There’s always the struggle of starting up a new blog of exactly where to begin. My first thought was to revisit the old “30 Day Video Game Challenge” that did its rounds of most mainstream social media sites a few years back. Pulling up the old list, the first entry was to talk about the first video game that I played. First post, first game – it seemed poetically fitting, so I’m running with it.
I’m going to be writing blog entries whenever I get the inclination to, and they’ll be posted whenever I damn well feel like it, simply because I’ve found that, between work, life, and gaming, there’s simply not enough time for me to dedicate to an actual schedule. I’m also doing this purely for fun with no expectation of anyone actually reading it. Some will be based on this challenge, some may be general thought-pieces or maybe even reviews, all will have some bearing on the world of video games. So, let’s cut short the fanfare and dive right in.
What was my first ever video game? Arguably, this depends on your definition of a couple of points in the question. Ultimately, I have no idea what the first game I ever played was -it may have been something in an old coin-operated arcade machine, it may have been around a friend’s house. If we’re asking the first game I owned, then it could have been the old Sonic the Hedgehog handheld I owned, or a Texas Instruments “Tetris” knock-off.
I feel that the Sonic game bears a little bit of discussion. The damned thing was terrible, running one of those old displays like a Game & Watch and a difficulty curve that felt, at four years old at least, like a degree in neurosurgery would be more achievable. Perhaps these days I might be better at it, though somehow I doubt it. I get the feeling that it was just a rather dodgy spin-off made of hard plastic durable enough to survive the inevitable tantrum-fling.
No, my first proper video game was one of three. At some time around my sixth or seventh birthday or Christmas, I became the proud owner of my very own GameBoy – Nintendo’s original grey brick, a device so utterly indestructible, that I am fairly certain that if you used them as bricks, the structure would be a functional nuclear bunker, even at ground zero. Alongside this marvellously futuristic piece of technology, what with its 4-bit dot-matrix screen, and only requiring a modest four AA batteries to power, I received three games – Super Mario Landp, Lemmings, and Nemesis. I don’t know which I opened first, or which grey cartridge was slammed into the GameBoy first, so I’m counting all three.
Super Mario Land doesn’t really need much of an introduction. It was a Super Mario game, a franchise and character so safe and so widespread that even my own grandmother could identify him in a line-up. Back then, however, this was daring. It was the first time Mario had stepped onto a handheld console and, again, it was hard. The soundtrack, to this day, still gets stuck in my head (and looking at the screenshot above just cements it back in there for several hours of looping chiptune) and I’m pretty sure I can complete the first three worlds from muscle memory alone.
Lemmings used to need no introduction. It was a wonderful puzzle game that seemed to feature on every console and computer that could support it but sadly seems to have been relegated to the pages of history and those infuriatingly obnoxious “Only 90’s Kids Will Remember” lists. The premise was simple, a horde of dim witted but adorable creatures would fall through a hatch into the level, and the player had to assign jobs (like diggers, builders, blockers, and climbers) to lead them to the exit before a time limit expired or all of the little idiots had walked off a cliff, or into lava or a meat grinder.
The final game on the list, Nemesis, was essentially Gradius for the GameBoy, and if that sentence lost you, allow me to explain. Gradius was a side-scrolling shooter where you piloted a spaceship through wave after wave of marauding enemies, whilst dodging incoming fire and the alien scenery. It may not have been the first cartridge into my GameBoy but it certainly stayed in for the longest time. I was thoroughly addicted.
The action was intense, the music that perfect blend of catchy and an inspiring backdrop for the gorgeous pixel art that made up the game’s levels and enemies. It was also beautifully hard whilst allowing young me to choose how many lives I started with (99, obviously) and which level to start on. Yes, you could go straight to Level 5, the final stage, right off the menu, but this meant starting with only the basic weaponry. I loved that the game allowed me these choices. I loved playing from Level 1 through to the end, but I also loved that I could throw myself in at the deep end as a kind of extra challenge. It was also perfect for a handheld console. I could jump in for a quick game when I had five minutes, or could hole up for a three hour car journey (with safe batteries handy, of course).
There was nothing quite like the feeling of completing the first stage without dying once and having perfectly managed to grab every single power up. My ship would be firing high power laser beams from itself and two orbiting ghosts, whilst carpet bombing everything I flew over, with extra speed upgrades to dodge incoming fire, and force-fields for those moments when the incoming fire became a snowstorm of bullets. Whilst Mario and Lemmings were both fun, I felt that Nemesis was pushing me and I could practice and learn the maps and become better at it. It was something for me not to just play, but to master, and it that sense, may not have been my first game in the strictest sense, but definitely my most formative, shaping the kind of gamer I would eventually become.
It’s simple enough to pull it up on an emulator but I do still like to break out my old brick (still going as strong now as when I first ripped the shrink wrap off its box) and blast back through it from time to time and the genre of shooters and bullet hell games would always find a place in my collection. It also taught me that games should be hard, victory was something earned. A skill that would definitely come into play throughout my gaming life.
What was your first video game? Do you still remember powering it up the first time and how it made you feel? Do you still own it and play it from time to time? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @CaptBenzie