It's Christmas 1994. I'm eight years old, and I just opened what my mom told me was "the big one," the present to end all presents. Shearing through the wrapping paper, hoping it was the thing I'd been talking about all year.
It was a box for an NSA water filter.
I still remember the intense crestfallen disappointment to this day. "Thanks," I said, and tried to act polite and open it up. But inside that box lay one of my earliest gaming obsessions. Like a trickster, my mom had hidden a prize inside that boring old appliance box. Inside was the SEGA Genesis.
The surprise was instantaneous, and so were the hoots (I re-watched our old family VHS tape to try and recapture that feeling...and typing it in words would just be all capital YES!'s over and over) of jubilation and total glee.
I finally had one. I finally had my own SEGA Genesis. It came with Sonic 2, the Genesis GOAT, and ECCO: The Tides of Time, a maddening yet fascinating game about a telekinetic/psychic dolphin battling nefarious sea creatures.
Back then, you either had a Nintendo or a Genesis. It was like yin and yang, fire and water. Nobody had both, and it was a real treat going to your bud's house that had the system you didn't. It was a little like going behind enemy lines, somewhat betraying that shiny console you had at home, collecting intel from the other side. That might be a bit dramatic, but brand loyalty was as fierce back then as it is today, especially when you were a budding nerd growing up with 16-bit classics.
The times were interesting, to say the least, and the Genesis is a definitive 90's product.
I remember the ads would play incessantly on TV and drive your parents batshit crazy; there was talk of bits, blast processing, and the infamous Genesis does what NINTENDON'T! I remember going to rent video games just about everywhere--back then even grocery stores like Albertson's would rent games--and being excited to try out something new.
And holy hell do I remember the abject frustration of having to figure out games like Toe Jam and Earl or Beavis and Butthead on my own.
The SEGA Genesis Mini brings all of this back in a tsunami tidal wave of nostalgia. It hits you pretty hard, especially when you fire up Comix Zone (a game that I tried so, so so hard to beat) and jam out to the rocking tunes of Sonic 2's Casino Night Zone. Earthworm Jim instantly transported me to those days where my buds and I would obsess over finding new tricks after jumping on the trampoline for what seemed like eons, right before it got dark, and we all had to go home.
The endless tournaments of Street Fighter II (Dhalsim remains a total cheap fighter to this day) where everyone frantically mashed buttons and tried to pretend they knew what they were doing. And those old late-night weekend sessions of Streets of Rage 2 as we battled it out against teeming waves of buff baddies.
The Genesis Mini also brings back the old familiar rage associated with retro gaming, the kind of annoying cheap tricks that geeks like the Angry Video Game Nerd have exhaustively chronicled through 14 years of cursing.
The Ghouls n' Ghosts kind of rage where one mistake costs you all your level progress, the incredibly unfair and ridiculous Toe Jam and Earl random spontaneity that pretty much wipes out your near-perfect run of luck in just seconds. Games like The Lawnmower Man, which totally blew me away as a kid with its 3D-esque sequences, aggravated me to no end in the later levels.
That old-school feeling blasts right through you not unlike the blast processing that propelled those 16-bit games of yore.
It's not really a trip down memory lane, but more like resurrecting the old haunt that was your childhood room where you sat, face illuminated by the blueish glow of a CRT screen as you held your breath and tried with all your might to kill that last boss. And the heart-pounding joy when you finally, against all odds, beat the game.
If you grew up with a Genesis, all of these feelings and memories pretty much wash over you when you fire up the Mini. But that's the point, isn't it? To re-sell your nostalgia in a nice convenient package? Of course. And SEGA does an incredible job of it.