Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Jumping on the Bandwagon with Street Fighter Nostalgia

1Up's Retronauts blog spent all of last week reminiscing about Street Fighter. Many other sites/blogs/what have yous have been doing the same. Street Fighter was a big part of my youth, so I figured I'd just go ahead and jump on the bandwagon.

I don't remember the first time I played Street Fighter. I do remember where I was, though. I was at a small malt shoppe in my hometown. I must've been about six years old, which would've made it 1989, and, at the time, the aforementioned malt shoppe was about two blocks from my house. We lived in a safe community, so my mom let me ride my bike or walk down there by myself. This was good, because it required me to get a little bit of exercise before playing videogames.

The videogame I played most often at that little malt shoppe? Street Fighter. Not Street Fighter II. Street Fighter. Two playable characters, Ryu and Ken, Sagat (sans scar) as the final boss, not a female character in sight. Street. Fighter. No numeral.

Street Fighter blew my six year old mind. The characters were so big, so detailed. There were secret moves. Urban Champion was the closest thing to this I'd ever witnessed, and, lemme tell you, that was pretty damn far away from Street Fighter. You couldn't even kick in Urban Champion, let alone throw magic fire. Perish the thought of having a garbled voice tell you "You've got a lot to learn before you beat me. Try again, kiddo! HAHAHAHA!"

There was a fair amount of vs. play, but mostly I seem to remember all the kids who played trying to come up with strategies to beat Adon. Man, we hated Adon. Adon was a bastard. It was enough that we had to figure out that the best (and to us, only) way to beat Mike was just to fireball him once, then turtle in the corner (no one called it "turtling" in those days, but still) until the time ran out, but Adon? Most of us figured Adon was the final boss, because, man... was he tough.

Eventually, one of us (it might have been me, as I did eventually beat Adon once or twice, but it probably wasn't) beat Adon and found out that, no, sorry, there's one more guy. And that guy made Adon look like a complete wuss by comparison. Sagat. Sagat was huge. Even huge-er than Birdie. And tough. And he could throw fireballs, too. And they hurt. Suffice it to say, none of us ever beat Sagat. I did eventually beat Street Fighter almost two decades later on Capcom Classics Collection, Vol. 2, but it seemed a hollow victory. Also, the game has aged terribly.

It was some years later that I first encountered the sequel. Now, the first time I played Street Fighter II is as fresh in my memory as what I had for lunch yesterday (Culver's, it was delicious). My dad used to bowl in a Friday night league. He sponsored the team, as well as bowling on it, and some Fridays, he'd take me with him. "Why," you may be asking, "would your dad take you to the bowling alley?" Well, because he loved me, and he knew that I, in turn, loved videogames, so he'd give me a roll of quarters (This was shortly after he'd aquired his own business, and suddenly had more money than he'd ever had before. We weren't rich by conventional standards, but by our previous standards, we were wealthy, and my dad was generous with me.) to play in the massive arcade housed within the bowling alley.

Now, this was back in the days when bowling alleys housed some of the best arcades around. In fact, this bowling alley, Olympic Lanes on 27th Street, had an arcade that, quite frankly, shamed the local mall arcade (sadly, though the bowling alley still stands, the arcade is a shadow of its former self at best). It was HUGE. And it was there, on one fateful day in 1991, that I saw it. Street Fighter II. It was opposite a Street Smart cabinet, which made Street Smart look even worse than it does on its own.

A kid had just finished a game. No one else was playing (in retrospect, this must've been very close to the release of the game, because I don't remember seeing no one playing a Street Fighter II cabinet again for some years). I had to play. I dropped two quarters into the slot and continued. I naturally assumed I'd be Ryu. Imagine my surprise when the character select screen appeared. Again, my eight year old mind was blown. Now, as an eight year old, I'll give you one guess who I chose in my first ever game of Street Fighter II. If you think like an eight year old boy, the answer can only be Blanka. He was a monster! I was playing as a freakin' monster!

Now, as I said, I continued from another kid's game, so imagine my further surprise when I get completely mollywopped right out of the gate. I mean, I'd had two solid years of Street Fighter experience by this point, and even though I still couldn't beat Sagat, I figured I couldn't suck this badly. Naturally, I couldn't give up. I put another fifty cents into the machine, and I quickly realized that the character who'd just mollywopped me wasn't selectable. I didn't really know what to make of it, but I'd wanted to try him out for two reasons. One, he'd just handed me my ass on a platter, and, two... it sure looked cool when he threw his cape off at the beginning of the first round.

That's right, the kid abandoned his game at Bison (probably because what had just happened to me had happened to him enough times that he was out of quarters). I had no idea he was the final boss! I thought they'd just totally jacked up the difficulty! Well, I got beat by Bison a few more times, and then started over from the beginning. I tried a few other characters, beat some guys, and got beat, but eventually I ran out of quarters and my dad finished bowling and we went home, but I was hooked.

And I still am.

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