More stories about loving, learning, and living.
And maybe a few about video games.
1. I first saw the Nintendo 64 in-person at a friend's house. They had managed to get one near the launch, and I was infinitely jealous, like any child would have been. It's a very annoying feeling. Suddenly, everything I owned at that point wasn't quite worth it. No matter how many games I played on the Super Nintendo, the N64 was still beyond my reach. And that meant that I needed it more than I needed anything else in my then-short life.
Of course, I asked my parents for one. I remember my mom saying that there was no way I could get one, since the N64's launch of September '96 was already a month after my birthday. My dad, hearing this, basically decided that no son of his would go without the latest and greatest thing, and thus he decided that I would get a N64 the next day.
I think my dad was more excited than I was, to be honest. He was always a fan of gadgets and technology. Hell, he bought my mom a Nintendo Entertainment System back when they were still dating. From what I know, apparently one of the barbacks at the bar my dad tended at was ranting and raving about how awesome Super Mario Bros. was, and that got my dad interested. Oddly enough, this was where he drew the line with buying games and playing them himself, since he didn't buy much else until I was born. He did, however, have a ton of CDs and cassettes that I'm sure were part of a Columbia House subscription. My point is, my dad didn't necessarily care about video games on their own. He cared because I cared.
The next day, I got to go to Montgomery Ward to get a N64. I don't quite know why we went there to get it, but I'm sure it had something to do with my mom shopping around for the best prices. She always had a knack for finding sales, and just as much of a knack for refusing to buy things when they weren't on sale. I know that if she had been mistaken and the Nintendo 64s were priced $5 higher than whatever catalog had listed prices, I probably wouldn't have gone home with a console that day.
Of course, my dad bought the everloving hell out of the last Nintendo 64 in the store. We had a choice of two games: Super Mario 64, or Pilotwings 64. I chose the former, because I wasn't an idiot.
Now, Pilotwings 64 was a great game. It just had the distinction of being the "other" launch title for the N64. As in, it was the one that people either bought second or not at all. Mario 64 was groundbreaking. Pilotwings was, essentially, a sports game. Sports games eventually get relegated to bargain bins and dust-covered shelves.
I remember booting up Mario 64 for the first time very distinctly. My dad had a lot of trouble hooking the console up because getting to the composite AV ports on the back of our rear-projection TV was almost a back-breaking effort.
My dad, a man who said "Fuck you." to doctors who said he would never walk again after having his spine crushed by a fuel tank in the Marine Corps, a man who threw his wheelchair out into a busy intersection of South Boston once he found out that he wasn't completely paralyzed from the waist down, was more or less beaten by a poorly-placed AV port on the back of a television. We solved this problem in the traditional way, by never hooking up the N64 to another television in the house ever again.
Super Mario 64's opening is what my dad loved the most about the game. To him, hearing the "It's-a me, Mario!" clip must have been more amazing than it was for me. Yes, video games had voice before this. Mario didn't, at least not on a home console. That opening line paved the way for a truly next-generation experience that was a real step above what was capable on Nintendo's other consoles.
The N64 controller took a lot of getting used to. I remember taking a while to get used to the fact that the analog stick controlled movement, not the D-pad.
I don't really play Mario 64 anymore. It's still a great game, it's just one that hasn't aged as gracefully as other Mario games. I always think of my dad when I do find the time to play it, though. And looking at the Nintendo 64 kind of makes me wish that Montgomery Ward didn't go bankrupt...
2. I first played Golden Axe at my elementary school's rec center. For some reason, they had a Golden Axe cabinet stuffed into a room in the back of the gym. I don't quite know how they acquired this arcade cabinet, or why they didn't have others, or why it was Golden Axe. All I knew was that it existed.
Oh, and that the second player's jump button didn't work.
We used to put a computer ribbon cable into the coin mech to get free credits. Not exactly a great idea, but, hell, we were kids. It's a wonder we didn't break anything else with the machine.
I played through the game with a few friends in one sitting while waiting for my dad to pick me up from school. Oh, we beat Death Adder into a vaguely-recognizable pulp. That's no easy feat, either, since it was a hard friggin' game to play when the second player jump didn't work. I played as the character who I can only remember as being "the blue guy." He was kind of lame. Appropriately enough, the Genesis version of Golden Axe was the first non-Sonic game I picked up for the Genesis when I began collecting retro games in summer '09. It still holds up well today, though Streets of Rage is probably the better choice when it comes to early Genesis beat-'em-ups.
I wonder if the school still has the machine locked away somewhere. If they don't, I sincerely hope that they didn't just throw it away when it got old.
3. One of my uncles up in Massachusetts is a lot like my dad was, in that he loves home theater systems and electronics. He used to have a surround sound system hooked up in his living room, and I remember him showing me and my parents the awesomeness of the surround sound by playing the intro of Terminator 2 and showing the scene of one of the endoskeletons stepping over a pile of bones. The crunching noise filled the room and we were taken aback. It was a very visceral way to tell people that he give a damn about how he wants his television and movies to sound.
He also had a basement entertainment center, which was unique and amazing for me because I come from a state where you can't dig 8 inches into the ground without hitting water. My uncle used this space to hook up game consoles. When i was a little kid he had a SNES, but when I went up to Massachusetts in the summer of 1997, he had hooked up a Sega Saturn. He showed me the amazing (for the time) graphics of Tomb Raider, and the awesome first few levels of Panzer Dragoon. What really stuck with me, though, was Virtua Cop.
It was (and still is) crazy to see a home version of a game that was very much rooted in arcades. Sure, games like the above-mentioned Golden Axe got console ports, but sacrifices in quality had to be made when making console ports. Virtua Cop was 1:1 arcade to console. There was no difference, save for the fact that you didn't have to pony up fifty cents every time you got a game-over.
While you could play the game with a controller, the real fun was with the Sega Stunner gun. They made this gun in red for the North American market, but my uncle also had a blue one that was probably imported from the UK. Both work fine, and many a game were played with both of those guns. Virtua Cop 2 is still one of my favorite Saturn games simply because it's an absolute blast with two people blasting away at a CRT television.
I always hoped that my uncle would have kept that console around. As it turns out, he didn't. He sold it to a local Funcoland to get another console. And he sold that one, too. He wasn't too sentimental when it came to that sort of stuff.