Around the time of my 25th birthday in late March (don’t dwell on that number too much, I certainly don’t want to), I came up with an interesting idea of chronicling my gaming life up until now and looking back across the various generations of gaming I have lived through.
Given how it’s now mid-May, the timing on it has really worked out well. REALLY. /s
Anyway, there’s no time like the present, so time to introduce AJ’s Gaming Generation Game! (TM)
The idea is to break down each gaming platform I’ve ever owned, looking at how I came to them, my first game and my top 5 favourite games on the platform, and a retrospective on how they hold up now. And as someone who firmly believes gaming peaked sometime in the Playstation 2 era, it’ll be interesting to see how game design and my personal tastes have evolved down the years. Or not.
Pre-amble done, it’s time to go way back and delve into my gaming origin story; the Big Boss to my Solid Snake, the SEGA Mega Drive. Or if you’re American, the SEGA Genesis – an appropriate name for the console that would start it all for lil’ ol’ me.
I don’t really remember much of how I came to own a Mega Drive in the first place; only that pretty much all my peers were Nintendo kids, and I couldn’t understand why they worshipped the false prophet of a silly Italian plumber eating mushrooms when I was happily playing as a mutant blue animal wearing cool sneakers with the ability to smash things and run very fast.
In hindsight, you can see why I became such a big Crash Bandicoot fan later down the line, huh?
I do remember the original console I owned was the Mega Drive II, with red power buttons and a slightly different design. I never knew what quite separated it from the regular Mega Drive, but ironically what I had was what the rest of the world also got as the Genesis; they never got the first-generation model with a volume slider and headphone port (I know, HI-TECH HELL YEAH) built-in.
First Game – Sonic The Hedgehog
To borrow a quote from NerdCubed: ‘Sonic The Hedgehog was my first game as a child, no wonder I went on to love gaming’.
Honestly, I don’t think it’s possible to have a better first game in one’s life than this. Having previously played Super Mario Bros on a family friend’s SNES, booting this up and belting into Green Hill Zone for the first time was a revelation. Levels that encouraged both flowing super-speed gameplay and methodical exploration for secrets combined with gorgeous colours and a main character full of charm without ever saying a word. Back before he got down with the kids, Sonic had a Gromit-like ability to convey emotion purely through facial expressions, be they nerves, joy or frustration that you’d put the controller down and got distracted. It’s a magical experience even now, and it says a lot that I never wished for a friend’s Nintendo to play as Mario instead.
And yes, I have no shame in admitting the drowning music in Labyrinth Zone traumatised me for life.
5. Super Hang-On
This game is notable for being the first racing game I can ever remember playing with a career mode. Earning money from race wins would enable upgrades the bike as well as hiring and firing better mechanics and crew members, and this tangible progression curve is what kept me absorbed in the game for so long. The soundtrack is also exceptional; genuinely some of the best pieces of Top Gun-style high-octane pieces of music I’ve ever heard.
4. Sonic The Hedgehog 2
My original experience of this game was playing it with a primary school friend who always insisted I take the role of Tails. In spite of this, I still came to love this game, mainly for more of the same reasons I loved the first; superb level design and a rich environment to roam through at either high or low-speed. Plus the ability in single player mode to murder Tails infinite times over without repercussions acted as a wonderful way to release tension.
3. FIFA Soccer 95
I’m hardly an expert in football games, but I’ve played enough down the years – including some of the modern FIFAs – to say with confidence that only Pro Evolution Soccer 6, whilst technically being a far better game, has come close to being as fun to play for me as FIFA Soccer 95. What’s funny about that statement is that, though the core game is solid, it’s when FS95 isn’t being a very good football game that it becomes such a riot. For example, is the ability to punch players to the ground very realistic? Alright, bad example. How about turning off referees altogether? No, definitely not. Or a cheat mode that enables epic gusts of wind that can cause freak goals to be scored from the opponent’s penalty area, or enables invisible walls around the pitch to stop corners and throw-ins ever being a thing? Basically what I’m saying is, this game was Rocket League a whole 21 years before Rocket League became a thing, and whilst still being an actual football game.
2. Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament
This is it – the VERY FIRST racing game I ever played. And also where my love affair with Codemasters racing games began. Years before Burnout 3 introduced Signature Takedowns as a gameplay concept, Micro Machines 2 had it licked; what shall you shove your opponent into in order to win? A toilet bowel? A flaming hob on the cooker? A pool ball rolling down the table towards you? A drill someone carelessly left whirring away in the workshop?
Or indeed as I did many times when playing with my dad, off a sponge raft into the sink. Repeatedly. Much to his rage. Sorry Dad.
1. Sonic The Hedgehog
…think I’ve explained this one enough.
Honourable Mentions: PGA Tour Golf 2, Sonic Spinball, Revenge of Shinobi, Super Monaco GP.
I eventually sold on my beloved Mega Drive at a boot sale in 2001, but after years of feeling like something was missing from my gaming sessions, I bought a fresh Mega Drive off eBay in 2007 and that model has remained happily in my collection ever since. The games are devastatingly simple by modern standards, and graphically date back to the Palaeolithic Era, but have a unique charm that means they now stand alone like a classic pop song; deserving of repeated listens regardless of how primitive the production methods seem by comparison to today. Look, I’m not saying Sonic the Hedgehog is like The Beatles, but…I mean that’s exactly what I’m saying.
What was your first console ever, and what were your favourite games for it? Let me know in the comments below – or on Twitter on @AJV1Beta – and lock back in TOMORROW where we move into Part 2 with the SONY Playstation 1!