Dad used to tell us he had a Mega Drive and played it every night. We didn’t believe him and had no reason to. After all we had got an old Atari 2600 when we wanted a NES and neither of my parents liked the idea of spending big money on games. It was early 1994, the Mega Drive was not young but it had still yet to be surpassed by another console, at least in Australia. The Super Nintendo looked really cool but I liked Sonic and I wanted a Mega Drive and had convinced my four younger brothers to want the same thing. We had a pretty cool dad who around the same time used to take us to the local shopping centre every other weekend for a few rounds of Mortal Kombat. He liked games to and we had every reason to hope that he would want to bring some of that arcade action into our home. Our dear mother was less enthused and not at all interested in games, but she could see how much we wanted it.
Despite this, we just didn’t believe that dad really had his very own Mega Drive in his wardrobe that he played while we slept. We made some halfhearted searches occasionally but never believed it enough to be thorough. One day after winding us up again he actually had us follow him into our parents’ bedroom. He reached up into his suitcase on the top shelf and pulled out a new Sega Mega Drive II with two games. The box had been opened and it was later confirmed by my mother that he had indeed been playing it while we slept. We almost couldn’t believe it and were all excited, even my youngest brother who was still too young to understand how to use it.
The two games we received were Sonic The Hedgehog 2 and Bubsy. Both were appealing, but I was most excited at the prospect of finally playing a 16-bit version of Sonic. Our parents immediately set some ground rules. A family of five boys needs such rules, especially when all are equally interested in playing games. The first one was “only on weekends.” My parents were to be very consistent on this point with few very rare exceptions. The second one was “half-an-hour per turn.” This one didn’t last much longer than it took to get three or four zones into Sonic 2. Both rules started off working pretty well though. All of us couldn’t last much longer than that on any one game anyway.
I ignored Bubsy at first and was thoroughly focused on Sonic 2. I was soon far above my brothers in skill and it was around this time that my brothers, wanting to see more of the game were to make allowances for me to continue playing and I was happy to generally do the same thing. I had a friend over one day, soon after we got it. He patiently watched me play up to Oil Ocean Zone before my big cat walked past and carelessly trod on the reset button. Forgetting my duties as a host (I was about 10), I immediately pressed start, ready to go through it all again. My mother quickly noticed and had me hand over the controller before later forcing us out the door with an Aussie rules football a short time later. My mother’s original lack of enthusiasm appeared to have good basis for her and certainly does to me in hindsight.
I continued to play Sonic 2 and got further and further. I cannot remember the time frame as it seemed like such a long time, but it can’t have been more than a month before I got to the end boss and beat the game. A family friend who had a Mega Drive well before us had showed us the last boss and ending before and I did it myself soon after. It was also around this time that we were introduced to cheat codes. Although I was aware of such things from PC games, this was the first console I had where I could use them.
After beating Sonic 2, I moved on to Bubsy. This is a game that I only found out much later was disliked by many gamers. Given that it was one of two games we had, it perhaps got far more attention and love than it ever deserved. We found the character himself quite amusing and laughed at the digitized voice (when we could understand it). It was also one of the first games where great fun could be had from killing the main character and it acted very much as a prelude to the hours we would spend with the Mortal Kombat games trying the different fatalities. Despite the floaty and awkward controls and the many poorly designed levels, I still hold a soft spot for Bubsy. It was challenging and took me considerably longer to beat than Sonic 2 or many other games did. I still to this day am ashamed to admit that I have the games pass codes burnt into my memory.
The first new game we got was a used copy of Sonic The Hedgehog. We all agreed on this as we had loved Sonic 2 so much and were convinced there would be a lot to enjoy in Sonic 1. While I loved it, I could never quite see it with the same eyes as those who first experienced it. Sonic 2 to my mind had better music, levels and design and it was far more forgiving. Sonic 1 on the other hand was far more challenging, with plenty more traps, enemies and other dangers.
After beating or “finishing” (as Australian kid’s had it) all the games we owned, I had to find more to do. Two of my brothers were following close behind me but were content to just play the games we had and they especially liked Sonic 1’s debug cheat. Games weren’t then and are not now, just a bit of fun for me. I wanted to beat and complete the games I owned and I wanted adventure and challenge. The only way I had left to extend the games was the Chaos Emeralds of Sonic 1 and 2. As it was 1994, Sonic 3 had been released and there were a few advertisements on television about it. One explained how you could become Super Sonic by collecting all the Chaos Emeralds. The manual to both Sonic 1 and 2 contained no such thing. I started off with Sonic 2, on the bonus stages and after much trial, error and memorization, was getting good at earning Chaos Emeralds. I soon had five, then I could get six and after more practice, all seven. My brothers had become interested in my progress and they were there to watch when I got the seventh to see what would happen. We were really excited when we were told that Sonic could now become Super Sonic.
Following the instructions from the television I soon collected 50 rings. It was then apparently a double jump to see the payoff for the hard work. I was surprised to see Sonic immediately transform at my initial jump and from there feel like I had almost lost control as I effortlessly dashed through the stages with pitfalls and time being the only danger. It was great fun and it wasn’t long before we saw the proper ending to Sonic 2 that we had not known existed. I did the same thing with Sonic 1, disappointed but not surprised at the absence of Super Sonic. This whole episode started me exploring in every way almost every game I enjoyed for secrets and alternate endings. I rarely found others and this interest did not end until I got regular access to the Internet in the late ’90s.
That year’s Christmas would see us get a few new games including Golden Axe and The Revenge of Shinobi. Dad also got Jungle Strike and a few other games. We also began borrowing games on a regular basis but only occasionally from the video shop. I used to also spend a great deal of my time earning money to buy myself new games. I would try many genres but platformers remained my favourite and I still have a great fondness for them today.
Before selling our original Mega Drive to help pay for a Nintendo 64, I had probably played through well over 70 titles. There has been no console since the Mega Drive that has had me enthralled. The closest two would be the GameCube and Xbox 360. While I have gone from Nintendo to Sony and Microsoft, I still have a soft spot for Sega’s Mega Drive. It is still the most played and beloved console I have ever owned and one of the few older ones that I still want to go back to. This was more than just gaming. A lot of fun, fights and friendships were based around this little box and I consider it the true “genesis” of my love of gaming.