In the second part of our festive series, Damien McFerran talks about the gaming Christmas memories of his youth and why consoles like the SNES and Mega Drive have such a special place in his heart.
As you may have gathered from the large volume of Sega-related content that goes up on this site with my name on it, I'm not your typical Nintendo fan. My early education in games began on the Atari ST back in the late '80s before I was lucky enough to receive a shiny new Japanese Mega Drive (Genesis to our American readers) for Christmas, 1990. A few short years later I would get a SNES when it officially launched in the UK, making me a player who gladly kept a foot in both camps during the infamous Console Wars of the period.
However, they say you never forget your first time, and when I tore the wrapping paper off my Mega Drive on that fateful Christmas morning, it established a pattern which has remained largely unbroken for decades. I now have children of my own and while I try to maintain a healthy balance between sitting largely motionless in front of the TV and more active play, I'm noticing that my own offspring — my Nintendo-mad 6-year-old son in particular — have caught the "gaming at Christmas" bug.
Back in 1990, that Mega Drive changed everything for me. Along with the system I was given such classics as Golden Axe, ESWAT, Super Monaco GP, Thunderforce II, After Burner II and what I still personally regard as one of the best video games ever made — Herzog Zwei. This title was effectively the first Real Time Strategy game, and although it took me and my dad several days to figure out how to actually play the damn thing (armed with a poorly photocopied set of translated instructions, supplied by the importer my father had purchased the system from), once it clicked it became a competitive title we would play relentlessly — and this again set in place another Christmas tradition: social gaming. I've tried to pass this down to my own kids, and the likes of Nintendo Land and Super Mario 3D World have become perennial multiplayer marvels in the McFerran household, especially during the festive period when we have hordes of relations visiting.
Throughout the years I've enjoyed many other gaming greats at Christmas. The SNES delivered such gems as Secret of Mana, International Super Star Soccer and Donkey Kong Country, while the PlayStation and Saturn would offer up FIFA, Daytona USA, Tekken and Virtua Fighter. The N64's arrival reminded me of that vital Nintendo touch and the allure of social play — those four controller ports on the front were a godsend when the Christmas meal had been consumed and relatives yearned for a spot of 4-player action on GoldenEye 007 — ironically ignoring the traditional showing of a Bond flick on British television in order to do so. During my college and university years I'll admit that gaming at Christmas became something of a forgotten memory, and it wasn't until my own children arrived on the scene that I was once again able to embrace the idea of a multiplayer holiday.
When I think back to my youth and the titles we played during those cherished Christmas days many years ago, it makes me glad that Nintendo is still around, providing families with suitable experiences for their holiday season. Sony and Microsoft's consoles might find their way under more trees this festive season, but they are dominated by "adult" franchises which are hardly suitable for playing in front of grandparents; while I grew up with the cartoonish and (with hindsight) hilariously inoffensive violence of Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter, the kids of today are loading up Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and Grand Theft Auto V. While both of these titles represent towering achievements in the realm of interactive entertainment and would have been the stuff of a madman's dreams back in the early '90s, I'm not sure I'd trade them for Herzog Zwei, Donkey Kong Country or any of the other gems I enjoyed back then, even though they look pathetically simplistic in comparison.
But then again, it's all about context, and the kids that enjoy CoD and GTA will no doubt be thinking the same thing 20 years from now. Christmas clearly lends gaming an additional dimension of enjoyment, possibly because it affords such a large amount of spare time to play, and is accompanied by plenty of opportunities to get other family members involved. Whatever the reason, I'll always cherish that Christmas morning in 1990, and all of the subsequent days since — with this year promising to be a particular happy one thanks to the fact that Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is launching two weeks early.
I hope your Christmas is just as exciting, enjoyable and memorable!