My Sega Genesis
I was five years old when my older cousins, Mikey and Anthony, introduced me to video games. Even though I was “too young,” they passed me the controller (with strong admonitions against breaking it) and allowed me the privilege of hacking and slashing through one level of a game I don’t remember. I died, of course. Felled by “Axe Man,” the level boss (or, just as likely, a minor enemy grunt). But my cousins encouraged me, cheered me on even, and when I finally defeated Axe Man, they practically threw a parade for me. By then, I was hooked.
On my sixth birthday, I was overjoyed to receive a video game console of my own, a shiny new Sega Genesis with Sonic the Hedgehog. It looked so cool next to the clunky VCR. “16-bit!” I proclaimed, without a clue as to what that meant. While my Dad tried to figure out how to hook the system up, my brother and I hungrily pored over the screenshots on the back of the box, carefully deciding which Sega games we wanted (all of them) and imagining what they’d be like to play. I couldn’t wait to tell Mikey and Anthony.
“One more level!” and “I’m almost to a save point!” quickly became key phrases in my vocabulary—much to my parents’ annoyance. Even with strict time limits, I would play games like Golden Axe or Steel Empire until I was red in the face, my heart racing with excitement. For Sonic games, I’d generously let my younger brothers play as Tails, the unkillable sidekick. Video games were one of the few things we bonded over and we worked hard to not lose that privilege (except in Battletoads and Double Dragon, which usually turned into a slugfest—first in the game and then in the living room).
To my brothers and I, Sonic the Hedgehog was the pinnacle of cool. We watched the cartoon, we sang made-up lyrics to the music, we drew the characters endlessly. Nintendo kids had Mario, sure, but he wasn’t even on our radar yet. In 1994, we went to our first midnight release for the launch of Sonic & Knuckles…only to find out that our Toys’R’Us hadn’t gotten it yet. It was an excruciating two days before we were able to thwart the evils of Dr. Robotnik once again, not to mention add Knuckles to Sonic 2 and Sonic 3 with the cartridge’s unique “lock-on” technology. Sega was great at making their hardware stackable. The only thing Nintendo had like that was Super Noah’s Ark 3D, an unlicensed Wolfenstein clone that needed a real SNES game plugged into it to work!
From basic platformers and beat ‘em ups to more obscure genres like tactical RPGs (Shining Force and Shining Force II) and roguelikes (Toejam & Earl), the Sega Genesis was my first stepping stone towards a lifelong love of video games, and I’ll always treasure it. It’s still hooked up to my TV, and that’s where it’s going to stay.