Zillion (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a little too dark, a little intimidating, and full of some of the greatest memories of my life. Trips to Game Over Videogames in Austin are always a treat.

There’s no way to relive the best moments of your life, those times where nothing mattered except the fun you were having, but sometimes a photo, a smell, a song can bring on that surreal rush of memory and suddenly, you’re not just recalling, you’re reliving. I feel it in my stomach mostly if I smell her old perfume or hear the song that was on repeat at that party on December 31, 1999. When I set foot into that store, I’m not looking for something new; I’m hoping to reclaim something long gone.

See, I grew up Sega so I immediately flip through the bulky boxes of the Master system. I find a slew of games I’ve never played but I pay them no mind as I search specifically for Zillion, a game I played for hours upon hours before it was lost. I pick up the case and hold it in both hands as I study the horribly dated box art with a childlike sense of wonder.

Troy was his name. He lived one block over and rode to my house on a peculiar red bike that actually had shocks and springs like a car. He was never quite as good at the games we played as I was but he was no slouch either. His determination to beat Zillion was unmatched.

It was a typical Houston summer, hot and wet. It was my last before I started high school. On bikes we explored every inch of the corner of town where we grew up but that was best left for morning or evening temperatures. The middle of the day forced most kids inside and that’s when we picked up that rectangular controller and vowed to beat this game we both loved so much.

If you grew up Nintendo, you may not have heard of Zillion but it was Sega’s answer to Metroid and a spectacular game it its own right. We drew detailed maps on graph paper, marking locations of weapon upgrades and health. There were teammates to rescue and a final boss to beat and if you died, that was it. No saves, no continues, no mercy. Start again at the beginning and learn from your mistakes.

As I stand in that store, holding that box, I remember how it felt the day we finally beat that game after weeks of trying. I remember the two of us running into the other room to tell my dad that we’d finally done it. I remember the joy. That ephemeral joy of beating a game for the first time is, by definition, irreproducible, but with this box in hand, I get access to a precious fraction of it.

Maybe playing games begins as just a distraction, a time-killing device for the hottest hours of a Texan summer, but somehow they become a part of us. They unite us. They strengthen our bonds and they anchor our memories. I hold that case in my hand as I walk out, now the proud owner, and I remember a game that defined a summer and a friend who defined a childhood.

Tonight, Zillion and I reunite.

Zillion was found at Game Over Videogames in Austin, Texas.  They offer free shipping for orders over $50.  My order is definitely going to be over $50.  Brett Haile is a writer and graphic designer living in Austin, Texas, who is probably not going to get anything productive done for the rest of the evening.  I was at that party in 1999.  There were no fatalities, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.  Good times…