17 February 2011

Childhood Memory -- Sonic the Hedgehog

My first real exposure to video games was at my friend's house. I was about seven at the time, she was a year older. Some way or another she had gotten her hands on a 1992 Sega Genesis. It was missing a controller and she had only one game cartridge for it -- Sonic the Hedgehog 2.
Since there was only one controller, we would take turns -- one would play until they lost, then the other would play until they lost. It probably seemed unfair to both our parents since she owned the game and I did not, but the truth is we were fairly evenly matched, at least for the first few weeks.
In fact, I distinctly remember one time, not long after she'd acquired the system, when we decided to do a contest -- we would each play until we lost, as usual, but whoever scored the most points would be the 'winner.'
I wrote myself off almost right away. I could scarcely handle the controller, much less anticipate coming grenades and spikes. Still, I accepted the challenge, and we agreed that she would go first.
She played through both zones of the first level, Emerald Hill, and had conjured up a score of approximately eight thousand (I don't recall exactly). She lost early on in the first zone of Chemical Plant.
Then it was my turn.
She was very gracious, telling me when to watch out for robots and cliffs ahead. For the most part I managed to heed her advice, although my unfamiliarity with the controller got me into several scrapes, which, when you're seven years old, frustrate the heck out of you.
Still, I finished out both zones of the level, defeating the Boss with her help. I freed the little critters and the final score was tallied... and I came out with over ten thousand points. It wasn't all that much more than she had, but to our seven and eight-year old minds, it was quite an impressive score (I, for one, was just impressed that I had actually finished the level).
After a few weeks though, her skill began to surpass mine. Luckily for her I was content to watch her play for the most part, without feeling shunned so long as she didn't completely stop talking to me.
One day while I was watching her play, several weeks later, she had scraped together eighteen lives and was doing rather well.
Until she reached the pillars.
Even now on my iPod touch, I have yet to make it past the second zone of Chemical Plant so I have no idea which level she was on -- seven or eight I imagine. Early in this level there were some pillars that would go up and then come crashing down, stomping like the feet of some metallic Bigfoot. There were, if memory serves, about four in a row and it was very much a matter of timing to get past them.
She mistimed her leap under the first one and Sonic was crushed. No matter -- she still had seventeen lives. She was returned to the beginning of the level and soon had made her way back to the pillars.
Another attempt -- and again poor Sonic was crushed.
Back to the start of the level. Get to the pillars. Wait... psych up... deep breaths... fingers poised on the buttons... and press.
Sonic was crushed again. Now my friend had fifteen chances remaining.
Her fourth attempt failed, as did the fifth and sixth and seventh and eighth.
She had gotten past this level before and so was getting increasingly frustrated. I was frustrated too, for her sake, but was careful not to belittle her. It was obviously very difficult and I didn't want to ruin her concentration.
However, no matter when she made her leap, the pillar always came down and crushed the ever-resilient Sonic.
By the time she had whittled the number of lives remaining down to seven or so, it suddenly began to strike us as funny. We began to smile and even to snicker. By the time she had gotten down to five lives remaining, we were starting to laugh.
Four lives remaining... three... and we began to laugh harder every time Sonic was crushed by the pillar. Insensitive perhaps, but by the time we reached the second-last life, she was laughing too hard to try to time the leap properly and Sonic was crushed yet again. Of course this made it even funnier.
Poor Sonic didn't stand a chance on his last life; my friend and I were nearly paralysed with laughter by that point. He was crushed for the final time and the game was over.
I remember the two of us bragging to her mother several minutes later about how she'd just lost eighteen lives in the exact same place on the same level. I wonder if she thought we were sadists or something for laughing so hard at that.
One thing's for sure... I've never before or since had such a good time losing a video game.

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