It’s a random Friday night in 1992, and I am once again dropped off at the “fancy” mall with a handful of allowance money and a few hours to kill. I check out Kay-Bee Toys and fondle the latest action figures, and then I head downstairs to the biggest arcade this tiny little town has ever known.
Over the years, Namco’s Time-Out on the Court has housed everything from miniature golf to a full-size carousel, to laser tag, R/C boats and even pricey virtual reality games. In 1992, though, it was all about fighting games, and Street Fighter 2 ruled them all.
But arcade dominance was about to change hands this fateful evening. As I dashed toward the token machine with a fistful of dollar bills, I was startled by the sight before me: The Street Fighter 2 machine had been moved from its front-and-center position to the sidelines, and in its place was a throng of pasty gamers. Swaying back and forth, popping up on tiptoes to see, I could see this was a group of guys (ALL guys) much older and taller than I.
I pocketed my cash and ran to see what the new game was. Being the shy introvert I was, I milled about at the back of the group for a while. The orgy of sweaty hands and grimy tokens was thicker than I had thought. Trying to push my way in, I found it impossible to see anything other than a brief glimpse of the cabinet within the forest of pale flesh.
“A kung-fu guy with glasses and tight shorts? Wait, is he white? Was that the lightning guy from Big Trouble in Little China?” I thought, as a plump ass bumped me back out of the crowd.
Suddenly, an eruption of yells and laughter rippled from the center of the group. I staggered back as the writhing bodies swelled away from the machine and then fell back together like an astronomical implosion.
By this point I had given up hope of even seeing the game and circled one last time around the congregation. No luck. Finally turning my attention away, I spotted the vacant Street Fighter 2 machine and finally had a chance to play.
And that was my introduction to Mortal Kombat. It totally sucked at the time but thinking back on it now, it amazes me. That gaggle of players was the start of a new movement, one that gave Capcom a run for its money and one that ushered in a new era of visual technology. Digitized actors and FMV footage may not have been the greatest advancement in gaming, but it was a necessary step between the 2D of old and the new age of 3D. It was also an experience that gamers growing up nowadays will never have. With arcades all but dead there’s really no equivalent—even in this day and age of wireless anywhere-gaming—for a group of strangers to randomly get together in public and experience a new movement in gaming.
In a much less memorable side note, I finally got to play Street Fighter 2 and quickly crumbled under the cheap fireball-into-dragon-punch maneuver. It was so traumatic that to this day I still can’t beat Ryu.