Monday, June 3, 2013

The Games That Shaped My Childhood

Okay, so maybe they didn’t shape my childhood, but they certainly enriched it. My parents never wanted me to own a video game console (ironically, I own four now—a Sega Genesis, a Playstation 2, a Nintendo Wii and a Playstation 3, and I’ve owned a PS1 and, briefly, an X-Box in the past), only letting me rent them every once in a while until 2003, when I convinced my mom to buy a Genesis at a yard sale (I was clever about it. There were two Genesises . . . Geneses . . . ummm . . . two Genesis consoles in a box with a bunch of games. One had all the hook-ups and the other was missing some stuff, so I convinced my mom to buy the box for my brother, so he’d have something to do when he got off work. As it turned out, the other one worked fine, so all I had to do was pick up an RF cable and voila!). The next year, I bought my best friend’s PS1 when he bought a PS2, and then I got a PS2 for Christmas (I sold my parents on it by stressing the fact that it played DVDs. Unfortunately, DVDs ended up killing it . . . don’t play DVDs on your PS2, kids). Anyway, here are some of the games I really enjoyed growing up, and what made them special.

Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (Sega Genesis)

When I was a kid, I looooooooved the Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon on ABC. It was my absolute favorite, and, for bonus points, my first ever comic book was an issue of Sonic. When I found out Sonic was a video game character, I was absolutely stoked, and got my brother to rent Sonic 3 for me (more on that later). Goodness gracious, was it awesome! My favorite character on the TV show was Tails, so I was very pleased to learn that not only could I play as him exclusively, I could also play in a co-op mode of sorts that allowed Tails to carry Sonic to hard-to-reach areas. Although Sonic and Knuckles is probably the most-lauded of the series, Sonic 3 was and remains my very favorite. Years later, I bought the Sonic Mega Collection for the PS2, and was finally able to beat the darned thing. Good times, good memories. It was the game that started it all for me. Well, that and Arcade’s Revenge, but I don’t really want to talk about that awful thing. 

The opening screen and music are fantastic. The rest is garbage.

X-Men (Sega Genesis)

No other game has really captured the feel of the old X-Men comics the way this one does, except maybe the arcade game. Not even X-Men Legends, with its super-detailed X-mansion and ginormous roster, quite hit the mark (seriously, who wanted to play as freaking Magma?). 1993’s X-Men hit the mark, though. Six levels, increasingly difficult, along with a catchy soundtrack and just about perfect portrayals of classic heroes and villains. Although there are only four playable characters—Cyclops, Nightcrawler, Wolverine and Gambit—their abilities are distinct and make each one well-suited for different missions. There are also assist characters—Iceman, Rogue, Archangel and Storm, as well as Jean Grey, who shows up to save you if you fall off the map. The levels, too, are lifted straight out of the comics: the Savage Land, the Shi’ar empire, Excalibur’s lighthouse, Ahab’s future world, Mojo’s crunch and a final showdown at Asteroid M (which, I’ll admit, I still haven’t been able to beat). Cyclops has the most potent power and the best double-jump; Nightcrawler can bypass whole areas with his teleportation ability (and is the cheapest character to use against Apocalypse); Wolverine kinda sucks, but he has some good special attacks and can heal over time; and Gambit’s bo staff gives him extra reach. It was one of my favorite games to rent as a kid, and now it’s one of my favorite games in my collection. 

WCW Mayhem (Playstation)

My best friend was really into professional wrestling. I was not. How in the world might this bridge be gapped? Or is it the other way around? In any event, within a year, I was into wrestling, too. Why? WCW Mayhem. This game is pure ’90s nostalgia. You’ve got all the WCW stars we grew up with—“Hollywood” Hogan (but he’ll always be the Hulkster to me), Sting, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, and even announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund and managers Jimmy Hart and Sonny Onoo as playable characters. You’ve got decidedly goofy characters like Disco Inferno and a create-a-wrestler system that allows you to create invisible characters (or, in the case of one I created, an invisible character save for his striped, purple tie). And, although the combat system is . . . well, kinda terrible . . . it’s well worth it to be able to run backstage and beat up your opponent there. Even better, you’ve got Tony Schiavone and Bobby “the Brain” Heenan on commentary, telling us the broadcast is sponsored by “Chork” (one part chicken, the other part pork) and suggesting that the contestant attempt an attack “south of the border, if you know what I mean, amigo.” Even now, although it hasn’t aged well in a lot of ways, where it counts it’s still got it. 

Mortal Kombat (Sega Genesis)


This is the one that almost got my video game privileges revoked indefinitely, and it wasn’t even mine. My buddies loaned it to me for a week, and, even though the violence is fairly tame by today’s standards—and even by 2004’s standards, which is when I borrowed it—my dad just about flipped his sh!t when he saw Kano rip Sonya’s heart out. Never mind that it wasn’t even my game, he very nearly made me get rid of my Genesis altogether. I appeased him by saying I’d only buy sissy games from there on out, and proved my point by picking up Bass Masters Classic (it’s as bad as it sounds, but also somehow awesome). This whole fiasco is especially funny considering all the violent movies my parents let me watch as a kid. Bad language and sexual content, apparently, would traumatize me, but watching a lion rip a skinny Irishman’s throat out (in The Ghost and the Darkness, a very good movie, actually)? Sure, let the kid watch it. 

Oh yeah, nothing traumatizing here.

NASCAR Thunder 2004 (Playstation)

One of EA Sports’ best offerings (they can’t make a decent basketball game to save ‘em, but they do understand racing), my dad and I played the crap outta this game for more than a month. Featuring a limited create-a-car feature, a roster of up-and-comers as well as legends (such as my favorites, Bill Elliott and Richard Petty), hilarious crew chief voice-over and a great soundtrack (including Fuel, Avenged Sevenfold, Iggy Pop and 411), it’s the best NASCAR game I’ve ever played. Dad and I almost always played on the Indianapolis and Talladega tracks, and we got really good at them. Alas, we knew the tracks so well that we knew when we were beaten; if we didn’t start perfectly, we’d restart the race. We restarted a lot, which was a little unnerving. Sometimes, though, if I knew I was losing, I’d pull a U-turn and wipe out the competition. Sometimes I just ended up totaling my car; sometimes I actually eliminated my rivals and ended up winning. Unfair? Maybe. But very, very fun. I ended up trading it in for the Playstation 2 version, which I regret in retrospect; what it gained in terms of graphics and features it lost in terms of fun; if your car got rammed from behind too many times, it would run out of gas on the spot. Race over. Yuck! For the best racing game ever, however, pick up Need for Speed: Most Wanted (PS2).

NBA Jam (Sega Genesis)

BOOM-shaka-laka! Best. Basketball game. Ever. The dunks are wild. The commentary is spot-on. The roster has all the greats of the ’90s (except, alas, for Michael Jordan and Shaq). Plus, no fouls, but plenty of harm! It’s extremely satisfying to drop an opposing player with a hard shove or an elbow thrust. Plus, imagine charging down the court as Barkley, spinning high into the air with a Tarzan yell and shattering the backboard with a dunk. Surprisingly, the Genesis version is actually better than the SNES one, with simpler controls and clearer voice over. And, honestly, the only other basketball game I’ve played that comes close to being as much fun is NBA Street Vol. 3. I’ve never been crazy about hyper-realistic basketball games, and the NBA Live series has never impressed me. 

WWE Smackdown: Shut Your Mouth (Playstation 2)

When I got my PS2, this was one of the first games I picked up, and I still love it today. True, the subsequent Here Comes the Pain featured a lot of improvements (such as create-a-wrestlers with teeth and probably the best season mode out of any wrestling game), but the arcade-style action and zany easter eggs in Shut Your Mouth give it a special place in my heart. Want to have a snowball fight in Times Square? Heck yes. Want to climb up to the top of the Smackdown fist and hit your opponent with a flying clothesline? Go for it. Want to pick a fight with the Undertaker and get dragged behind his motorcycle? Probably not, but it can happen. The create-a-wrestler system, while flawed (again, no teeth . . . it’s weird), is loads of fun, and allows players to create near-perfect replicas of Spider-Man, the Hulk and even Gollum. Plus, I was even able to create dead-on replicas of myself and my dad, circa 2006, and we used to play pretty regularly.

The only problem was that after a while, my friends got really sick of me showing them all the cool stuff I had created. Indeed, they got really sick of wrestling games altogether. Me? I’ve played all of ‘em except WWE ’12, because apparently it’s not so great. The worst of them all, however, is Smackdown vs. Raw 2007. Avoid at all costs. Or, more accurately, avoid at no cost; don’t buy it. 

Red Faction II (Playstation 2)

The first FPS I ever loved, Red Faction II is nine shades of epic. The single-player campaign is plenty of fun, featuring voice actors including Lance (Aliens) Henriksen and Jason (The Expendables) Statham, but it’s the multiplayer that really shines. I remember many an afternoon spent at my best friends’ house, huddled around the TV and chasing each other’s characters with grenade launchers. The zero-gravity level is a fun-yet-frustrating experience, but for maximum fun, we’d play the “Warlords” level, taking potshots at one another with rocket launchers from parallel bases. My friends’ little sister even got in on the action a few times: “Die! Die! Die, ya Filthy McNasty!”

Spider-Man and Venom in Maximum Carnage (Sega Genesis)

My favorite Spider-Man game, more even than the Playstation one or even the PS2 adaptation of Spider-Man 2. For starters, Venom was one of my favorite characters as a kid, as he was for a lot of ’90s kids. Getting to play as Venom for the first time was a dream come true. The game is based on “Maximum Carnage,” a 14-part storyline across the various Spider-Man titles in 1993, in which Spider-Man, Venom and a bunch of other superheroes have to team up to take down Venom’s sinister spawn, Carnage, and his band of homicidal misfits, Shriek, Carrion, Demogoblin and the twisted Doppelganger Spider-Man. With a rockin’ soundtrack by Green Jelly (which sounds even better on the Super Nintendo version), tons of guest stars and assist characters (like Morbius, Cloak and Dagger, Captain America and Deathlok, as well as a cameo by the Avengers at the end), a great fighting system and tons of secret areas and Easter eggs, it’s loads of fun even now, although, like the original story, it’s ridiculously long and difficult. What I like most about it is the difference between playing as Spider-Man and Venom. Spider-Man is lightning-quick and agile, while Venom is a bruiser through-and-through. When Spidey picks up an object, he lifts it with both arms. When Venom picks it up, he lifts it with one hand, and walks with a distinct swagger. His power moves are better, too; he smashes the pavement to create a shockwave to deal with groups, and when he’s in close range, he tosses his opponent sky-high, leering in self-satisfaction. Like a boss. 

 Eternal Champions (Sega Genesis)

When I was but a wee lad, I convinced my brother to rent a Sega Genesis. My mom approved, so long as he didn’t rent any violent video games, or, to my frustration, any Marvel superhero games (which I specifically wanted to play). I ended up talking him into getting Spider-Man and X-Men: Arcade’s Revenge anyway (it turned out to be bland, inoffensive, and terrible) and Sonic the Hedgehog 3. He also picked up Eternal Champions for himself and my other brother, but my mom wouldn’t let me play it. I got to watch from a distance, but I didn’t get to play, so of course I reeeeally wanted to play. Several years later, I got my wish. And. It. Was. Awesome. So awesome, in fact, that renting it became a tradition every time my brothers were in town. There are only nine characters, but each has a very specific, detailed moveset. No two characters have the same moves (unlike Mortal Kombat, where all the characters are basically repainted versions of each other with separate special attacks), and they all have specific looks and characteristics. The premise of the game is that nine warriors were plucked from various points in time to compete in a tournament, blah-blah-blah. My favorite was Larcen, a slick cat burglar from the early 20th century. My brothers liked RAX, an arrogant, sneering cyborg gladiator, and Xavier, a cloaked medieval alchemist. My dad, who got in on the action after a while, favored Shadow, a Japanese assassin from the ’90s. He liked her because A) she was very, very hot, even in 16-bit graphics, and B) she had a cheap move, “Shadow Mode,” that rendered her invulnerable for six seconds. She could kick a lot of butt in six seconds, and if we turned the power meters off in “options,” Dad could keep her in Shadow Mode pretty much indefinitely. Playing against Dad became a real challenge, one that I eventually got around by timing my attacks perfectly every six seconds. Thus, out of all the games I’ve played over the years, Eternal Champions was one of the only ones that really got the whole family involved . . . except Mom, of course. She still hates video games. 

This game, which I love, didn't help.

1 comment:

  1. tell them about mean bean machine and how it nearly led to your mother's near-quadruple-murder/suicide-miss