Dick: I guess it looks as if you’re reorganizing your records. What is this though? Chronological?
Dick: Not alphabetical…
Dick: (In awe) No fucking way.
No doubt inspired by the brilliant movie (and book) High Fidelity, I’ve seen a lot of music bloggers run with an autobiography-through-music meme lately: pick one record (or song) for each year of your life. Not the best seller from that year, or even the best record, but the most important one, personally.
Of course, I immediately thought of games, and what my collection would look like if I had never sold any games, and arranged them autobiographically. Also, I threw in a little running commentary along the list. I’d be really interested to see some more of these, so feel free to leave a link in the comments for your list. Without further ado, read on for Games of Our Lives (part 1)…
1981 – Donkey Kong – Obviously a banner year for me, ’81 was no slouch when it comes to pop culture either. Three days after me, MTV was born and video killed the radio star. And of course, Shigeru Miyamoto introduced the world to the original 800-pound gorilla and the most unlikely protagonist since Mickey Mouse: a plucky, mustachioed hero in red overalls dubbed Jumpman. More on him later…
1982 - Burgertime – I can’t say I played a ton of this one-screen classic in the arcade. I was busy with other stuff like solid foods, figuring out the appropriate places to put poop, etc. Six years later, I got this game along with my Nintendo Entertainment System, so we spent a lot of time together.
1983 – Grand Prix – We got an Atari 2600 when my sister struck a deal with my mom about not sleepwalking for a certain length of time. It worked. I was too young to really grasp the mechanics of a lot of Atari games at the time, but Grand Prix is about as simple as it gets. Push the button (and Atari controllers only had one) and move the car with the joystick. Also, I was weirdly entertained by the screen flashing bright pink whenever you crashed into something. I’m surprised I never had a seizure or anything.
1984 – Paper Boy – Another one that I was too young to play in the arcades, but absolutely loved when it was ported to the NES. My first paying job was as a paper boy during junior high school and I think, subconsciously, that job only appealed to me because of this game. I can still close my eyes and hear the tally screen after each level, counting up the subscribers and non-subscribers on your route.
1985 – Super Mario Brothers – This game was mentioned in two separate speeches at my wedding, so that should give you some idea just how much of a toehold this fictional plumber has in my life. Want more? As I write this, a Mario figurine stares back at me from my desk. My wife will celebrate the day I finally quit wearing my team Mario jacket from a previous job. I had a dog named ‘Mario’ growing up, and once dressed up as Mario for Halloween. That was Halloween 2006.
I think so much of what makes the original SMB great lies in its simplicity. There aren’t any cut scenes to watch before you jump into the game – you just know that something is happening in this strange world, and it’s all to the right of where you are now. It was such an accessible game that everyone at least tried it a few times. Above all, playing SMB is one of the few shared experiences that my entire generation has in common.
1986 - Bubble Bobble – Catchy tunes, great character design and a vibrant color palette really made this game stand out from other early third-party NES games. I first started playing it on my aunt & uncle’s NES, before we had one at home. I used to write down my level passwords on a notebook next to their TV, and my cousins would pick up the game where I left off, writing down all their passwords during their respective visits. I’d say we invented long distance cooperative gameplay, but I would imagine this same exact process went on in every Nintendo owning home throughout the mid-to-late 80′s.
1987 – Punch Out!! - Just like Super Mario Brothers, Punch Out!!‘s control scheme was elegant in its simplicity. Everyone could identify with the game’s protganist, Little Mac, and pretty much every guy in his late 20′s/early 30′s can name at least one of the game’s larger-than-life opponents. At it’s core this game’s a really, really impressive test of timing, rhythm, pattern recognition and scientific method. It’s held up very well over the years, and was a tremendous hit when it showed up on the Wii’s virtual console in 2006. Bonus points for including Mario as a referee.
1988 – Mickey Mousecapade - I got my Nintendo as a present for my First Communion, along with this game, Burgertime, and the Super Mario Brothers/Duck Hunt combo cartridge. Like everyone else, SMB introduced me to platform games, and I loved it. But the cool thing about Mousecapade was that it let ME control an iconic character that I was already absolutely crazy about. It’s a formula that game publishers large and small continue to trade in today. This game added some nice touches, like the “keep Minnie Mouse close behind you” mechanic, and excellent level and enemy design based on Disney classics from Snow White, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, etc.
Stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 in the days ahead!