“Fighting games set the foundation for me to become the gamer I am today.”
It’s the truth, regardless of what my gaming preferences are today. That’s not taking any shots at any fighting game franchise, fanbase, or community. That’s not to say that I’ve evolved or outgrown playing fighting games. Is that even possible? The point is clear, fighting games set the foundation for me to become the gamer I am today. Now let me explain why.
The early days
My sister was the reason my dad took me to get our first Nintendo system back in 1990-91. Although the newer console was already out on the market, my parents could only afford the NES at the time. Back then as a kid, at least for me, getting the NES instead of the Super NES was no big deal. It was my introduction to gaming and as a 4-year-old, I was ecstatic. I vividly remember the walk through Union Square Park on our way to the old Toys ‘R’ Us that was across the street. A sweet childhood memory with my dad that I’ll cherish forever.
Growing up in New York City, living in a small one-bedroom apartment with my mother, father, and sister, we couldn’t afford to buy many games. I only had two NES games. The original Super Mario Bros. game that came bundled with Duck Hunt and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (which I hated, so what). That meant we would rent games from our local video store, as was common back then.
There was an old school one that had all sorts of VHS and games on 48th Street, right off of 9th Avenue, in the City. It was my favorite spot to go to on Saturdays with either my mom or dad to rent something for the weekend. A slice of pizza and a rental, you couldn’t beat that. I remember renting The Karate Kid from there. That was my first experience playing a fighting game, although not a conventional one since it’s considered to be an Action game. Nevertheless, as a kid, it was a fighting game for me.
The world warrior
Then, it was 1992-93. The beginning of the golden era of fighting games. Street Fighter II was everywhere. Yes, it did release in Arcade back in 1991, but I was too young to play that at one back then. There was a pizza shop across the street from my block that had Street Fighter II, but it was always full because of the kids attending the two High Schools nearby. You could only play there if you went on weekends. I got to play X-Men and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when the shop had them there, too. Eventually, the cabinets were removed. Years later, under new ownership, they gave cabinets a shot and I got to play Soul Edge there, but it didn’t last long.
We weren’t going to the Arcade at that time either unless we went to Coney Island in the summer. Times Square was close, but my parents weren’t going to take me to Playland or Chinatown Fair back then. Maybe only once did my dad take me to Chinatown Fair when we went to visit his friend down by Madison & Jefferson St. one summer, but that was already the mid-to-late 90s.
Around this time is when my fondest memories as a kid playing video games took place. My family would go to Queens a lot back then. Either to visit my aunt or my Godfather. I remember once going to visit my aunt somewhere in Flushing and walking into a Laundromat across the street that had a Street Fighter II cabinet. Thanks to Whang!, I realized what they had was Street Fighter II: Rainbow Edition. It was so flashy and colorful, almost putting you in a trance. It was also highway robbery because there was no way I was beating the CPU as a kid.
The home release of Street Fighter II, though. That was something else. I was still quite young and didn’t know the order of the SFII iterations. All I could remember was playing it and being terrible at it. My Godbrothers (who I’ll refer to as my cousins from here on out) were much older than me and would rent the game from Blockbuster for their SNES. It’s them who I owe my love for fighting games to. They helped me become the gamer I am today. My cousin Alfred and his brother, Junior.
It was a moment in time, you had to be there. A mixture of things was having a heavy impact on the youth in New York City back then. The games, the music, the fashion. It was and still is beautiful to me. You remember watching Biggie rap about it on Juicy: “Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, when I was dead-broke, man, I couldn’t picture this”, while Lil’ Cease is watching other members of Junior M.A.F.I.A. play Street Fighter II on the big screen? It was all correlated because we were listening to Biggie, Nas, Mobb Deep, and Wu-Tang Clan while playing video games, too. But that’s 1994-95, and I can’t skip the effect ‘Mortal Monday’ had on me.
Enter Mortal Kombat
The ‘Mortal Monday’ commercial is the illest video game commercial I’ve ever seen. Anyone that tells you they weren’t hype after seeing it is lying to you. I remember the first time I saw it, maybe not the debut of the commercial, but right around the time of it. It was awesome, and it still is if you go back and watch it. Video games weren’t the behemoth they are now. We didn’t have an ESRB back then, and Mortal Kombat was one of the games that forced it into reality. It was in-your-face violence that blew the world over.
I used to be heavy into video game magazines back then, as many kids were. GamePro, Video Games Magazine, EGM, and Tips & Tricks were my favorites. For me, Mortal Kombat was mostly responsible for this because secrets were commonly revealed in magazines. By the way, remember the Sheng Long April Fool’s joke by EGM?
I still have my old Video Games Mortal Kombat I, II, and III magazine that has every move, fatality, and secret. We used to go to the Public Library and read the latest issues if we didn’t buy them ourselves. A few years later, libraries would give you 30 minutes to surf the internet and 10 sheets of paper. We would talk about what we read in school and all sorts of secrets were created and talked about in the lunchroom. I remember a good friend of mine from kindergarten once told me that he had unlocked Sam & Max in Mortal Kombat II on the Genesis. It was easy to believe those stories back then. That’s how information was spread and you either believed it or took it at face value.
Speaking of which, I’m of the ilk that believes Mortal Kombat II is the best Mortal Kombat game ever made. I didn’t own the cartridge at the time, but I can’t tell you how many times I rented it from the video store I mentioned before. My goodness. Back in 1994-95, Mortal Kombat II was my favorite video game, by a long shot. Of course, my first memory of the game was with my two cousins. They let me play the original back in ’93 against my cousin, Aissa. I didn’t get my SNES until Christmas 1994, and Mortal Kombat II was released on September 9th, 1994; Mortal Friday. I loved the original Mortal Kombat, but when I saw Mortal Kombat II, I was blown away.
Maybe I was too young to see it, but I never envisioned the art direction of Mortal Kombat II after seeing the first one. It was dark, it was gritty, and it was kinda creepy (especially the live-action commercial, which is my second favorite video game commercial, ever). I kinda believed the game’s slogan: “Nothing, nothing, could prepare you”. Outworld. Probably one of my favorite childhood years, ever. An amazing sequel buildup. I’ll get that poster, someday.
Things have changed.
For Christmas 1995, I got MK3 for the SNES and the following year, I got UMK3 for Genesis. My dad, God rest his soul, mistakenly bought the Genesis version, so I couldn’t play the game on Christmas Day. Luckily, he gave me some money to rent the system from another local video store that took the previous one out of business. It was called Video Cafe and it was on the corner of 48th Street and 9th Ave, in the City. I ended up buying a used Sega Genesis from my sister’s friend for $50 that following summer. It came with NBA JAM: Tournament Edition… and Mortal Kombat II.
Now, let’s be clear about one thing. Even though the Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat II has ‘Test Mode’, the SNES version is the superior home console version. I don’t think that’s even arguable. Either way, I was happy. Keep in mind that we’re now in 1997, and that’s when MK4 came out. Capcom had been doing the Alpha series for Street Fighter since ’95, but I didn’t get a PSX until ’98. That meant I was playing SSF2T, MKII, MK3, and UMK3 on the SNES and Genesis ’til then. I did get to play Alpha 2 on the SNES. I remember renting it from Video Cafe around 1996-97. It was trash. I think I rented it and the pause at the start of the rounds made me not want to play it anymore. So I didn’t until I had to return it. What a letdown.
Around that time, my sister used to get her nails done two storefronts away from a comic book store that was on 9th Ave, nearest to 50th Street. They had cabinets in the back. I loved hanging out there. Throughout, they had Marvel Super Heroes, Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter, and Marvel Vs. Capcom. I was terribly disappointed when I played MK4 on the PSX, so I was glad to check out Capcom again.
That lasted a few months, but when I got to play Tekken 3 at XS in Times Square, I had found a new favorite. See, there used to be an Arcade in Times Square called XS. Not too many people remember this because it wasn’t there for long. It was right on 42nd Street, on the same block where the main Times Square – 42nd Street train station entrance is at. That’s the one time I absolutely remember my dad taking us to the Arcade. Their slogan was “Too much is not enough” and was the first Arcade I ever saw use the reloadable card system to pay.
We used to visit my grandparents in Costa Rica almost every summer. I remember bringing my SNES along one year with MK3 thinking I was nice at the game. I took it to my friend’s house and played against his cousin. He WASHED me. I had never seen anyone play MK3 like him before. The juggles. Man, I got rekt. I didn’t even know you could play the game that way at the time. Never again. The following year, I brought my PSX along with Tekken 3. He played Tekken but not at the level he played Mortal Kombat. I wanted my get back and made sure I got it.
While on vacation in Costa Rica, in San Jose Centro, it was common to see a slew of video game stores selling bootleg PSX games. In NYC, we had stores that would sell Japanese games and you could pay to have your PSX chipped. There was a store across the street from Midtown Comics on 7th Avenue that was popular. I remember getting my GameShark there.
If you read between the lines without saying too much, I ended up getting Marvel Vs. Capcom, Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy on PSX. It was beautiful. I had so much fun playing those Capcom games. MK Trilogy… not so much. Here’s an unpopular opinion: I enjoyed Alpha 3 on PSX. Around this time, I began expanding my gaming horizons. I began to play more PC games, especially at my friend’s house. He had Unreal Tournament and Diablo II, but he also played fighting games. Tekken in particular. He showed me how to link King’s grapples and taught me how to use the PSX controller as if it were a fight pad. I didn’t play fighting games that way back then, but games like Tekken were perfect for it.
When my dad bought me a PS2, the first game I played on it was Tekken Tag Tournament. I first played it at my cousin Alfred’s house. He had just got the PS2 and knew I’d be excited to check it out. I bought the game at the aforementioned Japanese games store before getting the console. Had to secure my copy, no matter what. During that generation, I played all the Tekken games that were released and every MK game, except Armaggedon (the only one I never got to play at release). Mortal Kombat: Deception was my favorite MK game that generation.
I remember buying Deadly Alliance at CompUSA on 57th Street after school when it came out. It was okay, but Deception was better. I was getting back into Mortal Kombat at the time and even pre-ordered the Sub-Zero Special Edition for Deception from EB Games. Things were getting back to normal, or so it seemed. Then, I began drifting away.
I began playing games online, and the adrenaline rush from constant competition now had my interest. It began with SOCOM on the PS2 and I spent nearly all my gaming hours as a teenager on that. I played the first 3 titles religiously. There wasn’t any time for fighting games. I had developed a new affinity for shooters. As I previously mentioned, I had played Unreal Tournament before, but I was a console gamer then. Also, the PC we had at the time wasn’t for gaming, no matter how hard I tried.
Even though most of my time was spent playing online, I made sure to do my best to keep up with the fighting game scene. The internet was booming then, a far cry from what it is now. EVO came out around this time. It was a breath of fresh air, as was exciting to see your favorite games being played at the highest level during a time your attention has been elsewhere. It drew me back in, but things had changed.
Sign of the times
After graduating High School in 2004, my gaming interests were becoming more apparent. I wasn’t playing fighting games like I used to. Although I did check out Tekken 5 while in college, it was an afterthought. I played Madden on the PS2 regularly against my friend, and when I went with him to get his Xbox 360, it was a sign of the times. He had bought Gears of War. You saw the carnage. I’d never seen anything like it since Mortal Kombat II. It came at the right time for me since the SOCOM series was dying out. Yet still, fighting games were kicking hard at this time. It’s another genre-defining era.
The mid-2000s had some of the greatest moments in fighting game history. It set the foundation for the boom we’ve been seeing for the past decade. Even if I wasn’t playing fighting games competitively, I would watch EVO every year. It became sort of an obligation for me. Even though I’m not playing anything, I felt I had to watch it. I felt like I owed it to myself and to the genre for everything it taught me and the memories it gave me.
Every now and then, I would go to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. There was a bowling alley on the second floor and it had a small Arcade next to it. I had been going there since the early 2000s and would go there until about 2005. They had Street Fighter III: 2nd Impact there and I think they also ended up getting 3rd Strike, too. They also had both Capcom Vs. SNK games, and Marvel Vs. Capcom 2. By 2006, you could say I was more of a fan of the ‘Shooter’ genre. I still am. Yet, I owe it all to fighting games.
I think it’s clear to see how much influence fighting games have had on my life. Although I’ve dabbled into other genres since the PS2, my affinity for the fighting game scene remains. Some people want to blame video games for all the violence in the world. The world has been violent for far longer than modern society, which brought upon video games, has existed. Personally, as a kid, I played the most violent fighting game, ever. Doom was also out back then, too. Most of the kids that I knew didn’t have a PC to play Doom on. We played on console and experienced Mortal Kombat. We all moved on to be law-abiding citizens. It was a phase we went through as gamers.
Video games are more graphic than they’ve ever been, yet it’s all history at the same time. In my opinion, there hasn’t been a time in video games since the early ’90s when I felt video games were in danger because of the violence they can portray. It’s gotten close, but that initial impact is the most relevant. These days, it just feels like a scapegoat to cover for other issues that need attention.
You might be asking yourself, why is he bringing this up? Fighting games set the foundation for me as a gamer. It helped me learn to be competitive and to want to get better. It introduced me to mechanics and strategies that have enhanced my problem-solving skills in other genres, and in life. The first gaming genre I gravitated to that helped me make friends. The first gaming genre I was actually good at. I look at fighting games as a learning institution. Never inferior to another, but the best place to start. It could never be looked at as a harbinger of violence as long as you look at it for what it’s intended to be, a sanctuary for healthy competition. Anything otherwise doesn’t represent the spirit of the entertainment medium and the fantastical worlds it’s introduced us to.
I look forward to seeing what my favorite franchises have in store for the future. The vastness of the scene and the communities involved are more important than ever before. I’m glad the genre has continued to grow and hope it serves as an introduction to video games for future generations to come.
GBL Founder | SuperCombo Co-Founder