Guess who just turned 20?

As of Friday, August 14th, 2009, the SEGA Genesis has marked its 20th anniversary. Not counting its MegaDrive anniversary the year prior, because let’s face it: Genesis was pretty much the home front in the war against Nintendo, even if the company was headquartered in Japan.

Of course, speaking of Nintendo, I was a pretty firm Nintendo loyalist when Genesis broke onto the scene. I believe my initial thoughts after seeing the “Genesis Does” campaign were along the lines of “SEGA is still trying?” and “who do these upstarts think they are?” Even with SEGA’s strides and grudgingly-admitted appeal, I backed Nintendo.

I remember my earliest experiences with the Genesis; I was living in Mount Airy at the time, and had begun to see ads on television for the system. What’s more, it was appearing on shows like Video Power– time I thought should be going to more Nintendo.

Hey, give me a break. I was young, and there was a full-on console war about to erupt.

Anyway, I remember trying it at the house of some friends of the family; they not only had the Genesis, but the Master System converter, too, which was admittedly a nice touch. Unfortunately, by this point, all that the system had was Altered Beast, and while I can at least appreciate the game to some degree now (particularly the arcade version), I just didn’t think it was very much fun. Oh, sure, it looked nice, but… yeah.

Time passed, and along came a hedgehog.

Sonic the Hedgehog was SEGA’s next big thing– or possibly their first, depending on how you look at it. Regardless, I was curious. The fact that an origin story was taking up the center of my Garfield and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles magazines certainly must have helped.

A neighbor soon brought home a Genesis on rental, with Sonic in tow, and I had the opportunity to try it out for myself. And it took a little getting used to; I had become attuned to holding down a button to run, though Sonic had no need for such frivolousness. And I can admit now, what little I got to play, I liked.

I just never would have admit that then. I had my Nintendo pride, after all. Sure, Sonic was cool, looked good, and was fun to play, but Mario was just better. He just was. He had to be.

It wasn’t long before video game magazines began touting the Super Famicom– or as I had to try to dumb it down for other kids at school, a “Nintendo Genesis.” “Bits” didn’t seem to be a very strong part of the vernacular back then. And they laughed and went back to ignoring me.

Thought I was excited that Nintendo was evening up the score, it would turn out to be for naught– at least, for a little while. My parents weren’t readily or easily convinced that we really needed to give Nintendo 200 more dollars for hardware, and sadly, even Super Mario World wasn’t enough to convince them.

Funny enough, such a phenomenon seemed to pervade pop-culture; I distinctly remember an episode of the sitcom Roseanne where DJ wanted a Super Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas, and his parents were pulling the old “we can’t afford it” schtick, when in reality, they had one hidden away from him. Bitter and angry, he storms out to go to a friend’s house, saying “at least he has Genesis!”

But I digress. I believe it was the Summer following the release of the Super NES that my family and I moved back to our old hometown in the southern part of North Carolina, and come the new school year, I managed to reunite with an old friend, Wolf. And it turns out, he was into gaming, too (but then again, who wasn’t?). Only thing is, he had– you guessed it– a Genesis.

So when he visited me, we’d play NES, and we had some good times. Darkwing Duck is a title I fondly remember from the time. But when we were over at his place, it was Genesis time.

Wolf had but three games for it; Sonic the Hedgehog, Batman Returns, and Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle. I couldn’t play Batman Returns to save my life, though he was pretty good at it. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle wasn’t exactly the series’ high point. That left one other option…

Sonic the Hedgehog was the game of choice for most of our sessions, but things became even better when word started to come out about Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Not only did it look awesome, but Sonic now had a young sidekick, too!

Tails wound up becoming a sort of attachment point for me, in much the same way as someone always stuck being player 2 might develop an affinity for Luigi. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a second controller, so two-player action was a rare occurrence. However, being it was Wolf’s system, Sonic was traditionally “his” character. That was cool by me, though; after all, I was the one to take up the mantle of Mario when it came to be Nintendo time.

In addition to the games, Sonic wound up getting a comic from Archie, which I still follow to this day. Not only that, but I’ve made some great friends as a result, too.

While playing, we would often lend our voices to the characters (given such sound bytes were a rarity then). One of my favorites was when we would run through the spinning metal net cylinders in the Metropolis Zone, and as Tails, I would utter out a sickly “Soniiiic…” When Wolf would reply, I’d follow with “…I want to do it again!” Good times.

Eventually, my parents finally caved in and brought a Super NES into our house that Christmas (thank you, Contra III). So while we would play each other’s consoles on visits, we knew where we stood. I was a part of the Nintendo army under Major Mario, while he stood firmly with SEGA squad and Sergeant Sonic. And we would fight about it, sometimes rather intensely.

Childish squabbling aside, however, there was still fun to be had. And part of that fun included Sonic CD, which of course means that he did eventually get a SEGA CD on which to play it. By this point, he sold his original bubble-domed Genesis and upgraded to the Genesis II, and the SEGA CD system was the top-loading model that matched it. I kind of hated to see the old girl go, but at the time, such sentiments were fleeting; there was a Little Planet to save!

So it went, and we each got more games for our respective platforms, via purchase and rental, back in the days when it didn’t seem cheaper to just buy the games. Wolf would eventually break the cycle at some point after I introduced him to a guy and a game I like to call Mega Man X.

It had its conveniences, having a Super NES in both locations and him with his own titles, but at the same time, I was a little disappointed that our dynamic of yin and yang was broken. But with what awaited us on the gaming horizon, perhaps it was simply not meant to last any longer.

The next generation began, and I believe there should be little question as to where I stood. Of course, the allure of franchises I knew and loved drew me to pursue a PlayStation as well, but that’s a story for another time. Somewhere along the way, as the 16-bit era faded out, I eventually decided to take the plunge and get my own SEGA Genesis.

The funny part? My desire was fueled in part by the fact that SEGA was releasing a Garfield video game, something I had waited a number of years for. I have no regrets, either; it was a fun game, and was back around the time Garfield and Friends was still on TV regularly and goodwill toward the comic had yet to fade.

I managed to get a second-model SEGA Genesis from Toys R Us with my own money, after I had begun working and driving. I think the price was around $100-120, but it came with a six-button Genesis controller, Sonic the Hedgehog 3, and Sonic & Knuckles. Slightly disappointing was the lack of cases for those two games, a practice I had long appreciated and wished Nintendo took part in (and still do. The wimpy Wii Sports sleeve just doesn’t do it for me).

I still have that Genesis and those games in fact, plus one or two others, including Wolf’s old Sonic the Hedgehog 2, complete with case (but no booklet). In fact, I had to get Wolf to get all the Chaos Emeralds for me, because to this day, I still cannot get more than one or two of them at best. It will be a sad day when those batteries go, because I will definitely be screwed. And such a shame, too; I love the Doomsday Zone in Sonic 3 & Knuckles.

Today, I’m much more open about consoles, and have more Genesis games. Of course, rather than the originals, I have some Virtual Console downloads and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection for the Xbox 360– pity they dropped the ball on some parts of that one, i.e. connecting the two latter Sonic titles.

On Virtual Console, I still play Sonic the Hedgehog now and then, often just burning through the first zone to relax. I also have Ristar and Gunstar Heroes, which have been enjoyable.

Still, there are other games I wish would come to the service, games which I did not get to enjoy in the day. The top of the list are Contra: Hard Corps, Castlevania Bloodlines, and Mega Man: The Wily Wars (the last of which I have played and enjoyed). I would also love to give Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and some Disney titles, such as Quackshot and Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse, though I don’t know how likely any of those would be.

And, without diverging into tangents on other related subjects, I think that is all I have to say about my memories of the Genesis era. Sure, I could go on about the 32X or other games, but I think this sums up the experience nicely.

Here’s to you, SEGA Genesis, old friend and rival. Happy 20th!

–LBD “Nytetrayn”