I’m sat here in my games room, slowly roasting from the inside out due to the sun. I’m trying to contemplate whether to play Wild Arms and slowly melt into a puddle of sweat or lie on the sofa in the sitting room, which is a lot cooler. I was going to write about my love of JRPGs and recommend some but I’m going to leave that for now as the clear blue skies, heat from the sun and my own body odour reminds me of my summer holidays as a child. Every summer without fail, my parents and I would pack up and head for the sunny south-east. We would stay in our caravan (and later our mobile home) in Wexford. It was a quiet place by the sea where we would play by the beach, visit the local town and go to an amusement park in Tramore, Co. Waterford. I would sometimes bring my games console with me. I had a small case I could put it into, along with a few games. At first it was just my Sega Mega Drive but eventually I brought along my PlayStation. There were also a few places to buy new games from in the town. We would often visit a second hand book store that also sold a few games as well. This would be where I’d get the majority of my games from. Below are some of my favourite memories from this time. I hope you enjoy them.
My earliest gaming memory from this time is playing Sonic the Hedgehog on rainy days. As mentioned above, I would bring my Mega Drive with me on holidays. As I’ve also previously mentioned, it was the only game I owned for the system. For some odd reason, Marble Zone really stands out to me. I have no idea why. I just recall the purple backgrounds, the moving green blocks, the lava and the dropping spikes. I would play this one alone when I wasn’t allowed out. It would pass the time and it helped that I really liked the game. However, this isn’t my fondest memory of the Mega Drive from this time. One year, I borrowed Mega Games 2 from a friend. This combo pack included The Revenge of Shinobi, Golden Axe and the legendary Streets of Rage. I adored Streets of Rage as a kid (I still do) but I was never able to get far in it on my own. One day, my friend in Wexford popped over and we sat down and played through the game. It was fantastic, slowly making our way through each of the wonderful levels, beating up the multitude of bad guys. We had each other’s backs, I played as Axel and he played as Blaze. We made a great team. I remember getting nervous at the boss fight on stage 5. Mona and Lisa were devastating and I always had problems with them but we managed to overcome them. We blasted through the other stages, with our adrenaline pumping, especially at the boss corridor at the end. We finally made it to Mr. X and the all-important choice. For those who haven’t played the original Streets of Rage, the final boss offers you the chance to join him. I accepted and my friend refused and we had to fight to the death (to be honest, I had no idea what I was doing). I bested him and was shunted back to Stage 6. We had come so far and fallen at the final hurdle. Instead of playing through it again, we turned it off and went out. We actually went around to the chipper (or chippy or Italian, whatever you want to call it) and played Final Fight on an arcade machine. We loved beat’em ups so much. I remember we made it as far as the Bay Area before we ran out of money, such is the cruelty of arcade games.
It wasn’t until the PlayStation era that my love of gaming really took off. I would pack up my games into a CD case and bring them with me for the summer. I even remember one summer debating about whether to get a Nintendo 64 or a PlayStation for Christmas, I was thinking that far in advance. I had settled on the Nintendo 64 before switching to the PlayStation just before December. While in Wexford, I would be introduced to such classic as Final Fantasy VII, Tomb Raider, Formula One and Bubsy 3D. I don’t know the actual chronological order of these but I’ll give them a bash. I have previously mentioned in my Final Fantasy post about how I fell in love with the series but I’ll give a short recap. I used to buy gaming magazines at the time, looking out for anything new or exciting. At the back of the magazine, they would do a quick run-down of games they’d reviewed in the past. These would have a short blurb along with a score. I remember Final Fantasy VII had a screenshot of the Scorpion Sentinel boss fight and a score of 97%. It looked interesting from the one screenshot and sounded amazing. While in the second-hand book store, I spotted a copy and that’s how I ended up with Final Fantasy VII. I still have that copy to this day. It’s mostly fine but the cutscene at Rocket Town doesn’t load properly. I remember being very unsure of it at the time. I’d never played a JRPG and had no idea what I was getting myself in for. I struggled with it but my dad tried to help. He read the instruction manual, gave me hints and tips and really just tried his best. I just remember sticking with it because I didn’t get a lot of new games to play. I think the turning point for me was infiltrating the Shinra building and being immersed in the gruesome plot. When I finally escaped Midgar, it felt like a big shock as I thought all three discs would take part in Midgar. I would spend some time hobbling about the world, slowly making progress, first past the Midgar Zolom, across the Costa Del Sol from Junon and getting stuck at the Nibelheim Mansion as I didn’t realise you didn’t have to open the safe at that time. I still love this game to this day.
I got the original Tomb Raider in the same book shop. A friend had brought over Tomb Raider II and I just loved it. I wasn’t any good at it but I still had fun. We would use the level skip cheat to explore the different areas. I actually remember him telling me that out had to use the cheat to get out of a shipwreck, which was a lie but I didn’t know any better. My dad spotted me enjoying it and the next time he was in Wexford Town, he bought me a copy of Tomb Raider. I never really got on well with this one. I don’t know why but I just didn’t. I tried it but I never really got far. I did like the training stage though. As a result, I wouldn’t buy another Tomb Raider game until I was much older. Even though I had had fun with Tomb Raider II, I think some of the novelty was playing with a friend and being big old dirty cheats. Even to this day, I’ve never cleared any of them on the original PlayStation but I did clear Tomb Raider Anniversary so that’s something, I guess. I didn’t get all my games at the second-hand store (but I will have another mention of it later). There was a toy store called Toymaster, where I do remember getting three new games. Two of them were Platinum editions but I didn’t care (the other I’ll mention in a bit). They were Formula One and International Superstar Soccer Pro. At the time, some people I knew had Formula 1 97 and I wanted a racing game (like most kids, I wanted what my friends had). I would find a copy of Formula One at Toymaster and, due to it being cheap, my parents bought it for me. I didn’t care that it was missing the updates from Formula 1 97 such as better damage or more flags, I was just blown away at the scope of it. It had every driver from the 1995 season and even had a team that would drop out midway through the season as they did in real life. It looked fantastic and controlled really well. I remember my dad attempted to play it, hit the barrier in Monaco and threw the controller on the ground. He didn’t realise I was watching him through the window at the time and I couldn’t help but laugh. Today Formula One hasn’t aged as well as some other racers, with its limited draw distance but its realistic reflection of the 1995 season makes it unique amongst Formula 1 games. ISS Pro was another game I spotted in the back of a magazine with a good score (I can’t remember the actual score though). Being mad into football at the time and loving FIFA 98, I wanted to try it. Again, it was another cheap game but I didn’t care. It was a shock though when I did play it. It was tougher than FIFA 98 but I loved the look of it. I cover this one in a bit more detail in my Football Frenzy post but it is one I still play with a friend, even if it’s just for the commentary.
During the Super Nintendo days, I got a certain platformer for my birthday. It was bought in Dunnes Stores in Tallaght and came in a powder blue box. It featured a strange momentum system but it had “attitude”. Yes, that’s right, it was Bubsy in: Claws Encounters of the Furred Kind. Every one I knew loved to play this game but I hated it. I could never get far in it and never understood why. Playing it years later, I realised I was right, its momentum system is poor and I still can’t get anywhere in it. If you’re wondering why I’ve gotten a bit side-tracked, its to set up the next game. During my travels in Wexford Town, I went into an electronic store (I honestly can’t remember the name of it and I have searched), and there was a copy of Bubsy 3D. I recalled people liking the original game and how I must have been wrong so I decided to buy the 3D iteration in the hopes of getting a nostalgic flashback. I did get a flashback, just not in the way I’d hoped. Bubsy 3D is a mess. The controls are awful, the camera is woeful, Bubsy is annoying and the game looks bland. I even tried cheat codes to see if the other levels were better. They were not. I often joke about Bubsy 3D on Twitter and about how everyone should try it but honestly, it deserves to be resigned o the back of your shelf if you have it (or in the bin). I have no idea why I gave this one away only to buy it again years later. Unlike Final Fantasy VII, I didn’t bother to stick with this one to see if it would grow on me.
The last two games are a departure from the PlayStation. They’re not on the same console but I played them both through the Nintendo 64. The first was bought in Toymaster. Everyone I knew in Wexford was playing this new handheld sensation but I didn’t have a handheld. Luckily, I’d picked up a solution a few months earlier. That solution was Pokémon Stadium and I would grab Pokémon Yellow as a result. We would spend hours traversing the Kanto region together, swapping Pokémon and almost filling the Pokédex. I had Yellow while my friends had Red and Blue so we were set. I would have to trade using someone else’s Game Boy for evolutions or the Transfer Pak if I just needed to fill the Pokédex. It’s odd because I’ve never experienced anything like it since. Even playing the Pokémon games now with my wife isn’t the same. Maybe its because I’m so much older, grumpier and have access to the internet whereas back then we lived off rumours. The final game is probably the one my friends and I spent the most time with. We would sit around in the evenings playing 3 or 4-player modes, creating all sorts of strange modes together. It was none other than the fantastic GoldenEye. I picked up my copy in the second-hand book store. It was battered and bruised, didn’t have a box and the label was a bit torn. It also had a save file with everything unlocked. I didn’t care. For £5, I got perhaps one of the best bargains ever. I still have that copy and I’ve never bothered to replace it. Back in the late 90s and early 2000s, the four of us would huddle around a CRT television in a mobile home, with the blinds pulled, and just play through the night. We would joke, laugh, cheat and mock each other’s performance. It was something else. I do miss those days but I do try to rope my nieces into playing it whenever they visit. They love it and I can’t wait to play it again with them when the lockdown is finally over.
It has been nearly 20 years since I stayed in Wexford. I am going to stay soon, which I’m really looking forward to. It no doubt will have changed but it’ll be nice to walk down memory lane with Sharon and Rocky. Also, I’m looking forward to visiting the Retro Gaming Store Plus in Wexford town. I can’t remember the last time I set foot in a gaming store but I am looking forward to picking up some new and old games. Enjoy the hot weather and sunshine. Rocky does have one reminder, remember to keep your pets cool in this time with lots of water and cooling mats, towels or bandanas if you have them. You could always get them a small paddling pool but just remember to keep an eye on them and stay safe.