Welcome back to AVQ&A (Gameological edition), where we throw out a question for discussion among the staff and readers. Consider this a prompt to compare notes on your interface with pop culture, to reveal your embarrassing tastes and experiences, and to ponder how our diverse lives all led us to convene here together. Got a question you’d like us and the readers to answer? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This installment’s question: What is your most fondly remembered video game moment of 1995?
From the long musical intro, it was obvious right away that the boss fight against Raphael The Raven was going to be different. My adolescent mind still wasn’t ready, though, when the fifth world of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island trapped me on a tiny moon with my enemy and forced me to run for my life around its surface. The most jarring part, at the time, was that the screen rotated with me. Up until this point, platforming games were all about going left and right or up and down. I wasn’t prepared for a game that considered movement around a platform in 360 glorious degrees of movement. Looking back, it’s so simple—just one surface looping around itself, movement still restricted to left and right—but that simple rotation was enough to change everything for me. People gush about the joys of tiny planets with private gravity in the Super Mario Galaxy games, but it all started here, with a baby Mario fleeing from an angry bird on an itty-bitty rock.
While Chrono Trigger, my favorite game of all time, came out in 1995, I more associate it with 1996, when I played it. So instead, my top 1995 moment has to go to an unsung sequel: Kirby’s Dreamland 2 for Game Boy. By ’95, the Game Boy was already getting on in years and Kirby had seemingly moved on to bigger, brighter pastures. While Dreamland 2 was back to the green-hued Game Boy, it didn’t skimp on ambition. The game was as huge as Kirby’s Adventure on the NES and kept its idea of Kirby as a ravenous power thief. It also gave Kirby animal friends to ride. I don’t know why that’s always revved my engine over the years. There’s just something about a platformer or an RPG giving you an insane-looking steed that makes me smile, and this game has three of those scenes that collectively make up my favorite moment: when Kirby meets his animal pals in Dreamland 2. He crawls inside a fish that can shoot lightbulbs out of its mouth if Kirby eats an electric blob! And he rides a hamster that loves umbrellas! And a giant owl-falcon-thing—who knows what the hell kind of bird Coo is—will carry him around like a puffball of destruction!
Back in the pre-internet dark ages of 1995, dubious schoolyard rumors were one of the only sources of information I had about games. Sometimes these rumors delivered, but most of the time they were either total bunk or mutated beyond recognition as they passed from kid to kid. One such tall tale was that Sega had just released a game so difficult that they would pay anyone who could beat it a whopping $25,000. That game, Vectorman, was one of the first I had ever played with 3-D(ish) graphics, and its sleek, futuristic look continued to impress me in level after level. What’s always stuck with me, though, was my only encounter with Vectorman’s final boss. It’s an impressive sequence, calling on you to dodge debris on your way up a raging tornado and fight the skyscraper-sized robot at its peak. The fight isn’t all that tough, but it felt exceptionally difficult for me because I thought the stakes were so high. I choked, and to this day have still never beaten the game. It wasn’t until years later that I learned the “play to win” contest was more of a lottery than a test of skill—certain cartridges would display a phone number during the credits that could be called to collect a prize. Still, for a few minutes in ’95, I honestly believed I was a few well-timed double-jumps away from being a thousandaire.
While World Of Warcraft has long since become the standard-bearer for Blizzard’s fantasy realm of orcs and humans, it is Warcraft II that was my first and only Azerothian love. Who can forget, after all, the heroic Dwarven Demolition Squad who, before they self-immolated in a glorious fireball, exclaimed “I love blowin’ things up!” in a thick Scottish accent? Or the peon slaves who were always ready to serve us, their harsh and unforgiving masters? The multiplayer was basic, but it was my first experience with playing games over the internet. I’ll never forget luring my friend Stu into a battle with my fleet, waiting for him to get the upper hand, and then crushing his brief triumph when my real, much mightier fleet deployed from behind the fog of war. I wasn’t as crazy about the third installment, and have—mainly as an act of self-preservation—never touched WOW. But now that it’s on my mind, I may text ol’ Stu this weekend and get a game of Warcraft II going. We’re older and grayer than we were back in ’95, but I’m willing to bet that he’s still a terrible commander.
When my siblings and I were kids—like, say, around 1995—my dad would take us on semi-weekly trips to the local Blockbuster. I don’t remember any games that I rented that year, but I very clearly recall being blown away by a crazy new system that Blockbuster was promoting as hard as it could: the Virtual Boy. These days (and probably in those days, too), it’s regarded as one of the biggest mistakes Nintendo has ever made, but to a dumb kid like me in 1995, it was an exciting glimpse into the future of gaming. It had 3-D graphics! Tennis balls, Warios, and Kevin Costner’s character from Waterworld would fly right at the screen! Plus, Nintendo had never steered me wrong before, so I could only assume the system would be as great as the Super NES and the Game Boy. Of course, I only ever touched a Virtual Boy while visiting Blockbuster, so I never played it to the point where its horrible red graphics and the blood pouring out of my eyes merged into a lifetime of blindness, but that’s probably for the best. I actually have fond memories of the Virtual Boy, and there aren’t too many people left who can say that (because they all died from playing the Virtual Boy).
My parents have never understood games. When I was a kid, I couldn’t get them to grasp the concept of “good games” and “bad games,” or that when I asked for Donkey Kong Country 2 for Hanukkah, I wanted that specific title and not whatever was floating in the bargain bin at GameStop. That’s how I wound up being gifted with Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Fighting Edition. I had stopped watching the show a few episodes into the second season, so I didn’t even recognize most of the characters. But I did know Lord Zedd and found that I was very good at his speedy attack routine, especially when compared with the big, clunky mechs my little brother favored. I was even magnanimous enough to let him play Zedd a few times just to show him how much better I was at the character. It may be the best I’ve ever been at any fighting game. I didn’t get the game I wanted, but I got the simple joy of winning—plus my parents got to save money while getting some quiet hours where my brother and I were playing together.
The only thing I have vivid memories of playing in 1995 is Ristar, a little game from the creators of Sonic The Hedgehog about an anthropomorphic star-dude with elastic arms. I remember 5-year-old Matt wasting hours toiling away in the game’s tedious water levels only to be destroyed by the fiery mechanized hellscape of Planet Scorch over and over. I still stink at those fire levels, but getting crushed by them in every outing means I spent a ton of time in Ristar’s first world, Planet Flora. I was more than happy to take up residence in its fantastical forest. Those two opening levels are bursting with life and imagination, and they serve as the perfect playground for working out your Ristar technique, with tons of toys, puzzles, and hidden treasure. What really sealed the deal, though, was the music, especially in the first stage. Its calypso tune and jubilant explosions of percussion have made it a permanent fixture in my head for 20 years. Unless he was swinging from trees, Ristar himself was a lumbering little lump, but thanks to all the energy in the jungle and music that surrounded him, he felt just as lively as his speedy cousin.
There’s only one photograph of me that exists from the last few months of 1995. It’s one my mom took of my friends and I holding Super Nintendo controllers while playing NBA Live ’96. That’s appropriate because it encapsulates much of what we did that winter—hole up in someone’s basement and enjoy either epic ping pong battles, drawn out games of Trivial Pursuit, or play the hell out of what I consider the first great basketball video game. One of its flaws (albeit an enjoyable flaw) was that some long-range gunners could hit a ridiculous percentage of their shots, so you had to worry just as much about Scott Skiles or Dale Ellis as Shaq and Penny. My friend Jon always loved picking the underachieving Washington Bullets—who had two-fifths of the Fab Five (Webber and Howard) and Big Gheorghe Muresan at center. One game, he kept shooting three-pointers with Tim Legler, the Bullet’s long-range bomber, and shouting “There are some who call me… Tim?” from Monty Python And The Holy Grail after each make like a bad SportsCenter anchor. By the fourth quarter, Legler had broken an NBA record with something absurd like 15 three-pointers made and Jon’s Monty Python reference turned from amusing to irritating to hilarious.