Painting a Picture
What is the first memory that you can recall?
My earliest memory is from a hot summer night in the Australian suburb of Liverpool. The date was December 24th 1998.
Our family had quite an alternative Christmas tradition where, rather than children getting their presents in the morning of Christmas Day, the big old red boy Santa would lock pick the back door (we didn’t have a chimney), sneak in, and drop them off in the early night of Christmas Eve; where, a small Matt would either be distracted elsewhere, or would be in bed tuckered out from the heavy responsibilities that a generic five-year-old has…
That night, I was sound asleep until I was woken up by my parents, excited at their discovery of presents underneath the Christmas tree. Despite being overly tired, I made my way over to a small collection of presents. My father passed me a big box which I slowly unwrapped and discovered to be my first ever gaming console: a solid grey PlayStation. And with it, a jewel CD case containing my first video game ever: Mickey’s Wild Adventure.
Now, if I had to pick a child’s first video game, my first thought would be to choose something lighthearted, fun, and easy for them to get accustomed to; and if I didn’t know the first thing about video games, Disney and Mickey Mouse would be the two trusted brands that I would feel to coincide with child-friendly. I think the developers Traveller’s Tales and Psygnosis decided that children had life too easy when porting over their creation from SNES and the Sega Genesis to PS1, because they turned the decently balanced anthology of Mickey’s truly classic cartoon adventures into a bullet hell enemy-ridden platformer where you descend down what feels to be seven rings (levels) of hell. Let’s just say that the other two rings (levels) were scrapped, for all intents and purposes.
Note that the difficulty wasn’t due to the controls or game mechanics; the platforming movement was proper smooth, and the attacks were fairly basic. You would either jump on heads, or throw marbles (such a classic Mickey Mouse weapon) at the enemies to hurt them. Mickey’s arsenal is still feared to this day. The difficulty was in the sheer spike in enemy damage and attack frequencies that made it near impossible to navigate through the game smoothly. Not to mention the scarce amount of lives (four hits per death, and three lives per game) that you had to go through the game. And despite the fact that I didn’t own a memory card at this stage of my PS1’s life, Mickey’s game only had save codes that you had to write down and/or memorise; which, for a five-year-old, proved pretty difficult. This lead to me playing the same first three levels over and over again.
Steamboat Willy (Ring One: Limbo)
Now, let’s talk a bit about the games levels.
The first adventure that you go on is actually the first that Mickey has ever been on in animation history: Steamboat Willy. And being the first ring of hell, it’s a moderately easy level in comparison to the rest of the game. You start out in a black-and-white world, where a goat’s musical notes can cause pain to you, and your soul. You jump onto a bottle, cork the goat’s throat, and move off the boat to a shipyard of deadly birds, dangerous boxes, and a really angry Willy (hehe).
A cool thing about this level is that it slowly fills up with “The Wizard of Oz” levels of colour as you progress through it. Eventually, the entire stage is in colour which lets you know that you’re ready to defeat to boss of this stage. Steamboat W…Contraption. Yes, that’s right, not Willy. You stomped on his head two minutes in and now are ready to face…two cranes that drop boxes. Once you destroy the gears, you’re whisked away to blackness and sent on to your next level of hell.
The Mad Doctor (Ring Two: Lust)
Now why is this one called Lust? Well, despite any context given in each of these levels, The Mad Doctor is about (you guessed it!) a Mad Doctor that has stolen your dog, Pluto, to turn him into hybrid of both a chicken and a dog with a mad lust for power! An interesting story to say the least, but the horror is less in what the Mad Doctor is trying to do and more about the adventure that you have to brave to get through this level!
This is definitely where the level of difficulty spikes. You’ve gone through musical notes, boxes, and birds; now it’s time for…wait…let me list this:
- Erratic swooping bats
- Skeletons, which once killed, explode in a grenade shrapnel worth of bones
- Skeleton spiders on swinging ropes over pits of fire
- Molten fire balls erupting out of fireplaces
- Sharp cleavers falling from walls
- Pools of bubbling acid
- Buzz-Saws on sticks descending/ascending from the roof/floor
- An avalanche of boxes
- Floors breaking under the weight of Mickey
This is all in one level! And it’s the second level! And while it’s a pretty great variety, the amount of enemies and projectiles that you have to dodge is way too much for an adult, let alone a kid, to brave through; despite the controls. Believe me, I attempted to replay this game multiple times throughout my life and still have an equal amount of difficulty as I did when I was five. I chewed through lives quicker than lemmings on a mountaintop and was sent right back to the start. When I would finally near the end of the level, I would always get stuck at this section where you’re trapped in an elevator and skeletons are dropping on the top, suiciding themselves into shrapnel, which requires instant reflexes of dodging precision. Only brute force and countless hours would eventually lead me to victory, destroying the mad doctor and saving Pluto…
There is more to this game, a lot more. A ghost house…a giant and his beanstalk…a moose? A medieval castle…but all that is moot to this Retrospect due to the fact that I’ve never made it past the second level with enough lives to brave the third…
As much as I joke about how Mickey’s Wild Adventure is comparative to Dante’s Inferno, with the hardship, the frustration, and the brokenness of the game; it brought wonder, excitement and enjoyment. It brought me a hobby that I still have a passion for to this day, and I’m sure for the rest of my life. Most importantly it gave me adversity and resilience when all the odds are stacked up against me. It taught me that life is hard and, while you may not win the game and see everything that there is to see, you can surely enjoy the small victories and enjoy the experience that you’ve had the ability to get.
I hold this game near and dear to my heart, as it was my first of many, and I thank my parents dearly for giving me the opportunity to experience it.