In this series I will explore my favourite games consoles on a generation-by-generation basis, starting with the third console generation, which was the first I had any real experience with – mostly through friends as I didn’t own any of them until much later.
The third console generation spanned much of the 1980s, otherwise known as my childhood. In my earliest memories we owned a Commodore 16 microcomputer, and many of my friends had one of Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum, or Amstrad CPC464. A lucky few with particularly wealthy parents had a Nintendo Entertainment System, and several more had my pick of the bunch – Sega Master System.
The Commodore 16 was a gift to my sister and I in the early 1980s from our Uncle, along with a good collection of tapes and books with BASIC code we could (and did) type in. We had so much fun with the colourful, simple games, but it was with friends that I had my best gaming experiences, as they had generally better machines…. Commodore 64 had Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, Amstrad CPC464 had Freddy Hardest and Madballs, and ZX Spectrum had Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy – both of which were on C16, but we never had them. PC464 had a lot of my time, as another uncle had one. He lived with my grandparents still, so I’d sit in the living room loading tape after tape for a few minutes of play each. Danger Mouse, Paper Boy, and the wonderful Roland in the Caves. There was even a fun darts game and a fruit machine that were good fun, and a game called “Animal, Vegetable or Mineral” which could guess what you were thinking of within 20 questions. I didn’t have a lot of experience with the Spectrum, as only one friend had access to one and we didn’t go round his house too often….
I don’t think I saw a NES until around 1990, perhaps later. Our babysitters brother once came round to drop her off and asked if I’d seen a NES before, or played Super Mario. I hadn’t, so next time he brought his with him. Needless to say, I enjoyed it very much, and ended up helping pay for his drug habits by renting it for £2 a week from him, with Super Mario Bros 1 and 2, Duck Hunt, and I think that was about it.
My mum was very much against video games, and so restricted my use of the console, such that I’d wake up at 2 in the morning and ever so quietly turn it on for a quick game before finishing my sleep!
Otherwise my main memories of the NES came later, when wealthier friends (the same ones who had ALL the toys) had the console and many of its games – Snake Rattle n’ Roll, Super Mario Bros 3, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, and so on. So, whilst I have been heard to dismiss the NES as a thoroughly American success, it did have some small success with some people in the UK.
The Sega Master System though holds my finest memories of the time (even more so than the lovely C16 that we enjoyed at home).I’m trying to remember who I knew that had one, and I can only think of two people. The main one was a friend of mine who’d moved to Clacton-on-Sea, with whom I spend a couple of Summers. He had the console, and we’d bike over to a local rental shop and rent some games for the week. Operation Wolf, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, Wonder Boy, Out Run, Space Harrier, R-Type, Bubble Bobble and hours upon hours of Rampage! Basically we were enjoying our favourites from the arcade in town, but at home! And that’s not to mention the greatest of them all – Sonic The Hedgehog. Of course you know who he is, and the Master System version is certainly my favourite game in the entire series.
A lot of the series I first enjoyed on the Master System remain favourites of mine today, and it’s thanks in part to the joy we had discovering them way back when.
I can’t praise the Master System without discussing its portable counterpart – the Game Gear. Essentially the same hardware but miniaturised into a portable shell with a full colour backlit screen, there was even an adapter available that let you plug Master System cartridges into the slot to play them on the go. Impressive stuff for a kid in the early 1990s. My best friend at the time had one, and I’d occasionally swap it for my Game Boy; otherwise I played plenty of it when hanging out at his house, and on the many sleepovers we’d have. Fantasy Zone and Donald Duck Lucky Dime Caper stick in my mind as standouts on the system, and I also had my first play-through of Castle of Illusion on that tiny screen.
The only weak points of the Game Gear are the short battery life (remedied with an AC adapter) and these days finding one where the screen and electrical components are in working order. Fortunately the components are quite easy to replace as the console was built in the days before surface mount soldering, and there are LED backlit screens available that not only improve how it looks, but also reduce power consumption considerably, lengthening battery life. I think I may buy one soon, perhaps a “for parts” cheap one on eBay and make a project of it.
So, who won the third generation in my eyes? Sega easily. Between the Master System and the Game Gear they had so many great games, which really set my love for the medium in stone. Super Mario Bros remains one of, or perhaps absolutely my favourite series of all time, and the microcomputers were the first to truly introduce me to video games, but Sega had everything else including fantastic reductions of our favourite arcade games.
Want to discuss this further? Look me up on Twitter @bitlandgaming and have a chat.