There was a thing going around Twitter asking for the 5 games that “molded” you as a gamer. Well, I’m too loquacious for 280 characters, and I’m bad at limiting myself to a top X of anything. So here’s that list:
Super Mario Bros.: The first video game I ever played. Myself and Dolph Paulsen were spending the night at our friend Arvind Gireesh’s house. We watched the 1986 Transformers: The Movie, and played Arvind’s Nintendo. In the morning, his parents made us waffles. Without Mario, a lot of us may not have the escapism we know as video games.
Streets of Rage: Sega’s answer to Final Fight wasn’t the first beat ‘em up I played, but it’s the first one I remember playing that wasn’t based on another property. I thought Sega perfected the genre the following year with Streets of Rage 2, but in 2020, they teamed up with DotEmu to give us Streets of Rage 4, which is far and away my favorite game released in the last few years.
Street Fighter II: Capcom redefined not just one-on-one fighters, but the entire arcade business with this masterpiece of a game. Countless revisions and imitators later, SF2 left a mark on arcade gaming not matched until the release of Dance Dance Revolution, seven years later. Anyways, if not for this beast, I wouldn’t be playing fighting games today. Quite a few of my friendships have been forged because of this title, even to this day.
Pro Wrestling: Six near-identical grapplers compete for the Video Wrestling Alliance championship. Considering how minimal this game is and it’s 1986 release, it’s hard to believe that it’s still better than most wrestling games from the last decade. Pro Wrestling taught me to not just accept a game because it had a franchise I like on top of it, but to find the best version of a game.
Tetris: It’s why I play puzzle games. ‘Nuff said.
Mega Man 2: One summer, our parents put my brother and I in a daycare run out of a woman’s house. I was a little older than most of the other kids, but I was just a year younger than her son. We mostly played Nintendo, and one of the highlights was being introduced to Mega Man. The following week, his friend let him borrow the sequel, and the multitude of minor improvements on this entry in the series meant I was going to be a fan forever.
Clash at Demonhead: A totally random Christmas gift from one of my aunts in either 1990 or 1991, this game was basically off everybody’s radar until Bryan Lee O’Malley referenced it in his Scott Pilgrim comics (and subsequent film). With character designs by Dragon Ball creator Akira Toriyama, this oddball, Metroidvania-style adventure ends in a place nowhere close to where you think it’s going when you start. This is the first game I ever played that had a story more complex than “Bad guy showed up and did a thing, go kill them.”
Codename: Viper: Capcom’s attempt at making a Rolling Thunder clone was, in my opinion, a game that surpassed its inspiration. But your mileage may vary. Anyways, this game taught me the importance of patience. Also, don’t do drugs or some crazy commando from another continent will blow you away with a machine gun.
NES Open: Tournament Golf: I 100% bought this game before playing it, because I liked the drawings of Mario in the star-spangled variant of his costume (now seen in Super Smash Bros) when I saw them in Nintendo Power Magazine. I don’t give two shits about golf in real life, but it’s because of this game, along with Mutant League Football on the Sega Genesis, that I learned to give new genres of game a try before I wrote them off.
Toejam & Earl: Talk about giving new genres a try. I don’t even know what genre Toejam & Earl IS! But these two hip-hop aliens sure did whatever it is they do so well that 25 years after the first game’s release and two terrible sequels plagued by studio interference, the creators finally got to make the sequel they wanted thanks to a huge Kickstarter campaign. Anyways, I didn’t realize it at the time, but TJ&E’s entire aesthetic is heavily inspired by the memphis milano art style that became so prevalent in the early 1990s, it still inspires me artistically to this very day.