Sonic The Hedgeblog

I’ve recently read back over some of my previous blogs, particularly the last few, and I’m concerned that you may have got the impression I’m an old man trapped in a young man’s body.

For this, you could be forgiven, particularly seeing as I described myself in my opening piece as “an old man trapped in a rapidly-approaching-35-year-old’s body”. My expanding waistline, inability to deal with hangovers, middle-aged taste in clothes, and even-middler-aged taste in music, hardly give off the aura of someone young at heart, do they?

The thing is, I do still consider myself to be quite young in general, and my sense of humour can be very childish indeed (bum, willy, poo, boobies – see?) but when it comes to certain topics, I guess I’m just a bit old for my age. Unfortunately, this piece is about technology so, for now at least, I’m not very likely to change your perception of me. The thing is, I am bloody useless when it comes to technology.

It takes me ages to get used to a new phone, for example. Unfortunately, in the modern world, you’re encouraged (even expected) to upgrade your phone every 3-4 weeks (or, at least, it seems that way), and if there’s one thing I don’t like when it comes to technology, its change. I haven’t yet tried to use my mobile to change the TV channel, so I still have some way to go before I’m challenging my grandparents, but there are apps (I even feel dirty using the word) on there, that I have no clue about and will never use.

Then, there are computers. Of course, I can get through the basics when it comes to the ol’ t’interweb, and if I couldn’t type a document you most likely wouldn’t be reading this (unless I’d dictated it I guess), but when faced with anything slightly more complicated than that, my brain goes into a mushy meltdown. I can’t even comprehend how people write computer programs and design websites from scratch. It’s bloody witchcraft I tell you.

But at least with phones and computers I can, eventually, educate myself to the point that I’m not totally embarrassed when called upon to use them.

Games consoles, on the other hand, remain way out of my comfort zone, and I am at least 10-15 years behind everyone else in the world. But, for reasons I shall explain, I’m ok with that.

Growing up, I began my unfortunate relationship with gaming by owning a Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Not the most advanced of computer games consoles, granted, and certainly the games weren’t worth the 45 minute wait to load them (during which time the screen changed from blue to yellow and back again, while you were treated to a screeching sound similar to a cat being shaved), but we all had to start somewhere, and that was the Ferrari of the gaming world at the time. Sadly, unlike Ferraris, it didn’t age particularly well, and soon became outdated. Poor old Clive.

Then, there came the war between Sega and Nintendo in the late 80s and early 90s. Everyone I knew at the time, suddenly became either a Sega family or a Nintendo family.  The gaming world was divided. You didn’t ever own both, as that just wasn’t cricket old chap – you had to fall into one camp or t’other, in the same way that you can’t support both United and City (well, if you have any sense you don’t support either, but you get the analogy).

All of a sudden, it was Sega v Nintendo. Master System v NES. Sonic v Mario. Japan v erm…. well, Japan.

As a family, we opted for Sega and the (still) glorious Master System. Despite only having two buttons on the control pad, you could still have enormous fun, and those two buttons enabled you to jump, duck, shoot, roll, pick up, accelerate, brake and basically carry out every single move you could ever wish for, on any game.

The Mega Drive came next, and that had some properly good games. Desert Strike springs to mind, as does Road Rash. Sega decided to increase the button count on its new controllers to three, but for the life of me I can’t remember a game that couldn’t have coped with just two. I’m sure there were, but that third button still strikes me as an unnecessary extravagance.

Then, just when everything was ticking along nicely, Sony and Microsoft turned up to the party and ruined everything.

I still own a PS1, which by today’s standards is basic as hell, but even that had 47 different buttons on the controller, all with different shapes or codes (what was wrong with A, B and C?) and, unless you were some child prodigy, you could never keep track of all of them at the same time.

I also got a PS2 a few years after its release, but by then the games – and the controls – were getting too much for my puny brain to handle. Someone, knowing my love of all things James Bond, bought me one of the many 007 games on the market by this point, and I played it once. I kid you not, once. I managed to master all the training levels, and could quite happily hide being something when being shot at, or scale a wall with a grappling hook, or seduce a curvaceous brunette with just a raised eyebrow (that last one is a lie, Sony never listened to  any of my suggestions), but when it came to putting everything I had learned into practice, remembering every button combination at once, I was dead within seconds. Unless, of course, I just focused on my skill of hiding, but that made the game astonishingly dull, as I just watched myself crouching behind a crate for 30 minutes.

The number of buttons we were suddenly expected to deal with got completely out of hand, and the best way to describe this, is with the development of football games on each console.

The first football game I ever owned was on the Master System. It was called World Soccer, and it featured 8 (yes, 8) countries, all of which seemed to have the same monotone national anthem. Of course, all the biggest countries in World football were represented: Brazil, Argentina, West Germany and… erm… Japan, for some reason. I wonder why Sega thought Japan should be included? Anyway, there were two buttons, and with those you could shoot, pass, tackle and dive (which, at the time, was restricted to goalkeepers during a penalty shoot-out – this was, after all, the early 90s, and well before Arjen Robben).

Then, the FIFA series took over and, to this day, FIFA ’94 still remains my favourite. Mostly because I could play it without getting shafted by Qatar as I tried to work out which buttons enabled me to do a clever back heel or step over. I’m a Stockport fan for Christ’s sake. We don’t need a button for step overs and bicycle kicks. ‘Shoot’, ‘pass’ (badly), ‘hoof’ and ‘give it away unnecessarily’ will do fine for us, thanks very much.

So, I fell out of love with gaming, as its constant technological advancement left me well behind, miserable and reminiscing about the 1990s. Why spend a fortune on the latest release, if you’re quite happy with your favourite little blue hedgehog?

I started to think that no company would ever design another console that I could play without embarrassing myself.

Then, going against everything I had been taught growing up, I recently did the unthinkable and made the switch to Nintendo, by purchasing a Wii. And it’s bloody brilliant.

Just when I was starting to think I was too old for gaming, and ‘having a go on the Wii’ would be a phrase solely restricted to having to take myself to the toilet for a little try, Nintendo designed a console that everyone, young and old, can enjoy. Why is it so brilliant and accessible? Because the controllers only have two buttons. Halle-frigging-lujah.

Of course, the name ‘Wii’ is bloody ridiculous, and they should change it immediately, but so help me God, it’s fun to play on.

Finally, I could get back into gaming again, and show young Ollie what a fun little world of escapism consoles can be. I could educate him on perseverance, dedication, stamina and skill. So, with that in mind, we also purchased Wii Sports, and I was immediately drawn to the ten-pin bowling game. We set it up, and my giddiness was palpable as the game loaded (in seconds, with no colour-changing or screeching either). I let him have the very first go, having worked out the basic controls, and stood back as he took his first swing with the ball.

He got a strike. Damn.

Worse, he went on to beat me 124-84. It’s a stupid game and won’t be playing it anymore. But I’ll persevere with the Wii as a console, because Nintendo have finally created something for those of us who don’t have 12 fingers on each hand (so, basically, anyone outside Burnley). Thanks to Nintendo, a company I grew up treating as the enemy, I’m back on the gaming bandwagon, and it feels really good. So much so, I can’t wait until they release the ‘Pu’ now.

See. Told you I can be childish.