Editor's Note: A really fun, heart-warming romp through one's childhood — in this case, Matt Davis', though I suspect a lot of you can share his stories. Brings back some memories for me, except I Nintendid during the 80s and 90s (loved Matt's description of the 16-bit console wars below).
Also, what's the deal with the flurry of GoldenEye 007 talk this week? Click "Read more" for the whole trip. -Shoe
There are moments and experiences in everyone's life that will shape and define them as an individual. Gaming is a form of entertainment that has produced as many different niches and genres as any other media in existence, allowing for a wide variety of experiences. I have been gaming for nearly a quarter century now, and I would like to share some of the defining moments of my gaming life with you, and I would encourage others to do the same below!
In mostly chronological order:
Playing The Legend of Zelda with my dad (1987): My parents caved and purchased an NES for my brother and me as a Christmas present after much pestering. As an added bonus, they gave me an additional game, The Legend of Zelda (some of you may have heard of it). My five-year-old brain was unsuspecting of the awesomeness about to be bestowed by the title, and somehow I survived my mind being blown. The game was difficult, tricky, often mentally punishing — and I loved every second of it.
Armed with nothing but my foldout map, I pushed stones, burned bushes, and stabbed everything in my path that dared to move a pixel. However, none of this would have been possible if not for the patience and help from my Father, who would watch me play for hours, helping me fill in the empty spaces of the map and making note of discovered secrets. That map is one of my most prized possessions and will forever be a reminder of arguably the best experience in my gamer life.
The arcade scene (1989-93): Some of my fondest gaming memories include hanging out at the arcade, and it was during this time frame that my arcade experiences hit an Everest-like peak…Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, X-Men, Mortal Kombat, and of course Street Fighter 2. Many a great summer afternoon was spent around these machines, with a stack of quarters in one hand and pizza in the other. Cowabunga, indeed.
Genesis does what Nintendon't (1991-93): My first and last blind fanboy devotion. After receiving a Genesis for Christmas in '91, I became a quick enlistee in the first great Console War. On the playground, "Blast Processing" was my weapon, countered with "Mode 7" by my enemies. Even though my love affair with games started with "that fat plumber," I turned my back on him for a hedgehog with 'tude. And everyone knew Streets of Rage had it all over that bastardized Final Fight, which didn't even have multiplayer!
It wasn't until I was convinced to actually sit down and play Super Mario World that I realized my folly. I used up all my birthday money that summer to buy a SNES right away and learned a valuable gaming lesson: Blind fanboyism can make you miss out on great gaming experiences. Oh, and it's stupid, too.
Moving into the third dimension (1996): I almost died anticipating Super Mario 64 coming out; I had never wanted a game so bad in my life. I snapped up every piece of information, and I lived at Toys 'R' Us playing the demo kiosks. When it arrived, it was perfection — an amazing achievement in gaming history. A few years later, Ocarina of Time came out and had pretty much the same impact on me. The N64 had its ups and downs, but its ups were astronomically high.
Four-player split screen (1996): Speaking of ups, before online gaming became the gold standard, the N64 was providing some amazing multiplayer experiences. Long nights of GoldenEye and Mario Kart 64 with my friends and family made for some amazing memories. And there was always some bastard who had to pick Oddjob….
The Event RPG (1997): Ahh, Final Fantasy 7. I have always been an RPG fanatic, Chrono Trigger being my favorite from the 16-bit era. When Final Fantasy 7 hit in '97, I rushed out to get it immediately — how could I not? It was the rare RPG at the time that was made out to be the gaming event to end all events.
But an unexpected thing happened: I was…disappointed. The game had style, flash, a sometimes engaging story, and killer CGI, and yet I just couldn't get into it. All I can say is that it left me cold, and I felt like a strange outsider who just couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Thankfully the PlayStation had plenty of less-hyped RPGs that made it a standout system for fans of the genre (e.g., Suikoden, Lunar).
A saga I can't let go (1998): I love my Sega Saturn — if you never owned it I implore you to seek one out. Toward the end of the system's lifecycle, a little game called Panzer Dragoon Saga came out and systematically changed how I viewed RPGs forever. I immediately fell in love with the world, the style, the unique gameplay, and the amazing story.
Due to its incredibly limited distribution, it is amazingly expensive and difficult to track down, but if you love RPGs you owe it to yourself to check out a game that was way off the radar and deserved so much better. For more history check out James Mielke's amazing piece on the Panzer Dragoon series. One of my favorite games of all time.
Solid storytelling (1998, 2001): I was unprepared for how immersive and amazing Metal Gear Solid would be, and the story gripped me from start to finish. As soon as it was over I began hoping and imagining what the inevitable sequel would entail.
Unfortunately, I never imagined that said sequel would pull a bait and switch on me, present one of the most convoluted storylines ever devised, and make me think it would be more fun to play a game based on Christopher Lambert than this Raiden. To say I was angry was an understatement! Thankfully MGS3 turned it around.
Online addiction (2001): My first strong foray into the world of online gaming was with Phantasy Star Online for the Dreamcast, and I was obsessed. Seriously obsessed. Scary obsessed.
I endured dial-up connections, people who stole your best things when you died (all of these people have a special place in hell waiting for them…you know who you are!), and rampant cheaters who duped anything made of polygons — and it was all worth it. Can someone please tell Sega to release this game on Xbox Live or the PSN so my life can be complete?
PS2, GameCube, Xbox Era (2001-2009): A lot of great games and experiences happened in here, so in the interest of time I will just name a few: Ico, Wind Waker, MGS3, Metroid Prime, Panzer Dragoon Orta, Resident Evil 4…the list goes on and on.
Wii (2006): Love it or hate it, it's hard to deny the impact the Wii has had on the gaming landscape. Sometimes we forget, given its phenomenal success, but the Wii in concept was a pretty ballsy move by Nintendo, which followed in the footsteps of the unexpectedly successful and crazy DS that killed the GameBoy proper.
Playing Wii Bowling with my father (who was an avid bowler in "real life" when he was younger) has never ceased to get old. What is not so amusing is when he demands to go bowling for real after I destroy him in the game and then hands me my arse on the real lanes.
Going co-op (2005-present): Besides the obvious graphics overhaul, definitely the best aspect of the 360-PS3 era for me has been the complete restructuring of how online is handled in console games. While it is sad to see split-screen vanish in most games, the addition of co-op and easily accessible online multiplayer has made for some exciting moments, and it is great to play games with my brother and friends who live hundreds of miles away, as school and jobs have taken me around the country. Games such as Resident Evil 5, Saints Row 2, Street Fighter 4, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Arcade) put a smile on my face every time.
Next up, I will share my greatest videogame disappointments — soul-crushing affairs of the greatest magnitude.