A few notes before we begin. I'm going to limit this to distinct product lines... I'm counting the Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS as separate systems, but a Sega Nomad is just a Sega Genesis in handheld form. (Which usually doesn't work anyway. Cough.) I'm also going to list these systems in the order I received them, as best as I can remember. This list goes back at least thirty-five years, so my recollection might get a little fuzzy for the earlier entries.
With that out of the way, let's start from the top...
|If nothing else, the Odyssey2 had|
the coolest box art, full of
futuristic neon images.
(image from Wikipedia)
Anyway, eight year old me had a lot of fun with the Odyssey2 (because he didn't know any better, cough), but the best game in his collection was without a doubt K.C.'s Crazy Chase. The sequel to an earlier Pac-Man clone that Atari found too close to the real thing for comfort, K.C. munched pine trees and the body of a roving caterpillar for points. Finish a stage and K.C. let out a hearty and startlingly lifelike laugh... perhaps sampled from the designer when he found a way to make a game that was just Pac-Man-like enough to draw in an audience without getting Magnavox sued.
Naturally, everyone in the neighborhood who didn't have an Odyssey2 owned the Atari 2600 instead. It was the industry leader, after all, even after more advanced successors like the ColecoVision and Atari 5200 were released. However, I didn't get my hands on one until after the crash of 1983, when my mother remarried. Her new husband's son had just left for college, and left his Atari 2600 in the basement for anyone who wanted to play it.
And play it I did... I must have spent hours with Yar's Revenge and the lackluster port of Pac-Man, taking a break only to read the comics that were included with the games. Things only got better when I scavenged yard sales for games to add to my collection, and peaked when the dollar stores at malls were flooded with unwanted 2600 titles. Well, unwanted by everyone but me, of course. These criminally cheap games were some of the best on the system, but none were as ambitious as Solaris, a futuristic shooter with surprisingly deep gameplay and 3D effects that put even the NES to shame.
Milton Bradley Microvision
|BlockBuster video game...|
oh, what a difference!
(image from Wikipedia)
There was nothing special about the Microvision, as I've mentioned in a previous post. Its resolution was laughably coarse, and the brains of the unit were built into the cartridges rather than the console. Despite this, I spent a lot of time on car trips pecking away at the pixelated walls of BlockBuster. It was the system pack-in, and the Microvision's best game... a lucky break for me, as it was nearly impossible to find any of the others.
Like today's Xbox One X or the Neo-Geo in the 1990s, the Intellivision was the high-end console of its time... a little more expensive than the competition, but also a little more advanced. While the Atari 2600 was puttering around with watered down ports of arcade games, the Intellivision treated its owners to World War II flight simulators, real-time strategy titles, and sports games licensed by the NFL, MLB, and the Professional Bowler's Association. (Hey, it's a sport too! Shut up!)
However, when the crash of 1983 happened, the once coveted Intellivision became as worthless to the general public as any other game system. I was quick to capitalize on this by picking up an orphaned Intellivision at a yard sale. The system, a voice synthesizer, and a couple dozen games cost me twenty dollars, but playing B-17 Bomber until the metal strip on the top of the system burned to the touch was priceless.
|Yes, yes, the controllers are terrible.|
That's why you get the Wicos.
(image from, yeah, Wikipedia again)
My cousin and a friend both owned Atari 5200s, but alas, it took a while before I had one of my own. I found the system and all the trimmings at a thrift shop in central Michigan, but it cost thirty dollars, and I was thirty dollars short that day. So I just kept borrowing my friend's 5200 until he bought an NES, and unloaded his old console on me for chump change. Years later, during a collecting frenzy, I picked up another Atari 5200 and as many games as I could to make up for the one that got away at that thrift store.
One of those games was Wizard of Wor, a port of the intense Midway arcade game that just barely edges out Moon Patrol and Mountain King as my favorite cartridge on the Atari 5200. It hasn't aged gracefully, playing more slowly and looking a lot blockier than I remember, but the pulsing bass and the general excitement of the arcade game is still there, even if the Thorwors look like angry shrimp.
Nintendo Entertainment System
My relationship with Nintendo has been pretty volatile... one day, I'll be madly in love with them, and the next, they'll do something to spoil the mood, like kill their fun social network or unceremoniously bury the flagship console which cost $300 at launch. (Uh, just to name two random examples.) Nevertheless, Nintendo has done more to shape my tastes as a gamer than any other company. The big N dominated the video game industry with its Nintendo Entertainment System while I was still an impressionable teenager, and debuted franchises like Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid, which continue to influence both modern game design and pop culture.
Beyond all that, games on the NES were fun, but in a more substantial way than they had been on previous systems. The play mechanics were more complex, and thanks to cut scenes and endings, the action had a purpose beyond reaching the next stage or beating high scores. It was an evolution of the gaming experience, and I had to be a part of that. It's why I purchased a Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988, with money I earned from raising animals on my parents' hobby farm. (Yes, I was in 4-H and everything. Life in the rust belt during the 1980s was a little weird.)
I had a lot of fun with the NES, particularly with Mega Man 2. I loved the original Mega Man, but somehow, this was even better, with massive bosses and a cartoony charm the first game was lacking. However, my loyalty to the system started to falter when Sega released its 16-bit Genesis, and Nintendo's response was putting its seal of quality on a cavalcade of licensed crapola by Acclaim. (Come on... Bart vs. the Space Mutants alone would have been enough to make anyone consider jumping ship.)
|Remember when 320x240 pixels|
was considered "high definition
graphics?" Things were so much
(image from... yeah, those guys)
Shortly afterward, I sold my NES and thirteen games to the same rental store for $150; just enough scratch to purchase a Genesis of my very own. For the next five years, my loyalty was with Sega... and I'm embarrassed to admit that I made sure everyone knew it. When I wasn't making an ass of myself on the front lines of the console wars, I was playing Genesis hits like Dragon's Fury, Alisia Dragoon, Streets of Rage 2, and of course, Treasure's frantic Gunstar Heroes. It's everything you loved about Contra, without the vein-popping frustration!
Oh boy, this one. I realize this machine has plenty of fans, but for me, the ColecoVision was a victim of lofty and ultimately unfulfilled expectations. Everyone in the classic gaming community praised the ColecoVision's pack-in Donkey Kong as a nearly perfect arcade conversion, so you'd better believe I snapped up the system the moment I found one at a yard sale. I ran into my uncle's house with the ColecoVision tucked under my arm (probably with its controllers and their ridiculous coiled wires dangling behind me), plugged that enormous power supply into the wall, and fired up the system, expecting to be blown away.
It blew, all right. Not "me away." It just blew. I paid only ten dollars for the ColecoVision so I really shouldn't complain. Yet when I remember all that hype about the ColecoVision bringing the arcade home, only to play a port of Donkey Kong that's objectively worse than the incomplete NES version, all I can do is complain! It's not just Donkey Kong, either... arcade conversions on the system range from reasonably accurate (Venture, Lady Bug, Galaxian) to that fresco of monkey Jesus (Time Pilot, Roc 'n Rope, Mr. Do!, Omega Race, Gorf, et al), and the inconsistent quality is hugely frustrating. A little research quickly reveals the problem... the ColecoVision was thrown together with off-the-shelf parts. Its Z80 processor can be traced back to arcade games, but its ugly color palette, limited RAM, and lack of hardware scrolling curbed the system's ambitions.
Good arcade ports do exist for the ColecoVision... they're just not a guarantee, despite what Coleco's marketing may lead you to believe. Burgertime is very impressive; superior to the NES version that came years later. Frenzy has an edge over its arcade counterpart, with more expressive artwork for the lead character and an eerie science-fiction soundtrack replacing the robotic voice from the original. Then there's Mr. Do!'s Castle, which doesn't look quite as sharp as the arcade version but nails the gameplay and that jaunty soundtrack. If every ColecoVision game had been up to the same high standards, I'd be complaining a lot less.
Sega Master System
Remember that friend with the Atari 5200? He also owned a Sega Master System. After the excitement of guiding a snail through a maze and blasting an ever-reviving Zanoni wore off, he sold it to me for a couple sawbucks. I don't remember the specifics... it had been a long time ago, and it wasn't one of my more memorable acquisitions. What I do recall is that during a fit of boredom, I connected the Master System to a headset called the Victormaxx StuntMaster VR. The StuntMaster was actually designed for 16-bit systems, but because the Master System shared an A/V port with early models of the Genesis, I was able to turn Hang On into a pseudo-virtual reality experience. Sadly, I think the eyestrain from looking into the headset lasted longer than the respite from the boredom.
|If you think this looks good, you should check|
out the recent remaster!
(image from YouTube. Yay, I broke the streak!)
Stay tuned for part two of Besties! We'll dive deeper into the 16-bit era of gaming, and check out some long forgotten relics from previous generations.