Christmas is always a fun time of year for me, excited kids & the build up to the holidays is always top of my list. Advent calendars, Christmas movies & an Elf on a shelf amongst other things also make the build up a lot of fun.
Article by Darren Cater
But if we go back further in time there were three Christmases in a row that consisted of retro gaming fun and will always be a memory worth talking about. Here I will share with you my Retro Gaming Christmas Trilogy of memories:
1989 – A Commodore Christmas
In the autumn of 1989 I had just started secondary school & at home my gaming fun came from my Acorn Electron that we had got three years before. I spent the late eighties seeing my mates enjoy their ZX Spectrum & Commodore 64 games & I was always envious as where I lived as it was always difficult to locate Electron games in the local Town high streets where my Mum would shop.
Also the fact they I originally asked for a Commodore 64 but my Dad decided to buy the Electron to me was still a sore point. But in September 1989 I started buying Computer & Video Games magazine & using this as propaganda to show my Dad what could have been.
This carried on until one day walking home from school I spotted a window display in our town’s small computer shop which was unusual. The reason it was unusual was because they had Commodore 64 Light Fantastic bundles in their window. Now this shop was a more business/IT oriented shop, but clearly they were looking to increase their Christmas sales. It certainly worked - as the pestering began & after a short while my parents gave in & said yes the Light Fantastic Bundle could be my big present for Christmas.
This was great news & straight away I started buying all the budget titles that previously I couldn’t. I still remember my first purchase which was the Mastertronic budget release of Ghost Busters. I had wanted Ghost Busters for years & finally at last I had the same version that I had fallen in love with years before on a friend’s computer. Happy days you would think?
Well not quite as we tried to set up the Commodore 64 before Christmas day, on Saturday 23rd December 1989 to be exact & shockingly we couldn’t get it to work. My Dad has always worked on a Saturday morning & still does to this day so we started setting it up in my bedroom after lunch. To do this day I don’t know if we were doing something wrong as I was so excited it was almost unbearable. My Mum gave me a joystick which was also an early present along with a big box copy of Ghost Busters 2 & Turbo Outrun but sadly nothing worked.
My Dad got stressed after a long working week & not really understanding computers (having only ever set up an Acorn Electron three years ago) then phoned the previously mentioned local computer shop for help & ended up in an argument with the owner which resulted in him boxing everything up & taking it back for a full refund. Chaos then ensued as no Light Fantastic bundles were available at the local high street shops that my Mum was calling in the both larger towns closest to us.
I was distraught as it was so late in the day we didn’t have time to get to Cambridge (the nearest city) & the next day was Sunday (no Sunday trading back then) & the following day was Christmas day. So in the end I spent Christmas day without my big present & first thing on Boxing Day my Dad took me to Cambridge where we picked up another Light Fantastic bundle from Comet.
Christmas happiness in 1989 at last as it worked straight away & I had a stack of games to play as well as the light gun with games that came with the computer amongst other goodies. The remainder of the holidays was thoroughly enjoyable & even when I was dragged out of the house by my parents I was able to pick up more budget title games with my Christmas money (Wizball & Kikstart 2 amongst others). A stressful start to the holidays, but in the end rewarding Christmas.
1990 – An NES Turtle Bundle Christmas
I have written before about my love for Mean Machines magazine & how the magazine first came out at exactly the same time that I had first become fully aware of the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Well it’s all true & the local Dixons having a demo system set up as well as some friends who had also got hold of the console made my mind up & come December 1990 the NES was on top of my wish list. Now I had read about 16-Bit computers as well as the Sega Mega Drive but at this point in time these were very pricey bits of kit & certainly not something I thought I would get as a Christmas present. Fortunately for me the NES in December 1990 was quite competitively priced at £79.99 with the original NES Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle game included & this got the seal of approval from my parents. In fact when we went to purchase the bundle from Dixons my Dad decided that I could get another game with it so that I had two games to play over the holidays.
This wasn’t easy as it was a straight choice between Super Mario Bros 2 & Batman. Eventually after much deliberation I went with Super Mario Bros 2 & home I went with my second home system in two years. I was 12 when I got this system & still very much playing my Commodore 64 so this is a period of time I remember fondly as both systems got a lot of use. I had mates that had both systems so lots of game swapping for the NES would happen due to the high cartridge prices at the time & I could still buy the more affordable Commodore 64 games when I wanted.
Christmas 1990 was very much a Nintendo Christmas. All I can remember from that Christmas period is constantly playing Turtles or Super Mario Bros 2 & sometimes watching the odd movie. Good times for the 12 year old me & my younger brother enjoyed it as well what with him being a massive turtle fan at the time (they were absolutely massive back then with the kids). All my mates & my Brother’s friends that visited our house during the Christmas 1990 holidays were drawn to the NES.
1991 – A 16-Bit Sega Christmas
The year before 16-Bit gaming seemed completely unaffordable, the Sega Mega Drive was brand new top of the range technology with a price to match but 12 months on that had changed. Fast forward to Autumn/Winter 1991 & prices were a lot lower.
Earlier in the autumn I had originally rented a Mega Drive from a local video shop for something like £10 - £15 for the day with Altered Beast & my mates & I were blown away by it.
As none of mates had 16-Bit machines it really did feel like arcade quality in my living room for the first time & it felt ground breaking. As you can probably guess I was completely won over & as December rolled round prices started to drop & a certain blue hedgehog was also getting a lot of hype & deservedly so.
I first saw Sonic the Hedgehog in the same Dixons where I had gotten my NES & it looked absolutely stunning & the speed of that game scrolling was something else when witnessed for the first time. A bundle was advertised for the Mega Drive with 2 control pads, Altered Beast & a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog for £150.00 at Dixons & my mind was made up so I approached my parents.
I didn’t expect them to say yes after getting an NES the year before & a Commodore 64 the year before that but they did say yes & I was amazed. Perhaps they understood the rapidly changing technology that we could now get our hands on or perhaps I had just behaved myself & had earnt it.
My Mum took me after school to Dixons on the penultimate week of School before the Christmas holidays to buy the Mega Drive & again I was allowed to set it up straight away (I think my Dad slept a little easier knowing that it worked rather than another stressful 1989 incident). Thankfully it worked.
On the Tuesday lunch break of the final week of School before the holidays I slipped over on some Ice & head butted (literally) the playground concrete floor. I started to feel a little dizzy & was rushed by my form tutor to the main reception where my Mum was called & was taken straight to see a Doctor. I was told that I could be concussed but needed to stay awake for at least another 6 hours to make sure I was ok & to rest.
This meant I could stay up late & with a massive round bump protruding from my forehead my Mum decided I was done with school for 1990 & would return after the holidays. What a result more Sega gaming time as I was never too concerned about my bump as I felt fine. The holidays started early, friends visited me after school (or should I say visited the Mega Drive) & the third annual December gaming holiday had begun.
In 1992 I got a CD player, in 1993 a 6ft snooker table & an electric guitar in 1994 before I headed into my late teens when times would change & Christmases became different affairs.
There hasn’t yet been another gaming Christmas & to be honest I don’t think anything would top the good times I had in Christmas 1989, 1990 & 1991.
Great memories from my gaming past.