The Handheld Games Of Summer
July 01, 2005
Ah, summer. The time of year when the Florida heat melts ones shoes to the pavement and the Florida rains wash away the streets. There is no better time to take to the air conditioning indoors and enjoy a good video game.
On the other hand, sometimes it's good to get out of the house and travel, seeing the sights from one's car and taking in new experiences. Talk of summertime and vacations and travel around this Fourth of July Weekend have me thinking about the vacations my family went on when I was a child and all of the great video games that went along for the ride.
Once I was given a Game Boy in late 1989 it became customary for my parents to give me a new Game Boy game of my choosing every time we went on a summer vacation. Our yearly trips would mostly take us up the east coast of the United States, sometimes to visit family and other times to just see the sights and get away from the madness of work and school. In 1990 I picked the vegetable-themed puzzler Kwirk off of the wall at Toys 'R Us for the long drive up north, and while it was a good game at first, it didn't age well at all. It had become old and repetitive before we even reached our destination. I had learned an important lesson about choosing games for play on vacation, and that is to pick something that will last longer than a few hours.
In 1991 we skipped the road trip and flew to Seattle, Washington. The week we were out west was when the puzzle title Yoshi was released, and I eagerly snapped it up. At the age of ten I was convinced that since I had bought the game in Seattle and since Nintendo headquarters was nearby, that logically I was one of the first people to own the game. Young naivete can be fun sometimes, as was Yoshi. Naivete also gives way to believing in the goodness of games based on popular licenses, as for the next two years I was entranced by two video games based on the same property, Ren and Stimpy: Space Cadet Adventures and Red and Stimpy: Veediots!. Both games were fairly average, downright unfair at times, and extremely frustrating, but in the backseat of the car they weren't that bad. They kept me occupied for the length of the ride, at any rate.
For 1995's trip to Atlanta, Georgia to visit the Six Flags amusement park I chose Donkey Kong Land to pass the time on the journey, probably my best road trip pick of all despite its flaws. This particular vacation ended up being the worst of all our trips, as plans fell apart en route and stops that were supposed to be fun became dreadful chores. We decided to cut our losses and head home early, only to be stopped by a flat tire in the middle of nowhere. My father limped the car along to the next interstate exit and eventually we wound up at a tiny mall with an auto center attached to it. While my parents dealt with the car, I roamed the mall.
Two years prior I had become hooked a Super NES platformer game from Sunsoft called Aero the Acrobat, one of the games that came out of the rush for developers to create their own marketable animal mascots. Aero was a slick game, played well for its time, and had just the right level of difficulty. I had read of a sequel to the game being released to stores, but I wasn't able to find it back home and nobody who worked the sales counters had any clue what I was talking about when I asked for to special order it. While wandering the mall I came across a dusty toy store that carried out-of-date products and cheap knockoffs of well known items. In the video game rack was an array of even dustier titles, one of which was a sealed Aero the Acrobat 2. The game was mine for a mere $20; I never saw it for sale "in the wild" again. Picking up Aero was the highlight of the trip.
Even though the vacations came to an end and these days when I travel large distances I'm the one doing the driving, the tradition of a new handheld game every summer lives on. When I flew to Los Angeles, California for E3 two months ago I picked up Mario and Luigi: Superstar Saga for play on my Nintendo DS to pass the time on the long flight. The technology and circumstances change, but the spirit of a new game for the road is always with me.