(This quickly turned into an essay on the nostalgia of video games and the 80s…but I’m not even sorry!)
I am sure everyone feels the decade in which they were born is the best decade there is…but I have to say, being born in the 80s was a magical thing. While I have a feeling a lot of my memories are from family stories and photos from growing up, I like to think my recollection is accurate (let’s face it – we all glamorize things from our youth). The music, movies, television shows…the cartoons! Holy moly they were awesome. Nothing, however, topped the video games of the decade.
I don’t know specifically when I began playing games on my Grandparents’ ColecoVision, but I know we made an event out of it. My Grandfather was a bit on the OCD side, and as I got older I recall there were score books for us to log our high scores on certain games (his favorites were Frenzy and River Raid), and we always had to keep the games organized just so. We had the typical games like Frogger, Burgertime, and even Smurfs: Rescue in Gargamel’s Castle. It was great having such a variety, and games I could grow into.
I fell out of gaming as a youngster. I never had a Nintendo or any other gaming consoles (cue the sad violin music) – when I was in middle school and high school, if I wanted to play, I’d have to go to a friend’s house. Heck, we didn’t even get a computer for gaming until I was well into high school! Gaming just wasn’t on my radar – I was a band geek, and your typical boy-crazy teenage girl. (I promise there is a point to all of this!) After I’d grown up, gotten married (thank God for geeky spouses who enhance your own geekiness) I felt like I was making up for lost time. When I learned there were these things called emulators that allowed you to play all the wonderful video games you thought were long gone, the very first game I sought was Pepper II.
Yes, I hear you – ‘What the heck is Pepper II?!’ I’m not making it up, I promise! Pepper II started out as an arcade game developed by Exidy, and was later ported to the ColecoVision console. It is a single-player puzzle game, consisting of four mazes per level. Your character – Pepper – is a little angel (huh…I always thought he was a bean) who travels around the maze, ‘zipping’ segments closed. When each segment is completed, points are awarded – sometimes there are ‘prizes’ inside these segments – these will award a different set of points. Complete a segment with the pitchfork, Pepper turns into a Devil. and you will be able to go after the enemies: Roaming Eyes and Whippersnapper (he unzips all completed segments as he travels over them). You are able to escape the baddies periodically by moving into one of the other mazes, but they will inevitably follow.
The game has a nerve-wracking pulsing soundtrack (not unlike a heartbeat), which increases in speed once the game reaches a certain point. A fun little song plays when you complete the segments with the pitchfork – this is what I remember the most…the fun little song, and going after the baddies.
So, what makes this game so great that I felt the need to submit it for my first ever RAGGD? It’s not a difficult game. The graphics certainly don’t win any awards in terms of complexity or beauty. The music definitely isn’t one you’d listen to on it’s own (I’m looking at you, Gradius). For me, it’s about the memories surrounding the game and the console itself – spending lots of time at my Grandparents’ house, playing with friends, cousins, aunts, uncles, and Grandpa. Blwoing on the cartridges to get them to work. Untangling the cables. Watching my Grandpa shake his hands out because he’d been playing too long – which I apparently took to mimicking. As a gal who hasn’t been into gaming too long, I appreciate that it’s a game I can pick up at any time and immediately start right into. And I’m transported back to that brown carpeted living room floor and heavy cabinet television set.
Now, at the age of 33, my husband and I enjoy video games together – mostly NES games. We’ve slowly amassed a collection of Famicom consoles, and can often be found camped out in front of the TV, much like the photo above. While technology has certainly improved since then, I find myself going back to those 8-bit graphics and cheesy sound effects – there’s something so comforting about them, and they serve as a great reminder of where we’ve been.
There’s no school like the old school.