I had a rather unconventional start to my gaming career. It did not begin with Mario, Kirby or even that Zelda character I hear so much about (...wait, Link is the guy you play as?...oh...ok). Or even that Link guy. The start of my gaming career was much less cozy.
"But Steve," you ask, because calling me by my username would be weird, "Those are the hallmark games of every childhood. You mustn't have had the right upbringing."
And you know what? You'd be right.
I started my childhood off nice'n'dark, laying the psychological basis for me enjoying all things Witcher and Dark Souls. The first two games I ever played were computer games my father owned, and they are still both the standard I hold every platformer and shooter to.
The first of these two was Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure. Yes, there were more Pitfall games than the Atari 2600 game. No, the last one for the Wii wasn't any good. The Mayan Adventure however, was, and still is, fantastic.
Not that I could play much of the game when I was a measly five years old. The extent of my "gaming" involved begging my father to play the game for me as I watched and acted out character animations in footie pajamas, using my blanket for a whip. Gradually however, I became the Player.
At first I could only (ok, barely) play the stage levels, with my dad finishing off the bosses. Eventually I got bolder and bolder, taking on secret areas, fighting the first boss, and only using cheat codes to fight the really tough guy at the end.
Eventually, I began conquering the bosses on my own. In time, I could even beat the final boss without using cheat codes. Sure, it took me twenty years to do it, but hey, baby steps right?
To this day, golems with anklets scare the shit
out of me.
I was only half joking with that previous sentence, however. Every once in a while I still go back to play The Mayan Adventure (and its Playstation sequel, "Beyond the Jungle"). Why? Because, all nostalgia aside, the game still whips every modern platformer's ass. The gameplay is tight, the animation is fluid, and the music is absolutely stunning. Honestly, I still attribute my love for prog rock and melodic instrumentation to this game. I mean, listen to this:
That guitar solo alone has more groove and emotion than 90% of "bands" today. I could write an entire blog post on the music alone.
The second game that completed (and ruined) my childhood was the original Unreal. Yes, Unreal was a single player, benchmark bending, sadistic romp before it became the multiplayer juggernaut it is (was?) today. It's also the game that prevented me from playing any "M" rated game again until I was fifteen.
Seriously, I played this game when I was like, six.
Unlike Pitfall, by the time Unreal came along I could play the game by myself. Sure, I was downright awful at it, but I wasn't blind to know that I was playing something special. The open air environments, the atmospheric synth music (that once again, influenced my musical tastes) and the fun-as-all-hell gameplay still holds up as of yesterday. The game is also so long that I have yet to actually beat it. Every time I make progress, my computer dies or I upgrade or change computers. But you know what? Every time I come back to this game, I have no qualms about replaying the first ten hours. I am still discovering new secrets and gameplay elements, and what's even better is that the new material I get to is equally as enjoyable and fun as when I started all those years ago.
Unfortunately for my six year old self, I shot myself in the proverbial foot when I got to one particular part in the game and thought it was so cool, I just had to share it with someone. That someone was my mother.
She didn't buy my story that he was trying to help the poor
man get down from that torture contraption.
My mother quickly snatched up the box, asked me what the hell I was playing, and soon became acquainted with the ESRB rating system, ending all of my alien-shooting fun for a good ten years. Don't worry, I got my revenge when my father convinced her to get Medal of Honor: Frontline for my thirteenth birthday. He won the argument by somehow convincing her that the game wasn't bad because it was "only killing Nazis."
Shown: Not Violence
Unreal is still the game I go to when I think of the ultimate shooter. No game since has come close. Sure, Half Life 2 was great, but Unreal let me breathe. The environments were so engaging that I would (and still do) spend hours roaming around while listening to the soundtrack. The level design and AI are so impressive that I recently told a few good friends of mine I would gladly buy the game for them during the summer sale just so I have someone to talk about it with.
Sure, more age-appropriate and childish games came along later. Croc and Spyro taught me the ways of 3D platforming and Medal of Honor polished off console shooting, but Pitfall and Unreal set the bar so high for me at such a young age, that nothing has topped them since. They are the purest form of action adventure and shooter. I'm not trying to sound pretentious, there are still great games being released on an almost weekly basis (just look at my backlog). But these games seemed to hold themselves to a standard that is missing in the industry nowadays. They are the unsung heroes that laid the framework for Jak and Daxter and Call of Duty. If you haven't played either of these games, go out and do so now. That is your homework .
W-what's that? This is just nostalgia speaking? O-okay. I'll go boot up my old Windows 98 machine and leave you alone now.