNES games for low, low prices.
Speaking of cheap games, around this same time I managed to pick up "Make My Video: Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch" for the Sega CD at my local Walmart for two bucks. Sure it's a terrible game, if you can even call it a game (actually it's more of a video editing toy) but it did have an impact on my life in some way. Thirteen years later I would graduate from college with a degree in multimedia and whether I like to admit it or not, Marky Mark's game was my first foray into video editing. That sounds so bad when you say it out loud.
So there you have it, the history of my love (and hate) affair with video games. The years have passed and I'm older now. Other systems have come and gone and I still play the occasional current generation games but it's not the same, and it never will be. But something that will never change is the feeling I get when I fire up the old consoles for a little bit of nostalgic fun. Collecting the games I had as a kid (and some I always wanted) has become a great hobby for me and I hope to keep playing these games until my thumbs no longer work. Thanks for taking the time to read my story and VIVA LA RETRO!!!