The 'Shroom:Issue 64/Anecdote About the Old Days
In 1996, the console wars were at a turning point. With the release of the N64, Nintendo finally entered the fifth generation console sweepstakes against the Sega Saturn and Sony PlayStation. I was there — sort of — and it was at this time I discovered video gaming.
I believe it was some time in 1998 — I would have been five at the time — that we got an N64, along with an extra controller in bright yellow. That one was picked out by my brother, Uniju, and he still has it, albeit in pieces in his Indiana Jones fedora after a scheme to hack the innards of a Wii Classic Controller into it and use it to play N64 Virtual Console games.
Back then, we only owned a few games, if any. We were a little poor, I suppose, although not uncomfortable. The family car was a 1990 minivan we got from my grandparents, which famously had a rear door with the hydraulic cylinder broken; when opened, it needed to be held up by a big wooden stick while we loaded moving boxes or newspapers for my father's paper route into the back. We rented our house from a woman, apparently an Army veteran, who we disliked so much we called her "She-who-must-not-be-named", a la Lord Voldemort. Much of the time, our games were rented too.
Ultimately the games we did have ended up, with the N64 and the controllers, in a brown paper bag that occasionally got dragged out, to our wonder when the N64 still worked after all those years. I remember, many moons ago, somehow getting the idea Paper Mario was a Mario strategy game (Having gotten into Age of Empires and Civilization on the PC) and being told the N64 was too old for us to buy new games for. The contents of the bag were later traded in for an Xbox. Nowadays, the N64 has probably reached "Retro" status, and I still remember faint images of the "90's" (Also including the first few years of the 2000s, up to as late as 2003 or 2004) as the "Good Ole' Days" of watching PBS cartoons, Antiques Roadshow, Nova, and The New Yankee Workshop (Commercial television, in those days, was evil and would melt your mind, or so said my mother).
Games, of course, are the real point of this story; I hadn't played video games before we got the N64, and playing games like Super Mario 64, Diddy Kong Racing, and Yoshi's Story surely contributed to my long standing gaming habit, and certainly to my opinions on the console market. After that, I was always a hardcore Nintendo fan, sneering at Sony and Microsoft's efforts. Even when we got an Xbox, we just used it to play emulated N64 games and watch DVDs and pirated copies of The Mysterious Cities of Gold. For many years I considered Super Mario 64 to be the best game ever made. Even though it greatly shows it's age these days, I still head back to it every few years.
In 1996, along with Nintendo's release of the N64 and Sony's release of their own counterpoint to Mario and Sonic, Crash Bandicoot, Sega was making their last big push for the Saturn. Sega Technical Institute, Sega's American branch responsible for the second and third Sonic the Hedgehog titles as well as Sonic & Knuckles and others worked on the ill-fated Sonic X-treme — an infamous 3D Sonic project for the Saturn which took STI down with it and almost killed one of it's developers — while Sonic Team in Japan worked on Sonic programmer Yuji Naka's magnum opus Nights into Dreams.
While I have never had the opportunity to play Nights, several years back, perhaps around the it's Wii sequel Nights: Journey of Dreams was released, I was discussing the game and my father, as I remember, mentioned playing it for about thirty seconds at Sears way back in late 1996 and being very impressed. While he had grown up playing the likes of Zork on 1980s personal computers, his parents had purchased a Sega Genesis (Which itself may still exist somewhere in their garage), and his younger brothers certainly were big Sonic fans back in the day.
And so, I do wonder what might have happened if instead, perhaps, I could faintly recall on Christmas Day in 1997 unwrapping a Sega Saturn (Perhaps with a copy of that year's big Saturn title, the dreadful Sonic R), instead of my actual faint memory of walking out of Electronics Boutique at the Burlington Mall near Boston (Which still exists today, as a Gamestop) with an N64 and a yellow controller. By the time we, in the real world, purchased a Gamecube and Super Smash Brothers Melee, the Dreamcast which succeeded the Saturn would have been in it's very last days. It was around this time as well, I believe, that we purchased our first DVD player — a hulking piece of machinery with a huge disc tray that could hold and switch three DVDs — so perhaps we would buy, as did so many people, a PlayStation 2.
Or, like Sonic the Hedgehog himself did, we may have moved to the Gamecube. I might've been a Nintendo fan yet.