Retrospective: MASK I

Working overtime.

I can't remember where I was when I was told that my first - or even my last - grandparent had died. I can't remember where I was when Challenger exploded. I can only remember where I was when I found out my mum and dad were getting divorced because dad chose the same moment to park his Citroen Dyane on my foot. (He was probably nervous.)

I can't remember what I was up to when the Berlin Wall came down, when the Hubble Telescope went up, or when the Twitter App introduced that trending bar and everybody on iTunes went mental.

But I can remember where I was when I first laid eyes on MASK I for the Commodore 64, and almost two decades later I can still remember where I was when I first got to play it.

I was in the Canterbury branch of C&A in 1987, wearing an awful Bill Cosby-style snowflake sweater that I hated even back then. My brother was trying to coax his new Walkman to life - my mum had recently done a gender politics module with the OU, so our family had to refer to them as Walkpersons - and I was idly leafing through the pages of one of his C64 magazines while we waited for the line at the tills to go down.

(All things considered, I was probably at the high watermark of the decade. The scene couldn't have been any more 1980s if Adam Ant had Lolo-balled out of the stockroom showering us all with Space Raiders and humming Axel F.)

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He didn't, obviously. Instead, there I was, face to face with an advert for MASK I - a Gremlin game that promised to take the all-action, keenly multi-racial, faintly right-wing spectacle of the MASK cartoon series and translate it to the scrolling pixelated world of the computer game. I was transfixed. It was too much to take in.

Looking back, I cannot for the life of me work out why I liked MASK so much. MASK was a bit like the Transformers, but not as stylish, iconic and Japanese, and not half as interesting either.

Also, it was considerably less cool. MASK was fairly square, actually. If Optimus Prime and his robo-buddies were the CIA of transforming toys, mysterious and slick, MASK would have been the Coast Guard. (I'm starting to realise why I preferred it now.)

MASK was made up of ordinary joes - hicks, for the most part, with names like Dusty Hayes and Hondo MacLean. These were names that might give the impression that you were actually dealing with a weary team of rodeo-clown-themed male prostitutes rather than an elite group of special agent types, protecting the world from menace.

Their headquarters was a gas station. A gas station! Their leader had an annoying kid and drove around in a white-trash muscle car - the kind of car my uncle Mike bought during a bad breakup.

And the hook for the series, the gimmick that made the whole thing special, was that they solved crime in their overtime. They were everyday losers with regular jobs. They were hobbyist heroes. Temps. They probably trooped over to the local Kelly's Services office every Friday for the free M&S lunch.

I digress. For whatever reason, I was crazy about MASK, and here was a computer game made just for me and my ilk.

I never bought it, of course. Back then, pocket money tended to disappear on LEGO sets or in strange, unsatisfying gambling scenarios rigged by my elder brothers. To buy a computer game, I would have had to save up, and that suggested a world of financial strategising that was entirely beyond me.

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