When the Shenmue HD Remasters were announced around 50 years ago, I remember doing a lot of dancing and reminiscing about the glory days of the Dreamcast, VMU and forklift trucks. I may have even thought the phrase ‘games were better back in my day’. With no solid release date, I fired up Shenmue 2 on my 1999 original Sega Dreamcast and began a long trip down memory lane.
It would have been long if my attention span wasn’t so short, and the next big thing was announced and I moved onto that. The thought was there though and I was still hyperventilating over the prospect of reliving my childhood in HD, on a 50″ screen. Time went by, a pre-order made and finally I got the email from base.com that it had been dispatched. My one social evening of the week (Monday) came and went so I couldn’t play, Tuesday rolled around and fatherhood got in the way (damn you Ewan Throup), but finally a clear hour on Wednesday meant I could settle in for some low res, polygonal memories.
As it turns out, I don’t remember a damn thing about Shenmue 1. I have it for the Dreamcast, I have ridiculously fond memories of capsule toys, arcades and pachinko, yet I do not recall a single story beat of the first game. I am around 45 minutes in and I am yet to catch up to a single moment that I remember playing. The basics are there (brown leather jacket, Sonic inspired black hair) but no characters, plot threads or even areas of the game are ringing any bells. So the question I have to ask myself is – what the hell am I remembering? I do know that I played far more of Shenmue 2 than I did of the original, but surely 19 years have not been long enough to erase actually memories that I am certain exist in my brain somewhere.
Fortunately, the game still plays like it did on the Dreamcast. Tank controls, awkward trigger holds to investigate anything and the most inane collecting mechanic that has ever existed. Events that will only happen at a certain time during the day, a menagerie of Japanese NPCs that will not answer the door and a fighting mechanic that plays very much like Virtua Fighter make me wish that Sega would put out a wireless version of the Dreamcast controller just to put the icing on the 90’s cake for me.
Shenmue holds up far better than anything else from that era. I do occasionally dip back into my favourite consoles’ catalogue and play Powerstone, Sonic Adventure and others – all of which play like the timeless classics that they are. If I were to plug in an N64 and fire up Goldeneye, I don’t know that I could look my Switch in the eye any more through sheer disappointment. It still plays in 4:3, it still has early 2000’s textures with the bare minimum done to upres them and it sounds like it was recorded in a well tiled bathroom but it is still the series I would point to if anyone ever asked “What’s your favourite gaming memory?” That is, despite not recalling a single thing about it.