Monday, April 12, 2010

Why I Love Kraid's Lair

There is a thread over at Talking Time in which members of the forum nominate some of their favorite songs, and then vote for them in pairs to see which one comes out on top. I nominated Kraid's Lair from the original Metroid as my pick without even really giving it any thought. It has been one of my favorite videogame music tracks for as long as I can remember, despite clocking in at approximately 45 seconds.

Today it is up for voting again, and it looks like it is going to win, which makes me happy, obviously. But I've been thinking about why I nominated it - you see, my girlfriend recently played through Katamari Damacy and the soundtrack to that game is one of my favorites in a long, long time, but I still would have gone with Kraid's Lair over, say, Que Sera Sera or Angel Flavor's Present. But... why?

I could start with how Metroid was the very first videogame I ever played. And that would probably be enough to convince me, if it weren't for the fact that until I beat the game for the first time in highschool, I've had an almost religious connection to the game.

You see, the first video game I ever played was my cousin Mikey's copy of Metroid. I was probably 2 or 3 at the time, and he was probably only 9 or 10. He let me start the game and I remember him laughing because I couldn't even get out of the first room. He took over, and proceeded to get the Long Beam, some Missiles, and then the bombs, and then he got to where he had been stuck.

Kraid's Lair.

I remember watching him wander in that labyrinth for what seemed like hours. He had no idea where to go. I remember him telling me how awesome the game was, and how he liked how his little Metroid "guy" was so brave by going into this scary place to try to fight all the "aliens."

And I remember the music. Oh, the music. That droning, oppressive, scary, otherworldy music that was coming out of the TV was so weird, it felt like I really was with "Metroid" in "his" little low-color world. I eventually got my own NES and my own copy of Metroid, and it seemed like my playthroughs would always end in Kraid's Lair for one reason or another - I was too young to fully grasp where to go and the game was so darned obtuse I couldn't figure it out.

So I moved on, and so did Mikey. We would occasionally go back to that weird NES game, but never could get through it and I think we eventually lost our patience with it.

A few years later, when he was 15, my cousin Mikey decided he wanted to get high by huffing some paint in his dad's shed. So he did. He passed out, and ended up choking to death while out cold. It messed our family up something fierce, because he was such a great guy and we all loved him so much and it was heartbreaking to have to see how badly it affected my aunt.

When my mom explained to me how Mikey died, I was still too young to comprehend what he did. To me, it was if he was there, and then all of a sudden for reasons that didn't make any sense to me, he was gone. I remember thinking about all my favorite memories I had with him, and most of them involved us puzzling through videogames.

Including Metroid. I know he never beat it; they had put their NES in the attic a few years before Mikey passed anyway. Shortly after I died, I found myself back in Kraid's Lair, trying to get through it, trying to find that boss and kill him, for Mikey.

I failed. And failed. And failed. I just couldn't figure it out. That whole time, the music played and even now, when I hear it, it still evokes memories of Mikey and I lost in that place, trying to make sense of the weird depths of Kraid's Lair.

When my videogame skills improved in high school, I was finally able to push past Kraid's Lair. The boss himself took a few tries, but I was able to beat him. I was a man on a mission - I had to beat the game now. I pressed on, unable to stop, even though Ridley's Lair gave me no quarter and beat me down so hard I almost gave up. But I pressed on, and finally beat Mother Brain, and escaped Tourian, seeing the end credits for the first time.

I was 15; I cried like a 8 year old when I beat it, alone in my basement, thinking about Mikey. Had he still been alive, he probably wouldn't have cared; but since he was gone, I had all these memories of this game that he couldn't beat, and he seemed like the master of games. Here I had solved the game years later, and I felt like I finally lifted some weird weight off my shoulders. I had beaten the game for Mikey; I hadn't enjoyed playing Metroid much since I was little, and did it because I missed my cousin and wanted to pay tribute to him the only way I could think of.

So when I hear Kraid's Lair today, I have such a strong mix of emotions that I can't help but love the track. It is the perfect atmospheric 8-bit piece, so oppressive and lonely, and I can't help but think of my poor old cousin Mikey whenever I hear it. It's largely a happy track for me, too, now, despite it's somewhat morbid theme throughout my early life; I think this is because it evokes happy memories of falling in love with videogames while watching my big cousin play through them.

So rest in piece, Mikey. I wouldn't have fallen in love with this dumb little pastime if it weren't for you. I couldn't thank you enough.