Welcome to my new multi-part series specifically about the evolution of my gaming life. Many people have asked me what I’m playing and how I got started…so I thought I’d have fun and answer that question over the course of a few weeks. Today, we start at the beginning – before I even ever had access to my own video games. It all starts in the electronics department of a Houston, TX, Target.
This was back before there was such a thing as “demo games,” and in order to have a system set up for people to try, they had to have the normal game cartridge in the game. This meant that for intrepid kids with a lot of time on their hands while their parents shopped, it was possible to play through an entire game.
There were all available consoles set up – I even remember there being a Sega Game Gear set up on a weird stand so you couldn’t actually pick it up, but it was playable. However, one console and one game drew my attention like no other.
The console was a Sega Genesis. The game? Sonic The Hedgehog 2.
I loved everything about that game. The speed, the sound effects, the music. I got into the Sonic The Hedgehog TV series’ that were on at the time because I loved playing that game so much. Sonic became an integral part of my childhood as of first setting hand to controller in that Target.
However, while I could blast through the first world, I had a lot of issues getting through the second – Chemical Plant Zone. There was a particular section where, if your timing wasn’t exact, you would fall into deep water and consequently drown. And I drowned. For months.
Then, one day, I made it past that section and defeated the boss. The whole game opened up before me. I reached the point where I could get to Casino Night Zone before my mother would be ready to leave the store (I later found out she was stalling to give me more time to play. I really appreciate that, momma). I was in love with the console and the game, and I’d gotten so good at it that people would sometimes gather to watch me play, and not want to take the controller when I’d offer it to them thinking they were waiting to play. Looking back on it now, it was like an offline version of Twitch Streaming.
Then, one Christmas, I was surprised with a Sega Genesis of my own. The games I had? Sonic 2….and The Lion King. This was a huge deal to me, growing up. It seemed prohibitively expensive, and I was so thrilled that I had it I think I nearly exploded. All these years later, I still thank my parents for this gift. This is the gift that turned me into a gamer – that made me the man I am today and started me on the path that has lead to this blog.
Sonic 2 turned out to be a lot longer than I thought it was – the worlds just kept coming. It was months, maybe even a year later before I would finally beat the game and see the ending. Even longer before I would manage to get all the Chaos Emeralds and see the special ending. In that time, I learned to adore The Lion King game as well. In fact, it became my go-to game. If I didn’t know what I wanted to play, I loaded up The Lion King, and beat it. I could run through the whole game in less than 45 minutes, so it was a very good distraction or time-killer.
I can genuinely say that this obsession with these two games has continued to this day. The Lion King is still my go-to game, any time I have my Genesis on. I also have the game on my computer, playable on an emulator, so that when the feeling strikes I can still revisit the 16-Bit Pridelands, and save it from the evil Scar.
I love the game so much that it was my first pick for this blog’s new feature, Retro Wednesdays. Check out that post to see a video of me playing The Lion King all the way through. (Beware though – I annotate amusingly.)
The Lion King was my bread and butter for almost a year – maybe longer. During that time I wasn’t without my issues, though. When I first played through the game, I became hopelessly stuck twice. The first time was on the sixth level, Hakuna Matata, in which you – as cub Simba – have to scale a massive waterfall by jumping from dropping log to dropping log. It has the feeling of trying to run up a down escalator while dragging a week’s worth of luggage behind you. But I was never really stuck there, in that I could see how to continue once I got past the waterfall climb. There was another area I would hit later that would stump me for a very long time.
On the eighth level of the game (in which you are inexplicably navigating the inside of an active volcano as adult Simba), it works like all the previous levels have. You generally make your way in the same direction you find yourself facing at the beginning of the level. Most platform games (or “platformers”) worked this way. However, the eighth level, Be Prepared, breaks from this stereotype, as there is a point at which you hit the end of your ability to go to the right, and the level continues back the other way beneath you. There is a barrier between you and the way to advance forward, and there is no tutorial, tip, hint, or previous in-game interaction that can give you a clue how to continue forward.
The answer is above you – you’re supposed to jump up and swipe the hanging stalactites three times, causing them to drop down and open the way forward. However, I didn’t even know you could swipe (B button, default) while jumping, to even attempt this. This caused the longest video game stagnation of my life. Unable to continue forward, I would treat this point as the end of the game. Once reaching this dead end, I would turn the game off and play something else, or sometimes simply restart it from the beginning. I spent my parents money on 900#s that boasted tips for the game (I’m so sorry, momma…). I searched online at the local library. I even spent hours button mashing while in that room, hoping to figure out how to drop down through the floor and continue.
It was while doing this last thing that I somehow hit upon the answer. I accidentally jumped and swiped at just the right angle to hit one of the stalactites. It rattled and made a sound. Fully hopeful and believing that any change was good, I set about trying to do it again. After being successful with the maneuver three times, the offending piece of rock dropped and opened my path wide. I went on to beat the game that same day.
The final level, Pride Rock, was difficult and required some precision jumping, but after having been playing around in that stupid room with the rocks for months I was no stranger to precision jumps. When I threw the pixelated Scar off of the top of the mountain, and heard the triumphant music playing, I was insanely proud of myself. I would go on to beat many other Sega Genesis games, but all good things come to an end.
Next Tooth & Arrows will feature the next step in my gamer’s evolution: the original Playstation. Be sure to check it out!