When I was a kid, the vast majority of video games in my library were presents that were given to me by my parents or grandparents for Christmas, Easter or my birthday. Most of them cost over $40 each, so it wasn't the impulse buy that the $1 to $2 Atari 2600 cartridges were a few years earlier, so if I got a game, it was usually because I specifically asked for that particular game.
There weren't as many ways to learn about a new video game back in the 80's. I can't speak for my entire generation, but my exposure to new games was limited to the following:
- Played it at the arcade (usually Aladdin's Castle or Wildwood).
- Played it at a friend's house.
- Read about it in Nintendo Power.
- Saw it in a store or in the Sears Wish Book.
- Saw a few seconds of the game on a tv commercial.
I have no idea how I first learned about the NES port of Athena, which turns 20 this month. I don't remember playing it at a friend's house or seeing it in a magazine. There wasn't a commercial for it on American television, and I've never come across the arcade cabinet to this day. Nevertheless, I had this game in my collection when I was a kid, and I can't explain why. Maybe it was the cool box art which includes pyramids, mermaids, centaurs and Medusa. Maybe it was the starburst which advertised it as "Japan's top arcade hit." It might have even been the fact that the package name checks Ikari Warriors, which I had definitely played at the arcade. Something must have inspired me to ask for it, because I'm positive that no one in my family would have picked it up randomly.
Even though I don't know why I had it, I'm glad that I did. The mechanics take a little getting used to, but it's a fun game with a lot of different weapons, armor and other secrets hidden throughout. It is also a deceptively hard game. When you first turn it on and see the Athena character happily winking, you might get the impression that you're about to play an easy or childish game. However, despite the cute and colorful graphics, Athena is tough as nails. In fact, I don't think I ever made it past the second level (World of Cavern) and I'm pretty sure I needed a few Game Genie codes to get even that far. If you haven't played it before, give it a shot. Just be prepared to be frustrated while you get the hang of it.