Years of My Life: 1994

1994

To recap: This is a series of posts that will cover each year of my life since my birth in 1987; mainly the things that interest me that happened/were released or conceived that particular year. This will include happenings in the world of music, video games, literature and television that are of particular importance or nostalgia to me. I’m hoping that this will give my followers a better idea of where my interests and passions in life lie 🙂

Check out the previous post for 1993 here. Also: apologies that this one has taken so long! Had lots going on as of late. Anyway…

On to 1994!

World events:

 

In Music:

OasisDefinitelyMaybealbumcover

Oasis – Definitely Maybe (Released August 29th, 1994)

Continuing with the Britpop theme, as begun with Blur’s second album in the previous entry, we come to the debut album released by the Gallagher brothers. This was an album very much embraced by critics as the time, as the songs saw a very welcome wave of optimism, compared to the pessimistic nature of the ‘grunge’ genre, which was dominant at the time (Nirvana being responsible for its commercial success in particular). This is very much reflected in three of the tracks that were released as singles, which Noel Gallagher cites as being the songs where he ‘pretty much summed up everything [he] wanted to say’ – these being ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’, ‘Live Forever’ and ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’.

‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ is seemingly about escaping the humdrum and pressures of everyday life [‘the day’s moving just too fast for me’) , and the euphoria that taking the stage brings. The video for the song is also interspersed with footage of the lads enjoying a day out at Southend Pier, as well as the nearby amusement park, which I frequently visited myself in my childhood, adding an extra layer of nostalgia to the song for me! ‘Cigarettes and Alcohol’ has a similar theme, but as the title suggests, is more about using these, as well as other drugs, to make life more bearable and make your own mark on it; (‘Is it worth the aggravation’, the song asks, ‘To find yourself a job when there’s nothing worth working for?’ – a question I’ve often found myself asking…) ‘You gotta make it happen’, the track repeatedly asserts, good advice whether you choose to indulge in the titular drugs or not. ‘Live Forever’, meanwhile, is probably the album’s standout track, their first single to enter the top ten in the UK charts. This is the one that seems to be the most direct response to the aforementioned grunge music of the era, with Noel coming right out and saying that, in reference to Nirvana’s frontman Kurt Cobain, he did not feel as if kids should be hearing nonsense about ‘hating yourself and wanting to die’  (and as already mentioned, Cobain had died himself earlier in the year, the cause appearing to be suicide) indeed, the song is a celebration of life rather than a condemnation of it, the lyrics admitting that ‘Maybe I will never be all the things that I want to be’, but still proclaiming that ‘You and I we’re gonna live forever’, passing the message that all the pain and uncertainty is worth riding out until the end. ‘Supersonic’ and ‘Slide Away’ are also fantastic tracks. This is generally just a real feel-good album that has an exhilarating sense of ecstasy to it, and loses none of its impact in repeat listens.

 

Secondcomingroses

The Stone Roses – Second Coming (Released December 5th, 1994)

Coming five years after their original album, there was already a certain pressure on this second offering , in terms of expectation, as well as the fact that much had changed in the UK’s musical environment; Blur and Oasis were at the height of their popularity and the Britpop movement gaining momentum, as mentioned. It still did well despite this, however this ended up being their final studio album, the band breaking up shortly afterwards. This is unfortunate, as this album is an interesting fusion of all sorts of genres – tribal rhythms, some blues and jazz elements, as well as traditional rock – that somehow works as a whole. The opening track, ‘Breaking into Heaven’ establishes the ‘rural’ feel of the album as well (they relocated to Wales to record this one), with its tribal sound and animal noises heard in the background before the song kicks in proper. ‘Ten Storey Love Song’ meanwhile, echoes the optimistic views of Oasis’s debut offering, acknowledging the suffering life can put us through (‘When your heart is black and broken….And the silence is killing you’), but offering reassurance too – ‘I built this thing for you’…’You’re gonna wake up and see the light’; but it does take care to point out that there are ‘no sure-fire set solutions’ and there is ‘no shortcut through the trees’; indeed the path to that contentment is never so simple, as many of us will know. On the other side of the coin, there is the loud, fast-paced, ‘Begging You’ – effectively an apocalyptic song (‘the sky will divide’, it warns), perhaps appropriate considering this was the final single released before their break up. ‘Good Times’ is a bit brighter in comparison, and could almost be mistaken for an Oasis song with its sheer energy and rocking guitars. Finally there is ‘Love Spreads’, a similarly high-velocity rock offering and their most commercially successful track – even if the lyrics arguably make little to no sense…I would have to say I probably prefer their first album, but this one still has its good tracks.

In Television:

bart chalkboard

 

 

 

 

April 28th: The Simpsons airs its 100th episode.

And a jolly good one it was too.(back in the days when milestone episodes weren’t filled with pointless guest stars to hype them up) This is probably one of my favourite moments in the episode.

In Video Games:

son3_00

February – Sonic 3 released for Sega Mega Drive.

October – Sonic & Knuckles released for Sega Mega Drive.

These two are grouped together as, for all intents and purposes, they are in fact the same game. Sonic 3 was originally intended to be a huge, 14-zone epic, far longer than the previous two major games. Time constraints and cartridge costs, however, eventually forced Sega to split the games into two – Sonic & Knuckles essentially acting as the ‘second half’ of the game. However, it would still be possible to play the game as originally intended as ‘Sonic 3 & Knuckles’ – but more on that later.

son3_02

One of my clearest memories of Sonic 3 was just how flippin’ expensive the game was – in most shops the game retailed for up to £60! This may seem quite normal now, but this was a lot to pay for a game at the time. In short, as a seven-year old child, this wasn’t exactly something I could easily afford. I seem to remember renting it from our local Blockbuster video shop a lot. However, it eventually came into my possession after one of my mother’s co-workers sold it to us for a far more reasonable price. And what a blast to play it was. This still remains one of my favourite games of all time (more so when combined with Sonic & Knuckles), and I must have played through it countless times since in the past 22 years. Everything about this third game was bigger, bolder and more ambitious than the previous two games had been. For one, it, of course, introduced the character of Knuckles the Echidna – a new rival and foil to Sonic, who appears intermittently throughout the game, setting traps and generally making life difficult for our blue hero, laughing cheekily before dashing out of sight again. This is by and large how the game told its story – through silent little cutscenes and interactions dotted here and there, and generally a lot more happening within the levels than Sonic 1 or 2. Right from the start, the game just feels like a more story-driven adventure; Knuckles appears out of nowhere and knocks Sonic out of his super form, stealing the Chaos Emeralds before scarpering off again; one of Eggman’s robots then sets an entire jungle ablaze, before one of his airships later appears and rains countless bombs down on you. And that’s just all within the first zone! Each act now transitions seamlessly into the next with no fadeout, as well, making it feel less like you’re ‘advancing through levels’ and far more immersive an experience as a result.

son3_13
The Barrel of Doom!

The level design itself is also something to be commended – the zones feel far bigger and with more to explore than the previous games – even more so when playing as Knuckles when playing S&K or S3&K combined, due to his gliding and climbing abilities to set him apart from Sonic and Tails – and a near-perfect balance of white-knuckle speedy sections and more precise platforming elements. The one stumbling block that I think just about every player encountered, however, was that infamous barrel in Carnival Night Zone Act 2. The solution to which – simply alternating between pressing up and down on the D-pad – is not communicated clearly at all in the game, and not really in-keeping with how Sonic games work in general! This meant it was a very, very long time before I got to progress further than this – as it was apparently for most people I knew who owned the game, given the amount of save files I saw on friends’ consoles that were forever stuck on Carnival Night! This is the only real offender though – on the whole, the game is challenging and engaging without ever being unfair – which cannot necessarily be said of a lot of Sonic games that followed…

s&k_00

A mere eight months later, Sonic and Knuckles was released, giving us the intended second half of the game and also, as the title would suggest, Knuckles as a playable character. Essentially an ‘expansion pack’ of sorts to Sonic 3, but with one very unique feature – the cartridge used what was touted as ‘Lock-On Technology’, basically another cartridge slot within a cartridge, which Sonic 3 could be placed into to create Sonic 3 and Knuckles; in short, Sonic 3 as it was originally intended, with all the levels from both games, with all three characters playable. This is by far the best way to play the game(s), and widely considered among the Sonic fanbase to be one of the best games in the series, or at the very least the best within the classic trilogy. The fun didn’t stop there, either – locking Sonic 2 on would allow Knuckles to be playable in that game, while most other Mega Drive games would grant you a special bonus game based on the main games’ special stages. Unfortunately, this is all that locking onto the original Sonic 1 would give you – the reasons for it not being possible to implement Knuckles in that game were not entirely clear, but thankfully ‘Knuckles in Sonic 1’ became a reality thanks to a fan-created ROM hack, and later in a 2013 remake of the original game.

320px-SonicMania_title

In short, Sonic 3 and Knuckles was just one of those amazing Mega Drive experiences that kept me enthralled as a child, and a fitting swansong to the ‘classic’ series of games. Given the move to 3D Sonic games that came shortly after this, and the continuing fluctuation in quality of these over the years, many fans have clamoured for a return to the classic roots in the form of a sequel or spiritual successor to this game, myself included. An official ‘Sonic 4’ was of course eventually released, but this is widely considered to be a disappointment all round with its blatant rehashing from previous games and far from polished physics. However, it would seem that fans have finally got their wish with the recent reveal of Sonic Mania, a new 2D game that returns to the 16-bit aesthetics and what may finally be a worthy follow-up to the greatness of S3&K. It has only taken 22 years, but watching this trailer made me feel like that seven year old kid again, and I am extremely excited to play it upon its release next year. Be sure to check out the trailer!

Streets_of_rage_3_title

March – Streets of Rage 3 released for Sega Mega Drive.

The SOR series third offering, meanwhile, did not fare quite as well as Sonic’s. Often considered the ‘black sheep’ of the trilogy by fans. It had a lot to live up to after the fantastic second game, after all; compared to the jump between SOR1 and 2, this feels rather middling in comparison. That’s not to say they aren’t a few improvements as far as game mechanics go – it feels faster, every character can now run, there is more enemy variety, the stage obstacles and traps from the first game return, there are multiple endings and even a branching path at one point, where your actions determine which final stage you end up going to. It’s a sound game in that respect – where it seems to falter a little is more in terms of aesthetics and design.

sor3_round1a

One thing that certainly didn’t help was all of the pointless changes/censorships that Sega of America made when localising the game – you can find an exhaustive and detailed list here. (these changes also applied to the European version. Enemy names, difficulty levels, scantily-clad characters covered up, the entire storyline more or less – name something, they probably changed it. The most aggravating one of all is the change of the character’s clothing – supposedly to be more ‘gender-neutral’. Thus, Axel’s outfit is changed from the surely inoffensive white vest with blue jeans to a yellow vest with black jeans – as the screenshot demonstrates, and Blaze’s iconic red outfit into a muted silver one (missing the point of her name, surely?), which is just ridiculous. This isn’t to say these are the only problems the game has, however. The music, while still done by Yuzo Koshiro, was apparently done using an ‘Automatic Composing System’, and is far more experimental and randomised – the results are mixed, to say the least, and none have the charm or catchiness of SOR1 or 2’s iconic tunes. The levels themselves also don’t feel quite as exciting or imaginative as SOR2’s, the construction site and tunnel levels in particular being a bit of a drag to get through. New character Zan is also arguably not a great replacement for Max from the previous game, and being a half-old man, half-cyborg – doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the cast. It’s certainly a passable game – and some of the new features are interesting, but SOR2 easily has the edge over it,  at least in my opinion. Unfortuantely, this is, to date, the last Streets of Rage game, the scrolling beat-em-up genre somewhat dying a death as gaming started to move to 3D during this time. Having said that, it has made a comeback somewhat in recent years, for example in the game based on the Scott Pilgrim movie, so who’s to say the series couldn’t make a resurgence one day? If Sonic Mania is anything to go by, there is certainly an appeal for retro-styled games at the moment. In the meantime, there is the fantastic fan-created Streets of Rage Remake to scratch that scrolling beat-em up itch.

The music tracks that do appeal (at least to me!) include:

The Poets II

Dub Slash

Random Cross

Inga Rasen

And that, ladies and gentlemen, wraps up 1994. See you next time!

Previous entries in ‘Years of My Life’:

  1. 1987
  2. 1988
  3. 1989
  4. 1990
  5. 1991
  6. 1992
  7. 1993

Check out my first poetry collection, ‘The Awakening’, available NOW for download as an eBook on Amazon. Check it out here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B017BZBH6M

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