A lot of my best gaming memories are associated with events that happened to me as a young child, growing up in the early 1990s. When I was about six years old, I went to my first sleepover birthday party for my then best friend. The fact that this happened nearly 20 years ago is staggering to me and for the first time I see how quickly time passes. I’ll be 26 in less than a month now. I don’t want to mourn over my lost adolescence right now, as I’ll save that for another day.
The point I’m trying to make is that when you’re six years old, everything is a wonderful, new experience. My living arrangement was finally starting to level out and in first grade, I was friends with everyone. My then best friend was having his birthday party, and I was invited. How could I say no? It would be a night full of pizza, video games, and all of the chicanery that comes with a group of caffeinated first graders. I showed up, ready for my first real sleepover with friends, and things went the way they should. We all ate our weight in Pizza Hut pizza and settled in to play some video games. We spent a lot of the night playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. I don’t really remember a lot of that in particular, but I remember us getting stuck.
In all actuality, I’m not sure if we ever actually made it beyond the second level. I know I wasn’t very good at video games back then, and my friends weren’t much better. It’s likely that we got stuck trying to defuse the bombs in the Hudson River. I still can’t make it past that level, even to this day. I’ve never been very good at that game and I doubt I ever will be. Eventually, we ran out of energy and went to bed, exhausted from running around the house and suffering from our sugar crash.
The next morning came, and Faron’s mom made us breakfast. It was still fairly early, and we started trying to play Zelda II: The Adventure of Link. This was my first experience with this game, and it blew my mind to see Link running around from left to right like it was a Mario game. My only real experience with The Legend of Zelda at this point was the time I spent with my dad playing through it. To me, Zelda was a top-down adventure game. Zelda II introduced me to all of these bizarre role playing game elements that I wouldn’t really recognize for a few more years.
More than anything, Zelda II confused me. I don’t remember there being towns in Hyrule! What happened to Zelda? Who is Error and what is he really trying to tell me? The side scrolling element of the game was just icing on the cake. My friends and I all had problems understanding the idea that the villagers had things to say. I didn’t understand why there was an overworld map, or why the perspective switched to side scrolling whenever something attacked me. The whole game was this mess of questions and confusion. We spent the morning stumbling around this odd, mostly unrecognizable version of Hyrule, and if I knew the horrors that existed in the latter chunk of the game, I would have given up immediately. To me, Zelda II was this odd new creature that none of us understood. Considering the history that game has, we weren’t the only ones that felt that way.
As I remember, we didn’t get very far, and I know that I didn’t play the game again for another decade at least, but that memory sticks inside of my brain. After enough frustration, we finally gave up and decide to spend the remainder of our party time together riding bikes around the neighborhood. I eventually went home and went back to my normal life, satisfied with my first sleepover experience.
In retrospect, there are moments from that night that I recall now that I never noticed the first time around. Faron’s parents had been fighting a lot, and they actually got divorced soon after. Despite this, they managed to try and put it all aside give their oldest son a fun birthday party. It’s kind of worrisome that that event is what I associate with Zelda II, but it was one of the happier early memories that I still have to this day.