I’m going to make the assumption that if you’re reading this, you’re either a) a similar age to me or b) a gamer with a taste for the retro. Either way, I think you’ll understand where I’m coming from when I say that gaming has been a huge part of my life, especially in my formative years. I’ll lay my cards on the table – I’m 32, and grew up during (in my mind at least) the Golden Age of console gaming. That is, through the 8-bit and 16-bit years and the Sega/Nintendo console wars.
It was a glorious time when the idea of online gaming and “that there internet” were still the stuff of dreams….
In around 1989 I became the proud owner of a Sega Master System Power Base (see this for a more in depth look at this majestic and sadly overlooked legend), and from then on was a loyal soldier in the Sega army. The terrible box art and some awful peripherals aside (3D- goggles anyone??) the Master System had me hooked. Games like Fantasy Zone 2, Wonder Boy 3, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World and After Burner were firm favourites of mine, and although I’d played Super Mario Bros on my cousin’s NES, I was convinced that the Master System was the king of platform games consoles.
Come 1991 and Sonic the Hedgehog and the Sega Mega Drive were EVERYWHERE. TV adverts, press adverts, Sonic the Comic – there was no escape. Already a Sega fan, it was time to beg the parental units for this 16-bit behemoth. I remember this part like it was yesterday – once they eventually relented, Dad took me to an independent video game store (remember them?) in Beckenham to get one. It cost £130 and it was a Japanese Mega Drive (the one with ’16-BIT’ in huuuge characters on the top and the burgundy border as opposed to the white one on the UK MD’s). It came bundled with Sonic and 1 controller. I don’t remember ever being so excited about anything in my young life – it was like Christmas x 1,000! Once we got home I played it and played it and played it some more until it was time for bed. Amazingly (and to this day I have no idea how I managed it) I was able to persuade the ‘rents to let me stay home from school the next day so I could play it some more!!
The MD was a big part of my life for the next 5 or 6 years, and when you consider this was from the ages of 9-14, you can see why it still means so much to me two decades later. Certain memories stand out – Sonic 2’s Day (It was released on a Tues-day – I guess you had to be there…) playing Cool Spot in my room with a couple of friends on the morning of my first day at high school, bonding in the playground of said high school over Street Fighter 2 with our esteemed editor (we’re still buds after all these years, in no small part due to a shared love of gaming), playing the first FIFA to death the Christmas it came out (a decent console footy game at last –hallelujah!!), trying to get my Dad out of my room and off my MD when he became addicted to Landstalker – the list goes on.
Then there were other things that have died out in the years since – like renting games. £40 to buy the latest title was waaaay too steep for an 11 year old on £3 a week pocket money, but £2.50 to rent a game for the weekend from Blockbuster, or your local games emporium was not, and was one of life’s great pleasures (these were simpler times people!). Round where I lived, for a brief time there was even a guy who rented games out of the back of one of those tiny Suzuki vans – I shit you not – he came to you! Now of course I can rent a game on my Xbox 360 with a few button presses, which is cool in its own way, but some of the excitement and magic has definitely been lost.
Video game magazines were also hugely important at that time, and very influential on the games industry as well as on their readers. Sega Power, Mean Machines (later on Mean Machines Sega), CVG, Games Master and many others sold in huge numbers during the first half of the 1990’s.
But as the 90’s went on, my predictable capitalist hunger for the latest and greatest console took hold, and the Barlow household moved on to the ill-fated (but still great IMO) 32 bit Sega Saturn, and the MD was sadly given away (insert sad face here).
Now as we’re strictly an 8-bit and 16-bit site, I won’t go into my console history after this point in too much detail (thank God I hear you cry), but I do need to touch on it briefly in order to explain how I ended up yearning for the 16 bit years…
It went: Sega Saturn – PlayStation – PlayStation 2 – Xbox 360.
Now don’t get me wrong, I loved all these consoles in different ways, and in the case of the 360, I still love it. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Batman: Arkham City, Red Dead Redemption, Gears of War, Assassin’s Creed, GTA 5 etc, etc, etc – these are mild meltingly amazing games, that will explode your eyeballs and take over your life. But do you know what – and this is where I switch into old fogey mode – if I hadn’t grown up through the 8-bit and 16-bit era, I don’t think I’d be able to appreciate them as much. In the words of every old person ever “Kids these days don’t know they’re born”. If the oldest system you remember is the PS3, how the hell can you have your mind blown by the next generation of consoles like we did?
Ah well, their loss. Which leads me nicely onto my next point. As amazing as the modern consoles and games are, a few years ago (2011 to be precise), I’d started to grow weary of the sheer size and complexity of modern gaming. The myriad of buttons and d-pads and sticks on a controller, the millions of different commands, people constantly whupping my candy ass online…. I began to yearn for a simpler time…. for 3 buttons (or 6 at a push)…. for games that you could pick up and play instantly….for AWESOME music (Streets of Rage 2 I’m looking at you baby) and most importantly games that were just plain FUN!
And so it was that I hit up everyone’s favourite online auction site and began searching…. £25 for a UK Mega Drive with 2 controllers and 10 BOXED games?!?!? BID BID BID BID BID!!!!!!!!
Needless to say I won that auction, and once the parcel arrived, I was transported back to 1991 and felt that same excitement that I first felt when I opened my Jap MD way back when. Although in comparison to my Xbox it’s a very light, very flimsy feeling lump of black plastic, it’s also a time machine. Spending time now with old friends like Sonic, Axel, Brian Plank, Joe Musashi et al brings back some awesome childhood memories.
It’s not just about nostalgia though. The very best 16-bit games still stand up today. For sheer playability, and the all-important multi-player factor, titles like Streets of Rage, Micro Machines and NBA Jam just can’t be beat. So if you’ve found your way to Arcade Attack and are feeling that urge, that yearning, but have yet to take the retro plunge, all I can say, in the immortal words of Major Dutch Schaeffer are:
“DO IT! DO IT NOWWWWWWWW!!!!”
If you like this…
Was there life before FIFA?