Previously, I reexamined My 5 Favorite Childhood TV Shows and My 5 Favorite Childhood Movies. And looking at these pieces of media and their influence on my young years, I realized I was leaving out a major touchstone – video games!
My early years were filled with memories of Super Nintendo, N64, Gameboy, and countless arcade games. And from behind a D-pad, and later a joystick, I made some lasting memories. I don’t play many video games these days, but these five, and many more, played a big role in my childhood.
To varying degrees, these are some classic games. But to me, they’ll always be an irreplaceable part of my childhood, no matter how they stack up today.
5. Pokémon Red
Why Did I Like It Then? Was there ever a game more wildly popular at schools than the original Pokémon for Gameboy? This wasn’t just a game, it was a phenomenon! Add in the cartoon show, the trading card game, and the movie, and Pokémon became all-consuming. But at the core was the Gameboy game. I had Pokémon Red. Some of my friends had Blue. Minuscule differences, but enough to spark feverish discussion and baseless theories. These games were so big, I even went to a friend’s Pokémon-themed birthday party where we battled, traded Pokémon, and got homemade badges. The hunt for all 151 creatures was an immersive experience. It even led me to do my first video game hack – The Masterball Cheat.
How Is It Now? Pokémon is a well-loved classic that still captures imaginations, if the recent Twitch Plays Pokémon craze is any indication. And its understandable. The mechanics of the original games may seem extremely simple today, it’s a more complication Rock-Paper-Scissors, but that is their appeal. The games may have moved on to countless iterations and colors with hundreds and hundreds of new creatures, but Red and Blue are still why the games became so popular.
4. Super Smash Bros
Why Did I Like It Then? The idea of taking Nintendo’s greatest characters and having them duke it out in a free-for-all battle seemed too good to be true. And when Super Smash Bros. came out, it was the talk of many of my friends at school. And when I desperately pleaded with my mother to buy it for me, she did. With one stipulation, I had to get an A- average on my report card in order to get it. So it sat on the fireplace mantle for more than a month as the school year wound down. Pure agony for my young self. Good news, though. I got the grades to get the game! And it didn’t disappoint. In fact, it almost made up for that month of unbearable existential angst.
How Is It Now? The original Smash Bros. is still a fun way to battle your friends, but its successors have done it no favors. When Super Smash Bros. Meleearrived on the Nintendo GameCube, I shelved the original forever. And with good reason; it seems like the game equivalent of a dinosaur trapped in tar comparatively. You can still have fun for a little while with its old school charm, but you’ll quickly itch for the elite competition of Melee or the imagination of Super Smash Bros. Brawl.
3. Donkey Kong Country
Why Did I Like It Then? How crazy must it have been for my young self to see these early computer-generated graphics in place of 2-D animation? Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo is like a Technicolor memory in a vast field of so-so black and white video game experiences. Like many of the games on this list, DKC was a true challenge for me to beat, and it took quite a while to finally make it to the end boss battle with King K. Rule. But it was so very much worth it. Each level and section brought new challenges and gameplay experiences. Beyond the fantastic side scrolling platform hopping, there were mine cart races, barrel shooting, and challenging bosses that made this a treat for my young tastes.
How Is It Now? Nintendo is still trying to replicate the magic of the original Donkey Kong Country. And while the sequels and successors have been fun, the original is a true beast. Of course, my adult-sized hands can better navigate the levels, but there’s still real challenge in the way platforms and enemies are arranged and timed. Like any classic platformer, Donkey Kong Country doesn’t feel like a relic. It’s a testament to the quality and challenge of classic video games.
2. Super Mario World
Why Did I Like It Then? This was my first video game. And what a game to start out with! Even with simple controls, I was definitely in beyond my depth when I first grabbed that simple grey Super Nintendo controller. Soon, however, my skills surpassed my sister and my dad, whose easy early understanding of the game frustrated my developing mind. Learning to play well meant I could delve deep into this massive game. It must have taken me months to get to the final castle and beat Bowser. But then, even more levels opened up! Not to mention the challenge of the haunted houses and the many secret paths unlocked throughout Super Mario World. This was a feast for my suddenly voracious video game appetite.
How Is It Now? I still compare any platformer to Super Mario World. So many challenges. So many secrets. So many ways to play. There’s something incredibly charming about every piece of this puzzle and replaying it is both a nostalgic trip and a timeless challenge. Sure, there are a couple things that date it, like the names of the levels of Star Road (“Way Cool” and “Tubular” come to mind), but this is what I think of when it comes to Mario games and the Super Nintendo as a whole. This is worth a play for anyone whose never gotten a chance.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time
Why Did I Like It Then? This was the end-all-be-all of video games for me in my childhood. This side scrolling beat-‘em-up for Super Nintendo was incredibly challenging for my developing video game skills without ever being too frustrating. I was also a big fan of the early ‘90s cartoon series, so I obviously had a pre-established affinity for the characters. Getting to choose which turtle seemed like such a new idea for me at the time, and beating up all those classic enemies made me feel like I was in the series. Plus, each turtle had different attacks, making the playthroughs seem unique, even as I became well acquainted with each level and boss patterns. I only beat Turtles in Timeonce or twice, but I could never get enough of it.
How Is It Now? While Turtles in Time is still a fun experience, it really does pale in comparison to how Super Mario World and Donkey Kong Country hold up today. It doesn’t help that it’s a fairly short experience. After all, this is an arcade port with no save features. Then again, this is a stellar example of how these types of games were supposed to be played in the ‘90s. Think of Turtles in Timeas a well-crafted one-time experience or a party game, rather than a masterpiece meant to be explored time and time again, and this is still a great time waster today. Through in good animation, wacky levels, and nearly every TMNT character you can remember, and anyone can have a great time with the game.
Honorable Mentions: ClayFighter, Super Mario RPG, Kirby Super Star, Donkey Kong 64, Diddy Kong Racing, Time Crisis II, X-Men Arcade