Tales Of The Arcade – Age Of Fighting Games
Anytime anyone speaks of the days of arcades, you will undoubtedly hear stories about the days of the ‘quarter queues’ and how long someone could play on a machine against other people with one quarter. Of course with today’s consoles and the internet, that whole dynamic has gone away and become ‘virtualized’ with digital wait lobbies as well as chat rooms and the new dynamic of streaming. Still, nothing can an compare to the mini crowds that would gather around that one machine as one champion took on all comers. Tales of the Arcade continues my friends!
As far back as I can remember, fighting games have existed to varying levels of success in the little town I grew up in back in North Carolina. Between the mall arcade, the bowling alley, and the Putt Putt arcade, choices were few and far between when it came to local fighting game memories.
I remember a few early games like Gladiator where each player had a sword, a sheild, and pieces of armor that could be struck off before defeat. The gameplay was REALLY clunky so half the time the battles felt like luck. Needless to say, there were few lines to play this one.
Karate Champ was an 8-bit fighting game where two players fought in an Olympic style contents where one strike earned a point and so on. This was fun to a point as well. Most people kept wanting to land the impressive looking (at the time of course) jump kick.
When it came to kung fu games though, the champ was Yie Ar Kung Fu. Probably the closest thing to a Bruce Lee or traditional kung fu movie, Yie Ar Kung Fu had the funny sound effects and fast competition people looked for…kinda. Since the characters were a bit small and cartoony, the controls (once again) didn’t serve too well for a competitive fighting game between two players. It was always more comical to watch players face off against boss like foes who flew across the screen and wielded weapons against your weapon-less fighter. It was lots of fun, but still drew no crowds.
Beyond those three games I really don’t remember too many more aside from the first Street Fighter in the 80s. I’m certain other arcade gurus could rattle off others but mostly fighting games stuck to the Double Dragon or Final Fight formula for quite some time. In a sense, these games wound up lumped in the brawler category since you technically fought a bunch of other foes rather than each other in a more coop side scrolling adventure.
The Original Street Fighter was a visually appealing and very difficult game to master. Since there were no other games on the market quite like it (at least in my little corner of the US), many gamers avoided spending too much on it since there were no guides to the various punch and kick buttons. It had really large combatants from around the world battling against a mysterious karate expert named Ryu or Ken. Ken was player 2 and Ryu was player 1. There were no Dragon Punches or Fireball motions that I could remember, but I think the fireball was a ‘hidden’ technique that some good players eventually discovered. I only remember seeing it pulled of once and I don’t know ANYONE that knew how to do it on command. Instead, the big thing in this game was learning how to beat the street boxer in the game conveniently named ‘Mike’. It was clear that it was patterned after Mike Tyson who was huge in those dates. Mike’s punches were lightning quick and powerful so one mistake usually led to a quick defeat. Instead, most players would find a way to sweep him once and then cower in the corner blocking his punch since he had no kicks or sweeps. Even doing that was a bit risky though.
We all know that once Street Fighter II dropped, it was game over for most games in the arcade. Owners would quickly survey their ‘inventory’ and seek out which 2 or 3 boxes that could be retired to make space for additional Street Fighter 2 boxes. As time went along, even different versions of Street Fighter 2 were eventually filing the arcades at one point as ‘patches’ were distributed in the form of ‘Championship edition’ or clever names as such.
By that time I had moved from my little small country town to Raleigh where the arcade situation as much improved. There, I had multiple malls within my mother’s shopping reach, each with their own modest arcade. This was also garnished with a larger Putt Putt style place across town with a bigger arcade as well. I remember salivating at the opportunity to go to any mall with the intent to park myself in the food court area which basically always nestled the arcade. My parental unit knew where I would be and I could be properly entertained!
As the digital gladiators slaved over the various SFII characters, I quickly learned that in order to make my quarter stipend last, I’d need to play and try out some of the other SF2 clones and competitors. One in particular that caught my eye was Samurai Showdown which featured controls much like SF2, but with different melee weapon wielding combatants. There was something about swordplay in this title that always gave me a detox from the fireballs and sonic booms that everyone tossed around playing SFII.
Eventually, the fighting game craze dominated the arcade scene as my local arcades saw the likes of Mortal Kombat, Tekken, King of Fighters, Primal Rage, Virtua Fighter and Killer Instinct. Most of us know of these titles and have our fave characters. But what about obscure fighters like Time Killers, Darkstalkers, or even the psuedo fighting game Pit Fighter? Each of these games did manage to have their own appeal that would occasionally draw a small crowd of people watching me play. Time Killers in particular was a novelty game that had cartoony dismemberment where a match could actually end with ONE HIT. While those moments were rare, people would crowd around someone who took a chance on the clucky controls to toss around some red sprites all over the screen in this ultra violent game.
Throw in Mortal Kombat and games like Primal Rage and you have the basis for a lot of parents getting concerned about the ultra violence in video games. At some point, arcades would even have some of the games ‘remove’ the blood spurts for sweat if I do remember correctly. Still, gamers noticed that juggernauts like Tekken, Soul Calibur, Virtua Fighter, and Street Fighter didn’t need blood flying to draw or keep a crowd.
For myself, I eventually gave in to the craze and learned how to be decent with the following characters
Street Fighter II – Blanka, Ken, Chun-Li
Tekken – Law, Paul, and Jack
Virtua Fighter – Kage and Akira
Mortal Kombat – Lui Kang, Scorpion, Raiden
I suppose that most of the times I would find characters to learn, I would either dedicate myself to the Bruce Lee clones or to whatever character mimic’d the movements of Dragon Punches and Fireballs (since they were easiest for me to pull off). I quickly found that the good players always learned their anti-Ryu strategies FIRST so that they could off the ‘casual’ contenders quickly. Eventually, I grew fond of wrestlers in each game like Tekken’s King, or Street Fighter’s Zangief. Their powerful slams were always wonderful to watch and always got a pleasurable crowd reaction when you pulled off their power moves!
As time has gone on and the slew of fighters and sequels have released, I’ve still found myself longing for fightsticks as I always found the controllers to be a bit uncomfortable for EX combos or finishing moves. Of course, I’ve never bought one so I’ve tended to shy away from purchasing these games for some time (outside of Street Fighter IV and the rebirth of Mortal Kombat). While some of my other favorite fighting games weren’t in the arcades, there are quite a few that I enjoyed:
Injustice: Gods Among Us
Def Jam Fight For NY
King Of The Monsters
Fight Night (EA Sports boxing)
WWF No Mercy
Wu Tang Shaolin Style
I miss those days of walking up beside a combatant and wailing away on the controls as others huddled around. I’m sure the eSports fighting tournament rush is probably quite bit bigger given the larger crowds, but let’s face it. I’m no eSports pro!
Game on my friends…
(Thanks to sydlexia.com, mrqgaming.com, fightersgeneration.com, hardcoregaming101.com, giantbomb.com, giphy.com for the pics and gifs)