Confession: My First Video Game Crush

Who was your first video-game crush? It’s okay to admit that you had one. The self-loathing nerd mindset, popular online some fifteen years back, will make you pretend that you are above such things and, indeed, were above such things even when you were a hormonal adolescent or an innocently enamored child.

Well, that’s no longer a problem. Today’s Internet is stocked with adults openly confessing and exploring their current crushes on fictional characters, and most of them seem all the healthier for it. So don’t be afraid.

In fact, my first crush on a video game character is embarrassing only because it’s obscure. A lot of young geeks found their first infatuation with popular characters like Samus Aran, Chun Li, Ryu and/or Ken, Lara Croft, and Terry Bogard. Mine was well off that radar.

It was the spring of 1991, and I was at a neighbor kid’s birthday party. Said kid was the lucky sort whose parents liked video games a lot and bought a new one every week, so plenty of other children showed up. Several new games appeared at the party, and one of them was Super Spike V’Ball. We started a match, and the referee appeared in a little portrait.


“Oh,” said one of the other kids present. “She’s the ref…”

 “She’s BEAUTIFUL,” I’m afraid I blurted out.

A brief and humiliating silence followed. The other kid had just been uncertain about the referee’s role in this, which made my response all the stranger. Fortunately, everyone was either confused or polite enough to ignore what I’d just said, and we went back to figuring out Super Spike V’Ball’s serving mechanics.


 

What was it that drew me to the referee? Her smart ‘80s hairstyle? Her fashionable purple bikini? Her sensible sunvisor? The way she lays down her rulings with a cheerful but firmly professional manner, whether she’s judging the world championships or a friendly beach exhibition? Did her commanding yet youthful presence appeal to my drifting adolescent psyche, one that trusted neither my peers nor my elders? Or was it the fact that the pixels around her mouth sorta make her look like a vampire?


I think it was the surprise more than anything. I’d read about Super Spike V’Ball in Nintendo Power, but the magazine had never mentioned the referee. I simply wasn’t expecting her in a game that showed only grimacing male players in its cover art.

It didn’t matter to me that the referee is such an incidental character that she doesn’t even have a name. Well, not unless it appears only in the Japanese manual, as with the heroine from The Guardian Legend

Perhaps this is a case where fans have to fill the void and name a character. She looks kinda like a Julie or a Stephanie, though I favor a terrible pun like Courtney Sands or Sandra Court. Or perhaps Princess Servina Spikellore of Volleydia. There we go.


I tried out Super Spike V’Ball just enough to see all of the referee’s animations, and I came to like the gameplay a good deal. Like River City Ransom, it crafts an intuitive control system with just two action buttons, and the game keeps up an intense flow. Nintendo even thought enough of it to make it a pack-in (along with Nintendo World Cup) for their four-player NES system bundle, crafted in a desperate attempt to detract from rival Sega’s extensive sports lineup.

This was a brief crush for me. I moved on to other games, and I didn’t get around to buying Super Spike V’Ball until years later. By that point, I didn’t even care enough to play through the game to see if the referee appears in the ending. For the record, she doesn’t.

Yet I never forgot entirely about Super Spike V’Ball and my awkward reaction to the referee. It was enough to cement the game as one of the few sports title I remembered, and when I discovered MAME I had to try out the arcade original, U.S Championship V’ball, just to see how it compared.


U.S. Championship V’Ball has a few things the NES version abandoned, including an actual narrative in which the heroes go shopping in between matches. Yet Super Spike V’Ball wins out with tighter gameplay and the option to select your team. I also note that referee has a little more personality on the NES; Super Spike gives Sandra Court of Volleydia a portrait, but she’s just another piece of the background in the arcade game.


At least the game doesn’t put her in an American flag bikini for the grim-faced approval of the male players, which U.S. Championship V’Ball’s flyer shows. I expect some were disappointed that it prominently features a woman when the game offers only male players, ranging from Schwarzenegger clones to Billy and Jimmy from Double Dragon.

There’s more to that story, though. Super Spike V’Ball actually hides four unused teams of female players. Their sprites aren’t entirely finished, but they’re fully controllable once you enter a Game Genie code. You’re free to speculate as to which of them are Double Dragon characters, though the punk-haired players resemble Linda and either of the blonde teams could be Marian.


I still enjoy Super Spike V’Ball, and I still recommend it as one of the best NES games you can get dirt cheap. I could say that the rapid, accessible gameplay is my only reason for that, but I don’t think I would remember Super Spike V’Ball so frequently if I hadn’t made an idiot of myself over the referee all those years ago. And I’m glad that my idiot-making lodged a good game in my memory. I could have fallen for the heroine of Sword of Sodan instead

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