Sega Retrospective

Sega Retrospective
The Genesis Effect

Russ Pitts | 25 Jan 2011 13:52
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"Genesis? What's that?" - James T. Kirk

Imagine if one game company could mesh the exhilaration of cutting-edge arcade-quality videogame experiences with the deep, immersive, replayability offered by a home console. Now imagine you are living in a time when this hasn't already happened and you pick up a new gaming console to discover - BAM! - your wildest dreams came true when you weren't looking. That's what it was like to come back to gaming in the mid-90s. The 16-bit console generation bridged the gap between consoles and arcade machines, led mainly by the company with more machines in the arcade than almost any other: Sega.

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While I was away at school, my stepfather had bought a Sega Genesis game console. He had only one game for it: Desert Strike, the arcade-like helicopter shoot-em-up. I don't think he ever got past the first level, or even knew there were more levels than one. As far as he knew, the only point of the game was to fly around and blow things up. Sometimes, pick up guys. He'd fly around for hours, looking for things to shoot until he died or ran out of fuel (Return to frigate!), then he'd get bored and go back to work.

For my stepfather, the Genesis was a curiosity. It was an arcade cabinet in miniature. It was something to be enjoyed for a few idle moments, then left alone, like the arcade games of yore. Like the Asteroids cabinet he had in his office, in fact, which mostly collected dust. But to me the Genesis was something wholly different than that. Yes, it contained the power to reproduce most arcade experiences with the same performance and graphical excellence as you'd find in the arcade, but the 16-bit Genesis was also a modern game console, carrying on the tradition of the NES. And this meant long-term, immersive play experiences. Better, it meant arcade-quality, long-term immersive play. I was smitten.

My career as a gamer had previously been prevented from drawing me into a full-bore obsession by two things: 1) Although going to the arcade was one of my favorite things in the world, going to the arcade meant having to leave the house and actually go to the arcade and 2) Playing games on a home console was great except that they usually weren't as much as playing them at the arcade. Suddenly, with the arrival of 16-bit consoles like the Genesis, the path had been cleared for my obsession to blossom. And blossom it did.

I blew my stepfather's mind one day by finishing Desert Strike in one sitting. From then on, the Genesis was mine. He would sometimes watch me play, but most often I was on my own with the device, playing games that ignited my imagination and opened my eyes to innovative new ways of play. Games like Desert Strike (and its sequels: Jungle Strike and Urban Strike), Flashback, Earthworm Jim, Prince of Persia and of course Sonic the Hedgehog. I played movie tie-ins that, in spite of their "licensed game" stigma, were actually pretty good, like Jurassic Park and Disney's Aladdin. And I played a slew of Sega arcade ports that were astonishing in their similarity to the games in the arcade cabinet.

Most of all, though, I spent hours, days and weeks soaking in the high-caliber interactive entertainment, chewing my way through the absolute newest and best videogames ever made (to that point) one session at a time. I had fallen in love again, to put it poetically, and from that day forward, I would never lose my grasp on gaming again.

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