The Retro Bug

The Retro Bug

So, while surfing the wide Internet and finding nothing of interest to me or, as far as I can tell, anyone else, I had the sudden urge to ‘go Retro’ as it were and try and find one of my old consoles to play, and reminisce of happy times sat two feet from the front of the television set and bashing the buttons quite happily and wondering why I wasn’t getting anywhere.

My first destination was the TV downstairs in the living room as sitting under it there is my first video games console, the stunning black shape of a Sega Master System II, exactly where it was put about ten or eleven years ago when I first acquired it. Sunlight glinting off the black plastic dust cover over the cartridge slot, it was already reminding me of times where I had spent whole days at a time trying to complete Sonic or Asterix because of the lack of a save function, meaning you had to do it all in one go. Typically this involved setting out a day to do it, tell your parents not to plan anything for that day and make sure that you were well stocked with supplies or only a short run to the kitchen and back.

After locating the console and returning from my flashbacks, I set out to choose a game to play and ended up playing Cool Spot which, if you aren’t aware, is about a round, red, well, spot that wears sunglasses and you, the player, have to collect tokens and various pieces of Virgin related merchandise (Virgin were the publishers of the game) and then free one of your fellow spots at the end of the level. Altogether Cool Spot is an exciting and challenging game where on every level you end up condemning every crab and rat that kills you on the beach around which the game is set to increasingly damning levels of hell.

I popped the game out from the case and slid back the slot cover to start playing, then followed the incredible ritual which always has to occur with early cartridge consoles and I will take you through the steps here:

1. Ensure that everything you need is plugged into the mains and that the console itself is connected with the RF lead to the television.
2. Change the channel of the television to the one that you know you have tuned the console in to. (For a reason that only God knows, my Master System is on channel 36. Perhaps it was a hopeful outlook to the amazing number of terrestrial TV stations that we will gain in the next few years, so far there has only been the inclusion of Channel 5)
3. Insert game into slot and turn the console to the ‘ON’ position.
4. Sit in front of the television staring at the white noise. Begin to wonder about why it isn’t working.
5. Make an expedition to the RF cable from the console to the rear of the television and realise you have to flick the switch to the ‘Computer’ option.
6. Return to the front of the television and try again.
7. There are two outcomes for this point. One, you have a game pre-installed on the console itself and for some reason that game has started instead of the one you inserted. Or if there is no game pre-installed you will see the manufacturer’s logo followed by a black screen.
8. This is the part where you jump up and down in rage before continuing to step 9.
9. Remove game cartridge and commence blowing hard into the underside of it, this is called the dust removal phase. Following that, do the same to the cartridge slot of the console itself.
10. Repeat until game begins or you faint from lack of Oxygen.

After having played this and other games on the ageing console I retired to my bedroom and noticed a brown cardboard box above my wardrobe, curious I looked inside it and was completely shocked to find that it contained a Sega Mega Drive that I had completely forgotten about. I eagerly unpacked it, the retro fever had fully taken hold of me, and then began another hunt for the games that went with this forgotten console that had 16-BIT stuck on the top in a statement designed to shock Nintendo out of the market (and we all know how that one ended up). I looked in wardrobes and drawers all around the house knowing that I wouldn’t have kept a console and not keep the games for it. Exhausted I sat down on my bed and then it hit me; the games were in the drawer under the bed which I was sat on.

Frantically pulling the drawer out I found what I was looking for; a number of Mega Drive games which included Sonic the Hedgehog 1 & 2, Golden Axe and Streets of Rage, all of them classic games made when games were still mostly original ideas. Golden Axe is a fantastic game to play by yourself or with someone else on player two to help you slash the multitude of monsters attacking you; it has a very definite arcade feel about it. Streets of Rage was the first side-scrolling fighting game that I ever played and it can still hold its own as, to the best of my knowledge, there haven’t been any of this type of game in recent times probably because of the advent of 3D gaming.

So, excited I unpacked the Mega Drive and proceeded to plug it in, unplugging the aerial from the rear of the television and connecting it to the small RF input changer box thing, then attempting to plug the end of that cable into the TV which is where the trouble begins.

For some reason, in recent years the TV manufacturers decided to change the socket where the aerial connects to the back of the television set so the cable from the Mega Drive no longer fits in and stays in. After ten minutes of trying to push the lead into the socket I decided to attempt it on the TV in another room in the house, which turned out to be too new as well. Retiring to my room I saw a large ball of blue tack and I had an idea, returning to the back of the TV I proceeded to push the cable as far into the socket as I could then stuck it in place with a small piece of blue tack. Success! At least for the amount of time the blue tack will hold.

Then followed the inevitable ritual as outlined further back in this article, after which the glowing blue Sega logo appears on the screen accompanied by a strange shrill voice singing the company name. Once Golden Axe had appeared on the screen the blue tack inevitably gave way and I was left watching static. Once the cable was secured again I started to play, one fantastic thing about these aged consoles is that they use cartridges and therefore there are no load times whatsoever. In these hectic lives we live in today, we can’t be sitting around waiting for things to happen now can we? So after half an hour of playing the game I arrived at the point where I remember the reason that I haven’t played this game for two or three years, there is a part of one of the levels and you are constantly attacked by multitudes of zombies and skeletons bursting through the floor and this is the furthest I have ever got into the game, this time was no exception. Don’t get me wrong, this part gets your pulse racing, but it’s just so damn hard and annoying.

I stuck some of the other games in to the console; I got quite far on Streets of Rage, of which I am very proud, and then started to play on the diverse choice of Sonic games that I own. Sonic the Hedgehog has to be one of my favourite characters in video gaming history, for some reason I never got really attached to Mario, possibly because when I was younger I only ever played on Sega consoles, I have never owned a Nintendo console (apart from hand-held ones) and honestly don’t think I had a clue who Mario was until I met him on an escapade in about 1999 on the N64 (which belonged to a friend). So after playing on Sonic 1, 2 and Sonic and Knuckles on the Mega Drive, I came to the conclusion that Sonic and Knuckles combined with Sonic 2 (as the special cartridge allows you to do so you can play as Knuckles in Sonic 2) is a great game, however nothing can beat the lower quality version I had played earlier in the day on the Master System.

And there ended my short, but enlightening, expedition into the world of gaming of a decade ago, and concluding that the best graphics don’t mean a good game is there and an updated classic can do the job too. Now I’m off to find some cheap Nintendo consoles to compare with my Sega youth.