Longtime readers know that I have a certain fondness for the wannabe mascot wars of the 16-bit generation. I've championed for Bubsy and Plok, after all. Today it's time to direct your attention to Sunsoft's attempt at cashing in on the "radical mascot with an attitude" era of gaming history, or rather Sunsoft's continued attempt. The company pinned its hopes on Aero the Acro-bat for the Super NES and Sega Genesis, and while the first game in the series was relatively easy to find, the sequel that was produced a year later in 1994 was downright elusive.
I spent many near-sleepless nights trying to finish the first Aero and had even stumbled upon the stage select code before it had been published in the gaming magazines of the day, so I knew I had to have the second. I went to every store in my little hometown and surrounding areas that sold video games, but nobody even knew the game was created, let alone for sale. Remember, this was the pre-Amazon.com era. Finding obscure games such as Aero today is as easy as punching up eBay, but at the time I was limited to the whims and sales trends of retail stores. As much as I loved Mario and his pals, the Mushroom Kingdom characters had taken over the shelves. There was no room in the Nintendo section for a plucky little aerobatic bat.
Months after I’d given up hope on finding the game, my parents and I had decided to spend a week’s vacation in Atlanta, and it quickly turned into the vacation from Hell. The hotel had an infestation of critters, abstract paintings of a previous guest done in hair gel were plastered to the wall, the Six Flags Over Georgia theme park made us all ill with bad food & nauseating rides, there was an murder attempt near the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant tour that scrapped our plans to venture downtown to stroll around like tourists in full bozo mode, and the rain just hadn’t stopped pouring for the duration of the trip. Eventually we decided enough was enough and ended the vacation two days early. So there we were, driving south on I-95 back to Florida through the post-rain haze when a loud bang shook the car and it veered off the road onto the shoulder. A flat tire marked a fittingly horrible end to a particularly horrible trip.
After affixing the spare donut tire to the car, we limped to the next exit down the highway which led to a small mall with a Sears auto department. It was the crummiest mall I'd seen in quite some time. There wasn’t a single major franchise store to be found beyond the Sears, the floors were caked with mud, and the air had a stale musty scent to it. Unhappy people trudged around from The Dollar Store to The Dollar Tree to The 99 Cent Store and back again. I decided to kill time in a book/game shop that seemed to specialize in yesterday’s books and games. Moreover, these were yesterday’s unpopular or undersold books and games. Want the novelization of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier? This place had it. The shelves were sloppily constructed and inventory fell to the ground as I walked by as if merely displacing the air in passing was attacking these shelves and dismantling them. The video game shelf (well, what was left of it; it leaned to the left and all the games had tumbled to one end) caught my attention, but based on what I’d seen of the rest of the store, I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything remarkable. I began reading the cartridge labels. There was a whole row of used Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt cartridges (heh, who didn’t have that one?), a few stray copies of SimCity in battered boxes, and the absolute worst that the Sega CD had to offer, but at the end of the row, still shrink-wrapped in a new equally dusty untouched box was – could it be? – Aero the Acro-bat 2.
I reached for it, convinced it would turn into more of the dust that covered everything in this place as soon as I neared it, but it held its form as I grabbed it and pulled it from the shelf. It certainly seemed to be the real deal, and aside from the box being a little dusty, it was in perfect condition. I checked the price tag and not only was I lucky enough to have found the game, but it was marked down to a mere twenty dollars. I had just enough spending money left from the aborted vacation to make the purchase, and although the entire trip itself was pure horror, at least it had a happy ending. Nearly fifteen years later I still play it from time to time, but it’s become more than just a plastic case with some computer chips inside. It's become a symbol that it's possible to discover something special on some long-forgotten shelf and that anything truly worth playing eventually comes back around in some form.