Usually when we get together as gamers and discuss Christmas memories it's about what we found under the tree the day of. But, this year I wanted to take a different approach and talk about those gaming memories that lead up to the big day.
What's instigated my writing about this are memories I have of playing Metroid 2 during Christmas vacation of 1992. At this point I would have been a Freshman in high school (which in a way picks up where my Black Friday memories left off), and this first true break was greatly needed. Not having school also meant I could go to work with my mom and earn some cash too. With my Mom being a book sales rep for stores like K-Mart, Wal-Mart, and a few other places it also meant I got a chance to see what the electronics sections of each store had. It was on one of this first outings towards the beginning of Christmas vacation I picked up Metroid 2. I never had the original Metroid on NES, but I knew the game was said to be amongst the systems best, and decided to try my hand at its Gameboy counterpart.
Playing Metroid 2 was like taming new territory for myself, since I had never played that particular sub-genre (now called Metroidvania) before. I will admit I liked it a lot, and as was the fashion back then I played the heck out of it since new games were far and few between for me. I also remember a number of headaches too, between the Gameboys small screen and the games classic maze setup.
I also remember watching Christmas slowly drawing nearer, and watching life go on around me when I lowered my screen now and then. I remember this one Saturday night very close to Christmas, watching the Alastair Sim version of A Christmas Carol, as my mom baked in the kitchen. My parents loved that version and sometimes watched it multiple times during a season. For me though I remember seeing it so much I was bored with it, and remember how glad I was to have that Gameboy in front of me. I got pretty far in Metroid 2 but never finished it, and that is thanks in part to another pre-Christmas memory. As was the tradition back then we would leave our house in Chicago’s Northwestern suburbs on Christmas Eve and travel to my grandparents house in Chicago’s, Back of the Yards neighborhood. I always loved going and it was a Christmas Eve tradition I looked forward to back then, and greatly miss now. So looking to pass the time in the two hour car trip down I brought my Gameboy, and then also brought it in with me to the party. My cousin asked what games I had and I was proud to show off my new copy of Metroid 2. He asked if he could play, and I said yes. Then about 15 minutes later he came back to me saying something seemed wrong with the game. As I looked I realized he had deleted all my progress, on accident, so that was why he wasn’t seeing what I told him. I let it go but was screaming on the inside about my day’s of lost progress.
Of course this isn’t the first Christmas I had spent behind the screen of a Gameboy it was actually the second. For Christmas of 1991 one of the things I had asked for was Choplifter 2 for my Gameboy, because you all know what a huge Choplifter fan I am. Again, like the Christmas after I worked with my Mom for some extra spending money, and found myself perusing various electronics sections. Pretty soon the money in my pocket and the price of Choplifter 2 matched up, and one night I bought it for myself, and had enough leftover to buy Boxxle as well. When my Mom asked me what I bought I proudly showed her Choplifter 2. “Um, didn’t you ask for that as a Christmas gift?” she asked slightly perturbed. “Yes”, I said “I just kind of wanted to get it tonight, so know one has to worry about getting it for me now”. “But, what if someone already did?” she asked leading me to believe she or my sister had already purchased it for me. When I got home my sister was mad at me too, since it turned out she did get it for me. Of course all that blew over fairly quickly, but it was lesson learned.
Much like the year following I remember witnessing Christmas Day drawing closer while playing Choplifter 2, and occasionally Boxxle. It was while playing Choplifter 2 that I watched one of the oddest Christmas movies ever, Guess Who’s Coming for Christmas?, with Richard Mulligan and Beau Bridges (thank you IMBd). It’s an odd movie about an unassuming human looking alien who comes to Earth just before Christmas, and to be honest when I think of my Gameboy and Christmas its one of the first memories that pops up.
Then there was Christmas of 1994, by this time I was past my Gameboy stage and on to PC gaming. A little before Christmas vacation began that year I was digging around some bargain bins at an old Babbage’s in a local mall when I stumbled upon Disney’s Stunt Island. If you never heard of this game it basically puts you in the cockpit as a stunt pilot for movies, and also allows you to set up, and make your own aviation themed films. Of course the graphics weren’t anything special but the game itself was unique, and it had been a game I wanted to get before I even got a PC. I remember playing it at Montgomery Wards one day when they had a special Disney Edition PC (what make? idk!), I was ready to walk by it since Mickey Mouse’s Counting Machine didn’t interest me, but then the Stunt Island demo popped up and I had to sit down. I must have spent an hour playing it while waiting for my Mom to finish shopping for whatever. So to the say the least finding this in a bargain bin for $10, I had to buy it.
I began playing it as soon as I got it home and remember Christmas came shortly after. I remember the desk my computer was on was right next to the Christmas Tree, and for the two or three weeks the tree was up I remember having some nice light to play Stunt Island by, and how my computer seemed so much more welcoming with the soft Christmas Tree lights over my fluorescent desk lamp or just sitting in the dark.
Sadly, I recycled Stunt Island CIB back in 2008.
There are actually other Christmas themed video games out there besides that silly Elf Bowling one we all played as flash games on our PC’s in the mid-00’s. Thanks to the Game Grumps we were introduced to Santa Claus is Coming to Town, based on the old Rankin-Bass stop motion film of the same name from the early 70’s. Of course the Game Grumps gave the game a good skewering in their true fashion, but moving to past the perspective of an adult playing the game for the first time, there is good potential there for a kid to have some fun with this game especially if they’ve seen the Santa Claus is Coming to Town before. My sons actually had a good time playing this one together on Christmas Eve of last year, while I did some holiday baking. To be honest for kids of “the santa age” Christmas Eve can be a long and angst filled day and sometimes silly games like Santa Claus is Coming to Town can be a good way to occupy that time.