This is an essay that briefly covers some of my video gaming experiences. I started writing this essay in June 2012 and intended to write 1 or 2 pages. However, I soon realized it was impossible to write only a few pages. I first attempted to solely rely upon my memory for recalling when I played games, but I quickly realized some of my memories were wrong when checking official sources. On very few occasions was I able to remember exactly when a game was released, and only twice did I remember exactly when a game system was released. Thus, I had to extensively use Wikipedia.com and Gamefaqs.com in order to accurately state the release dates of games and systems. I feel like I have cheated for doing this, but human memory is very flawed. I have chosen to divide this essay into the following sections, or chapters, described below.
The NES section was the most difficult to write, since I couldn’t remember the exact order in which I had played the games. I did, however, remember each game that I played and I chose to describe some of them, organized by year. I thus did extensive research on NES games. My memories of the SNES era are relatively more recent, and I better remembered the order in which I played them, so I didn’t have to do much research. By the time I got to the N64 era, I had to do very little research, as I almost precisely remembered the order. Oddly, I can’t remember when I bought the PlayStation.
I. Pre-NES Years
VI. Handheld Systems
VII. Sony Part 1
IX. Sony Part 2
My very first memory of playing video games dates back to 1980, when I was 4 years old. My parents had (and still own) a Radio Shack TRS-80 4K Color Computer, along with the cartridge Pinball. It had a special 4K emblem stamped on the top to indicate it had a whopping 4 KB of RAM. (It cost $400 in 1980.) There wasn’t much to it and I vaguely remember it. The next game system I remember was the Mattel Intellivision, although I don’t think I ever played any of the games. I was perhaps 4 or 5 years old and my neighbor’s dad had one. I remember watching him put a card on the controller to play a football game.
The most notable console system of my youngest years was the Atari 2600, which was originally released in 1977, when I was 1 year old. I never owned the Atari 2600, although many of the kids in my neighborhood had one. I rarely played it and found it quite pitiful, even when it was top of the line. The only game for that system I clearly remember playing was Pitfall.
There were two arcade games I played with a fervor that left me feeling rather zesty. Those were Mario Bros. and Dig Dug. Mario Bros. was an arcade game made by Nintendo in 1983 which consisted of a simple screen that repeated endlessly once cleared of enemies. Its simplicity was attractive, the enemies seemed to have personalities, and you could also antagonize the other player. Enemies were flipped upside down by hitting the bottom of the platform on which they were walking, which allowed Mario to kick them off the screen after he jumped onto the platform. If you didn’t have Mario kick the enemy soon enough, it would flip itself back over and become very angry, which caused it to move rapidly and change color. Dig Dug was an early Namco title released a few years after Pac Man and each level was just one screen, like in Mario Bros. Once the enemies were cleared, a new screen would appear with the enemies placed in different locations. A few other arcade games I remember playing were Galaga, Centipede, and Bubble Bobble.
Virtually all of my arcade gaming was done in the YMCA on Pershall in Florissant, from ages 7 to 10. I used to go hiking in the woods and play extensive amounts of soccer and baseball there. I found the arcade games to be more interesting than soccer and considerably more interesting than baseball. All I remember doing in baseball was seeing how large of a dust cloud I could kick up. That particular YMCA was also where my grade school had lock-ins, and we would spend the night and go swimming. Hiking is no longer possible, due to the fact all the woods have been cleared in order to make parking lots and shopping centers.
The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the United States on October 18th, 1985. Even at my young, immature age, the irritating advertisements and commercials by Nintendo dissuaded me from wanting their newly released system. I didn’t ask for it until it became a serious topic during lunch in grade school. The NES didn’t “infect” my neighborhood until 1987 and I received it for Christmas of that year. I didn’t find out until much later that it was originally released in 1985, due to the fact that information in the pre-internet days flowed by word of mouth. And I didn’t find out until much, much later that it was released in Japan way back in 1983, with a completely different name. In Japan, the NES was called the Family Computer, or Famicom for short, and was marketed as a device for the whole family to use. This fact explains why adults in the U.S. thought video games were for kids, since they were marketed for kids. I find it strange that adults didn’t correlate their inability to play them well with a suspicion that they were anything but toys for children. If, in fact, video games were just “kid’s stuff”, then adults would play them much better than kids and parents would show their children how to beat the levels. The video game era was the start of a strange chronological reversal of skills, where children had the ability to teach older people, due to the marketing tricks by advertisers that made adults think video games were for kids. As an example of how strange it is for children to teach older people, imagine if adults had to wait for children to show them how to plant crops.
A total of 785 NES titles were released in the U.S. and PAL regions. PAL regions include much of Europe, South America, Asia, and Africa. PAL also includes all of Australia. For some reason, both Japan and South Korea use the same TV encoding system as North America, which is NTSC. Despite this fact, more than 250 titles were released exclusively on the Famicom. In other words, it would have been quite easy to release more Japanese games in the U.S., once the small amount of in-game text was translated, due to the fact we share the NTSC format.
I played 114 of the 785 titles released on the NES, which amounts to roughly 14%. Of those 114 games I played, I completed 22, which means I “beat” 19% of the NES games I played. I excluded sports titles from my list of games completed, since they don’t have actual conclusions. I also had to exclude games than cannot be completed, such as Spy Hunter and Xenophobe. I’m not going to discuss the NES games in the order I received them because I cannot remember the specific order, nor was I ever aware of games’ release dates as a child. A game could’ve existed on the market for a year or more while still managing to be brand new from the perspective of a gamer in the pre-internet days. Today, it is common for everyone to know about a game several years before it comes to market, which makes it less spectacular, regardless of its innovations. I find it more interesting to walk in a store and see a shelf full of unknown games, make a purchase, and hope for the best. Sometimes you get a gem and sometimes you get a pile of shit. I would argue it’s important to experience a fair amount of shit, since it makes that small percentage of quality (in all entertainment) even more impressive.
When the NES was originally launched in the U.S. in 1985, 18 games were put on the market alongside the system. I played 14 of the 18 launch titles, meaning I played 14 NES games that were released in 1985. Naturally, the first NES game I played was Super Mario Bros., since it was included with the system, which I received for Christmas in 1987. Since I had previously played Mario Bros. in the arcades, I could see why the sequel was “Super”. Action was not confined to a single screen that repeated endlessly, but the game scrolled, revealing continuously new environments. It was an adventure game, and the first I can recall playing. Now let’s take a look at the word “adventure”. The Latin root is the verb advenire, and its form adventum, which means to draw near or be imminent. Thus, the English word literally describes something that is always coming closer. This is the “sense of adventure” and is always correlated with exploration. A reason why I was so attracted to Super Mario Bros. might be related to my personality. As early as age 7, I liked to explore new places. I would ride my bike down unfamiliar streets, almost get lost, and enjoy every minute of it. Super Mario Bros., though, offered places to explore that were much stranger than anything I could find on my bike rides. And it was a lot safer.
Like all the kids in my neighborhood, I became a Super Mario Bros. aficionado, and was able to swiftly complete the game. I found Minus World, did the hundred lives trick by bouncing on the turtle shell on the steps, and found the warp pipes. As I recall, once the game was completed, all the goombas were replaced with beetles on the second play through. I didn’t beat the second play through, so I don’t know if the game changed again, like some NES games did.
The only other launch title I received for the Christmas of 1987 was Baseball. It was a pretty good game back in 1987 and I played it frequently. I had nothing to compare it against. The other launch titles I ended up playing were: Kung Fu, Hogan’s Alley, Ice Climber, Gyromite, Duck Hunt, Excitebike, Golf, 10-Yard Fight, Pinball, Mach Rider, Wild Gunman, and Wrecking Crew.
Gyromite was the most unusual launch title and I only knew one person that had it, and luckily, he was a good friend, so I was able to borrow it. It was dysfunctional if played like a regular game, since it required either R.O.B. or another player, as one controller moved the scientist and the other moved the pylons. I recall there were two main games: one was a standard series of stages in which dynamite was collected while avoiding enemies. Orange and blue pylons had to be vertically shifted with the second controller (or R.O.B.) in order to allow the scientist to progress. The scientist lacked the ability to jump, so all vertical movement was accomplished by falling, moving pylons, or climbing ropes. In the other game, the scientist was sleepwalking and one had to vertically shift the pylons in order to facilitate his progress. Earlier this year I did some research on R.O.B. and it was an accessory that only worked with two NES games: Gyromite and Stack-Up. It didn’t work very well, either. I never saw the physical R.O.B. as a child.
Of all the launch titles, Ice Climber was my second favorite. Ice Climber was not a side scroller, but a vertical scroller. The stages had the same basic layout and repeated, like Mario Bros. or Dig Dug. One started out at the bottom and played through an enemy section and then a purely platform section designated as a bonus area. The enemy section consisted of dropping icicles, yeti, birds, and you were given a shovel for dealing with them. Blocks were broken by jumping from below, like in Super Mario Bros. The bonus area had some of the catchiest music heard in a video game and it was an early test of platform jumping skills. No life was lost if you fell, but more points were awarded for reaching the top and catching the bird.
Duck Hunt was probably the second most popular launch title, behind Super Mario Bros., since some NES systems included the light gun and Duck Hunt. I never owned it initially, but I played it frequently in a friend’s basement. Hogan’s Alley was another light gun game that a different friend had, and I played it in his basement. Wild Gunman was the third light gun launch title, but I didn’t play it until much later.
Both Excitebike and Wrecking Crew were programmable games in which one could alter the layout. I was able to make custom stages in Excitebike frequently, but I could never get it to work in Wrecking Crew. I once let the loading screen go for 20 minutes, with no success.
I played 10 of the 18 NES titles released throughout 1986, although, not until after the Christmas of 1987. Of those 10 games I played, I only found one of them to be really good and it was Metroid. The other nine I played were: Donkey Kong, Jr., Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong 3, Mario Bros., Gumshoe, Balloon Fight, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, 1942 and Gradius.
Metroid was part of Nintendo’s Adventure Series, although it was more than merely an adventure. It was a new world to explore. Although I never owned Metroid as a kid, one of my neighbors did. So I got to play quite a bit of it and saw the good ending, where Samus is Just In Bailey. There were odd rumors (at the time) that Metroid had a secret world somewhere in Ridley’s hideout. If you caught Samus in a door just right and jumped or shot in a certain way, Samus would go into another world. My neighbor and I managed to get Samus in that secret world, but we never got her out. Nowadays, I know that it was simply a glitch. But glitches were big things before gamers knew they were glitches and were assumed to be viable secret areas.
Metroid did not give one the ability to look at a map, so you either had to make your own, or just have a damn good memory. While most games consisted of a screen that repeated endlessly or a series of levels that had definite endpoints, Metroid was just an open world. Imagine if all the flagpoles were removed from Super Mario Bros. and one could run backwards through the game and find other pathways connecting levels. In that case, SMB would have been similar to Metroid. I believe that Metroid was the first true open exploration based game I played, where the world did not consist of any stages or levels, but the game itself was one large level.
Besides Metroid, the only other 1986 NES game I completed was 1942, an overhead shooter made by Capcom. The other Capcom game, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, was too difficult, even for a kid with tons of free time. Although a number of Donkey Kong games were released in 1986, I only found them marginally interesting.
I played 27 of the 56 NES titles released in 1987, making that the first big year for NES gaming from my perspective, although I didn’t start until December. In chronological order (of release date), the 1987 games I played were: Trojan, Pro Wrestling, Rush ‘n Attack, Track & Field, Ikari Warriors, Castlevania, BurgerTime, The Legend of Zelda, Kid Icarus, Rygar, Elevator Action, Arkanoid, Athena, Slalom, Double Dribble, Sky Kid, Spy Hunter, Alpha Mission, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, Jaws, The Goonies II, BreakThru, Top Gun, Mega Man and Wizards & Warriors. I don’t have the exact release dates for Gauntlet and R.B.I. Baseball; I only know they were released sometime in 1987.
The most significant NES game released in 1987 was The Legend of Zelda. I remember standing in the Kay-Bee Toys (which has since changed its name to K·B Toys) in Jamestown Mall and asking the clerk about the Nintendo games. She told us that she heard Zelda had a series of “rooms” and it was a good game. My dad bought the game based on the quick review by the clerk. I, of course, had never heard of it. My initial attraction to the game was the fact it was in a gold box and a hint of the gold cartridge could be seen within.
I played and completed the Legend of Zelda in the first half of 1988 and it took extensive conversations with the other neighborhood kids in order to make progress. If I had put as much effort into school as I did into Zelda, then I would probably have more money now, but at the sacrifice of my childhood, of course. Finding anything in that game was ultra-significant and instantly gave one a feeling of success unmatched by anything in school. This should be a hint for people that design curriculums for young people. Make them as fun as playing The Legend of Zelda and kids will pay attention. School should be a game, not an anti-squirming environment that encourages the production of spitballs in order to remain sane. (I always had a decent spitball collection.)
The Legend of Zelda consisted of an overworld with 8 dungeons and one final dungeon that held Gannon, the primary antagonist of the Zelda series. Each dungeon held an item that helped Link (the protagonist) progress through the game, as well as a showdown with the dungeon master, or boss. By defeating the boss of the dungeon, Link obtained a piece of Triforce and a Heart Container. Eight pieces of Triforce were needed in order to access the fight with Gannon. Heart Containers increased the total life meter of Link and could additionally be found in the overworld. Locations of the dungeons were not always obvious and they could be hidden nearly anywhere. This is what prompted the conversations with neighborhood kids. A feature of the game that likely increased its popularity was the inclusion of a battery inside the cartridge, which was used to save game data. There was never a password to write down.
A huge surprise was in store for anyone that completed the game, since a Second Quest was available. All the locations and layouts of the dungeons were changed, along with which items were obtained. All locations of secrets were changed. Essentially, everything you had discovered on the first playthrough was useless and a completely new game had to be learned. Very, very few games offered a surprise of that magnitude. It was common to be able to play NES games again after completion, but the changes were usually minimal. Imagine if Super Metroid or Super Mario 64 had offered a Second Quest.
Castlevania was another significant title from 1987 and I didn’t play it until I was 15. I actually played it after I had completed the second and third games in the series. I became proficient at the game and could regularly reach the last stage, but I never completed it. Had there been a password system, then I probably would have. It became tiring to have to fight through the entire game each time.
Castlevania is called Akumajo Dracula in Japan, which comes out to something like Demon Castle Dracula. I’ve also heard it’s called Vampire Killer. I’ve given up trying to understand what it is supposed to be called in Japan, but it’s a major series of games made by Konami that I practically worshipped as a kid and teenager. Although the first Castlevania game was kind of clunky, the music was as good as it gets. And it kept getting better with each release, up to a point, of course.
Sky Kid was not a significant game, but it was the first I purchased with my own money. I don’t remember why I bought Sky Kid. The salesperson recommended that I buy either Metroid or Kid Icarus, but I had never heard of them. I had never heard of Sky Kid either, but I bought it anyway. Sky Kid was made by Namco, so it was a decent game. It also scrolled backwards, from right to left, so it might have made more sense to a Middle Easterner (Arabic is written right to left). Every shooting game I have played besides Sky Kid scrolls left to right. In fact, just about every side scrolling video game scrolls from left to right; Sky Kid is certainly an exception.
Kid Icarus was part of Nintendo’s Adventure Series and mixed linear levels with non-linear dungeons. The linear levels either scrolled straight up or from left to right. The dungeons were mazes that culminated in a boss fight. Kid Icarus was the first weird game I played, due to the strange enemy design. Every enemy in the game looked weird and the weirdest of all was the Eggplant Wizard, a regular enemy encountered in the dungeons. They were robe-laden, walking eggplants, with faces and staffs that lobbed eggplants into the air. If you were hit by an eggplant, the top part of your body became an eggplant. Luckily, you retained your legs, so you could get to the hospital, which restored your body. It was a huge inconvenience to become an eggplant because it left one defenseless and disoriented.
I thought Kid Icarus was a really difficult game and it gave me much more trouble than its relative, Metroid. The Metroid series went on to become very popular, but Kid Icarus has spawned only two other games that I am aware of. I would say it’s worth it to play Kid Icarus today, simply because of the bizarre enemies and incredible challenge. I always think of Kid Icarus and Metroid as a pair because they were often mentioned together back in the 1980s.
Either I or my brother received Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! in early 1988. Such a game would not be made by Nintendo today, due to Tyson’s behavioral problems. Nintendo does not like to be associated with scumbags. As an example, I remember Nintendo Power Magazine didn’t mention Kobe Bryant’s basketball game after he couldn’t control his satyriasis. I do have a funny memory about Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!. Back in early 1988 I had watched the horror movie Wolfen. My parents and brother left after the movie was over, leaving me home alone (I don’t remember where they went). I was too afraid to walk down the hallway to my bedroom, so I stayed in the living room and played Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! until they came home. My dad was mad because I had stayed up too late.
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was the only boxing game I found interesting because the opponents had such a wide range of personalities and their introductory moves were amusing. It was mostly a funny game. The inclusion of Mike Tyson in the title was like false advertising, since very few kids probably reached that far into the game. And any kid that did get that far was pulverized; I certainly was. The game consisted of a large amount of made-up boxers having no relation to Tyson whatsoever. By fighting through all of them (and laughing at their antics), one could fight Mike Tyson, who had no humor. The game suddenly decided to get serious when Tyson stepped into the ring. It was a disparity.
Wizards & Warriors was the first video game I played made by Rare. I never owned it as a kid, but one of my friends let me borrow it and one of my aunts owned it as well. It was also the first non-cryptic, very difficult, yet very beatable game I had played. There really weren’t any puzzles to figure out and success hinged on finding novel ways to negotiate the environment. The game rewarded creative thinking. For example, in order to exit the first level, one had to get on top of the trees. But the closest branch to the top was low enough to prevent Kuros (the protagonist) from making the jump. One had to wait for an enemy to appear at the right spot and jump on its back, which gave Kuros a little boost. The problems in the game hit the right combination of being reasonable and difficult; it was a perfect, balanced game.
Wizards & Warriors contained the most humorous enemy boss fight I have ever encountered. Near the end of the game, one of the bosses starts out as a little speck, perhaps the height of a toe, which hops in the air and throws bones. As you continue to drain its health, it slowly enlarges. Eventually it becomes almost half the height of the screen, jumps laboriously, and throws large bones.
Rygar was similar to Castlevania in the sense that it needed a password feature. It was perhaps the first game I played that gave the player experience points for defeating enemies, yet was not an RPG. I felt, and still feel, it was too big of a game to play through in one sitting. Despite Rygar’s problems, it was a successful game series. Rygar was called Warrior of Argos in Japan, and Rygar referred to the end boss. The main character is simply senshi, or the warrior. You do not play as Rygar, which I had always assumed was the case. It has been ported to many systems and was even remade on the PlayStation 2.
While trying to acquire the soundtrack to Rygar, I was met with a huge disappointment. The soundtrack was released on the Japanese CD Tecmo Game Music, but I didn’t recognize any of it! This is because the Japanese and American versions have completely different music.
Castlevania wasn’t the only great Konami title released in 1987. Another was Rush ‘n Attack. I always found the disguise of the word Russian amusing. The original Japanese version was called Green Beret. Just like with Rygar, this was another game where the music differed between the Japanese and American versions. (I was met with another disappointment when I got the soundtrack.) Rush ‘n Attack was a very challenging game and I never beat it. One of my friends in Junior High claimed he beat it. Otherwise, this game was not talked about very much. I think it was overshadowed by the higher profile releases at the time. It played like a constrained version of Contra since the primary weapon was a knife. Virtually all enemy engagements required precision timing, because, if you somehow missed with a knife strike, you were dead. I played this game well into my early twenties and was eventually able to reach the last stage, but still, I could not win.
Spy Hunter was one of the first games I couldn’t beat simply because it had no conclusion. No one knew this at the time and, when I was in Junior High, a rumor was circulating that a large Limo with a machine gun mounted on the top could be found past the boat section. I spent a long time looking for the Limo, but never found it. The advantage of the false rumor was that I became fairly skilled at the game and could complete the tricky boat section with élan.
The wealthy company SNK deigned to release games on the NES and I played 3 of their 1987 releases, which were Athena, Ikari Warriors, and Alpha Mission (I remember the order). Athena is just a vague memory, but the other two were prominent titles. Ikari Warriors was an overhead, vertically scrolling shooter that offered two players at the same time and seemed to be based on the movie Rambo II. There was a code A,B,B,A that could be used repeatedly to revive your defeated player. The levels were arduous due to their length and there were glitches in the final stage that could get your player stuck. Once stuck, your only hope to continue playing was to be struck by a rocket, which allowed you to use the code and move your newly acquired body out of the glitch. Things were more difficult in 2 player mode, because both of you needed to be hit by rockets. Despite that problem, Ikari Warriors was a fun game and I managed to complete it. Alpha Mission was another overhead shooter, except it took place in outer space and did not have a 2 player mode. I never had the instructions, so it took me a long time to figure out what all the icons meant. It was a difficult game and I never beat it.
Gauntlet was one of my favorite games of all time. Some of the music must’ve been based on classical compositions, because I once heard/saw an orchestra playing the Gauntlet title screen theme on PBS. I had to have played or seen Gauntlet in the arcades because I can recall being excited when I got the NES cartridge. Gauntlet was divided up into 5 main parts, which were subdivided into the stages proper. The path through which the stages could be completed was semi-linear, like in Darius Twin on the SNES. Some paths were mandatory, while others could be skipped. It offered two players at the same time, but such a convenience was barely helpful, given the thick, dense masses of enemies that carpeted the screen. I eventually had to cheat because I had extinguished all my honest efforts. Even with a code that maximized two players and started near the end of the game, it was impossible. I couldn’t win even by cheating. I never, ever heard of anyone that beat Gauntlet.
There were minor problems that made Gauntlet frustrating which eventually led to precision memorization. Food and other items could be destroyed if shot. This was pretty easy to do, since there were so many enemies. Part 4 of the game had levels with invisible walls. I almost thought of giving up entirely on the game, but somehow got through. I do want to point out that I never did give up on Gauntlet. I could frequently get to the end Dragon, but it seemed to have infinite health. I have heard a rumor that the game required 4 players, which was left out of the NES version.
Arkanoid was another of the fun games that were seemingly impossible to beat. Throughout all of my childhood and well into my twenties, I never knew that Arkanoid had a boss encounter. I also never knew it was an upgraded version of the early Atari game Breakout, as I had never heard of it. What led me to investigate this further was a remix posted on Overclocked Remix of an Arkanoid song. Arkanoid didn’t have songs, just short jingles (from my experiences). But the song was a remix of the music that plays during the boss encounter, which I never…encountered.
I can’t leave the year 1987 without mentioning Elevator Action. In my early twenties, I often went to FuncoLand to buy old NES cartridges. When I asked for Elevator Action, the manager said aloud, “I’d like to get some elevator action”. And then he stared at me, expecting me to laugh or something. I gave the guy a stare of something like revulsion. Now, if some dork working the register said that, then it would have been excusable because dorks say stuff like that. Managers are supposed to be a step above regular workers, but apparently not at FuncoLand.
Elevator Action was originally released as an arcade game in 1983 and was made by Taito. It was ported to the NES in 1987. It’s possible I saw it in the arcades, but I can’t remember for sure. I felt nostalgia when I played the NES version, so I somehow experienced it as a little whip.
I played 25 of the 67 NES titles releases in 1988. In chronological order (of release date), the 1988 games I played were: Karnov, Renegade, Contra, R.C. Pro-Am, Ice Hockey, Double Dragon, Metal Gear, Legendary Wings, Bases Loaded, Life Force, Jackal, Galaga, Adventure Island, Ghostbusters, Seicross, Mickey Mousecapade, Super Mario Bros. 2, Blaster Master, Bubble Bobble, Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, Paperboy, Rampage, Skate or Die!, Xenophobe and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I played very few of those games in 1988, since I had just recently received the NES and was diligently working on Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
I can say with 100% certainty that I played Contra in 1988, though. I remember borrowing it from my neighbor, back when I was in my old house. I didn’t discover the classic Konami 30 lives code until much later, so I had to play the game for real. It was a genuine accomplishment to get past stage 3, as I can recall. I’ll never forget the intimidation factor present in the boss fights, especially the giant alien at the end of the Waterfall. Contra was a side-scrolling shooter with two stages that scrolled forward with a 3rd person view, thus giving them a 3D feel. Only the Waterfall stage scrolled vertically. It had 8 stages in total and a variety of weapon upgrades. I preferred the Spread bullets combined with Rapid. I learned later that all the human enemies were replaced with robots in the European release and the game title was changed to Probotector. For European computer formats, the name was changed again, to Gryzor.
I do have a humorous memory about Contra. At one point in my younger years, I had placed the NES in the corner of my basement, and hung a dark sheet from the ceiling, in order to create a private gaming cave. I had learned, secretly, that the second controller could control the first player in Contra (at the same time as the first controller). I had placed the second controller outside of the cave and waited for my younger brother to play Contra. When he started playing, I randomly pushed buttons on the second controller, and my brother started cursing. It was one of my best tricks.
Super Mario Bros. 2 was definitely my most anticipated of the 1988 releases. It was a sequel that looked similar to its predecessor, unlike Castlevania II and Zelda II, and the other games were unknowns. I did not receive SMB 2 in 1988 and had to wait until nearly the summer of 1989 to receive it. It was a painful wait. I became even more of an aficionado with SMB 2 than I had with the first SMB game. By the summer of 1989, the infiltration of the NES was deeply established and it was common for crowds of kids to play games together, often with the parents observing. I began showcasing my skills and did complete playthroughs of SMB 2, with observing crowds. It was a good feeling and something few gamers get to experience today, since they often play in a state of isolation.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest was one of the most difficult, yet easily beatable games of my youth. How can a game be difficult and easy at the same time? Every enemy in Simon’s Quest was easy to deal with, especially the bosses. The frustration lay in deciding where to go, since there were no levels, and how to use the items that were collected. As an example, a crystal was required to pass straight through a rock wall. One would select the crystal in the menu screen and then kneel against the wall. A tornado then came and whisked your character through the rock wall. I figured out how to do that at age 12 by asking many questions and listening to conversations in school. Lots of kids my age were also struggling with Simon’s Quest and it was a “hot topic” back in 7th grade. While it initially took me many months to beat Simon’s Quest, I now know the game can be beaten in less than a few hours. It was a significant departure from the standard consecutive level design of the original Castlevania.
R.C. Pro-Am was the best racing game I ever played on the NES. This now comes to me as no surprise, since Rare was the developer. I never owned R.C. Pro-Am, but my aunt Jane owned it, so I was able to play it. Like all Rare games, it started out easily and seamlessly flowed into moderation and difficult and relentless and impossible. After a certain number of tracks had been completed, the tracks started to repeat; although the computer controlled cars started making fewer mistakes and eventually raced flawlessly (they made a whistling noise to indicate this). If you did not do everything perfectly, you would lose. This happened around track 46; that’s as far as I ever got. R.C. Pro-Am was a weapons oriented racer, so I don’t mean that one had to race perfectly. What I mean is that you had to continually hit the other racers with missiles or bombs. If you ran out of weapons or missed a shot, there was ZERO chance of catching up, since the other cars were moving much faster than yours. I do want to mention that it was easy to run out of weapons and also easy to miss a shot. It was a lesson in futility. I don’t know how many levels were programmed in R.C. Pro-Am, but anyone that got past level 46 must have been extraordinarily skillful. One of the things I really liked about R.C. Pro-Am was the challenge of picking up the letters “N”, “I”, “N”, “T”, “E”, “N”, “D” and “O” on subsequent tracks. Theoretically, if one played very well and collected the letter on each track, one could get a new vehicle by track 9. Newer vehicles had different designs, higher top speeds and better maneuverability. It was thus worth one’s time to sacrifice a first or second place finish, or even waste weapons, in order to turn around and pick up a missed letter. Due to the variability of the behavior of the computer, it was easy to miss letters, even if their locations had been memorized.
Life Force is the one NES game that gives me ultra-nostalgic memories every time I hear the soundtrack. I don’t know what sets it apart from everything else or why the music is so compelling. At the time, I didn’t know it was part of the Gradius series, and I didn’t even know about Gradius, since I had played that much later. Life Force also utilized the classic Konami 30 lives code, which made the game more playable. It offered a combination of side and vertical scrolling stages, as well as incredible weapon upgrades and options. Options were glowing balls that hovered near your ship, matched its movements, and fired concomitantly.
The Life Force soundtrack was published on CD in Japan and it had identical music to the American release, which made me very happy. However, I had to search for Salamander, because that is its name in Japan. Along with all the familiar tunes were some songs I had never heard before. I later learned that the MSX version of Salamander added several new songs, which were on that CD. The MSX was a computer co-developed by Microsoft and Sony that never became popular in the U.S., but sold well in Japan.
Speaking of the MSX, the NES game Metal Gear was actually a heavily modified port of the MSX2 original. So, any kid (or adult) that played Metal Gear on the NES did not play the real Metal Gear. The NES version was not made by Hideo Kojima, the creator of the long-running franchise. To make matters worse, the sequel on the NES was also not made by Kojima. The only way to play the predecessors to Metal Gear Solid, the third game in the series, is to play the MSX2 versions. I learned all of this long after I had completed Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation and it explains why Metal Gear on the NES was such a terrible game. I had wondered how the creator of Metal Gear Solid could make a bad game; but now I know he was never involved.
Bubble Bobble seemed to be the best deal in all of NES gaming, since it had so many levels, and played so smoothly. In comparison, Gauntlet had the same amount, but they played cantankerously. I had no problems blowing through the levels in Bubble Bobble, from beginning to end. It required little thinking and there was one tricky part involving a book and another with a special code that had to be used during the boss fight to add player 2. If you beat the boss by yourself, you got a Bad Ending, so it was necessary to add player 2.
Legendary Wings was an unusual shooter made by Capcom and the most unusual thing about this game is that it has not been remade or enhanced. It is probably one of the most overlooked titles and worthy of a “rediscovery”. Another unusual fact about this game is that it was never released on the Famicom; it went straight to the NES after its 1986 arcade release. I didn’t know that American gamers actually got some exclusive titles that were never released in Japan. And this was a Japanese game! How strange.
Legendary Wings varied between overhead forward scrolling and side-scrolling. The weapons could be extensively upgraded, culminating in a state of near invincibility for the player. The side-scrolling stages were contained within the regular levels. A huge head that shot tornados out of its mouth led to a bad area, while a hidden hole somewhere in each stage led to a good area. The bad area was a waste of time, while the good area had weapon upgrades and health. It also offered 2 players at the same time, which was a boon in a game of this difficulty. The design of the stages reminded me of ancient Egypt and I recall the boss fights were grueling.
Blaster Master was one of those games that I found very interesting, but too difficult. I didn’t have the manual, or any information other than what the game provided. I never owned it until much later. I visited my cousin a few times in Virginia and I didn’t have time to play it hours at a time, for months at a time. I never even got past the first stage. It felt different than most games because one controlled a vehicle, a mere speck that drove the vehicle, and then a fathead from a side/top (isometric) perspective. I suppose its structure was similar to Banjo Kazooie, with an overworld connecting microworlds. The best thing about the game was the soundtrack.
I truly disliked Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. I put very little effort into it as a kid and gave it an honest effort in my early twenties, and still found it atrocious. The RPG elements were offensive to my gaming skills and I didn’t like the design of the overworld.
Xenophobe was another of those games with no ending, like Spy Hunter. It kind of makes sense now, since the same company (Sunsoft) made both of them. Luckily, the year 1988 does have an ending.
I played 15 of the 112 NES titles released in 1989. In chronological order (of release date), the 1989 games I played were: Gyruss, Friday the 13th, Tecmo Bowl, Ninja Gaiden, Predator, Hydlide, The Adventures of Bayou Billy, Mega Man 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Strider, Faxanadu, Fester’s Quest, DuckTales, Godzilla and Tetris.
My favorite NES release of 1989 was Mega Man 2 and it was my first exposure to the Mega Man series, which is called “Rock Man” in Japan. I didn’t play the first Mega Man until much later and found it rather primitive, unfortunately. I became a Mega Man 2 aficionado and was able to beat it on a regular basis, usually in one sitting. The ability to select stages was novel and the order greatly mattered. So the ability to select stages was not there just to be different; it required strategic thinking. The defeat of each stage boss gave one a unique weapon which efficaciously damaged certain enemies, bosses included. I spent a great deal of time trying out orderings and experimenting with the weapons, which led to my proficiency at negotiating the stages themselves. Mega Man 2 was thus a very non-linear game in the first part and became strictly linear upon arriving at Dr. Wily’s Castle. Imagine if Contra were designed similarly, allowing one to select the order of the stages. In that case, the game would’ve needed a stage redesign, to balance the difficulty. The stages in Mega Man 2 were roughly equivalent in difficulty and I recall only the Heat Man stage had a really tough section if selected first. In hindsight, I’m surprised I never tried to challenge myself and beat the stages in the most inconvenient way possible. I guess I wasn’t bored enough.
Ninja Gaiden was another in the long series of awesome games that were astonishingly difficult, and I imagine very few gamers ever got to see the end sequence. Despite my fascination and pure love for the game, I could never beat the final boss. Only once did I ever make it that far, due to infinite enemy respawns in inconvenient locations, which required luck (not skill) to negotiate. You don’t get lucky on a regular basis, otherwise it wouldn’t be called “getting lucky”. The music was as good as music can be, whether it’s from a video game or not. Ninja Gaiden was the first game, to my knowledge, that had cutscenes between stages.
Strider was similar to Legendary Wings in the sense that it was exclusive to the NES and was never released on the Famicom in Japan. Strider was a completely different gaming experience from what I was used to. The main hub was a spaceship called Blue Dragon that was orbiting the Earth. The main hub on Earth was Kazakhstan, as it was the first level visited and led to the collection of many important items. Access to all levels was accomplished through Blue Dragon and the game was semi-linear, since Disks were required to access new levels, but old ones could be re-visited. The controls were very stiff and Hiryu (the protagonist) often got caught on corners and walls when jumping (all jumping felt weird). The most difficult part of the entire game was in Egypt, at the part where a Triangle Jump was required to ascend a shaft. Since the jumping was a bit glitchy, performing a required special jump required waiting for that one try when luck prevailed. Despite the poor programming, I played through Strider several times and consider it to be one of the greatest NES games. However, there was one incredibly odd thing about this game: the final boss was Yggdrasil. Why they included a tree from Norse mythology is beyond me (there was nothing else from Norse mythology that I recognized in the game). Imagine if the final boss in Mega Man 2 was not Dr. Wily, but Cyclops from Greek mythology. Any reasonable gamer would just say, “What the fuck?”
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is, again, part of that long running series of awesome games that were impossible to complete. One must understand that I played this game at a time in my life where I didn’t have any real responsibilities; I was a kid and I had time to burn. But I could not beat this game. Some of the problems were related to unbalanced difficulty. As an example, much of JFK airport (level 4) was fairly easy to negotiate, yet there was one room with a moving wall of spikes that could kill all of the turtles. I was too kind. That’s not an example of unbalanced difficulty, but one of sadism, or extreme cruelty. I had heard, years later, that a secondary weapon available in level 3 could assist in beating the Technodrome and its interior, which is the scroll. I knew about the scroll and its effects, but I also didn’t want to spend time stockpiling the weapon. Everything would have been fine had there been a way to save the game, but even with the unlimited energy that comes with youth, I felt exhausted by the time I reached level 5. Furthermore, why spend time stockpiling scrolls when it is so easy to die? The game is cruel and I realized this even at age 13, so I didn’t bother with stockpiling things, because there was no way to save progress.
Faxanadu was one of the games I played cold, with no instruction manual or any information at all, other than what the game provided. I didn’t do very well as a kid, but I nearly played through it in my early twenties, out of curiosity. I came back to it because I learned that it was related to the Dragon Slayer series by Falcom. Legacy of the Wizard was the only proper Dragon Slayer title ever released on the NES, which I never played. Xanadu was the second game in the Dragon Slayer series, so I took the “Fa” to mean “For Americans”. I was wrong, of course, as Faxanadu is just a portmanteau of Famicom and Xanadu. The main games in the Dragon Slayer series are Dragon Slayer, Xanadu, Romancia, Legacy of the Wizard, Sorcerian, The Legend of Heroes, and The Legend of Xanadu. Faxanadu is simply a “side quest” type game. My interest in the Dragon Slayer series started when I discovered their awesome arranged music albums, and the fact that Faxanadu’s music was so impressive suddenly made a lot of sense.
Faxanadu expertly blended music with environment, especially in the so-called “Foggy Area” or “Misty Area”, which has perhaps the best mood music in all of NES history. There was another blend of background graphics and enemy design that reminded me of H.R. Giger’s works. The environments largely made one feel uncomfortable, much like those one might see in the Alien franchise. The game suffered from the ubiquitous problem of complicated and cryptic passwords, which made it preferable to stop playing. If this game had had a battery back-up, like The Legend of Zelda, gameplay would have been far smoother.
I played 20 of the 200 NES titles released in 1990. In chronological order (of release date), the 1990 games I played were: Double Dragon II, 8 Eyes, Batman, Super Spike V’Ball, Super Mario Bros. 3, Al Unser Jr.’s Turbo Racing, Astyanax, Super C, Xexyz, Ninja Gaiden II, Bad Dudes, Crystalis, Gauntlet II, Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, Low G Man, Little Nemo: The Dream Master, Street Fighter 2010, Dr. Mario, Mega Man 3 and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II.
One of the greatest games I can recall playing in my younger years was Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. I had no intention of buying it or asking for it because Castlevania II was so unbalanced and counterintuitive. I thought the Castlevania series was dead. Back in those days, there was a tremendous amount of cartridge swapping. One of my good friends (Songhai) let one of his friends (James) borrow a couple of my games. James lost those games, one of which was Batman (I don’t recall what the other one was). James felt bad about it and gave me his copy of Castlevania III. I had no idea of my good fortune. It sucked to lose Batman, but I became thoroughly hooked on Castlevania III. It was similar to Super Mario Bros. in the sense that the game became progressively more difficult as the quests advanced. As you might remember, if you beat Super Mario Bros., the game started back at level 1 with Beetles in place of Goombas. The game became harder on the second go. I ended up beating Castlevania III three times in a row using the same series of passwords. I remember that enemies took off more life as the quests advanced, though everything looked the same.
The main differences between Simon’s Quest and Dracula’s Curse had to do with path selection and enemy encounters. One was likely to become frustrated with Simon’s Quest because of not knowing what to do, while Dracula’s Curse caused frustration through its difficult enemies and bosses. Simon’s Quest was an open, non-linear game laden with highly counterintuitive actions (not puzzles) which were required for progress. Dracula’s Curse was a linear game that offered a welcomed paucity of path selections, but with enemies that were likely to hinder your progress rather effectively. At one point near the end, a Doppelganger is one of the bosses. A few years after I had done my three quest run, I got all the way to the Doppelganger and had to give up. I just couldn’t get to him with enough life to win. Beating a game like Dracula’s Curse requires extraordinary skill and precise memorization of enemy movements, because you need to get to the bosses with full health. In order to do those things, you cannot have a job. This is why kids can often be so good at video games; they have the time required to memorize patterns and movements that lead to success. Playing a game like Dracula’s Curse is not like riding bike. Neglect it for a while and you will fall.
It’s hard for me to say whether I enjoyed Castlevania III or Super Mario Bros. 3 more. They were both released in 1990 and both had a previous game which had departed from the initial game, thus making them series strengtheners, or games that made sure (beyond any doubt) the series would survive because they returned to the series’ roots in an improvisational manner. To compromise, I’ll say they were equivalently important.
I remember playing Super Mario Bros. 3 all over the place. I can recall playing the game at 4 different friends’ houses before I somehow got it. It’s possible I even completed the game before I owned it and I remember staying overnight in a friend’s basement just so I could play it. I remember having a rough time getting games starting around age 14; I think I had to start buying them myself, so that greatly slowed things down and inspired more treks to basements.
Double Dragon II was a hugely popular game in my neighborhood and I played through it on a regular basis, often with my brother. We were both good enough to not lose lives on the cruel parts where jumping had poor detection. It was also a humorous game, since one of the enemies looked like my neighbor’s dad. I enjoyed this much more than the original Double Dragon, which I found too difficult (but not bad). The soundtrack for the game has received a full arrange album in Japan, which has become greatly sought after.
As I stated above, I did own Batman, but a friend lost it. This particular Batman game used the Tim Burton movie as a basis, and had 8 bit rendered scenes from the movie. The play control reminded me of Ninja Gaiden, since Batman could cling to walls and jump from surface to surface, allowing him to ascend shafts. Batman was a very difficult game and had I spent more time on it, I probably could have completed it. The soundtrack, which is astonishing, was composed by Naoki Kodaka, who also composed Blaster Master and Journey to Silius.
Ninja Gaiden II did not suffer the same fate as Castlevania II or Zelda II. While the Castlevania and Zelda series both had abysmal second titles, the Ninja Gaiden series improved substantially in the second offering. By far, the greatest and coolest feature of this game was Ryu’s ability to use clones. Ryu could utilize two clones at the same time, which were translucent orange, and copied his moves. Like the first game, it had dramatic cutscenes between stages and the game progressed in a linear fashion. Ryu could scale up and down walls without clumsy jumping, unlike the first game. I enjoyed this game more than the first because I could beat it. It also had a secret sound test, which I accessed on many occasions.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master was a NES title based on a Japanese movie that was based on an American comic strip from 1905. The comic strip, titled Little Nemo in Slumberland, was made by Winsor McCay and ran until 1914. In 1989, an animated movie was made in Japan based on the comic strip with the title Nemo. In 1992, Nemo was released in the U.S. and the name was changed to Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland. Capcom secured the rights to make a video game based on the movie in 1989 and originally released it in the arcades, with the name Nemo. In 1990, the game was released on the NES and it differed considerably from the arcade version. I never played the arcade version, but I watched videos on youtube, in order to see the differences.
Little Nemo was a linear game consisting of levels with locked doors, so finding keys was a major goal. Nemo could make some animals fall asleep by feeding them candy and he could then use them to find keys. For example, making a mole fall asleep in order to get a key underground. I never did beat the game because I never lasted long enough. There was no save battery or password system. It was a difficult game, much more difficult than Mega Man 2, for example.
Gauntlet II was a horrid horrible atrocious abominable scrap of shit scraped from the fly-ridden asshole of an elephant corpse. It was made by Mindscape, a company on par with LJN. If you see Mindscape or LJN, then you know it’s going to be an unpleasant day. What I find truly astonishing is that the company Mindscape still exists. They are still making games. I don’t know why the gaming community tolerates it. All I remember about Gauntlet II is that I could not play it. It was that bad.
I played 3 of the 124 NES titles released in 1991. In chronological order (of release date), the 1991 games I played were: G.I. Joe, Battletoads and Ninja Gaiden III. A large number of NES games were released in 1992 and 1993, but I did not play any of them. The last year for the NES was 1994 and I didn’t play any of the 13 titles which were released that year.
G.I. Joe was my favorite NES game of 1991. I played G.I. Joe as much as Castlevania III, although G.I. Joe did a much better job with the advancing quests by changing things. Every few stages in G.I. Joe one came across a stage that required one to find checkpoints (literally). At the checkpoint, a quick cutscene appeared, which showed the character placing an explosive device. In the second quest of G.I. Joe all the checkpoints were in different locations, so everything you had memorized was worthless. The third quest became fairly sadistic and made the checkpoints invisible. I remember having a zinger of a time dealing with the third quest, but I did beat it. G.I. Joe was similar to Castlevania III in the sense that there were many playable characters, with differences that were more than just cosmetic.
Battletoads had the potential to be a great game but suffered from one problem that I find inexcusable. In two player mode, you can hurt each other! The game is already difficult, but becomes unbearable when recruiting help, so asking for help is like putting another enemy in the game that won’t go away. The saddest thing of all is that my favorite game developer, Rare, made this title.
Some of the NES games I wish that I had played are Journey to Silius, Power Blade and Power Blade 2.
My NES gaming years were primarily from ages 11 to 15, which corresponded to the years 1987-1991. The next gaming system that devoured my spare time was the SNES.
The SNES was released on August 23, 1991 in the United States. I remember it coming out in the Christmas of 1991, but maybe that’s when I was dreaming about it. I didn’t get the SNES until April of 1992, which is also when Contra III was released. I remember walking into Best Buy and seeing just a few SNES systems stacked in the middle of the store, and they were on sale for $150 each. I bought one, along with Contra III. Super Mario World was included with the system. Quite a few great games were released in 1991 that I didn’t play until 1992 or later. They were: Darius Twin, Gradius III, Castlevania IV, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, Super Mario World, SimCity and Super Off-Road.
Contra III was the first game I purchased for the SNES and it was more memorable than Super C. Konami didn’t include the classic 30 lives code, but I later read about a trick in stage 3. It involved using a rubber band on the controller and walking away for several decades, while the character continually shot enemies and racked up extra lives through points. I couldn’t get the trick to work since all the protons decayed in the rubber bands I was using. On the hardest difficulty setting Contra III was a tough play. On reflection, I can’t say whether I liked this or the original Contra more. Both had great music, kick-ass weapons, challenging play, and high replay value.
Gradius III was one of the most enjoyable games I played on the SNES. It felt like a perfect game and actually made me feel better after having played it. If there is any game that made me a happier person overall, it was Gradius III. I’m not saying by any means it was easy. It was just as hard as its predecessor, Life Force. What makes Gradius III so good is that everything that made Life Force good was included and then expanded. Sequels are supposed to be better than what they follow. Gradius III is probably the greatest example of a sequel I can think of that does the job with aplomb. The reason why I’m comparing Gradius III to Life Force and not Gradius II is because Gradius II was not released on the NES in the United States. Konami gave us Life Force instead, which is called “Salamander” in Japan. The Salamander series is basically Gradius with a different name; there is very little difference. Just like we didn’t get Gradius II, Konami also decided not to release Salamander 2 in the U.S.
My interest in video game music definitely started with the NES era, but I have to credit Castlevania IV for making it a done deal. Castlevania IV had such great music that I was curious how it would sound coming from a stereo system. All of my gaming prior to the SNES era was heard through a tiny and tinny TV speaker. Using a stereo system made the experience much more satisfying. Besides the incredible soundtrack, Castlevania IV offered new abilities with the whip, such as diagonal striking and grasping objects to aide in swinging across gaps. The backgrounds offered more scrolling layers than its NES predecessors and the foreground was also active, with hands popping out of paintings to grab you and weird things rolling under the carpet. The most significant difference between Castlevania IV and Castlevania III is that part IV ditched path selection and character morphing. Part IV is a pure linear game that is more similar to the first Castlevania. Castlevania IV is a game that must be played using a stereo system in order to fully appreciate all the nuances in the music and sound effects. (Of course, this is true of any SNES game and even more so of later games, but Castlevania IV was the first in my experiences to make me aware of the improvements a stereo system can make.)
Super Mario World was one of the reasons I didn’t focus on school. Since I had paruresis, I was pretty stressed out every day after school. Since I basically suffered all day, I felt I deserved to have fun in the evenings. So I played Super Mario World. I remember playing it until 2 a.m. on many occasions. My life basically consisted of a hugely irritating day life and pleasant evening life. So there was balance and that’s how I maintained my sanity. Super Mario World also has the best ending theme I have heard in a video game. I became expert at finishing the final castle and defeating Bowser, just so I could listen to the end music.
The summer of 1992 (I was 16) was spent playing Zelda 3: A Link to the Past. I was lost in that world; the immersion was total. Playing a good video game is nearly identical to reading a good book. You don’t “see” the world around you. Somehow your mind is transported to another world and it becomes more real than what your senses detect. Watching someone play a game like this is akin to watching someone read a book. It will be boring for the observer. A Link to the Past is to The Legend of Zelda as Dracula’s Curse is to Castlevania. Both games in each series have a horrible, failed experiment sandwiched between them, while the buns are quite tasty. (A Link to the Past saved the Zelda series as Dracula’s Curse saved the Castlevania series.)
I liked the division of the world map of Zelda 3 into Light and Dark worlds. Each was large enough to be its own game, so one could have thought of them as “quests”. The dungeons were consistently difficult and finding them in the Dark World was pleasantly puzzling.
The SNES transcended the NES in terms of addictiveness and socializing. I would say that the most socially oriented game on the SNES was Street Fighter II. You had to be alive in 1992 (and be a gamer) to understand why. The only way to play Street Fighter II was at a place that had the arcade game. That meant acquiring quarters and walking to the nearest pizza place (in my case). The mall was too far for walking or even riding a bike, so we had to crowd around the only SFII arcade cabinet in the area, which was at Cecil Whittaker’s Pizzeria. When I found out that Street Fighter II was going to be released on the SNES, I felt relieved. Being able to play SFII at home was astonishing to think about. The game developers were not ignorant of the popularity of the arcade game and artificially raised the price of the SNES cartridge to $75, when games normally cost $50. I rode my bike all the way to Toys ‘R Us and happily bought the overpriced game in August of 1992. This was the first version of the game for the SNES and only 8 characters were playable; one could not play as the bosses. But that was OK. I didn’t have to go to Cecil Whittaker’s any more to play it.
In my mind there is burned an image of bodies. Bodies everywhere. So thick I could not move. This is what happened the day I got Street Fighter II. Every kid in the neighborhood crowded into my house. That sort of thing doesn’t happen anymore. It’s too easy for everyone to have everything because of ROMS, pirating, and emulation. The era of exclusivity is over. I feel fortunate that I was able to live at a time when options were limited. When I was a kid, you had to physically have the cartridge in order to play the game or beg for quarters and find a place with arcade machines. There was no other option.
The next games to be released in that series were Street Fighter II Turbo (1993) and Super Street Fighter II (1994). Both were superior to the original incarnation of SFII on the SNES and my friends and I played them endlessly, in large physical groups. Nowadays, people still play in large groups, but they are isolated and communicate via Bluetooth headsets.
The most difficult game I ever played on the SNES was Out of This World (1992). It took me more than 2 years of effort to eventually master it. It wasn’t a flawed game; it was just damned difficult. The ending was thoroughly unsatisfying and they never made a sequel. Later, I learned that the sequel came out for the Sega CD and Panasonic 3DO, which were systems I did not have. I watched the long play of those games via youtube and finally satisfied a 17 year old mystery. I finished Out of This World at age 18; I watched the sequel long play at age 35.
Out of This World naturally led me to play Flashback: The Quest for Identity (1994), since it was similar in style and gameplay (and made by the same company – Delphine). Flashback was much easier and I still think about it from time to time. It reminds me of Blade Runner because of the dark high-tech environments mixed with filth. Flashback was also released on many other systems, including the Sega CD. I got the soundtrack for the Sega CD version (essentially better sounding versions of the SNES songs) and it was ultra-nostalgic. I clearly remember the game show for some reason. The whole Flashback experience was surreal. Flashback then led to Blackthorne (1994), which is another game with similar controls. I couldn’t get into Blackthorne, but my brother was obsessed with it.
Some of the other SNES games I played in 1992 were Super Mario Kart, Monopoly, Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally, Super Star Wars, Ys III and TMNT IV: Turtles in Time. Super Mario Kart left me feeling dizzy until I got used to the visuals. I liked saving my ghost and trying to beat it. The closest thing in real life is called the negative split, which is where you run a certain distance faster than the previous effort. In real life, though, you can’t actually see your previous effort and try to beat it. In a video game, that previous effort is called a “ghost”. The Road Runner game was just crap. Monopoly wasn’t much better. Turtles in Time was in the genre of mindless mayhem, similar to Streets of Rage and Final Fight, except you are using Ninja Turtles. It’s a nice game but becomes old quickly. I did have a lot of fun with Super Star Wars and actually beat it, which was not easy. It followed the movie fairly well, culminating in the X-Wing strafing run against the Death Star.
The story of how I got Super Mario All-Stars in the summer of 1993 is kind of interesting. I had heard that the game was coming out (specific dates were not well known back then), so I went to Toys ‘R Us and looked for a copy (this was before the days of pre-ordering). They didn’t have it on the shelves or advertised anywhere, but I asked if they had the game anyway. They did. It wasn’t officially for sale anywhere, but they had it boxed up in the storeroom. For some reason, they agreed to sell me a copy early. I was probably one of the first people in the United States to own Super Mario All-Stars.
Super Mario All-Stars was the highlight of my gaming in 1993. I had never previously known that Super Mario Bros. 2 in the U.S. was not the same as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan. Nintendo thought the Japanese version of SMB2 would be too hard for American gamers, so they took some game called “Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic” and turned it into SMB2 for Americans. Super Mario All-Stars included 16-bit upgrade versions of SMB, SMB2 (U.S.), SMB2 (Japan) and SMB3. The Japanese version of SMB2 was called “The Lost Levels”. I did beat The Lost Levels and it was considerably more difficult than the American version. It had the same graphical design of SMB1, so everything looked familiar, but the game designers must have been thinking, “Fuck you and die abundantly, motherfuckers”. Japanese games are hard core.
Jurassic Park (1993) on the SNES was a decent game that was ruined by the exclusion of passwords or any save option. The game was too big to finish in one sitting. I never heard of anyone actually beating it. However, Jurassic Park has some of the best music I’ve heard in a video game. It’s not based on the music from the movie. Similarly, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991) had a great soundtrack but was mired in a length of “one-sitting” gameplay that I found unbearable. It bothers me that both games were so fun to play but ruined by such a simple flaw.
A really unusual game released in 1993 was Starfox. As far as I know, it was constructed entirely of polygons. So the SNES must’ve been a true 3D gaming machine, although incredibly primitive. One could practically count all of the polygons on screen, there were so few. It played well enough and I recall beating Andross (the final boss) several times. I liked the non-linear path selection, as well as the quirky bonus areas. One area was a Black Hole that somehow led to a giant slot machine. And you had to shoot the slot machine, fighting it like a giant boss character.
A couple of hockey games were released in 1993 that I enjoyed playing. NHL Stanley Cup made heavy use of “Mode 7” and was fun for the novelty. NHL ’94, though, was the best hockey game I’ve ever played, and also the best sports game overall. I wasn’t alone in my fascination; approval was unanimous. All of my friends, my brother and his friends, we all played NHL ’94.
The remainder of the games I played in 1993 were Street Fighter II Turbo, Rock ‘n Roll Racing and Alien 3. SFII Turbo allowed one to play as the boss characters and increase the speed of action. When it came out, the original SFII was quickly forgotten. Rock ‘n Roll Racing was one of the early games made by Blizzard Entertainment and had classic 70s songs converted into SNES audio. The lyrics were of course omitted, but the melodies were easily recognizable. Rock ‘n Roll was insanely addictive due to its progression of stages with changing environments, new vehicles, new upgrades for the vehicles and the weapons based racing. One of the awesome things you could do was speed ahead of everyone else on a straightaway, brake, make a sharp U-turn, unload some missiles, and make them very unhappy. That game was so much fun. Alien 3 was an interesting game that I managed to beat. When you died, the game designers used a classic line from Aliens by Bill Paxton when he said, “Game over, man!” They had a good sense of humor, but Bill Paxton didn’t star in Alien 3.
In 1994, a game came out for the SNES that transcended Zelda 3: A Link to the Past for creating a realistic other world. That game was Super Metroid and it brought my life to a halt. I made the mistake of letting a co-worker borrow it (after I beat it, of course) and that co-worker mysteriously could not find it when I asked that he return it. I eventually got the game again and played it relentlessly. I also hooked it up to my newly acquired subwoofer system. My room shook every time Samus fired her laser. Super Metroid inspired the company Konami to redesign their Castlevania series in a similar fashion. This is where the term “Metroidvania” comes from. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night successfully used the Super Metroid style of design.
I beat Super Metroid myriad times. I watch the speed runs on youtube, as well as the longplays. I am addicted to Super Metroid. It is perhaps the best possible video game in existence. Any gamer that has not played Super Metroid has missed out big time. It would be like a planet with life that never evolved self-awareness. It missed out.
Super Metroid was definitely the highlight of my 1994 gaming, and probably the highlight of my entire gaming life. However, there were other games I played in 1994. I gave Mega Man X an honest effort, but I didn’t like it. I somehow got Lethal Enforcers and the light gun (I must’ve rented it) and it was a fun photo-realistic shooter. Ken Griffey, Jr. Baseball was the best baseball game I’ve ever played. It was to baseball games as NHL ’94 was to hockey games. Donkey Kong Country, though, set a super-standard in graphics.
The SNES is probably the only completely tapped out game system. I think developers admirably demonstrated its graphical capabilities. Donkey Kong Country is something unique in the gaming world. I’m not aware of any other game system that consists of a game that magically looks 10 times better than every other game on the system. DKC showed that game systems can do a lot more than the status quo. Take the Xbox 360, for example. All of the games look good, irrespective of how good they actually are. But no game stands out and looks an order of magnitude better than everything else. If such a game existed, I would know about it. Everyone would.
My second favorite shooter on the SNES was Darius Twin. It was released in 1991, but I didn’t play it until the early 2000s. Hisayoshi Ogura didn’t compose the soundtrack, as he did with the other Darius titles, but good Taito music flows freely here. So good that I recorded the music to CD. There was a Darius concert in Japan just recently and they played music from Darius Twin; I was shocked to hear music from this game performed live. This was not an easy game to beat, and I only beat it once. I spent much of my time just trying to beat it that one time.
Some of the popular SNES games I never played were Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy IV and VI, Super Mario RPG, F-Zero and Yoshi’s Island. I also never played any of the Kirby games. The last SNES game I purchased was Arkanoid: Doh it Again (1997). I did not buy any SNES games in 1995 or 1996, although I did later play Brandish and Castlevania: Dracula X.
My SNES gaming years were primarily from ages 15 to 20, which corresponded to the years 1992-1996. September 29th, 1996 was perhaps the greatest day of my life, which was the release date of the Nintendo 64.
The Nintendo 64 was the most anticipated game system of my life. I had just recently gotten access to the internet and used the World Wide Web to read extensively about any rumors concerning Mario 64. This was in the early summer of 1996. It took several minutes to load pictures from the game and video was not even offered. I never saw any ads on the web in 1996. The early days of the web were slow, but quite nice. When the Nintendo 64 came out, I purchased it on the release date and became immersed in Mario 64. There were only two games available at launch: Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Waverace 64 didn’t come out until November of 1996. Cruisin’ USA and Shadows of the Empire came out in December of 1996.
It took me a month to finish Mario 64 (get all 120 stars), and then I played it for another month, purposely trying to win stars in innovative ways and exploring more of what the game had to offer. Mario 64 offered something in the world of gaming that will never happen again. While the SNES provided better 2D graphics over the NES, the N64 jumped to true 3D graphics. All the game systems that have been released after the N64 offer better looking 3D graphics, but they are still 3D. There is no “jump”. And there never will be. Our brains cannot visualize 4D graphics, so any system that offered them would not be appreciated. We could certainly see 3D intrusions from the 4D world, and that would be interesting, but it would still be 3D. The only way I can think of realistically “jumping” from the N64 to the next generation would be to make a non-polygon based graphics system. The early game systems used sprites, which were hand-drawn environments and characters. The NES and especially SNES games will always look good, even hundreds or thousands of years from now, because their graphics are largely hand-drawn. They look as good as the skills of the artist. The N64, on the other hand, doesn’t look good anymore. The number of polygons that current game systems can render far exceeds the capabilities of the N64, which better approximate real objects. Polygon rendering systems produce graphics as good as the speed of the processor (or processors). An infinite number of polygons would thus exactly mirror reality and one would be finished at that point, I suppose. A 3D hand drawn, or sprite-based, system would require an enormous amount of man-hours, but would look quite good. That’s the only real jump I can think of: drawing 3D environments by hand and not using polygons.
After finishing Mario 64, I recall having to wait a month before anything new came out. I next purchased Waverace 64 and Cruisn’ USA (which was easily forgettable). Waverace 64 had very realistic looking water waves and was praised in Discover magazine for its accurate depiction of wave motion. Shadows of the Empire was the first Star Wars game to come out on the N64 and I found every challenge point, which was challenging. It was challenging because of the poor play control. One thing that is not too well-known is that the N64 system was designed second. First came Mario 64 and then a system was designed that could run it and a controller that could handle it. This is why Mario 64 feels so natural when playing and Shadows of the Empire is so clumsy. You have to make a game play just like Mario 64 in order to make it feel right. This is probably why Banjo Kazooie felt so comfortable. Although Shadows of the Empire was plagued with poor play control, it did offer familiarity. The game takes place around the same time as the events of The Empire Strikes Back and is based on the novel Shadows of the Empire, which takes place between the movies The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Among other things, it explains where Leia got the thermal detonator she uses to threaten Jabba the Hutt. The star of the video game is Dash Rendar, a crazy person similar to Han Solo. When Dash gets to use the jetpack, it is a feeling of liberation. I have never had so much fun in a video game. I spent much more time than necessary using the jetpack, just to see where I could go. I basically died a lot. Another thing of interest about Shadows of the Empire is that a music CD was released containing orchestrations for the book. Those same orchestrations were converted into a format that could fit on the N64 cartridge and used in the game. So it was doubly familiar, since I had read the book and already heard the music.
1997 was a great year for N64 gaming. That year saw the release of Blast Corps, Doom 64, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter and Goldeneye 007. First I want to elaborate upon Turok. The very first true 3D first person shooter I ever played was Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. I’ll never forget the first time I saw an enemy running towards me and then screaming in pain as I stabbed him. It was a strange feeling to handle such a simple task in 3D; I had only experienced it in 2D previously. The simplest way to control Turok was to move him around using the 4 yellow camera buttons and then using the control stick to change his view. It worked well and the designers of Goldeneye favored it, because they offered it as a control scheme. I always referred to it as “Turok Style” when I played Goldeneye. Turok had great music and it was the first game I played with headphones, which tremendously improved the experience. I used Sony MDR-V600s. An amusing thing happened to enemies after they were dead. If you hit a body with a grenade, it would launch into the air and scream. I loved it. I spent a lot of time seeing how long I could keep a body in the air by hitting it with grenades. On a serious note, Turok taught me about ammo conservation. Spare ammo could be found occasionally and picked up even if not needed. This extra ammo did not get stored in a reserve clip, but was permanently lost. Thus, you had to remember where the ammo was and also remember not to pick it up if you didn’t need it. I spent a lot of time backtracking to previous areas, but that helped me beat the game legitimately (no cheat codes). Ammo conservation was not something I thought of right away. What happened is that I got my ass kicked repeatedly, so I had to change my strategy. An intriguing innovation in Turok was the inclusion of an on-screen map. The only design problem with Turok was the required jumping on small platforms. You had a first person view and jumping was difficult because you couldn’t see yourself, like in Mario 64. The jumps to large platforms were ok, because you couldn’t miss. The jumps to small platforms caused a lot of unnecessary deaths. One of the coolest rooms in Turok was at the end of the game, with human bodies hanging from ropes. They would drip blood if you shot them.
Now that I seriously think back on Turok, it might have been the first shooting game I played where I actually had to be concerned with ammunition. In older shooting games on the SNES and NES, one simply had to find a gun and then ammunition was unlimited. Changes were typically made to the rate of fire or the power of the shots. One did not worry about running out of ammo. I started playing Turok rather haphazardly and had to restart many times. If you run out of bullets, then you have to use the bow & arrow. When you run out of arrows, then you have to use the knife. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to kill a velociraptor with a knife. But you’re not going to last much longer. Solution: make sure you never have to face a velociraptor with a knife, which is accomplished by ammo conservation. An interesting additional piece of information about this game is that the German version was censored; the German government felt that killing humans in a video game was too violent, so they were all replaced with robots.
Goldeneye 007 was released a few months after Turok: Dinosaur Hunter in 1997. It was the 2nd true 3D first person shooter I ever played. Right away, Goldeneye was more realistic than Turok. Enemies would react according to what part of their body you shot, so there were a lot of different death and injury animations. For some strange reason, new (and very popular) shooting games do not have this feature. Gears of War, for example, does not have different animations depending on what part of the body has been shot. Nothing happens to the bodies if you continue to shoot them. I find it odd that new games have extremely boring and unrealistic death and injury animations. The Call of Duty series suffers the same problems. Anyway, Goldeneye will show enemies shake their hands if you shoot the hands, jump up if you shoot the butt, etc. These realistic animations were carried over into Perfect Dark, the semi-sequel to Goldeneye. I have not seen these same injury/death animations in any other game.
The quick rise in popularity of Goldeneye is well-known by anyone that played video games in the late 1990s. People that thought games were for children were suddenly buying N64s and playing Goldeneye. I’ll never forget one of my brother’s friends, named Josh. He had a low opinion of video games. But one day he asked me to come over. He was having trouble hooking up his N64, which he had just purchased. He wanted me to help him set the system up, so he could play Goldeneye. Besides the injury/death animations, Goldeneye offered a multiplayer mode that has only been surpassed by Perfect Dark.
I ended up beating every level in Goldeneye on every difficulty. The Cradle and Aztec were especially difficult and I can’t claim skill for having beaten them, but stubborn persistence. Given enough tries, I was bound to be successful. I did not earn every cheat code, although I did know of one person that earned the invincibility cheat. I certainly tried to earn it, but I also had to sleep and eat. Goldeneye follows the same trend of Rare games: They start out easy and become progressively more difficult as the game progresses, eventually culminating in a difficulty requiring a time investment akin to a college semester. I can see this same trend even in Wizards & Warriors. Do you remember scaling the exterior of the castle? It was definitely more difficult than earlier stages, but the interior of the castle was more difficult still. This type of progressive difficulty cannot be found even in The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. Although designed well, the difficulty of the dungeons was about consistent. They were always hard and I couldn’t possibly rank them according to difficulty. Goldeneye was the 2nd game made by Rare that I played on the N64. The first game was Blast Corps and it came out earlier in 1997, about the same time as Turok.
Blast Corps was truly unique. I know of nothing similar and it pains me to this day that there was never a sequel. The game was based on a rogue nuclear missile carrier always heading towards a large group of buildings. If the carrier hit any structure, the missile would undergo a runaway chain reaction and the game was over. Your job was to clear a path for the nuclear missile using dump trucks, bulldozers, trains, cranes, cars and other vehicles either singly or jointly. Often it was jointly, as some stages were designed around a forced combination of vehicles, such as using a train to get to a bulldozer. A large armored jet-powered mechanized robot was also available that shot into the air and slammed down onto structures, causing tremendous damage. Think Iron Man, but 10 times bigger and much stronger. Level selection was done on the surface of a sphere that opened new paths each time a stage was completed, thus making the game semi-linear, since there were many different ways in which the levels could be completed. Besides the demolition stages, there were also racing stages. Some of the racing stages occurred on other planets and even the Moon, with the appropriate changes in braking distances and never-ending parabolic paths after launching off ramp-like protrusions.
The stages also had time trials, with bronze, silver, gold, and platinum medals. Platinum medals were based on the fastest times set by the game programmers. I did not win many platinum medals. In total, I played through Blast Corps twice and even recorded the music to CD. It was one of my greatest gaming experiences.
Another great game was released around the same time as Blast Corps and Turok: Dinosaur Hunter. It was Doom 64. I had played the very first Doom game on the PC as a teenager, managing to complete it with the help of a friend. I never completed Doom 64, even with the help of my brother, various friends, and exhaustive researching online. Why? Well, the original Doom was linear and one simply worked one’s way through the levels. Doom 64 had extra levels placed out of order which were accessed through warp points. The extra levels had artifacts which were used to build a gun that could defeat the end boss. I recall managing to complete one of the extra levels. The others were very difficult, especially level 32. In one of the extra levels I could actually see the artifact that I needed, but I was unable to obtain it, even using a step-by-step strategy guide. Level 32, however, was quite special. It is probably the most difficult level ever designed and implemented in a video game. I’m not a good enough writer to convey just how special level 32 was, so either you experienced that piece of Hell or you didn’t. I cannot help you understand it.
Although Doom 64 provided astonishing amounts of frustration, I kept playing it. I became proficient at the game, able to beat every stage with the exception of level 32 and the end boss stage. I never saw the ending. The first thing that kept me playing was the graphics – they were considerably superior to the PC version. The second thing was the fact that Doom 64 was not a port of the PC original. It was a brand new Doom game, with completely different (and more difficult) levels. The third thing was the fact that it had music. I had played the original PC version of Doom on a computer without a sound card. Neither I nor my friend knew that Doom had music. I didn’t know anyone else that had Doom (at the time), so I had no basis for comparison. Later, I did play the PC version of Doom properly, on a PC with a sound card. I also bought the CD with music from Doom and listened to the albums made by the talented artists at Overclocked Remix. The musical styles between the games are interestingly dissimilar. The PC version has melodic synth-rock and the N64 version has ambient noises with an occasional dark pipe organ. So the PC version has music that makes you want to kill while the N64 version has music that makes you feel like something wants to kill you.
Doom 64 was not a true 3D shooter like Turok or Goldeneye. The enemies were purposefully put into the game as 2D sprites in order to keep their numbers high. This had advantages and disadvantages. An advantage of using sprites in a 3D game is they look better than polygon-based enemies, but the disadvantage is they can’t rotate. Since they are 2D, they have a front, a back, and a side. Those views always look the same and dead enemies always look the same, no matter how fast you walk around them. It is disconcerting to circle an object that consistently looks the same while everything else keeps changing (as it should). There is no real-world analogy that I can think of.
I have just covered the greatest N64 games I played in 1997, which were Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, Blast Corps, Goldeneye 007 and Doom 64. The other 1997 N64 releases I played were Mario Kart 64, Starfox 64, Extreme-G, Top Gear Rally, Diddy Kong Racing, Tetrisphere and Yoshi’s Story.
Mario Kart 64 was actually the first N64 game I bought in 1997 and I did indeed play it extensively, as with my favorite titles. But I don’t find myself thinking about this game; it was neither memorable nor very challenging. I simply completed it out of habit, since I had completed the first Mario Kart game. Rare released a similar racer in 1997, titled Diddy Kong Racing, but I didn’t play it until a few years later. As expected, it was considerably more challenging than Mario Kart 64. It had silver coin challenges and mirror image courses, where the silver coin locations were appropriately reflected along with the entirety of the course. I want to mention that reading Wikipedia is a worthwhile effort, as I learned that Diddy Kong Racing was originally titled R.C. Pro Am 64. Upon reflection of the gameplay, this makes sense. It had a similar feeling.
Starfox 64 came out in the summer of 1997 and included the peripheral device called the “Rumble Pak”. It went into the memory cartridge slot in the controller and vibrated the controller, deriving power from batteries. Sony took note of that and improved the design by releasing PlayStation controllers that rumbled without batteries. Rumbling wasn’t a big deal. I recall that if I forgot to put the Rumble Pak in the controller, then I didn’t stop play to insert it. The rumbling sensation didn’t provide any information that was necessary to complete games (at the time). Starfox 64 was thus the first game I know of to provide tactile feedback through the controller that related to action on the screen. Unfortunately, I never enjoyed Starfox 64, despite the novelty of experiencing tactile feedback. Unlike the original Starfox, I never completed it or spent much time trying. I was certainly a serious gamer, but I was perhaps overwhelmed by the other notable releases in 1997.
I purchased Extreme-G and Top Gear Rally at the same time, which were notable racing games for their period. Extreme-G was a motorcycle battle racing game that focused on speed; it was the fastest game I had played and had furiously paced edgy techno music that perfectly complemented the retinal ripping speeds. The geometry of the courses would have stunned even the likes of Riemann. Top Gear Rally slithered like a snail compared to Extreme-G, but it definitely had superior graphics. Likewise, the music was classifiable as “easy-listening”, like something an old man might tootle while resting in a rocking chair. Extreme-G was a futuristic flash before the eyes while Top Gear Rally was a realistic romp in the mountains.
Tetrisphere was visually complicated and structurally diverse. The original Tetris changed things by dropping the pieces faster and faster. Tetrisphere had many different game modes. I really only remember two things about this game: it was hard and it had an awesome soundtrack. The Wikipedia page for Tetrisphere is interesting because it reveals that it was originally slated for a release on the Jaguar. Yoshi’s Story was a graphical treat; candy for the eyes; oxytocin for the optic nerve. While Tetrisphere had nearly revolutionary music, Yoshi’s Story had noxious noises. I’d rather let a family of earwigs live in my ears than hear that crap.
1998 was another great year for N64 gaming. The best games I played that year were Banjo Kazooie, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron.
I spent the summer of 1998 playing Banjo Kazooie and studying Linear Algebra. I took Linear Algebra in the evenings and I recall staying up until 2:30 a.m. every morning playing Banjo Kazooie, with headphones , of course. This was the game that made me decide Rare was the best game developer in the business. The first thing I appreciate about this game is you can throw the instruction manual out the window, since the first area familiarizes one with the controls and more advanced controls are taught as needed. I want to stress that a fully designed fantasy realm was used as a training ground, so one never feels like they are training. The ersatz training area is actually part of the larger world, so one just crosses a bridge to start the game proper when they are prepared. After crossing the bridge, one enters a fully constructed other world that links to private universes, which are the “levels” of the larger world. Each level is as fully constructed as the larger world in which it resides; it is a self-contained, private universe. Doors are placed throughout the main world, with numbers on them. The number refers to the amount of notes that must be collected in order to pass. Rare employed a similar design in their 1987 game Wizards & Warriors, except one had to collect gems. The notes are musical notes and can be thought of as similar to the coins in Super Mario Bros. or the rings in Sonic the Hedgehog. Once one collects the required amount of notes from a level, the door opens and allows access to more levels. But I want to stress that the main world that hosts the levels is a level itself. There is no rest in this game; one is always in a level of some sort.
There are more than 100 songs in Banjo Kazooie. Each of the 9 levels has a different theme and each part within the levels plays a variation on that theme. For example, a slower version of the theme in a level plays underwater. The same music doesn’t continually play, as in most games; it seamlessly changes with one’s chorological behavior. As you can imagine, no official soundtrack with every song from the game has ever been published on CD.
I had more fun with Banjo Kazooie than I did with Super Mario 64. The anticipation of discovering new areas felt more urgent; I felt more compelled to explore. Nothing, though, could have prepared me for the awesome Quiz Show. Before playing the final boss, one must play a board game, itself the size of a small world. All the questions are related to what was experienced during game play, such as identifying voices or images. I purposely kept a save file that started at the Quiz Show, due to its novelty and challenge.
The next game I purchased was Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. It was the first game to utilize the 4 MB expansion pack, which was inserted at the front of the N64 system. It increased the resolution of the graphics, noticeably so. I preordered Turok 2 from Funcoland and bought it on the release date, October 21, 1998.
Turok 2 retained the same play control as the original Turok and continued the tradition of making levels big enough to be entire games. This may seem like a complaint, but it was actually a boon. An oft heard complaint concerning games on the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 is that they are over too soon. Not so with Turok 2. In fact, it may never be over. I never beat Turok 2, as I did with Dinosaur Hunter. It was a combination of other games and other responsibilities, such as having to deal with real life. If I were 15 years old, then sure, I could beat Turok 2. This is because it had the difficulty of an old school NES game. You have to make it your life. And if you have other things going on, you will not beat Turok 2.
I once read that the levels of Turok 2 cover more than 30 miles if laid out. I want to give you an example. One day, I spent 12 hours playing level 5, “The Hive of the Mantids”. I did not believe it would ever end. You have to understand my personality. I can’t just rush through things. I liked to experience as much as I could in a video game, and also play it well. I stopped a lot and observed the artwork, the design of the textures, the face of an alien insect, the effects of my weapons, and the vastness of the environment. Turok 2 was a beautiful game, perhaps the first beautiful game I played. It’s a shame that the developer, Iguana, went out of business. My goal was not to beat these games, as hard as that is to believe; my goal was to experience them. I liked being somewhere else, seeing new places and experiencing new things. Turok 2 was an ultimate otherworldly trip.
The original Turok had some of the most devastating handheld weapons ever to appear in a video game. Turok 2 changed things a little bit and had the most terrifying and nerve rattling weapon in a video game, which was the cerebral bore. If you’ve seen the movie Phantasm II, then you’re familiar with the concept. The cerebral bore locked onto the brain of an opponent, akin to a heat seeking missile, and made an uncomfortable whining noise as it maneuvered its way to an unlucky skull. It attached to the skull, drilled, and exploded. It’s a one-hit-kill weapon. Always. In the single-player mode, the spectacle of the cerebral bore was entertaining and quite satisfying, but not so in the multiplayer. Giving someone the cerebral bore is much different than receiving a cerebral bore. Although you are physically in no real danger, it does cause realistic panic to hear the whine of that cranial cracking missile.
Turok 2 only had six levels, but as I mentioned, around 30 miles of virtual paths. I successfully finished levels 1 through 5, but not to my satisfaction. Despite my efforts, there were areas I could not access, due to lacking certain talismans. I refused to use any online guides while playing this game, since I beat the first Turok without any outside assistance. Guides would have helped me find the talismans, which gave Turok mystical abilities, such as leaping across vast chasms. I would only be willing to replay this game if I could somehow rejuvenate my real body and add more years to it.
My most anticipated N64 game of 1998 was The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time. It was the first true 3D Zelda game and like Mario 64, successfully translated the fun of its 2D predecessors into the added dimension. When I got Ocarina of Time, everything else in my life came to a halt, breathing included. The real meat of the Zelda franchise is finding and playing the dungeons, or temples, depending on which Zelda game is being played. The temples offer new weapons, more life, intriguing puzzles, and stressful boss battles.
Ocarina of Time starts the protagonist, Link, as a child. He must fight through 3 temples and find the Temple of Time, which is not a temple proper, but simply a gateway to play as adult Link. Adult Link can access more temples, which are more difficult, and finish the game by defeating Ganon, the primary villain in the Zelda series. There is also an overworld, which contains all of the temples, towns, lakes, and castles. The ocarina is the main tool and melodies must be learned that alter the environment, let Link travel through time, and travel quickly.
I vividly remember two temples which were much more interesting than most video game environments. Those were the Forest Temple and the Water Temple. The Forest Temple had the most successful music for creating a creepy mood of any game music I have heard. Upon entering the Forest Temple, one cannot help but feel uncomfortable due to the low light levels and the mixture of a large mansion with a forest. If I play back the music in my mind and walk through the temple, I still experience an uncomfortable feeling. This may be because forests are somewhat menacing places where darkness pervades space like a fluid, so the eerie music was heard in a context which enhanced its hair-raising properties. The Water Temple was not scary at all, but intimidating for reasons due to physical design. I remember being filled with a frustrated sense of awe in my attempts to solve the puzzles. And for reasons that are not yet clear, I enjoy underground swimming levels, where there is a chance of drowning. The chance of death is much higher, so it makes things more interesting, perhaps. That still doesn’t explain why it feels so relaxing to swim around underground, though. I experienced the same feelings of comfort when I swam underground in The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. The comfort may hark back to the fact that humans are ultimately descended from organisms that evolved underwater. Besides the underwater adventures, the Water Temple had a room of unending whiteness where a monochromatic clone of Link known as “Dark Link” resided. After defeating Dark Link, the whiteness turned into walls and normalcy returned. This is quite strange. Simply by playing a video game, one is removed by, shall we say, one layer of reality. But when the walls of the Water Temple became visible, I felt as if I were returning to reality, which indicates I was two layers removed from my actual reality. In other words, the fight with Dark Link felt as if it were not taking place in the game, but within a layer of reality even deeper than the game, making it two layers removed from my seat on the sofa. This layering of reality was evident in the movie Inception.
The next big N64 game of 1998 was Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. I was 22 years old in 1998 and I finished Rogue Squadron, by earning every gold medal, at age 26. Rogue Squadron is comprised of many different levels that are not related to one another, so the game can be picked up and discarded without any disturbance to the flow of events, since it’s not a vast interconnected world like The Ocarina of Time. I was incredibly fascinated with Rogue Squadron because I was also reading the Rogue Squadron novels at that time. The main character in Rogue Squadron is Wedge Antilles, who made an appearance in the film Star Wars. He’s not a Jedi, just a regular person.
Rogue Squadron is a starship based fighter with changing objectives, based on the type of medal to be awarded. A bronze medal has less stringent requirements than a silver medal, while a gold medal has the most stress-inducing requirements possible. A variety of spaceships are used in the game and they cannot be selected, since it was predetermined by the programmers. For example, some stages utilize the X-Wing, while another may utilize the A-Wing. Each spaceship has different capabilities with respect to speed, weaponry and maneuverability. The levels themselves take place on different planets, some of which are from the movies and others are from The Expanded Universe (comics, novels). You’ll go to Tatooine, Cloud City, and Hoth, to name a few. You can even destroy Jabba’s Palace if you want.
The other N64 released in 1998 that I played were Mortal Kombat 4, Robotron 64, Body Harvest, and Castlevania.
I never enjoyed the Mortal Kombat series, since the moves required too much memorization and did not feel as fluidic as those in Street Fighter II. Plus, I could never pull off the fatalities unless I spent a great deal of time practicing. I didn’t mind practicing in other video games, but I also didn’t think it should take 17 hours to learn how to see a 10 second animation. Mortal Kombat 4 attracted me simply because it was on the N64. I learned how to use some characters but favored Quan Chi, because of one of his fatalities. He rips off a leg of his defeated opponent and beats him senseless with it. I of course never completed Mortal Kombat 4, and have had no renewed interest in the series.
Robotron 64 was a strange game to play, since it required two controllers at the same time. Apparently, it was based on an old video game named Robotron, which I had never heard of until the N64 version came out. The objective of the game was simply to shoot all the enemies, of which there were plenty. It’s the type of game you can pick up and play and then throw away. There’s really not much to see once several levels have been completed.
Body Harvest was the best worst video game I have ever played. The problem that plagued virtually every moment of gameplay was poorly defined borders that led to death traps. One could be driving along and slide down a mountainside for no reason and never get out. There’s nothing wrong with an open world, but at least the programmers could have caused the vehicles to explode if they entered a forbidden area. In many cases, one must reset the game. That’s poor design. If an area of a game can be entered, has no exit, and does not cause death, then that is poor design because the only option left to the gamer is to reset the game (or throw it away). “Getting stuck” was the only problem with this game. It may have been the game was too ambitious and not tested properly. There were, for example, more than 100 different vehicles. But there is an odd thing worth mentioning…
If you’ve played Super Mario 64, you know that the fringes of the levels were places that could not be accessed. It simply became more and more difficult to move Mario and he would eventually slide back into the level. There was no actual barrier that separated Mario from the level and “outside”. However, Body Harvest had actual barriers! These were force fields your character could run into, shoot at, and see beyond. They were impenetrable. What’s odd is that the programmers took the time to clearly show the border of the levels, while leaving many unseen borders within the levels. Again, this may be a result of poor programming. It is pretty easy to throw up a wall (in a virtual world), because there are no physics involved! But on almost every incline, things went crazy, because friction and gravity are involved. Neglecting to provide a realistic physics engine for slopes may be an explanation.
The objective of Body Harvest was to kill large aliens before they killed humans, and getting from place to place was accomplished by using the nearest available vehicle, which was, as the game progressed…pretty much everything. If you can imagine it, it was probably in Body Harvest. At one point, you are required to drive an ice cream truck! There was a large variety of airplanes, helicopters, tanks, motorcycles, boats, trucks, and cars. That is what made the game so intriguing. The sense of adventure was unusually high, since the method of transportation kept changing and the aliens kept moving. It was also necessary to talk to the characters in the game, since going to new areas sometimes required helping them first. There was a humorous quirk I’ll never forget. In the first level, Greece, the skeletons would laugh as if they were being tickled if you touched them. Little things like that are always fun. I recall a few skeletons also laughed in Tomb Raider 4 on the Dreamcast.
Although I loved Body Harvest, the poor design caused me to seek out different games. I didn’t give up after one try, though. I came back to the game after a year’s rest and still got stuck in the third level, America. I never did play Siberia or the Alien Comet.
Castlevania was the last N64 game to be released in 1998 that I played, although I didn’t play it until 1999 because it was released on December 31st. Unlike Mario 64 and Zelda, Castlevania didn’t translate very well into 3D. The play control mimicked the clumsiness of Star Wars: Shadow of the Empire and I only stuck with the game because it was part of the Castlevania series.
The first thing I want to discuss is the music, which is one attribute of the Castlevania series that has received unanimous praise. Even my parents and some co-workers can identify Castlevania music. However, the N64 version had many quaint and ambient pieces, as if the music was being whispered in the background, not played. I don’t even recall having heard any music in the first stage, other than the obligatory fight scene music. The one song that was instantly identifiable as “Castlevania” was the title screen violin piece. I would have liked to hear more music like that throughout the game. Although different from what I was used to hearing, much of the softly near-ambient music felt appropriate, especially in the Villa, Tunnel, and Tower of Sorcery. After checking the FAQ for this game, I can understand why stage 1 had no music, since it’s called “Forest of Silence”. My favorite stage theme in this game was Center Castle, the stage where one is greeted by skeletons on motorcycles.
The differences between Castlevania on the N64 and all previous titles are literally otherworldly, since there is a difference of one dimension. In this new dimension, the people at Konami decided to cross-breed Castlevania with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. I’ll never forget the shock I experienced upon seeing Leatherface in the Garden Maze. According to youtube and online FAQS, the monster that looks like Leatherface is really Chainsaw Frankenstein. If you think about it, Frankenstein and Leatherface have roughly the same complexion and vocabulary, so my mistake of identity can easily be excused. Since I had to explore the whole maze, and since Chainsaw Frankenstein was pretty hard to kill, I spent much of my wanderings listening to a chainsaw, which is not a comforting sound. In fairness, the differences weren’t that significant when other enemies and environments are taken into consideration. The main difference is the extra dimension, which just does not work well with Castlevania.
The similarities were enough to keep me playing, as well as the novel graphical touches, which were revolutionary at the time. Early in the game, you have to kill bone-throwing skeletons, bats, medusa heads, werewolves, and flame-shooting dragon heads. Those are all standard Castlevania enemies one would expect to see, thus making the player feel more comfortable. Anyone playing this as their first Castlevania experience would not notice those types of things. One of the new enemies I found very interesting was the glass knights, found in the Villa. Once, during a creative writing brainstorm, I invented glass creatures that were barely visible. The glass knights reminded me of what I had imagined, which was a strange feeling. The novel graphical touches were actually minor by today’s standards. One must keep in mind that I was playing 3D games as they were being released, though. I was keeping up with the low viscosity flow of graphical improvements. In the Villa, one could see curtains moving in a room with open windows, suggestive of a wafting breeze. To me, that was impressive. I don’t recall having seen moving curtains in Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time. The programmers at Konami didn’t have to make the curtains move and had they left them alone, it would not have deleteriously affected gameplay. It was just a neat little touch that made the experience more realistic and gamers seeing such a thing for the first time were probably impressed. A similar unnecessary wind-driven movement was seen in level 3 of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter when cobwebs moved softly in corners of hallways. Again, it would’ve been easier for the programmers to make static cobwebs, rather than dynamic. (This implies that making 3D games as realistic as the technology allowed was on their minds.)
Three levels in Castlevania 64 really stood out, due to either their difficulty or familiarity. The two most difficult levels in the game were Duel Tower and Tower of Execution. Duel Tower was made up of difficult platform jumps and caged boss fights, with no save crystals. So, you had to fight 4 bosses in a row without dying and making every unfair jump. The Tower of Execution was basically a large torture chamber, where every move led to pain, suffering, or death. It was a great place. The most familiar level was Clock Tower, due to fact that one of the levels in Castlevania III was a clock tower. In fact, clock towers are a staple of the Castlevania series, even if they aren’t isolated levels.
I never did beat Castlevania 64, due to the fact that I didn’t feel like messing with Dracula’s final form, which was a large clawed sand monster that was at least 75 miles high. I don’t recall the exact situation at that point, but I recall having to fight all of Dracula’s forms again if you died. That may be why I said, “Fuck this.”
The next big N64 game of 1999 was Mario Party. It was one of the most fun multi-player games I have ever played. It was always easy to find 2 or 3 other people willing to join in, and I eventually completed the game and unlocked the sound test. Up to 4 people could play at one time and it consisted of multiple boards strewn with mini-games. Each board had a character based theme from the Mario games, such as Luigi, Princess Peach, or Yoshi.
Some of the mini-games required considerable physical exertion by rotating the control stick rapidly. A few of those were rowing and tug-of-war. The N64 control stick was positioned in order to facilitate control by the thumb. However, my dad discovered that by using the palm of his hand and rotating, like sanding a car, the control stick could be rotated with greater vigor, which resulted in the other side always losing. This was associated with a loud buzzing noise, due to the plastic surfaces of the stick and gamepad finding new coefficients of friction. In 2000, Nintendo spent $80 million on gloves for gamers because of the blisters caused by Mario Party.
Sometime in the early 2000s, I recorded all of the music from Mario Party’s sound test to CD. When listening to the ending theme, I was reminded of Xenogears and surmised that Yasunori Mitsuda was somehow involved with the music. Sure enough, Yasunori Mitsuda, known for composing Chrono Trigger and Xenogears, also composed Mario Party.
The most significant Nintendo developed game of 1999 was Super Smash Brothers and it was released in April, a few months after Mario Party. SSB was a fighting game, so the multiplayer mayhem continued. The first 6 months or so of 1999 was a great time for multiplayer, clearly.
Super Smash Brothers offered many classic Nintendo characters with stages based on environments from their respective games and newly arranged renditions of their music. There was no online play so one had to gather up people in the same room for multiplayer. That was easy to do back in 1999 because people weren’t constantly fucking around with cell phones, Facebook, iPods and other such time-wasting bullshit. In addition to easily recognizable stages and music, the characters used moves that were reminiscent of or appropriate to their previous in-game counterparts. There was also a target smash mode, where one had to smash all the targets in the allotted time. This, I found, was harder than the game proper.
Unfortunately, Super Smash Brothers became boring in single-player mode rather quickly. The main draw was the multi-player and the nostalgia was certainly helpful, but not enough to make me rigorously master the game, as I would with an adventure title.
After Super Smash Brothers, I purchased Star Wars Episode 1: Racer. I mainly bought the game because of my interest in the Star Wars franchise, which was a habit I had until age 25 or so. The most comparable N64 game I had previously played was Extreme-G. Although both were very fast games, the SW Racer was not combat-based and did not have any weird geometries, but it did run in high resolution mode and required the 4MB expansion pack to do so. I do enjoy fast racing games, but I much prefer them to be combat-based, or weapons oriented (such as R.C. Pro Am and Rock ‘n Roll Racing). I only had the vaguest memories of playing this game and was reminded of it by a full list of N64 games on Wikipedia.
The last N64 game I played in 1999 was an improvisation or a so-called “Director’s Cut” of the first game I had played, Castlevania 64. It was called Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness and was released on November 30th, 1999.
Legacy of Darkness retained many areas from the first game and added new areas. Different characters were available and the final confrontation against Dracula was changed (I beat Dracula this time). I enjoyed this game more than the first N64 Castlevania, simply because it was a bigger game. The play control was identical, the graphics were roughly the same, a song from Castlevania: Bloodlines was arranged specifically for this game, and there was more to explore. If you’re one of those people that play older games, this is the only N64 Castlevania game you need to play. For a 3D Castlevania, it’s probably the best. It’s certainly superior to Lament of Innocence on the PS2. Again, I want to stress that Castlevania just doesn’t work in 3D; it’s more suited to 2D, but I feel this is better than the alternatives.
The year 2000 saw the release of the best N64 game I played, which was Perfect Dark. It is the so-called “spiritual successor” to Goldeneye. While not a true sequel, the style of gameplay was roughly the same and enemies behaved similarly to how they did in Goldeneye. The total amount of similarities between Perfect Dark and Goldeneye are too numerous for me to describe in this essay. This game is not to be confused with Perfect Dark Zero, which was an atrocious Xbox 360 title. I never played Perfect Dark Zero, but one of my cousins told me it was not worth touching. The N64 version of Perfect Dark was remastered in 1080p and widescreen for an Xbox Live Arcade release in 2010. Nintendo lost the rights to Perfect Dark when they sold Rare to Microsoft, which was a move that indicated Nintendo was going bye-bye. Actually, it caused Rare to split up and the quality of their games suffered significantly.
Perfect Dark was the first 1st person shooter to add secondary functions to the weapons (that I know of). As an example, the Dragon was a machine gun that could also become a proximity mine. The laptop gun doubled as a sentry gun. Each weapon could do “something else” besides its normal function. Almost all of the pistols, though, were just pistol whips. That wasn’t too bad, because it hurt enemies more than punching.
I did virtually everything possible in Perfect Dark, logging more than 140 hours in single-player mode. The 140 hours only indicates the in-game clock. I’ll never know how much actual time I spent. In comparison, I did almost everything possible in Final Fantasy VIII and that only took 85 hours. I was more obsessed with Perfect Dark than any other video game I have ever played. One of the reasons why I logged so many hours was due to my attempts to earn cheat codes. Earning cheat codes was accomplished by beating levels within a specified time on a certain difficulty.
I did not finish playing Perfect Dark in 2000 or even 2001. I played it regularly until 2004, using the cheat codes I had earned to make the game even more challenging, such as equipping all enemies with rocket launchers. And when I got frustrated, I exclusively used the rocket launcher.
Turok 3: Shadow of Oblivion was released in August of 2000 and signaled the demise of Iguana Studios. They eventually went bankrupt in 2004. Apparently, there was no budget for game testing, as the glitches were literally game-stopping. I and one of my cousins both got stuck in one of the stages with lava, due to some type of high viscosity fluid that became impassable. It’s also possible that the game was too ambitious, as there was much more activity in the backgrounds. I’m sure that extra activity taxed the N64 system. It would have been better had Iguana waited to release Turok 3 on the GameCube, which was a more powerful system. Also, I have nothing good to say about the music in Turok 3. Both Turok 1 and 2 had better than average soundtracks, in comparison.
The biggest adventure game of 2000 was The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, which can be considered the sixth game in the series. Naturally, everything in my life came to a complete halt when Majora’s Mask was released in late October of 2000. This game had some of the eeriest and most unsettling experiences in a game, which may seem unbelievable, given it was developed by Nintendo. The disturbing things were not X-rated or excessively violent or anything in those veins. What I found disturbing, right away, was the guy carrying masks. His facial expressions, combined with the quickly changing camera perspectives, were unnerving. A similar scene occurred in a cave, after Link had done something a Goron asked of him. The Goron became crazed and smiled 1000 different ways in 10 seconds, while jumping in every conceivable angle. A dancing Goron is a sight to see, for sure. Another thing that made this game unsettling was the music, especially in Ikana Canyon and the Swamp.
I found every mask in the game, sometimes requiring the assistance of FAQs. The masks gave Link new abilities and sometimes changed him into a different creature. Turning into a Goron was beneficial on land, a Zora was beneficial underwater, and the Deku was rather ugly. My favorite mask of all was the Zora mask, since I have an affinity for swimming and underwater stages. Raiding the pirate’s hideout as Zora Link satisfied my clandestine cravings even more so than Metal Gear Solid, what with all the sneaking around underwater.
Ganon does not appear in Majora’s Mask. The constant antagonist is the Moon, since it’s threatening to destroy the planet. There are very tall creatures with long legs and virtually no torsos that make strange moaning noises which you visit occasionally. They are apparently the guardians of the planet, because they try to stop the Moon near the end. Although there are many antagonists in the game, the equivalent of Ganon is Majora’s Mask. I ended up completing Majora’s Mask and found the experience satisfying, but I wasn’t sure what I played. I attempted to refresh my memory with some youtube videos, and I had trouble following them. In hindsight, I can’t believe I had the patience or time to beat a game like this. I remember some situations were cryptic, which is typical of the Zelda franchise.
The last N64 game I purchased in 2000 was Banjo Tooie. It was the sequel to Banjo Kazooie, which was a game I loved. However, I didn’t bother to finish Banjo Tooie. I didn’t enjoy the backtracking and just lost interest as the game came to a conclusion. I finished perhaps 80% of the game. As I recall, there were some parts that were unreasonably difficult. In World 8: Cloud Cuckooland, there was a part where you had to race a bird through the sky. The race required tapping buttons continuously and was so long that it required two people; one person tapped while another rested and vice versa. On a positive note, the enemies were hilarious.
I only purchased one N64 game in 2001 and it was also the last one I purchased for the system. This particular game, Conker’s BFD, was not even mentioned by Nintendo Power Magazine, which I was reading at the time. Conker’s Bad Fur Day, made by Rare, was the only R-rated game for a Nintendo system I have ever played, complete with cuss words and lewd scenes. Perhaps this is why Nintendo sold Rare.
Conker’s Bad Fur Day or Big Fucking Deal was essentially a humorous parody of many movies, notably Clockwork Orange, Saving Private Ryan, The Matrix, Alien and Aliens. There is no way I can describe how funny this game actually was; you have to play it to believe it. I can’t pick any one stage and claim it to be more risible than any other. The types of humor included shocking, dirty, sexual, violent, gross, weird, undefined and scatological. At one point, Conker is required to drink beer and piss on rock monsters to make them roll. I particularly enjoyed riding the velociraptor and eating cavemen. Conker’s BFD was remastered for the original Xbox system and was probably the best game that Xbox exclusive gamers have ever played. Conker’s BFD was my last game for the N64 because the Gamecube was on the horizon in 2001.
The Gamecube was released in November 2001 and it was the first Nintendo system that I waited in line to purchase. It was also the first system made by Nintendo not to use cartridges, using proprietary discs instead. The whole point, as I recall, of using smaller discs was to thwart piracy. But that had no effect, as usual.
I purchased Waverace Blue Storm and Rogue Squadron in November 2001. I also bought a 32” flat screen Sony TV. It was not flat panel or widescreen, but a CRT with a flat screen. It accepted component video and cost $1700. I sold some video game soundtracks for $1100 to a wealthy ebay user named “valentwang” in Singapore in order to raise funds towards the TV (that particular user had won thousands of auctions).Valentwang actually sent me the $1100 through the mail and I’ll never forget my shock when I opened the envelope and saw eleven $100 bills. Getting $1100 for video game soundtracks is not incredibly unusual, because some are worth a lot of money, but that is for another essay.
I was initially obsessed with the Gamecube, largely due to seeing games in 480p through component video, which was breathtaking back in 2001. Unfortunately, I have no fond memories of Blue Storm or Rogue Squadron II. They were pretty games and simply looked better than their N64 predecessors. The same was true of the next Gamecube title I purchased.
Super Smash Brother Melee was the last game I purchased in 2001 and it was more ambitious than the original on the N64. Just like the original, it wasn’t very enjoyable in single player mode, despite its inclusion of trophies and reminiscent side scrolling stages. One really needed a room full of people to enjoy this game. The only thing I liked about the game was the soundtrack, which I recorded to CD. I didn’t feel like earning the sound test, so I used a neighbor’s save file to access it.
There were only two Gamecube games that were truly enjoyable and formed memories in my mind worth recalling. The first enjoyable game was released in April 2002 and was a remake of the original Resident Evil from the PlayStation. I had never played the original Resident Evil, but I did play the original Resident Evil 2 on the PlayStation and Code Veronica on the Dreamcast, so I was no neophyte to the series. I knew what to expect, but even so, Resident Evil remastered was heaven. Heaven. A true gamer’s heaven. If I’ve ever felt love while playing a video game, then it was felt during Resident Evil. For me, this game was the ultimate escape, since it nullified (or replaced) my awareness of the external world.
In terms of the overall zombie universe which includes movies, comics, books and video games, I would have to rate the Resident Evil video games as superior to everything else, including the movies by George Romero. There is no conceivable way a movie can be scarier than a video game, because a movie is passive experience, while a video game is an active experience. In terms of all entertainment, the coldest, creepiest memories I have are related to the Resident Evil video games.
The next Gamecube title I purchased in 2002 was Super Mario Sunshine and if you think this was the other enjoyable title, you are thinking wrong. The premise of the game was to remove paint by shooting it with water from a jetpack, strapped to Mario’s back. It could also shoot straight down and propel Mario skywards, which allowed him to hover. I couldn’t stand the lack of variety and dissimilarity to Super Mario 64. One of my brother’s friends asked to borrow it and he never returned it, which was just fine with me. Another source of contention: I didn’t like the music.
I only purchased one Gamecube title in 2003, which was Soul Calibur II. I bought it for two reasons: I loved the original Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast and Namco included Link as a playable character in the Gamecube version. The PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions got different playable characters, as I recall. The main problem with making a sequel to Soul Calibur is that Soul Calibur got perfect ratings from virtually every magazine and website when it was released. It’s really difficult to improve perfection and the only real differences between the Soul Calibur titles are improved graphics, alternate outfits, more characters, and online play. The awesomely fluidic play control remained the same and could not be improved, so there is no reason to step beyond the first Soul Calibur unless you can’t find a Dreamcast or are addicted to online play. I was certainly satisfied with Soul Calibur II, but I was not in any way impressed, since there is no way to improve perfection.
I felt rather dissatisfied with the Gamecube and sold it to my neighbor in 2004. So what was the other enjoyable game?
In early 2005 I moved into my condo and felt like playing a new video game, as well as wrapping up my video game playing. Resident Evil 4 had just been released, so I had to buy a new Gamecube in order to play it. Resident Evil 4 ended up being the best Gamecube title I had played and also one of the best games overall. I feel fortunate to have selected such an expertly designed and polished game as my final gaming experience.
The Resident Evil video game series is not known for action, like the movies, but for creating tense and scary environments. Much of Resident Evil is spent solving elaborate puzzles, finding keys for locked doors, managing items, conserving ammunition and making strategy. If you walk around and carelessly shoot everything in sight, you’ll quickly find yourself reduced to holding a knife, which increases your lifespan by about 15 seconds. Resident Evil 4 changed what gamers had known about the series by vastly increasing the number of enemies and likewise making more ammunition available, as well as a large selection of guns. This is not to mean that the game was easy. It was still possible to be reduced to wielding a knife, so one had to shoot well. It retained enough of the classic Resident Evil gameplay, though, to not be considered an actual 1st person shooter, like Call of Duty.
One of the scourges of new (anything made in the Super Nintendo era and beyond) video games is the cutscene. Cutscenes are often called FMVs, which is short for full motion video. To my knowledge, the very first game to feature cutscenes was Ninja Gaiden on the NES. Cutscenes were rare in NES games, but more common in the SNES era and beyond. They usually occurred between levels but could interrupt gameplay. The purpose of the cutscene was to make the game more like a movie and give the gamer a storyline to follow, perhaps to stimulate some emotional involvement with the fate of the character. The reason why I refer to these cutscenes as scourges is because they are sometimes not interesting and sometimes extraordinarily long, as in Metal Gear Solid 2. Plus, one doesn’t have control; there is nothing to do but watch. In Resident Evil 4, one could have some semblance of control during cutscenes and it was even possible to die. As an example, at one point in the game, a cutscene shows your character running down a hill while large boulders are in pursuit. Buttons pop up on the screen and you have to hit them as they appear, or you will die. Multiple buttons may appear at the same time, as well. Some of the crucial fights in the game may also depend on your ability to survive a cutscene. I want to mention that I had already seen player control during FMVs, as in Final Fantasy VIII, but it was minimalistic.
One staple of this series are original enemies, but Resident Evil 4 chose to improvise and borrow some enemies from movies. The most obvious was the chainsaw wielding zombie, who looked like Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Castlevania 64 did a similar thing by making Chainsaw Frankenstein. The one borrowed enemy that really scared me was Verdugo, since his attacks were unexpected. He was initially hiding above a concrete ceiling in a narrow hallway and struck his tail through the concrete, which challenged my reaction times. Verdugo had the same body design as the alien from the movie Alien and used his tail as a weapon like the queen from Aliens. His jaw was similar to that of the alien from Predator. At the end of the hallway, one came into a room that locked, with a warning that the door would take 4 minutes to open. Everything would have been fine, except that Verdugo decided to run around in the room as well. He seemed to be impervious to handguns, shotguns, and rifles. The only way to hurt him was to knock over a nitrogen canister and shoot his frozen body. I did not beat Verdugo on my first play through, even after freezing him several times and I concluded that he was invincible.
Similarly to Perfect Dark, Resident Evil 4 gave one god-like powers after the completion of the game. This was not done via earned cheats, but by having saved enough money. After beating the game, a merchant offered a rocket launcher with infinite ammunition. I loved it and demolished all the bastards that gave me a hard time on my first play through. It is thus of no surprise that I was greatly anticipating Verdugo, since I didn’t have a rocket launcher during the first encounter. Nothing could’ve prepared me for the shock that waited. Verdugo deflected the rocket with his tail! The whole point of using rockets is to guarantee the quick death of enemies, but they had no effect on him. I was saddened by the fact that I had to freeze him with nitrogen and then dispose of him with a rocket. What a shame.
Once I finished Resident Evil 4 the second time, I sold it and the Gamecube and never bought another game again. I officially retired from gaming at age 28. But this essay is not over. I haven’t yet covered handheld systems or systems not made by Nintendo.
When I was 14 I received the original Game Boy, which included Tetris as a pack-in title. The year was 1990. The Game Boy was officially released in August 1989 in the U.S. and April 1989 in Japan. Europe didn’t get the Game Boy until September 1990.
Although more than 800 Game Boy titles were released, I only played 6 of them. Naturally, I extensively played Tetris and almost everyone did at the time, since it came with the system. There were 9 levels of difficulty and the rate at which the pieces fell increased as the level of difficulty increased. It was possible for the pieces to fall faster than a level 9 difficulty and a heart icon appeared to signify one was playing a much higher difficulty. Although there have been many versions of Tetris, the creator of the game stated he found the original Game Boy version closest to his original version, in an interview with IGN.
Between my brother and me, we owned 4 Game Boy titles, which were Tetris, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Fall of the Foot Clan, Batman and Alleyway. The TMNT title was made by Konami and a lot easier than the first TMNT title on the NES. In fact, it was too easy and thus, not very memorable. I watched some youtube videos of the gameplay and recognized very little.
There have been several trillion Batman games throughout the past two decades and I had the very first Batman title to be released on the Game Boy, which was based on the movie by Tim Burton, in which The Joker was the primary antagonist. The NES version of Batman was also based on the Burton movie, but this does not mean the games were similar. They were, in fact, dissimilar. The NES version was very difficult and I never beat it, while the Game Boy version was a tad easier. Weapon upgrades, health, extra lives, and shields were contained in blocks that Batman had to shoot, with his gun. It was strange for Batman to use a gun, since he normally uses alternative weapons. I want to point out that one did not have to find a gun; it was available from the beginning and was Batman’s standard weapon. The rotating shields were not unique, but also not very common. Some blocks contained a Batman symbol and, if picked up, it would continuously encircle Batman and function as a shield and weapon. Despite the dissimilarities between the GB and NES Batmans, there is one similarity. That is the music; both of them kick ass with respect to giving eardrums orgasms.
The fourth Game Boy game that I had was Alleyway. I had always assumed that Alleyway was simply a cheaper version of Arkanoid, but it was actually a copy of Breakout, with Mario characters and enemies forming the shape of bonus stages. I had never heard of Breakout until I did some research on Alleyway, and learned Breakout was an Atari game released in 1976, the same year I was born. There wasn’t much to Alleyway, other than trying to predict which Mario-based character would appear as the next bonus level.
One of my friends let me borrow Castlevania: The Adventure in 1990. Now that was a Game Boy game worth playing. Since it was a Castlevania title, I took it very seriously and thought of a way to improve the image. I was never satisfied with the small screen of the Game Boy and I also owned a magnifying glass which was slightly more than double the size of the screen. If I held the magnifier at the right distance from the screen, it doubled the size of the image, thus giving me a 5 inch screen. I was pretty handy with both Legos and Construx at the time and I got lucky with some Construx pieces. I took some of the ubiquitous blue connectors and the equivalent of I-beams and made a frame that fit around the screen of the Game Boy. I then extended the frame and attached the magnifying glass, securing it with tuck (always pronounced duck) tape. It actually worked! I was probably one of the few kids in the country playing Game Boy games on a 5 inch screen.
Although I traded NES cartridges regularly, I only once traded a Game Boy cartridge and the game I got was Super Mario Land. I guess they couldn’t give Mario a whole world, since it was on the Game Boy. I did play it all the way through, but I vaguely remember it. Game Boy titles really weren’t memorable, since they were microscopic.
The next handheld system was my first foray outside of Nintendo produced hardware. I purchased an Atari Lynx II shortly after it was released in 1991, as well as two games – Rygar and Ninja Gaiden. I was displeased with both titles and only played them because I bought them. My initial attraction to the Lynx came from the fact it was in color and advertised as 16 bit. I was too young to be keen about the marketing tricks of game companies and the Lynx was not 16 bit, irrespective of what was officially stated. My eyes say it’s not 16 bit, so it’s not 16 bit. The graphics of the Genesis and Super Nintendo were advertised as 16 bit and they were far superior to the Lynx. Although I had purchased games I was familiar with, I did not recognize their Lynx adaptations, since Ninja Gaiden was derived from the arcade version and Rygar came from nowhere. The Lynx version of Rygar was not similar to either the arcade or NES versions, so it came from nowhere. It’s just some game that looks like Rygar and was made to take money from unsuspecting kids. In fact, the Lynx galvanized my already low opinion of Atari and I sold the system within a few months. There was a lesson I learned: only buy handhelds made by Nintendo. I didn’t buy another handheld system until I was 25.
The Game Boy Advance was released in the summer of 2001 and I bought the system so I could play Castlevania: Circle of the Moon. I also purchased Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance (in 2003), but I didn’t play it on the Game Boy Advance, nor did I get far in Circle of the Moon. What happened?
I was dissatisfied with the picture size and quality of the GBA. I was stymied. Circle of the Moon was just as fun as Symphony of the Night, so I had to play it. But I couldn’t play it! I couldn’t see the game very well and had to keep changing the angle of the screen. A solution came to me at age 26. One of my friends had the ROM and found a working emulator. I sold the Game Boy Advance, along with Circle of the Moon and played the game illegally so I could play it. By emulating the game, I was able to play it on my large 17 inch CRT computer monitor. I was able to see everything! It was incredible to play a handheld game like a regular game and I felt so happy. It was one of the happiest moments of my life because something like a dream had come true. I also used the adaptoid, which allowed an N64 controller to interface with a PC via a USB port.
Circle of the Moon was essentially the successor to Symphony of the Night, although the character (Nathan Graves) is provided with a whip and cards are used to tweak his abilities. The cards come in two classes (Action and Attribute), which are dropped from enemies and are activated in the DSS (Dual Set-up System) in the menu. I was only marginally interested in the novelty of tweaking abilities and rarely tried card combinations to see what would happen. I viewed it as cheating, although it was built into the game, so perhaps I would’ve done better had I experimented more. I was enchanted and fascinated by the fact that it felt so much like a Castlevania game, much more than Symphony of the Night. This was mainly due to the inclusion of the whip and a large amount of rearranged music from previous games in the Castlevania series.
In the summer of 2003, Nintendo released the Game Boy Adaptor for the Gamecube, which allowed one to play many of their handheld games through the Gamecube, thus further allowing gamers to play Game Boy and Game Boy Advance titles on a much larger screen without having to do anything illegal. The next GBA title I purchased was Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance and I played it with the Game Boy Adaptor on a regular TV, when I was 27. Both Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance are in the genre of Metroidvania or Castleroid, which fuses elements of the two series, Metroid and Castlevania. Harmony of Dissonance was the only video game I can recall playing at age 27.
Harmony of Dissonance was released in 2002, but I didn’t play it until the summer of 2003. The only reason why I bought it was because of the Game Boy Adaptor. If not for that device, I would have had no choice but to find a ROM and play it on my computer, which I never liked. This game was not a sequel to Circle of the Moon, but a continuation of the Metroidvania style of games. The elaborate DSS card tweaking was gone and replaced by standard drop items and relics, which gave the character (Juste Belmont) new abilities. The soundtrack consisted of almost entirely new compositions and the sound quality was roughly similar to that of a NES cartridge, which was fine with me. I remember there were a lot of complaints at the time in regards to the sound quality.
I beat the game rapidly, in just several sittings. Upon beating the game, one is rewarded with a “Boss Rush” mode, which allows one to fight through a series of bosses from the game. That was incredible and led me to fantasize. Imagine if Ocarina of Time had a “Dungeon Rush” mode, in which one could create “ghosts” like in Super Mario Kart and progressively strive to obtain faster times. Banjo Kazooie, for example, automatically kept such statistics, but it was, shall I say, “rare”, for adventure style games to have that attribute. I enjoyed Harmony of Dissonance and it was the very last video game I played until 2005, when I purchased Resident Evil 4. An interesting fact from HoD is that one of the bosses, Pazuzu, is the name of the demon that possessed the girl in the movie “The Exorcist”. (Pazuzu was not revealed in the movie, but in the novel.)
I have finally concluded my reminiscence of games on Nintendo systems and now I will cover non-Nintendo systems. Although I discussed the Atari Lynx II, it was handheld and abysmal, so it does not count.
Sony Part 1
One of my neighbors that regularly irritated me mentioned the Tomb Raider games often, but I knew those were on the PlayStation, and thus in enemy territory. One of my cousins spoke in laudatory exclamations about Final Fantasy VII and even made me watch him play the game, but I chose to ignore it. I was aggressively loyal to Nintendo and would not touch any games on a Sega or Sony system. My loyalty was tested when the Genesis came out, since the games looked beautiful, but I ignored them and waited for the Super Nintendo. I also naturally dreamed of owning a Neo Geo, but those were $650 back in 1991, which was the same as a million dollars to a 15 year old.
I don’t remember when I bought the Sony PlayStation, but it was sometime in 1998. The game that forced me to buy a PS was Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. The first thing I noticed about SotN was the sound quality; it far surpassed the quality of any cartridge based game I had heard. The second thing I noticed was the load times, which exist on cartridges, but are so fast as to be negligible. The third thing I noticed was the lack of a whip and the main character, Alucard, used a sword instead. I’ve never played a Castlevania game in which the character didn’t use a whip, so SotN felt odd for a while. This oddness dissipated once I started finding other swords and learning of their secondary functions. The amount of so-called “drop items” in the game was astonishing. To the best of my memory, SotN was the first game I played that officially put “drop item” in my vocabulary. A drop item is something dropped to the ground from the space an enemy occupied before its death. The idea is that the enemy had been carrying the item and one collects it when the enemy is defeated. Drop items can be new weapons, shields, food, money, etc. The fourth thing I noticed was level building, similar to what I had “experienced” in The Adventure of Link on the NES.
The fifth thing I noticed about SotN was its nearly identical design to Super Metroid. It employed the use of a map in a subscreen that filled in visited areas. One could check their explored areas at any time and get ideas of where to go next. SotN, though, went a step above Super Metroid and doubled the total map area by inverting the castle. This is akin to the Light and Dark worlds of Legend of Zelda 3: A Link to the Past. Alucard doesn’t move quite as fast as Samus, so SotN included warp rooms for quick access to other parts of the castle. The game was ridiculously easy when compared to previous Castlevania titles but kept one busy with managing items and diligently killing enemies to find more items, some of which were rare. I actually filled up part of a notebook with a list of enemies and what items they dropped. In hindsight, it’s unfortunate that such a great game ended up being an Easter Egg Hunt. In previous Castlevania titles, I struggled to beat the games, but in SotN I struggled to find items. This was a change in direction that may have been prompted by the success of Pokemon. I will admit that I had fun finding items, but I also find it hard to consider SotN a classic Castlevania title. The change of purpose is not true to the defining games in the series, so I find it more amenable to consider SotN to define the new direction of Castlevania. Honestly, I have to consider the N64 Castlevania titles more true to the spirit of Castlevania gameplay because the objective of those games was to win, not find items. When I beat SotN, I did not feel any relief or satisfaction of success (because it was too easy). Rather, I was awarded with countless feelings of micro-success by finding items. As an example, both Castlevania III and Castlevania 64 are considerably more difficult than SotN and give one great feelings of success after completing stages.
I don’t remember the exact order in which I played PlayStation games, but Resident Evil 2 was one of the earliest, along with Einhander, both of which I played in 1998. Resident Evil 2 was my first exposure to the Resident Evil series and it was a comfortably uncomfortable experience, providing for intense tension that was satisfyingly scary. In other words: I love being scared. There were some frustrations I can recall, such as load times and having to manage items with a chest, since the character couldn’t hold everything. The chest was always in a room with relaxing music that was free of enemies, and allowed one to save progress using a typewriter. If you wanted to pick up an item, but didn’t have enough space, then you had to go back to the chest and get rid of something.
The music in Resident Evil 2 made one feel like not moving; it triggered the ancient “freeze” that all organisms naturally exhibit when they experience fear. I clearly remember the music in the police station made me uneasy. Many of the situations and environments were ecstatically eerie, causing both excitement and voiding of excrement. I truly enjoyed the FMV that showed a creature on the ceiling, bereft of a skull and equipped with a long tongue. Its brain and entire eyeballs were clearly visible, since it forgot to grow a skull. I also enjoyed the enemy with a large eyeball randomly growing from one of his arms. The most common enemies were zombies, which are alone enough to make most people feel uncomfortable. Due to limited ammunition, your goal was to slip past them without being grabbed and consequently chewed on for a while. The official genre in which Resident Evil falls is called “survival horror” and I did indeed survive the horror, all the way to the awesome ending music.
I remember being impressed by a demo of Einhander, so I bought the game. It was a shooting game made by a company that specializes in RPGs and I didn’t do very well, due to its high difficulty. The soundtrack was incredibly impressive and I enjoyed it more than the game.
There used to be a chain store in my area called “GrandPa Pigeon’s” and it was similar to Target, Venture, Kmart, Wal-Mart and the like. It went out of business in 1999. I rarely went there, since it was a good drive from my house, but I decided to go there one day. I found a PlayStation game called “Spider” still sealed for $20, so I bought it. Actually, it was not the price that lured me. I had never played a spider oriented game before, plus I am interested in spiders.
Every now and then my dad would be more interested in one of my games than I was. He took kindly to Spider and played it all the way to some final brain monster that took up the whole screen. I found Spider compelling at first, but there wasn’t enough variety to keep me interested. I ended up enjoying the soundtrack more than the game, which happened fairly regularly.
After experiencing Symphony of the Night and Resident Evil 2, I had changed my opinion of the PlayStation and paid attention to new releases. I bought Ape Escape when it came out in May of 1999, simply because it looked original. And it was.
Ape Escape was one of the truly original experiences of my life. The premise of the game was to travel through time and catch apes (chimpanzees) that were loose. This was primarily accomplished by clandestine movement and wielding a stun stick. After striking the apes, they could be collected with a net. The management of items was similar to that in Ocarina of Time.
I played Ape Escape all the way to its conclusion and my attention was held rapt due to the humor and incredibly diverse behavior of the apes. The basic strategy of subterfuge was a requirement but one had to continually improvise that strategy due to the differing behavior of the apes. I loved the variety of stages, especially the Fun House and the Old West. Upon completion of the game, certain bonus games are available, such as ape boxing. Ape boxing was funny to the point of insanity, what with monkey screams and spinning eyeballs. It was the type of minigame that drew neighbors over.
I do remember that the most significant PlayStation game that I played in 1999 was Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. I bought it on its release date, which was August 16th, 1999. I beat the game in 3 or 4 days, playing in excess of 10 hours per day. I had to rush through the game because I started school in August. One cannot simultaneously focus on class and be involved with an exploration-based video game. Soul Reaver is not a typical game, in which the completion of stages is the objective. It is truly another world and must be played through in as few sittings as possible. It has even more freedom than the likes of Ocarina of Time or Super Mario 64. I became interested in Soul Reaver when I played its demo, which in itself was more fun than most entire games. I suppose this is one advantage the CD format has over the cartridge format. Nintendo never included demo cartridges.
Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was the best vampire-based game I played outside of the Castlevania series. What made it so appealing was the fluidic play control, impressive voice acting and dark, foreboding environments. You are Raziel. Kain is the antagonist. The opening cinematic is a work of art and shows Kain’s jealousy when Raziel spreads his newly evolved wings. Kain shreds Raziel’s wings and throws him over a cliff into the Lake of the Dead. Raziel’s suffering is unbearable, even for a vampire, and much of his body is destroyed while in the Lake of the Dead.
The design of Soul Reaver differs considerably from other exploration based games, such as Mario 64 and Banjo Kazooie. While those games consist of pocket universes (akin to the World of Tiers novels), Soul Reaver takes place in one realm called Nosgoth. There are strongholds, or fortresses, but entering them does not remove Raziel from Nosgoth. In comparison, if Banjo enters Rusty Bucket Bay, he completely leaves Gruntilda’s Castle. Rusty Bucket Bay is the equivalent of a pocket universe. Nosgoth is divided up into two dimensions which are not separated by space but by rotation. These dimensions are called the Material Plane and the Spectral Plane.
The Material Plane consists of living things and water. Raziel loses health in the Material Plane and must consume the souls of enemies in order to remain corporeal, hence the designation “Soul Reaver”. If Raziel loses all of his health in the Material Plane he shifts or rotates into the Spectral Plane. Before Raziel has swimming ability, entry into water also automatically rotates him into the Spectral Plane. Additionally, Raziel can enter the Spectral Plane any time he chooses, but once there he cannot enter the Material Plane at any time. Once in the Spectral Plane, Raziel must find predetermined spots that allow him to rotate back into the Material Plane. The geometry of Nosgoth changes radically between the two Planes and Raziel can use this fact to his advantage by rotating into the Spectral Plane to get past blocked passages in the Material Plane. The rotating, or shifting, of Nosgoth is always interesting to watch and I had never seen anything like it in a game before. I want to specifically mention that the rotation is not left to imagination. You, as the player, actually watch the changing geometry as buildings twist and stretch, rock faces curve and shrink, and pillars expand and make platforms.
I have given considerable thought to how the Material and Spectral Planes can be connected. They are not separated by time or space, so there has to be another explanation. If you can imagine two 2D spaces, each at right angles to one another, then a rotation by 90 degrees will allow one to travel from one 2D plane to another. Now imagine two 3D spaces at right angles to one another. By rotating through 90 degrees, one can shift from one 3D space to the other without traveling through time or space. It’s impossible to visualize it, because it requires the visualization of 4D space in order to see the two 3D spaces.
If Raziel dies in the Spectral Plane, then he goes back to The Elder, which is the beginning of the game. So there is no death proper in the game, since dying once rotates Raziel into the Spectral Plane and dying in the Spectral Plane sends him to the start. This is highly unusual. I didn’t have to be concerned with stocking extra lives, because they have no meaning and they aren’t even available. This has a way of making the game more continuous, like a function graph without any holes or sharp points. And now that I’ve mentioned continuous, this leads to the most awesome thing about this game: load times are negligible, like with a cartridge. The load times are still present, but the developers were sneaky and had the camera roam the area before entering, which is preferable to a loading screen. So it seems as if there are no load times.
I can’t finish my thoughts about Soul Reaver without mentioning the underground swimming, which was made quite comfortable by the fluidic play control. One of the fortresses was almost entirely underwater and several parts of the game required navigating twisting pathways, one of which led to an earlier part of the game. Nosgoth was a vacation unlike any other I’ve taken. There is no place on this Earth that compares to the imagination of the human mind. I’m going to change companies now and discuss Sega, because, shortly after I finished Soul Reaver, the Sega Dreamcast was released.
The year 1999 was a dead zone for N64 gamers that depended on a diet of exploration based games. As I stated previously, I only played four N64 games that year and they weren’t the greatest. I had finally severed my irrational loyalty to Nintendo and was having more fun with the PlayStation. In the summer of 1999, the store FuncoLand had a playable Dreamcast running Sonic Adventure. The first time I saw the Dreamcast was comparable to the first time I saw the N64; both were truly impressive systems at their respective launches.
The first Sega system I purchased was the last to be released and the first Sega system to be released is one I have never played. I also never played the second Sega system, which was called the Sega Master System. It was released in June of 1986 and was hugely popular in Europe and South America, but couldn’t compete with the NES in the U.S. The very first Sega system was called the SG-1000 (Sega Game 1000) and was released in 1983. It only came out in Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Europe, South America, and South Africa. It was the only Sega system never to be released in the United States.
The third Sega system was released on August 14th, 1989 and is one that most American gamers are familiar with, the Sega Genesis, probably due to the introduction of Sonic the Hedgehog. The only Sonic game I ever played on the Genesis was Sonic Spinball, a pinball game where Sonic is the ball. I never owned a Genesis during its supported years, but I did eventually buy the CDX. The CDX was a limited edition Genesis initially released in 1994 that was about the size of a VHS tape rewinder with a CD player and cartridge slot. I bought it for the convenience of being able to play discs and cartridges without having to buy two devices. I only bought two discs for the CDX: Snatcher and Popful Mail. Snatcher was an early Hideo Kojima game and was largely text-based, with very minimal interaction, although there were parts that utilized the light gun. The only thing I liked about Snatcher was the music. I bought Popful Mail because it was a Falcom game and I wanted to give it a try. Falcom is an extremely popular game developer in Japan and very few of their titles get translated into English. Again, I didn’t care for the game, but I loved the music.
There was one game I did love on the Genesis and it was Castlevania: Bloodlines. The Castlevania series offers that rare combination of outstanding music combined with enjoyable gameplay. Bloodlines was the first Castlevania soundtrack that was composed entirely by Michiru Yamane; the second was Symphony of the Night.
The fourth Sega system was called the Saturn and was released on May 11th, 1995 in the U.S., a few months before the launch of the PlayStation. One might think the Saturn was the first 32 bit console, but that honor actually goes to the Fujitsu FM Towns Marty, which was only released in Japan. The first 32 bit console released in the U.S. was the Panasonic 3DO, in late 1993. Both the 3DO and Saturn were failures in the U.S. market, but the Saturn actually thrived in Japan, with enormous support from major game developers. Thus, I bought a Saturn several years after its discontinuation in the U.S., just so I could play Japanese games. A special cartridge was required that went into the RAM slot, which cost $25-$50. Some of the Japanese titles I played were Dracula X: Nocturne in the Moonlight, Salamander Deluxe Pack Plus, Ultra Parodius, Sexy Parodius, Twinbee Yahoo!, Elevator Action Returns, Bubble Symphony, and Capcom Generations 2, which was a compilation of Ghouls ‘n Ghosts games, complete with jazz renditions of the theme music.
The very best of the Japanese Saturn games I played were Ultra Parodius and Sexy Parodius, which are shooters made by Konami that are parodies of other Konami games. Thus, if you are a Konami fan, those games are very much worth checking out. The music is all completely insane and consists of rearranged classical pieces along with tunes from other Konami games. The gameplay is nearly identical to Gradius/Lifeforce and the enemies are hilarious. It’s unfortunate those games were not released in the U.S.
Although I didn’t own a Saturn until after its demise, I did play the system extensively in the summer of 1995, before the PlayStation was launched. One of my friends bought the system shortly after its release and we spent hours playing Daytona USA. The most interesting fact about the Saturn is that it used quadrilaterals to construct objects, rather than triangles.
The only Sega system I owned and played during its supported lifetime was the Dreamcast. My decision to buy it was spurred by the demo in FuncoLand and the dearth of N64 titles. I preordered the Dreamcast and patiently waited for 9-9-99, its expected launch.
I arrived at FuncoLand around 11 p.m. on September 8th, 1999, for the purpose of buying my preordered Dreamcast and Soul Calibur. I was perhaps the 30th person in line and I noticed that most people weren’t walking away with a Dreamcast, but Final Fantasy VIII instead. When I arrived at the counter, I wrote the check and it wouldn’t go through. I had to walk away empty handed and the people behind me were sympathetic. Luckily, FuncoLand held the system, so I bought it the next morning. I bought the system, which included Sonic Adventure, and Soul Calibur.
Dreamcast games were not on CD-ROMs, but on a new format called GD-ROM, which held 1.2 GB (500 MB more than a CD-ROM). The discs were physically the same size as CDs. The console itself was smaller than the PlayStation and was one of the most aesthetically pleasing console systems, due to its symmetrical design and gentle curves. The PlayStation looked very similar to the SNES and the PlayStation 2 looked like a generator with heat sinks. The only other good-looking console system I’ve seen was the N64, which had a very distinctive pillar based design, supplemented by gracious curves. The Dreamcast controllers, however, felt uncomfortable. They were too bulky, like the Xbox controllers.
Sonic Adventure was the first proper Sonic video game I played. Although I had played Sonic Spinball on the Genesis, it was not part of the main Sonic games. Sonic Adventure moved faster than Extreme-G on the N64 and looked much smoother, with no fogging. In comparison to Mario 64, it had a more enjoyable soundtrack, although the control left much to be desired. Once Sonic gets going, he can be really hard to control. What I didn’t like was the fishing, collecting Chao, and hidden challenges. Mario 64, for example, had Mario collecting 8 red coins and finding stars, which were clearly displayed as objectives. Sonic Adventure had similar challenges, but they appeared after the level had been completed. After I beat Sonic Adventure I never touched it again and had no desire to replay it, but I still enjoy the soundtrack!
The main reason for buying a Dreamcast was to play Soul Calibur. Soul Calibur was actually the sequel to Soul Edge, a weapons based fighter on the PlayStation. Namco changed the name of Soul Edge to Soul Blade when it was released outside of Japan. I had always assumed the so-called “Soul” series had the first weapons based 3D fighter, but that honor goes to Battle Arena Toshinden, a PlayStation game released in 1995. I was reading the magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly back in the 1990s and they gave Soul Calibur a perfect score, which was extremely rare. A really damn good game could be expected to get 8s and 9s, but Soul Calibur got all 10s. One of the rumors I had heard at the time was that the Soul Calibur programmers locked themselves in a basement until they were finished.
Soul Calibur was the first fighting game I played that had a story mode and it was quite elaborate, as well. The story mode involved challenges, such as fighting an invisible opponent, losing more health when knocked down, and defeating 5 opponents without dying. There was also a map and one could pick which challenges to invoke. I love it when a game steps “beyond the bounds” and offers unique challenges. As I stated previously, I had purchased Soul Calibur II on the Gamecube but it did not (and could not) improve upon the Dreamcast original. This is proof that improved graphics don’t change a damn thing. I have also briefly played Soul Calibur IV on the Xbox 360 and it had more features, but it was not a better game.
In total, there were 7 more Dreamcast titles that I purchased, which were House of the Dead 2, Resident Evil: Code Veronica, Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage, Tomb Raider IV, Tomb Raider V, Sonic Adventure 2, and a remastered version of Soul Reaver.
House of the Dead 2 was a launch title that was barely playable, due to the fact that the light gun was impossible to find. I couldn’t find a store that had one in stock. I wasn’t using the internet to buy things in 1999, I didn’t have a credit card, and I didn’t even have an e-mail address. In 1999, I was still walking in to stores and hoping to get lucky. One needed a light gun because playing the game consisted of moving a targeting reticle on the screen with a controller, which felt very clumsy. I had played the first House of the Dead in a casino arcade in 1997 and spent approximately $20 in quarters and I still felt a lingering addiction 2 years later. If I had been able to find a couple of light guns, then perhaps I would’ve enjoyed House of the Dead 2 much more.
Resident Evil: Code Veronica was released in February 2000 for the Dreamcast and has been subsequently released on many other systems (like all Resident Evil games). I only played the original Dreamcast version, though, and I finished the game. It was similar to Resident Evil 2, except the backgrounds were not pre-rendered. There was only one part of the game that I remember gave me extreme difficulty. It was a fight in the cargo hold of an airplane with the Tyrant.
Sword of the Berserk: Gut’s Rage was of the genre known as “hack ‘n slash” and, as I recall, required very little cogitation. It was an incredibly odd game. The main protagonist, Gut, had a catatonic woman and fairy following him. Gut kept one eye closed, which left his expressions somewhat disconcerting. I lasted several hours in this game and had to quit playing due to the non-exploration based mindless slaughter-fest.
I’m going to skip discussing the Tomb Raider titles on the Dreamcast for now and save them for a more general discussion of the series. The next game I recall purchasing was the remastered version of Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver. It was actually worse than the PlayStation original, because it had problems associated with saving, such as loading a game in a room that had no exit. As an example, if you solved a puzzle in a room, the door would open. However, if you saved after solving the puzzle, the save file would load the room with the puzzle solved and the door closed, thus loading you in a room with no exit. I didn’t beat the remastered version because I wasn’t willing to replay areas due to save glitches.
The last title I purchased for the Dreamcast was Sonic Adventure 2, which was released in June of 2001. I could not find anything enjoyable about the game, simply because it wasn’t mentally challenging. From my point of view, the Sonic the Hedgehog series is mindless sprinting with incredible music. This is one game series where it’s more important to have the soundtracks than the games.
The Dreamcast console hardware was officially discontinued by Sega in North America in March 2001. It fared much better in Japan and was discontinued in 2007. Sales of PlayStation 2 hardware were undoubtedly making it difficult for Sega to compete. Although I never imported any Japanese Dreamcast titles, I would suspect the real gems were Japanese exclusive, as with the Sega Saturn.
Sony Part 2
I don’t always remember specifically when I played certain video games, so I must apologize for not being able to provide exact dates. One of the most enjoyable games I played on the PlayStation was Metal Gear Solid. It was released in October 1998 and I recall playing it during the summer, most likely during the summer of 1999, before I played Soul Reaver. I don’t remember what led me to play MGS, but I did complete it and felt a variety of emotions along the way. It was the first game I played where I actually cared about the characters, because it had dramatic cutscenes rivaling many big budget movies produced in Hollywood. I really don’t think any Hollywood movie with real actors can compete with the drama in Metal Gear Solid, simply because one is not controlling those Hollywood actors, not experiencing their story for time periods exceeding 15 hours. In hindsight, Metal Gear Solid was a superior entertainment experience to any movie I have ever seen. It’s sad that so many people are not aware of what video games are capable of.
The strangest experience of my life occurred while playing Metal Gear Solid. One of the bosses, Psycho Mantis, claimed he could move the controller. He asked me to put the controller on a table and then made it move, through the vibrating ability of the controller. There was nothing special about that. However, he next claimed that he could read my mind and told me that he knows I like to play Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. Now that was a big problem and left me shaken for a few moments. How could the game know anything about my personal opinions? How? I was in shock. The programmers of the game were incredibly crafty and had Psycho Mantis simply access the memory card, and if there was a save file for another Konami title, Psycho Mantis would claim he “knows” that you like it. Both Metal Gear Solid and Symphony of the Night are Konami titles. Gamers that didn’t have a Konami title on their memory card would not get that experience with Psycho Mantis. I also want to mention that since Psycho Mantis could read your mind, anything you did with the controller was useless while fighting him; he countered every move you made. The solution was to unplug the controller and then plug it into the second slot. I never experienced a game that crossed into the real world before, causing one to take action beyond the confines of the game.
There are two reasons why I believe I played Metal Gear Solid in the summer of 1999. Firstly, I had purchased the Ever Anime version of the MGS soundtrack and I recall the exhortations of a FuncoLand employee.
Ever Anime is a Taiwanese company that produces bootlegs of Japanese video game soundtracks. I bought several EA soundtracks in late 1999, one of which was Metal Gear Solid. I discovered they were bootlegs sometime in 2000. Also, I remember being in FuncoLand when Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions was released, which was late September of 1999. One of the employees in the store told me not to buy the game because he heard it was bad. Instead, he was raving about Final Fantasy VIII, which had recently been released. I bought VR Missions anyway and loved it. So I believe this clinches the time that I played Metal Gear Solid. It must have been the summer of 1999.
I purchased Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions because I had enjoyed Metal Gear Solid. It didn’t have a story but instead offered virtual reality missions based on those in MGS. They were grid-based levels in which objectives had to be met, such as using a specific weapon, or not allowing the enemies to see your footprints in snow. I found the game incredibly challenging, far more difficult than the average hard game, and I did not complete every mission. This was a game I played off and on over the course of a few years, like Star Wars: Rogue Squadron. Beating missions in both of those games often required considerable periods of rest between the euphemisms known as “play”.
Up to this point, I have discussed my non-RPG gaming history with Nintendo, Sega and some of Sony. I discovered something in the summer of 1999 that radically altered my gaming habits. This discovery led me to play an RPG, or role-playing game. In July of 1999, there was an advertisement in the back of Electronic Gaming Monthly from a store called GameCave. They were selling import games and music CDs, one of which was titled “Ocarina of Time Hyrule Symphony”. I was intensely curious about that CD because I had completed Ocarina of Time and was curious as to what symphony renditions of the music would sound like. I didn’t do anything about it for a few months.
In September of 1999, I discovered the website soundtrackcentral.com, which had reviews of video game soundtracks and a search engine. Through the search engine, I found that music from Double Dragon, Ninja Gaiden, and many Konami titles had been released on CD. My curiosity was like that of a caged animal and I had to know what was on those CDs. It took me many years to eventually find them, due to the fact they were only made in Japan and never intended for sale in the U.S., and while searching for them I spent time reading reviews of other albums. (The CDs I was looking for rarely had reviews, since almost no Americans had them; this is what increased my curiosity.)
The reviews of video game soundtracks were incredibly shocking, since they focused on RPG soundtracks. The Final Fantasy and Ys series were hailed as having great music. I thought, “What?” I had never played an RPG because I thought they were strictly for kids; they always looked inane and I had a low opinion of them. I didn’t think there was anything to do but run around and read a lot of text, which is all I really saw when one of my cousins made me watch him play Final Fantasy VII.
Starting in September or October of 2000 I began playing Final Fantasy VIII, due to the fact I was enthralled with the music. I quickly understood, one year previously, why so many people were buying Final Fantasy VIII for the PlayStation, rather than the Dreamcast console. I also understood the mad ravings of the FuncoLand employee that told me not to buy Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions. I was further shocked by the fact that collectors of video game soundtracks were claiming that previous entries in the Final Fantasy series had better music than the 8th entry. FF VIII sounded as good as, or better than, almost all video game music I had previously heard. I was at a stage of enlightenment in my video game playing years. But I feel, at this point, realism is necessary.
The Final Fantasy series is of a genre of games that does not require any skill and instead rewards the efficient management of items, making proper choices in menus, the patience to find rare items, and the patience to level-up your characters. This genre is called RPG, or role-playing game. The set-up is incredibly different from the typical action game and is like the difference between driving a car and building a car. In an action game, one relies on reaction times and memorization of enemy patterns because there is a constant direct engagement with the enemies. In an RPG, one relies on making decisions in menus and the computer engages the enemies. Here’s how it works: You control one character that walks on the surface of the world. This character represents your party, which consists of 4 characters in total, usually. The character you control is relatively very large in size, often as big as an entire city, to make him more visible. Enemies are invisible on the world and the computer randomly decides when your character has a fight. Once a fight is determined, the view changes and shows your party members facing the enemies, similar to how the British lined up in battle in the Revolutionary War. A menu pops up and offers a variety of choices, such as fight, magic, and run. Yes, you can try to run away if you’re too weak to fight. Of course, the computer decides whether that happens or not. If you choose to fight, then no skill is required. A party member launches an attack and it may hit or miss, due to the capricious computer. The enemies get their turn, and so on, which is called turn-based fighting. If you need to heal or revive a party member, then that uses a turn.
An opposite to this style of gameplay is that offered in Super Mario 64, where all success is based on your actual control of Mario. The computer doesn’t decide if Mario makes a jump or if he defeats an enemy; you decide. In an RPG, the computer decides your fate most of the time and there is no control other than deciding where to go and what to select in a menu. Another difference is that Mario always has the same amount of power; it is set from the beginning of the game and cannot be altered. In an RPG, the characters increase in power as their experience rises, i.e., the more times you fight enemies and win. Much of the time in an RPG is spent increasing experience, or leveling-up. In this case, the word level refers to the level of the character, usually from 1 to 99. A level 99 character is almost like a god and can easily defeat even some of the strongest enemies.
I had heard of people beating Final Fantasy VIII in less than 50 hours, which confused me. Why on Earth would one want to rush through a game like this just to see the conclusion? What’s the point? My actual clock time was 85 hours when I completed FF VIII and there were many things I did not do. I managed to get each character to level 99 as well as maximize the strength of the Guardian Forces. I can’t imagine playing a game like this and at least not making some effort to experience as much as possible. Trying to rush through a game like this would be like skipping chapters while watching a DVD movie, just to see the end more quickly. The point is not to see the end, but to experience as much as possible, in my opinion.
In my experiences with FF VIII, I had purchased a strategy guide and extensively used FAQs published on the web. Since no skillful play control is required, the difficulty is disguised in the forms of patience and research. The character development in FF VIII was even more elaborate and emotion-driven than that of Metal Gear Solid. I felt very connected to those characters and my mood was greatly improved for several weeks after viewing the end sequence. It is not possible for any movie to compare, from an emotional viewpoint, due to the fact that movies are too short and there is no involvement with the characters. Do bear in mind that I don’t make a distinction between live humans in a movie and digital characters in a video game; both are just “characters”. They are not real. The emotions stirred in one’s mind by live actors are based on fake situations, which indicate the human brain can be fooled pretty easily.
Final Fantasy VIII was the first RPG I played and also the first game I played based on my interest in the music. I later tried out other games with great music and was not so lucky. I have already mentioned Popful Mail, but I also tried out Ys III, Sorcerian, and Brandish. They were all horrid games, but had music that rivals anything heard on the radio, in my opinion.
My interest in the Tomb Raider series was also partly spurred by the music, and this may surprise some people, since that game series has very little music. I had several demo discs of PlayStation games and one demo was for the Venice stage in Tomb Raider II, which has an enchanting piece of string-based music. That piece of music and the prodding of a neighbor eventually led me to play the series.
I don’t remember the exact time I started playing Tomb Raider, but I had finished playing the series by November of 2001. In total, I beat Tomb Raider, Tomb Raider II and Tomb Raider IV. I almost beat Tomb Raider V. Tomb Raider III was incredibly difficult, so I didn’t attempt it.
I worked on (more accurate than “played”) Tomb Raider with my neighbor, at first, because he was the one that introduced me to the series. We played through the game until we got stuck in level 7 (Palace Midas) and actually called a help hotline, which was the first time I had ever done such a thing. We didn’t play through the game until its conclusion, but I did eventually start over on my own and play it all the way through.
Tomb Raider was originally released on the Sega Saturn and PlayStation in November 1996. It is an exploration based game with a stiff, though precise, control scheme. Once one masters the controls and learns which surfaces are not slippery, the game becomes more bearable. Sound effects play a more dominant role than background music and most of the time one hears Lara’s footsteps, breathing, enemy noises, and environment sounds. Music only plays when something very bad is about to happen or something interesting has been discovered. There is also music on the title screen that is very calming. Much of the time is spent wandering, looking around, pulling levers, flipping switches, and trying to not get lost. Saving is done through save crystals, which are placed by the programmers at key places throughout the game.
Killing most enemies is very easy, since Lara automatically tracks them with her weapons. All one must do is keep shooting and there is no need to worry about aiming. The difficulty arises from the often close quarters in which the enemies are encountered, such as turning a corner in a twisty tunnel and running into a gorilla. Death is rarely caused by enemies, though. The cause of most deaths is falling or drowning, with falls happening far more frequently.
The environments were varied to the point of ecstasy, divided up into 15 levels through Peru, Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Atlantis. This is the only Tomb Raider game I played where every environment really felt like being in a tomb. Sinewy vines clung to walls like frozen snakes in the Peruvian tunnels, while tyrannosaurs lunged from the darkness. Indelible temple ruins rose to dizzying heights in caves larger than mountains in the Greco-Roman stages as gorillas and lions stalked relentlessly. Mummies sauntered with sartorial ineptitude while I savored the hieroglyphic artwork in Egypt. Freshly flayed flesh from creatures unknown flowed in walls and under your feet in Atlantis; it was a display of meat crudely ripped from bone. Overall, I was immensely satisfied with the use of textures and elaborate level design.
Although most enemies were handled pretty easily, one of the bosses near the end of the game was especially tricky, which was a Doppelgänger. I had to check WikiRaider in order to get the official name of the boss, since I always referred to it as the brain-stem mimic. As with most of the creatures in Atlantis, the Doppelgänger had no skin and its appearance was similar to Julia from the movie Hellraiser II. I never did get a good look at it and it appeared to have a brain at the end of its neck, foregoing a head entirely. I spent a long time trying to kill the Doppelgänger, failing miserably, again and again. Not only was it particularly cool-looking, but absolutely impossible to kill. I eventually noticed that it did whatever I did and if I shot it then I immediately lost health. It simply mimicked all of my actions, as if I were fighting my mirror image. The reason why it took me so long to beat this boss was because I was playing on autopilot and using the standard technique of shooting and dodging. I figured I wasn’t shooting and dodging enough, so I kept trying harder. Eventually, I noticed that if I did nothing, the Doppelgänger did nothing as well. The only way to kill the Doppelgänger was to open a trap door and climb to the other side of the room, during which time the Doppelgänger did the opposite and fell into the trap. Conveniently, the programmers had you fight the Doppelgänger in a symmetrical room.
I recall immediately playing Tomb Raider II after my completion of the first game. Tomb Raider II was originally released in November 1997 for the PlayStation and I didn’t play it until several years after that date. I found the difficulty to be roughly similar to the first Tomb Raider and there were some notable differences.
The first significant difference I noticed was the initial lack of tomb-like environments. There are 6 main geographical places in the game divided up into 18 levels. Both Venice and the Sunken Ship clearly aren’t tombs, but parts of the sunken ship were upside down, like in the movie The Poseidon Adventure, and it was somewhat disconcerting. The second significant difference was that most of the enemies were human. Humans were rarely encountered in the first Tomb Raider. The third significant difference was that secrets consisted of finding three small dragon statues per level. Finding all 3 didn’t do anything noticeable while in the level, but it did start you with full health in the next, if you found all three. I spent a long time playing Tomb Raider II and found all three dragon statues per stage. The fourth significant difference was the save crystals were gone and saving could be done at any time.
Despite those differences, there were similarities I enjoyed, such as the inclusion of weird enemies and stage design as the game progressed. TR II featured Yeti as regular enemies in Tibet, floating stone warriors on the Floating Islands, and the Floating Islands themselves. There were also some uncomfortable moments, such as the beginning of 40 Fathoms, which starts Lara on the ocean floor and she must swim to a shipwreck while pursued by great white sharks. The entire shipwreck area was one long sensation of isolation and claustrophobia. One of the last stages, Temple of Xian, should be a rite of passage for all gamers. Death comes frequently in the Temple of Xian.
Tomb Raider II had slightly more music than the first Tomb Raider, but there still was no regular background music. I found this acceptable, since it made concentrating on the tricky environments much easier. As I mentioned, one of the songs played in Venice was remarkable.
Tomb Raider III was a dark and difficult game, literally so, requiring the use of flares on a regular basis. I watched my neighbor play TR III and said, “To hell with this.”
I next played Tomb Raider IV on the Sega Dreamcast and played all the way through, mainly out of habit. It also did not have background music and was roughly twice as big as the previous games. I found TR IV to be much less interesting than the first two games and more cryptic. I recall making heavy use of online strategy guides and never being satisfied with the completion of levels. I will admit it was a beautiful game, but I found it unsatisfying for some reason. There was a lack of urgency, or a diminished sense of adventure. I felt compelled while playing the first two games, but I didn’t get that feeling with this one.
The last Tomb Raider game I played was a failure, due to programming problems involving saving. It was similar to the problems that plagued Soul Reaver on the Dreamcast. Tomb Raider V gave me considerable headaches. I experienced one save glitch and had to completely restart the game, but then I found another save glitch in the last level of the game. I had no intention of playing through the game again, so I gave up and moved on. While reading the WikiRaider page about this game, I found this line of text concerning the last level, where I got stuck: “Saving in this level becomes very difficult as there are countless savegame bugs that, when triggered, may cause gameplay problems that cannot be overcome.” Very true indeed. (I recall my particular save glitch involved water with electric current, making a certain room impassable.)
That wraps up my memories of the Tomb Raider series. Now I just have to cover the remainder of the PlayStation titles I played and my experiences with the PlayStation 2.
The remainder of the PlayStation titles I played were: G-Darius, Raiden Project, Castlevania Chronicles, Nightmare Creatures, Alien Trilogy, Myst, Final Fantasy IX, Final Fantasy Anthology, Final Fantasy Origins, and Final Fantasy VII.
G-Darius was a shooter made by Taito released in March 1998 that featured pelagic derived enemies, good techno music, and ferocious bosses. The first entry in the Darius series I played was Darius Twin and I didn’t even know it was a series until I discovered Zuntata. Zuntata is the group of musicians that composes music for most of Taito’s games. In late 1999, due to my discovery of soundtrackcentral.com, I discovered the-place.com, which sold video game soundtracks. The-place.com is now defunct and the domain is for sale, but I regularly called them on the phone and special ordered soundtracks, as well as ordered from their huge selection of cheaply priced albums. I found Zuntata Live 1997 for $10 factory sealed, which was much cheaper than the average price of $45 for special ordering a CD. I ended up noticing that Zuntata made good techno music, which I didn’t know was possible. Up until that time, I fiercely hated techno music, because everything I had heard sounded horrific. I mostly listened to 70s rock, Metallica, classical, and video game music. I’ll never forget my period of enlightenment after my exposure to Zuntata’s music. Although I had never played any Darius title beyond Darius Twin, I was incredibly familiar with all of the music in the series.
G-Darius is a case of playing the game due to enjoyment of the soundtrack, and one where the game was actually good! I was not so lucky with Falcom games, as I mentioned previously. G-Darius was as challenging as it was fun, with grueling giant fish boss battles and multiple routes for progressing through the stages, just like in Darius Twin. Hisayoshi Ogura composed G-Darius, while Darius Twin was composed by Shizuo Aizawa, and their musical styles differ considerably. Having familiarity with the music in Darius Twin, thus, will by no means prepare one for the remainder of the Darius soundtracks.
When it comes to the Darius series, my main concern is the music and the contributions made by Hisayoshi Ogura. His nickname is OGR and he is the founder of Zuntata, a group of musicians that composed music for Taito games and performed it live at concerts. Zuntata’s first concert was on August 25th, 1990, along with Sega’s S.S.T. Band.
I don’t remember why I purchased The Raiden Project. It was one of the earliest games released for the PlayStation and compiled two even older arcade shooters: Raiden and Raiden II. Both Raiden titles are overhead, vertical scrolling shooters with the original arcade screen ratio retained. The game allowed one to play the arcade originals or slightly enhanced versions. I ended up enjoying it and found the music pretty good and different from that heard in the typical shooter, perhaps something one might hear in a lounge or café. One of the weapons was a seeking snake-like laser that I had never seen before.
Castlevania Chronicles contained two games. The first was a Castlevania game never released outside of Japan on a console never released outside of Japan, which was the Sharp X68000. It is often referred to as “Castlevania X68000” to differentiate it from other titles. The second game was a remake of Castlevania X68000. Both games severely whipped my ass and had I bought this game at age 14, then I would’ve whipped its ass. I became a lazy gamer near the end of my gaming years, unwilling to master games on a regular basis, as I did as a teenager. It took something really special for me to not knuckle under, like earning a cheat code in Perfect Dark.
One of the notable aspects of Castlevania for the Sharp X68000 was that it had new compositions, such as Thrashard in the Cave and Tower of Dolls. When it was remastered for the PlayStation, all of the music was remastered as well, and it took me a while to appreciate it, since the style Konami chose was techno. In fact, I initially deplored it. But I’ve become accustomed to techno and have found it can be very enjoyable, provided it’s from a Japanese video game.
I don’t remember how I had Nightmare Creatures. It’s possible my brother borrowed it from someone, and somehow it was near the PlayStation, so I played it. I have vague memories of the game, but I recall it had an uncomfortable setting and the enemies were like those things you hope you never find in your closet or under your bed. Well, the game creators were honest. I felt like I was fighting nightmare creatures.
Alien Trilogy was one of the first games I bought for the PlayStation, and I just barely remembered doing so. Otherwise I would’ve discussed it first. I decided that rather than editing the essay, it’s more appropriate to leave its place near the end, as an example of how important it was. It played like Doom and looked primitive. It had good music, though.
Myst was another terrible game I played. I never owned it, thank Zeus. If I didn’t have to work and could live for 1,000 years, then perhaps I’d invest time in it. It was remarkably vague and cryptic to the point of being useful for someone’s war effort.
The final three games I played at the end of the 32 bit PlayStation era were rather involved. Since I had finished Final Fantasy VIII, I felt like investigating the series further. That was a bad idea. And here’s why: the games are not related. Each Final Fantasy game is a self-contained universe with methods and designs that are unique. Beating one of them will not guarantee success in another. It’s not like studying math, where algebra helps trigonometry and trigonometry helps calculus. The knowledge doesn’t accumulate into a happy chain of linked information. It’s as if one is studying unrelated branches of mathematics, where one branch in no way aides in the study of another. Ok, so I learned the hard way some hard truths about the Final Fantasy series.
Now, some clever person might point out a flaw in my reasoning by demonstrating that the Super Mario Bros. series required learning a lot of new stuff and the Castlevania series hasn’t exactly been similar as well. However, Final Fantasy VIII was the first I played in the series, so I will always have a bias. Always. The Final Fantasy games are even more unrelated to each other than those in the Mario and Castlevania series, respectively. Since FF VIII was the first I played, I naturally consider its methods of gameplay to be the status quo and any deviation in another FF game will be salient. Someone that played FF VII as their first experience will consider its design to be the status quo, and so on.
The second game I played in the FF series was Final Fantasy IX, shortly after I beat Final Fantasy VIII. I played through disc 1 and had been mostly annoyed, due to the infantile humor and poor character designs. The main difference between FFVIII and FFIX was that the former was futuristic and the latter was medieval. The music, though, was astonishing.
The third game I played in the FF series was Final Fantasy Anthology, which contained Final Fantasy V and Final Fantasy VI. Final Fantasy V was originally released for the Super Famicom in December 1992. The Super Famicom is the Japanese equivalent of the Super Nintendo. FF V was not released on the Super Nintendo because it was considered too difficult for American gamers. Thus, the release of FF Anthology for the PlayStation was the first time American gamers were able to play FF V.
I played FF V for about 60 hours and reached the N Zone, which is the final dungeon, according to the Final Fantasy Wiki. One might wonder why I didn’t beat the game. Well, I didn’t know I was near the end of the game and one of my characters was disabled. In FF VIII, I was always able to heal party member s that were poisoned or infected in some way. In FF V, one of my party members became so badly infected that he was unusable. I owned the strategy guide and had access to online FAQs, but those did not help me. The infected party member continually lost health and the menu wouldn’t allow me to select him. I never did figure out how to heal him. When I got to the N Zone, I remember being pummeled and pounded by large snails and other creatures, since I was one character down. I sadly had to quit playing, since I kept dying.
Despite the difficulty of FF V, I loved it. The music was even better than that in FF VIII, although the character development was not as good. I recall Gilgamesh was a regular antagonist and his theme became quite popular, used often in other Final Fantasy games and arranged by the Black Mages. To cope with the boredom of leveling up in FF V, I listened to music from an entirely different series of games – Ys.
I played the other game on the Anthology, FF VI, for about 10 hours. I got to an area where the enemies thoroughly destroyed my party members, so I had to make a decision. Do I want to go through the process of leveling up yet again? My answer to that question was NO.
I wasn’t finished yet, though. I bought Final Fantasy Origins and played through 10 or 15 hours of the remastered version of the original Final Fantasy. Even remastered with updated graphics, it was primitive. I didn’t try out Final Fantasy II.
I took a long break from PS1 games and focused on the PlayStation 2. I played a number of games on that console, but only a few truly grabbed me.
The PlayStation 2 was released on October 26th, 2000. My neighbor reserved one at FuncoLand and we both drove there to pick the system up on launch day, along with the launch title Timesplitters. We expected to see a python of people trying to slither in the store, but only shafts of photons were coming in, avoiding the corners as they usually do. The young clerk was practicing to be a comedian and kept pulling the system back towards his chest as my neighbor tried to take it off the counter. Apparently, it was difficult for people selling game systems to get a PS2. As I recall, the PS2 sold for $1000 or more on ebay, due to Sony’s failure to manufacture enough systems. It was so hard to find that people apparently gave up trying to buy one at a store, which is the only reason I can think of to explain the lack of customers in FuncoLand. My neighbor must’ve reserved the system as soon as it was possible.
The PS2 is the best selling game system of all-time, with more than 150 million units sold. Games are still being produced for it, as of 2012. It has a chance of becoming the longest supported system and the current record holders are the Atari 2600 at 15 years and the SNK Neo Geo at 14 years. Despite the success of the PS2, I never actually purchased one new. I ended up buying a used model, the same one my neighbor had originally bought. I consider the PS2 to be one of the ugliest console systems I have ever seen, resembling a power generator. I bought very few games for it and ended up completing only two of them. To the best of my memory, I only played twelve PS2 titles, out of a library that exceeds 2,000.
Timesplitters was a PS2 launch title and thus the first game I played for the system. Although I didn’t know it at the time, it was developed by a former group of Rare employees. When Nintendo sold Rare to Microsoft, some Rare employees formed a separate company called Free Radical, which made Timesplitters. In hindsight, this makes sense because there was a lot of humor, the music was good, and the difficulty ranged from tolerable to torturous. It was a first person shooter in which each level took place at a different point in time.
I also played Timesplitters 2 and it was more of the same, but it was not a shame to have more of the same like the previous game. The humor, great music and maddening difficulty all returned.
I recall briefly playing Tekken Tag Tournament, Gradius III + IV, Chaos Legion, Devil May Cry, Soul Reaver 2, Metal Gear Solid 2, Castlevania: Lament of Innocence and Grand Theft Auto III. I invested about 10 hours in Final Fantasy X but became too annoyed when the Blitzball games started. Furthermore, my bias of the status quo was still very strong after having recently completed Final Fantasy VIII. It’s hard to get into another FF game after having recently completed one, due to the massive amount of information that must be absorbed. Chaos Legion, Lament of Innocence and Devil May Cry were just too mindless and reminded me of the horrid horrible Sword of the Berserk on the Dreamcast. Soul Reaver 2 was interesting, but not as compelling as the first game and the darkness made it barely playable. (If I have to mess with settings on my TV, then the game is not worth my time.) I didn’t want to invest time in Metal Gear Solid 2, because I thought it was “too much”. The first game was satisfying enough. And Grand Theft Auto III, well, it became a fun way to waste time. It didn’t seem like a “game” to me.
Only two games on the PS2 truly grabbed my attention and those were Ico and Silent Hill 2.
Ico was unlike any game I had previously experienced due to the attention it placed on experiencing the environment. Enemy engagement was kept to a minimum. Ico felt even more otherworldly than Out of This World, because of the restriction of information. There were similarities to Tomb Raider because enemies were always easier to deal with than solving puzzles and the environment often caused one to stop and stare in admiration. I have many times read that people consider Ico a work of art and I find that succinct analysis completely favorable.
Silent Hill 2 was the first and only game I played in the Silent Hill series. In comparison to Resident Evil, I found Silent Hill more psychologically disturbing and incredibly strange. There was less action and much more motivation to avoid enemies, due to the paucity of ammunition and weapons. Visibility was purposely reduced to increase tension and sound effects often emanated from the black depths, caressing the tympana with promises of pain and old, awakening horrors. I remember an underground prison. It was dirty, dark, and empty. Such an environment automatically makes one uneasy. In one part of the prison, a horse could be heard running in the darkness, but I never found the horse. That was very creepy.
The enemies in Silent Hill 2 were often disturbing to look at, due to their anatomy and choice of articulation. One common enemy consisted of two hip joints fused together, with one pair of legs pointing down, for walking, and another pair pointing up, for swinging around aimlessly. I could barely comprehend what I was seeing the first time I saw one. The most notorious enemy was the pyramid head, which had a large pyramid for a head.
I became addicted to both Ico and Silent Hill 2, completing them rather quickly and feeling very satisfied after doing so.
The last PlayStation console game I played was Final Fantasy VII. So I went backwards, back to the PS1 after my experiences with the PS2. I recall being 25 or 26 years old. I played nearly to the end of FFVII, but I was stymied by the level up problem. In FFVIII, I was able to build all my characters to level 99, yet I was barely able to raise some characters to level 80 in FFVII. There was some materia that I could not find, some bosses I could not beat, and I was using all the information I could find in online FAQs. FFVII was hard! (The bosses I couldn’t beat were Ruby Weapon and Emerald.)
Consider for a moment that I did defeat every boss in Final Fantasy VIII. Does that mean FFVIII was easier than the other games in the series? I don’t think so. I think the reason was due to FFVIII being my first experience with an RPG. I was just whipped after beating it and I probably should’ve taken a few decades of rest.
I first experienced video games at age 4, but I was not impressed with them until age 11, when I got the Nintendo Entertainment System. My interest in video games started to wane around age 24 and I stopped playing them entirely shortly before I turned 29.
Once I had started playing them regularly, I continued to do so simply because it was a habit. Another habit I have is lifting weights. If I miss a workout, then I don’t feel right. I feel better if I regularly maintain my workout schedule. This is the easiest way to understand why I played video games so much. I felt strange if I stopped playing. If a person exists that never feels strange, then I suppose that is a person without any habits.
Word Count = 36,824
Novel = 40,000 words
So this is very close to the minimum length required to be a novel!