It’s late July 1992. I’m 7 years old. Born and raised in Northern Kentucky, we were blessed with many things. One of those things being the Tilt Arcade located in a mall in Florence, Kentucky.
It was summer break. I had been an avid gamer since the bright age of 4 and it was a mix bag when it came to favorites. Of course we had Mario, Contra and Double Dragon, but I was missing that competitive edge. Growing up with an older brother, we didn’t have a game that we both could play to find who was the best.
Every time we went to the arcade, my mother would give us a roll of quarters in the amount of 20 dollars. Luckily, this was before “tokens” became popular so there wasn’t any conversion needed before running through the arcades finding that one game you wanted to play.
My mother, not a gamer in any sense of the word, sat outside the doors, Danielle Steel book in hand to let my brother and me run rampant through the dark corners illumined only by the glow of CRT screens.
Out in front was a line of maybe ten people all crowded over the same machine. Two moved side to side in the same direction of their digital avatars while others were rooting for one player or another. Never have I seen a game at the arcade receive so much attention.
That game was Street Fighter II.
Street Fighter II? But I never played Street Fighter I! And I wouldn’t for many many years later. On my PC of all things but that is a different story.
I decided that this was the first game I was going to play for the day. I stood in line, surrounded by 20- and 30-somethings, and waited for my turn to play. After what felt like an eternity, I was finally up next to play. There was a man there, probably in his early 20s, who had not left his side of the controls for almost ten battles. He was on an incredible winning streak. Being the next one in line, he looks back at me, turns, then looks back at me again. He’s probably thinking “What the hell is this kid think he’s doing?” I wanted to play. That’s what I was doing. I placed my two quarters on the ledge below the screen and waited for my turn.
It didn’t take long for the man continued his winning streak and made short work of the one I was about to replace. I took my place up to the second player controller, slid my quarters in, and marveled at the huge character select screen.
My opponent quickly chose Guile and waited patiently as I strolled through the different characters looking at their profile picks and what part of the world they represented. Ultimately I decided on Ken, being the only one from the U.S.A. (well Guile is too, but you couldn’t pick the same character back in those days).
I’ll put it lightly. I got DESTORYED. I’m talking maybe one or two shots on him, but he just let loose. Not holding back from slamming a 7-year-old in an arcade. No mercy was had on the that day.
But something stirred in me. The projectiles his character shot from one side of the screen to the other was like magic. I hadn’t seen anything like it before. The backgrounds were super animated and I was just waiting for the blond from the U.S. airbase to come out and congratulate the winner on a job well done. Never happened, mind you, but I was a kid. After seeing Street Fighter II for the first time, I thought anything was possible.
Well that was it, I played through my 20 bucks in quarters, mostly on Street Fighter II, and ran out to my mom to let her know of the awesome game that I just played. She suggested that we go and see if it’s out on one of the many consoles we had at home.
Now to me, that was impossible. I just played it in the arcade, which to me meant, it just came out. It would take years to be released on a console if ever. Just a few shops down in that same mall was an EB Games (remember those?). Walking in, I was guided to the back of the store by images of familiar characters. There on the shelf were 30 different copies of Street Fighter II for the Super NES. I picked one up and almost threw it at my mother in my excitement. I said over and over again, “This is it! This is it!” She took it from my hand, looked at the price, shrugged and said “Well if your father asks this is your birthday present.”
I didn’t even think about the repercussions that would have on my birthday presents that year nor anything else. I was going to get the greatest game that had ever been released… ever! She bought the game and we headed for home.
In the car on the way back, I popped open box to read the instruction booklet. I read it from cover to cover until we finally parked in our drive way. I rushed from the car to the house, ran into “family game room” and slammed the cartridge into my SNES. I powered it up and started really playing the game for the first time. I spent the next eight hours playing Street Fighter II until my dad forced me to bed.
One of the things about great video games is they don’t have to have anything to do with plot development, or characters, or story or graphics to truly be great. It could be just a day in the arcade when something took your breathe away and when you realized that you were hooked. And I mean really hooked.
The Street Fighter II series (all of them) is still one of my top five favorite games ever. I could go on and on about creating combos or why Super Street Fighter II’s mechanics are terrible when it comes to the in-air hurricane kick. I don’t need to talk about any of that. I just need my 20 bucks in quarters and a guy nice enough to let a 7-year-old play.