For as much as I spoke of DuckTales being the sort of flagship game of this little endeavor through the year's shortest month, in truth there was another title that was the real driving force behind the journey into my unfinished digital affairs. But this wasn't some fond childhood memory, not something placed on high out of some, perhaps, misguided sense of reverence... no, this particular game inspired a fear and respect so profound as to transcend to an almost primal level, its mere mention enough to chill the spine and stab at the brain for decades to come, any passing reference therein a ballistic missile directly to my ego.
This game is Xevious. This game is my white whale.
Many is the time I've forced my eyes open into its maw, studying with grim fascination what it is about this seemingly simple - some might say pedestrian - collection of coding wrapped up in eight bits that vexes me so. Games of the era were known if not reknowned for their difficulty, and as a direct descendent of an arcade title Xevious retains the quarter-eating, punishing challenge of its parentage. I've faced games infamous for their challenge with greater success than any I've found at the hands of this monster, though, even if its brazen refusal to mark where one stage ends and the next begins only serves to wear at one's resolve even further with the illusion of eternity without progress. This alone was not it.
Maybe it has something to do with the unexpectedly byzantine plot behind the game. One wouldn't guess it at a glance - especially since the game itself makes absolutely no mention of it - but just beyond the veil of vertical-scrolling, shooting, and bombing lies a convoluted tale of clones, ice ages, and Orwellian overtones that the author of the franchise's Wikipedia entry seems to have sacrificed sanity and grammar themselves for comprehension of. Bizarre and fantastical scripts simultaneously divorced from and struggling to lend context to the ultimately simple action on the screen is fairly commonplace for this era as well, though. This alone was not it.
Perhaps, instead, this had something to do with the game's particular genre? I'll admit that shooters have never been my strong suit, and even when limiting things to the NES there are several examples of which I find myself unable to put a significant dent in. What is it about this one that makes it special, then? Could it have something to do with it being one of the first games I'd played of the genre? Did my lack of any real success with it in my innocent years sour me to an entire category of games, placing an indelible psychological mark on me? No, in other cases I could easily identify the fault as my own. This alone was not it.
The only real conclusion I can come to is that it's some magical, horrible combination of these and what I'm sure are myriad other qualities that made Xevious the insurmountable horror it became to me, the one it remains to this day. Strangely enough, it could just as well be that mystery itself that gives it the mystical, alien quality I seek to define. In any event, optimistic as I was that age had sufficiently bridged the skill gap in my first of what had to be a few dozen interspersed sessions, little had changed. I can say that this month has seen my greatest success with the game, but when that success consists of completion of the first stage and little else it hardly registers as anything but the smallest of token victories.
You win, Xevious. Again.
CHALLENGE: failed (Stage 2... I think?)