This second batch of Christmas memories are like a wee slice of home for me, as they all come from Scotland. Members of Gamewank, BitSocket, and Twitter pal Kami Toman all get involved to reminisce about Super Mario, a 90s iBook game, Metroid and the Simpsons Hit and Run.
A long time ago, back when I was a a wee boy, I remember getting one of the best gifts anyone could hope for: the Super Mario All Stars SNES bundle. So many brilliant games all loaded into one cartridge, a real treasure trove of games. The thing was, I was pish at games. I loved the idea of games, but I could never get the hang of them. My Mum, on the other hand, was a bit of a Mario-Savant.
She effortlessly completed level after level, world after world. I remember sitting there, watching her play Super Mario World, and learning from her how to play the game, how to time my jumps and how to explore the levels to get every Yoshi coin. Although she doesn’t play games anymore (beyond Angry Birds et al) I’ll always remember that Christmas, watching and learning from the best.
Joe Merrick – The other half of that channel
Christmas day. Turkey’s in the oven. Mum’s shouting at my dad to get off his arse and help out, but he’s too busy. Two days ago, on the last day of term before the holidays, my dad took home four brand new iBooks; they ones that looked like multi-coloured toilet seats, remember? It was the late 90s by the way, so lecturers could do that kind of thing without folk minding.
So what was my dad too busy doing on Christmas day? He was too busy storming my base with his undead army. We’d set up a LAN with the iBooks for the holidays and my brother had a copy of Myth 2. Well, make that four copies… It was the late 90s, so we could do that kind of thing without folk noticing.
My mum hated it, of course. She hated that the four of us – me, my dad and my two brothers – were too busy playing ‘that stupid game’ to get involved with the Christmas cheer; the ‘proper’ Christmas we should be enjoying. But that IS proper Christmas for people like us, isn’t it? Playing games in a way that you’ll never do again. How often does one family have four iBooks kicking about? It’s like that time you unpacked those Buzz controllers for the PS2, or witnessed your uncles and aunties playing doubles in Wii Tennis.
What made Myth 2 special, though, was the deep concentration required from all of us to play it. In the nine-base capture the flag mission, four small squads of armies, human or undead, have to take as much territory as possible in the time limit, or capture everything. But you can only have so many units in your team, so a deep awareness of the strengths of each unit is a must. My dad was an old-school tactician; take the high ground, put archers in a formation and rain death from above. I liked to be a bit craftier, sending out a couple of explosive experts (well, dwarves…) to booby-trap bases and sabotage my enemy’s land-grabbing attempts. If my brother sent a squad in to claim the base, I’d blow them the pieces and steal the base while he regrouped, my team trampling over the pixelated body parts. Merry christmas.
I’ve hardly ever played Myth 2 since that Christmas. The one-player campaign felt lonely without the sheer joy, and misery, of winning and losing against my family. Online battles appealed to me but I never had the kit to get online, and since growing up I’ve realised that online gaming isn’t for me anyway.
Myth 2 will not only always be my Christmas game, but it’ll also always be the game of that Christmas, when the four Merrick boys huddled around and spent hours in fantasy battles with each other, laughing every time the narrator announced another casualty. I’m so glad to have that memory.
When your man with the blog here asked me to contribute something to this piece, I instantly thought of The Simpsons: Hit & Run, and spent the next week scratching my head as to why. For the reasons laboriously detailed below, I wondered: “Fuck, where did THAT come from?”.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run is not a classic. It did not make a lasting impression on the world, nor will it show up in any top ten lists of any category, unless it’s something as niche as “Best GTA Clone Based on a Popular FOX Cartoon”, where it is sure to occupy the top, and only, slot. Unless they include The Simpsons: Road Rage, which was more of a Crazy Taxi clone, so they probably shouldn’t. I’d complain.
It is not a particularly memorable game. It came a couple of years after GTA III, a game which certainly did make a great impact on popular culture. So much so that it goes without typing. There is no debate that GTA III changed everything. It just did.
One hugely impactful thing it introduced, of course, was itself as a template for clones. Over the next few years, in a trend which continues today, games companies would fall over themselves to capture the GTA III magic and release their own open-world driving sims. The quality varied wildly.
The Simpsons: Hit & Run was one of those games, forged in the fire of executive tinkering and bar chart fuelled mimicry. The off-mission portion of the game feels like an afterthought, and the driving aspect just doesn’t… well, it doesn’t scream “SIMPSONS!” to me. At the time it was described as a clever satire of GTA III. A satire of a satire. Perhaps that’s the clever bit. I would not advise playing it now, in 2013. In 2013, it is a silly game, and it isn’t worth your precious non-work minutes.
But it came at a time when Simpsons fatigue hadn’t quite set in. It wasn’t yet a Thing We Used To Love, and the prospect of exploring a digital Springfield was a tantalising one. It also came at the tail end of an era where people could still be surprised at “doing/being/having (x) in a video game?!”.
It’s of its time, then. He typed, rendering the last five paragraphs obsolete.
Then I remembered it was the first present I’d been given by my wife as her husband.
We were married in 2003, it was our first Christmas, and it was wonderful. Presumably, I don’t really remember. Christmases past tend to blend into one another. A blizzard of food and telly and gifts and shite, they overwhelm the senses, fatten the arses, and fade away.
Except sometimes, a certain detail will stick. For me, it’s maybe one moment per Christmas that stays. Maybe one moment per three Christmases. I’ve had 29 of them, it’s understandable.
I remember when my dad built the Ninja Turtles sewer lair out of an old cupboard unit and some plumbing spares, because he couldn’t afford the official one and didn’t want to disappoint me. That’s my most vivid Christmas memory because even as a child I remember thinking that was almost a Hollywood moment of Christmas magic and I couldn’t believe it was real. I loved my dad for that. I mentioned it to him just now, he had no recollection of this at all.
“You sure that was me?”
“Of course! You’d even made a wee chair for Splinter!”
“Really? Nope. Not ringing any bells.”
Perhaps the inability to remember Christmas is a genetic thing.
Anyway – the only other significant Yuletide memory I have (bear in mind I have three children, so you’d think I would have plenty) is from that first married Christmas, and it was of this game. Not even the game proper, just the menu screen. A menu screen backdropped by a sleeping Homer Simpson on the famous Simpsons couch. Er, I think he was sleeping anyway. Memory again, see. Homer was dressed in a Santa costume, snow could be seen falling on the iconic sidewalk of Evergreen Terrace, and so I assumed that the game’s storyline was set during the festive period. I didn’t put two and two together and realise that the menu screen only looked like this if you played it on the 25th of December, so it was forever cemented in my daft head as A Christmas Game.
The penny would eventually drop when I played it the next day, and Homer was in his usual costume. A Homer Simpson costume, I suppose. From what little I remember of the game proper, it’s actually a Halloween story, with the aliens Kang and Kodos, regular characters in the cartoon series’ famous Halloween episodes, serving as the main antagonists. So it’s definitely not A Christmas Game, but it always will be to me, because of that one silly detail, and the erroneous neural connections it bridged.
I’d finished with it by new year. I haven’t played it since.
Kami Toman – Prolific Tweeter
If you’re into the games, a Christmas where you don’t get a new one is not a Christmas at all. It’s like a turkey based feast, but with no sweet, delicious dessert. The first time I received anything game related was 1995, and what a gift it was. A SNES, an actual SNES. We had always been a SEGA house before then, my sister had a Master System and a Megadrive before I got that beautiful box. Packaged along with it was a copy of Super Metroid, a game probably not best suited for a six year old. At least, not THIS six year old.
If you’re familiar with the game, you’ll know that the opening level involves a timed escape from a self-destructing space station. It’s got impactf, but I’d understand if you’ve forgotten about it. I didn’t. Oh man, did I not forget. Christmas night went without a hitch, I slept fine, no doubt worn out by the excitement and piles of turkey consumed. The night of Boxing day, however, was a different story. A much more teary, terrified story. See, that opening level is scary for a 6 year old. So scary in fact that the child might insist that his parents take the SNES out of their room at night, because they were scared that the “Spaceman” (Yes, I know) was going to come out of the screen and get them. This happened for a while, and I never played Super Metroid again (I was fortunate enough to also receive a copy of Super Mario Kart, that was more than enough for me).
Fortunately, my parents were able to get a trade-in of Super Metroid for Mario All-stars, a game I rinsed for a long, long time. Once this happened, the SNES went from being put in my parents room overnight, to on top of my cupboard at night, to eventually just being left under my little TV. I’ve still never played Super Metroid. I’ve played OTHER Metroid games, I completed Metroid Fusion for the first time ever this year and it’s a cracking wee game, but can never quite face Super Metroid.