Local web designer Matt Heald started Reto Review well over a year ago now, the facebook page and website is used by thousands of people all over the world, with the most popular city for users, being London. The sites allows users to to upload their own reviews of retro video games from ZX, Amiga, Commodore 64, to the Nintendo and Sega 8bit, 16bit and 32bit consoles or the 80s and 90s, to the early days of Sony’s Playstation and Microsoft’s XBox. They also look at Arcade gaming, PC and features many sponsored competitions where you can win lots of retro gaming goodies.
As someone who only now has a passing interest in video games, I decided to write a feature of the days of my youth when I absolutely loved gaming, in the golden age of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Megadrive.
I was born in Barnsley, 1980. I don’t remember when it was that I got my first gaming console. Though I do remember what it was though – The Nintendo Entertainment System, with the Super Mario Bros. And Duck Hunt bundle. That would put it towards the very late 80s and would mean I was quite late to it. I don’t recall ever wanting a ZX or Atari, or even a Commodore 64, but I certainly remember rushing round to my friend’s homes to play on theirs. Craig used to live a few streets away, and while we spend lots of time playing Subbuteo and listening to Monty Python and New Kids on the Block LPs, we spent many hours playing sports themed games on his ’64; most notably those Olympics and Athletics games that simply involved tapping away at that big red button until your finger was knackered. And let’s face it; did anybody ever play those games for more than five minutes? They were boring. AND to top it off, just like now, I have never given a toss about sports, so I preferred to spend my time round at my then best friend Antony’s house.
Alongside making his shed into what we thought was a replica of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sewer liar, making his cellar into cross between a chemistry lab and Wayne & Garth’s basement, listening to Guns n Roses and Meatloaf records, reading Clive Barker’s Hellraiser comics and making our own bootleg VHS copies of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, we played endlessly on his Commodore 64. The two games we played more than any other was the brilliant Rolling Thunder and the first Street Fighter game; the former being my favourite and something that I see as a precursor to the fantastic E.S.W.A.T. (more of that later). And while we waited for those cassettes loaded (or got tangled up), we spent time connecting chains to the sawn-in-half sweeping brushes we’d swiped from peoples gardens, making nunchucks.
We’d often used go to Locke Park which was just at the top of Antony’s street. Inside the park cafe was the usual table football and pool table but also Bomb Jack – which I admit was never that amazing that people flocked to buy it for their consoles, but it was the only quality arcade game near to me. Though, I need to give a shout-out to The Simpson’s Arcade Game which we always made sure we sought out when we went on family trips to the sea side.
As well as spending time with my mates, I spend most of my time with my younger brother. When we eventually did get our NES, we spent countless hours playing games such as the impossibly hard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, every Mario Brothers game, Bomberman, Q*Bert, Kirby, Metroid, Batman, Batman: Return of the Joker, Bart Vs the Space Mutants and Digger T Rock (do you know that one?). And even though we came late to the NES, we thought we got a 1up (see what I did there) on some of our friends who’d got the much inferior Master System.
We were two of those kids you’d see in town doing a ‘Penny fo’ Guy’ in the run-up to Bonfire Night. You’d often find us at the top of the supermarket escalators that led into the carpark, or outside the entrance to the outdoor market. Both were prime positions. Unlike many kids back then, we were pleasant yet very scrupulous with our money. While others spent their hard earned money on sweets, we found that everyday we’d make enough to buy gaming magazines (always Mean Machine, CVG and Nintendo System Magazine) or even a game – even if it was one for a discount store. We’d usually get £5 a time, which would be difficult to do, even by today’s standards.
Being late to the NES meant that just round the corner was the impending launch of the SNES (or Super Nintendo). It took another year after the launch until we got our own, but there were ample opportunities for us to play with one. Being so close to town was a perk. At the top of Market Street was Tandy – a retailer known for selling electrical components and accessories, rather than appliances. It did however have a small range of computers, consoles and video games. After school we’d rush down our tea and leg it over to Tandy for its last half hour of business and we’d play on the console they had rigged up near the window. The game was Super Mario World. I don’t think I ever did get to find the 99 –or whatever it was – levels that was allegedly hidden in there.
Upstairs in the newly opened shopping centre, there was an independent store that sold music and games. They too had a console on display to play with. There you had F-Zero. Those two games were mind-blowing at the time, especially the graphics and speed of F-Zero, which is archaic in comparison to today’s standards – though I don’t believe that game was matched until Wipeout on the Playstation. And despite all of the hype, when it came down to Nintendo gaming, we both ended up preferring the humble Game Boy to the SNES. We each had one Game Boy in the house and on the rare occasion my mother realised that it wasn’t her (she was obsessed with Tetris – I think it’s a tidying up thing), me and my brother took it in turns to play. He liked Super Mario Land 2, but I preferred Super Mario Land. He liked Kirby’s Dream Land, and my all time favourite Game Boy game was Metroid II: Return of Samus. In fact, I nearly loved the soundtrack as much as the game itself. I used to just let the credits roll and listen with my head phones. Maybe that’s where my love of electronic music came from.
And while I was getting bored of the SNES, Antony had got one over me again. I’d already started playing in his Mega Drive and we were already well into Sonic II and had worked out that Debug Mode cheat that allowed you to place any sprite from the game on the cheat. The special stages were amazing and Casino Night made Sonic 2 one of the fastest video games I’d ever seen.
When I finally did get a Mega Drive (for us to share), although I still played the Sonic series, including Pinball (though second to the superior Dragon’s Fury pinball game), I found much better games in James Pond II: Robocod, Aladdin, Mickey’s Castle of Illusion and Earthworm Jim. Or at least that was the platform games. Sidescrolling beat-em-ups and shoot-em-ups did it was me; Altered Beast, E.S.W.A.T., Robocop Versus Terminator and my favourite, Alien 3. The music and sound effects of the latter were outstanding. You could hear every echo, drip of acid and chest burst in absolute detail. I also really enjoyed Beat’em Ups because we could play them together. Street Fighter II, Eternal Champions, Mortal Kombat I, II and III. Games with great music and lots of blood and gore really went down with me, and suited my taste in horror films.
I did though eventually start to lose interest in gaming. When I was about fourteen, I started playing in a band and the only games I ended up playing was Fifa ’96 and ’97 round out my guitarist’s house before and after band practise. Following that, at sixteen, I got with my first girlfriend and it was definitely goodbye from there. I had the odd mess around on my brother’s Playstation – only really Worms, Tekken and Wipeout, but in the end I preferred messing around with girls and guitars full-time.
I’m thirty three now and it was only in the last five years that I started to take up a mild interest again. I bought the first DS. There are hundreds of crap games available but New Super Mario Bros and Mario Kart beats most of them hands down – or is it the nostalgic element of those games that wins? I got a Wii too; and again, other than Mario, I only really played the Guitar Hero games. And then one Christmas I got a SNES again, with a bundle of around 15 games, including that copy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula that I always wanted but ended up being broken (good thing really, it was probably shit). It was great to have F-Zero and both Super Mario World and Mario All-stars back again. To be honest though, I wish I’d got the Mega Drive bundle.
However, in the end, I think whatever console I’d settle on, I know that whether it be because I’m only part time interested in gaming, that I have no interest in new video games, or that it is all simply pointless nostalgia, I’ll always have the excuse that I’m now too busy. And I’m slightly jealous of those that aren’t.