As the SNES era began to come to an end, I started seeing previews of the “new” Nintendo, the N64. Seeing those first screenshots of Mario 64 were unbelievable; my mind refused to fathom a reality in which I played that game. I literally did not think I would ever play something so stunning. Whereas the transition from 8 to 16-bits had been gentle, the sudden leap into 3D gaming forced my mind into a state of disbelief as a coping mechanism, lest my young mind be melted by the sheer force of a three-dimensional Goomba.
I was a die-hard Nintendo fan when I was younger and I came into the world of the N64 after nearly ten years of quality Nintendo gaming. Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana (all-time favorite game), Mega Man X, Super Metroid, Link to the Past, Earthworm Jim; and after all that Nintendo managed to do the impossible and top themselves with Mario 64.
Although I had heard of the Sony PlayStation by this point, I dismissed it. Crash Bandicoot seemed like an inferior Mario 64 clone and as far as I was concerned, there was simply no room for Sony in a world that was already dominated by Nintendo. At this point in time, being so young and naïve, I was a fanboy and I didn’t bother or want to see the value in a PlayStation.
As the holiday season approached I found myself wandering into an EB Games to escape the monotony of shopping. Obviously, I immediately made my way to the Nintendo section to hold the Zelda box in my hands for a while. After passing it off to the next eager pair, I wandered over to the register and came across a PlayStation running a demo of something called, “Resident Evil 2.”
I didn’t expect to be entertained; I was predisposed to hate the uncomfortable looking gray controller with its strange symbol buttons. I started the demo and was shocked at what I saw. Leon Kennedy, rookie cop standing amidst the blaze of a crushed city. And instead of angry enemies with a frowny-face, I saw bleeding moaning, human corpses shambling towards me. Corpses that needed to be put down, not with a “jump” but with a stomp. There was no friendly fire-flower, no “extra men,” essentially no safety as I realized I didn’t have enough bullets to kill them all.
Everything I had known in terms of gaming had been breached as violently as Raccoon City. Nothing I had ever played could have prepared me for that visceral moment. Although Nintendo worlds contained danger and on occasion abject horror (Metroids), there is, regardless of challenge, an inherent safety within Nintendo’s universe. The PlayStation suddenly defied my understanding of what a game should, or could be at that time. Unlike Mario, there were no S.T.A.R.S. to collect, no three-hit bosses or friendly but angry Goombas and turtles fulfilling the role of obstacle more than enemy. It was a violent, chaotic, frightening world that only offered safety under false pretenses (mirror Licker, enough said). It was a world not available on Nintendo and surprisingly, it was a world I now wanted to be a part of. Even within a demo in a crowded store, RE2 invoked a powerful sense of survival in me, a craving for a genre that I didn’t even know existed. As inconceivable as Mario 64 had initially seemed, the prospect of RE2 made me question my own beliefs in video games; in truth, I had no idea games like that were even being made let alone played. This is the point that I began to seriously question; what else was I missing with Nintendo?
My step dad eventually got me a used PS1 and somehow I acquired a copy of RE2 (with no allowance I have no idea how I got games back then). I proceeded to play and love the absolute hell out of it. I don’t remember what I played after RE2 (more than likely it was RE1), but there are memories from those early PS1 days that will always stick with me. The first game I ever brought with my own money was Breath of Fire 3 and I spent three days working in the hot sun just to buy a used copy (I still have it too). Even now I remember my faded orange memory card with a little sticky note that said “RPGs.”
I feel like this is about the time that more and more developers began drifting towards the PS1. Where the SNES had an almost endless supply of quality games, the PS1 was now entering that golden year that seems to simply glow in my memories. There’s no doubt that there were some terrible games on the PS1 but when you look back on it, doesn’t it feel like everything was great?
We got Final Fantasy VII-IX, Final Fantasy Tactics (first game I ever sank more than 90+ hours into), and Chrono Cross (the sequel we never thought we’d see). While I had dabbled in RPGs in the SNES days, that was nothing compared to the juggernaut that was the PS1. Final Fantasy Tactics, Breath of Fire 3 and 4, Parasite Eve, Xenogears, and even Alundra, PlayStation’s answer to Zelda. And if RPG’s weren’t your thing we also got Ridge Racer, Tekken 1-3, Resident Evil 1-3, Dino Crisis 2 (I miss that game), Crash Bandicoot 2-3, Valkyre Profile; and so many more classics that I am planning to buy a Vita (when it’s really cheap) simply to turn it into a mini PS1.The PlayStation quickly become my go-to system, easily dominating my TV for years.
Looking back on it I realize now that it was both a console and a time of my life to be remembered. As I get older, I see that my memory and mind are focusing more on the present and the future; my past fades, buried daily under an onslaught of bills, work, gaming and family time. It’s easy to forget those hours I spent gaming alone and the hours I spent playing and talking about playing with friends; those were the days when finding out you and some random dude played the same games was enough to make you life-long buddies.
At this point in my gaming life, I had not drifted away from Nintendo so much as I took a sharp turn. As the PS1 life-cycle started to dwindle and I started saving up for a PS2, it feels like the Gamecube wasn’t even a blip on my radar. The N64 hadn’t disappointed me in any way; after all, it gave us Smash Brothers, the modern Mario Kart, Banjo Kazooie and Star Fox to name a few. But that wasn’t enough anymore. Sony promised gritty, fun, colorful and everything in between. I love them to death and a Wii U is sitting in the room, but this console was for me, and I think many others, the start of buying Nintendo only for Nintendo.
I saved up enough to get a PS2 on launch day with a copy of Tekken Tag (my obsession back then). I didn’t have time to do anything other than play one match of Tekken Tag before I had to go to work. It was torture. The PS2 would eventually go on to an era of memorable, amazing games as well. Everything from: Metal Gear Solid 2, Final Fantasy X, Ring of Red, Star Wars Battlefront, TimeSplitters 2, Everything or Nothing, Dark Cloud, Indigo Prophecy, GTA 3, The Mark of Kri and just so many, many more. At this point, I didn’t even have a Gamecube (though I would eventually buy one just for Metroid Prime); but even if I didn’t play as many of their games as I used to, I had become a fan of both systems, appreciating the merits of each and discovering the joy in the best of both worlds.
In the winter of 2005, as the new PS3 was looming on the horizon, I got into World of Warcraft. That, and the jaw-droppingly high price of the PS3 combined with the very disdain that Sony showed to its fans in those days (two jobs just to play Ridge Racer?!), caused me to drift away from PlayStation all together. It didn’t help that seeing Gears of War for the first time had the same effect on me as Mario 64 and RE2 had on me so many years before. I picked up a X360 during a cheap sale and its easy Multiplayer connectivity along with gorgeous games (I still remember seeing a crowd of silent people watching a guy play COD2 at Best Buy) really sold me on the Xbox brand. Console-wise, I may have gamed primarily on the X360 but those five years marked a dramatic shift that I never expected; I become a WoW head and I forgot the PS3 as I transitioned into a man concerned with video cards and RAM.
Around the end of 2014, I ended up leaving work early due to feeling weak and dizzy. I spent about a week and a half in bed and three days in, my eyes stopped tearing up enough that I could play games again. The problem was I was quarantined to the bedroom with nothing but a dusty PS3 for company. I had very few games for the system since the PS3 was the official Blu-ray and Netflix machine. I played Infamous 2, explored the PSN store, played Luftrausers, and watched Blu-rays the X360 couldn’t touch. That week, sick and alone with my PS3; it was like catching up with an old friend. Despite the years apart, we picked up right where we left off, as though the years of separation had only been seconds. I enjoyed that time so much that truth be told, I was actually a bit sad when I got better.
After selling off my old consoles and backlog this year, I used the proceeds to buy a PS4. It was a long and difficult decision because originally I didn’t even want to buy one; I just wanted a Wii U and an X1 and to be done with the whole process. Having such a big (for me) backlog really made me jaded towards game collecting but seeing Infamous 3, The Order and thinking about all the great experiences I missed out on the PS3, really made me commit to getting a PS4.
I picked a quiet, rainy Sunday to connect it to the TV, making sure I had tons of time to carefully position it, read the inserts and settle back. After a password reset, I logged into my PSN account and then downloaded the PS1 anniversary theme. As the familiar twinkling sounds of the PS1 drifted past my ears, I thought about all the great stuff I had once played to that sound. I also thought about all the great games I had missed out on the PS3. But now, I think about all the great stuff I am going to see in the future. As the twinkling theme song dies down, I listen to the familiar PS1 woosh coming out of my PS4, all I can think now is welcome home buddy- I’ve missed you.
Here’s to another twenty great years of gaming.