My journey through the world of video games didn’t start with me, it started with my parents. We were a big movie family (movie nights were practically every night, old posters lined every wall, I learned how to make popcorn before I knew how to use the oven), yet there was something about video games that interested them. I never got the chance to ask them how they became so fascinated with them, but I was lucky enough to hear about arcades in the 70s and hours spent in front of an Atari 2600 (which I later found out usually involved drugs. They grew up during the 60s. It would be stranger if they were sober).
I mentioned in another article that my mom was very fond of ‘River Raid’ and that it was the first video game that I played, but there was another influential game during my childhood. While my dad brought home stacks of (potentially stolen) video games, I never saw him play them more than a handful of times. Once he tried to play Super Mario Bros, but after about ten minutes, he was done. He never played it again. There was only one game that he played a few times, always fascinated with it.
When I was a kid, I snuck out of my room one night because I heard strange noises coming from the living room. I didn’t realize how risky this was at the time because during my teenage years, I found his porn stash. This man LOVED his porn. Luckily for me, he was playing a Nintendo I game I never saw before rather than playing the one man fiddle.
I watched him for a few minutes before he saw me. Instead of kicking my ass back to bed, which was the routine when I’d wander around after bedtime, he let me watch. He warped around, fought aliens, visit planets, everything I pictured a space captain would do. It was like watching an episode of ‘Star Trek’ without misogyny or wobbly sets.
After I wandered back to bed, I couldn’t wait to play this game myself. I’d never played a game where I was in the pilot’s seat of a spacecraft before! This was exciting! Exhilarating! I couldn’t stop thinking about all the world I was going to explore, the aliens I would meet, the battles I would fight! The…
Then I fell asleep.
HERE’S WHAT I REMEMBER:
The music. Actually, more like a memory of the music. I remember the dark sense of adventure it made me feel, but it’s not like I can remember the actual notes. In my mind, it sounds like an echo from a forgotten time; a calling to future me that still sends a nostalgic shiver down my spine the way an intense dream would resonate with you in the morning. The funny thing is that I don’t remember any music outside of the main theme, I’m pretty sure there isn’t any music in the main portion of the game, yet that’s the part that stuck with me the most.
Before the game actually starts, I can recall that there’s a short cutscene of your character climbing into his ship and retracting the ladder. I don’t know if you see it leave the hanger, but suddenly you’re thrust into hyperspace with intense warp sound effects and stars swirling on the view screen. Just like the music that came before it, there’s something about this moment that set a tone that was far different than other NES games of the time. I wasn’t about to have a cartoon like adventure where I’d be flying through mystical worlds shooting down crazy enemies. Shit was about to get real.
Once you’re in the ship…I kinda forget what happens. I’m pretty sure there’s a map and you plot a course for somewhere then…uh…doodily, doodily, doodily…got my ass kicked. I remember finding starbases and docking, but what I did there I haven’t the slightest clue. I’m trying to hold onto a memory, though the clarity keeps fading in and out, of swarms of enemies shooting at my script. Did I go there deliberately? Was I defending one of those stations? Did they get the drop on me? I have no clue. All I remember is that I HAD to fight them because…doodily.
HOW DOES IT HOLD UP?
Well now…this has to be one of the biggest clusterfucks I’ve ever played.
When I first booted up the game, I was awash in nostalgia. The music is quite beautiful and as ethereal as I remembered. Ready for adventure, I watched my little pilot enter his ship and it shifted to my point of view. I launched from the hanger and there I was! Space! Surrounded by swirling stars and the great black void, I was ready to head out onto my journey!
I had no clue what the fuck I was supposed to do.
There I was, floating in the dark, aimlessly moving around with my dick in my hand. I hit select and bring up a map. Icons litter the screen, but with no icon key, I might as well be looking at the hieroglyphics praising Pharaoh Whateverthefuck the third. I hold down the B button and find myself going faster. Keeping it pressed activates my warp drive and brings me into slip space! Yeah! I drop out, nothing’s around me, I still can’t tell what’s around me, move around a bit more, the shut off the game.
I eventually have to look up a Wiki on how this game works and the first thing I’m greeted with is “The game is considered extremely difficult and frustrating by some, requiring a great deal of practice and strategy to overcome the sheer firepower that the enemy is capable of throwing at you.” This is followed by a whole backstory that I’m assuming was in the instruction manual, which is long gone by now (if I ever had it to begin with). I quickly read through the online instructions, figure out the mechanics and the map icons, and I’m off again!
Let me sum up my whole adventure for you. I warped five times to get to a starbase, realized how much fuel this used, but rejoiced that I could refuel here. I had a hard time docking, and in the middle of my attempt, I hit the wrong button and blew it up. Figuring that I’ll make up for lost fuel at the next station, I warp to a planet and get some awesome lasers. I go to try out my lasers on a group of bad guys and immediately die. On my next attempt, I do basically the same thing, nothing is on the planet, I actually dock with the space station before accidentally blowing it up (yes, I did this twice), then I engage with the enemy once more before immediately dying.
I’m a pretty shitty spaceship captain.