These days everyone has an Xbox 360, a PS3 and a Wii, but in the days of old, who could afford to have two consoles? You supported manufacturers like football teams… team Sega, team Nintendo… team Sinclair, team Commodore… We’re talking fights in the playground, arcade conversion comparisons, arguments that ended in violence… oh yes…
I was a Sega fan in my youth. I had a Japanese megadrive and a Mega CD… To this day I have no idea how my mother – profoundly unaware of technology as she was – knew enough to get me a Japanese megadrive for my birthday from the local games importer, over the standard PAL version available in the high street, but god bless her for doing so!
Like all Sega enthusiasts at the time, I favoured Sonic over Mario… our arguments were fairly solid right up until Super Mario World’s level count blew us out of the water… but still, we loved our little blue haired hero.
Recently, I’ve been revisiting my youth with the Sonic apps released on the iPhone. Sure I could, and have, played the old games on an emulator, but something about the iPhone app just makes it a more pleasurable experience. Perhaps it’s the widescreen aspect ratio that gives it the feel of an official release, or perhaps it’s the use of the iOS multitasking that means I can steal a quick couple of minutes in a queue or a bus ride on my ongoing game… but whatever the reason I’ve found myself as immersed in Sonic on the iPhone as I ever was as a kid.
Mostly I’ve been playing Sonic 2. I remember the hype surrounding the original release… the teaser screenshots in various magazines, the coverage of this new ‘tails/miles’ character and the news that there would actually be a 2 player splitscreen mode! I remember the day Sonic 2 was released… the feature on GamesMaster where people phoned in their times for completing the game on release day. I think the record was just over two hours… The palpable hysteria over the day the cheats were released, first on the Bad Influence datafeed (remember that?!) and then on GamesMaster, and then, every magazine imaginable… A certain order of sound tests??? How were we ever supposed to guess that?! You *know* the first thing we all did when initially firing the game up was to press up, down, left, right, all three buttons and start… just in case…
Still, I remember the overwhelming excitement of going to sleep on Christmas Eve, knowing for certain that Sonic 2 would be in my Christmas stocking when I awoke the next day.
I spent most of the next month playing that game to oblivion… I was good enough to get almost to the end, but never quite managed to finish it. Even if I had, it would have been sans Chaos Emeralds.
Playing the iPhone port recently has been a revelation – I don’t get much time to game these days, and new games hold your hand through so much that it seems like a whole different experience… The words ‘Game Over’ or ‘Continue’ mean little in today’s gaming world. A world of ‘almost death’ where getting out of the line of fire for a few seconds can restore you to good health; a world where death is often followed by a reprise and an invitation to try again… In Sonic 2, ‘Game Over’ is followed by the Sega logo and the beginning of the Emerald Hill Zone.
Emulators are different. They hold much more novelty, seeing the original screens, watching your PC turn into another computer, it’s easier to flick between games and be less involved in the gameplay of each one. Playing the iPhone version has felt exactly like it did back in the day, working my way through the game, trying to collect every ring, every power up, in an attempt to store lives and continues for the more difficult levels ahead… When a game costs £40, you play that game!!
I feel invested in Sonic 2 now. I’ve been playing a lot, enjoying taking the time to play properly… fearing the game over screen just like I did as a kid. And it’s just as difficult as I remember.
During one playthrough, I’d stored up a mass of lives, and wasted them all on the Mystic Cave boss – because the final continue lamppost doesn’t allow you to collect a single ring before fighting Robotnik – meaning you need to complete it without a single hit.
On a second playthrough I spent time collecting lives and continues right the way through to the final zone, Wing Fortress. After a great many attempts I finally beat the end boss, only to watch a 45 second success animation, during which time my timer ran out and Sonic died suddenly for no reason half way through!!!
This time around I’ve found a section of the Wing Fortress zone that allows me to collect 100 rings and an extra life, so that I can repeatedly run through the same section again and again, storing up lives for the difficult boss battles ahead. After collecting around 30 lives, my save data was inexplicably erased and I found myself right back at the Emerald Hill zone again!!
Perhaps this shows my incompetence at the game, I’m sure most people reading this post will scoff at my struggles, having completed Sonic 2 on one life on the first try… after all it’s just a simple platform game, nowhere near the difficulty level of some of today’s games – but I guess it’s easy to assume that because I run a company based around retro games, because I’m an avid fan, that I would obviously be excellent at the games I play… I’m not. I’m just a guy who counts gaming as an important force in his childhood. Retro games are a source of happy memories for me, and I consider myself incredibly lucky that they play such a large part in my working life… However, a prolific gamer does not a good gamer make.
For all my struggles, I’m loving playing the game through again, with the same restrictions I had the first time around. Emulators are great, but having so many games at your fingertips, being able to save the state of a game before a difficult obstacle or hit a button to increase credits at will, breeds a kind of apathy towards the game itself.
I remember wasting countless weeks of pocket money playing arcade classics like ‘Final Fight’ and ‘Blood Brothers’. These days with a Mame emulator, I know before beginning the game that I can complete it – and consequently I’m more careless… losing a life means nothing… a continue screen no longer indicates a financial loss to my schoolboy pocket…
It’s interesting how modern games have progressed in this direction. Games are measured in terms of gaming hours, rather than completion difficulty… Perhaps this trend begun with the Lucas Arts philosophy of letting you get stuck, but never die, compared with their Sierra counterparts that would happily kill you every few minutes… Save often my friends!! These games are more easily accessible, sure, but they can lose that feeling of fright and determination that makes the older games so addictive. A wrongly timed jump, an overzealous attack, and its back to the beginning with you, young grasshopper!
I’ll complete Sonic 2 eventually, and most likely I’ll not play again for many a year, but I’m glad we’d had our time together again.