Memories. Only certain ones seem to stick, and the ones that do, have such a melancholic feel to them. “Generation Pong” is all about those memories… ever more so to me, considering they are not only the memory of a great game, but some real life event revolving around getting/receiving/playing that game. And if you think about it yourself, a game you loved as a child… you will see that your favorites may have more memories attached to it, then just the game itself.
Did you get it as a gift? Was it Christmas? Do you remember unwrapping it? Had you heard of that game before that moment? These were the particular memories surrounding one of my favorite NES classics, Faxanadu.
Faxanadu was a side-scrolling game that came out in 1989. So, me living in Greece at the time means it was 1990 when I got it… and it was Christmas. Cultural fact: Greece is a very strongly religious country (yet somehow, I grew out of that). For many families, Christmas gifts were actually opened during New Years Eve (during those days at least… the present has changed things around the world). They said it was because Christmas was a day to celebrate the birth of Christ; and Saint Nick (aka Santa Clause) would not show up until later. Having been born in NY myself, I would always joke and say that they only did that cause Santa came to the U.S. first, and it took a while till he got around to Greece to deliver the gifts here! (Obviously, I didn’t “believe” in Santa anymore by that age… I think I was about 5 when I realized it was all a hoax). Despite that, Christmas is Christmas… it was then, it is now, and the magic will always be there.
So, there I am… 11 years old, the day New Years Eve, but already ancy that I had to wait 5 extra days to open my gifts. Since it was only me and my mom then (my siblings in the States, and my father divorced), we always had Christams/New Years at my Aunt’s – which was literally next door (we even shared a yard). Greece is big on the “familia” thing, so most holidays and events are done with 10 adults and twice that number of kida running around. Pretty good times actually.
I was sitting there in the living room stairing at the tree and all the gifts under it. None of the aunts, uncles, cousins happened to be in the room, so I was “casually” browsing the gifts under the tree. Who was getting what, what size the boxes were, etc. And there is was… I saw a gift for me, and it happened to be the exact shape of a Nintendo Game box. WHAT?! Which game was it… was it definitely a game? At that age, I wasn’t as 100% sure, as I would be now seeing a Blu-ray shaped box, so… my imagination ran wild trying to figure it out. I left the room, came back, left, returned… each time looking at that box; each time wondering if I would figure it out during this return trip. I remember it being day… going to the window and holding it in the sunlight, hoping to somehow, magically, see through it and figure it out. And by nighttime, when I still had no clue what it was (though at this point, I was sure it was a game), I resulted to taking drastic measures.
I “nicked” the edge of the wrapping… just enough to make it seem like it may have happened accidentally, as all the presents where shuffled or something. I could barely see the N from Nintendo. And some sort of Fa- … I was bewildered. What started with Fa? What game was this. I racked my brain… what games did I know that began with F? I realized I couldn’t dig into the package anymore without being suspicious, so I spent the rest of the night and following day wondering and day dreaming and waiting till gift time came.
Low and behold, New Years Eve came, and we all sat in front of the tree, opening gifts one after the other. I do not remember a single gift about that year, other then me patiently waiting to be handed the one gift I was fevering over the past couple days. But gifts came and gone, and mine – at least that particular one – never reached my hands.
Now, this was a tricky situation… to mention anything would be to admit that I was not only looking at the gifts, but might shed light on the mystirous “rip” on the gift wrapping. So, what else could I do but hold my tongue.
Finally, my aunt goes to the other room and brings me this bigger box. I was surprised, not having seen this one under the tree at all. I don’t remember the note on in, but it was some kind of saying which was the equivalent of ‘curiosity killed the cat’. I open the box and within it is the desired gift. At the age of 11, I thought I was fooling them with my little rip… but alas, they played the trick on me instead. I jumped from joy, and ran off to try my new game. And that is where I was introduced with a game that, for it’s time, was kicking it up a notch…
Faxanadu is a side scrolling adventure game… similar to Castlevania. In fact, it took Zelda’s “attempt” of a sidescroller (Legend of Zelda 2), and Castlevania 2‘s grander scale (of including towns and castles) and basically perfected the formula – for it’s day at least.
Its adventure is epic. It starts you off with a 30 second demo scene of you traveling towards a huge tree. And in a time when “demo scenes” rarely existed, and “size” was never emphasized, it really made you feel like not only was this tree huge (and mystical/magical), but the story itself was like that for putting you there. To me, it basically did with grandiose sizes then, that God of War has done today.
You see, unlike any game of it’s time (at least from ones I was aware of), Faxanadu took armor/weapon customization to a whole new level. Not at the fact that it had a huge selection available… but that whatever you held or wore actually showed. Before that, ie Castlevania and Link, you barely saw any changes. Sure, Simon’s whip got bigger and longer, and Link’s clothing changed colors. but that was all basic stuff.
In Faxanadu, when you bought a long sword, you held a long sword. When you wore a steel cap, you had a steel cap on your head. And when you finally got to buy full plate armor… BADASS!
This was huge for a game of it’s time. Not only did weapons get stronger, the looked stronger. Hold a shield or not, and how big it was (or what type it was) mattered. This was like giving a kid the option to not only sort his character with the best items, but to make him look cool while doing it.
But that wasn’t the only great part of it. It was the story too. And the layout of the levels. Walking across fields at first, till you get to the town at the bottom of the tree. Continuing to the tree between the HUGE roots. Entering the tree and going upwards – crossing villages within it. It was just amazing. Thinking about it now… it would make a visually great movie. And after all the time within it, when you finally got up at the branches, it was a huge change. You could almost “feel” the height.
Ever since the age of 11, that game has left an imprint on me. I was a Dungeons & Dragons kid, and to me, that game was a visual and playable representation of that – similar to what Skyrim is today.
I recently noticed this game was available on the Virtual Console for the Wii (and I assume for the Wii U obviously). I have a couple games I’m going through right now, but let me tell you, this game is on my list. And if you personally enjoy the occasional old school game, I would definitely suggest this one. You will be in for a treat.
Until next time…