Let me be honest here for a little while: if someone put a gun to my head and told me I could only enjoy one of these things for the rest of my life, out of gaming, film and TV, I reckon I would pick gaming.
Actually, that’s a lie. I’d pick TV.
But my point is I love gaming. I mean really love it. Have done since I was a small child. And I think I’m really the generation that ‘gets’ gaming the most; the 24-35 age bracket. People in this age bracket (also, bear in mind that I’m slightly uncomfortable grouping myself with people over 30. I’m still young, me. I go to all the cool parties) grew up with gaming. And I don’t mean they had every console that was released, though they did. I mean gaming has grown up alongside these people, as well as vice versa. In fact I’m probably on the outskirts of the ‘grew up with gaming’ stage. My first console was a ZX Spectrum, and it was terrific, but there were consoles before that. I can’t really offer an opinion on them. It would appear that while not there for gaming at its infancy, I was certainly there for the awkward first steps and teething stage, or the third generation of consoles to give it its proper name.
Anyway, to the mighty Spectrum. And it was mighty. In that there were so many pieces of kit to actually play the bugger. The massive power unit, the tape player you needed as the games for it came on cassettes (!) and the keyboard. The lovely ergonomic, streamlined, rubber keyed keyboard. It was a thing of beauty, and looked exactly like the type of keyboard used in underground Russian bunkers to launch nuclear missiles, except this had a little rainbow bit in the bottom right corner. It was cool. It’s still in my house somewhere, probably tucked away in a box in the roof space, gathering dust but still looking cool, and all pleased with itself.
The Spectrum itself was a time consuming console, mainly because it took so long to actually load up a game that when you eventually started playing you daren’t stop. Imagine dial up internet, but one that took about 15 minutes to connect and you’re almost there. Although you were treated to a nice display of multicoloured loading screens, that probably caused many a child to go into convulsions. But once it started, oh baby, were you ever treated to a wide variety of games. A wide variety of startlingly similar games with different skins, but it was still immense. The game I believe was the first I ever truly loved was an absolute gem. Jason’s Gem to be precise. You controlled a little space ship thing that had to manoeuvre through dangerous terrain, and you could either blast your way through it or carefully navigate your way around it. Blasting through was fun and got the job done but skilfully mastering the course was much more satisfying. It was simple, but I loved it. It was kind of like Space Invaders but in reverse. You were the invader, moving ever downwards to reach your goal. Come to think of it, maybe Jason was an evil overlord conquering every world he came to. They didn’t put that on the box though.
Anyway, the other game I loved on the ZX was R-Type. And if you’ve never played R-Type before, I take pity on your soul. I’m not even going to bother reviewing it, because everyone should know how good it is. As was indicative of this era of gaming, and for a while after too, the covers for the games were so awesome that the game couldn’t possibly live up to them. R-Type broke the tradition however, as it more than lived up to its bad ass cover.
After the glorious Spectrum days came the 16 BIT days. Twice the power, twice the awesomeness, twice the price probably; almost too much for this 7 year old boy to comprehend. My brain nearly exploded from sheer excitement. I still remember coming down on Christmas morning 1992 at 4AM, opening the door to the living room, and seeing the outline of a Sega Mega Drive box lit by the street lights outside, with a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 sitting in front of it. I remember kneeling down beside it and practically salivating over it as my sister was next to me doing the same with a Polly Pocket dream village (or whatever) box. I remember loving the fact that Santa (yes, Santa) had bought me this. I also remember waiting for another 5 hours before I could actually play the blasted thing. Stupid parents, not waking up at the same time as me.
Anyway, the Mega Drive era was where I really fell in love with gaming. Sonic was the coolest video game character of all time (and still is) and was the perfect mascot for the faster, better, stronger Mega Drive. Sega does what Nintendon’t. Too bloody right.
First of all, the console itself, as it was a thing of beauty, with 16 BIT emblazoned on the front as if it’s screaming at you “That’s right, motherf*cker. I’ve got 16 BIT worth of power, and I’m going to remind you of just how f*cking awesome I am every time you look at me. 16 BIT FTW! Look at this grate on the side of me; it’s not to cool me down, it’s to warm you motherf*ckers up. Also, I’m all streamlined and sh*t. Screw your SNES, it looks like a grey box full of sh*t. I’m all rounded and smooth, and jet black and sexy.” Or is that just me that thinks that?
The controller was also a gorgeous little (big) thing. Unlike the SNES controller which was just a rectangle, that caused indentations in your hands during moments of intense gaming, the Mega Drive controller fit perfectly in your hands. It didn’t matter that the buttons A B and C did the same thing in most games, it looked sexy.
Up down left right A start, anyone?
And then there were the games. I’ll not go into in depth reviews of them all, because we’d be here all day. I’ll just name a few of my favourites: obviously all of the Sonics (special mention goes to Sonic and Knuckles onto which you could put other Sonic games and play as Knuckles; class. The SNES didn’t have that now, did it?); Mickey Mouse in the Castle of Illusion; Tiny Toon Adventures; Columns; Shinobi; Golden Axe; Italia 90 (the birds eye view footballing game); PGA 94; Fifa 96 (in which you were guaranteed a goal by running up the right flank and shooting from about 25 yards out) and of course the mighty Streets of Rage. All amazing.
And who doesn’t miss the days where if a game didn’t work, for whatever reason, all you had to do was rip out the cartridge, blow on it, slam in back in, and Bob’s your mother’s brother.
Also, back in the 16 BIT days, games were hard. I mean, really hard. You started off with three lives, and if you lost them, barring any continues you may have had, that was it. GAME OVER. Tough shit, basically. I remember reaching the part 3 of the Labyrinth Zone in the original Sonic the Hedgehog (Labyrinth Zone was the Aztec-y looking one that filled with water), following Robotnik up a shaft (oh-er!) in which arrows and badniks were making things more difficult. I had died a lot of times already and was on my last life. No continues left. This was it. I had hit him 7 times, 8 being the number of times that you had to hit one of the good doctor’s inventions before it blew up (Serious design flaw, that). I hit him the eighth time, he began to explode, but I wasn’t celebrating. Mainly because on my descent from hitting the underside of Robotnik’s wee hovercraft thing, I had hit a fucking protruding spike and died. Died my last life. No continues. GAME OVER. I could have cried. Games were hard back then, yo.
I loved my Mega Drive. I played until my eyes began to turn square, from both the amount of time playing it, as well as the fact that every game used REALLY BRIGHT COLOURS. I take pride however, that I never ended up looking like those kids on GamesMaster, who appeared to be in a vegetative state, only surfacing from in front of their TV’s to ask Patrick Moore how to get the best time on Super Happy Fun Time Racer 4.
[Wee sidenote here, but how awesome was GamesMaster? I often wish there was a show like it these days. Patrick Moore could probably still do it, despite him being about 406 years old]
But then my Mega Drive broke. I was inconsolable (pun semi intended). For a long while I had nothing to play games on. It was a dark time.
Then…the Playstation came along.
And that’s when everything changed...
With its demo disc and a T-Rex simulator which was simultaneously brilliant and pointless, the Playstation heralded a new age of gaming. An age where gaming suddenly got serious.
And it got serious in three dimensions.
More game history next time, folks.