Wednesday, September 9, 2015

20 years of PlayStation Memories

Today, September 9, 2015, marks the 20th anniversary the original PlayStation console’s release in North America. Our Japanese counterparts had been introduced to Sony’s grey box about ten months earlier in December 1994, but that just served to elevate the hype here in the States as gaming magazines gave us a glimpse of things to come.

I was going to put together a retrospective of the console that knocked Nintendo and Sega for a loop and revolutionized the gaming industry. But when I think of the PlayStation, what comes to mind isn’t facts and figures, but excitement, promise, and redefining what a video game can be.

Two decades ago, I was on the verge of becoming a teenager. My childhood wonder and enthusiasm had all but faded away. Sony’s PlayStation is the last console that had me truly giddy. It still speaks to the kid I used to be.

I want to capture that and, if only for a few seconds, get you to feel it for yourself. So I give you a pair of vignettes – my own PlayStation memories.

Part 1: Fighting through the Night

September 1995.

About two weeks into my sixth grade year, I got a phone call from my buddy Tom.

“Hey Matt, we rented a PlayStation from Blockbuster Video,” he said. I was vaguely aware of the PSX from reading GamePro magazine.

“Oh? What’s it like?”

He described ESPN Extreme Games, a downhill, skateboard/bicycle racing sort of thing. I was trying to come off as enthusiastic, but I guess it was obvious that I wasn’t into it.

Then, out of the blue: “We also have Street Fighter The Movie: The Game.”

“I’ll be there in ten minutes,” I said.

Street Fighter The Movie was a cross between classic SF gameplay and digitized characters a la Mortal Kombat. The controls sucked. The characters didn’t really look or sound much like their movie counterparts. There was only one new fighter, Capt. Sawada, and his special attack looked like he was pulling his junk out of his pants, earning him the nickname “Dick Whip” (or DW for short).

It was the greatest game I had ever played.

As the night wore on, me, Tom, and a third friend, Ryan, played the same Ryu vs. Chun-Li battle over, and over, and over again. They asked me to stay on as P2, and Tom and Ryan took turns trying be beat me. I might have lost a round here and there, but I never lost a match.

ESPN was more a Tom and Ryan game, so I sat back and watched them try to earn enough money to upgrade their “street luges,” which gets riders as close to the ground as possible before sending them sailing at 80 miles an hour into rocks, trees, and other racers.

While browsing through the options “book” in-game, Tom remarked how the page turning sound effect was super realistic. And you know what? He was right. It was nice touch.

Near the end of the night, Tom opened up the CD drive, pulled out the ESPN disc in the middle of a race, and threw in some dance music CD. Seconds later, we were skating around to a song where two guys kept screaming “Brooklyn boys! Brooklyn boys!” It was really hard to hear what they were saying over the sound effects, though.

“Touch some boys?” Tom asked.

Maybe it was when I finally got Chun-Li’s Super to work, defeating Ryu in a spectacular flash of light. Or maybe it was that silly video of a woman berating your skills when you came in last place in ESPN Extreme Games. But by the end of the night, I knew that Nintendo and Sega had a lot to live up to if they hoped to beat Sony.

And I knew I had to have a PlayStation.

Part 2: Taken with Tekken

December 1995.

Fearing a predicted snowstorm, 12-year-old Matt’s school closes early. As the bus pulls into my neighborhood and opens its doors, I leap out and trot home purposefully. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be home for a few hours.

And I knew where they were hiding the Christmas gifts.

I selected a long, rectangular gift and carefully peeled back the tape at the top corner. Holding it upside down, out slid Tekken for the original PlayStation. The back of the box touted 3D graphics unlike anything I had seen before on a home console. Not even Super Nintendo’s StarFox and the mighty SuperFX chip could render awesome characters and expansive worlds like this!

I tore off the plastic and thumbed through the manual excitedly, noting which character I’d play as first on Christmas morning: Michelle Chang, who I hoped would be like Street Fighter’s Chun-Li. I even listened to a bit of the game’s soundtrack via my Sega CD.

But I stopped short of unwrapping the PlayStation, fearing the wrath of my parents or worse yet, a ho-hum Christmas morning. Tekken slid back into the wrapping rather easily and the tape still stuck.

The rest of the afternoon went by quickly, with me staring out my window, anticipating those 3D battles and waiting for the snowstorm that never came.

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