Each of my first three video game consoles had a definitive origin story. My uncle gave me my Sears Tele-Games (Atari) 2600 after it was mistakenly delivered to his PO Box. My dad brought home an Atari 7800 for me and my brother as a surprise one day after work. Our Nintendo Entertainment System was the result of a long, protracted cold war with our parents who couldn’t understand why we possibly needed another video game console. But our fourth system, the Sega Genesis, just sort of happened. I don’t remember where it came from.
The Genesis entered our lives when I was in high school, and much like the system itself, games trickled in without a lot of fanfare. Most of them came as loans or were given to us outright by friends who were done playing them.
Among these games was Sega’s “The Revenge of Shinobi.” “The Revenge of Shinobi” was a side-scrolling, ninja-themed platformer, and though it didn’t have the same character and depth as games from the similar “Ninja Gaiden” franchise, Shinobi was an overall slicker and less quirky affair. It also boasted a funky fresh, era-appropriate soundtrack and the non-sequitur inclusion of Spiderman as a boss on one of the levels (an inclusion that varies depending on the release version of the game).
I spent an average amount of time playing “The Revenge of Shinobi” and got through most of the stages, but I don’t think I ever finished it. My friend Mori however was a whiz at the game and known for his ability to clear the whole thing.
I remember my senior year in high school (‘93-’94), my parents and my brother went out of state to visit family friends. It was the first and only time I was left with the house to myself. The day my parents and my brother left, my band played a show at a local performing arts center. As soon as we finished playing I announced there was going to be a party at my house. That was the beginning of a week-long “Risky Business” meets ”Weird Science” montage, but it’s a montage that wouldn’t have been possible without Mori and “The Revenge of Shinobi.”
After our band’s show was over, I went back to my parents’ house and greeted the first wave of partiers. There were about ten of us to start, hanging out in my parents’ small living room, wondering how, all being under 21, we were going to secure alcohol. Once it occurred to us there was no plan for this essential part of the festivities, people got restless. I was afraid everyone was going to bolt, and that an important part of my teenage rite of passage (the week-long party while one’s parents are gone) wouldn’t come to fruition. Then someone noticed the Genesis and mentioned “The Revenge of Shinobi,” to which Mori told us all to sit back and watch him beat the game.
Mori sat down in front of my parents’ television and started playing, and a couple of people sat beside him. By the time he beat the first stage, a few more people sat down to watch. Then he beat another stage, and another, and another, and by then we were all sitting cross-legged on my parents’ carpet, cheering Mori on.
Eventually a 21-year-old acquaintance of ours showed up at the door with several cases of Henry Weinhard’s beer, but everyone was so wrapped up in Mori’s gameplay that this arrival went barely noticed. I got up and led the 21-year-old through the kitchen and towards the garage where we’d decided to stash the beer, when there was another knock at the door. I assumed it was the next wave of partiers, and so, buoyed by the appearance of alcohol, I answered the door with a gleeful, “What’s up dudes? Welcome to the par…oh..hello.”
Turns out, it wasn’t partiers at the door. In fact it was the exact opposite. It was the mother of one of our friends, a friend who was sitting on the carpet watching Mori play Shinobi. This mother had historically viewed our group of friends as a bad and corrupting influence on her son, and since she’d heard my parents were going to be out of town, she’d taken it upon herself to stop by and see what I was up to.
Peering into the room with angry eyes, she sneered and said, “Gino, you know you’re not supposed to be having a party here.”
Fortunately the timing was such that the 21-year-old and the beer were already in the garage and out of sight when I opened the door.
“Um, yeah,” I replied, “but my mom did say I could have some friends over.”
“You and I both know this isn’t a couple of friends. This is a party.” She insisted.
“Party?” I answered, snottily. “I don’t see a party here. You know what I see? I see a couple of friends sitting around watching Mori play “The Revenge of Shinobi.”
Our friend’s mother peered further into my parents’ living room, and sure enough, looking like a class of wholesome schoolchildren, the entire group of soon-to-be-revelers were sitting innocently, watching as Mori kneeled in front of the TV, his thumbs flashing across the Genesis controller as “The Revenge of Shinobi’s” Chinatown stage reflected in his eyes.
And somehow she bought it! I mean, I doubt she really bought it, but since she hadn’t caught us red-handed enough to push the issue, she took her own son and left. We waited about five minutes to be sure she was gone, then busted out the Weinhard’s, enjoying our first round as Mori used his sure thumbs to inch Joe Musashi closer and closer to victory.
After a while there was another knock at the door, and everyone froze as I answered it. The room erupted in cheers when it ended up being the son whose mom had taken him away. Apparently he’d talked his mom into letting him out of the car once they were a few blocks from the house. Not long after that, a second wave of partiers appeared. And then a third. And by then my parent’s living room was packed with Weinhard’s-wielding teenagers, all howling and clapping as Mori defeated the final, kabuki-looking boss to clear the Neo Zeed Marine Stronghold and beat the game! And of course, as a bonus, he’d done so in enough time to successfully save Naoko, allowing her and Joe Musashi to close the whole thing out by gazing at a sprite-based sunset, as my week-long party began in earnest.
In the end, I got in huge trouble for that week of partying. Apparently, if you have a week-long rager at your parents’ house, you should consider disposing of cigarette butts off-site, because my mom noticed them in our trash can, and that began a downward spiral toward discoveries of more and unmentionable nefarious activities around the house.
Still, I can credit Mori and “The Revenge of Shinobi” for making the week possible, and for kicking it off in the best, most appropriate way. Thanks, Mori. Thanks, Sega. Thanks, Shinobi. Thanks for the memories.