Welcome back, guys. I do hope that everything has been going well for you over the past week, and that your closets are stuffed to the brim with enough toilet paper to weather the remainder of this crisis. To do a bit of a recap, last week we left off just after my less than stellar debut in the world of Street Fighter II, me and my buddy Blanka stuck at home with no way to get to the arcade a few miles away so that we could so desperately enjoy the game we loved. I talked of being well and truly schooled in my very first fight, along with every other fight that came afterwards for that matter. I spoke of the many beatings I endured at the hands of the sadistic computer and other players, along with the excitement I felt every time my mom would take me to the arcade where I could play. I also mentioned my fervor for the game, and that I was always disappointed when we didn’t have the time to stop in or mom just couldn’t spare the cash for a few quarters. But I also said that all of this was leading to something, the moment that I still look back on as my crowning glory in all of videogamedom. But last we left each other, it wasn’t looking good yours truly, me in a small town and unable to practice my skills with my little green friend to make any improvements. But then I said that something awesome happened over the summer, a ray of hope that shown down from above to cut through the clouds of my despair. And oh yeah, there was pizza.
See, as much as I focused and hoped to get to the arcade on the weekends back then, I always had school during the week to help keep me distracted, mulling through homework and all that other unnecessary nonsense that kids hate to do but deep down know they have to. But when the summertime hit, that was all gone, not like I minded of course, and I quickly found myself lamenting over the fact that I couldn’t play Street Fighter more and more. I said last week that I went to our local video store and checked out a couple other fighting games they had on their shelves for my Genesis but none of those managed to come close to scratching the itch I had for Capcom’s masterpiece. A couple were okay, but mostly their graphics and gameplay just paled in comparison to the competition. So, sitting around bored one day, I decided to hop on my Huffy and go pay a visit to my grandmother at work, and that’s when my eyes fell upon the holy grail itself.
My grandmother worked at our local Pizza Hut for years, see, I told you pizza was coming, arriving every morning before the doors opened up to mix up their batches of dough for the day to come. Now, I will say that I was never a big fan of Pizza Hut pizza when I was younger, but since grandma’s discount allowed me to get a personal pan for a little over a buck, it beat the hell out of the frozen hockey pucks we had back at the house. I walked through the door expecting to get only a bit of lunch and see the old claw machine sitting in the corner, but then my little eyes almost popped out of my head with excitement. There, between the claw contraption and the soda cooler, was the object of my obsession itself, a Street Fighter II cabinet with that awesome opening animation of Ryu beckoning me to come and get my ass kicked, and with it being a small town in the middle of the day, there was no line! I sat there eating my pizza and eyeing it up the entire time, more than a bit peeved that I had only brought enough money with me for the cheesy dough I now munched on. But surely grandma would give her sweet little boy a few quarters to play with if I asked her nicely enough, me putting on a cherub like face as I walked up to the counter and spoke in the most pitiful voice I could muster to complete the effect.
A few moments later and I was rushing toward the object that called to me, fumbling to jam the coin in the slot and find my familiar green friend. The first few matches were the typical thrashing I’d come to expect, but then I realized that I could electrocute the crap out of people and before all was said and done, I’d claimed my first victory. I may not have made a lot of progress by the time I left that day but I had managed to get further than I ever had before, the determination (read mad fixation) on getting even further now firmly rooted in my mind.
With school out and time on my hands, I knew how that summer was going to go for me, working to scrounge up enough cash to ride my bike out a few days a week to indulge in a personal pizza and play a few rounds of Street Fighter II. Gradually, I honed my skills, until I could electric shock my opponents with brutal efficiency and figured out how to do Blanka’s dreaded beast roll. Every time I played, I was starting to stretch a quarter further and further, until I could get nearly halfway through without having to pump more change into the machine. And then it happened one day, I reached a character that I had never seen before, and I thought this was it.
The opponent I faced was a great big boxer that strongly resembled Mike Tyson and I thought what a fitting final boss for such a game as this. Unfortunately, I found myself being thoroughly trounced yet again, the hard-punching bastard wiping the floor with me and my little green buddy to consume the rest of my change. Again and again, I managed to make it to Balrog, but each time he put out of action quicker than a blink. And then one afternoon I managed to survive his onslaught of furious punches, causing him to taste defeat after so many hard-fought rounds. But much to by surprise, and utter frustration, the damn game kept going, the next man up a Spanish ninja that gave we fits with his claw and pesky cage fighting over the next few days. And then after that there was a cycloptic kickboxer that beat the hell out of me, my frazzled mind wondering what the hell I had to do to finally be done with it. And then one afternoon it finally happened, I overcame Sagat to reach the shadowy master of the tournament and the man behind Shadaloo himself, the dreaded M. Bison, and if I thought the others were tough, this asshole was a beast among beasts.
Bison proved himself a prick that came to haunt my dreams at times, taking more money out of my young hands than I care to think about or admit to. It got to the point where It became personal and I just had to beat this guy, not only for myself, but for all the other downtrodden gamers he had bullied and oppressed with his devilish psycho power, okay, mostly just for me. So, armed with a pocket full of change one day, I entered the pizza den, partaking in my usual prefight meal as I stared down the machine, and then it was time.
I made it through the initial slog of the familiar meat shields easy enough, but I can’t remember if was Ken or Ryu that gave me a bit of a time, I only know there were a lot of hadoukens and dragon punches being thrown around. After dispatching them, I seemed to have Balrog pretty well figured out, but Vega and Sagat were both still a nuisance that cut into my quarter reserve. But at last, I came face to face with Bison once again, and I don’t think the staff of a Pizza Hut had ever heard such language that I spewed leave the lips of a twelve-year-old before. It was a titanic struggle of a mouthy little shit versus would-be world dictator, one that I was steadily losing but determined not to give up on as I pumped one coin after the other into the machine. He slapped me around across the screen like an angry dominatrix who refused to acknowledge the safe word, but I persistently kept coming back for more, spouting an ever-changing slew of curses along the way.
And then, to my unspeakable horror, it happened, I thrust my hand into my pocket only to feel the void of empty air between my fingers. I found that I had run out of change as I watched the continue timer steadily click down, my frantic mind trying to think of any kind of solution I could to this horrible problem. Would all my hard work and rounds of blood and sweat be for naught? What could I do to ensure that all my struggling would not end her? And then I remembered in a stroke of sheer brilliance, Grandma!
Quickly, I rushed to the counter and begged for more change, hurrying back to the machine just in time to keep the fight going. But again, Bison proved to be the better, knocking the crap out of me and my green friend in even swifter fashion this time. I know I hit grandma up for a hand out several times that day, and why she kept pacing quarters like she did I’ll never understand, pity I suppose, but by that point I’d take whatever I could get. With another dwindling supply of cash, it looked like the master of the World Warrior Tournament would once again put me out, but then somehow, I found my groove.
I managed to take the first round of the next fight surprisingly easy, only to come back and lose an undoubtedly one-sided round two to the bastard. With only round three looming, I readied myself for everything that Bison had, focused on taking the jerk down once and for all. I remember that special moves went out the window pretty quick, with a lot of jumping around and button mashing coming in their wake. I frantically dodged psycho crushers and slide kicks like a mofo as I desperately poked away, and then with time running down and all seeming lost, I somehow connected with a flip kick to see Bison’s life bar run out and finally put the bane of my young existence down for the count. I was so damn excited as I soaked in the victory of seeing my green friend reunited with his mother, taking great satisfaction in a somewhat goofy, if not fitting, ending to all the hours and cash I had pumped into this machine. I basked in my moment of glory like a conquering warrior, standing in the middle of a Pizza Hut surrounded by a claw game, a soda cooler, and a bevy of oddly staring employees.
Looking back on things over the years, I’ve managed to beat a lot of other challenging games since my experience with Street Fighter II, but I think that summer at Pizza Hut and the first time I managed topple Bison still sticks out as my favorite. That moment kind of spurred me on to get more into video gaming at a time than I otherwise probably would have been, and gave me some mad skills to frustrate the crap out of my friends once we finally got the game on Super Nintendo and my Sega Genesis. Still today, it stands out as one of my favorite childhood memories, my mom taking me to that arcade where I first played and my grandmother pacing me quarters like mad until I finally knocked Bison out for the count. I thought I’d tell you this story to hopefully get you thinking about your own moments with video games, remembering the fun you felt when you first started to play and maybe why you liked or fell in love with them in the first place. With any luck, maybe I’ve managed to stir up a little bit of nostalgia in you for an old favorite you might not have thought about or played in a few years, because I know that I’m certainly feeling the itch to jump back in the fight again. With the world going topsy-turvy right now, I think that we could all use a little distraction or light at the end of the tunnel, so if you’re feeling inclined pop in an old game and get reacquainted with it. Just don’t be surprised when you find out that you royally suck at it now, after all, it always takes a while to shake of the rust, but don’t give up. Until next time, gang, happy gaming, and stay safe out there.