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Posted on Dec 4th 2016 at 08:00:00 AM by (zophar53)
Posted under Holidays, holiday gaming

My friend's Nintendo Christmas tree. I'm more than a little jealous.

Like many of us, I've had a lot to think about in 2016 that hasn't been entirely pleasant. On top of any personal circumstances some may have had to deal with, there's been enough divisiveness and controversy on a macro level throughout the year, and particularly in the last month, to make anyone's head spin. I have no interest in bringing all that negativity to this community, but I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't at least acknowledge the fact that it's affected me deeply recently, to the point where I had a hard time getting into a proper head space to decide what I wanted to write about this month.

Fortunately, and what shouldn't have been surprising, I eventually realized that once I stopped looking back at what couldn't be changed and started looking forward to the weeks ahead, an appropriate topic was staring me right in the face. It's December now, and with that comes holiday sales, time with friends and family, and hopefully for most of us, some time off from work or school to spend gaming. Whether it's trying out a newly acquired gift we weren't expecting, or finally breaking into that special game we've been dying to try out (you know the one I mean; that gift from you, to you for being so good this year), this is a great time to purge the negativity from the rest of the year, recharge the ole mental batteries, and think back on some of the best holiday memories of year's past.



For myself, there's several games from 2016 that I hope to catch up on in the weeks ahead, but for the moment I've really enjoyed thinking back upon some of my most memorable Christmas gaming moments. Sadly, I don't have many pictures from those times, but my hope is that I can share them here and that some of our readers will do the same below.

Probably one of my first memories is one I've mentioned in these digital pages before. My brother and I were on vacation with my dad in Florida. I don't remember where exactly, just that we were in a hotel with a pool and beautiful sunny weather, quite a contrast to the cold in our Cleveland home town. My dad had just given me a copy of then-new Super Mario Bros 3, and I was going crazy. Anyone old enough to remember that game's release can attest to what a huge event it was, especially with commercials like this being broadcast all over the Saturday morning cartoon lineup.

When you're 10 years old, this is mind-blowing

Because I was away from my NES, all I could do was read and re-read the instruction manual like crazy, unable to concentrate on the rest of the vacation. Needless to say, the game didn't disappoint, and I played the heck out of it when we got back home.

I found myself in similar situations as the years went on. Christmas Eve at my Grandmother's house was always the tradition. She would make a big feast and the whole extended family would gather, with us kids getting our own, albeit smaller, dinner table. I was one of the oldest of my generation, so I always tried to be the most mature, but in reality I was just as giddy for Christmas gifts as the rest of us. Back then, the tradition was that a few weeks before Christmas my brother and I would take the huge Sears catalog and cut out the pictures of all the toys we wanted. We'd then glue them to notebook paper and make wish lists (aka "this is what you should buy us" lists). There were quite a few years when our stack of presents contained no surprises, but lots of toys that were just what we wanted, including video games.

As I got older the sheer number of toys I got from those Christmas Eves dwindled, until eventually I would just get one thing. I was secretly disappointed by this, but again, because I was the oldest I tried to tell myself that my younger cousins were now the focus of the majority of the gifts. Still, I picked up a number of games this way, one of the most memorable of which to me was Mischief Makers.

Colorful, quirky, fun, forgettable

I didn't know much about it at the time, but all the info I'd seen on it from the Nintendo Power stories I'd read made it look like a really fun platformer with a colorful world to explore and a weird grapple hook mechanic that seemed unique at the time, especially since it was going for a specifically 2D style when most other N64 games around then were trying so hard to push into the 3D space. I remember thinking it was a fun game, but at some point I sold it or lost it, and when I got older I regretted letting it get away, as it's extremely rare that I see a copy in the wild anymore and almost no one I talk to seems to even remember it.

My mom was another source of great holiday gaming memories. My brother and I lived with my dad during our early teens, so whenever we visited our mom for Christmas she always made it a big deal. When we were kids and lived with her full time, she always made it a point to go all out for our birthdays and other big celebrations, so she'd had a lot of practice in making events like this special, and was one of those moms who was meticulous about making sure an equal amount was spent on each sibling so neither one of us would get unequal treatment. Once I got older this seemed pretty excessive to me, but I understand and appreciate the level of care and attention she put into it.

I'd been making it clear for quite a while that I wanted a Super Nintendo more than anything else in the world. Being the avid Nintendo Power reader that I was, I knew all about it and was chomping at the bit to experience the next generation of gaming. Thing is, my mother always did an absolutely terrible job of diverting attention away from the fact that she knew exactly what I wanted and had every intention of getting it for me. Just as she'd done when she got me my NES on my 8th birthday, every time I brought up the SNES she would default into asking "ok, now what is it called again? A Super what? Nin-ten-what?" All the while having this little smirk on her face that gave her away completely. I played along with it at the time, explaining over and over what it was, but all the while I knew she was full of it, and thinking back on it now, it just makes the memories that much more endearing.

The first SNES game I ever owned...and completed with 100%

I was so excited to dive into Super Mario World that Christmas Day that I did nothing else except play it for pretty much the whole rest of the time we were visiting her. In fact, not 24 hours later I'd already managed to beat the game, and once again, because of the NP articles I'd been reading, was well on my way to getting all 96 exits. I did eventually get all those exits, including finishing the weird Star World levels and ultra difficult Special Zone levels, and the Super NES would go on to be my favorite console of all time, with so many incredible games released for it that it remains a golden age of gaming for me personally to this day.

And then there's the Christmas when my brother, who had a Sega CD at the time, got a copy of Lunar: Eternal Blue, and completely changed the way I think of not only RPGs, but of anime in games as well. I don't remember where he said he'd heard of the game, but he told me it was supposed to be awesome, and I'd never seen a game with anime cutscenes in it before. To that point my RPG experience was limited to the original Final Fantasy, which I loved, Dragon Warrior, which I had almost no experience with, and The Legend of Zelda, which wasn't the same thing at all in my mind.

For one thing, Lunar: Eternal Blue had the turn-based RPG combat I got way into when I played Final Fantasy, with the addition of character positioning on the battlefield, something that was completely new to me. It added an extra layer of tactics and, as I leveled up my characters and their spells, kept me fully engaged. The other thing is that I fell absolutely in love with the world and characters of Lunar. Even with not ever having heard of it before, let alone having played the first Lunar game, the anime intros and voice acting captivated me like no other game I'd seen. They combined with the excellent writing and translation work of Working Designs (which I enjoyed but was too young at the time to fully appreciate in terms of the effort it took to make happen) to tell a story that got its hooks deep in me.

Pic sourced from Giant Bomb. From the PlayStation One remake, arguably the best (and easiest) way to play Lunar: Eternal Blue in 2016

This was the first time I can remember when I came to actually care about the characters in a video game. The more time I spent with Hiro, Ruby, and Lucia, the more I witnessed Zophar's evil laughter while his ominous theme music played in the background, and the more time I spent learning the backstories of Ronfar, Jean, and Lemina throughout the adventure, the more I genuinely connected with each of them. I got so invested that I don't remember any other gifts we received that year. It actually took my brother and I months to finish it, but by the time we got to the end and knew the final battle was neigh, I felt the weight of every hour I'd put into it, and defeating Zophar meant just as much to me as it did for the heroes. At that point, I wasn't fighting for the world anymore, I was fighting for them. Since then I've gone back and played its predecessor, as well as all the remakes the game has received, and it remains special to me because it taught me how powerful of a story-telling medium video games can be when done well.

There are more of my own stories I could tell, but I'm interested in hearing yours. What are some great games or consoles you got specifically during the holidays? Anything unexpected or particularly uplifting? Is there anything you're doing this year to make some new gaming holiday memories for you or your family? Let's hear about 'em in the comments, and hear's to ending 2016 on a happy note!


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Comments
 
The biggest memory I have with gaming at Christmas was getting a GB and Mario Bros 2 and doing nothing all day but playing the game. Completed it that evening but people weren't too pleased ignoring them.
 
That was a great game. I had a similar time when I got my Game Boy, but I just had Tetris for a while when I got it.
 
These are some of my favorite articles.  Thanks for sharing!

I've mentioned it in the past, but the Christmas of '93 is one of the landmarks of my youth.  My parents were not gamers and couldn't tell you if Starfox was on the NES, SNES, or Atari for that matter.  But that year they listened to my excited rantings, did their research, talked to my best friend, and bought me a new Turbo Duo, complete with an imported (! How did they even know where/how to do that?) copy of Akumajo Dracula X: Chi no Rondo (Castlevania X: Rondo of Blood.)  Considering how poor we were (a fact even more relevant to me now in adulthood) I cannot imagine the sacrifice my parents made to buy me a perfect gift that I'd never have expected.  Lots and lots of hugs were given over the next few weeks; I was overwhelmed. 

The icing/gutpunch came when they realized our ol' living room TV only had a cable/RF input, and the Duo only had RCA A/V, so a Christmas Day trip to Walmart for an expensive adapter happened before I could even play!

It's been said ('cause it's true) that true happiness doesn't come from 'stuff,' but that Christmas truly burned into my core that my parents did listen, did want to do nice things for me, and were willing to financially sacrifice (even though my ignorant youth would keep me from understanding.)

Now I'm the parent, and I have a heartfelt drive to hear the heart of my own kiddos and connect with them.  Of course, I have it a little easier since they love gaming too. Smiley
 
One of my more bittersweet memories was receiving my first gaming console, a 5200, for Christmas. I had asked my parents for an "Atari" for Christmas (meaning a 2600), so that I could swap games with my cousin and neighbors. Being great parents, they didn't understand the difference, and as a kid, I had no idea that a new system had even come out.  Though initially disappointed, I had a great time with that system (before the controllers stopped working...) and puts lots of time on Popeye, Galaxian, and Congo Bongo.

Another year I received a telescope from my grandmother for Christmas. It was a floor display and "unfortunately," it was broken. I took it back to the store with my cousin to replace and it, and they didn't have anymore. I used the money to buy my first NES.  My parents were really mad about it, but my grandmother quelled their anger by telling them that she was okay with the purchase and just wanted me to have a present that I was happy with. The system did not come with a game (NES Player's Guide edition) and a week later, my mother begrudgingly bought me my first game for it, Metroid.

Great article!
 
@slackur: That is an awesome story! I doubt my parents would've been able to figure all that out regardless of how much I ranted to them about it. Not only was that a great score, but I'm sure the sentimental value makes it even better.

@singlebanana: That's a bummer about the Atari mix-up, but certainly understandable and one that is funny looking back on it so many years later, esp since you came to enjoy it so much. I remember you telling me about the telescope/NES story. I'm glad your grandmother took it well; mine would've done the same lol.
 
Great article, zophar.  And I'll have to echo slackur on this one, as these are among my favorite articles.  Also,  am I the only person who misses the kids table?  Horsing around and trying not to get into trouble, not knowing the whole time the adults who were shouting were probably stifling grins?  Great stuff.

I've been blessed with an abundance of great Christmas memories, most of them gaming related.  My personal favorite was around 1988, when for the first (and only time), I snuck a peak at a present before my parents awoke, to find The Legend of Zelda's golden-boxed goodness under the wrapping paper.  Still no idea how my parents slept through the noise, as there was no way my pillow could have silenced all the shouts of joy.  The most bittersweet wasn't really bad, just awkward.  As a kid I didn't have a sense of humor, and my Cool Aunt knew it.  Yet, she would re-package NES and SNES games in the wrong boxes, so for example Clash at Demonhead would end up in a Pipedream box, or Zelda LttP in a Pit Fighter box.  I love her for it now, but at the I couldn't understand why she did it.
 
Great article, slackur!  I have to live vicariously through these kinds of things, because my parents never bought me games but once or twice at holidays, and maybe only once or twice otherwise.  I have no Christmas memories of receiving anything gaming-related as a kid, and only a lone birthday memory, when my parents bought me the first Game Boy Castlevania game.  My only Christmas gaming memories are recent, and the most memorable of those so far is when my wife bought me the Wii U a couple years back.
 
@MetalFRO:lol I'm not a ghostwriter! This one's all Zophar!

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