夢をみる島

This is a teensy, tiny review of a game for the Gameboy Color in The Legend of Zelda series.

Personal log, 4th of March, 2017:
I​ just finished Link’s Awakening minutes ago, for the first time. So this opinion might still be a little hot out of the oven.

What stands out most to me, apart from the obvious (and charming) quirkiness, is how hard this game was. Maybe not so much for its enemies, but for the near constant puzzle of navigation. Such a density of discrete zones, many of them rigidly barred off from their neighbours, and only connected by a tangled circuit of byways… Moving through Koholint is no carefree jaunt. Unlike the other Zelda games I’ve given myself to, I seldom felt as though I was romping across this map – more like I was carefully tracing my fingers along the arcane markings in a sorceror’s book.
(A sorceror named Tezuka, perhaps?)

The other thing that stands out to me is the ending. I’m almost reeling from it. I don’t understand why it’s beautiful and I don’t even want to try – it just is. ▪
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Breath Mimic

On the occasional morning, when still half-asleep in bed, when there is no-one else in the room, I have heard someone breathing. The sound comes from very close-by, as if they are lying on my bed. Their breath adopts the same cadence as mine, but they inhale as I ex. Maybe mimicking.

It’s not scary when it happens, though. It’s scary to think of now, but when it happens it’s just a little weird. Not even weird enough to shock me out of bed. I only think, “They’re here again. I don’t know why.” For some reason a question never forms.

Yesterday morning I was lying on my stomach when it happened. It was as though they were lying across my back, weightlessly, resting their chin above my shoulder blade, breathing across the back of my neck. ■

Castles made of Sky

On March 20th, a CD video game was released for Sony’s PlayStation that I’d never heard of before. It’s name? Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. I had swung by my local game shop after work that afternoon, and happened to see its case displayed prominently on a shelf. The artwork immediately betrayed the game’s Japanese origins with the look of the protagonist’s face; yet there was something quite sad about the way this character looked, too, in a way that I’m not used to seeing with manga-style art. Sad and delicate. On a deludedly cashed-up whim, I brought the game to the counter, and the store owner (with his thin, red ponytail and evergreen pessimism) went and found the disc from a drawer back there. He almost smiled this time. Now that I think about it, that may have been a good omen – the game really is surprisingly good!

The first thing I must say is that it is quite derivative. This isn’t meant as criticism, though. I actually think it implements the things it has borrowed so well that it comes off as a love letter to its inspirations. It derives as much as it can from the best sources appropriate and then adapts them to its own unreproachable style. What am I talking about? Okay. Remember 1997’s quirkiest, most stylish beat-them-up game, Bayonetta? Of course you do – it was quite the hit! And fairly feminist, too, as Japanese games go. Well, there’s a healthy dose of Bayonetta’s soundtrack to be found within some of the songs in Symphony of the Night. Not literally; but the very chic, loungey jazz, as well as the catchy, soft metal, is so strongly reminiscent that I had to check to make sure the two games didn’t share a composer. While we’re thinking of Bayonetta, there’s also a borrowed special ability, too. Our protagonist in this game (Alucard) can tap R2 to become a  sprinty wolf, just as Bayonetta could become a very sprinty panther. If my memory serves me, that transformation was even mapped to the same button…

There’s also the same blue-and-white menu system seen in pretty much every Final Fantasy game, and quite a bit of DNA from 2001’s Shovel Knight – most notably the occasional breakable wall hiding a cooked turkey, and the optional special weapon of an axe that is thrown in a very familiar graceful arc.

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𝄞 Compare 𝄢
✦ Castlevania’s Crystal Teardrops to Bayonetta’s Chapter Start.
✦ Bayonetta’s God Sings A to Castlevania’s Prayer. (But the Castlevania track is a vast improvement on its source of inspiration.)
✦ the opening moments of this Final Fantasy theme (from FF XII) to the opening moments of Tower of Mist.
✦ and the motifs within Castlevania’s The Tragic Prince and Shovel Knight’s La Danse Macabre.

But let’s rein it in for a second. I should let you know what sort of game this is. One word: vampires!
Enough said?
No? No,  I suppose not. Well, alright, it’s a 2-D action platformer, that takes place entirely in one level. But that one level is incredibly vast, and you only unlock its true extent very gradually. A map (viewable with a press of Select) fills in as you visit each new space, and so becomes a dearer and dearer friend to you. And what are you doing as you traipse through this map’s world? Why, slaying monsters of course! So many monsters!

Which brings us to the probably the most important point of influence: 1998’s Dark Souls. I might as well cite ’96’s Demon’s Souls, too, whose pace of weapon swings and use of magic meters are more in line with Castlevania; but Demon’s lacks the cohesive layout of this game, where you can run through the many and varied areas of its world without a single loading screen. And this is what Dark Souls did so well, too. But as that old game was in 3-D, and the player was able to make out landmarks en route, there was absolutely no need for a map. This is a good point to dwell on for a moment… It’s quite surprising to me how many 2-D games are released without a map; and really suffer because of this. Whether it’s just a map for navigation or a world map that facilitates back-and-forth travel between levels, I can think of no reason not to include one. Yet even amongst exploratory, non-linear games such as Symphony, the absence of a map is quite common. And this is missing such a trick! Not just because maps are satisfying to fill out, but because they stop the player from making lots of frustrating forays down the wrong paths. They also give the world more of a sense of place. I won’t mention what games frustrate me for their lack of maps, but let’s just say that pretty much every 2-D game with discrete levels could do with the overworld map structure of Super Mario World.
100% happiness.
And every non-linear exploration platformer (or whatever we’re calling this) should have a map like Symphony‘s.
Oh, and every Zelda-like should have a world map that shows your actual position! (I’m looking at you, Oops! Nearly mentioned a game that frustrates me.)

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My favourite perfume!

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Capra Demon, I think, in a nod to Dark Souls. [This image is a lot clearer than the former – my PSX has temporarily kicked the Sness off the flatscreen]

Not to spend too much time focussing on the Souls series, here, but just as in those games, Symphony’s moment-to-moment gameplay mostly comprises of wandering through areas and clearing them of dependably placed enemies with whatever weapons you choose to wield. Unlike those games though, the weapons in this game never wear, and they can never be upgraded. Instead, what we have is the automatic levelling of the player character, as he breaches experience point thresh-holds and receives boosts to health points and strength. It basically amounts to you never having to plan out how you’re going to upgrade skills or maintain gear – which certainly makes it feel more arcadey. And for me this makes the game feel a little more dreamy, too. As I run through it, I’m never terribly concerned about anything. I just need to dodge, swing and make it to that next save room.

Speaking of which, the first couple of times I booted up this game, I had no idea how to save. I had found save rooms, but the huge, floating, pulsing polygons inside them meant nothing to me. I assumed they were some arcane mystery to be unlocked later. And so I died and was asked to start from the beginning. Twice. After having made about half an hour of progress each time. It was most disheartening!

This isn’t a typical gothic horror piece, though. There’s quite a rich stream of humour and quirkiness running through it. For instance, I spent quite a deal of time getting behind a waterfall to some treasure (Alucard takes damage in water), which turned out to be a pair of Secret Boots. Ooh! Being used to the equipment accessories in Final Fantasy, I was sure that these were going to make me be able to sneak up on enemies, or something like that. However, their description in the inventory merely read “Discreetly increases height!” And that’s literally all they do. Almost overwhelmingly discreetly. But you as the player are totally free to use up one of your valuable accessory slots for this miniscule benefit.

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I found some

One time, when I killed a frog (in the Catacombs, where your gameplay is accompanied by possibly the most Bayonetta-esque music), it dropped a pizza – “New York style!” Which was a pleasantly ridiculous find in a vampire’s castle in the 1790s. So there’s a lot of absurd details like that to be found; but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the game’s most overtly funny thing: the voice acting. It seems as if the developers took the ball of ridiculous voice acting from Resident Evil and ran with it. The way these characters talk is every bit as flat; but leant an extra dose of silliness by the archaic flourishes spoken in modern American accents. It’s not all on the actors, though (and I must say that the way Maria pronounces Richter is quite excellent!) – the fact is that the script doesn’t need any help sounding satirical. And you can also, in a way, hear the recording booth around the actors. Sometimes I would notice that the vocals have a slight distance or reverb to them suggesting this, which makes it seem as if the recordings were rather hastily done. Thing is, though, I’m not actually sure if any of this – from the hammy dialogue to the bland performances – was intentional. Not that it matters. In fact, the game is much more enjoyable because of this stuff. I wouldn’t trade the shopkeeper’s audible pout for a more believable portrayal (yes, you can hear him pouting as he does his screechy old vagabond voice, for some reason).

As you get further into the game, you realise that the Familiar cards you’ve started to collect can be viewed in a menu and toggled on or off. (Or you knew that already by reading the manual thoroughly – something which I usually avoid, in case it ruins surprises.) If you switch on a card and return to the game, a creature will fly down towards you from off screen. There is a fairy, a bat, a demon, and others that I won’t mention. They stick around and help you out for as long as you like – one at a time. Each has their specialties and may even offer lines of dialogue at certain moments. Well, as far as I know, the bat won’t; but it will float a little love heart when you turn into a bat. Oh, that’s right: did I mention? You earn further transformations other than a wolf, as well. All of these features nudge this game into territory untouched by games of a similar type, like the excellent Shovel Knight – which in my mind hasn’t really been rivalled in the sixteen years since its release (has it really been that long?), until now.

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My demonic familiar said, “Hmm! A switch! Why don’t I press it and see?” And then a secret opened up to us.

You know, I think if you get really quick at this game, it could become like a jukebox for you. Each section of the castle has its own musical background – all of them very good – and the tracks switch when you enter the corridors marked with “CD” engraved into the stonework. Is that for “Compact Disc” or “Castle Dracula?” Cheeky devs!

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Brave devs, too. I thought I had finished the game – I’d beaten the final boss and seen the closing credits – but then when I looked at my latest save file, it said that completion was only at 73% or something. So I loaded it up again and went exploring. Only then did I find the Abandoned Mine: a whole new, vast section underneath the castle! And so I went through and did everything there was to do there and fought the final boss again. But still, my completion was maybe like 89%. Something was up. After much investigation, I noticed that two of the rings Alucard had collected were inscribed with half a secret message each. Putting them both on and going to the place they mentioned opened up yet another secret area. This wasn’t so extensive as the large section I’d missed before, but within there was a friendly character I’d bumped into several times earlier. Her name is Maria, and I’m thankful to report that she’s a female character whom your male character never has to rescue, and who seems in fact somehow even more capable than your own half-vampire hero. Anyway, she gives you reason to believe that the final boss is actually not in possession of their free will. And, using an accessory she gives you, you can see that this is true. Eliminating the hidden authority behind who you thought was the final boss reveals that the game still isn’t over! Maria takes the newly freed person into her care and you as Alucard are transported to a different castle. Or is it the same one? It’s upside-down and mirrored, you see. The layout is identical, and so maybe you won’t have any troubles in navigating. But the enemies have changed; and they’re a lot tougher! Some are variations on what came before, and some are completely new species – most of those bizarre. And there is a slew of fresh bosses, too. So it now becomes your task to uncover the whole of the new topsy-turvy map as you chase down whoever the elusive, actual final boss is. At time of writing, I have yet to do so. There’s an awful lot of map to cover, and progress is slow. But this is great, don’t you think? Perfect for people who want an extra challenge, or who – like me – just want to absorb themselves for longer in this crazy campaign.

My completion currently sits at 139.9 percent.

That the developers would hide so much of their game away behind secrets is tremendously admirable. And, as I said, brave too, because some of it is their best content. Certainly the music in the Anti-chapel (with the balloon pods and panthers) is a contender for my favourite tune of the game. [“Lost Painting”]

I’ve barely even written about the visuals of this game; so I’ll share some more pictures here. Despite being set inside a castle, there is quite a lot of variety to the environments. Some areas are just beautiful, whilst others are actually a little disturbing to me – more “horror” than anything you’d find in Dark Souls.

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You can find glinting gems to pick up, perhaps reminiscent of those you found in Resident Evil. And, as in that game, there is a thick forest surrounding the interior setting to which you are mostly confined

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There’s an air decay to this castle, as by this point its master has been dead for five years

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Lovely

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I like this. So cryptic! And the cracks in the masonry are nice details

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I am disconcerted by this mysterious wall installation

And I really ought to share a little of the work of the lead character designer for this game. Her name is Ayami Kojima. The art speaks for itself:

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alucard cover

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By the way, I hear the Souls developers are working on a new skeleton-centric idea? Crystal Dragon, I think it’s set to be called. I’ll write more on that as news comes to light.

So, let’s say something conclusive! Okay. This game takes cues from several other excellent games and fuses their ideas into a much simpler, stripped-back hybrid of all of them. It’s probably the best side-scrolling stabby-slashy-spelly game in existence. There’s scope for improvement, though, as I cannot say it’s perfect. However, I’m not interested in writing anything negative here; and whatever foibles the game might have, they seem to blur out of focus completely when I’m enjoying the atmosphere so much. There’s an addictive pull to learning the lay of the castle and eliminating its bosses one by one. Once I’m done with that, I’m not sure how I’m going to feel… Perhaps the older Castlevania games are worth diving into? Anyway, I’m certainly looking forward to whatever vampiric adventure these developers bring out next.

As the pouty shopkeep says, farewell for now! ■

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Rogue One — Lacking Subtlety

 

rogue one polish, my version
That sums it up for me. After seeing the film for the first time, and even after a second, this is the notion that kept floating to the surface of my mind. A small but very clumsy group of clumsy decisions is what holds the film back from greatness — keeping it merely… decent.

Where to start? Well, the first clue the audience is given that maybe the foundation of this film is a little flimsy comes up straight away: a planet’s name is subtitled. This may seem a trivial point, but as I see it, there’s basically never an excuse to show a location subtitle. Never. If it’s important to know the name of a location, it will come up naturally in dialogue. And the fact that we are seeing text on screen causes us to wonder: who is showing us this text? Are we God and an angel has helpfully labelled a place for our forgetful memory? Or is this story being silently narrated by a character in the future? And why is this placename spelt that way (eg. “Eadu” instead of Iidu, or Eedoo), when it comes from a fictional language that is never displayed in-world in Roman letters? In short, the director has distanced us from any feeling of immersion.

Another aspect of this movie’s lack of grace — probably the main reason for the decision to subtitle placenames — is the way in which the first act sees hurried snippets of disparate storylines following each other in rapid succession. Perhaps this was a conscious decision of pacing, meant to invoke anxiety. But, at least in this viewer’s mind, it didn’t allow the characters or settings time to breathe, and felt clumsy. A better way of doing it might have been to let a few different events transpire in each setting, taking time to establish each scene’s central character and their surroundings more gently, allowing us to get a sense for the setting and sympathy for the character. From there the film could cut away at a natural-feeling “chapter break,” moving to another place and another character—and being mindful to establish them both without text labels! Think of the old Star Wars movies that did this perfectly. Yes, they were in more of a classical, sometimes mythical style; and so it could be argued that this Rogue One was bucking against that mood in an attempt to capture the feel of a different genre; but this is a flawed approach from the outset, because Rogue One is completely reliant on those older films for context and flavour, even borrowing some of their shots. And so it never confidently breaks free of them to become a stand-alone spy or war movie. It tries, continuously, but concedes to references — ”remember these two from the Mos Eisley cantina?” — and to the light fantasy style of its forebears (even while darkening it as much as it can). Furthermore, there are plenty of classic war films that took their sweet time with establishing characters, in a totally unhurried fashion. It’s easy to forget, I suppose, when putting together screenplays, but giving an audience plenty of time to get to know characters – good, interesting, relatable characters – really will make the film more satisfying for them.

Come to think of it — those frenetically chopped up opening scenes — did the audience even need to see them? Perhaps the director ought not have bothered with them at all, as almost the entirety of information they conveyed was soon redelivered by dialogue anyway.

There’s a lot of needless information towards the end of the film, too. The whole set up of the Scarif forcefield that somehow blocks data transmission, the bemusing refusal of the Rebellion to rebel, and the rigmarole of cables and uplink switches on the beach, all smacked of plot contrivance. Quite complicated and somehow fitting together neatly to ensure all the main characters die, yet each element felt unnecessary. You may also have noticed that when an imperial officer and some sort of imperial ground crew technician approach the titular vessel, where Jyn and Cassian are about to steal their uniforms, the technician juuust happens to be short and slight like Jyn. Ooh, perfect fit! Anyway…

I’m all of a sudden aware that this is a dourly critical piece, and that I’m subconsciously keeping levity out of my writing. I guess this comes from my own disappointment in something I was looking forward to for ages; but it’s also because I know that people worked on this movie very sincerely. So I respect that. And now that I think of it, this goes for pretty much all creative endeavours; even if something’s horrible (not Rogue One – other things), I should probably try to remember that its creators didn’t realise they were unleashing a horror upon the world. And at least trying to make art is better than not trying at all.

…Maybe?

That said, pretty much nothing in life (or death) needs to be taken a hundred percent seriously. So I’m going to write the rest of this post completely drunk.

Earlier I mentioned placename labels writ across the cinema screen. Now, even though I think it’s appalling – just a dreadful, awful idea – and should never be done for any reason at all, I also think if it is done, it should be applied consistently. And yet, when we are taken to visit Darth Vader’s lava castle, what planet are we on? Who the hell knows!? Bafflingly, the label convention was dropped at that point. I mean, pick a style! Changing it up like that suggests the director lacks self confidence, or maybe just doesn’t care very much about style consistency. I suspect that maybe it was also to indicate the secrecy of the location of Darth Vader’s home; but even if it is secret, I’m sure the audience is allowed to know. We won’t tell the Rebels, we promise!

Speaking of Darth… Man, what a slip-up! In the screenplay, I mean. There is just no justification for having that scene where he talks to Krenig. It gives us nothing that couldn’t have been delivered by other means. And it burdens us with listening to the quite noticeably aged voice of James Earl Jones for a full minute – bringing us out of the fantasy to think Oh yeah… I guess Earl Jones has gotten old… Huh. Wonder what he’s been up to, anyway… I really didn’t need that. I don’t know about you, but I really like feeling absorbed by a film whilst I’m in the cinema. Anything that makes me think about an actor’s life outside of the film, when they’re not really the character I’m believing in, is pretty unwelcome. So, how to fix this? Maybe don’t have Darth speaking for so long. Or at all. This scene really serves as the vehicle for a dorky Force joke. (Questionable use of the air choke, too – doesn’t Darth only use that when someone offends him?) Basically, the best thing you can say for the whole scene is that it shows off some cool concept art. Here we have a castle whose only purpose is to look metal as hell. No practical purpose for being there, no need for it to channel the lava; but most importantly no pretty scenery, either – Darth doesn’t need anything to distract him from his brooding. Yeah, it’s cool concept art. So thanks, Doug Chiang and co! But we didn’t need to go there. The less we know about Vader as a person, the better a character he is. Think about it: wasn’t he much more interesting when we knew basically nothing about him, apart from him somehow – unimaginably – being friends with Obi Wan and having kids with Luke and Leia’s mother? Ahh, that ambiguity… I miss those days! Happier times for all of us. Now we know too much about his homelife. And it’s weird. For all that he appreciates asceticism, he does it rather opulently – making sure to have a fully staffed holiday castle in the least sensible location ever.

And it’s such a shame that we had to see this, because the very end of Rogue One is where Darth Vader really shines! A bunch of rebel soldiers take position in a hallway, before the darkness beyond them is severed by the menacing glow of a red lightsaber. Darth steps forward and effortlessly annihilates everyone before him. There are no words from him. We all know who he is. He does his what he needs to do, with no more mercy than a hammer might show some nails. And if we want to know more about him, well there are three whole solid films set after this point where he doesn”t do anything out of character. His silent presence here at the end of Rogue One is leant weight by his deeds in the films that follow. I imagine a version of the movie where this was the first time Darth appeared. Many in the audience would have been hoping for a potential glimpse of Darth. As the end credits approached, this would have seemed increasingly unlikely. But oh my God he’s here! Right at the end of the film, in the most unabashed evil power fantasy, we get to see Vader in probably the most satisfying sequence we’ve ever had. When I say satisfying, I mean that it fulfils our desire to see him exemplify his own character. It’s very common in good stories, but I have no idea what it’s called. Anyway it’s delightful! For long-time fans, this would have been the shining cherry on top of an okay film.

Should I talk about the CG characters? I don’t wanna talk about the CG characters. They’re a tacky inclusion, basically. Some people won’t notice. My dad didn’t notice (though maybe he was in a bad mood at the time). But others will notice straightaway, even in that first glimpse of Moff Tarkin in the reflection of a window. I remember thinking in that moment, That’s alright. I know it’s some computer trickery, but they’ve classily limited it to a translucent reflection. That’s fairly subtle. And then thwack! The filmmakers assaulted my eyeballs again and again and again with this mock-up of a human being. It’s very clever, and there’s nice voicework, too. But why? Why?! It would have been so much easier for them and so much more pleasing for nitpickers like me if they had simply chosen/come up with another character to handle his plot agency. But no. They obviously thought it was such a good idea that they decided to throw in a fake Carrie Fisher, as well – throw her all the way into the Uncanny Valley. So many different solutions for that one. Because it was such a brief moment, the visual discord of CG Leia’s face could have been lessened or maybe even alleviated purely by choices of how it was framed and lit. That’s if it was important to show her face. Maybe it wasn’t, and we could have just glimpsed her, as portrayed by costume and a body double resembling that of nineteen year-old Fisher. Mind you, I am happy though that Carrie was happy. She quite enjoyed the scene, apparently. Enjoyed the quirkiness, too, I imagine, because I know she had a great sense of humour. And, look, I enjoy quirky things too. I even enjoyed this film, believe it or not! I just think it was totally all over the place. ■

Sega-blue Skies

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Recently, I was sitting in a café by the train station of a small town, somewhere on my travels, with an Edge magazine keeping me company. I had been going through some emotional upset, and was feeling pretty much as far from home as I’ve ever felt; so I really was glad to have the company. Inside the magazine, there was a preview for an upcoming PS4 exclusive, and therein I came to a passage where the writer was praising the work as having “Sega-blue skies.”
Suddenly I was struck with a strong feeling— let’s call it nostalgia. The phrase “Sega-blue skies” itself was not familiar to me, but I understood it instantly, and was transported back to the time when “Sega” was a magical word for me.
I remembered as a little kid, when I bought — or received (hold on, which was it?) — a Siiga Mega Drive (which is how my family pronounced it, anyway). It was late in 1994, when perhaps the heyday of the Mega Drive was coming to a close — but I had no conception of that. Nor did anyone else around me. It was as if we were on a small, drifting island of time, disconnected from the Web and not yet interested in magazines like Edge. I was a Sega kid by default — my loyalty stemming from chance more than choice. Which seems strange to me now, but if I take a look at how I got there, it makes a kind of sense…
A couple of years before, someone had passed down their old Commodore 64 to me along with a caché of disks. I loved playing Paradroid; somehow that name has stuck with me. But the whole set-up was quite convoluted, with an arcane habitat of cords and power adaptors that had to be packed away between uses; I rarely played it. At the time, games were only a curiosity for me, along with many other hobbies. I wasn’t really the computing type. I’m not sure what type I was; other than eccentric – going to school with my Beatles haircut and boots.
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I also remember not knowing what the hell was going on.

But after that, perhaps towards the end of 1993, I did spend a year’s worth of pocket money ($2 per week) on the $99 Sega Master System (with in-built Alex Kidd in Miracle World!). As I said, we were on a little island of time, oblivious to the industry’s history or where it was headed (after all, the Sega Saturn was due to come out in Japan only a year later). Yet here I was, absolutely delighted by a game that had been released some seven years earlier, on very nearly obsolete hardware. But I think, up until I bought the Master System, I had had no console experience.

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(Photographed tonight)

I’m sure, contemporaneously, my older cousin Screen Shot 2017-03-26 at 9.28.41 PM
(two years older and impossibly grown-up) was playing Duck Tales and Super Mario Bros. 3 on her Nintendo, but I was completely ignorant of that. When I was at her house, I would spend most of my time with her brother, who was closer to my age, and equally mad; and we were obsessed with “imagination.”
The Master System didn’t get a whole heap of play – maybe getting set up every other weekend. I had a small gaggle of games that were mostly too hard; so there wasn’t any chance of my becoming addicted. But when we did play the console, it was kind of special. I remember my sister sitting on the floor near the thing, ready to press the big, round “Pause” button when necessary. And my family and I were all pretty enchanted by the Alex Kidd music.
And so, following on from the positivity of having a Master System, the next year I got the console that really exemplified the emotion that prompted me to write this ramble.
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I don’t remember first setting up the Mega Drive or playing it. Dad must have been there, and quite probably Mum as well, who wasn’t typically keen to play video games, but who has always had a good attitude towards them. What I played first, though, is easy to remember: Sonic the Hedgehog. From memory, I had bought the game a couple of months beforehand; though time would often drag so much in my childhood that it may actually have been less than a few weeks. This was also the first time I had got a game before its corresponding console — a habit or tradition, I suppose, that would recur throughout the years.
After we switched on the machine, Dad must have tuned our analogue, wood-panelled television. Stunningly beautiful graphics and sound greeted us when the right channel was found. I experienced a new sensation: being impressed whilst feeling hope and bewilderment at a journey opening up to me. I don’t know if there’s a word for that (perhaps one exists in some language, somewhere).
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If I remember back to how I felt in those days — the effect that the Mega Drive’s colour palette had on me — the skies were indeed lovely. As was everything else. Flowers rotating, tropical trees, spiky grass, and distant cascades over crags above a vast ocean lake. All this set against music that was so inspired! As Dad would sometimes comment, it was “quite proggy” , with a bass-led interlude very reminiscent of the progressive rock band Yes.
To see it back then, on a lovely CRT screen with its roundness and sparkly shine, was to see the game in its purest form. And to hear it on that bassy (though in-built) sound system was also charming. It was a moment that can never be experienced again. Sure, we could probably recreate the same environment and interconnection of vintage machines, but it wouldn’t be that time for any of us—that time when we knew of nothing beyond the mid-nineties.
Fate is a quirky fellow. It complicates things in my head. Do I regret choosing the path I went down, or am I proud of having made it through? If I had noticed a Nintendo Entertainment System on that store shelf, back in 1993 — going for $99 with included Mario game — then I probably would have become a Nintendo kid. And been a little happier at school when my friends would draw Sonic’s decapitated head being slam-dunked by Mario. But if I wasn’t so much of an outsider in some aspects (like my soft spot for Sega), I probably wouldn’t have become as interesting an individual as I am now. (My mom says I’m cool.) I suppose there’s a string of weird choices I’ve made that have led me to becoming more characterful. Same thing goes for you, I bet! And besides, if I hadn’t chosen to adopt the black consoles when all my friends were playing grey, I wouldn’t have relived those sensations in my mind’s eye when reading the phrase “deep, Sega-blue skies.” And so I would have left that café, in a foreign land, feeling just as sad as when I walked in.
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