Friday, January 14, 2011

Nostalgia Goggles Vol. 1: Genesis of My Genesis

Making impressionable youths into Sega fans since 1992.
Making impressionable youths into Sega fans since 1992.

In this segment I'd like to take the time to talk about my personal experiences with Sega's ultimate achievement. This is where I forget about the non-slanted, fair and just lenses which I use to write my reviews and unabashedly slip on my rose colored nostalgia shades. So, if you dare, step into my time machine and let's travel back to a time when gasoline was affordable and toy stores were one of the best places to buy video games.

Let's start at the beginning. How was I introduced to the jet-black console that I'm currently devoting so much free time to? Why did I choose it above its competitors? How has it effected me as a gamer?

My earliest memory of the Sega Genesis dates back to 1992 when I was six years old. I was happily attached to my NES at the time, playing all of the classics I could get my little hands on. I wasn't very good at them yet with the exception of the Super Mario Bros. games which I think I did quite well with though I could come nowhere close to beating them. I remember the father of one of my best friends at the time showing us all the tricks and how to get past certain levels or bosses in just about every game we owned.

Holy crap it's like a roller coaster!
Holy crap it's like a freaking roller coaster!

I'm not even sure I realized the Genesis existed yet even though it had been on the market in the US for around three years. I was too young for the "Genesis does what Nintendon't" marketing campaign to really leave a mark on. One thing was for certain though, in 1992 no one would be ignoring the Genesis any longer. Sega launched its attempt at a Mario killer, Sonic the Hedgehog. Marketed as faster, better and looking like nothing my poor NES could ever do my impressionable young mind was amazed when I first stood in front of the Genesis kiosk at Sears and played the game.

It was unimaginably fast, you could run in loops like one of those Hot Wheels car race tracks, and there was so much more depth and color to everything. Best if all it was in a simple to play package that only required the use of the directional pad and one button. Sega accomplished everything they wanted to when they turned many kids like me against Nintendo with a rad and memorable mascot character of their very own.

Unfortunately I didn't come from the wealthiest of middle class families and asking for a brand new video game console was out of the question. It would just be me and my NES for the next few years. As Sega piled on the marketing with Sonic cartoons and comic books I pined more and more for the glossy black system.

The Robotnik from the first Sonic cartoon is still hilarious.
The Robotnik from the first Sonic cartoon is still hilarious.

I wasn't completely cut off however. Two of my friends ended up getting the Genesis. My friend with the gamer dad predictably got both a Genesis and an SNES, becoming one of "those kids" who always irritatingly ended the console war arguments on the schoolyard with, "I have both." I count myself lucky for having friends who had various consoles and PCs throughout my childhood. Even though I didn't have them myself I was always able to sample the best games that each system had to offer. I more than had my fill of SNES classics like Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Metroid and many more while playing Genesis titles like the Sonic series, Streets of Rage, the uncensored Mortal Kombat (my parents were good sports thankfully) and EA's helicopter Strike series which I was very fond of back in the day. It was on the SNES as well but had its best versions on the Genesis, the intended console of the series.

You mean it's actually one giant game? That's madness!
You mean it's actually one giant game? That's madness!

My experience with the SNES was arguably actually the better of the two at that point, but Sonic & Knuckles would forever change my mind. Not only was it bigger and badder than the older Sonic games I had played but I vividly remember sitting in my friend's room watching him beat the game and being enthralled by the very simple, wordless story sequences. The impact would get even greater when we discovered the benefits of using the cartridge's unique "lock-on" technology to combine it with Sonic the Hedgehog 3 which delivered the massive gaming experience that was originally intended. Discovering things like Super Sonic and Hyper Sonic and all of the other secrets of the game kept us playing for weeks. We became overly obsessed with Sonic, buying the comics every month and watching the cartoons whenever they were on.

Model 2 is not as big or badass as the original but still sleek and stylish.
Model 2 is not as big and badass as the original but still sleek and stylish.

Eventually it was 1996 and I was a ten year old in the fourth grade. The Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation were the new big things and at the forefront of everybody's mind. The Nintendo 64 was just launched and my reaction to Super Mario 64 was probably the same as it had been for Sonic the Hedgehog years earlier. It still amazes me today how fast the industry moved forward in the 90's. There was always something new and exciting around the corner. I wasn't interested in those expensive new things though. This Christmas I would ask for a Sega Genesis and I would finally get it. Better yet, the pack-in game with the Genesis model 2 at this time was Sonic & Knuckles, the game I wanted most of all.

I still remember being made fun of in school for this. The teacher went around the room asking everybody what they wanted for Christmas. It was PlayStation kids versus N64 kids and when it came to me and my Genesis one jerk kid even joked he'd give me his old one for free. It made me feel pretty bad but only for a moment thanks to my excitement and it didn't change my impression of the system in the least. I had played it during all of the best years of its life and knew what I was getting into. Though I had to play other people's systems the fast action games were perfect for when I was just visiting a friend's house. Sitting down and watching somebody play an RPG for hours when going over to see them was never very fun and probably helped to sour my personal feelings towards that genre.

3D changed everything but I wasn't quite ready for it.
3D changed everything but I wasn't quite ready for it.

The 3D graphics on the new systems were impressive but I couldn't wrap my head around how to control them yet and they were still much too awkward for me. I had played 3D games on the PC that fared much better like Doom and Mechwarrior 2: 31st Century Combat but the consoles still had some catching up to do. Lucky for me my friends would be getting the newer systems so I wouldn't be missing out on much. It would be just like before with the 16-bit systems.

Another unforeseen perk came from getting a system that was so close to its death; the games were dirt cheap. That very Christmas I received a Genesis game from practically every one of my relatives since it only cost them a few bucks and would make me extremely happy. It was probably the best Christmas of my life as I unwrapped game after game. Some of them I wanted badly like Mortal Kombat 2 while others like Sub Terrania I never heard of though it would develop into one of my favorite games on the system today.

For the next handful of years while stores continued selling off their Genesis stock I was virtually guaranteed a bunch of games for every birthday or holiday. They were so cheap at this point thanks to the generational change that every trip to the mall usually ended with me pulling out one or two games from the bargain bin at KB Toys and getting my Mom to buckle and buy them for me. My collection grew exponentially. I was in my own personal 16-bit heaven though I could still play the new systems by leaching off my buddies. Life was good.

Rest in peace old friend.
Rest in peace old friend.

My interest in the Genesis waned when we got a new PC and I went about playing a backlog of classic DOS and Windows games. It was here I was introduced to some of my favorite franchises of all time like Wing Commander and genres I never knew existed like adventure games when I discovered the fantastic libraries of Sierra and Lucas Arts. A lot of PC games seemed deeper and more mature and even had better graphics. Some of the newer ones even shamed the mighty N64.

It was during this time I made my worst mistake, selling my NES and all of its games to buy more PC games. I was older now and thought I knew everything. I felt like I had moved on and that PC games were vastly superior. The Genesis was collecting dust and I had become too mature for the silly consoles, or so I thought. I had even developed scorn for the PlayStation and N64 now that I had a taste of the more complex titles that the PC had to offer me. How would I know that my future self would eventually pine for these classic, simpler games?

My Genesis was spared from this genocide thankfully, it still meant too much to me. I liked my NES, but I was passionate about my Genesis and it was a feeling that I couldn't just brush aside even if I never found myself playing it.

With the next generation consoles on the horizon his marketing wasn't fooling anyone.
With the next generation consoles on the horizon this marketing wasn't fooling anyone.

Then one day I was in a flea market and a guy was selling a 32X for five dollars. For those who don't know the 32X was a failed add-on for the Genesis that looked like a big ugly mushroom when installed. It was designed to play games with more advanced 32-bit graphics and extend the life of the Genesis but it was a failure in almost every sense. While a few decent games were produced for it the graphical capabilities couldn't compete with the next generation systems and it was much more expensive than what it was worth. Support for it was quickly dropped which ruined the relationship Sega had with those who purchased one and probably helped to aid their eventual downfall. Genesis fans who bought Sega CD were already distrustful of Sega's ability to support their console add-on peripherals that splintered the market between people who owned the add-on and people who didn't. The 32X was an even worse repeat of that debacle.

I laughed at first, then bought it since it came with all the necessary hookups and the 32X version of NBA Jam: Tournament Edition which I knew was a pretty fun game. My spoiled friend who had all the systems also had the 32X so I already had some first hand experience with it. We spent a lot of time playing the FPS classic Doom on this thing since neither of us had a computer at the time to play the original version. It wasn't a perfect port but it got the job done and for the time it was a lot of fun to play.

The 32X port is pointless today but was a fun diversion if it was the best you had back then.
The 32X port is pointless today but it was a fun diversion if it was the best you had back then.

So now that I had a 32X I needed some games. One thing lead to another and suddenly I was buying buying normal Genesis games I had missed the first time around. I was skulking flea markets and yard sales and even a few stores that still had some straggling games left on their shelves. In what is perhaps a fantastic irony the 32X actually did its job long after it was discontinued and got me into playing my Genesis again. The failed add-on was my gateway drug to collecting.

And Sega said, let there be Dreamcast, and it was good.
And Sega said, "let there be Dreamcast," and it was good.

Eventually I returned back to the realm of consoles with the promise of the Dreamcast. With my renewed interest in the Genesis I saw Sega as it was all of those years ago and what seemed like a return to form won me over. Though the Dreamcast would crash and burn the short time we got to spend with it was a glorious one as it became the home to some of my favorite games. Much to my delight it stuck to Sega's action oriented arcade roots and even pumped out a few classic RPGs. Although Sega as a 3rd party developer hasn't done a whole lot to impress me over the years with a few hits here and there the Dreamcast made certain that I'd stay firmly planted in the fanboy camp for Sega's hardware and thus my focus on collecting for the Genesis greatly increased.

I didn't really consider myself a collector until recent years. In college I was working and could afford to buy games and a bunch of new geeky friends ended up influencing me to take my collection more seriously. I even went back and reclaimed the NES games I had so foolishly sold down the river in my youth. I also started buying up the consoles I had skipped during my PC years. Regardless of all of those distractions my most beloved collection has always been for my Genesis.

Today I still love everything about the console. The menacing black plastic, the occasionally fantastic music produced by a sound chip passed off as inferior by many, the unique graphical styles used to circumvent the limited color palette and most of all most of all the blazing fast speed of its action games that could never be matched by the SNES are all things that I look upon fondly. I often wonder if I would be more into RPGs had I decided to go with the SNES instead since I have a strong inclination towards action games. Did my preferences lead me to choose the Genesis or did the Genesis shape my preferences?

With hundreds upon hundreds of titles I won't run out of games to review any time soon.
With hundreds upon hundreds of titles I won't run out of games to review any time soon.

Although I was a late-comer to the Genesis crowd in terms of actually owning the system it was with me in one form or another throughout most of my childhood and I appreciate it as much as those who had it since day one.

Today I'm here presenting my thoughts on the system and its library of games, the classic greats, the underrated, the overrated and the just plain bad. My goal is to give more love to a console that I think many younger gamers have the wrong impression of due to its second place finish in the 16-bit era. I hope you'll all enjoy this nostalgic journey as much as I know I will.


  1. Long live Genesis! I've got it late too, but I've had my best gaming moment with it.

  2. Just read your post from the Genesis birthday thread on Racketboy! Loved your personal account!

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