I believe it was my sister who once accused me of only hanging out with classmates in order to play their video games. I felt insulted hearing that, but it has stuck with me all these years and I can't completely deny it. From about the age of 4 until high school, I was ravenous when it came to video games. Good, bad, old and new, I wanted to play them all. It was such an exciting time in my life, as it felt like the world of video games was infinite. When you only have a handful of games to your name, going to a friend's house and seeing just as many new games there means that you have temporary access 100% more games!
That gleeful feeling was intoxicating, so I of course did all I could to explore other people's gaming libraries, even if my relationships with them weren't the most solid. It wasn't until high school that I aquired the freedom (both monetarily and otherwise) necessary to buy a game collection that I'm sure would make my younger self incredibly envious. Not to mention that the advent of online video made it less difficult to get a feel for games I didn't own, making me less inclined to hang out with people I barely knew just to experience new games.
So join me as I reminisce about a time when I wasn't burdened by a backlog featuring dozens upon dozens of games and could actually be as excited about licensed games as I could be about high-budget original titles. To protect the innocent, no names will be used.
Being the oldest sibling in my family, I had access to all the games we owned, so I'm gonna focus on my cousins instead, starting with cousin #1.
#1 was the cousin I was closest to growing up, as we got to spend a lot of time together. As such, I played a lot of his games. I was particularly enamoured with his GameBoy Color, because of course I was, it was a portable gaming device that wasn't shit! I mostly played Wario Land 3 and a bit of Pokémon whenever I could get my hands on it. I remember being really into leveling up Pokémon, probably because it was the first time I was exposed to that oh so delicious leveling system that has kept people playing RPGs since time immemorial for larger amounts than what is strictly fun.
I remember wanting a Gameboy for myself for the longest time, since that'd mean I'd have more control over when I got to play games. Sadly, I never got one, but I did at least get myself a PSP later on, which has served me well. Nothing beats a playing a portable in bed.
He was also more of a PC gamer than me, playing strategy games and Diablo 2. I thought Diablo 2 looked really cool, but I never played it myself. I did commit the names of all of the bosses (Andariel, Duriel, Mefisto, Diablo, Baal) to memory for some reason though. I think it was because he talked about them a lot. I can only assume that they're the best part of the game to a kid.
One memory that has stuck with me was the time he convinced me that there was a secret at the end of the Freddie Fish game we played that let you play as a fox (I think he was inspired by Crash Bandicoot) that fights Bionicles. School yard rumours about games are a thing and a half, I tell ya. At least I was never exposed to the Nintendo uncle spiel.
Lastly, he had a few console games I wanna talk about. Tarzan Freeride was disappointing after having played the PS1 game, even if that game isn't very good either. But it sure as hell wasn't as cumbersome as Freeride, nor did it lock progression behind annoying collectibles.
He also had a few multiplayer games that he played with me and my siblings. One being Rayman M (AKA Rayman Arena), which is a combined platform racing game and arena battler. I think it's pretty fun, but I remember being too good at the combat mode, so my sister didn't like playing it after a while. Same thing for Digimon Rumble Arena (which my cousin gifted me later), since it's just a fighting game. I know it's not very deep, but the Digivolution mechanic combined with the roster going up to Tamers (which I didn't even know about back then) really sold me on the game.
Speaking of the Tarzan PS1 game, I borrowed that from cousin #2. I had played the demo a bunch beforehand, so it was exciting to get to finally play the whole thing. Before I knew about the proper terms, I divided games into "flat games" and "go wherever you want games". Said classification system got put through its paces when I played the Tarzan game though, since it's a 2.5D game, which kinda overwhelmed my young brain. I remember actually shaking after beating the final boss. I can't say any other game has got me that shook up after beating it. I think that was because that was the first game I played that really pushed me to my limits. Since then, there have been a handful of games that brought me to the limits of my abilities, but none of them made me shake like that.
Cousin #2 didn't have many other games from what I recall, but we did play a bit of NHL and a Power Stone-esque game called Poi Poi. I never ever saw it outside of his house, so I mixed it up with Puyo Puyo, thinking they were the same thing whenever people talked about Puyo Puyo. I haven't gone back to it, but I can at least tell from screenshots that it has aged horribly visually. Might still be fun, but I bet it's not as good as Power Stone.
Lastly, we have cousin #3, who also didn't have many games, but the ones he did have were really neat. He had the Hobbit game, which is pretty alright by most accounts. I only ever had enough time to play the first two levels (until I bought the game for myself), so to me, the game was mostly about exploring Hobbiton, which was still fun.
He also let me borrow two games I was really excited to play. The first being Gex 3, which I had played the demo of a lot beforehand. I never did beat it and I'm interested in going back to it, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it that much now. I recall it being somewhat clunky and its overall aesthetic is needlessly sinister for what I think was meant to be a kids game. Even the Christmas-themed first level manages to have a creepy evil santa. I do know that looking up videos of it was how I was introduced to Let's Plays, so that's kinda neat. Back in those days when people had no production values and were limited to 10-minute videos. Fun times. Allegedly.
But the second game was much more exciting, since it was motherfucking Spyro 2! I had played the first game to death and managed to scratch up my copy of 3 so it died when loading the third hub, so I was hungry for more quality Spyro gameplay. I think I had gotten my hands on Enter The Firefly by that point as well, so playing the best game is the series felt extra sweet. I managed to beat it completely, with the final boss being one of my favorites to this day. 3 phases coupled with special abilities exclusives to that fight made it really memorable. I really need to bite the bullet on the Reignited Trilogy one of these days so I can re-experience it in HD.
For my neighbours, let's go from closest to furthest, starting with #1, who was a Nintendo kid. Having been a Sony Pony all my life, it was always exciting to try out new systems. The Xbox didn't really impress me (though I got to play some fun games on it) and I didn't even know about the Dreamcast until years later, but the N64 and GameCube were an exciting pair. And #1 had both.
On the N64, I only ever played Super Mario 64, but that was captivating enough. I really loved the open levels, the soundscape and the general aesthetic. I remember thinking King Bob-omb was awful for not dying when you throw him off the mountain, which is ironic, since you actually cheat in the sumo match with him by doing so. I also saw a bit of Banjo-Kazooie and "read" a game guide for Ocarina of Time. Even if I didn't directly experience them, I was was still captivated enough to obsess over them a bit once online video became a thing.
Similarly, I only played Super Mario Sunshine on the GameCube. Since I visited so rarely, I never got to keep a save file, so I always replayed the first few stages, trying to get further each time. Knowing what I know about the late-game challenges of Sunshine, that was probably for the best. Still, I quite enjoyed my time with Sunshine back then. Very jaunty and colourful game.
He also had a PC version of the Genesis Aladdin game, which I can only assume was the DOS version. I feel like most people I visited had at least one game that was at least a little bit rare or weird, which kept it interesting to visit new people.
Now for neighbour #2, I wanna start with a little story. During some specific time period, my parents and his had a deal that meant that I rode to school with them sometimes. This meant I had to get up early. I think that was because they usually rode in earlier. So anyway, one day, I actually went to his house early in the morning when I didn't need to just to play games. This of course made my dad mad at me. I think I did this at home once or twice as well. Anything to squeeze in some extra game time.
Anyway, he had an interesting bunch of games. Jak & Daxter (which I got myself around the same time, but I have no memory of that happening), GTA3 (we only ever stacked cheat codes and messed around) and Rayman 2 (which I felt was everywhere, since I played the demo on PS1, the PC version at his place and the PS2 version when visiting a friend of my dad) to name a few.
But there are three games in particular I want to focus on. The first is Quack Attack (or Going Quackers), which is a pretty good Crash Bandicoot clone starring Donald Duck. It's jaunty and quite easy, so I got pretty enamoured with it. We somehow managed to lock the game into a first-person perspective once, which I consider pretty impressive, since the game doesn't have a first-person camera. Having gone back to it, I'm surprised just how short it is. No wonder they made Crash Bandicoot games so hard.
Then there's Midtown Madness 2, a racing game that we never used for its intended purpose. It consists of a city environment that gets divided up into tracks for racing, but you can also roam around the full city. So of course, we only ever did that, exploring the different areas and jumping into the ocean. I remember boasting at my daycare that you could use the game to learn how to drive. Good times.
Speaking of good times, the last game of note was Kingdom Hearts. Good lord did that game rock my world back then, both due to its insane premise and its gameplay. To this day, I hold the first Kingdom Hearts game as my standard for how action-RPGs should handle their combat. I just love how much importance is placed on each swing. A shame about the platforming, but they can't all be winners.
I actually borrowed it twice because the first time through I got lost in Halloween Town thanks to the game's obtuse progression design. Second time though, I beat it and really enjoyed myself. I don't remember when exactly, but I did accidentally overwrite my save once when my sister wanted to play, which I think she accepted the blame for. I actually tried to buy the game off my neighbour in middle school, but he wouldn't have it. As such, it became one of the first games I ordered online, alongside Persona 3 (thank god I did that, that game costs stupid amounts of money over here now!) and a replacement copy of Jak 3 (a game my sister totally didn't scratch to hell when trying a karaoke DVD, no sir.)
Neighbour #3 is a weird one, as he wasn't my neighbour, but the grandson of my neighbour who I only met twice. Even so, we managed to hang out and have fun. What really made it fun to hang out with him was how willing he was to talk about games in-depth compared to other people I knew at the time. I always felt that I was way more into games than most people (given how much I've written on this site, this should be obvious), so it was nice to run into someone on the same level. I remember him describing in great detail the Tiny the Tiger boss in Crash 2 before I had mustered up the skill to beat the third warp room, which was cool.
He did bring a demo disc and memory card with him at least, which we used to play some Ratchet 2 using my disc as well as a demo for a TMNT game, Arc the Lad (?), the Transformers PS2 game and Rise To Honor. I was quite taken by the beat-em-up combat and setpieces in Rise to Honor, but the demo only had the name of the game in Cantonese (?), so I could never look it up until I had the bright idea to look up a list of PS2 beat-em-ups. Still haven't gone back to it and the Yakuza games fill its niche pretty well, so I'm in no hurry to do so.
All right, time for the lightning round to finish us off. Some of these classmates are people I only ever hung out with once or twice, usually because we figured out our differences and decided not to hang out more. Still didn't stop me from trying some quirky games, so let's get to it!
Classmate #1 was someone I hung out with a lot, so let's start with him. He was primarily a PC guy, so he showed me some interesting stuff, like the first Worms game (which was very lame compared to the copy of World Party cousin #1 had). He had the Emperor's New Groove game, which only stands out in my memory due to how he described it. Like the fact that the game has a "Secrets" collectible, which I just couldn't comprehend (much like the gags in Simpsons Hit & Run), since I was so used to collectibles being shiny objects. He also talked about cow guards being a thing in the lategame, which I just didn't believe. But when I borrowed the game and played it myself, sure enough, there were walking cows with axes (or maybe bardiches, it's been a while) running around.
Similarily, when he described Bubble Dizzy, I took his description very literally, which painted a very bizarre picture. The game revolves around guiding Dizzy upwards through water levels that end with him floating above the surface in the sunlight. But the way he described Dizzy and his girlfriend in the ending together in the sun, I thought he meant on the actual solar surface! Suffice to say, I was very confused about that for a little bit.
For some reason, I was pretty infatuated with Heart of Darkness as a kid, a game I think classmate #1 had. I think the 10-year-old fantasy of using your fancy treehouse tech to save your dog from evil monsters spoke to me. I remember mimicking the intro at daycare. I only ever had the demo, but I got to see more of it when visiting a friend of my dad. It's a really weird game (and surprisingly brutal, E for everyone my ass), but I still quite like it to this day.
One game that really got me hooked was Pink Panther: Passport to Peril, which is a really solid point-and-click adventure game for children if I recall correctly. Much like when I borrowed Dracula's Secret from cousin #1, I found Passport to Peril to be really exciting. As per the name of the genre, getting through it and seeing all the locations and somehow solving all of the puzzles on my own was a real adventure. I've tried find a way to play it again, but alas, it just dies on startup when I tried it on a virtual machine. A real shame. If anyone happens to know how to get it working, hit me up!
Lastly, he was my introduction to the PSP. He got it a good few years before I did, so he didn't have many games. I think he only had Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters and Daxter, which are two very servicable titles for the system. I wasn't spellbound by them, but I thought they were really neat. Funnily enough, he did gift me his UMD copy of Spider-Man 2, which I don't think I've ever used properly. It's kinda sad to see people trying to sell UMD movies these days. Universal Media Disc my ass.
Classmate #2 was a Nintendo kid, so he was my introduction to Smash Bros. I didn't get to play Melée a lot at his house, but man was it fun to do the adventure mode. He also had an NES, which sort of sparked reverie in me when I thought about how ancient it must have been. I only played a bit of Mario 3 and some game where you have a staff that can create and destroy ice blocks, but it was still an interesting experience.
I think I only ever visited classmate #3 twice, but each time was special for two reasons. The first being that he lived very far away, so going there was a bit of an adventure. The second being that he the most games I'd ever seen at that point! My memory tells me he had a shelf of like 30-40 PS1 games, which was nuts.
While there, I got to try Crash 3, which I had only seen in a demo disc before. I remember him telling me to treat the falling blocks in one of the egyptian levels like a chase level, probably because he couldn't think of a way to explain that only certain blocks were unstable. Or maybe he didn't understand that yet.
He also had Spyro 3, which is a game that's pretty special to me. As previously mentioned, I scratched my own copy, making world 3 & 4 inaccessible. But at his place, I got a glimmer of world 3, which was pretty magical. When Youtube came around, I vied not to look up the rest of the game and instead play it myself one day, which I did through PSN a good 9 years after I broke my own copy. What I was met with wasn't exactly mind-blowing, but still good. It's interesting to have one half of a Spyro game separated from my nostalgia.
We also played a bit of Rayman and thankfully stopped before the game starts kicking you in the face. Looking back, it's amazing how good it looks. A shame that Sony was so pushy about 3d games back then.
Then there were his multitude of license games. I got to try Monster's Inc (which I later borrowed on PC from cousin #1), A Bug's Life (the grasshoppers in the second level freaked me out after being used to the demo) and the first Harry Potter PS1 game. I ended up borrowing that last one, which was really exciting, if somewhat scary. I gave up during the late-game stealth section, but he did tell me how the final boss was, which sounded silly when described, but no, you do cast spells on rock pillars to defeat Voldemort.
He owned the Atlantis PS1 game as well and I remember accusing him of cheating by entering the Fire Trial instead of getting stuck on the Ice Trial like I did. The levels are listed linearly, but there are two hub levels where you get to pick from two other levels. Me being me, I of course abided by the implied linearity, even when there was none. Which is pretty on-brand for me even now, as I usually prefer linear experiences.
Now, with all those games and the day only having so many hours, I of course ran head-first into the dreaded time limit associated with visiting someone: Mom arriving to pick you up. You really have to make the most of your allotted time, which I suppose is a decent life lesson.
Classmate #4 is the one I associate the most with the Xbox, even if we didn't play that many games together. I only recall playing a few games. Spyro: A Hero's Tail was fun after being limited to the demo, but having played the whole game, I wouldn't call it very good. I had played the demo of Sonic Heroes a bunch as well, so playing the full game there was cool. But again, I think I had the better experience of just having access to the demo.
And then there's Blinx 2. I know the besmirched legacy of the franchise as a failed mascot series, but I enjoyed my time spent with it. I got to try a bit of the first game during a trip, and then the sequel when hanging out with classmate #4. I think it was the music and the time mechanics that sold me on it. Something tells me the mission structure and stealth would be aggravating on a revisit though, but I'll never know, because I can't justify tracking down a working Xbox just for Blinx 2. Even I have standards when it comes to blowing money and time on video games.
He was also my introduction to the Wii. And since this was early on in its life, I only got to try Wii Sports and Rayman Rabbids. Being a casual Rayman fan, I was disappointed to see Rabbids be nothing but a minigame collection. I was convinced that there had to be a real game hidden in there that was unlocked when you collected enough plungers. Alas, it was not to be and the Rabbids did what they did to the series.
Classmate #5 was a PC guy and was my introduction to emulation, even if I didn't parse it as such at the time. He had NESticle (look it up) up and running and through it I got to test the Darkwing Duck NES game, which I thought was really cool. That's probably just due to my affinity for Darkwing Duck. I mean, who doesn't enjoy the life and struggles of ol' DW?
I think he was the one who owned the Banjo & Kazooie GBA game, which only stands out to me because checking out a boss guide for it was the first time I remember running into direct lies on the internet. When I tried to tell him about the boss strategies I'd read, he said there were no bosses close to what I had described. Now, he could have been wrong and not played enough of the game, but I think the guide writer was just having a laugh at my expense. Turns out that there are people who would just go on the internet and tell lies.
He also had Lego Racers 2, which was one hell of an upgrade when compared to the PS1 demo of the first game I had played earlier. But his most unique game had to have been his PC copy of Sonic R. I doubted my memory when I thought about it, but no, the PC port exists. I didn't have any particular feelings for the game at the time, which I think perfectly encapsulates Sonic R.
Speaking of Sonic, Classmate #6 had one of the Mega Drive games. Not sure if it was 1 or 2, but I enjoyed what I played of it a lot. Thankfully, not enough to become a Sonic fan. I really dodged a bullet there in retrospect. I don't think we even managed to get the title straight at the time, only our own interpretation of it.
He had an old PC with Commander Keen floppies, which we played a bit of. I doubt we came far, but it was interesting to see a platformer like that on PC. I think I liked the sheer variety of delicious-looking collectibles. I've only ever seen such a diversity of treats in Commander Keen and Jazz Jackrabbit 2. Maybe it's a PC platformer thing.
His most unique game is a tie between two games, The first is Toejam & Earl 2, which was my first co-op experience. I remember us two fighting due to the health sharing mechanic, where you can even out both players' health with a button. It felt so wrong that you could just "steal" eachother's health like that. The other one is Po'ed...which is a bizarre...FPS? I really can't describe it much from memory and I don't care to learn more about it. The 3DO birthed many a strange thing into this world.
Classmate #7 was another one with a seemingly ridiculous description of a game that turned out to be real. He said you played as Donald Duck in a tourist outfit with a gun who could turn into a ninja by collecting Yin and Yang symbols. The game in question is Maui Mallard in Cold Shadow, which is exactly as he described. Sometimes, games really are like what a ten-year-old would think up.
And sometimes, they're even more ridiculous, as proven by Tonic Trouble (or as we called it, Tony Trouble) owned by classmate #8. When he described a game where you eat popcorn to become super muscular and use a bowtie to fly, my imagination went a bit nuts. The game itself came pretty close to being as crazy as I thought, only 3D and not 2D. I just couldn't handle there being a bootleg Rayman game like that. And it being made by Ubisoft themselves makes it all the more weird.
Classmate #9 was the closest I had to a proper bully growing up, so I have no idea how the hell we managed to hang out at his house once. Must have been my staggering charm fueled by my everpresent desire to play more games. Anyway, he had Sly Cooper 1, which was really interesting to me, as I'd played the demo of 2 to death and probably fallen in love with 3 at that point. Since we only had so much time to play, the first world managed to become the most memorable to me, even after playing the whole thing myself later.
He also had Vexx, because someone had to have it growing up, right? Since the story of it got gutted during development, what's left is a hollowed husk of a game that plays like Super Mario 64 for masochists (including the first boss being at the top of a mountain). Mission 2 or 4 in the first world is such a major difficulty spike that I would applaud them for being ballsy if they didn't recycle the area twice and make it harder each time. And don't even get me started on the final boss, nothing From Software has put me through was as harrowing as that!
Lastly, he had a copy of Jak 2, which I immediately borrowed and almost played to completion. It was weird to go through the genre shift from the first game, but I still really liked it in spite of how hard it is. I gave up on the final boss, which I think was a valiant effort given my skill level at the time. I still have the savefile, which remains unfinished. I don't exactly know why I haven't completeted it yet (and instead used a parallel one), but maybe I'll find a reason to go back and finish it one day. Gotta make it symbolic and shit.
Classmate #10 was the lucky owner of a Lucky Luke game, which I thought looked cool, but I haven't really checked it out. My guess is that it's really stiff and boring, as many licensed games are, but maybe that's one of the good ones.
I think he was the one who introduced me to Flash games, or at the very least the site I used primarily before branching out to MiniClip, Newgrounds and Kongregate. I could write a whole 'nother thing about how important Flash games were to me growing up. The internet was a strange place to explore back then. Nowadays, it's very sterile in comparison.
One fun story about #10 was the time he described Psychonauts to me, except I never catched the name. Only later when I looked at videos of it later did I realize that he had it, but by that point we had drifted apart, so I couldn't really go over to try it. I was quite infatuated with the game back then (the kooky world translates well to video walkthroughs), so much so that I actually played the dreadful PS2 port. Thankfully, I've since aquired the PC port.
Now, I actually owe getting that PS2 port to the last person I want to mention, classmate #11. I say classmate, but he was more of a schoolmate, but whatever, I don't feel like wasting space on another header, this is long enough already.
So anyway, I didn't play a lot of his games, but there were a few. We did co-op in RE5 and RE6, which was fun, if not a bit arduous due to our different priorities during combat and inventory management. I also got to play Shadow of the Colossus to near completion through him, but the game died at the ending, which really sucked. Then I played a bit of Silent Hill 2, which was impressively scary even though I knew what was coming and was playing with him in the room during the day. Shows what a well-crafted horror experience it is.
So, the reason I owe getting Psychonauts (and a lot of other games) due to him is because I used him as a way to order games online since he's older than me and had access to online payment before me. I must have ordered a dozen if not more games during the period when I just started collecting. It was really exciting to clean out our local game stores together and then complement with online orders later. I haven't really picked up any rarities that way, but the sheer amount of semi-rare games I've aquired have to count for something.
Nowadays he has his own online storefront where he sells games and gaming-related tat. Something that has proven useful, as he has sold me the odd interesting game (like Trapt, still need to give that a go) and helped me sell off a few of my games made obsolete by PC ports.
First of all, congrats on making it this far. Turns out that writing a piece of your life story takes its paragraphs. Second of all, I'm not sure if I have conclusion beyond "Holy shit, I've played a lot of games over the years". But I need to justify that header somehow, so I think I'll finish up by reminiscing about how my relationship with games has changed over the years. I think I can split my life into three distinct periods: Child-like glee, Ravenous collecting and Zen-like introspection.
The first period was the one I described 5000 words ago (we were both so young back then) and what most of this has been about. Video games are so magical when you're a kid, everything is new and cool and your taste is utter garbage. It's amazing.
But those feelings lead me to right the "wrongs" of my childhood and collect everything I felt I missed out on. But, there were only so many games that fit into that category (that I could justify spending money on at least), so that period also ended. I picked up the Fatal Frame trilogy and some Onimusha games last year and haven't felt like collecting anything else since.
So now, in the last period, with a respectable backlog in front of me, I have only to chip away at it slowly, trying to extract enough value out every game to match how much I spent on them. Sunk cost fallacy and whatnot. A part of that value-extraction process is writing reviews on them. I find that reviewing games lets me complete my take on them, thus making me less likely to waste time replaying them. Having quick access to your thoughts on a game is also pretty useful in online discourse.
But it's also to share my love of the medium with people who care about it beyond trying to climb the ranks in League of Legends like my siblings. People love video games to varying degrees and I particularly enjoy sparking conversations with people about odd games and the stories behind them. So many interesting games fall to the wayside way too quickly.
I don't know if there's a suitably cranky gaming period ahead of me as I age, but one thing's for sure. If my perspective changes enough for it to be vaguely interesting, I'll be here to write extensively about it, editors of the world be damned.