The King of Fighters 96
One of the coolest things about portable consoles back in the day was that despite them being technologically inferior to home consoles (and significantly so), developers still challenged themselves to bring 16 bit or even 32 bit video games to the confines of the 8 bit monochrome Game Boy. More often than not these transitions weren’t always ideal, but when developers were able to the successfully bring the home console and/or arcade experience to the handheld it was one hell of an achievement. Back in the day SNK and Neo Geo were the absolute kings of 2D sprites and animation, with their arcade technology being the cutting edge of 2D graphics, so much so that systems like the PlayStation and even Saturn struggled to run the highly detailed 2D engine of Neo Geo.
SNK’s The King of Fighters series was red hot, and having The King of Fighters 96 on the Game Boy should have been a disaster, but it wasn’t. The game was re-imagined and optimised for the Game Boy, and the end result was an enjoyable portable fighting experience with the fluid combo system fully intact. The best part were the chibi renditions of the roster that animated really well. It was fun, easy, and accessible, and pretty close to SNK’s own portable efforts on the Neo Geo Pocket. Nothing more satisfying than chaining up a 100+ hit combo using just two buttons.
The Nintendo Game Boy was my very first console, with my very first video game being Kirby’s Dream Land. It being my first game, it’s no secret to say that I was terrible at it. I recall beating the very first boss, making my way to the game’s second level, giving up after dying one too many times, and returning to it the next day just to do it all again…every single day for what seemed like months. That is…until I discovered Pokemon, and while that series of games has brought much joy into my life, you always remember your first, and thus it must be respected.
My greatest experiences with Kirby’s Dream Land came after I was gifted not only a Nintendo 64 but an accompanying Transfer Pak which would allow one to play Game Boy and/or Game Boy Colour games on the “big screen”. Looking back, my loungeroom TV wasn’t too big to begin with, but it was far bigger than the screen of an original Game Boy so it impressed me more than words could describe. This is, perhaps, what possessed me to play the only game I had on the Game Boy at the time so damn much. With the Nintendo 64 also came a copy of The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time…a game I was far too afraid of to go anywhere near, so I stuck with my little grey marshmallow creature.
Despite the chronology of my early gaming experience being mostly out of whack, I had no idea of release scheduling so I just enjoyed what I had. At the time, Kirby’s Dream Land was not even close to being the greatest game on the market, but it enthralled me for a great deal of my young life, and as I said; something like that has to be respected. To this day I still enjoy Kirby games, but none since Dream Land has had me in such a state of pure elation. Oh the joys of childhood, oh the joys of not knowing any better.
Having missed owning a Game Boy by a matter of days, holding back instead for the Colour, my experiences with this beloved console amount to playing at friend’s houses and utilising backwards compatibility. However, there is one particular series of games that most everyone played back in the day, one way or another: Pokemon.
My particular memory places me at the beginning of a journey, Yellow in theme and with a snarky sparkball traipsing behind me. It was awesome. It was a playable version of the anime we all woke up with before school. No Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle in sight, just a Pikachu who would become your stalwart ally, refusing to evolve and never leaving your side. There was a slight difference however as there were no water wheels to train on, leaving me standing before the Pewter Gym with a Pikachu, Rattata and the inexhaustible time and patience of a child gamer. Needless to say, through a combination of stubbornness, luck and the simple fact that Rattata dealt so little damage each turn that Onix’s Bide did not amount to much, I won. Cementing this as one of my proudest gaming achievements and my strongest memory of the Game Boy. And if it weren’t for the trade break between Colour and Advance, I would still be using that Rattata to this day. What a little champion he was.
Super Mario Land
You always remember your first. You always have a semblance of order for your second. You are aware that your third existed… probably. By the time you reach your fifth, or sixth, you’re trying to put together the pieces into some remnant of a memory. This is definitely the case for the original Gameboy. As yet another console that was handed down to me, I got the Gameboy long after I had been enveloped by its far superior brother (son? uncle?), the Gameboy Colour. This meant that all of the gems from the older, balder, fatter console (Pokemon, Kirby, and the impossibly hard Star Wars) had been played and beaten.
That being said there was one game that I thoroughly enjoyed and that was Super Mario Land. The game was fun and the soundtrack was great. However, in retrospect I try to imagine what the conversation between the Game Director and Nintendo must have been…
I want a handheld Mario game to launch with the GB. Done. You remember those Koopa turtle things from the first game? Yes. Good, let’s make them explode. Bitchin’. Also, I want dragonflies that drop some god damn arrows and attack the hell out of you. That makes no sense but sure. Also, you know what’s hip with the kids right now? Egypt. Let’s set a level in Egypt. Good idea, some realism would really make the game stand ou- Also fire breathing Sphynx monsters instead of Bowser. Well now you’re just pushing it. Calm down. It is fine. By the way, I also want robots, submarines, the Pokemon Seadra, crashed U.F.O’s, those head things from Easter Island, a Mega Man Villain, some freaking vampires, and a spaceship for Mario to fly with his hot new girlfriend Princess Daisy. Get out of my office. Also, when you get an invincibility star it plays the Can Can for some reason. …Let me write you a cheque.
One of my first consoles was the Game Boy. I was surprised with the device as a birthday present. I didn’t know what to expect but my mind was soon blown to discover that games could be played away from a TV. Something that would go on to revolutionize gaming for me in my life.
Probably my fondest memories of gaming on the Game Boy is the hundreds of hours I spent playing Pokemon Blue. It was truly the first time I felt addicted to a game. It became all I would think about and while my personal life was filled with drama and problems, I could hide away and escape to the world of Pokemon, a place where I had friends and could be something great, I could be something more than I was in real life.
If it wasn’t for my early interactions with the Game Boy, and Pokemon Blue in particular, those early years of my life would have been a lot harder, and thanks to this console and game I was able to cope with the pains of the real world. For that I thank you, Game Boy.