We talk about the virtual experiences that drew us into the world of gaming!
The Doublejump Staff is an eclectic mix of people, all brought together by their love of video games. Of course, being of different ages, backgrounds and even locations, we all got our start in gaming in different ways and we’re all able to credit a different game with really kickstarting the hobby for us. This month, we sat down to talk about just that: the one particular game that each of us can pinpoint as the one that turned us into the gamers we are today.
Abir: Popeye on an NES/Famicom clone
Growing up in Fiji, original systems from Nintendo, SEGA, and Sony were both hard to come by and unaffordable to the average family. Enter the Family Game, a Nintendo Famicom clone (among others) that opened Nintendo’s world up to a small Pacific nation.
If memory serves me right, my system was a hand-me-down from a family friend who had upgraded to a Super Nintendo. Good ol’ Popeye – everyone’s favourite spinach-chomping, pipe-smoking sailor – was lighting up my TV screen and the beeps-and-boops accompanying his antics welcomed to me to the world of gaming. The game itself is based on the original Donkey Kong arcade game, and involved Popeye climbing platforms to save fair-skinned Olive Oyl from Bluto’s bear-like clutches.
Let’s be honest, I was probably very terrible at the game, but that didn’t change the fact that I was transported to another world whenever I gripped that plastic controller in my hand. It’s why I’m here writing this for you today, and I’ll be forever thankful to that squinty-eyed, big-chinned sailor man and his virtual adventures two decades ago.
Alex: Final Fantasy IX on PlayStation
Even though it may not have been the first game I ever played (that honour goes to Tetris), Final Fantasy IX will always be the one game with which I formed a special bond with and the one that got me into the hobby for good. Having watched my friends play Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII, I decided that I didn’t want to miss out on the action when IX came out in 2000. With that in mind, I nagged my parents until they eventually just gave up and got me a PSOne (the smaller edition of the original PlayStation).
I spent weeks with Final Fantasy IX and the characters and story really stuck with me, even to this day. When it was recently re-released for the PlayStation 4, I didn’t hesitate for a second and instantly bought it again just for the sake of going back to it. Alexandria, Lindblum, Burmecia, then the Outer Continent and the Forgotten Continent and even Terra… so many fantastic locations, each with their own diversity and contribution to the deep plot, the hidden philosophy that you normally wouldn’t expect from these cartoon-ish critters, Nobuo Uematsu’s unbelievable soundtrack (when I heard the “You’re Not Alone” track at a recent “Distant Worlds” concert, it almost brought me to tears), came together to make Final Fantasy IX such a great experience and, to me, way more than just “another game”. I hear people saying that it should be remade but for me, Final Fantasy IX is a piece of the past that is perfect just the way it is.
Cai: Banjo-Kazooie on Nintendo 64
I had played plenty of other games before I first got my hands on Banjo-Kazooie as a small child, but they never really captured my attention the way Banjo-Kazooie would with its vibrant worlds, storyline and Grant Kirkhope’s incredibly catchy soundtrack. I enjoyed playing Super Mario Bros 3 for example, but only for the sense of accomplishment I got from finishing a level; I wasn’t ever emotionally invested in the tale it was were trying to tell.
Banjo-Kazooie, on the other hand, had me enraptured from moment one. The evil witch Gruntilda had kidnapped Tooty to steal her polygonal beauty, and I was going to be the one who stopped her if it was the last thing I did! Before I knew it, the jinjos needed rescuing, I was only two jiggies away from the next world and Clanker (that poor, sad whale) needed my help… I just had to keep going!
I never ended up finishing Banjo-Kazooie when I was little, but years later I finally returned to Spiral Mountain and I made good on my promise. Since then, I play through it about once a year just to check that it’s still as engrossing, and it hasn’t failed me yet.
Damon: Pokémon Gold on Game Boy Color
My earliest memories of gaming have always been of watching my brother play the Nintendo 64 when I was very young, binging on Super Mario, and especially Goldeneye 007. I’d even sneak in a little session of my own when he wasn’t around to stop me. Although these titles bring me my first memories of gaming, the game that really made me the avid gamer I am today was Pokémon Gold. I received for it for Christmas along with my first ever console – a special edition Game Boy Colour – and Pokémon Red, but it was Gold that captured my attention. I was (and still am) obsessed with the Pokémon anime and, having envied my brother’s consoles for so long, I was so happy to be handed a device of my very own with which I could continue my obsession. I played Pokémon Gold every day.
My siblings and I also got a trampoline that day, but with Pokémon Gold now in hand I didn’t care to pay it too much attention. I have very fond and distinct memories of shining my bedside lamp under my blankets to light my Game Boy’s screen and having to hide it from my Mother so she wouldn’t realise that I was still awake, and of being in the car at night and waiting for a street light to illuminate the screen enough for me to take another step or two. For me, those are memories that can’t be replaced. Current-generation gaming is incredible, but there’s nothing like the nostalgia of those days that really created my love of gaming.
Emily: Super Mario 64 on Nintendo 64
Boasting games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and GoldenEye 007, the Nintendo 64 is the era that set me off into a life of gaming, but I can pinpoint Super Mario 64 as the exact game that did so. I was drawn to its vivid colours and fun, quirky stages, and I replayed the game numerous times throughout my childhood, each time questioning just why Bowser even bothered kidnapping Peach if he knew that a love-struck, deceptively-athletic plumber would be hot on his heels.
Although I was attracted to the game’s colours, movements and sounds when I was younger, I began to appreciate it more as an experience as I grew up. I’d challenge myself to get every star and find new ways to beat the game, and that’s where my love of gaming really begun. Although gaming has come a long way in the 20 years since Super Mario 64, I still like to go back to the simpler times, to the games that were so mesmerising, challenging and fun that they kick-started a life-long hobby.
Jake: Altered Beast on SEGA Mega Drive
Altered Beast was not the first game I played through, nor was it the first game I completed (that was Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and that was before I could form a sentence), but it is the game that gave wise to the extremely competitive streak that has defined me as a person throughout my life, as well as my love for achievement hunting. Funnily enough, though, I was scared senseless of the game when I first encountered it; Neff’s sinister appearances throughout each stage and the monsters he and the protagonists would turn into just scared the hell out of me, to the point where “WISE FWOM YOUR GWAVE” was enough to send me running out of the room.
It wasn’t until I was five years old and decided that I shouldn’t go to primary school scared of a video game that I wose fwom my gwave for the first time; having made it to the Netherworld Fortress on my first playthrough before swiftly dying, I felt like I could absolutely be the first person in my family – immediate and extended – to defeat Neff in the Sanctum and rescue Athena. I spent hours upon hours pushing through the five stages, only to find myself dying in the middle of the Sanctum and starting over, and it took me too many attempts to count before I could finally beat that bloody rhino. I’ve only ever beaten him a handful of times to this day, but I was the first person I knew to do it, and that’s a badge I’ll happily wear for the rest of my life.
John: Ratchet & Clank on PlayStation 2
I already wrote about Spyro 2 recently so I’ll just write about another Insomniac Games title (Insomniac had a big impact on lil’ John): the original Ratchet & Clank, released on PlayStation 2 back in 2002. I’d played games beforehand, mostly on the PSX and some bootleg compilations on the Game Boy (one of those chunky grey ones, too, with the nuclear-green screens – is this what being old is like?), but my dedication to gaming wouldn’t start in earnest until R&C and the PS2. Though I couldn’t say for sure, it’s probably why I aspired to game development throughout my childhood and adolescence, too.
It’s ultimately a lot like the Spyro titles, even down to reinventing its protagonist in the sequel (Ratchet was sort of a prick back then), but what R&C did was open my eyes to scale in video games. Flying between these open, colourful vistas, each planet a distinct and lively locale bursting with imagination, with action-oriented gameplay that placed me a little a closer to the action – it ‘immersed’ me more than other games had. Compared to the Spyro games, each level felt genuinely alive and massive, with enough detail to feel like more than just a ‘video game level’. It’s a little rough around the edges nowadays, but it crystalized my passion for both videogames and pulp-infused cosmic sci-fi and I’m grateful for it.
Kristian: Gran Turismo on PlayStation
I developed a fascination with cars from an early age. I started collecting Matchbox and Hot Wheels-branded cars before the age of two, and was always playing races with them in my early childhood. Gran Turismo hit the shelves the following year and my dad, who loved his games, was keen to show me. He knew I would love seeing cars up on the TV, and he was right. I was mesmerised watching his car zip around the track, beating all the other cars in the race, and I wanted in on the action. I sat in my dad’s lap and he handed me the controller, then cupped his hands over mine. He told me how to navigate through the menus, and when I came to the car selection screen, I already recognised most of the cars from my huge collection, and I picked one I liked the look of, the Honda NSX. I also chose to race on the Clubman Stage Route 5 track, because it was a night race and I thought that was really cool.
My dad decided to help me when I started playing. He told me that the X button accelerates and the Square button is your brake, while he took care of the steering. It was pretty easy to pick up on. With him controlling the direction of the car, all I had to do was keep it moving. The game was set to easy difficulty, so I passed the first few cars without any issue, but it was that Impreza leading the way that caused me some trouble. Eventually we got by towards the end of the second lap, and we crossed the finish line in first place. I didn’t spend too much time playing games until I got a Game Boy Color with Pokémon Blue for Christmas when I was five, but having that first experience from a young age, sharing it with my dad, was a pretty special memory in my childhood.
Nick: Virtua Cop 2 on SEGA Saturn
Sega Saturn, the console that didn’t know what it wanted to be. Its lacklustre launch lineup already made it a weak opponent in the explosive fifth-generation console market, but although it was more powerful than the 16-bit Mega Drive (or Genesis) and the 32X that it was being developed alongside, it eventually became the missing link after the ill-fated Dreamcast superseded it. With that being said, there’s reason to say that it was the missing link from the start: it had no mainline Sonic the Hedgehog launch title, the majority of its catalogue was ports of arcade games. Sega ended up falling back on the Virtua series and Sonic Team’s flying clown adventure Nights into Dreams. Yep, the 90s were a weird time. I loved Nights into Dreams, but it pales in comparison to the more mature, beefier gameplay of Virtua Cop 2. And the game was hard. SUPER HARD. I can’t play it again today (Light guns don’t work on LCD TVs), but from what I can remember, the hit rate was low, even when you were at a worrying distance to the TV.
It was the first console I remember having, and there was a bloody good reason for being so memorable. Any gamer who grew up in the 90s arcade era or with a Sega Saturn – the latter admittedly being a niche audience – would absolutely remember Virtua Cop 2 and the weighted Virtua Gun bundled with every copy. The gameplay was pretty rudimentary as many rail shooters with an analog reload mechanic are, but its ambience gave off this otherworldly vibe that resonated into my adult life interests like vaporwave music and general 80’s-90’s hyper aesthetic. Ultimately, Virtua Cop 2 gave birth to my love for all things cinematic, with an emphasis on the mantra that you don’t need to sacrifice substance for style… if the style can be the substance.
Phil: Tales of Symphonia on Nintendo GameCube
Oh boy, where do I begin?
Having two older brothers, I was never the one calling the shots in terms of buying games for our PlayStation 2 growing up. Eventually when the Gamecube was released, my father realised that I didn’t need to compete for gaming time with my brothers and got me my very own console. After that, I remember heading to Best Buy constantly and checking out the games on display. One fighting game really stood out; it was so flashy, with attacks and beams flying all over the place, I just had to have it. I put in my request, waited patiently for Christmas and voilà! Tales of Symphonia was mine.
If I wasn’t at school or hanging out with my best friends, I was playing Tales of Symphonia. While this wasn’t my first game (and certainly not my last) it was “the one”: the one to fully immerse me in gaming; the one to make develop an unhealthy obsession with JRPG’s; and the one to jumpstart a lifelong journey of discovering the art, heart, and soul behind a video game. Even though it had 4-player co-op capability, nobody else was interested the way I was and I loved every moment of it, from playing my favorite characters like Lloyd or Regal, to the feeling of finally beating a boss that handed me my ass numerous times, to unlocking a brand new attack arte in the heat of battle or the sadness of forgetting to save when I finished playing… I wouldn’t trade a single hour of that experience for anything else. Tales of Symphonia was just that game. You only get one first game. It’s an experience that stays with you forever, and I regret nothing.
Ty: Persona 3 on PlayStation 2
I’m what you might call a late bloomer when it comes to video games. My childhood experience was limited to split-screen shenanigans on GoldenEye 007, trying to beat Buzz Lightyear of Star Command on my PlayStation without a memory card, and whatever my dad and I could get running on our beat up old Windows 95 PC.
That all changed when I got when I got a PlayStation 2 and found a copy of Persona 3 in a bargain bin at the local Blockbuster (who remembers those strange places?). That’s the first time I really fell in love with the worlds and stories that one can find in video games. I remember staying up late on a school night, with the volume turned down so my parents couldn’t hear me, because I was absolutely hooked. I was only a kid, so I didn’t appreciate the mechanical complexities of its combat or social systems – or the fantastic storytelling – but I was just enamoured with its style. It was so different to anything I’d played before.
I still find myself giving Persona 3 another whirl every now and then, and although some aspects of the game haven’t aged well (having to romance female characters to max out their social links and the utter slog that is climbing Tartarus in particular), the style, story and characters sure as hell do. It’s just a really cool game, and you don’t see many games like it outside of its own series.
We might be from all different times and places, but our audience is even more varied. We’d love to hear what one single game really pulled you into the world of video games – let us know in the comments below, or on our social media!