Warp Drive

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

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.