I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m super into the community aspects of blogging, it really is one of the best parts of putting together these posts and I’m lucky enough to be brushing shoulders with some excellent like-minded people (although diverse in gaming habits and tastes) who take the time and courage to throw community events out there and cause a storm. The aforementioned Ian over at ‘Adventure Rules’ had been teasing followers with the promise of something blogger directed and social for about a week before releasing his ‘Charming & Open’ event, a sort of cultural exchange of questions; so whilst I asked him to reveal all about his guilty gaming pleasure, he posed this puzzler right back at me:
What is the first game you ever beat, and do you have special memories with it?
… it really is quite a puzzler. Some of my first gaming memories relate to my Dad’s ZX Spectrum, and later the Atari ST (Which I mentioned in one of my much earlier posts). In both of these cases the games were either endless (ie. high-score based) or I simply wasn’t old enough to posses the skill & patience to cross the finish line of a single player experience. I turned to my first ‘proper’ gaming system, or rather sibling-shared gaming system, the battery guzzling behemoth that was the Sega Game Gear to find this memory. My first clearly remembered completion of a single player game was ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’, so it’s no wonder that my turbulent friendship with that attitude fueled blue mammal would continue well into the next generation and define the 16-bit era for me.
This particular incarnation however was the 8-bit version of the game, and by all standards was the less loved of the pair. Released around 12 months after the well known Mega Drive (Genesis) version it was quite a different beast, so whilst I’m on the subject it is probably fitting for me to ramble on about it a little. Of course it was the Game Gear version that I … or maybe more accurately we (as you’ll find out)… completed, but most sources state that it was generally the same as the Master System version, and considering the technological limitations the team were praised for bringing this erinaceinae adventurer to the older generation of consoles. At first glance the game seemed to be similar to its 16-bit counterpart, colourful platforming, collecting emeralds, Dr. Robotnik, all there and accounted for, but I remember knowing at the time that it wasn’t quite right.
First up visually it wasn’t as vibrant as the MD version; the lower resolution and poor Game Gear screen didn’t help the situation any and certainly influenced the design. The reduced pixel-count resulted in Sonic being proportionally larger on-screen (in order to maintain any detail in his appearance) which meant that the rapid scrolling levels and speed based gameplay was toned down. Sonic was speed-limited to prevent the player repeatedly running into enemies as they appeared from the claustrophobia-inducing screen edges; the designers even attempted to assist the portable gamer in this regard by adding warning signs before upcoming hazards in Green Hill Zone. In retrospect the level design was also painfully linear and lacked free-flowing interplay between vertical and horizontal movement that we have since come to remember the series for. I was particularly disappointed as a child that it didn’t feature any loops, something that, to me at least, were what made staring at that repeating Mega Drive demo screen in Argos* on a Saturday morning so mesmerizing.
It’s not to say that it was all bad, clearly the creators were aware that they needed to mix up the levels as much as possible. This version came with a selection of new zones along with a few interpretations of the old favorites. ‘Bridge Zone’, ‘Jungle Zone’, and ‘Sky Base’ were all added into the mix along with classics ‘Green Hill’, Labyrinth, and ‘Scrap Brain’. I recall that the 2nd act of each zone was generally slightly different in some respect to the first; ‘Bridge Zone 2’ featured staple platforming mechanic #87, the continually scrolling screen; ‘Labyrinth 2’ was a living hell being entirely, start to finish, underwater; and ‘Scrap Brain 2’ I seem to remember being maze-like and somehow difficult to navigate. Small details, but they actually made each stage memorable, if not always for the best reasons. The third act of each zone was usually just a quick sprint to the boss which featured, as always, Dr. Robotnik in some suitably wacky version of his egg-o-matic. It also featured a unique brand of spring-heavy special stage (emeralds in this case found in the levels), and I liked the, somehow charming, map screen at the beginning of each act.
I have to admit some small feeling of pride that this was our first completion; battling through ‘Scrap Brain’ and ‘Sky Base’ with their fiddly jumps and projectile crowded screens to the final encounter was, whilst not Nintendo-hard, at least challenging. Also ring scarcity toward the final stages was made worse by not being able to pick them up as they fell from Sonic’s begloved hands upon impact with an enemy. Nevertheless, the ‘lightning-grids’, which periodically illuminated the screen, made battling to an airship for a showdown with the mustached boss one of the more memorable experiences I have of that often downtrodden handheld.
Turning back to Ian’s question, the actual first completion, I can’t remember, but it makes it no less special… I know we did complete it because I remember the closing scenes, and Sonic curiously singing karaoke over the end credits! It was special because of the long car journeys my Sister and I would spend playing it; alternating levels, passing that hefty lump of plastic back and forth as the orange street lights flashed by the window, one or other of us likely feeling pretty travel sick. We both excitedly cheering the other on at each new stage, jump made, and boss completed… and that’s to say nothing of the terror that we felt as the car pulled into a petrol station and the ignition was turned off, robbing us of our cigarette lighter power supply, and erasing our progress. It was a shared victory when we finally defeated Robotnik and I honestly have no idea which of us landed the last hit.
*U.S. Readers: Argos is a British… erm… catalogue based shop… most people have some sort of clothes drying apparatus from there