Growing up 8-bit

2 01 2012

As a young child I mostly played arcade games.  I spent a lot of time in front of Jungle Hunt, Ms. Pac-Man, Disks of Tron… I loved titles like Mr. Do!, Defender, Kangaroo, Dragon’s Lair… really the list goes on and on.  I was an arcade junkie.  I didn’t own a home console until the NES; but before that my cousin had an Atari 2600 that I would play that every chance I could get.  I had a Commodore VIC-20 and an Apple IIe at home, but you could hardly call those game machines.  My mother got them because they leaned toward being educational.


My friends always had more games that I did.  In high school they had Super Nintendos and Game Boys; but I never did.  I still only got to taste these things when I’d hang out at their house or visited an electronics store.  Eventually I grew up, moved out, and had the income to buy games.  The first two systems I paid for on my own were a TurboGrafx and a Super Nintendo.  I got the TurboGrafx to play Japanese games and the Super to play Nintendo exclusive titles such as Super Metroid and the Mario series.  The interesting thing is, I was never really that interested in playing games that originated from the west once I could make my own purchasing decisions.  Only one store in town carried Japanese imports back then.  PC Engine (that’s what they called the TurboGrafx in Japan) usually cost around $65 – $75 new.  Super Famicom (the Japanese Super Nintendo) games were very expensive and usually topped the $100 mark, and I didn’t know anyone who actually owned a Super Famicom.  Japanese systems were a real rarity back then.  There was no eBay or easy access to titles or information.  News was either obtained by word of mouth or from importing a Japanese game magazine.  Some American magazines had light import game coverage, but that information was all filtered and once that magazine hit the streets, it became general knowledge.  It was much cooler if you could flip through the pages of PC Engine Fan or Famitsu.

I think the reason why I gravitated toward Japanese games becomes fairly evident once you look at the game selection of the time.  Games that were programed outside of Japan sucked.  It seemed that all the great games were Japanese.  The only American games that ever had any excitement surrounding their release were generally football games or basketball games, two genres that I never touched.  It’s not like I didn’t give American games a fair shot, either.  My first day working at a video game store, I walked out the proud owner of an Atari Jaguar.  If that isn’t giving the US game industry the benefit of the doubt, I don’t know what is.

It didn't take me long to figure out that this was not the future of gaming.


Honestly, as I sit here writing this I’m racking my brain trying to come up with examples of good 8 and 16-bit games that originated in America or Europe.  Many people were quite taken by the Disney branded games of the time, such as Aladdin and Lion King; but while appreciating the fluid sprite animation of those titles, they weren’t my thing.  The only game I can point at personally and say that I really enjoyed was Alien 3 on the Super Nintendo.  It really surprised me.


I think it’s funny how now, after almost 20 years, American games are coming back into vogue.  People like to point at Japanese games, wag their fingers and say that it’s because the market stagnated and ceased to be innovative that American and European games had to pick up the slack; but before you follow that rabbit down the hole, think about the western games that become so popular now:  the Call of Duty series, the Grand Theft Auto series, the Elder Scrolls series… the apple never falls very far from the tree.  And history will repeat itself because as gamers, well, we rarely learn anything.

Yeah, there's nothing redundant about shooting people over and over.



2 responses

2 01 2012
James Bacon

Our childhood arcade experiences were very similar. I miss going into the local Aladdin’s Castle and searching out the new cabinets. Memories.

And though I do my best to straddle the cultural divide where games are involved (I like FPSes, as well as JRPGs, and everything in between), I can’t help but agree with you. The same “stagnation” that people accuse Japan of has simply been replaced by stagnation of a different flavor.

It’s a shame, really.

5 01 2012

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