Plato once said, “The first and best victory is to conquer self; to be conquered by self is of all things most shameful and vile.”Â
Plato was, of course, way off on this thing. For many in my generation the first and best victory was to conquer Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo. With that we here at DHGF take the requisite stroll down the well trodden Memory Lane, round the corner at Nostalgia Boulevard, ring a bell, think back, buy some forget-me-nots, and visit the Reminiscing Theater to see Total Recall in order to answer the question:
What Was the First Game You Remember Beating?
I don’t actually remember which game I beat first, although it’s a certainty it was on the Sega Master System. Was it the SMS version of Ghostbusters, where your faceless Ghostbusters defeated the evil Gorza (unless you were too much of an idiot to figure out how to fire horizontally in the second-to-last stage)? Maybe it was Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Sega’s attempt at mascot-based platform-jumping gaming, back before they totally destroyed the character? Perhaps it was Shinobi, the SMS port of the arcade classic that gave the character a life bar because the port was so insanely difficult that there was no other way to survive without it? Or maybe it was Alf?
No, it wasn’t Alf.
I think it was probably Zillion.
The history of Zillion is, honestly, pretty bizarre. In short: back in the late 80’s, Sega more or less attached their name to “Red Photon Zillion”, an anime show based around what was apparently a universe-saving pop group (think Macross with handguns instead of flying robots and you’re about there). Aside from the fact that the gun in the show was based on the SMS Light Gun and the fact that Opa-Opa (Sega’s one-time mascot) was the comic relief talking oddity (see also Game Boy in “Captain N”), there’s absolutely nothing memorable about the show, which is more than likely why no one remembers it.
The game, however, was Impossible Mission meets Metroid, and was flat-out awesome when I was eight.
The thing is, Zillion was not really a game that made a lot of sense to a kid. There were somewhere around a hundred different rooms in the base you were infiltrating (as either average main character JJ, speedy love interest Apple, or brawny sidekick Champ), and you pretty much had to remember where you went and how you got there, because you’d be running like a crazy person to get back through them after you blew up the base and had to escape. You had to input passwords that were learned by breaking open canisters in the rooms, and worse, you had to actually figure out what order the numbers you were given were to be inputted in. There were infrared tripwires to avoid, stat and gun powerups to acquire, equipment items to find, and, oh yes, there was a giant lizard-like thing to fight at the end of the game that, during my first playthrough, killed two of my characters, leaving me with the guy who couldn’t jump for shit, so I could spend my last few moments alive staring at a wall as the whole complex blew up.
Regardless, there was a certain amusement to the product that I can’t even begin to describe that kept me plugging away at it until I finally beat it, and while the team was unfortunately unable to ultimately defeat evil overlord Baron Ricks, blowing up his base was apparently a good enough solution for the time being, and the characters, presumably, were considered heroes throughout the universe, which I can only imagine did wonders for their pop music career. Even after beating it, I would routinely break it out during slow release periods when I got my Genesis (Power Base Converter, baby!), and even though I’ve beaten a metric ton of SMS games at this point, both good and bad, THIS is the game I remember most fondly, even beyond fantastic games like Phantasy Star, Wonder Boy in Monster World, and yes, Alf.
The sequel, on the other hand, can get shattered with a hammer.
Flashback to the summer of 1991. I was 14 years old. I’d had my NES for a little over 2 years. My family wasn’t rich and they’d all gotten together to get me what was then an expensive gaming console and a small 13 inch black and white Zenith TV to play it on, so I didn’t hog the tv in the living room while people were watching cable. I’d had the usual fare with it, Legend of Zelda, SMB and Duck Hunt, Top Gun (really loved the movie), Spyhunter and Jaws. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze was more than on and I was getting into that as my Transformers obsession passed on with the death of the tv show (only to be rekindled again even fiercer with Beast Wars) and I’d had the original Turtles game for the NES, but it wasn’t the best game in the world and I’d fallen in love with the arcade game in the arcade while we were camping at Darien Lake.
So of course it was on my list when I saw it was coming out for the NES. And it quickly became the cartridge that never left my NES, except of course to blow on it when the NES quit reading it. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: The Arcade Game became the one my friends and I played and played, and being 14, when we went to camp at my cousin’s house (which involved moving my grandmother’s camper there and plugging it into the outside jacks and hanging out at their house and using the pool) I of course packed my little Zenith, the NES and Turtles 2. Just like any sensible 14 year old would, all the essentials.
The week was busy, and the camper didn’t really support my NES and TV as it was big, but not THAT big, and so I set it up on the floor of the upstairs hallway at my cousin’s and played in-between the swimming and other games.
I was never extremely good at the game, but something happened on that second story hallway while I was sprawled out on the floor. It’s like that moment in Highlander when MacLeod takes his first head in the film and the sparks are flying and water spraying everywhere, a kind of magic. I was on a roll and I wasn’t going to let anything stop me, not Bebop and Rocksteady, not Krang, and most definitely not the Shredder!
I played and played, having to change positions often as my legs would cramp or my neck get sore from straining to look up while I was laying on the floor. I would not be beaten! My cousins and grandparents called me for lunch, but I didn’t hear them. Baxter Stockman was going down! The foot? Hah! I’m playing Michaelangelo!
So after playing for several hours straight on that carpeted floor I beat Turtles 2 and celebrated by snagging a Coke from the fridge, downing that and then doing a cannonball into the pool. First video game I’d ever beaten and while not the last, it was the most satisfying.
Strider for the NES. Sure, I’d beaten Contra already, but so had millions of people once the Konami Code went public. This was different. This was the first game I remember actually beating by traveling from stage to stage and just being better than the computer. This also might be the game that introduced the world to the Triangle Jump-to the right wall, off of that to the left wall, and then back up to the right ledge-took me forever to master it. There was also the slide, and slide kick (those might have been the same move, memory slightly hazy), but what I really enjoyed was the plasma sword. No, scratch that. The giant freakin’ Blue Dragon Space Station (not a moon, by the way) that fired you from orbit to Earth in an energy sphere-that kicks all kinds of tail.
Ironically, I think I wanted to play this game not because of the awesome (and practically completely different) arcade game, but because of The Lord of the Rings. My dad had taught me to read with The Hobbit, and handed me his dog eared copy of the trilogy when I was old enough to appreciate it. Anything that sounded vaguely Tolkienesque would attract my attention. Hence, Strider.
I remember it was a rental, and I had hit a groove while playing it, getting to what Nintendo Power revealed to be the second to last stage. We had to go somewhere else that night, probably a church or school thing. Well, the game had to go back right after the event, so I never got to beat it. I made sure to keep the password though. Then, a few weeks later at Christmas, I actually unwrapped my own copy of the game. My parents had a code along the lines of “No new games till you complete the old one.” In what might be the fastest I ever finished a game from opening it to finishing it, and the most unprepared my parents ever were, I plugged it in, entered my password, and beat the final boss. Time for a new game!
Aside from cheating my way through assorted games on the various Amiga and Atari computers my friends had, my first VICTORY was the first Mario Land.
I never owned an 8-bit console… I knew loads of people who did, so I was never short of a game, but I never had the time to get good enough to win. But then I got a Gameboy for my 10th birthday, and everything changed.
I played that game to hell and back. I vividly recall the first time I cleared it, and the ‘Mario Cursor’ that signified the availability of the Hard Mode, was there… But there wasn’t enough time left in the day for a second run, so I had to switch off, and when I powered it up again, it was back to the regular mushroom cursor.
Undaunted, I kept on going, practicing hard, and eventually, I managed to unlock the ‘Holy Grail’ of Mario Land… The Level Select option. Choosing which level to start your new game from. Anticlimax? Maybe. But I didn’t care. I’d taken on the game, and beaten it totally. THAT’S what counted.
Being born in the early 80’s, I was raised on a steady diet of NES games. While I did have a pretty decent and diverse library, my obsession with Mario and Zelda goes a long way. I preferred their brand of action over games like Faxanadu and Dragon Warrior. When it comes to DW, I’m guessing that the fact that I didn’t speak English had a lot to do with it. Still, in the end, I became a Mario fan for life.
The first object of my obsession was the original Super Mario Bros., which came packaged with the NES. Now, just like I have been saying in every feature that ever appeared on this site, I was never very good at video games. This means that my progression in the Mushroom Kingdom was a slow but steady one. The first time I entered the warp pipes, I shot straight for world 4-1, only to be killed by Lakitu and its damn Spinies. This told me that I would need to take things more progressively.
Over the weeks, maybe months, I went from being killed by the flying Cheep-Cheeps in second world to eventually going all the way to Koopa’s castle in world 8 (he wasn’t called Bowser back then, that makes me feel old). Learning the infinite lives trick in world 3-1 greatly helped as it gave me an opportunity to continue further and further into my journey. I guess I could also have used the “hold A before pressing START” trick to re-start at the beginning of a world, but that would have meant being able to read it in Nintendo Power. Just looking at the pretty pictures was enough for me back in the days.
The hardest part was memorizing the pattern to make it to Koopa in the different castles. If you remember, some of them have maze-like parts that needs you to go through certain sections in order or else you need to redo the whole sequence. That sequence gets particularly long in the last castle, which was the bane of my existence for a couple of months.
A family friend ended up videotaping herself going through the entire game, a tape I have watched religiously when I was 6 or so. She ended up doing the same thing for Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, as well as for the two NES Zelda games. It helped me tremendously, and after a couple of tries, I was finally able to overcome the evil King Koopa and rescue the REAL princess. Of course, my only reward was a slightly harder quest with buzzy beetles replacing goombas, but the satisfaction of having finally completed the game was more tha enough for me.
This was the first game I have ever finished. Still, my obsession didn’t end there. Even when we got the sequels, I often ended up going back to the original Super Mario Bros., trying to complete it faster and faster. To this day, I can finish the game in a little over six minutes. The world record is currently 5 minutes and 28 seconds. It’s not that bad, but I just don’t know where to shave off precious seconds anymore. Nevertheless, Mario will always be my man because he was my first, and you never forget your first time.
I don’t really remember what the first game I beat was; that’s what I get for being old. Was it an obscure VCS game? Something on the ColecoVision? Was it Super Mario Bros.? I don’t know.
Instead, I’ll talk about the first thing that comes into my mind as my first serious accomplishment as a gamer: beating Dragon Warrior.
It’s hard to believe for younger gamers weaned on everything from Nintendo Power to hint books to GameFAQs to Prima guides, but back in the 80s, we didn’t have much to go on; occasionally, someone would write into Nintendo Power’s Counselor’s Corner, and we’d get one hint on a game, which would give us another half hour before we got stuck again, but other than that, we usually didn’t have a lot to go on. Enix helped a bit with Dragon Warrior, by enclosing an 84 page instruction booklet that also doubled as a hint guide; it was more or less a walkthrough for the first part of the game, and it was a tremendous help. However, it just kept us afloat long enough to give us a false sense of security, before taking away the paddlers and going “OK! Now swim! Swim forever!”, to which most of us responded with “But how do we beat the Green Dra– *glub glub*”.
Therefore, I don’t know, in this day and age of internet forums, GameFAQs, colourful walkthroughs and speed runs, if anyone can really appreciate what it was like to figure out the puzzles and dungeons to Dragon Warrior without help. Nowadays, talking to everyone you meet is something people only really do if the script is really funny, or if it’s a trigger event, meaning that if you don’t talk to every schlep in a town that you won’t be able to move onto the next part. But in Dragon Warrior, you had to talk to almost EVERYONE to be able to piece together what you had to do.
The game was less linear than a lot of games even today, which is surprising for a game made in 1986. You could go just about anywhere, though to get to the better places, you had to find certain items, which might or might not be buried deep in gradually harder dungeons, or might be being held by incredibly difficult enemies, you never really knew, nor did you really know how strong you had to be in order to get these items. You usually found out just what was necessary to beat the game through sheer trial-and-error; go into a dungeon, get down a few levels, almost run out of torches, get raped by a Wyvern, go back to the King with half your gold (or one HP, if you were stupid and wore the cursed belt, like I did). Bridges were like levels; every time you crossed a bridge in this game, the enemies got harder and harder, to the point where it was a test of sorts; go across the bridge, fight a few Golems, come back over to relative safety or use a Wyvern’s Wing to get back to the castle.
To do all this, and still be able to piece together everything that needed to be done in this game to save the Princess (the Green Dragon still gives me shivers) and beat the Dragonlord took me a year, which is a lot until you consider that I was nine. Beating it was majestic; not only did I know that it was FINALLY over, but the end part was beautiful, too; you get to walk back to the Kingdom, not having to worry about monsters in the slightest, and get to take the Princess as your bride.
The game doesn’t stand up to 2008 scrutiny; the story is very base, the princess was an empty headed clot, the save system was horrendous (you had to go back to the castle, no matter what), and the difficulty was harsh. That said, Dragon Warrior was by far the best RPG of it’s day; it took everything that made Ultima great, added some personality to it, and made a well balanced quest that is still playable today for those that went through it back in the day. And I’ll never forget my reaction when I finally finished the game the first time.
The first game I ever beat was Kung Fu on the NES. I was probably 7 years old. I distinctly remember that it was at a neighbors house, the boy across the street that had all the cool Nintendo games I didn’t have. He had games like Castlevania, The Legend of Zelda and Metroid. I had games like Sky Kid, Wrecking Crew, and Urban Champion. Not counting Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt as they came with the Nintendo Entertainment System, Kung Fu was the only game we had in common. It was the overlap in our Venn diagrams.
For those too young to remember, Kung Fu is a port of the arcade game Kung Fu Master, which was ported to just about everything. In turn Kung Fu Master is actually based on a movie, the oddly titled Jackie Chan/ Sammo Hung vehicle Wheels on Meals. This just goes to show you that we would have nothing in this world if it weren”Ëœt for Jackie Chan.
Kung Fu Master is the original beat “Ëœem up, the original from which all thing Double Dragon and Bad Dudes sprang. It isn’t about jumping on platforms or navigating mazes. In Kung Fu you have to walk left and beat the crap out of everybody standing in your way. Then you climb some stairs and you walk right and beat the crap out of everybody in your way. Sometimes they drop snakes on you, and sometimes you are attacked by butterflies. All in all, there are five whole floors of ’em to beat up, each with its own boss. This 5 floor pagoda set-up is similar to the set-up of the unfinished Bruce Lee movie Game of Death. Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan in the same game! It’s like Tekken, only awesome!
And why are you fighting in a five story pagoda of death?
To save your girlfriend Sylvia from the evil Mr. X. Mr. X is so evil that he has tied Sylvia to a chair and laughs about it! You see kids, back in the eighties a woman kidnapped every 4 seconds for shits and giggles. No ransom was ever officially demanded, and the girls were never raped or hurt or anything. . .
Really, I can’t think of why all these girlfriends were captured. Maybe it is like super villain downsizing. You know, you hold captive a damsel, and have some hero kill hundreds of your thugs, hired goons, and hench-people.
It’s got to be a budgetary measure.
Anywho, I remember getting to level five after months of practice. Getting to level five takes some commitment. You got to deal with a smoke dragons, this weird-o magician and bunch of elves grabbing your knees . It’s pretty time consuming, too, taking upwards of 10 minutes.
Level five, the one where we get to save Sylvia and stop that obnoxious laughter.
This is going to be great!
The thing is, there aren’t any new enemies on level 5 save Mr. X. It isn’t really any longer or harder than level 4. In fact it is pretty easy. But Mr. X, he must be something else. He is an end boss, I’ve never even seen one of those before.
He must be awesome. . .
Or so I thought.
As it turns out, Mr. X is just some blond guy with a bad haircut, wearing a red t-shirt under a black vest. He’s pretty much the exact same size as the player character. He doesn’t have any projectiles or weapons or anything. He is considerably less intimidating than a single hammer brother.
I guess Mr. X does kind of look like the semi-retarded lovechild of Benny Urquidez and Chuck Norris, though. He’s got that going for him.
My strategy for fighting this not quite imposing figure was as follows.
1. Stand just outside of his kick range (in the business we call this Hapkido distance).
3. Sweep-kick the air until Mr. X fills that air.
Remarkably, this approach lead to a flawless victory.
While this battle was less than pitched, at least I got the thrill of reuniting with my lost love Sylvia. You see her sitting there in her (not silk upholstered) chair (not talking to some rich folk that she knows). You walk to her and she stand up and hugs you, chair and restraints vanishing mysteriously.
Triumphantly, the screen reads:
THOMAS AND SYLVIA!
Hey my character’s name was Thomas! This is the greatest- what’s this?
BUT THEIR HAPPINESS
DOES NOT CONTINUE LONG.
What? The game restarts at level one at a slightly more difficult setting. What? How did Sylvia get kidnapped again? I just got her back!
I need to low-jack that bitch.
So I practiced more and more. Eventually I was able to get through the entire first five floors in about 5 minutes. I found out that Mr. X could be defeated more quickly with 3 jump kicks to the noggin. It took some more practice, but I was able to defeat Mr. X in the second go-round and re-rescue that useless lump of girlfriend.
BUT MY HAPPINESS
DID NOT CONTINUE LONG.
You get sent back to the first floor yet again.
I have not played the game since.
“Once you hear the details of victory, it is hard to distinguish it from a defeat”Â
– Jean-Paul Sartre