Growing up in the 90s we didn’t always have a PC at home. I think it might have been around 1997’ish or so when we finally got one. I remember my dad building the computer desk unit thingy for it. The furniture piece was large and bulky, like lots of furniture was back then. It also happened to be placed in my bedroom! Not because it was mine; the PC was for the entire family. Logistically in our home, I think it made sense for the computer to be there, unless we’d have a huge hulking thing taking up our living room or dining area.
Once the computer was up and running, I blazed through a few of the onboard games it included (shout out to all those folks that talk about 3D Pinball on Windows and how awesome it was… it kinda was, if I’m being honest). With those first few PC games down, the entire world of PC gaming was not at my fingertips. That meant all those absurdly thick PC game boxes at local toy store, video game stores, and even grocery stores were now accessible to play. I’m not sure how we came into possession of it, but one of the earlier PC games I remember playing was the original Gex.
A 2D action platformer, Gex was originally released on the 3DO console of all places. Seeing as that console’s time didn’t go too well, Gex was eventually ported to other more successful consoles such as the Sony Playstation and the Sega Saturn, with a final port coming to Windows PCs in 1996 (so yeah, had to be 1997 we got that computer). The game would go on to sell well across all its released versions, and would see a trilogy of games released before the series would fade into obscurity.
For me though, Gex was something entirely different! It felt like a Mario game but it was definitely NOT a Mario game. For starters, the titular character Gex is a rude, snarky gecko that could walk along walls and use his tongue to eat power-up granting bugs. The wise-cracking lizard also had a penchant for pop culture references, often spouting them in fully voiced quips as you played the game. I think this game might be the sole reason I know the song “Jungle Boogie” so well. Though dated, the references were funny at the time. It was really voice acting in general that had me intrigued though: I don’t know of another game I had played before that featured it so crisp. I primarily only played Super Nintendo and Game Boy games at the time, and if they had any notion of voices they were not CD quality, that’s for sure.
Gex on the PC was also the game that taught me playing video games with WASD control schemes when that very obviously isn’t the intention really sucks. At least with a platformer you don’t frequently need to do crazy controller manipulation to get stuff done, but it’s so much easier on a pad than a keyboard. Thankfully replaying the game for a bit a few months back on Playstation alleviated that feeling; controlling Gex with a Dpad is much simpler.
Let’s actually talk about the Playstation version of Gex for a minute. The first thing I noticed playing Sony’s version was a less polished visual style. Things looked a bit more blocky and not as smooth as the PC version. This was most notable in the game’s cut scenes, which had that distinctive PS1 grainy look you might be familiar with. Still good overall, but maybe not as nice as other versions? Looking at reviews on Wikipedia, it seems the PS version is the lowest aggregate reviewed version, but that might come from the game also releasing months after initial release, so it was already kind of dated.
Gex is a memorable game for me, and I would assume many other gamers. It’s not an exact Mario clone, but the elements it does borrow combine well with the uniqueness of Gex’s abilities and style to make the game stand out as something special. Nowadays the game is rough around the edges (we didn’t even talk about the awkward camera at times, or the pixilated nightmares that are some stage backgrounds), but might still be worth a look if you’ve yet to play. Just remember it’s a game of its time. So when you hear that reference to Chinatown for the 10th time, keep in mind it was just as annoying then as it is now.