Streets of Rage (Genesis)

Pub: Sega | Dev: Sega AM7 | August 1991
Pub: Sega | Dev: Sega AM7 | August 1991

Although I started RVGFanatic nearly 12 years ago with the main goal of reviewing SNES games, I’ve always wanted to highlight a select handful of Genesis games that have resonated with me over the years. I finally reviewed my first Genesis game last month, Sonic the Hedgehog (appropriately so). It only took me over 11 and a half years but hey, this now makes two! Streets of Rage is a dear personal favorite of mine, especially when it comes to beat ‘em ups and Genesis games. Released in Japan on August 2, 1991, this month marks the 27th anniversary of Streets of Rage. And with the Streets of Rage 4 announcement made just a few days ago, I can’t think of a better time to pay homage to this game than right now.

The stuff legends are made of
The stuff legends are made of

By the way, there’s just something magical about those early Sega Genesis boxes. Many of them are incredibly nostalgic to me. Every little detail, from the white grid adorning the black background on the clamshell box to the cheesy but charming early ’90s art style, all add up to some wonderful memories of a special time in our young lives when video games were video games. By that I mean when games came fully packaged. Don’t get me wrong, there are some great benefits to the digital medium, but nothing will ever beat out physical copies complete with badass art and good old instruction manuals. All those vintage memories of sitting in the backseat of your dad’s car, eagerly scanning every tiny screenshot a hundred times over and devouring the manual front to back on the ride home… those times will never be replicated.

IT CAME FROM JAPAN…

Its known as Bare Knuckle over in Japan
It’s known as Bare Knuckle over in Japan
Ah, nothing like admiring those import covers
Ah, nothing like admiring those import covers

In a rare case, both the Japanese and North American names for this game absolutely rock. Bare Knuckle sounds cool as hell, but then so does Streets of Rage. In fact, I’ll give the slight edge to Streets of Rage. Not just for familiarity and nostalgia but how can you beat the name STREETS OF RAGE? I mean, that’s badassery personified.

Whether you refer to it as this...
Whether you refer to it as this…
... or this, the game flat out rocks
… or this, the game flat out rocks

MEET THE CREW

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THE STORY GOES…

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ROUND ONE: CITY STREET

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Although graphically it may not seem like much today, I can’t emphasize how much the visuals blew me away some 27 years ago. The first level sets the perfect tone, with the Pine Pot diner being a memorable standout. Although this first stage is full of bright lights and color, it’s also full of danger. There’s a certain grit to it and it has an impeccable late ’80s vibe. It almost feels like a Michael Jackson music video could break out at any moment!

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Nothing like a good ol’ leaping knee to the mush.

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Remember how those mini garage doors would open dramatically, revealing a bad guy inside? A classic trope of the genre that never gets old, no matter how many iterations appear.

Blaze with the vicious throw
Blaze with the vicious throw
And a German Suplex to make Brock Lesnar jealous
“SUPLEX CITY, BITCH!”
Tell em, Blaze Brock!
Tell ‘em, Blaze Brock!
Ah, who could ever forget this?
Ah, who could ever forget this?

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Perhaps the coolest and most memorable “ass saving special” in beat ‘em up history. I don’t know of many cooler than calling on your cop buddy who comes barreling in only to launch an all-out fiery assault. It’s things like this that makes video games so damn fun.

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The sprites in this game are smaller than I would like, but the bosses are usually significantly bigger. Just look at Boomer, f’rinstance. He was an intimidating sight back in the day, for sure, with his oversized boomerang and towering physique.

ROUND TWO: INNER CITY

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I’m tellin’ ya, it’s a Michael Jackson music video just waiting to happen.

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I remember this clown being the first regular enemy that gave me some trouble.

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Wolverine’s claws but Sabretooth’s body. Lucky you, eh?

Credit Jey2K for this beautiful artwork
Credit Jey2K for this beautiful artwork

ROUND THREE: BEACHFRONT

A nice beach stroll this wont be
A nice beach stroll this won’t be
Talk about memories...
Talk about memories…

When my best friend Nelson and I first saw this, we both had to pick up our jaws off the floor. Sure, it’s not as memorable as the rain in Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but this was definitely a cool moment. And one that sticks out in my mind even 27 years later.

"ITS THE ULLLLL-TIMATE WARRIOR!!!!"
“IT’S THE ULLLLL-TIMATE WARRIOR!!!!”
Blatantly so, but hey, it was good shit
Blatantly so, but hey, it was good shit ;)

ROUND FOUR: BRIDGE

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What’s a beat ‘em up without a level where there’s some kind of opening to throw bad guys into?

Looks like an interesting night...
Looks like an interesting night…
Where have I seen that enemy before?
Where have I seen that enemy before?
Hmmm
Hmmm. Naaaaah…

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Big Ben is yet another classic genre trope. It’s the fat bald guy who ironically likes to run.

ROUND FIVE: “SHIP HAPPENS!”

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One of the cool things about Streets of Rage is how crowded the screen can get. Most SNES beat ‘em ups, for comparison sake, would often max out at three bad guys onscreen. Not the case here!

Even more enemies here!
Even more enemies here!

I love the SNES (you might have noticed that…) but there’s definitely nothing like THAT on the Super Nintendo.

Double trouble!
Double trouble!
Chun-Lis long lost twin sisters
Chun-Li’s long lost twin sisters

ROUND SIX: FACTORY

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If you’re not careful on this level, your brains will get crushed. But it’s fair game, so lure the enemies in if you can. No bonuses, but it’s just plain irresistible!

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Another classic genre trope: previous bosses becoming “regular” enemies. The actual boss for this stage admittedly reeks of laziness: it’s just the stage two boss, only this time there’s two of him to contend with.

Not these assholes again...
Not these assholes again…

ROUND SEVEN: FREIGHT ELEVATOR

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No boss is featured here, it’s just a straight shot up to the final stage. My best friend Nelson and I always got a kick out of using our special attack here. There was something ridiculously amusing about watching our cop buddy send a blast high and deep into the night sky from ground level.

FINAL ROUND: SYNDICATE HEADQUARTERS

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By far the hardest stage of the game. This is due to a couple reasons. Namely, being indoors, your special attack is rendered useless. The second thing is you’ll face enemies (and former bosses) galore! In fact, the ever lovable (or not) beat ‘em up trope of a “boss rush” or “boss gauntlet” is in full (annoying) effect here.

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When you finally make your way to the top, Mr. X will offer you the chance to be his top crony. If you select yes, you’ll be sent back to level six and forced to play through to the end of the game. This also applies to when both players say yes. However, if one of you says yes and the other says no, you’ll be pitted in a duel to the death. Only by selecting no (both players have to select no in the 2-player mode) do you immediately fight Mr. X. This was pretty cool, especially back then when things were very cut and dry. This at least gave you the option to rebel and presents a bit of a moral dilemma. It’s nothing crazy but for 1991, it was a nice subtle touch.

There was even a bad ending
There was even a bad ending

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My brother and I always held this final boss fight in high regard. That’s because Mr. X was the spitting image of my brother’s best friend’s dad. Yep, Kerwyn’s dad was Mr. X in the flesh. So whenever we went to Kerwyn’s house and saw his dad, we couldn’t help but stupidly grin at each other behind his dad’s back. Ah, to be kids, eh?

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Mr. X’s lethal gun is no joke though, that’s for damn sure.

Shades of Belger's building...
Shades of Belger’s building…
Hmmm
Hmmm
"Sorry I couldn't help y'all in there..."
“Sorry I couldn’t help y’all in there…”
"All good. I get all the credit at least..."
“Eh. You won’t be back for the sequel!”
Classic
Classic stuff

TEAM WORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK

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One of the many neat things about Streets of Rage is the ability to work with your friend and perform some sweet tag team attacks.

Always so damn satisfying
Always so damn satisfying
But careful -- you can also hurt your partner!
Careful — you can also hurt your pal!

STREETS OF RAGE 2

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Released just mere days before Christmas of 1992, Streets of Rage 2 is often considered the best beat ‘em up not only on the Sega Genesis but of all time.

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I definitely dig it too but I don’t know. Call me an overly nostalgic fool but I honestly tend to prefer the original game.

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In terms of gameplay, Streets of Rage 2 is objectively the more polished product. But similar to Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, despite being the slightly inferior game, I actually prefer the first one. I know I’m in the minority but oh well. You like what you like!

STREETS OF RAGE 4

It's finally happening
It’s finally happening

For years decades, gamers have been clamoring for a Streets of Rage 4. There were rumors nearly 20 years ago that such a sequel might appear on the Dreamcast but that dream was shattered in short order. However, just a few days ago on August 27, 2018, the announcement was made official… Streets of Rage 4 is finally happening after all these years! A teaser trailer was released and fan reaction is a mixed bag. Personally, I’m not a fan of the art style but I’m going to keep an open mind and wait to play it until I cast judgment. One thing is for sure, it’s just nice to see Streets of Rage 4 happening at long last. Here’s hoping it does the franchise proud like Sonic Mania did for Sonic the Hedgehog!

WHAT THE CRITICS SAID

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Streets of Rage was well received for its time. It was seen by many as not only a very competent Final Fight clone, but some even viewed it as superior, especially when you compare the Genesis game to the SNES port of Final Fight (which was butchered without question). However, some gamers feel Streets of Rage doesn’t hold up quite as well today as it did in 1991. I can see this perspective but I still get a kick out of this game whenever I play it.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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One of my favorite Genesis games back in the day was Streets of Rage, and I still have a soft spot for it 27 years later. Playing it back in 1991 transported my best friend Nelson and I, two young regular 8 year old boys, into the baddest ass kicking warriors this side of town. In fact, one of my fondest memories that Christmas season was playing Streets of Rage at Nelson’s house while his family was hosting a party. I remember Nelson’s uncles were there; I used to look up to them because I thought they were so cool. That night we fired up Streets of Rage on the ol’ Genny and I remember all the uncles in the living room stopped what they were doing to watch us play. They too were entranced by the simple beauty that was Streets of Rage.

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And I still remember to this day feeling so high and alive. Feeling that Nelson and I, along with Streets of Rage, became the smash hit of the party. It was the coolest feeling an 8 year old kid could experience at that point in his young life. It’s a feeling I wish I could bottle up because Nelson and I were floating on cloud 9 that night kicking ass and taking names, all as Nelly’s uncles watched on. There was something special about playing beat ‘em ups with your best pal growing up. And there was something extra special about playing a beat ‘em up the caliber of Streets of Rage with your best friend back in 1991. It was a moment in time that you just had to be there in order to grasp the full effect. The gritty visuals, the epic electronic dance music and just the overall feel of the game… Streets of Rage was and forever will be a special Genesis game.

Award4Overall: 9.0
Gold Award

Thanks for the memories!
Thanks for the memories!

Sonic the Hedgehog (Genesis)

Pub: Sega | Dev: Sonic Team | June 1991
Pub: Sega | Dev: Sonic Team | June 1991

It took 11 ½ years but it’s finally here: my very first Sega Genesis review on RVGFanatic. Now as readers know, I love the Super Nintendo and my site is mostly dedicated to the almighty SNES. But I also love(d) the Genesis. I grew up with one and it gave me many fond memories. I’ve been meaning to reminisce about certain Genesis games ever since the inception of RVGFanatic back in 2007, but it just never happened for one reason or another. Until now. Inspiration struck when earlier today my pre-ordered copy of Sonic Mania Plus arrived in the mail. It brought back a wave of nostalgia. I can’t think of a better time to look back on Sonic the Hedgehog than right here, right now.

27 years later and the blue hedgehog is still going strong
27 years later and the blue hedgehog is still going strong
So freakin' GLORIOUS
So freakin’ GLORIOUS

SONIC MANIA

SonicParade

Sega’s lovable mascot made a huge splash when it landed in the summer of 1991 and made the Sega Genesis system an absolute MUST BUY. Sonic was Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario and kickstarted the whole “mascot with a ‘tude” era of the early-mid 1990s. Sonic would become a pop culture icon and his various games over the years have left an indelible mark in the minds and hearts of many. I still vividly remember my uncle buying a Genesis along with Sonic the Hedgehog for me and my brother in the summer of ’91. Our friends were proud Genesis owners in 1989 and 1990 so we got to play the system plenty, but it wasn’t until we saw Sonic the Hedgehog that we knew it was time to make the jump. You can ask any gamer from that generation and they too would have a Sonic the Hedgehog story to tell you. It’s one of those rare special games that everyone sort of remembers where they were the first time they saw it.

A STROLL DOWN MEMORY LANE

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Who could ever forget the classic first stage of the first game? Green Hill Zone was the perfect introductory stage with its lush greenery and ridiculously catchy music. The theme conveys a sense of adventure, energy and heroism all at once. The music in this game is amazing and just hearing a second of it instantly transports me back to the summer of 1991 playing Sonic the Hedgehog in my living room with my brother and our friends.

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BLAST PROCESSING, BABY! Sega’s infamous pitch to sell the game might have been hyperbole, but Sonic was certainly quite the speedster. The rings serve as your health. Whenever Sonic is hit, his rings go flying. When he’s hit with 0 rings, it’s Game Over. I remember thinking it was a pretty cool and clever idea!

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Bopping off one baddie and hitting another before you landed not only looked and felt great, but it multiplied your points too.

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Power-ups such as temporary invincibility and the shield are part of Sonic lore. The sound effect of the shield enveloping Sonic is embedded in my mind still to this day. BONG!

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Make sure to hit that lollipop marker (as us kids liked to call it once upon a time). And watch out for those rotating thorns!

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Ah, the classic loop the loop. I can’t think of Sonic without thinking about them. The two go hand in hand like Godzilla and Japan!

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Mario has Bowser. The aforementioned Godzilla has King Ghidorah. Sonic has Dr. Robotnik. Always fun beating his fat ass :P

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True story: when I was a kid I thought Marble Zone was sort of a homage to the first stage of Altered Beast (the game that launched with the Genesis back in the late ’80s). Ah, the innocence of being 8 years old!

"WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!"
“WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!”

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Love the way the fire trails you and love the sound it makes. Just classic stuff from Sega.

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Remember bypassing each one of these one at a time and waiting patiently for those Zordon glass containers to lift? You know you do.

Goddamn it, it really does look like it, no?
Goddamn it, it really does look like it, no?

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I love the sound the chain makes when it ascends.

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Marble Zone Act 2 brings the lava action. The visual of the rising lava is SEARED in my brain, pardon the pun.

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Spring Yard Zone is another memorable level. Who could ever forget bouncing Sonic off the bumper balls like a pinball?

Love the city at night in the backdrop
Love the city at night in the backdrop
BLAST PROCESSING!
BLAST PROCESSING!
WHOA! Speed kills, indeed
WHOA! Speed kills, indeed
Plenty of hidden areas to be found
Plenty of hidden areas to be found
Ah lollipop marker... my old friend
Ah, lollipop marker… my old friend

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Battle Dr. Robotnik at the end of each world, with his gimmick shifting for each fight. I remember thinking as a kid how dope that was. It gave me a sense that I was really beating him at every turn rather than what most platformers do instead (i.e. the big bad sending his cronies to deal with you in the levels prior to the final showdown). Obviously Sonic the Hedgehog drew some influences from the Mario games but it’s also obvious that Sega threw their own spin on it (pun intended, not intended) and made it their own.

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Alright, raise your hand if Labyrinth Zone terrorized you as a kid. Looking back, it’s really not that hard a stage but I guess at the time it was my youthful inexperience and anxiety that got the worst of me. It’s because of this and the water dam level from NES Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that made me weary of playing any stages featuring water.

No Donnie! Its NOT OK!
NO DONNIE!  IT’S NOT OK!

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Wait for the big bubble to give Sonic a respite. This used to induce mini panic attacks on me when I was 8! Especially when that damn frenetic music would kick in with the 5 second countdown to alert you that poor Sonic is on the verge of drowning!

It’s OK, buddy. There’s a Groupon on group therapy we can redeem.

Ah. away from water at last
Ah, away from water at last
Kicking and screaming back in the water
Kicking and screaming back in the water

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On my very short list of disappointments with this game, Star Light Zone is definitely one of them. Based on the name of the stage, my 8 year old self imagined a grandiose world littered by hundreds of multi-colored and different sized stars (including exaggeratedly enormous ones). Sadly the actual stars are just normal, rendering the overall effect forgettable. The world is not a fraction as colorful as I expected a “Star Light Zone” to be. Although Star Light Zone features some pretty cool ideas such as the fans and teeter totters, it felt like Sonic Team dropped the proverbial ball as it relates to appearance and atmosphere.

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In fact, my mind often switches Spring Yard Zone and Star Light Zone, as a sign of my inner desire for Star Light Zone to be brighter and bigger than what it is.

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The oddly titled (and looking) Scrap Brain Zone doesn’t mess around. Industrial in its look and design, it features the game’s trickiest platforming and even includes some underwater sections to navigate through.

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Personally, I didn’t care too much for the aesthetics of Scrap Brain Zone. It’s not one of those memorable final worlds that spring to mind when I think of such things. It’s rather mechanical (in spirit), which granted makes a ton of sense because it is Dr. Robotnik’s lair, but still. It feels a little too lifeless and definitely ranks toward the bottom of my least favorite zones in this game, along with the aforementioned disappointing Star Light Zone.

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Thankfully, the final fight with Dr. Robotnik is highly memorable and something that has stuck with me throughout the ages. It’s simply classic and fun to play. After a small speed bump, Sonic the Hedgehog definitely ends on a high note.

BONUS ROUND

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If you beat a stage with 50 or more rings and manage to jump into the big golden ring at level’s end, then you’ll be transported here. It’s a crazy dream-like psychedelic experience. Do your best to avoid the red dots of death and make your way to the middle to claim your Chaos Emerald. This bonus round blew our minds back in 1991. It was at once soothing and chaotic — the perfect balance.

SONIC MEMORIES

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Back in the day my family was friends with four other families. Our parents were best friends with the other parents and the kids, ranging from birth dates of 1978-1986, were much the same. Together, we were a force to be reckoned with. Our epic sleepovers during the late ’80s to mid ’90s is the stuff legends are made of, filled with countless coming-of-age adventures and of course, video games galore. I remember many of those happy Saturday nights fondly, but there was one innocent Saturday night in the summer of ’91 that stood out in particular. We booted up Sonic the Hedgehog and Tommy had the controller. Randomly, he pressed Up, Down, Left, Right, A + START at the title menu. Next thing we knew, a level select cheat menu popped up!

We all jumped up and down in utter disbelief
We all lost our minds the second this happened

You have to understand something. This was 1991. Way before the internet, way before YouTube, way before GameFAQs. You couldn’t just go online to Google cheat codes, oh no. You either found out by reading the cheat section in a gaming magazine or discovering it yourself through sheer dumb luck. For Tommy, it was the latter. Or at least, that’s what he told us. At any rate, cracking the code back then was bigger than big. Unlocking a video game secret is a moment that instantly becomes etched in the annals of time. Tommy from that point on forever adopted a near mythical aura within our gaming group. It’s one of my favorite game memories because it encapsulates the innocence of the early ’90s and also what made our Gaming Crew so damn special and magical.

Uncle Jimmy: the man, the myth, the legend
Uncle Jimmy: the man, the myth, the legend

My other favorite Sonic the Hedgehog memory involves my Uncle Jimmy. He lived with us as we were growing up. My brother and I absolutely adored him. Whether he was weaving spooky ghost stories on a warm summer night, or whether he was playing Contra and other NES classics with us, Uncle Jimmy was an important part of my childhood. He was also the one who bought us a Sega Genesis in 1991 along with Sonic the Hedgehog.

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Sadly, by ’91 Uncle Jimmy by and large lost interest in playing video games. However, I’ll never forget coming home from school one day and upon opening my door hearing that classic Sonic the Hedgehog music. I had just started 3rd grade so it was probably September. My brother wasn’t home yet and my mom sure as hell wasn’t playing Sonic… so who was? I turned the corner after taking off my shoes and sure enough, there he was sitting on the couch grinning like a boy who had just seen Santa. I’ll never forget that image. He was on the lava stage, Sonic was teetering on the block and Uncle Jimmy was swaying along with Sonic before he caught me watching him. He gave me a thumbs up and it became a moment frozen in time. It was also the last time I can recall Uncle Jimmy playing a video game. It was Uncle Jimmy’s last hurrah.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Sonic the Hedgehog may not be the best game in the series but it introduced the world to an iconic character who transcended video gaming itself. It laid the foundation for what was to come. It also spawned countless similar platformers starring animals with attitude. Some examples include Awesome Possum, Bubsy and Rocky Rodent. It was a sign of the times, for sure. But no one ever did it better than Sonic. Sorry, Crash! Sonic the Hedgehog is a personal favorite of mine. Some of the sequels may well be better, but similar to Donkey Kong Country, the original will forever hold a special place in my gaming heart. With today seeing the release of Sonic Mania Plus, and with a movie set to launch on November 15, 2019 (with Jim Carrey playing Dr. Robotnik), Sonic is alive and well. He has stood the test of time whereas many other attempted mascots have miserably failed. It’s nice to pause and look back on where it all started. Sonic the Hedgehog, I salute thee. Thanks for all the memories.

Award4Overall: 9.0
Gold Award

Christmas Memoirs

It's the most wonderful time of the year...
It’s the most wonderful time of the year…

Ah, Christmas. As a kid growing up, there was something truly sacred about Christmas. It was a magical time of the year where miracles happen and wonder is in the air. Every kid I knew looked forward to Christmas. Whether we were writing letters to Santa or out shopping at the local mall with our parents, Christmas was magic. And the best time of the year to be a kid. As soon as that calendar strikes October, you were in kid Heaven. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. The promise of frights, food overload and video game presents. I’ve had some great gaming-related memories of Christmas over the years. Here they are :)

CHRISTMAS 1989: THE GAME WAS CHANGED

The first video game that changed how I saw gaming
Sega had truly taken gaming to THE NEXT LEVEL

In December 1989, my brother and I owned an 8-bit Nintendo. We loved it dearly. But one day we went to our family friend’s house. Denny was raving about his new game system, the Sega Genesis. I was only six years old, but I remember it as if it was yesterday. Denny showed us the cool clamshell box of Altered Beast. The art on the cover blew me away with its wild beasts and savage wolf man. Before Denny opened the box he asked me, “How big do you think the game is?” Hmmm, I figured since it was bigger than Nintendo, surely the cartridge had to be huge. Denny shook his head with a sly grin. He slowly opened the box to reveal the tiniest cartridge I had ever seen in my life. I was stupefied. The next big leap in video gaming was that small? Denny popped Altered Beast in and I sat back to watch. From the moment the game fired up and I heard the infamous voiceover “WISE FROM YOUR GRAVE!” I was hooked and sold. The graphics were jaw dropping! So too was the sound. I never looked at gaming quite the same after that fateful December day of 1989.

Altered Beast altered the game...
Altered Beast forever altered the game…

Over the years I remember going back to Denny’s place a lot during December. We held many family friend gatherings there. I remember watching him play games like Dynamite Duke, Thunder Force III and Gaiares. Man, what a time of innocence it was. Not only were we on the verge of a new decade, we found ourselves standing smack dab in a new generation of hi-tech gaming! And life, well, life was awesome. But just when I thought gaming couldn’t get any better, it did…

One of the greatest level one bosses ever
One of the greatest level one bosses ever!

CHRISTMAS 1991: SUPER NINTENDO GENESIS

It was the vacation that changed my life...
Some vacation trips stay with you for the long haul…

I was eight years old on vacation with my family and friends. My family forged a strong friendship with four families. Between the five families you had 10 parents and 16 kids (11 boys and five girls with birth years ranging from 1977-1987). We had some of the most legendary sleepovers in the history of such. We had monthly sleepovers and each time we would stay up until 1, 2 AM playing video games. It was a glorious time, and some of the best times of my childhood.

In December 1991, the parents wanted to go skiing at beautiful Lake Tahoe. We rented out a huge cabin where all twenty six of us stayed. It was insanity! The brothers, Tommy and Denny, packed their newly acquired Super Nintendo. This is the same Denny that first introduced me to the Sega Genesis and Altered Beast. You know how in every childhood gaming circle there was that one guy who got all the coolest newest games and systems first? Denny was that guy. Tommy and Denny also brought Super Mario World, Final Fight and F-Zero.

I loved Home Alone but I didn't want to live it out!
I loved Home Alone but I didn’t want to live it out!

That Sunday morning I woke up to an empty cabin, with weird noises emanating in every which direction. A cold chill swept down the back of my neck as I tip-toed downstairs timidly. Desperately calling out the names of my family and friends, it wasn’t long until I realized I was the lone prisoner trapped inside this cabin from hell.

The only response I received for my cries was the hissing of the cabin. I felt a chill creep over once more. Some thing wasn’t right…

Once I managed to make my way to the kitchen I found a note taped to the fridge with my name on it.

All alone in that demonic looking cabin... or was I...
All alone in that demonic looking cabin… or was I…

Steve,
The rest of us got up early to go out for breakfast. We’ll be back soon. You stayed up really late last night so I wanted you to get the extra rest. Make yourself some Honey Nut Cheerios and don’t watch too much TV. We’ll be back very soon.

Love,
Mom

Gee, thanks mom. I’ll be sure to remember this when I go to the booth next week to cast my vote in for Mom of the Year! I opened the fridge and saw an ice cold can of 7 Up. It was my favorite soda but there was no chance in hell I was going to brave it down that demonic looking hallway to make it to the restroom. No siree!

Ever feel that someone, or something, is watching you?
Ever felt that someone or something is watching you?

Ever feel a presence in the room with you? That someone, or something, is watching you? That’s how I felt on that cold, dreary December morning of 1991. But being eight years old and resourceful, I believed spirits would never mess with me if I had the radio or TV playing — they only attacked those who were alone. So I turned on the tube and came across a WWF show. Ah, wrestling. It’s always comforted me and did so here. But before long the show ended and I was left thinking about what evil spirits might be milling about. That’s when I spotted Tommy’s Super Nintendo lying on the floor. All the older “cool” kids were taking turns with it the night before, and the younger kids (of which I was right on the cusp of) could do nothing but peer on wishing life had dealt them a better hand. So it suddenly dawned on me that this was my chance. This was my moment.

It's true what they say: you never forget your first time
It’s true — you never forget your first time

Powering up F-Zero, I was instantly transported to Mode-7 Heaven. Every single racing track blew my mind. I couldn’t believe how fast it played, and how AMAZING the game looked. And that MUSIC… oh man. F-Zero led me from thinking about ghosts to obsessing over intergalactic racing warfare! Later I plugged in Final Fight and found myself saving the good citizens of Metro City one jaw dropping stage after another, as I smeared the streets with the blood of the hooligans from the Mad Gear Gang. I had never seen such state-of-the-art arcade-like graphics before. The characters were unbelievably HUGE and at times I found myself wondering, “WHERE THE HECK IS THE COIN SLOT?!”

Back in 1991 this was absolutely mind blowing!
Back in 1991 this was absolutely mind blowing!

I played Final Fight until my family and friends came back. Part of me was ecstatic to no longer be alone in the cabin from hell, but something funny happened during my inaugural SNES playthrough. It made me forget about malicious ghosts and evil spirits. It instead transported me to the future of video gaming, where you could snap a guy’s neck in two and soar 200 feet across a race track suspended high above a futuristic city — all in stunning graphics and sound. Even 25 years later, I still recall that Christmas with great reverence :)

CHRISTMAS 1992: KING OF THE KARTS

There was a certain Christmas magic in the air
There was a certain magic in the air that night…

My mom and I used to go to the mall all the time. It was one of our traditions. She took me after school every Friday, rain or shine. I loved it because this was a time in life when the world was a different place. Even as young as 8, my mom allowed me to hit up my stores while she went shopping for clothes. This gave me a great sense of independence and for about 30 minutes I was on my own completely! I always visited Suncoast, Kay Bee Toys, Walden Books, Sam Goody, and of course, the classic SOFTWARE ETC.

Now rarely did she ever end up buying me anything once we reconvened, but that was never the point. It was fun enough thumbing through books, EGM magazines and drooling at the various action figures. It was the feeling that it produced. Just knowing you were on your own for half an hour made going to the mall a fun time. But the best times always came during Christmas season.

That little blond kid was me just a year or two ago...
That little blond kid was me just a year or two ago…

The mall Santa was there taking pictures, kissing babies and shaking little hands. At nine and a half years old now, I was too old for that stuff, but not old enough to not still believe in the magic of Christmas. So instead of sitting on Santa’s lap, I simply sat back from afar to admire what had been, and what once was.

My mom came over asking if I wanted to meet the mall Santa, but I told her I was too old. She looked at the kids rushing up to Santa just 20 feet away from us, lost in her thoughts. Somewhere in her aging face I saw her loosen up, as if she suddenly missed the days when I was that young scampering around. Perhaps it was the right kind of Christmas magic I’d need for what was about to transpire on that most magical late December evening…

Oh, SOFTWARE ETC. My childhood...
This was like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow!

There it was, plastered in big and bold blue letters. I always made it a point to hit up SOFTWARE ETC. each time we visited the mall. Of course, I could only dream of my mom complying to buy me a video game. Still, like a moth to flame, those bold blue letters always sucked me in. I stood there that evening in sheer awe of the endless shelves of SNES goodies — games in which I could only dream of owning. And then, there it was. High on the shelf I saw it, shining like a beacon of light. KING OF THE MONSTERS for the Super Nintendo! It was just one short year ago that I’d beaten the arcade and thought to myself, “Man, I can’t wait for this to come home!” And now, it finally has. Only one problem, of course. How can I convince mom to buy it? Standing there, staring at the pristine shiny King of the Monsters box, my mind desperately raced through everything I could think of in order to weigh the odds in my favor.

I didn’t have very long to think…

“C’mon honey, we gotta get back home now.”

“WAIT!”

“What is it?”

The box sat high on the shelf like a beacon of light
What kind of compelling, poetic point would I make?

“That…” I pointed to the King of the Monsters box sitting on the top shelf. “I want that.”

OK, so much for poetic language and convincing arguments.

My mom gave me “the look.” Uh oh. In the history of “momkind” the look has never been good news. Whether it was a look of frustration, disappointment or disgust, the look has denied kids an untold number of desserts, toys and video games. This task, I could tell, was going to be about as easy as Quantum Physics.

“Honey, that’s fifty five dollars.”

“No, it’s fifty four ninety nine!” I quickly countered. HA! I thought I had her — ahh, the bliss of being nine years old…

“Well actually with tax it’s about sixty,” she corrected.

Well DAMN. Talk about backfiring!

And then, out of nowhere, it hit me. My trump card. I explained to her how it was my favorite game, how I had to have it, and how much joy it would bring Kevin and me. And that if she bought it, it would count for not only my Christmas gift but also my birthday as well.

My mom grabbed the box to examine it closer. “Hey, isn’t this the game you played all night last year at Chuck E. Cheese’s? Is this the same one?”

***FLASHBACK TO DECEMBER 1991***

This only took me an hour and about 5,000 quarters
This only took me an hour and about 500 quarters

December 1991. My parents took me and my brother to our favorite place, Chuck E. Cheese’s, to celebrate the end of the year. My mother was rather strict so these rare opportunities where she allowed us to binge on our desires were not taken for granted! They ordered two large pizzas and got us 50 tokens. I knew where I was going to be for the rest of that night — at the King of the Monsters cab determined to beat it! It took me some time and way too many quarters to count but at last I did it, all while my mom sat back at the table eating unwanted leftover pizza crust and watching the whole thing go down.

***BACK TO DECEMBER 1992***

I nodded furiously and watched as my mom bit her lower lip, contemplating what to do. Finally, after what seemed like forever, she took the game to the counter. I stood there in awe watching as they swiped her credit card. It was the first video game she bought for me. Outside I could hear the chattering of youngsters and the HO-HO-HOs of the mall Santa. The Christmas season was ringing in full force, and this bit of Christmas magic only punctuated the moment. My brother and I played King of the Monsters as soon as I got home. It turned out to be a ho-hum translation but at the time I remember not caring a great deal about that. I was just grateful and still buzzing with excitement at the fact that the Christmas magic was still alive and well!

Downtown Christmas display was a family tradition
Downtown Christmas was our Yuletide tradition

A couple days after my mom bought the game, I was playing it one night with my brother when she urged us to turn it off so we could drive downtown to see the fancy Christmas lights. It was a basic tradition in my family that every Yuletide we do so. I love the lights but that year my parents had to pry me away from my Super Nintendo. I guess as my brother and I got older, the more my mom fought to keep tradition alive. Like how she wanted me to sit on Santa’s lap the night she bought me the game. I guess that’s something I’ll find out for myself one of these days… [Sitting on Santa’s lap? How kinky. I see you’re on that naughty list… -Ed.]

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better...
But wait! That Christmas is about to get even better

Christmas ’92 proved to be one for the record books. In addition to my mom buying me King of the Monsters, that same year our uncle bought us Death Duel. I remember the ad from EGM. It looked cool and all, but honestly, my brother and I were a bit disappointed. Of all the games on our wish list, Death Duel certainly wasn’t even in the top 20. We tried not to complain though as our mom always taught us to be grateful and that any gift was better than none at all. Still, Kevin and I went home that night talking about how awesome it would be if Death Duel magically transformed into Super Mario Kart instead (the game that topped our Christmas wish list). It was rare that my brother and I both wanted the same game — he was a “mainstream” guy while I was more fond of the obscure underdog titles. However, Super Mario Kart transcended all of that. It was just that kind of game.

Good thing my brother was still only 11 at the time!
Good thing my brother was still only 11 at the time!

And then, as we were talking, an epiphany struck us. We suddenly recalled the ad for Death Duel in EGM. We pulled out the latest EGM issue that we had bought weeks earlier and madly flipped through it in search of our great loophole. Ah, there it was. Not suggested for children under 14. I was only nine and my brother was 11. My brother wouldn’t be able to play Death Duel for another three years! And five for me! Not that we couldn’t break the rules but when the rules benefit you, why not follow them? ;)

Everyone wanted this game that Christmas season
Everyone wanted this game that Christmas season

After showing the ad to our mom, just as we predicted she would, she promptly called our uncle to explain the situation and asked if he kept the receipt. Luckily, he did and since we hadn’t opened the game yet, it was ripe for a swap. So later that week my mom took me and Kevin to exchange Death Duel for Super Mario Kart. I remember thinking that it was the greatest trade in the history of mankind. I still laugh thinking about this Christmas memory. Who knew a silly ad could bring about such a dramatic turn of events? :D

We became kings of our block
We became the kings of our block
Thanks for a great Christmas memory, Death Duel
Thanks for a great Christmas memory, Death Duel

CHRISTMAS 1993: FIGHT CLUB

This quickly became my next most wanted game
This quickly became my next most wanted game

Leading up to Christmas that year I was completely fascinated with Interplay’s Street Fighter II clone, Clay Fighter. Endless controversial ads filled the pages of gaming magazines and I studied the many previews drooling in sheer anticipation of this new promising fighting game. And who could forget the Clay Fighter ad campaign? I sure haven’t — it’s one of the greatest ad campaigns in 16-bit gaming history.

SHOTS FIRED. Interplay wasn't messing. It's war!
Oooh! SHOTS FIRED. Interplay wasn’t playing around

I still remember fondly my cousin calling me one night in early December of 1993. It was rare in those days for her to call as we usually just saw each other in person and communicated that way. But on this fateful night she called asking for my Christmas wish list. My heart was racing as I knew there was really only one thing I wanted: a copy of Clay Fighter. I remember explaining to her over the phone what Clay Fighter was, and being positive that she was going to buy it for me. Yep, it was only a matter of days now…

The gist of what I told my cousin that fateful night!
The gist of what I told my cousin that fateful night!
As a ten year old, I thought the ads were super dope
As a 10 year old, I thought the ads were the best

Of course, she bought something else for me. It ended up not being a video game at all. After that phone call and everything, I couldn’t help but feel massively disappointed. In retrospect though, I’m lucky she didn’t buy me Clay Fighter

I'll always have a soft spot in my heart for World Heroes
“C’mon Steve, do the Dragon Kick here! One more time!”

I would be remiss not to mention World Heroes. My best pal Nelson bought it when it first came out around September of ’93, and we played it well into the winter. Nelly even lent me the game here and there. Uncle Ben flew in that Christmas and watched me play as Kim Dragon. Uncle Ben didn’t care for video games whatsoever, but even he was drawn into World Heroes. He rooted me on, suddenly morphing into an armchair gamer! He loved Kim’s Dragon Kick and called for me to do it each time. It’s a quirky memory that has stuck with me all these years.

Christmas '93 was just a great time to be a kid
World Heroes will always have a soft spot in my heart

Christmas ’93 was simply a great time to be a robust 10 year old kid growing up in suburban America. If you had a Super Nintendo, a best friend and you loved fighting games — what a time to be alive! With choices such as Street Fighter II Turbo, TMNT: Tournament Fighters, World Heroes, Ranma ½: Hard Battle and Clay Fighter, there were plenty of fighting games to choose from. The 16-bit war was in full swing, and if you had the SNES and Genesis like I did, you were the ultimate winner.

Nothing like an unexpected post Christmas score!
Nothing like an unexpected post Christmas score!

Having hounded my parents about Clay Fighter and them knowing how disappointed I was that I didn’t get it that Christmas, my mom allowed me to buy one video game in January of ’94. Thankfully, I rented Clay Fighter just prior to this once-in-a-lifetime decree. It wasn’t a terrible fighting game, it just wasn’t very good. My parents took me to Good Guys and I bought Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters. Ninja Turtles meets Street Fighter II? Take my money, er, my parents’ money!

Yep, sure am glad I picked the right game to buy!
Yep, I sure made the right call!
"COWABUNGA!!"
“COWABUNGA!!”

CHRISTMAS 1994: KAREN KOMBAT!

SNES fans were vindicated with an awesome port
SNES fans were vindicated with an awesome port

Christmas ’94 was marked by the return of my cousin Karen, whom I hadn’t seen in a while. She was now eight and my Uncle Ben also had a one year old daughter, Liz. My bro and I bought Mortal Kombat II for the SNES and we were playing it well into that Christmas season, much to Karen’s chagrin as it would turn out.

Chill Karen, it's only a game. Don't lose your head
Chill Karen, it’s only a game. Don’t lose your head…

When Karen and baby Liz came over that holiday season, we showed off Mortal Kombat II in all its glory. Upon seeing the first blood spewing Fatality, Baraka slicing Jax’s head clean off his shoulders, Karen imploded like a soccer mom at a backyard wrestling event. Grabbing her baby sister in a mad panic, she screamed at us, “OH MY GOD! A ONE YEAR OLD BABY CAN’T BE EXPOSED TO THIS R-RATED VIOLENCE!” The way she yelled at the top of her lungs coupled with her mannerisms made it a moment in time. To this day I still give her a hard time about it whenever we see each other.

As it would turn out, Christmas ’94 was the last great gaming-related Christmas I can remember. Well, that was until…

CHRISTMAS 2010: PARTY LIKE IT’S 1994

You could say it was a powerpak'ed Christmas...
You could say it was a powerpak’ed Christmas…

November 2010. I bit the proverbial bullet and purchased an SNES PowerPak. This great device allows you to play almost any SNES game ever created. It comes at a steep price but as I found out firsthand later that Christmas season, it’s worth the asking price. Guess who visited that Christmas? None other than Karen and (no longer baby) Liz. Karen was now 24 and Liz, 17. It’s funny how life comes full circle sometimes.

You can see the love mark my SNES left on the carpet
See the love mark my SNES left on the carpet?

Saturday, Christmas afternoon. Uncle Ben, his wife, Karen and Liz were visiting from out of state and staying at their second home. Uncle Ben invited the whole fam over for a night of Christmas family fun. Normally I take the Sega Saturn with me (for Saturn Bomberman), but this time I thought I’d try the Super Nintendo instead. It was the right call.

Got the goods. Let's rock and roll
Love how it all fitted perfectly. A nice snug fit ^_^

Ah, the advantage of having a PowerPak and not having to haul 20, 25 games with you. With one cartridge you can effectively carry hundreds of SNES games. That alone makes having some kind of flash cart worth the asking price.

That night we went back in time
That night we went back in time

We enjoyed a pleasant family Christmas dinner together that night. Then my cousins Karen, Liz, David, Mia and I retreated to the living room. I unpacked the Super Nintendo to a warm nostalgic reaction. “Oh my God, I haven’t seen one of these in forever!” Karen was most eager of all being that she was old enough to really remember it. The PowerPak worked its magic. I let her browse through the endless list of games. Her eyes popped when she saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time. “I remember playing this back in the day!” Karen had turned into a wide-eyed six year old kid before my very eyes. “WE GOTTA PLAY THIS!” she declared. Well, I certainly wasn’t expecting her to pick Mortal Kombat II.

Karen and David started out on the first level. The three of us felt like we were back at the arcades in the ’90s. Liz and Mia, being young teenagers and Wii fans, didn’t get the hype so they didn’t care to join in. But Karen, David and I were having a blast. The Ninja Turtles weren’t the only ones going back in time here…

It felt like we were back in '92
It felt like we were back in 1992

The three of us rotated turns playing the two player mode. Each new stage brought about “Oooh I remember this!” memories. When we made our way to the sewer stage, with the giant yellow pizza monsters leaping out at us, Karen said, “I TOTALLY REMEMBER THOSE PIZZA MONSTERS FROM THE CARTOON SHOW!” We made it to Super Shredder, but soon fell at his evil hands.

Karen, David and I had a blast
Karen, David and I had a, er, blast

After Turtles in Time, we switched over to Super Bomberman 2.  It brought back memories of the early-mid ’90s when my old gaming group spent countless Saturday nights blowing each other up. We ended up playing the SNES from 6:45 to 9:20. We spent the next two hours talking and hanging out. Nothing like quality family time mixed in with a little multiplayer gaming :)

World Heroes 2 is a terrific and underrated SNES port

I slept over at my parents’ house that night since they live only 15 minutes away from Uncle Ben’s second home. Arriving around midnight, I was still in a Super Nintendo state of mind. I immediately popped in the PowerPak and fired up the beta version of World Heroes 2. Although I love the finished product, the beta version is more combo friendly and therefore more accurate to the arcade original. It’s almost like playing two different games! One more reason to love the PowerPak — you can play beta versions (if available) of your favorite games and compare.

Don't have a flash cart? Better catch and ride that wave
Don’t have one yet? Better catch and ride that wave!
Love it but the CPU is tough!
Love it but the computer is tough

After World Heroes 2 beta, I had the urge to revisit another childhood favorite, TMNT: Tournament Fighters. After the tough computer foes put a thorough whupping on my ass, I felt the need to do some whupping of my own, so I fired up Zen Nippon Pro Wrestling 2: 3-4 Budokan.

I like it more than Super Fire Pro Wrestling X Premium

The fatal four way match is good for a quick fix. After this, I went to brush my teeth. My parents had already gone to bed. I turned off the lights and lowered the volume. I hadn’t slept over in a long time so the house making all kinds of unusual noises in the dark was a bit creepy. I decided to go from one obscure Super Famicom import to another.

Fans of the unusual and Pocky & Rocky will like this
Fans of the unusual and Pocky & Rocky will like this

One of the weirdest games on the SNES, Deae Tonosama Appare Ichiban is also rather fun. I had a blast going through the whole game. It was now 2:45 AM, and the house grew eerily darker and darker. It was the perfect time to load up the scariest Super Nintendo game ever created.

Now that's a stocking stuffer you don't wanna see
Now there’s a stocking stuffer you don’t want to see

There couldn’t have been a more perfect setting to play Clock Tower. Weird noises emanated from the house as heavy rain crashed against the windows with fierce velocity. I never imagined in a million years that a Super Nintendo game could actually scare me. But on that night, Clock Tower succeeded. Scissorman left a wake of terror as he pursued me relentlessly throughout the mansion. It was one of the best gaming sessions I’ve ever had.

SNIP SNIP -- I could still hear Scissorman's shears
SNIP SNIP — I could still hear Scissorman’s shears…

It was now 4:30 in the morning. Whoa, I played the SNES from midnight to 4:30. I staggered over to turn off Clock Tower, then I fumbled up the stairs in the dark. I was in a bit of a daze, feeling uneasy still thinking about the grisly images. I crawled into bed and stared at the ceiling in the darkness. What an epic gaming session and what a great Christmas! I laid there for a while just reflecting on the night before drifting off to a deep, peaceful sleep…

CHRISTMAS 2012: BIRDIES AND BOMBS, BABY!

Nothing beats a good old epic multiplayer session
Nothing beats a good old fashion multiplayer party!

Once again the PowerPak proved its worth. My brother, his girlfriend and I went to visit David and Mia. We spent the night playing 4-player BS Out of Bounds Golf and 5-player Super Bomberman 5. Nothing screams quality family time quite like blowing up your brother, or knocking your cousin’s ball out of bounds. Both games quickly grew heated as the trash talking (and laughing) compounded. The fondest memory I have of this evening came when David miraculously nailed a miracle trick shot. He bounced his ball against a plate bumper, which then ricocheted its way into the cup. Everyone in the room jumped and shouted in stereo. It was certainly mic drop worthy! We all gave David a hi-five and he wore the fattest grin I ever saw. To see him have that one moment of glory made my Christmas that year. Fittingly enough, we even gave him a golf clap ;)

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT! [You're SO cheesy... -Ed.]
David bounced a shot off that bumper and in, wow!

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a very good night :)

Christmas time always brings back such fond memories of time well spent with loved ones and video games. Especially when you were a kid, there was just something special and magical about Christmas season. Whether you received a new video game system or a new video game, many of us have nostalgic memories surrounding Christmas and video games. These were mine. And they’ve stayed with me long after the snow has faded and the lights have been taken down. As tomorrow marks the beginning of winter and as we draw closer and closer to yet another Christmas, I’m reminded of all these nostalgic memories. There’s something about gaming during the winter season that can’t be beat. Those early darkening late afternoons. The whipping rain lashing outside late at night as you play childhood favorites, or unearth new ones. Wherever you are at in this stage of life, may you be blessed each day and a blessing to others, too. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?

Thank you, and God Bless everyone else too ^_^
Thank you good sir, and God Bless everyone else too