In celebration of the publication of Michael Clune’s Gamelife, a memoir written around the seven most formative games the author played in his childhood, the Turnaround marketing team have picked those PS1 side-scrollers and 8-bit adventures that we hold most dearly from our own earliest experience with video games.
Narrowing down the games that meant the most to me growing up is hard as there are simply too many. I am going to keep it to five, but I will throw out some quick honourable mentions before I get into the meat of my early gaming experience: Lego Island (an amazingly funny point and click adventure game which was a great intro to PC gaming), Croc: Legend of the Gobbos (my introduction to the platformer and the first game I completed 100%), Spyro the Dragon (a favourite of mine and my younger brother), Marvel Superheroes vs Street Fighter (brought on a whim because of my Marvel fandom and started my long obsession with fighting games) and Metal Gear Solid (would gain a greater appreciation of the series in my teens, but it was pretty amazing the few times I played it at a friend’s house even though we were both pretty rubbish).
The first in my top five is Tomb Raider 2 (1997) for PC. This was a triple purchase between me and my two brothers. It was a great introduction into several genres of gaming that I hold dear including platforming, puzzle solving, collecting and shooting armed enemies. All with a bad-ass main character in Lara Croft. It also taught me that it was perfectly okay to kill endangered tigers in China (just kidding). However, I would not complete the game for another four years as I was kinda squeamish at the time and Lara would usually meet all kinds of gruesome ends when I was controlling her in my formative gaming years. To add to this, my older brother (who was always more into sports games) did not have the patience to proceed any further than the second level, especially when he discovered the level skip cheat which in his eyes meant he had beaten the game. Years later, my younger brother and I would take part in a serious playthrough and we discovered the horrifying difficulty of levels we had only preciously seen the opening shots of before older brother cheated his way past, such as 40 Fathoms and Floating Islands. However, we eventually beat the game. It took a long time, but we had finally slayed the dragon (literally in this case).
Super Mario 64 would also prove another key foundation in forming my preferred types of video games. At the time, I had never had access to a NES or Super Nintendo, so my only exposure to Mario had been the Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World cartoon series on Saturday mornings on Channel 4. However, my best friend became the owner of a Nintendo 64 in 1997 and I was exposed to a series that would produce some of the greatest games of all time right up to today. You often read accounts of people who grew up with the original series reacting to seeing Mario in 3D for the first time jumping out of that warp pipe outside Princess Peach’s castle and how amazed they were. Being exposed to very little in video games at that point, my mind was blown. Everything from the graphics, huge levels to openly explore, perfect 3D platforming and satisfaction from collecting those Power Stars was perfect. The Mario series has remained a constant in my gaming habits since then, producing games I’ll always find an excuse to go back and play.
The first game that I owned all for myself was Oddword: Abe’s Odyssee (shortly after my older brother was given a Playstation for his birthday after years of being relegated to PC only). A delightfully creepy 2D platformer/puzzle game that I like to think conditioned me towards higher difficulty games, as it was one tough cookie. Whether it be enemies that were seemingly impossible to sneak by, or Mudokens who were in the most impractical places imaginable when it came time to rescue them, Oddworld was truly unforgiving. And with unlimited continues, it was trial and error with no excuses. It took me a long time to beat but it was one of my most satisfying gaming moments when I finally freed all the slaves from Rupture Farms.
If you were to ask my parents which game series dominated our household in the late 90s, it would have to be Crash Bandicoot. One of the earliest games I played on Playstation, I was borderline obsessed with this series from 1998 up to 2001. Crash was a great character with loads of cool moves and even better death sequences. It also solidified my preference for the platforming genre and my OCD-like tendencies when it comes to gaming as I scoured every corner of the levels to ensure Crash broke every single box in order to get the hidden gems. The first entry in the series was another induction into tough gaming. The only way to get 100% in the game was to clear all the levels without dying which was not an easy feat and would only be accomplished years after initial purchase. Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped for the most part is my favourite in the series. It took everything that was great about the previous games and improved on it: great level design, imaginative enemies, fun side missions involving motorbikes, tigers and bi-planes and – best of all – even more collectables. However, if I was to pick up one game up from that series to play now, it would always be Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back. As great as Crash 3 is, it’s pretty heavy objective wise (especially when trying to get 105% completetion). Crash 2 on the other hand can be picked up at any time and breezed through without having to repeat levels multiple times for time trials and the game is slightly more forgiving if you die during a level. I can pick this game up anytime and never tire of it, whether it be running from a giant boulder, riding a polar bear or great platforming fun through lush forests and waterfalls or filthy sewers and industrial power stations.
Lastly, I have to talk about The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Frankly there is nothing new I can say that no one else has already said. It is the greatest game of all time! It changed the way people perceived video games! The perfect combination of action/adventure, RPG and puzzle solving! It is hard to think of any modern 3D game that wasn’t influenced somewhat by Ocarina of Time. Before I played this game, I had never played any Zelda games, so was unaware of the rich history the series already had. But when my friend got it on Christmas 1998, it was the only game I wanted to play when I went to his house for almost a year. Everything about this game is great! From the epic storyline to the dungeons and boss battles! It is also another guilty party in contributing to my OCD gaming habits as I obsessively sought to clear every side quest (horseback archery and getting all the Gold Skulltulas stand out as the most time consuming). At that point, I can’t remember a time I was more excited getting to the end of the game, when Link made his way to the top of Ganon’s castle to confront Ganondorf. And when it was finally beaten, I was desperate for another quest. Zelda has since become a must-buy series for me and I revisit Ocarina of time almost annually.
I could go on and on but I’ve got to stop somewhere. Just a small taste of the titles that sparked my ongoing gaming exploits.
What Millennial (and I use that with slight distaste, as I think I am just a teeny tiny bit too old to fit in with the current perception of the term) didn’t come of age with an NES controller in hand? Of course my first experience with gaming was Super Mario Bros., and of course it was a seminal moment in my technological life. I was the tender age of three when my dad brought home a second-hand Nintendo, set it up in my older brother’s room and showed us how to put the cartridge in. The game didn’t fire up. “Hrm,” said Dad. “Maybe it’s a bit dusty.” *Blows dust out of cartridge.* And there and then I learned how to solve nearly every technological issue I’ve ever experienced. Just blow the dust out. Sorted. (Works a treat for jammed printers and iPhones that won’t charge, anyway!)
Christmas 1993 was a banner year in the Wray household. Older brother was given a brand-spanking-new Sega Genesis II (yes, I know you Brits call it a Mega Drive, but it is a Genesis and I am right because AMERICA). This console was so utterly important to me because it was the first time I was really “allowed” to play (i.e. without being tackled and farted on by my brother and/or his friends). With the Genesis we got both Sonic the Hedgehog and Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (yes we are privileged people!), which introduced sidekick Tails, and thus began the heady days of playing multiplayer with my sibling all evening and all weekend long (my parents weren’t huge on forcing us to go outside – the games consoles were great babysitters!). I loved the Sonic games so very much because they were among the last games I could play really well. I even have a Sonic disc that I can play in my husband’s PS2 (we’re a bit behind the times), and do so fairly often. I. Love. This. Game. The early graphics and standout colours; the perfect lo-fi sound effects. It brings me such joy just writing about it that I have a huge grin on my face at my desk right now.
And then came the Playstation. In spite of the multitude of games available on this console – fifth generation, or for me, the undisputed glory days of gaming – I only recall ever playing Madden ’97. Again, you Brits might not be aware of this one… Just think of it as the Pro Evo of American football. I can hear it so well, my brother’s voice: “Hey Sarah, y’wanna play Madden?” shouted across the house as one long string. Later it was just “Sar, Madden!” and I always came running. The best part of this particular game was that it was absolutely rife with “Maddenisms” (John Madden being the commentator du jour, as well as a former player and coach). A Maddenism goes along the lines of, “To win the game, you have to score more points than the other team” or “When you have great players, playing great, well that’s great football!” Classic.
Not long after this, my family got a computer complete with Windows ’98 and some sort of games add-on. But for all the wasted hours that brought me in the form of Solitaire and Asteroids, it was absolutely nothing in comparison to the Nintendo 64, which is objectively the best technological advancement in recorded history. No really. N64 is awesome. It’s so great that my husband and I hunted one down and bought it, along with all of the best games ever – Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, 1080, Star Fox, Mario Kart… This is the console that I love best because:
1) I was at that ideal pre-teen age when it came out; and
2) It was the last console that stooped down to my skill level and let me actually play games without just button mashing (*Disclaimer* I still mashed buttons A LOT). It was also the first console I had that allowed for proper multiplayer, with four controllers, so everyone could get together and enjoy it. Not since Sonic had I so loved holding a controller and playing a game. Nor was I really even “allowed” to play again after this…
When the sixth generation consoles were released (Xbox, PS2, etc), the graphics got better and the games got harder (at least the ones that my brother wanted to play). The kit was more expensive, and again I was just little sis who shouldn’t touch my (now teenage) brother’s things (later I was the clumsy girlfriend who wasn’t any good at Portal and therefore no fun to play with). That was ok with me, because honestly I never loved gaming THAT much; it was – obviously, I think – always down to me wanting to hang with my older sibling and do whatever it was he was doing. To be fair, he always asked me if I wanted to watch him play Metal Gear Solid, something I genuinely enjoyed given its cinematic cut scenes, and we even woke up together early in the mornings for a whole week over Christmas Break so that he could play on without me missing any of the plot.
And I think that’s the beauty of games nowadays – the story has become just as integral as the act of playing. It’s no longer just electronic ping-pong (way less fun than the real thing, btw!), but it’s a whole new world that you can immerse yourself into. One can see why people look back on the games they played as kids and remember them so well. I don’t even consider myself a gamer, or a person who loved gaming, and I’ve had no trouble hammering out a thousand words on the topic. In fact, I had to cut entire paragraphs out. My memories of playing games take me back to a happy childhood of escapism and fantasy, and most of all, of hanging out with my cool older bro.
Gamelife is published 26 November by Text Publishing.