Our journey through videogame history looks wistfully at a couple of the machines that passed me by before we begin to see the rise of PC gaming
I’ve been pretty blessed in my gaming life to have owned some of the classic gaming machines; Atari, Spectrum, Amiga and so on. But for all the great machines owned, there are some that escaped me.
Perhaps it is a geographical thing but the NES and Sega Master System escaped my attention completely. But during the Amiga’s life, two consoles in particular came to the fore, neither of which I owned.
Younger games might think that Sony and Microsoft invented the console war but us older games remember a time when there were multiple companies battling it out for supremacy, each offering something unique to genuinely differentiate their machines.
I can still remember the Megadrive adverts, with that smooth talking guy who eventually turned up in Highlander the TV series and Holby City (Peter Wingfield, fact fans).
The Megadrive had that cool factor that the Amiga arguably lacked. Where the Amiga had sold itself to parents as, ‘look mum, it’s educational, honest!’ the Megadrive was simply a games machine, aimed squarely at a younger, cooler audience. And the games reflected that; Streets of Rage, Road Rash, Earthworm Jim and, of course, Sonic.
Power wise, the Amiga was a match but this was a machine focused squarely on arcade style experiences, as the number of ports would attest to.
I had some limited experience with it, a neighbourhood friend had one and I had a short session with Sonic. I didn’t really get it to be honest. When Sonic 2 came out I remember hearing stories on the news about people boasting how quickly they had beaten the game, some in just a couple of hours. That just seemed silly to me, what a waste of money!
But the combination of looks, both graphically and physically, quality games and marketing put this at the forefront of 1990s gaming.
Whilst comparable in terms of specs to the Megadrive, the SNES was a very different console. Where the Megadrive was brash and in your face, reflected by the spiky new mascot, Sonic, the SNES was a more family friendly machine. And of course the games were crafted by Nintendo. There were arcade ports sure but this was a machine of original franchises and characters, with the ageless Mario leading the way.
My main experience of the machine was with Super Mario Kart (why was every game super anyway?). My flatmate had one, my abiding memory being when we went to look at another flat and found the current occupants playing it (badly) and so he proceeded to trash them on it and unlock a bunch of tracks.
Mario Kart was a sensational game, the controls effortless, the visuals striking despite the cartoony style. FIFA was the natural rival to Sensi on the Amiga, containing all the glitz and flashiness that Sensible’s game lacked but never quite able to replicate it’s sheer playability and charm. NBA Jam had some weird little old guy and I insisted on trying to throw the ball in the hoop from under my own basket having somehow fluked it once. And of course the SNES was home to a near flawless version of Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo, arguably the greatest one on one fighter of all time.
Sadly I have never played some of its greatest games, the likes of Zelda and Secret of Mana eluding me, games I hope to experience in future reviews.
As an Amiga owner, I cast somewhat envious glances at these two machines. There were ports of course; Desert Strike, FIFA, Street Fighter 2, Battletoads. And some went the other way; Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder, Lemmings for instance.
But these ports could never recapture the spirit of the originals. The Amiga couldn’t cope with the controls of Street Fighter in the same way that Cannon Fodder could only work with mouse control.
And there were other games. Not direct ports, but original titles looking to jump on the bandwagon. Games like Tearaway Thomas, Body Blows or Bump ‘N’ Burn sought to emulate the likes of Sonic, Street Fighter and Mario Kart on the Amiga, but they were pale imitations.
Indeed it becomes clear that each machine excelled when it concentrated on what it did best. The Megadrive captured the arcade experience at home; the SNES created original, lasting game franchises; the Amiga was home to the most eclectic, broad range of software. They should not be compared, there is no right or wrong, best or worst. They were all fantastic depending on your personal preference.
It is incredible to think back now and realise that my mobile phone has more processing power and memory than my first PC. It was an Advent with a mighty 500mhz processer with a whopping 16gb hard drive (or thereabouts). Laughable now of course, but at the time I thought it was a beast.
My early PC experience was a combination of Championship Manager 97/98 and spending hours trying to download the Star Wars Episode 1 trailer on a dial up connection.
There were other games; Star Trek: A Final Unity, Colonization as examples. But it was all a little beyond me. I didn’t understand why these games wanted me to type in lines of code instead of launching with a double click. I didn’t understand why nothing ran on Windows ’98.
Games soon arrived that would work but largely gathered dust; The Sims, Age of Empires, Escape From Monkey Island and Star Wars Force Commander amongst many that received scant playing time.
Eventually I upgraded, nothing too fancy of course. But my game time came to be dominated by Championship / Football Manager, a theme I will revisit in another feature.
In part 4, it’s the arrival of the Playstation, a machine surpassed only by its’ own sequel.