I’m Finally Thirty: Memories Of A Gamer
I’m finally thirty. I’m no longer the strapping young lad in the photo above, complete with his DuckTales candles on a delicious birthday cake. I’ve passed through my teens and now exited my 20s. I thought it might feel weird, but it really doesn’t. I still play music. I still write. I still play video games. I’ve been gaming the longest, for probably twenty-five of those years in fact. Thinking about it, I’ve played a lot of games. Most of them pretty damn good! I’m going to go way back and just remember some of the most fun games I played growing up. This isn’t a list of “must play” entries, it’s a list of memories from my childhood that I’ll never forget. It’s also mostly Nintendo games which I guess had the most impact on me. Some of them are classics. Some of them…some of them are not. But the experience was memorable. And maybe you played them, too!
Before I was cool enough to own a real handheld system, I had about seven of the Tiger Electronics knockoffs. If you never owned one of these, they’re pretty much the poor man’s Game Boy. Static images pop up on different parts of the screen to simulate movement. I remember my brother and I would play these with our neighborhood friend Brian, but he had a Game Boy. He had Kirby’s Dream Land. Sure, we got to play it occasionally, but he got to take it back home. I was stuck with the inferior DuckTales or Fievel Goes West imitators.
This was also one of my earliest experiences with Sonic. Hilariously, these games would prove to be more fun than later entries in the series, especially because there were no Werehogs involved.
Donkey Kong Country Series
Donkey Kong Country, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy Kong’s Quest, and Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble were released in 1994, 1995, and 1996 respectively. From age 8 to 10, these platformers started my love of all things Kong related, especially the music from the esteemed David Wise. I got DK2 for Christmas and brought it to my grandmother’s house. My brother and I locked ourselves in our room and played it all day, getting stuck on the level “Red Hot Ride”, which had you sitting atop a hot air balloon, something I was extremely prone to controlling into the lava instead of around it.
DK2 was my favorite of the trilogy with what I thought were the most fun level designs and overall best soundtrack. However, Funky Kong was always coolest in the original game, slowly getting worse as the series went on. The collectibles spiraled out of control as well, and as a kid I don’t think I ever beat the third entry in it’s entirety. However, DK3 did have the Brothers Bear, all having names that started with B and all residing in the Northern Kremisphere. Hard to beat that.
The Flintstones: The Treasure of Sierra Madrock
I watched The Flintstones on Cartoon Network a lot as a kid. It wasn’t my favorite show. I didn’t even love it. It just happened to be on all the time and instead of doing something else, I just watched whatever was on and waited for whatever came next. If only I had that kind of free time now! The number of times I must have rented this game is probably uncountable. My parents could never find it to purchase, so I had to settle with heading into a local Blockbuster or grocery store in hopes it was there to take home for a few days.
It had the Super Mario World style map layout so it felt familiar, but the characters on the board would often interact with Fred and Barney in interesting ways. Plus, movement was determined by rolling a rock with a random number, which was both infuriating and refreshing, as I had no idea where I’d end up next. I didn’t even realize it at the time, but half the soundtrack is just remixes and minor versions of the TV show’s theme song!
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
I remember the commercials for this one. I was so excited to play it and not one aspect of the game let me down. The music was phenomenal, the timed battle system was a unique and fresh approach to turn-based combat, and the story…there actually was a story! For once, Mario didn’t just rescue the Princess, say “That’s-a it I a-guess!” and go home. There was a world for him and his friends to inhabit, a fully realized place! New towns, new characters, new villains! Bowser, your sworn enemy, joins your party! Princess Toadstool fights alongside you instead of being pointless and captured! It was the game of my dreams and it’ll be in my top ten forever. I never played Chrono Trigger, at least from start to finish, during its initial release. I rectified that crime later, but this game was the perfect stand-in.
I used to come up with what I thought the action figures would be, if Nintendo were ever to do anything like that. Geno, my favorite character and whose name I probably pronounce incorrectly but I won’t ever change because fuck you it sounds better, would come with one of the fabled seven stars, detachable hands to change weapons, and a giant beam to attack anyone who got in his way. We also got the players guide, which I still own in its tattered state. Several of the item descriptions used the word foe, which I didn’t know the definition of. Instead of asking anyone what the word meant, I just didn’t use the item. I’m still not sure how I beat that game.
Looney Tunes B-Ball
Another game I asked for year after year that my parents could never find, I consistently rented this whenever I had friends come over. It was NBA Jam but with way better characters. The tournament mode featured ungodly hard CPU opponents who, by all accounts, pretty much cheated. A loose ball was always going to be theirs since they were almost magnetized to it while you frantically tried to grab it and cursed when you inevitably didn’t. Each Looney Tune had a special power and gems could be collected during each period to use those abilities.
Although I didn’t have a multitap at the time, it was one of the few SNES games to feature a four-player mode. When I finally did buy it years later, I was thrilled to learn I could play with three friends instead of just one. The music was also unique in that, the more points scored, the more layers would be added to the tune currently being played. It would start with drums, then add bass, then a funky keyboard or brass “instrument” until the full song was in motion. Taz, one of my favorites at the time, had horrible stats. But as a CPU? He was unstoppable and it was bullshit.
Heroes of Might and Magic Series
My brother bought a double-pack with the first and second turn-based RPG titles to play on our family PC, something with processing power weaker than my current cell phone. Heroes of Might and Magic II: The Succession Wars and Heroes of Might and Magic III: The Restoration of Erathia were games we’d play for hours and hours. Our computer couldn’t even process all the colors, so mountains and lava looked like grass and moss. We didn’t even know.
I barely even played the campaigns, we mostly did a mode called Hotseat, where we’d take turns and talk the entire time, doing our best to avoid each other on the map until we had the most units possible for maximum battle potential. As we got older, we’d turn on a game of Super Smash Bros. Melee and just keep switching players during a timed match so we had something to do between the increasingly long turn times. I always picked the undead Necropolis faction, mostly for the massive horde of skeletons I’d accrue by the end.
I never had a great PC growing up, so console gaming was mostly my bread and butter. Shattered Galaxy, however, was my first taste of a massively multiplayer online game. Two friends of mine had recently purchased it and I was pretty sure my Dad’s laptop could run it, so I went to the Gamestop in the mall, fully ready to spend the fifty-some odd dollars. I was informed that the game had “pennied out” and it cost me exactly one cent. I didn’t realize at the time that it meant the game was in decline, but it cost me nothing so I didn’t even care. I was also really bad at it.
I remember having a lot of fun, but never really leveling up to where my friends were at. Never fully getting it. I loved, and still do, the idea of a real-time strategy game. I just never got that good at them. I had missed the heyday of StarCraft and Age of Empires, so I didn’t have a feel for multitasking at such a high level. The one time I did play on a friend’s account, he was sure to pop in and tell whoever I was playing it was not him behind the keyboard for this game, it was some chump. Shattered Galaxy gave me a taste of what I’d been missing and I’ll be forever thankful.
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber
This might be one of my all-time favorite games. Just look at that title! I’ve never played anything like it before or since. You deploy units in real time, each consisting of up to five members. When they meet on the field, it goes to an isometric view and battles play out semi-automatically, with you issuing commands as it goes. My mother was apprehensive since it was rated Teen for “Mild Language” and she found the idea of animated characters swearing pretty deplorable, but she eventually relented.
It, along with Super Mario RPG, was one of the few games I got a strategy guide for and I’m so glad we did since some of the side quests in this game we’re nearly impossible without a helping hand. I bonded with two newly made friends over the game, as we would all bring our strategy guides and meet up to discuss where we were in the game, battle plans, favorite units, and other aspects of the game. It would last hours. I’ve watched people play through the entire game, part of their war counsel, and I’d do it again. I’ve tried to recommend it to two people recently, and by recommend I mean buy it outright and make them play it. We’ll see how that goes. Hopefully they shall become of Lordly Caliber as well.
Super Smash Bros. Melee
I’ve played every game in the series. They keep getting bigger and better. However, the amount of time I spent playing Melee cannot begin to be known. Literally, since the memory card was accidentally deleted several times because I guess we were idiots. The number of hours logged on this game are innumerable, matched only by Super Smash Bros. Brawl which consumed my college days. I went to David’s house more times than not after school during the week to eat Pop-Tarts, drink Cherry Coke and play Smash Bros. until I needed to go write a paper at last minute or something.
Weekends would consist of STD (Smash Til Dawn) parties along with more horrible foods. We got so competitive and often times pissed off at one another, we started saying, “A noble victory!” in the most annoying accented way after losing a match to stop ourselves from getting too angry and to diffuse the tension. It was the biggest improvement for the series, the most changes (except for Subspace Emissary, the greatest addition that we will never see again), and an all around marvelous game. I wouldn’t trade those hours for anything.
Diddy Kong Racing
When my brother and I wanted a Nintendo 64, we were forced to sell our SNES because two consoles was apparently unnecessary. It’s something I still call my Mom out for to this day. When we bought the N64, used from a store called Game X Change, it came with Diddy Kong Racing. It wasn’t Mario Kart 64, but I’d soon come to appreciate that in numerous ways. Although it shared a lot of similarities with the plumber’s racing game, it contained a rather lengthy story mode, completely unique and in some cases new characters, and the ability to race in a plane or a hovercraft.
Mario was always on the ground, but Diddy and his crew could take to the skies, and it was such a fun experience and change of pace. Being the only game we had for a while, I mastered everything about it, mirrored tracks be damned. I even bought the soundtrack, which featured Diddy Kong’s face as the actual shape of the CD. Although the planned sequel never happened, Diddy and his racing pals will always have a place on my shelf. Especially T.T., who is a giant clock and was a bitch to unlock.
Kirby Super Star
Yet again another game I never owned but rented so often I probably paid for it in full and then some. The box touted “8 Games In One!” and boy did it deliver on that promise. Some of them were very short and very easy. Others, like The Great Cave Offensive, a Metoidvainia style game that had you searching for 60 collectible treasures, Revenge of Meta Knight, which featured the masked antihero and his ship crew trying to take down Kirby with an sharper focus on plot, or Milky Way Wishes, where Kirby traveled to multiple planets to stop the Sun and Moon from fighting.
I had levels and music cues completely memorized, but it was a perfect game for my brother and I to destroy a weekend with. The multiple game types, simultaneous two player modes, and all the coolest Kirby abilities, it was an excellent mix of everything I loved. The band I play in went through a few name changes in its infancy when we sucked and no one cared, one them being an enemy from this game: Capsule J.
Tiny Toon Advenures: Wacky Sports Challenge
Yes, this entry is mostly garbage. It’s a slew of mini-game styled Olympic events, such as weight lifting, saucer throwing, skiing, pole vaulting, and others all starring Tiny Toons characters. There is also a chicken dash, which sees your character (Buster, Babbs, Plucky or Dizzy) launching themselves from a slingshot to the edge of a cliff, with the idea being to break before falling off to your doom. It was Mario Party before the game existed, without a board but with all the button mashing and D-pad twisting.
The final game was usually a gliding event where you collected as many points in the sky as possible before trying to land on top of Montana Max’s mansion. And by land on top I mean blow it up with an anvil. The controls were…uh…difficult to master and we almost always missed the house unless by a stroke of dumb luck. That Mode 7 though. Beautiful. I loved it, despite nearly everyone else I knew absolutely hating it. Now that I have a multitap, four player games are never far away. Except that they are because everyone still hates this game.
Of course this is here. Say what you will about Bubsy and his horrible ’90s attitude and horrendous platforming controls, mostly just aping off other, better games and characters of the time. I loved me some bobcat with a ‘tude. It was an odd combination of Sonic and Mario with an execution that could have used a little more time in the oven, but I liked it for that weird difference it had. He had power-ups in the form of different colored shirts with big, dumb exclamation points on them. He had a million different death animations for every frustrating, maddening death that happened because of a plethora of reasons that didn’t feel like they were in your control. He had terrible opening lines for every level, punctuated by the titles that were themselves puns on things like Clint Eastwood films, ’70s music, and Dances with Wolves.
I got none of these things as a kid, but found every one of them perfect as an adult. He’s one of the worst characters ever created, and thank God his terrible looking Saturday morning cartoon show never saw the light of day. But I would have watched the shit out of that as a kid. I’m glad he existed and I’m glad he was part of my gaming history. His horribleness shines all the brighter today.
The list could go on forever. The times I had playing games growing up is some of the best time I ever spent. I fostered amazing friendships through games that I would have never had otherwise. Those great feelings still carry over to today as a now thirty-year-old adult. Even though I have a lot less time to play, which saddens me to no end that I can’t just hunker down for the entire week doing nothing but slamming controllers and eating whatever I want, I enjoy every moment that I still get to play.
Even in college and the years after, I still have amazing memories, but they’re more singular in nature, save for the Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 LAN parties screaming and laughing at one another or Rock Band get-togethers going for high scores and number one placement of songs (for a short time, “Reptilia” was ours!). I have conversations about Deus Ex and what skills my brother picked, what path was taken in Undertale, or how amazing a particular level design was in Super Mario Galaxy.
There are hundreds and hundreds of amazing video games released every year, so many of which I haven’t even touched. But I will. I’ll always make time for these phenomenal pieces of art that continue to amaze and wow me at every turn. I can’t wait to see where the next thirty years takes me.