It also just so happens that the years during which I was at the really great Christmas present age were also some of the greatest times in gaming history, as the industry was really starting to find itself and make big strides in technology and innovation. I suppose people have vivid memories of that age, and maybe it's for that combination of reasons that I can remember virtually every game I got from Santy Claus. What follows is a little tour through the five that stuck with me the most, a week away from Christmas, a little bit of lookin' back to the good ol' days before we say sayonara to another year. The greatest video game Christmas presents of my life (and maybe some of yours, too)!!
5. GoldenEye 007 (1997)
You mean we can all play at the same time, and we get to walk around in a real 3D place and you can see each other on your own screen? My stepdad and I had been getting our minds blown by GoldenEye via renting it almost every weekend I was out there visiting the place, but once he realized we had probably spent enough on rentals to have bought the thing, we knew what had to be done. I distinctly remember him leaving the house on Christmas Eve to drive to the store and check for a copy, since he hadn't been able to find it in stock before that. My sister and I waited around with bated breath for him to return home like tiny animals waiting for the kill. I think he cruised in the front door with a plastic bag that looked like it had a box in it, he was like OH MAN LOOK WHAT I FOUND. We were all excited and he took it out and it was candy canes or something. Then after a couple moments of shock the actual bag came out of his coat, and we shit all over the floor. We blew each other up with rockets for like the next five hours and laughed like hyenas.
4. Parasite Eve (1998)
Only a year later, after the novelty of the N64 had begun to fade a little, I got my first summer job and worked for two weeks in filthy, spider-and-lice-ridden cornfields pulling the tops of plants off and throwing them over the rows at my co-workers. I earned some amount of money that I had directly allocated and calculated, including tax, to the cent, for a brand new PlayStation. I had played the crap out of the two games I bought, Final Fantasy VII and Resident Evil 2, as well as every demo on the demo disc that came in the box, so I kept myself busy by looking at issues of PSM, which had recently started up and which was about the greatest thing ever to a fifteen-year-old male who didn't have the Internet yet. The object of my affection, via screens and information from Japan, was smokin' hot Aya Brea. I had to have the game. The graphics looked insane and SquareSoft could do no wrong. I begged and pleaded. It didn't hurt that it came with the demo for Final Fantasy VIII. On Christmas morning I opened up a gift bag that had Taz on it, and it was in there. So continued the early phases of my unpreventable slide into total RPG fandom. I shit all over the floor and shot mutated rats for like the next five hours.
3. A Game Boy Advance SP with Sword of Mana (2003)
Not long after I started writing for this very website, all the way back in 2003(!), I had the opportunity to interview Rich Amtower of Nintendo of America over the phone about his work on Sword of Mana for the Game Boy Advance. Throughout the course of the humiliating, amateurish interview, it came up that well, I hadn't actually had a chance to play the game. I finished up and thought little else of it until, while I was back at my parents' house from college for Christmas, there was a knock on the front door. On Christmas morning! It was a FedEx guy, bearing a box addressed to me of all people. I opened it up in the living room and out slid a brand new black Game Boy Advance SP and a shiny new retail copy of Sword of Mana. I looked down at my hands, shocked. Of course the game ended up being so-so, but I used that Game Boy for years. A divine kinda-present from Nintendo, at the outset of what was sure to be a rewarding (ha ha) and illustrious (ha ha) tenure in video game "journalism" (ha ha). To this day I have no idea how they got my home address instead of my university one. My stepbrother looked at me with a glint of admiration mixed with envy after I had opened it, then he shit all over the floor okay that will do.
2. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (1995)
This one is particularly memorable for me, because I got Yoshi's Island the first Christmas after my parents had divorced, BUMMER! It had gone down in the summer, and I had just moved up to middle school. My mom moved in with my stepdad (who would, a few years later, come through bigtime again with the already-mentioned GoldenEye 007), and so we celebrated Christmas out at their place for the first time. Games weren't cheap back then, and I think the retail price for Yoshi was something like $68 since it contained that fancy new Super FX 2 chip. I knew my mom and stepdad didn't have a lot of money right then, and I was pretty sure I'd never get it, though I had enough other stuff going on to think about. But then there on Christmas morning was a box that looked a lot like a Super NES game, and even though I was still relatively emotionally distraught at all the ridiculous changes my life and my weak pubescent body were going through, for as long as that game held out I was about the happiest hormonally-imbalanced guy in the world.
1. Kirby's Adventure (1993)
Ah yes, Kirby's Adventure. Could the best Christmas game of all time really be anything else to a Nintendo kid that had just turned ten years old the year it came out? I remember our farmhouse living room was half ripped apart because my parents were remodeling at their own glacial pace, but we still set up the tree on bare floorboards. I had asked for Kirby's Adventure based mostly on the seeming strength of the Game Boy version that I had read all about in Nintendo Power, but when I actually popped it into my NES that Christmas morning it ended up being more than I could have ever imagined. Of course it was one of the last NES games released, and certainly the pinnacle of the system capabilities, but I remember just being captivated with how much there was to do, and how "modern" it really felt compared to all my other games at the time. Finding all the secret exits and exploring all the levels was the next best thing to those of us who still could only dream of one day owning a Super Nintendo, and outside of Super Mario World I still struggle to think of a single game of that general era that was at all as good as Kirby was. It's a classic to this day and I am endlessly thankful I got to experience it at that special time in my life. It's about the last game I really remember playing when I was still a "kid." My sister and I drew pictures of Kirby on our notebooks for months afterward.
Ho ho ho
Of course, these days I have every game I could ever ask for and enough occasionally disposable income to buy whatever it is I want basically as soon as it comes out. Nobody's bothered with attempting to figure out what stupid version of which game sequel on what platform that I am interested in playing, and I can't blame them! I'm an adult now after all, right? It's actually been quite a while since I received a video game as a Christmas present from anyone, which is actually kind of sad, not that I'm sad about not having games. It's more just that I have all those memories, and I think people like us who have always loved games remember things other than just the games. To me they represent times in my life, things that went right and went wrong, states of mind and emotions, childhood and growing up. I'm pretty sure that nobody thought they'd be giving me those things when they wrapped up a hunk of plastic in paper and stuck it under the tree. Which ones do you remember?