It all started with a Game Boy Color and a copy of Pokémon Silver.
I got the Game Boy for my fifth birthday, and bought Pokémon shortly afterward. From then on, I was hooked. I was the kid who would spend hours in a game store, looking at the games I wanted and greedily eyeing the newest consoles. I played the games you might expect a child living in the early 2000s to play: Pokémon, Super Smash Brothers, Kingdom Hearts, and the Legend of Zelda. But there are a few lesser-known games that I played just as much as those, if not more.
When I first got a GameCube, it was for Christmas, and I also got a game with it: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. It doesn’t sound like much, since video game movie tie-ins mostly range from awful to mediocre, but I must have played through that game at least ten times over the course of several years. As someone who was obsessed with the Harry Potter franchise at the time (and still is,) it was practically a dream come true to play the game.
Perhaps the biggest draw of the game was the fact that you could explore a large part of the Hogwarts grounds on your broomstick. The rest of the game was comparable to the Zelda series: players collected Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans instead of Rupees, fought and puzzled your way through a few dungeons where got new spells, and fought various bosses. Also included in the game were scenes from the book that were not included in the movie, such as the Malfoys’ conversation in Borgin and Burke’s. I distinctly remember spending hours aimlessly flying around Hogwarts on a Nimbus 2000. This game only furthered my obsession with Harry Potter and made me long to go to Hogwarts even more .
Another unlikely game to worm its way into my nostalgia was Spongebob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom. By all logic, a Spongebob game should be insufferable – he’s only funny for about the length of a TV show. Somehow, it wasn’t. Maybe it was the fact that you could switch between multiple characters including Patrick and Sandy, or maybe it was the Mario 64-inspired gameplay. If you were to play it today without the nostalgia, I doubt it would be anything special, but to my impressionable young mind, it was one of the best games I’d ever played.
Battle for Bikini Bottom is one of those games I really can’t figure out why I liked so much. I was a fan of the show, and I guess the game really just massaged that part of me. There were lots of references to episodes, and a ton of side-characters got cameos. All their personalities were present as well, and very true to the show. If anything, it injected the platforming genre with something it desperately needed at the time: a more playful tone. Not that platformers were overly serious, it was just nice to have a game that could both make fun of itself and remain true to its source material.
This next game is a game that has certainly been talked about before, and I’m far from the first person to declare their love for this game. Spider-Man 2, based on the movie of the same name. Another movie tie-in. What made this game special? You played as Spidey himself, stopping crimes and saving random citizens, and playing through the plot of Spider-Man 2 (plus a few extra villains from the comics). What really made people fall in love with this game, though, was being able to web-swing through the entirety of Manhattan.
It was undoubtedly the most fully realized version of New York seen in a video game to date. Not only that, but swinging around and jumping on buildings was incredibly satisfying. There was a fantastic sense of speed, plus the occasional witty comment from Peter Parker himself. Spidey being my favorite superhero also helped the game embed itself into my memory. I will always remember freefalling off the Empire State Building only to shoot a web to save myself at the very last second. Spider-Man 2 gave me a rush that no game has been able to recreate.
We don’t choose what we feel nostalgia for. It just happens. There are hundreds of movies, games, and books that may not have gotten the best professional reviews, but still made us obsess over them as children. Sometimes it feels like nothing will be as good as what we had as kids, and that’s probably true. Adult life really does suck the fun out of just about everything. The stuff we had as kids wasn’t necessarily better, but it did make us feel better than anything can now.
Joel Wallick is currently pursuing a degree in film studies at Bowling Green State University with an undecided minor. He has been gaming since early childhood, beginning with Pokemon Silver.