When I was a kid, my dad bought me a Sega Mega Drive, best known to Americans as a Sega Genesis. Even at that age, I was keenly aware that the only reason my younger sister and I got a Sega was because my dad really wanted one and he had the excuse of being the father of two children to justify such a purchase. A couple of years later, we got the upgrade to a Playstation, which resided in our bedroom but would frequently find its way to the living room, where we’d all watch my dad get increasingly frustrated with difficult jumps or puzzles not designed with the colour blind in mind. Next came the PS2, but by then, my gaming interests were limited thanks to the overwhelming sensation that told me games were for boys. By that point in time, my dad had dropped the pretences and just bought himself an X-Box.
Nowadays, he’s a PS4 man, while I found my way back to gaming through Steam and endless hours of watching speed-runs on YouTube. My game tastes haven’t evolved much from my youth: I enjoy vibrant and stylized action-adventure platformers with catchy music and jokes. Do you have a game full of jumping puzzles that seem pathetically easy but are actually so difficult that it causes players to swear repeatedly in aggravation? Then I’m your target demographic. For a while, it seemed like such games were dying off, alongside my other favourite genre, the point-and-click adventure game (essentially, anything that was made by or looks like it could have been made by Tim Schafer is my gaming goal: My all-time favourite video game remains Psychonauts). Fortunately, nostalgia has its benefits, and the industry has finally understood that not everyone wants grimdark recreations of warfare where you have to pay thousands of pounds for bloody microtransactions to get the whole damn game.
In celebration of that - and because I’ve been watching a lot of let’s plays while I procrastinate - let’s indulge in some childhood reminiscence over the video games of our youth.
Spyro the Dragon/Crash Bandicoot Trilogy
I lumped these two trilogies together because they’re very much cut from the same cloth: Colourful action-adventure games with imaginative level design, an all-ages appeal and a difficulty level that betrayed its seemingly family-friendly design. Out of the many games I played as a kid, these were the ones I spent the most time trying to complete. Indeed, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage was the first game I got 100% on (after 18 long, arduous, control-breaking months). For my generation, I think these were the franchises young gamers cut their teeth on. They bridged the gap between kids’ games and more mature fare, maintaining a bright façade while filling the gameplay with real head-scratchers. So much of the basic design and gameplay holds up to today’s scrutiny (although both series have some questionable character design choices that veer uncomfortably into racial stereotyping). The Crash Bandicoot remaster is a must-play, polishing up the aesthetics but keeping the foundations in place, and rest assured I’ll be buying the Spyro one when it comes out later this year.
Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Realistically speaking, I could put the original Sonic trilogy here and call it a day. Even before I got my own copy of the games, I knew who Sonic was, thanks to a delightfully cheesy Saturday morning cartoon with an earworm of a theme song. That design was iconic and my sugar addled brain was obsessed with the ‘Gotta go fast’ ideal. For me, the absolute peak of Sonic, a franchise that has been through some very tough times, was the third instalment. Here, the stars aligned: Refined game-play, detailed level design, excellent music, and, of course, the ability to play as Tails. Flying makes everything better. Alas, I never managed to complete this game on my own.
The Simpsons Hit & Run
Hey, it’s the second game I managed to get 100% on. Believe me, that one took even longer than Spyro 2. As a lifelong fan of The Simpsons, my continuing pop culture obsessions are largely defined by the series and my ability to quote large swaths of the dialogue with ease. As expected for a show this influential and popular, there were many spin-offs across various mediums, including video games, but the vast majority of them are terrible. Hit & Run was the first game that felt like real effort had been put into it, and the first game that truly honoured The Simpsons. That meant it had jokes! Lots of jokes! The game itself isn’t too shabby, with a very silly homage to Grand Theft Auto combined with those platformers that defined the gaming era. The ability to drive around Springfield, complete quests and see the sights (as well as question the geography of it all) provided me with many hours of entertainment. This game lives on in the mod community, with fans making their own missions and levels, with varying degrees of surreal creativity.
Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee and Abe’s Exoddus
I didn’t really want to play this game when my dad bought it for us (read: bought it for himself). It seemed dark and weird and the stitch-lipped alien design freaked me out. That meant I spent a lot of time watching dad play it, then eventually realising how fun the series was and hoarded it for myself. The original Oddworld games for PS1 are legends of the 2D platformer style, wedding wildly challenging puzzles with inventive world-building and a bleakly funny sense of dread. Oddworld was where I truly learned of the sick satisfaction that comes with dying over and over again, screaming in frustration, then finally solving the puzzle as if it was the easiest thing ever programmed. I rate the sequel higher, if only for the increased variety in gameplay, the ability to possess more creatures, and the delight of exploding farts.
What are your favourite video games from your childhood, and what games are you currently playing? Let us know in the comments.