SEASON GREETINGS readers of this huge and overly popular blog (or so I’m told) created, edited and presented to you by the good folks of LuvvaLuvva Towers. Every so often Mr Double L (that’s his bra size) lets me loose from my basement prison to either rub my proverbial nose into his newest console or latest game release before tricking me to clean my nose with a chloroform soaked tissue, securing the ankle shackle, throwing me a year’s supply of bread and fix the faulty faucet before slamming the door shut.
He seems to get me every time with that, don’t you Double L?
Although this time, I believe he has turned a corner and has granted me the opportunity to rant and rave about my many gaming experiences. Either that or my solicitor that lives inside my head has finally written to him quoting said verse “LET HIM GO YA S.O.B!” So yes I’m excited! Not only do I get to see what the world now looks like (is One Direction a pop band or STD?) but that this is the first time I have actually seen Christmas for a number of years as he kept “forgetting” about me before he shut the office down for the Festive period. Come to think of it, the office was his bedroom and I was still living at home!
Anyway, it’s Christmas guys and gals. Baubles decorate illuminated trees. The air is crisp. The days are short and judging by the media so are peoples tempers in the stores. That’s what I like to see — chaos at Christmas. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s just not Christmas without pepper spraying someone in the face over the last box set of must have LEGO or ramming a shopping trolley up a person’s sphincter.
It also gives us the chance to romanticise about our own childhood memories we can churn out from the grey matter. The uncontrollable excitement as the hours roll steadily (and in some cases slowly) towards that penultimate day of the year while our over-eager anticipation to what the jolly fat man would bring us would either build to a wonderful climax — or a fatal damp squib. Luckily, the latter never occurred to myself, as I would have hunted Ole St Nick down and stuffed him with enough candy canes to make a Piñata jealous. So grab yourself a hot cup of cocoa, sit by a roaring fire (be sure not to roast your chestnuts), put your feet up and allow me to regale you with a tale of one of my fondest Christmas memories and my first foray into the gaming world.
It was a time before the internet. Yes, contrary to popular belief this moment in time did exist in which the only form of communication to send anyone on the other side of the world consisted of the tech-specs of a pen and paper. CEEFAX and TELETEXT dominated the playground as to who was better instead of the infamous console war and the closest anyone came to online gaming was if your TV aerial interfered with the neighbour’s TV reception (nothing gave you greater pleasure than watching Sonic the Hedgehog blaze through an episode of Coronation Street). It was the beginning of an era when the Undertaker was let loose unto the unfortunate populace of the then WWF while New Kids on The Block were Hangin’ Tough with Aussie girl-next-door Kylie Minogue and leaving her with tears on her pillow (it’s possible, don’t judge me).
If that didn’t give you enough insight to the time-frame, it was December 25th 1990. I awoke that fateful morning with wide eyes and excitement reaching the same critical levels of Chernobyl a few years before. Being the eldest of eight, it was my responsibility and duty to ensure I set a good example to my siblings but on Christmas Day that went out the window as quickly as many present day controllers. The stairs became a scene direct out of Mad Max as I jostled my way into pole position while sacrificing my brothers and sisters bodies to tumbles over the staircase and cheap shots to the back of the head. It was worth the violence and displays of superiority once I reached the living room door and opened it to reveal an Aladdin’s cave of treasure.
While we all stood at the door gaping around like nomads at an oasis, the scramble to where our gifts lay was on and like so much bad sex… it was pretty much over before it began. I can’t speak for everyone, but I began to regret the greed I felt at the time by opening everything at the same time. But that was soon forgotten as my parents revealed the location of where they had hidden one of the finest 8-Bit game systems ever… The SEGA Master System II!
As I retrieved the white checked box from behind the settee, I marvelled at the bold futuristic design which was emblazoned on the packaging which resembled a machine from a 1950’s Sci-Fi B-Movie along with an anime character as the proverbial punctuation mark. This was SEGA’s last ditch attempt to get a foothold in the industry following the disastrous European launch in 1987 that would have seen the console take centre stage on store shelves December 26th a full 24hrs AFTER Christmas which resulted in financial crisis for three of the main distributors (Mastertronic, Master Games and Bertelsmann) who had all received high advanced orders from retailers.
Even though sales suffered in the US, when it was eventually released in Europe by Richard Branson’s Virgin in 1988, this little box of delight thrived and was a far cry from the original Master System design that could have easily passed as a Famicom console when it was released in North America back in 1986. As with a lot of the early generation consoles, the Master System was as basic as basic can be even though it was technically superior to the NES. The only bells and whistles you would find were within the generous software library. Although, having said that – the music production of some of the games would have felt more at home as a hold tune when you were on the phone to any number of call centres.
Now the brief history and tech specs are dealt with, how did it fair? Well it lasted a lot longer than taking it out of its packaging that I can assure you. After a quick initial setup with the RF cable to the back of the TV and slamming the adapter into the power socket… it was ready! There was no introduction screen or anything like that, oh no, the second you switched this baby on it was straight to the built-in game action of Alex Kidd in Miracle World. Probably the most recognisable of the series for it’s out of the box operation on the Master System to strategically drum up sales for SEGA and for the purpose of this piece, easily one of the best.
Operating as a 2D platform game, Alex Kidd is fondly remembered for its difficulty and taking up 95% of my Christmas holidays. It is easy to see as to how comparisons to rival Nintendo’s Mario (from the red attire to how the levels were designed) have been made prior to the creation of a certain type of Hedgehog. From the outset, our Radaxian big eared hero (and boy are they big) is told by a dying man that he is a lost member of the Radaxian Royal Family, son of King Thunder and brother of Prince Egle. So equipped with a medallion and a map, Alex is on his way to rescue his brother from the grips of the evil Janken The Great, restore the kingdom and discover the whereabouts of his King Thunder.
No mean feat, considering that when you eventually face Janken’s many minions after a certain amount of levels, you have to try to defeat them through Jan-Ken-Pon or translated to Rock, Paper, Scissors. If only the world’s problems can be accomplished through this means, life would be that bit more sweet not to mention my bank balance as I beat the boss for a raise. Instead of coins, Alex uses a grossly oversized fist (the ancient art of Shellcore) to bust open blocks to collect bags of coins (or known as the in-game currency Baum) which can be used further into the game to buy items such as motorbikes and peticopters.
Without these items purchased the level in which they are needed are near impassable. That alone made the difficulty of this game extremely hard and frustrating in equal measure. If the vehicle you were using took one hit from the levels many obstacles Alex was on his own and if the gaming gods were truly against you and Alex then sustained one hit, it was quite simply Game Over.
Spanning 17 vibrant and colourful levels Alex Kidd in Miracle World was an absolute pain in the ass to complete. If by some unseen miracle (no pun intended) you reached a boss and lost the rock, paper, scissor contest… you were back to the start. Now after going through the festive selection box of chocolates and ready to stab the machine with a candy cane, my brother and I came up with a genius idea. Write down the first three guesses the boss would use since it was non-random code used and turn the tables on this damn game.
I admit it was a lot of trial and error to get further into the adventure, but when you eventually defeated a boss… you felt a sense of achievement, something which is regularly absent from some of today’s standards. By the time you completed the game you didn’t feel cheated either and for some strange reason, compelled to play through it again! Don’t ask me why, maybe it was the cheery music and cute visuals. Perhaps I just wanted to smash villains with a fist that would make pimps jealous or maybe I was just glutton for punishment. I’ll let you decide on that.
Once Alex Kidd was done, it was then unto the next game… Wanted! A pretty sub-standard fare Western shoot-em-up which utilised the light phaser, which I may add was as wonky and responsive as a dead one-legged prostitute. Basically, the desperadoes have returned and this time you are their target. So slapping on a silver Sheriff badge and holstering your weapon, it was your duty to restore law and order.
Now call me picky, but watching bad guys respawn through the same window as the screen remains static does not make me feel like a cowboy, nor like Clint Eastwood. The horse riding scenes were a hit and miss disaster and why bonus challenge screens like shooting bottles and flipping coins were a good idea is anyone’s guess. I had more fun shooting the innocent bystanders than protecting them, mainly as it helped to decrease my health faster and end the game. When I eventually decided to take the game seriously (all 5 levels of it), I was shocked to learn that from start to finish… it was possible to beat the game in under 40mins and the only main challenge was the last boss which easily took up 25mins! Well, when I say take the game seriously what I meant to say was, keep the light gun close to the screen and pull the trigger as fast as I could until my finger went into spasms. The only decent thing I could say about this game was it made a pretty decent book end as it collected dust for years after.
Well, there you have it. My first gaming memory from a console I simply fell in love with as a kid. As with so many consoles you have your great games to the mediocre and with the Master System 2, the latter were small in number. From Double Dragon to Mickey Mouse’s Castle of Illusion this little console had it all and much more. As with all great gaming machines, you always find a few games that still hold up well today and the Master System 2 is no different. It may not appeal to those who adore state of the art graphics or animation, but in terms of gameplay you be hard pushed to look elsewhere.
I hope you all enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it and to be honest, it was my first attempt.
So if you have any fond gaming memories at Christmas or wish to add your favourite Master System 2 titles, let me know in the comments below.
Nothing else left to say except once again — Happy Christmas and an Xcellante New Year.