Warp Drive

Showing posts with label Nintendo Rhapsody. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nintendo Rhapsody. Show all posts

Friday, August 9, 2019

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 7: The End of the Beginning)

I was a very reckless grade schooler one minute, and then the next, a high school graduate on his way to college. I was for the briefest of moments in time, as Ms. Davis said, "the man of the hour." It felt as if life were but glimpses. As I took my first glimpse of Cerritos College, I was filled with a fear of the unknown. The very same fear I had previously felt upon my arrival at California High School and every school before that. I entered into a large enclosed amphitheater. I was taken aback by the sheer scale of the college campus. It gave me such pause, I very nearly forgot the reason for my being there. I approached the front of the amphitheater to collect my entry exam before having a seat. I breezed through the multiple choice questions, but when it came time for the written portion, I struggled to think of anything. It was one of those scenarios where you have to write an essay response to a question. A very specific question designed exclusively for that exam. I consider myself to be a fairly creative person, but writing within those constraints always proved difficult. I had no choice but to take the entry exam over again. During the second attempt, however, I was given more time to wrestle with the question before me. I managed to pass the exam in the end and was thereby approved for three courses. An entry-level math class, a business class and a computer software class. As fate would have it, my computer software teacher was named Mr. Davis. No apparent relation to Ms. Davis. I found my mind a bit preoccupied those first few days in class. Squaresoft's Chrono Cross was set to release that week on Sony's PlayStation. A spiritual sequel to Chrono Trigger. I was eager to dive into the game having known of its existence for months.

On the day of my senior project presentation a few months earlier, I had some extra time to spare. I used this occasion to share the CGI introduction to Chrono Cross. It was downloaded from the Internet and then recorded onto a VHS tape via composite cables. I was nothing if not ingenuitive. Marlon and Israel were in the classroom that day. I knew that they would enjoy the Chrono Cross footage because they were the ones who introduced me to Chrono Trigger in the first place. Flash-forward to August and Chrono Cross was officially on store shelves in North America. I rushed over to Best Buy with dad, bought Chrono Cross and just stared at the case for a good long while. It was the first time I had ever bought a game for a system I did not own. I had only one option at that point in time. I would have to play the game on my brother's PlayStation. That is, whenever he was not busy playing Final Fantasy VIII. Serge, the new protagonist, awakens from his slumber in a small village. Not entirely unlike the beginning of Chrono Trigger. He eventually finds his way down to a beach where he meets with a friend. It is here in which Chrono Cross first demonstrates its new mechanic. Gone is any tangible form of time travel. It has been replaced by dimension hopping. Serge quickly learns that things are not as they appear following an incident on the beach. In fact, Serge would come to find that he is dead to everyone in this new world. A parallel to his own. His double had died at sea ten years earlier.

Friday, August 2, 2019

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 6: It's About Time)

In just three short years, I had made California High School my own. My performance in the classroom had afforded me the opportunity to choose an elective course or special task around campus. I chose to assist Mr. Hales, the physical education teacher, with his daily routine. I would deliver the sporting equipment to the field for practice, deliver the attendance sheets to the office and report any problems directly to Mr. Hales for inspection. More often than not, however, I spent this time standing around the basketball cart chatting with other students who happened to approach me. One of them was named Shalimar. Her boyfriend, Randy, had recently broken up with her and she was feeling quite down on herself. I would sit with her on occasion. I tried my best to lift her spirits. "Good things can happen out of the blue," I told her. I had personally experienced my own fair share of struggles in life, but something good always seemed right around the corner. I just had to believe in myself. She appeared to appreciate the sentiment. "Out of the blue" became a source of inspiration to her and she would come to remind me of that a few times. And then there was Jovani. We chatted about video games. One video game in particular. The then unreleased Perfect Dark for Nintendo 64. Rare's spiritual successor to GoldenEye 007. We would each comb the web for any clues we could find about the upcoming game and then report back in Mr. Hales' class. It would be quite some time before we actually got our hands on Perfect Dark.

With my school years dwindling to a close, I began surrounding myself with more and more creative-types. I met most of which through Ms. Davis' English course. Marlon was an optimistic, soft-spoken kind of fellow. He always carried with him a binder full of notes. His thoughts and ideas for stories he sought to develop. Most notable among them, a story entitled Tunchiza. A world in ruins; villages burning; three heroes embark on a quest to restore the light. An entity known only as 'Zendar' holds a vital key to their future salvation. When it came time to develop this story into a game, I would suggest a new name. It became known as Quest for Zendar. A rather blunt title, but it served its purpose. Israel was an energetic and often intensely enthusiastic newcomer to California High School. He transferred over from Barbara Dawson Educational Center. We had much in common. Having both attended that sometimes frightful school. Israel and I would chat about those days in our spare time. It felt strangely therapeutic to connect with someone else who understood. However, it did reopen an old wound I had tried ever so hard to forget. We eventually found other things to discuss. Israel loved Japanese anime and he often doodled his own characters on sketch paper. The Dragon Ball series was one of his most prominent influences. Akira Toriyama was like a god to him. While chatting with both Marlon and Israel one fateful day, they encouraged me to play more Japanese RPGs. But, and they were very insistent on this, if I play one Japanese RPG over any other, I needed to play Squaresoft's Chrono Trigger. I had long considered The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past to be my favorite video game of all time, but that was about to change.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 5: Nintendo Strikes Back)

With Barbara Dawson Educational Center now firmly in the past, I began attending California High School. The adjustment period was somewhat less unnerving than Hillview Middle School. I credit my early enrollment in summer school. I had a whole month to absorb the campus before the overwhelming invasion of students in September. During this relatively quiet time, I became acquainted with one of the more interesting teachers on campus. Her name was Tamara, but of course, everyone knew her as Ms. Davis. Gone were the days of being on a first name basis. Fellow class members remember her best for her love of pumpkin seeds. I remember, from the moment I first met her, her sense of humor. Ms. Davis was a lighthearted woman, sure, but she also had a rather strict side. It was not wise to upset her. The months flew by in the blink of an eye. Christmas arrived right on schedule. Santa Claus delivered a very exciting present to my brother and I that year. It was none other than the Nintendo 64 and it was not alone. It came with Cruis'n USA, Killer Instinct Gold, Mortal Kombat Trilogy, Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, Wave Race 64, but most importantly, Super Mario 64. It was not long at all before a debate was had to decide whose room the system would reside in. A few days later, we all contracted chicken pox and the two week quarantine period began. Let the games begin.

In just a few short years, video games had certainly come a long way. I never could have dreamed of exploring the levels of Super Mario Bros. 1-3 and Super Mario World in such a way as Super Mario 64. It was a whole new dimension. An exciting new third dimension in which the action could be experienced from all angles. Princess Toadstool had invited Mario to her castle for a well deserved cake party. However, once Mario entered the castle, he learned of her abduction by Bowser. Given her track record with the dinosaur king, it may be safe to assume she prefers his company over Mario. I should be thankful, at the very least, there was only one castle this time. There would be none of those "our princess is in another castle" shenanigans. Mario's life was also made a bit easier by the use of all new power-ups, such as the vanish cap and wing cap. Of all our fresh new Nintendo 64 games, I played Super Mario 64 the most amid that festive chicken pox season. My brother was especially into Killer Instinct Gold, what with its rad characters, stages and combo moves. I had a personal vendetta with Bowser and I intended to finish him. Upon collecting eighty power stars, the unending stairway atop the castle revealed its true destination and I set forth to save the Mushroom Kingdom once more. Bowser had, as usual, miscalculated the hazards surrounding his battle zone. With a few well timed tosses, King Koopa was prehistory. In the end, for his troubles, Mario received a brief kiss on the nose from Princess Toadstool. I never pretended to understand how that stuff worked, but a kiss on the lips may have been somewhat more exhilarating. Thankfully, the cake was not a lie. Luigi as a playable character, however, was.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 4: Trial Separation)

Nintendo's undisputed reign over the Haley household was, for the time being, at an end. Just as Mario hung his hat for a well deserved rest, an edgy new platforming star was beginning his own adventure. Sonic, a mysterious blue hedgehog without a speed limit, was set to conquer far more than my television screen. In no time at all, I owned everything from Sonic the Hedgehog sleeping bags to plush toys to comic books. I would eagerly visit the nearby Ralphs supermarket each month to score a new issue. It was almost as exciting as the animated series. Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog aired Monday through Friday at seven in the morning. Once I began attending Hillview Middle School, I had no choice but to record them onto VHS tape and watch them after school. Hillview was a whole new experience. There were an unnerving number of fellow students. Having been enrolled in non-public schools for many years prior, I was not prepared for the often twenty something students per classroom - or the fact I now had six classes a day. It was quite a bit to process. In retrospect, I always found smaller classes more focused and therefore rewarding experiences. One of those classes was, thankfully, a more intimate environment and it was there in which I began to take computers seriously. Previously, I saw them as rather dull educational instruments. I was assigned a floppy diskette and a desk terminal. My assignment was simple: Build and maintain a town in Maxis' SimCity. A town which continued to function whether I was present or not. It was like Quintet's ActRaiser, but without the action platforming stages. Computers were rad and all, but I really just wanted to get home and play the Sega Genesis.

Pinball has always been a fascinating parlor game. The way in which the ball hit bumpers, bounced around the table and flew into and through ramps was pleasing to both the eyes and ears. If one video game captured the spirit of pinball in those early days, it was Sonic the Hedgehog. When the blue blur approached 360-degree loops and winding tunnels at high speed, he would morph into a ball and fly through with ease. It was more than pinball, it was a roller coaster. When Dad purchased our Sega Genesis, it included a mail-in rebate for a free game. I quickly sent away for Sonic the Hedgehog 2. It utilized a more powerful and chargeable spin dash. With a few other notable additions, each entry in the series was more exciting than the last. Sonic could now transform into Super Sonic and the villain, Dr. Robotnik, had even more dastardly plans. As if borrowing a cue from The Galactic Empire, he constructed a world decimating space station: The Death Egg. In its first appearance at the end of Sonic 2, there were no power-ups to be found. Just two nail biting boss battles. Used the Force, I did. Sonic 2 also introduced a second playable character, Tails, and up until the last set of single act zones, he could be played simultaneously via a second controller. I have no doubt my brother brought his usual A-game. Sonic the Hedgehog 3 would bring with it virtually seamless progression through acts and zones, the ability to save game progress and a new rival named Knuckles. It was initially on the short side, but with the release of Sonic & Knuckles just six months later, with its unique lock-on functionality, Sonic 3 became, in my mind, the greatest entry in the series. Although they may not have been as great as their predecessors, Sonic Spinball and Sonic 3D Blast were my Sonic the Hedgehog 4 and 5.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 3: Genesis)

In the beginning, there was the Magnavox Odyssey. Utilizing an array of on-screen lights and television overlays, it marked the start of a worldwide phenomenon. One of many smiles, tears and jeers. Twenty years later, the video game industry was a bustling business. With the increasing popularity of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis, a whole new phenomenon was just beginning. As for the rambunctious Haley bunch, we arrived home from Toys "R" Us with the SNES in tow. It was quickly decided the system would reside in my brother's room. I cannot say for certain if this was punishment for my wrongdoings at Murphy Ranch Elementary, but whatever the event, it was rather effective. I would next attend Barbara Dawson Educational Center, where I would finally learn to read and write. I have Diane to thank for her encouragement, persistence and unique approach to instruction. I recall one book reading session in-particular for its use of non-linear progression. A "choose your own adventure" story in a world filled with stories fixed in stone. My mind was suddenly set ablaze. It would be quite a number of years still before I could write well, but she laid the foundation. I gradually became more proficient with practice of my own. I missed out on so many funny mistranslated NES games, but I had a plethora of dialogue heavy games to look forward to on the SNES. Of course, the first game to grace my brother's television screen was none other than Super Mario World - and it was good.

The Master, in his infinite wisdom, brought forth unto the land a set of sacred rules. Of them, he decreed murder to be the most wicked. The Master encouraged his children to share the land, but henceforth forbade the act of stealing. As the digital age neared, he sent a cherub to open a chain of Blockbuster Video stores. The Master was pleased with that which he saw in the growing video game industry and wished for everyone to reap from its harvest. His divine opposition to stealing remained unchanged. He merely bestowed the gift of renting. However, late fees would be the very undoing of one's soul. I cometh to a very peculiar game by Quintet. ActRaiser combined action platforming with urban planning simulation stages. I found the latter mode of play quite fascinating. It would be some time still before I discovered Maxis' SimCity, and thus, the concept of managing a town was that much fresher in my mind. ActRaiser cast players in the role of The Master, who went by another name in the original Japanese version, on his quest to rid the land of Tanzra: The Evil One. During the simulation stages, a cherub's arrows were used to fight evil monsters until which time as their lairs could be sealed by the townspeople. I rented the game from Blockbuster Video and, of course, returned it promptly on time. The grapes have ripened. The Master will live forever.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 2: Back in the Cradle)

With the experience of The Diagnostic School behind me, I moved onward to Murphy Ranch Elementary. My home life would gradually return to normal. I was in that awkward phase between Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. The Nintendo Entertainment System's reign, however, would continue for another year to come. Our home library was a bit limited, but thanks in large part to Blockbuster Video, we could play a different game each week. I also owe a debt of gratitude to my brother-in-law, David, for allowing me to borrow his gold plated copy of The Legend of Zelda. Of course, as would any true fan of Nintendo, I owned permanent copies of the Super Mario Bros. games - and Duck Hunt. Decades before the Nintendo Wii, I was firing at things on-screen with a pointer device. The NES Zapper was quite a marvel for its time. It was super exciting, but at the end of the day, all I really wanted to do was shoot the laughing dog.

My dad worked for Rockwell International, now The Boeing Company, where he most endearingly crafted parts for the NASA space shuttle program. His official title was that of Power Brake Operator. Dad was exceptional at what he did, but given how demanding his job was, he would often come home tired. On rare occasions, however, he would accept an offer to play Nintendo. Before my younger brother and I became NES wizards, he would actually look forward to a round every once in a while. Excitebike may not have featured a true two player mode, but it too was ahead of its time in that I could design my own courses before testing them out on unsuspecting family members. Square's Rad Racer was another singular experience made more entertaining when passing around the controller. We were astonished by its early use of pseudo three dimensional graphics. I tried to memorize the ever more complicated road maps using a pencil and paper. We found Rad Racer in a second hand shop, but I loved the game in such a way that, in my obsessive compulsive mind, I can still hear the sound the game made when time was running out. That said, some of the most engaging multiplayer came in Konami's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and III. Unlike the Super Mario Bros. series, they featured simultaneous two player cooperative play. There was just something satisfying about knocking foot soldiers senseless; especially with a little help from my friends. In this very precious case, with help from Dad. To the contrary, he would later recall times playing Super Mario Bros. 1-3 with the most fondness. Because, I presume, they were somewhat less competitive in their turn-based approach to multiplayer.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Nintendo Rhapsody (World 1: Far From Home)

When I was eight years of age, I lived away from home for a few months in East Los Angeles at a facility known simply as The Diagnostic School. It was a wretched experience. I slept in a dormitory-style bedroom with other children like myself. All the while being monitored from just outside by a member of their staff. My medication was also closely monitored. Various drugs and dosages therein were administered. At one point, a patch was applied to my back. If a child was especially naughty, they would lock them in a padded room devoid of light, until they were willing to cooperate. Needless to say, I was quite the school trouble maker to have found myself in a place like that. By day, I attended classes per usual and ate what everyone else ate from the cafeteria. I grew to loathe cafeteria food.

It was a wretched experience. All but for two defining memories. One was the day in which my dad, on leave from a jury summons, walked into the facility by surprise and took me out to lunch. It was one of those rare whisked away on a magic carpet ride moments. One which I will never forget. The other defining memory could be found in the lounge of The Diagnostic School. A little grey box that sat underneath a television. I knew what it was called, though I could not spell it at the time. It was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Yes, it was the NES that helped me through that whole experience. Within the confines of that room, I could be anything I wanted to be. A war hero on a mission to rescue P.O.W.'s from enemy encampments, an Elvish child with a desire to wear green tunics and raid large temples, or even a lovable but often misled plumber. With the right mindset, magic awaited within every NES game cartridge. Enough so, that even now, I almost forget that which I was initially writing about. Thus began a lifelong romance with Nintendo.