I'm going to change the formula a bit for Co-Op Classics today. Typically, the focus is on the game itself. But as with all things classic, nostalgia and memory play an important part. Legendary Wings for the NES is a bizarre game, and would have been notable for it's sheer weirdness, but when I consider the circumstances of my first experience with it, the game transcends the merely weird and becomes truly legendary. Read on to find out what I could possibly mean.
It was the summer of 1988. I was 14 years old, and a burgeoning gamer. My parents had disappointed me with a replacement Atari 2600 (though admittedly the cooler version ) for Christmas the previous year, though I'd been wanting an NES. Luckily for me, I was going to spend the day with my older cousin, who was 17, could drive and had a Nintendo. As soon as I arrived at his house, he decided we'd go rent a game.
State of the art game box, circa 1988.
Memory is odd, and certain things are crystal clear though they happened more than 20 years ago. My cousin's truck was being worked on, so we took his sister's car. It was a Chevy Beretta, silver, with maroon interior. Extremely cool, for the time. We headed to the video store, and among the new releases we saw an odd game. Called Legendary Wings, the box art featured a winged man that reminded me of the Flash Gordon movie. (AHAAAAH -- HE'LL SAVE EVERY ONE OF US!) We paid for it and took off.
As a special treat, we headed for McDonald's. It was at this point that my cousin introduced me to a tape of the psychedelic guitar playing of Jimi Hendrix. Specifically, his version of the Star Spangled Banner. My poor young mind, used to Duran Duran and Madonna, was blown. We ordered fries and he flirted with the checkout girl, who he went to school with. Seeing his ease at talking to an actual girl, well, this too shook me to the very foundations of my nerdiness. But the best was yet to come.
That's not his guitar, it's my brain... on FIRE!
Fifteen minutes after I swallowed my last french fry, I was behind the wheel of the Beretta, getting my first driving lesson. The details are hazy, but for some reason my cousin felt compelled to show me the ropes. He pulled into a deserted school parking lot, and we swapped places. I drove straight, then turned, way too quickly. Scared, I slammed on the brakes. He told me I did pretty good for my first time, but if we'd been in his truck, we'd have flipped. My heart thumping, we headed back to his house.
Picture this, but silver. And in acid washed jeans.
Now, consider the events so far. I was with my cool older cousin. We'd rented a brand spanking new NES game. I had seen the smooth operation of his interaction with Miss McDonald's. My musical horizons had expanded with the wail of Jimi's guitar, and not only did I get to ride around in a hot new car, I actually got to DRIVE IT. I was giddy, almost euphoric. It was a day of epic proportions, a real roller coaster of experiences. And now, on top of everything else, we began to play Legendary Wings.
What exactly are those things?
It was as if the game designers had taken the shocking, bizarre, hyper-accelerated music of Hendrix and converted it into 8-bit form. Twin angels with laser weapons flew over desolate cliffs. Statues of forgotten ancients were strewn everywhere, often tossing their heads at you. The enemies were almost hallucinatory: weird lip-shaped things, flying trilobites, and even stranger creatures appeared, and were paired with copious amounts of your standard mechanical turrets. In the midst of it all, you were taken to side scrolling levels where Egyptian hieroglyphs covered the walls. If you managed to upgrade your weapons, you became a flaming phoenix, raining destruction everywhere. The sub boss at the end of the top down levels was a brightly colored dragon. To my poor fourteen year old mind, it was all quite trippy.
Why not throw in King Tut's tomb while we're at it.
But if the standard enemies were odd, the boss... well, it was as if it had flowed out of a nightmare shared by William Gibson and H.P. Lovecraft. It was oddly reminiscent of the torture droid from Star Wars, but Godzilla sized. Needles and disturbing nozzles adorned the front end, and in the middle was a column of pink, brain-like tissue. Occasionally, an eye would open, staring into your very soul. The main weapon? The middle column opened and the creature literally tossed its brains out at you. I had seen Metroid's Mother Brain and the organ levels in Contra, but this boss took strange to a new level; I had never seen anything so "out there" in a game before.
Austin Powers would love this boss fight.
I never played Legendary Wings again. I see my cousin only rarely now, and I am sure he's forgotten that day. It's one I'll never forget, though. You know how sometimes, memories come on you when you hear a certain song, or smell something familiar? I watched a Youtube video of Legendary Wings just before writing, and all the details of that day just came rolling over me. Reading back over this article, I hadn't intended to ramble so long about the personal, planning to concentrate more on the game. Somehow, though, it just feels right like it is: off beat and a bit wacky. It's a testament to the power of the medium that a video game could have such a profound effect on me, forever engraving the details of that day into the walls of my mind. I'm sure Mr. Hendrix would approve as I ask: has a video game given you such an experience?