Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Favourite Games At Christmas II: Game Harder

Much like last year around this time I was doing a little gaming by the Christmas tree - one of my favourite things to do around the holidays - and once again I found myself reminiscing about Christmases past and some of the different memories I have with fresh new games that Santa Claus was nice enough to drop off under the tree.

Let's keep this new little tradition alive and I'll take you on a trip down memory lane, shall we?
Said Christmas tree
I can still remember when I first saw a Super Nintendo Entertainment System in action. It was the summer of 1992 and I had popped up to a friends' place to see if he wanted to come outside and play, but was instead invited in to check something out. He had the SNES hooked up and was playing Super Mario World.

I should stress that I had absolutely no freakin' clue that a new Nintendo had come out and the concept boggled my mind. I can remember being absolutely blown away by it. The graphics, the sounds, a new Mario game; I was floored.

I ran all the way home to my parents' house and began to blather on about this new, unbelievable Nintendo I'd just seen. There were four buttons! And buttons on top of the controller! And Mario spun as he jumped!

Although I don't remember the particulars of my Christmas list to Santa that year, I'd say the SNES was first and foremost on there. Once again, Santa is a badass and hooked me up with a bright and shiny new Super Nintendo packed in with Super Mario World and another game that I'll mention later on.

Over the next four years I played an innumerable number of SNES games. It was the system that introduced me to so many different kinds of video games. My bread and butter, however, was side-scrolling action platformers. As I've mentioned in my previous article, the Donkey Kong Country series became a Christmas staple for me and you'd be hard-pressed to find better platformers on the system. The year before Donkey Kong Country was released, however, I received another colourful, fun platformer for the SNES, but not one you'd expect: Cool Spot.

I can't for the life of me explain why, but I absolutely had to have this game. If you don't know, Cool Spot features the then popular 7-Up mascot of the same name. It wasn't uncommon back in the 90s to see this sort of thing. Yo' Noid, the mascot of Dominos, had a popular NES game and the California Raisins even had a game developed by none other than Capcom. Cool Spot was developed and published by Virgin Games for the SNES and Sega Genesis and was popular enough to get ported to the Sega Master System, Game Gear, Game Boy and Amiga and DOS PCs!

Could there be anything cooler?
The game is incredibly straight-forward, but try not to chuckle as I explain the premise: You play as one of the many Cool Spots and you're out to save other Spots who have been captured throughout each level. You can run, climb, jump, and shoot soda fizz in order to avoid and defeat the many pitfalls and enemies found in each level.

I know it seems ridiculous, but I'm telling you: I loved this game. My little sister and I would play Cool Spot for hours during the Christmas break. And it was no picnic! This was a tough game! It was well-designed with tight controls and some great stages. It took me quite a while to finish the whole game and I loved every minute of it! I probably wouldn't have admitted it at the time, but I always enjoyed getting games at Christmas that I could play with my little sis and, in a way, Cool Spot was the first one to start the tradition that would continue with Donkey Kong Country.

After all those great years with my beloved Super Nintendo in 1996 Nintendo released its successor, the Nintendo 64, and as you might recall from last years post I was right there playing one of my favourite games of all time, Super Mario 64.

In the meantime, however, my Super Nintendo wasn't just relegated to a drawer somewhere. It was still a permanent fixture of my bedroom and I was still using it to play my newest video game obsession, Role Playing Games. And if there was one thing the N64 lacked, it was RPGs.

The following year, 1997, was a big year for the RPG as one of the most anticipated video games ever was released on the Sony PlayStation: Final Fantasy 7. RPGs were on everyone's minds and I can recall pouring over issues of Nintendo Power hoping to see that Nintendo would finally be releasing a big Role Playing game like FF7 for its cardtridge-based powerhouse.

I would wait in vain, however, but a game would be released to the N64 that would curb my appetite, and that game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

On Christmas 1998 I received a shiny, gold copy of Ocarina and thus began my absolute obession with that game. I played it morning, noon, and night for weeks. I was a teenager in 1998 and I had all the time in the world. It was a big year for me, actually. I also picked up a PSX and played so many incredible games over the next year, but I kicked it all off with Ocarina of Time.

Like I was saying, I slept and ate this game for the rest of my Christmas break and beyond. It was one of those titles that a friend of mine had picked up and we had the unspoken competition of who could complete it first (the same as with Super Mario 64). We would play for a day or two and then call each other up to check in and see how far each of us had gotten. If either of us were in a particularly charitable mood we'd trade secrets and tips to help the other along.

And you know what? Even though I played this game at a feverish pace I did take my time to enjoy it. I can remember whiling away time relaxing and fishing, diving off the waterfall near the home of the Zoras, or just riding around Hyrule Field on Epona, shooting arrows at Stalfos when the night fell. I had never played a game like it. I felt like I was fully immersed in a fantasy world and to this day I don't know that any game has ever sucked me in quite like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

Now let's take a step back to the day I first got my Super Nintendo. Like I said, I was a kid in the 90s, so of course I was not only obsessed with video games, but also the Ninja Turtles. I had thrown countless quarters into the various Turtles arcade games between '91 and '92 and when I opened up my presents that fateful Christmas I found a game I never expected to see: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time.

I un-packaged the Super Nintendo as soon as my family was done around the Christmas tree. I had a little Nintendo TV stand set up with an old TV in the basement. I can still recall how excited I was when I realized I could actually hook up the SNES to the TV at the same time as my NES using the RF Connector.

Of course I had to start with Super Mario World, but I had already played that game the summer before. I quickly changed my focus to Turtles in Time. This was a game I'd been playing in the arcade whenever I could and here I was about to play it at home! I had to be torn away from the TV to get ready to visit my grandmother's later that morning and all I could think about was getting back to that new SNES and play some more TMNT IV. When I got home later that evening, that's just what I did.

There was some differences with the arcade game, of course, but I expected that. It still looked amazing! I took my turns as different Turtles, but in the end settled on Donatello, who was my favourite of the brothers to play the video games as, even though I was always a Raphael guy. I went from present day New York City, into pre-history, the Wild West, and even the future!

Yeah, in hindsight, that is way cooler than Cool Spot!
I'm not certain if everyone just forgot about me being down in the basement or not, but there in the dimly lit room, basking in the glow of that old colour TV, I blasted my way through all the different eras of Turtles in Time.

I don't know how long I was down there, but I know that it was definitely very late when my mother finally yelled down to me that I had to go to bed. The "Just Five More Minutes Mom" Rule had to be invoked, though, because I was at the end boss, the Super Shredder! And then, just like that, it was done. I had defeated the Shredder and saved the world, yet again. I completed Turtles in Time the same day I received it, December 25th, and it is one of my fondest video game memories of all time.

Merry Christmas,