My little cousin. That spoiled brat had everything. And by everything, I should make clear that I mean "EVERYTHING". My older brother and I had an Atari 2600 when we were very wee. And on it we were quite content to play Combat, Spider-Man and even E.T. (yeah, we had it. I was 5. To me, a new game of any kind was awesome in its own right). Frogs and Flies, though, was by far our favorite. But, my cousin Jody. That child must've been sparred the rod in ways unheard of. He had an Intellivision. Circular Pad. Numerical buttons with the fancy overlays for each game. And if that wasn't enough to make a boy jealous, when I was 7 he would get... a Nintendo Entertainment System.
This just came to me as I was writing this.
We'd seen them on tv, sure. But nothing beats the first time that you touch an NES. It's like the seeing your true love for the first time. A wave of awe slaps you across the face. You sit there stunned. You question yourself as to how you can possibly live in the same world with something so purely awesome (when I first met Carrie and her Mega-Man blue hair, I might have been reminded a little of this first encounter- it's true).
Jody already had himself a small library of games during my very first encounter. Super Mario Brothers, Excite Bike, Ice Climbers. I had to be the one to show him how to set up R.O.B. to get it to work with Gyromite (the kid never had any brains, coming from terrible breeding stock that also couldn't follow the instructions to show him). My mind was blown. But it was roughly a year later that I came face to face with the possiblities of video games. It was a little guy in a green suit with a funny hat. And it was awesome!
But this was months before Link would venture forth to save the fair Princess Zelda from Gannon (and had it come first then I would surely be writing about that right now. And I am a little sad to say that I can't, as I love The Legend of Zelda like no game that has come since). It was Solomon's Key from Tecmo (The Pre-"We screwed Itagaki" Tecmo). This was a kind of gameplay that I had never before encountered. An action puzzle game. A game that took reflexes like any other video games, but more importantly, it took brains! My mind was blown!
I was sleeping over at Jody's that first night. He fell asleep early, and I played that game throughout the night. The bird's were chirping outside, calling in the morning sun, long before I finally crashed out on the top bunk of his bunk bed (I bearly fit on top of that thing because there were 70 giant stuffed animals and a Teddy Ruxpin on top- Had I rolled over just four inches, I would have fallen 5 feet to the ground!). By that time, the levels had grown so devious, that it would take ages to get the inspiration for a solution. Happily, the continues were infinite, and I never had to start over.
I controlled the main character, Dana, who jumps around a simple 2D grid. He can hop on top of blocks. He could crush gold blocks that he was underneath by jumping into them (the Mario approach, except he had to hit them twice). But he could also create blocks at will (even in thin air) with his magic wand, and also dematerialize existing blocks. And in doing so, he could freely move about the entire area. His goal was to collect that level's key, which unlocked the exit door, then make it over to that exit (picking up any stray fairies along the way).
Unlike Mario and Link, Dana was largely defenseless. Occassionally he would grab a magic jar that would grant him a fireball to throw at an enemy. But only one use per jar collected, and those were few and far between. And seeing how many levels had skull symbols that would spawn new bad guys at timed intervals, those fireballs weren't much use. You could also zap a gold block that an enemy was standing under, making them fall to their death. This took planning, and was often easier said than done.
Just one minute of this video will show you everything you need to know.
That Christmas we did finally get a Nintendo Entertainment System in our home. But I never did get to play Solomon's Key on it. In fact, it is rare that I've found anyone who's ever even heard of the game...
...until decades later. The midnight launch of the Wii. I got mine and brought it home. The first thing I did, before Twilight Princess, before Wii Sports, was smash a bottle of champagne over it in the form of downloading the Legend of Zelda from the Virtual Console. And what did I find to my surprise was also available to download? My legendary one-night stand, Solomon's Key. I had a bunch of friends over and we did nothing but play Wii all weekend. They had never heard of Dana and his quest for keys and fairies. But the following night, my friends and I stayed up transfixed by Solomon's Key, opening up many doors, beating many levels. When we finally crashed out due to exhaustion, we could hear the birds chirping outside.