Photo: Screenshot from The Pink Panther: Passport to Peril
Written By: Katelyn Vause
I’m going to preface this article by saying that I will follow the words of my profile: Nintendo first, PC second. Console games, specifically Nintendo, provided me with some of my earliest gaming experiences, and there are PC games that give me nostalgia to the point where I refuse to sell Elijah a particular disc he covets (video on that soon). The point is, though gaming didn’t come back around as a major hobby for me until recently, my childhood wouldn’t have been the same without these titles.
Let’s start with Nintendo. Honestly, loving Nintendo is in my DNA. When my dad was in college, he bought an SNES, and he still has the working console in our rec room (no, we will not sell it to you). Because of this, Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt are the sources of the earliest gaming memories I have, though Super Mario Bros. has stuck with me more in the long run. I can recall being a little kid watching my dad play, jumping every time Bowser breathed a fire bolt in Mario’s direction, and I still have the music memorized from the hours I spent playing by myself or with my brother.
Super Mario Bros. taught me the unspoken rule that all older siblings must lay claim to the Player One spot and not relinquish it to their younger siblings. It was the source of my first rage quit; though I don’t remember the exact context, I’m pretty sure it involved a Spiny’s egg thrown at me by a Lakitu. It was even the game where I learned about using cheats for speed runs (thanks, Dad). This was the only non-handheld gaming system we had in our house until I was about nine years old, so to say it had an impact on my formative gaming years is an understatement.
To continue on the Nintendo thread, I have to talk about Donkey Kong Country Returns. This came out on the Wii in 2010, so I know I’m skipping a quite a few years and gaming systems, but I have a pathological need to talk about this game. I had played several titles from the series before getting my hands on this game (Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., Donkey Kong Country, and Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3), but it had been a while, so I wasn’t sure what to expect when I put the disc in.
The other important thing to understand is that Donkey Kong Country Returns wasn’t a solo journey for me; I played the entirety of the game with my aforementioned younger brother. And from the first level, we were enthralled. Donkey Kong Country Returns got so many things right; it was colorful, the music was great and it did something games of its kind should rightly do, which is reward you for being curious. Puzzle pieces, whose purpose you figure out later, were hidden in clever and reasonably challenging places. If you were playing co-op, as I was, then you could use tactics such as the pair of you shaking your controllers at the same time to roll DK and Diddy through a line of enemies. This was the game that showed me just how much of a completionist I was (my brother and I went back and got every KONG and puzzle piece to unlock bonuses), and it was the game that reminded me just how enjoyable co-op could be. At the heart of this game is fun, and as someone who loves platformers, this game renewed that love.
Okay, okay, I will finally get to PC games. Two, to be specific: Let’s Ride! Champions Collection and The Pink Panther: Passport to Peril. Let’s Ride! is a horseback riding game, and as a kid, I loved horses. The game involves picking a famous horseback rider and going through the standard series of competitions one would encounter: dressage, show jumping and cross country. My favorite was Lucinda Green of England, and there was a lovely dapple-gray horse that came with her character who I chose because of its stats. No, I’m not joking. Even though I wasn’t in to games where things like gear super mattered at the time, I understood that my horse needed to be well-rounded in order for me to succeed. Looking back, it was a kind of evolution in my understanding of games. I’ve never done competitive gaming, but if there had been a competitive scene for Let’s Ride! when I was like nine, I could have been out there competing. It’s a funny image, at least. Let’s Ride! won’t be going in the hall of fame for PC games anytime soon, but it allowed me to blend my love of computer games and horseback riding, so it’s at the top of my list.
Last but not least is The Pink Panther: Passport to Peril. I’m not even sure where to start with this game. And I’d say go play it yourself, but unless you have a machine around that runs DOS games, you’re out of luck. I don’t remember exactly when I got the game, but I’m guessing it was somewhere around age eight. I do remember the feeling of watching the title screen appear and knowing that the game was about to be good. In Passport to Peril, you play as the Pink Panther, who is sent on a mission to Camp Chiliwawa, a summer camp for promising and important children. While things look okay at first, the children begin to go missing, and Pink has to set out on a worldwide journey in order to find clues to the children’s whereabouts. For someone who grew up in a small town, this was amazing. I got to learn about countries that, in some cases, I hadn’t even heard of before, such as Bhutan. And the game had a neat feature where you could actually open a little module on each country that would teach you about its culture and history; you’d also learn through gameplay and songs that were woven in with interactions with characters.
My fascination with this and the fact that I read them thoroughly was the first hint of the travel bug I would develop when I was older. The puzzles you had to solve for each section of the game were fun and involved social components; even the Pink Panther has to schmooze occasionally to get something he needs. I played through this thing so much I basically had the whole story memorized. In retrospect, some of the aspects of the game were problematic, such as the funk song describing the caste system in India and the game’s failure to really make a statement on it. I get that it was a kid’s game from the 90’s, but still. Passport to Peril continues to hold a special place in my heart for its whimsical yet grounded story elements, and for it giving a girl who’d only seen a very small corner of the world a glimpse of what was out there.
And there you have it, the games that defined my childhood. Of course, there are many, many other games that almost made the cut, and I look forward to talking about those later. What games defined your childhood? Feel free to comment with the title and reason below. Have fun hopping on the nostalgia train!