Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Video Games and Me: A Retrospective

My first video game system was the Atari 2600. I don't remember it too well. We had the racing game Pole Position, the arcade Mario Brothers, a space game, the basketball game Dr. J vs Larry Bird, and probably others.

One on One: Dr. J vs Larry Bird

However, it was soon traded in for the Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember my Dad coming home with the Nintendo, it was a great day. It came with a controller, a light gun, and the cartridge with Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt. This was probably around 1987. It seemed like every kid had a Nintendo, and a fair amount of our lives revolved around it. We would discuss Nintendo games on the playground, then come home after school and watch The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, and then play Nintendo as long as our parents would let us. The games I remember playing most were Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt (of course), Contra, Mike Tyson's Punch Out, Super Mario Bros. 2, Maniac Mansion, Bart vs The Space Mutants, Dr. Mario, Bayou Billy, Bases Loaded, Double Dragon, and the pinnacle of the Nintendo, Super Mario Bros. 3. I'm probably forgetting some games. When we got the Game Genie, which gave cheat codes for all games, we feigned illness and stayed home from school to replay all our games with cheats enabled.

Nintendo Entertainment System

As the 90's began, so began a new Nintendo era with the release of the Super Nintendo. Prior to its release, kids brought copies of Nintendo Power magazine to school with mock-ups of what the Super Nintendo would look like. To say we were excited is an understatement. The Super Nintendo came with ultimate Mario game, Super Mario World, perhaps the best 2-D platformer ever. I played the shit out of that game, and though I haven't touched it in years, I could probably pick it up and play through start to finish and find all the secrets. The other games I remember playing most on the system were Mario Kart, Street Fighter II, Gradius III, Donkey Kong Country, and F-Zero. It seemed like Street Fighter II owned the videogame world for a while in both the arcade and home console. Who doesn't know how to throw a fireball with Ken or Ryu?

Super Nint ... I lost my train of thought

With the release of Mortal Kombat, and Nintendo's decision to tone down the blood and violence, we decided we needed to get the Sega Genesis. Sega had no such restrictions. I remember purchasing Mortal Kombat for the Genesis at The Warehouse one Sunday after church, and though I was young, I enjoyed the irony of leaving church to buy one of the most realistically violent games of the time. Sega also had Sonic the Hedgehog, which was much faster than any Nintendo games. We had many Sonic games for the Genesis, including the original, Sonic 2, Sonic 3, Sonic and Knuckles, and Sonic Spinball. NBA Jam was aonther Genesis favorite. But my favorite game for the system may have been Aladdin. Aladdin looked like a cartoon and had great side-scrolling game play.

Aladdin on the Genesis

As I got older, and started learning to use a computer, I grew away from the video game consoles. The computer was much more interesting, and through shareware many games were free. Duke Nukem and Lemmings were two early favorites. And I spent a great deal of time playing SimCity 2000. Then my whole video game world changed when I played DOOM. It was my first game in 3-D from a first person perspective, which made it quite visceral. The weapons were what made it awesome though, with the chainsaw, the shotgun, and the BFG. DOOM also had great sound effects and an intense score. Soon almost every game would be in 3-D, and many of them would be DOOM clones.


I didn't play video games much in high school or college, though I recall playing the original Grand Theft Auto quite a bit in the dorms and the girls next door had a Nintendo, so we would occasionally bust out Contra. Mostly, however, I was into music and partying and didn't follow the video game trends.

I returned to the world of console gaming, when in my last few weeks of grad school I bought a used Xbox off some guy for cheap. He wanted to sell me all his games too, but I didn't want them. I bought the Xbox so my friend could mod it for use as a media center. The ability to play any movies or music on the home TV and sound system over the network from my computer was one of the greatest innovations ever. However, I soon learned the art of downloading Xbox games to the console's hard drive, and my devotion to gaming was reborn. With no costs associated with games, I tried all the top games. Halo and Project Gotham Racing were good, but two of my favorites didn't get talked about much; Psychonauts and Oddworld: Stranger's Wrath. Stranger's Wrath has an old-west feel but on another planet, and many of the weapons are living creatures. In Psychonauts you play as a kid with psychological abilities, it's mostly a platformer, but each level takes place in someone's crazy head.

Xbox Media Center

I retuned to legitimate console gaming when one of my co-workers offered me the opportunity to buy the new Nintendo Wii at the midnight launch of the console. The Wii looked innovative and interesting with its entirely new control scheme. I had never been to the midnight launch of anything before and now that I was employed I could actually afford to buy a console at retail. So I bought the new Nintendo and it seemed that my video game life had come full circle as I excitedly hooked up the system.

The Wiimote

The game that came with the Wii, Wii Sports, was great and made excellent use of the new controller, however, no other games seemed use the controller as well. I soon grew bored with the Wii, playing it only when we had guests over, and then it was typically used solely for bowling or the occasional tennis game.

I was not willing to spend money for the Xbox 360, it was too expensive at $400, and definitely not the Playstation 3 at $600. Also, neither console was as thoroughly hacked as the original Xbox, and the idea of paying $60 for each game was unpalatable. Especially since I didn't pay for any of the games on the original Xbox, and the majority that I did play were not that good. But then Gears of War was released for the 360 and the game was good. Intense action, amazing graphics, violent game play, a gun with a built-in chainsaw that would tear enemies in half. Gears of War brought back the exctiement from the days of DOOM.

Gears of War

Which pretty much brings us to the present day. The only significant update is the game Rock Band, which is a great party game with the music and the group effort of tapping out rhythms on plastic toys, eyes tranfixed on the screen without blinking like Alex DeLarge.