About seven years ago, I found myself sat next to a high-powered Sega executive at a posh dinner. I don't remember the purpose of the dinner; it was probably some awards ceremony. Or perhaps it was an in-house event, like a wake for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise following the release of the Xbox 360 reboot.
Naturally, we got talking about classic Sega arcade game Jambo! Safari. I explained to the exec that I was a huge fan. I had even started an online petition to bring the game to consoles, and told anyone at his company who would listen I was confident it would be a massive hit. Of course, I had been overjoyed when a Wii version of the game was released in 2009.
"I see," said the exec, chewing slowly on his Scotch egg. (Video game dinners are never really that posh.) "So it's YOUR fault that right now, I've got 70,000 unsold copies of Jambo! Safari Wii sitting in a warehouse?"
For years afterwards, this incident troubled me mildly. I spent many nights occasionally wondering if I was indeed responsible for the decline in Sega's revenues during the 08/09 financial year, often lying awake for minutes at a time.
I came to this conclusion: yeah, probably. The likelihood was that the original Jambo! Safari wasn't that great at all. My recollections of it must have become warped from being entwined with other memories of what was a time of great happiness in my life.
It was the early 2000s. I was fresh out of university and had landed a reasonably paid job at a television company in Soho. (Sorry, millennials. One day I'll tell you how we used to get free milk at school, and you won't believe that either.)
I had lots of spare time and no responsibilities. Life was carefree and silly. I did things like turning up at a millennium eve party with six friends, having forgotten it was fancy dress, and claiming we'd come as S Club 7. I invented a game called Chinese Takeaway Lottery, where everyone picks a couple of numbers at random, and you have to eat whatever those numbers correspond to on the menu. I went to see Maid in Manhattan at the actual cinema.
I also had a decent chunk of disposable income. I mainly spent it on pizza and pleather jackets from H&M that I thought made me look like Buffy. All the change went into the machines of Play 2 Win, the arcade on Old Compton Street.
My favourite was always Jambo! Safari. I could never walk past the zebra print-themed cabinet (very on trend for 2001), or ignore the trumpeting call of the elephant on the menu screen. The concept was simple: drive a noisy jeep across the African savannah, chasing terrified wild animals round in circles.
Once you had a beast in your sights, you used the gear stick to launch a lasso at it. Then you had to rope the animal in by pushing the stick backwards and forwards. Pull too hard and the rope would break, permitting your captive to run free; allow too much slack and the animal would romp about till you ran out of time. Real skill and timing was required here, and the reward was immense. There is nothing so satisfying as watching a wooden crate fall out of the sky onto a giraffe you've just spent 28 minutes and £37.50 chasing.
Or so I thought. But despite my high hopes for the Wii version, it ended up being a bit 6/10. And so I tidied Jambo! Safari away into my filing cabinet of memories, in the drawer marked "Things That Probably Aren't As Good As You Remember," alongside the second Craig David album and Um Bongo.
But then, this summer, I spent a few days with my family at a chalet park in France. As tradition dictates, the bar area boasted a broken ping pong table, a wall of faded Orangina posters, an assortment of pissed up Belgians, and some old arcade machines. At first, I paid them no mind. But then I heard a voice calling to me from across the room. It was the unmistakably familiar and irresistibly evocative cry of that bloody elephant.
There, in the corner of the bar, stood an original, fully operational Jambo! Safari cabinet. It was like finding a van Gogh in a flea market, or a Fabergé egg in a Lidl.
I explained the significance of this discovery to my sons. I used the opportunity to tell them about the life I once led and the person I had been, before that woman's identity was subsumed into the role of "mother".
The two year-old hung off the steering wheel shouting, "BUS! BUS! BUS!". The six year-old glanced at the graphics three times his age and said, "Looks rubbish."
At least my husband realised the magnitude of the moment. Seeing my misty-eyed expression, he quietly led the children away, bribing them with the promise of another go on the Avatar pinball.
Now it was just me and the machine. With shaking hands, I put a euro into the slot and grabbed the wheel. It all came back in an instant. The thrill of the chase, the joy of the catch, the hilarious way emoticons appear over the animals' heads so you can tell when you've really pissed off a baboon.
The muscle memory kicked in. Without even thinking about it I was double-tapping the pedal for speed boosts while flawlessly maintaining the tension of the rope, relying on instinct more than intellect for every move. I nailed the Beginner mode and topped the leaderboard on my first go. And that was despite having had two carafes of rosé with lunch.
The Expert mode, as always, proved more challenging, but let's not talk about that now. What matters is this: I am vindicated. Jambo! Safari arcade was, is, and will forever be a fantastic game.
As for the Wii version... Well, perhaps it will always be impossible to recreate the thrills of the arcade at home, no matter how powerful our consoles get. I still love our arcades, and I fear for their future. That Play 2 Win on Old Compton Street is a hipster cafe now. It's strange to think I can buy an £11.50 quinoa burger in the same spot I once spent every lunchtime trying to catch zebras, for about the same money.
So I'm sorry, Sega. Maybe I shouldn't have talked you into it. But don't forget, there was that moment of madness a year later when I gave Sonic 4 9/10. If that's not reparations, I don't know what is. How about we call it quits?