The Gamer Who Came in From the Cold pt. 2

For me, it all started with the Super Nintendo.

Felix Quiñonez Jr.

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Photo by Angga Ranggana Putra on Unsplash

16-Bit Magic

My cousin Fernando had an NES, but I didn’t spend much time on it. For me, it all started with the Super Nintendo, that beautiful gray machine that so many of us loved. Like most people, the first game I played on the Super Nintendo was Super Mario World. To this day, it’s my favorite Mario game and one of my favorites of all time.

Super Mario World became an obsession in our house. Like many other kids of that time, my siblings and I played it every chance we got. Often, this would mean staying up as late as we were allowed to. We had to beat every level, find every secret, and eventually, we did. It was a magical game and a magical time. Once we completed the game, we simply moved on to other ones. It seemed like there was never a shortage of options.

Street Fighter 2 was another one of our favorites. We were so competitive that one particularly intense session brought my cousin to tears. It was a dog eat dog world. I also remember feeling a vague tinge of attraction towards Chun Li. So, all in all, it was an important game for all of us.

Our parents were by no means wealthy, so when they bought us a game, it had to be one we all wanted. My siblings picked platformers, shooters, fighting games, and all the classics. They were all great, but I never got to play the sci-fi and fantasy-themed games that I wanted.

Being in the early ’90s, video stores were also a big part of our life. The first time we played Super Mario Kart was after stumbling upon it in a video store. We had never seen anything like it. However, that’s part of being young. You experience so many things for the first time that it feels like another discovery is just around the corner. To no one’s surprise, Super Mario Kart became an instant favorite, and eventually, our parents bought us a copy.

Like most people, we were blown away by Star Fox. Although the graphics are now laughably dated, at the time, it was nothing short of revolutionary. It genuinely felt like we were experiencing history in the making. But that was just the way things were. As gamers, it seemed like we were witnessing new achievements regularly. History hasn’t been all that kind to Donkey Kong Country. It feels like, over the years, it’s become fashionable to dislike it and even make fun of it. But like so many other kids, I was amazed by the game when it arrived on the scene.

A million people have said it before me, but the game’s graphics were mind-blowing. It didn’t even feel like technology made it possible; you got the sense that the game’s visuals were the product of magic. But it wasn’t just the graphics. The music, by David Wise, was equally brilliant. I was a little kid at the time, and I didn’t usually pay too much attention to a game’s musical score. I didn’t even know what a composer was, but I appreciated the beauty of the music even then. But of course, none of that would matter if the game wasn’t any good. And Donkey Kong Country delivered on that front too. It was an incredibly addictive and fun game. My siblings and cousin spent almost as many hours on it as we did on Super Mario World. To this day, it’s one of my favorite games.

I don’t remember exactly when it happened, but we got a Sega Genesis at one point. I think My oldest brother convinced my parents. He was already starting to outgrow video games and thought the Super Nintendo was for kids. We also got a Sega CD but the only game I remember playing was Sewer Shark.

Like all technology, the Super Nintendo had a limited lifespan. And as the sun began setting on the 16-bit era, so did my siblings’ interest in video games. They began developing new interests, and spending hours playing video games suddenly seemed childish. But for a brief time, we were a tight little gang. Those were great days, and probably the most time my siblings and I spent together.

There were countless nights when all we needed between the four of us was a game to conquer. Those were the times when hanging out with each other wasn’t an obligation. There weren’t other places we’d rather be. Outside of that living room, to us, there was nothing else, or at least that’s how it felt to me. Because of that, I’ll always cherish the Super Nintendo. I’ll always have a tinge of nostalgia at the thought of games like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, Final Fight, Contra 3, The Magical Quest Starring Mickey Mouse, and so many others. They were part of the magical thread that tied us all together for a brief time.

But pretty soon, they started going out, dating, and they no longer wanted to play video games with their little brother. But my cousin Fernando and I were already looking forward to the next generation. We obsessed over every piece of information we could find on the upcoming consoles from our beloved Nintendo and Sega. We also couldn’t help but notice the growing buzz around Sony’s PlayStation. But we didn’t pay any attention to that. We figured the PlayStation would just be another in a long line of also-rans that no one would remember in a year or two. Video games were Nintendo and Sega’s world, after all.

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Photo Credit: Evan-Amos / Public domain

Entering the 3rd Dimension

Because my siblings outgrew video games, my parents didn’t rush out to buy a new console. But my cousin and I didn’t mind. There was still some life left in the 16-bit systems, especially the Super Nintendo. They blessed us with some gems at the end of the system’s cycle, including not one but two(!) Donkey Kong Country sequels.

But in the summer of 1996, we would enter the next generation of gaming and never look back. I still recall it like it was yesterday. Fernando’s birthday was coming up on July 10, and his dad asked me for advice. He wanted me to help him make a huge decision; Sony PlayStation or Sega Saturn? I’m pretty sure that was the first time an adult asked me for advice. I didn’t even know that was possible before. I took my responsibility very seriously. But I didn’t hesitate, even for a second, when I told him to get the Sega Saturn.

I knew the system would be my cousin’s, but I also knew I would be playing it a whole lot. Because of this, I looked forward very eagerly to his birthday. When the day came, we had a large family gathering. After dinner and cake, it was finally time to open his presents. His dad’s present was noticeably held until the end. It felt like a grand unveiling. And as he finally opened that last gift, knowing that it was the Sega Saturn, I expected rapturous applause. I expected everyone to go wild, lose their minds, and fight for the chance to play first, alongside Fernando, who was the birthday boy after all. Instead, it got a few applauses and claps, but nothing more than any of the other gifts received.

I was shocked. Did people not see what it was? Did they not understand that this was the NEW Sega console? Suddenly my confusion turned to guilt. Had I chosen the wrong system? Was it my fault that people weren’t happy? But my cousin’s excitement erased my concerns. He gave me a high five, and we proceeded to play Virtua Fighter. Everyone else quickly went to the kitchen and about their business, leaving my cousin and me to play in the living room by ourselves. Of course, my oldest brother made sure to let us know we were losers before leaving the room.

I didn’t know what to expect. I thought that everything would look as detailed and gorgeous as Donkey Kong Country but now in 3d. The blurry backgrounds and blocky character models of a lot of games confused me, and it was something I never really got used to. But the most significant change that happened during that generation was the fact that Fernando and I were now free to pick whatever games we wanted to play.

We were so used to having my older siblings decide that we didn’t know what we were supposed to play without them there. We were confused, and initially, we gravitated to games that we thought they would like. I guess we thought or, more accurately, hoped that we could lure them back. We convinced ourselves that all we needed was a “cool” game to make them realize that they were missing out. But really, we were trying to find a way to make things like they used to be. We gave it our best efforts, but it didn’t work. My brothers and sister had moved on, and all the bits in the world couldn’t change that. Growing up can be a lonely thing. You start to realize that nothing lasts forever. The world becomes a bigger place, and you become a smaller part of it. People start going their separate ways, leaving behind an empty spot in your life they used to occupy.

Of course, my siblings were still there because they weren’t old enough to move out yet. But they were different now. They had begun a new chapter in their lives, leaving my cousin and me to our childish things. But in a way, it was also freeing for us. My cousin and I were now free to pick the games we would play. And we did just that.

We would have sleepovers more regularly, and his dad would take us to Blockbuster. Suddenly we were the ones choosing. We didn’t have to worry that my siblings would shoot down our picks. We gravitated to games that my siblings would have thought were too nerdy.

We couldn’t get enough of X-Men: Children of the Atom and the Street Fighter Alpha series. We loved the comic book and manga-style art. The fighting style was different than anything we had ever played. It was over the top and cartoony. My brothers thought it was stupid, but we loved it. There were some games we enjoyed on the Sega Saturn and even loved, but like many people, it didn’t captivate us the way the Super Nintendo or Sega Genesis had.

My most lasting memory of the Sega Saturn is a game we picked up at Blockbuster without much expectation. We were allowed to rent three games and had already picked two. We picked Panzer Dragoon Saga just to fill up the last spot. I had never heard of the series before and certainly didn’t know there had been two games already.

Eventually, we got around to playing it and were instantly captivated. We got it, almost as an afterthought, but it became immediately apparent that it was the best of the bunch. In fact, I have no idea what the other two games we rented were. The game was beautiful, immersive, cinematic, and so much fun. We wound up playing that game exclusively over the weekend. We stayed up as late as we could and played it every chance we got.

To this day, it’s one of my favorite games of all time. I consider it one of the medium’s crowning achievements. And I still cherish the memories of staying up all night playing it with my cousin. When I think back on the good times in my childhood, memories of playing Panzer Dragoon Saga often pop up. It always brings a nostalgic smile to my face when I think about flying on the dragon’s back, exploring the game’s beautiful world, and embarking on an epic journey, all from the comfort of the living room. It was just about everything I loved about video games wrapped in a beautiful package.

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Photo Credit: Evan-Amos / Public domain

About a year after my cousin got a Sega Saturn, my parents bought a Nintendo 64 for my siblings and I. I think they were honestly puzzled that we weren’t hounding them for one. My siblings were generally indifferent about it at all, but I was ecstatic. By then, my cousin had a Sony PlayStation to go along with his Sega Saturn. But the Sega Saturn was mostly gathering dust at this point. Whenever he would come over for the weekend, he would bring the Sony PlayStation. And we would alternate between the Nintendo 64 and the Sony PlayStation.

When you’re becoming a teenager, you find yourself gravitating to new, different things. You start to venture out into a larger world and discovering new things along the way. One of my favorite discoveries from that time was Resident Evil. It was a weekend like any other. My cousin was coming over to spend it at my house, and he brought a game I had never heard of before. Someone at school had told him about it, and he rented it before getting dropped off by his mom.

I had no idea what to expect, but it blew me away. In hindsight, it’s easy to make fun of its b-movie aesthetic, and the terrible voice acting makes the game more cheesy than scary. The graphics are incredibly dated now and the remake that came out a few years later, rendered it basically obsolete, but it was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was the first time a video game genuinely scared me. I didn’t even know video games could be scary.

When the sequel came out a couple of years later, we got it from Blockbuster as soon as possible. My cousin was spending the weekend at my house and brought his PlayStation with him. And we proceeded to play it until all hours of the night. This was one of the rare games that at least one of my older brothers wasn’t too cool to play. He joined us, and together, the three of us beat the game.

We marveled at the beautiful graphics, the fantastic cut-scenes, and eventually, we beat the game that was so massive, it needed two discs. Afterward, my brother went back to being too cool to play video games. In hindsight, that encapsulated that time of our lives. My cousin and I were left behind by my siblings. Initially, we felt lost, but we had to learn how to navigate without them. Eventually, we found our own thing. And now and then, one of my older brothers realized he wasn’t all that grown-up yet and would retreat to the comfort of playing video games with his younger brother and cousin.

With the PlayStation, we were testing the new waters. We could satisfy our desire to venture out and carve out our own identities. We would play new kinds of games like Metal Gear Solid, Resident Evil, Twisted Metal, and many others. The Nintendo 64 represented a safer and more familiar place when we discovered that the world could be scary and daunting. We often played nostalgic games from familiar series like Super Mario 64, Star Fox 64, Mario Kart 64, Rogue Squadron, and many others.

We started this generation, a little lost, but we found our path. We became closer than ever and thought things would stay that way forever. We were already making plans for the next generation.

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Movies. TV. Comics. Video Games. Writer. Illustrator. Editor https://www.clippings.me/fquinonezjr https://theneonbulletin.com/

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