I first encountered Street Fighter II at a Pittsburgh-area Chi-Chi’s in the early 90s. I got sick later that night. I never ate at Chi-Chi’s again, though it’s possible my queasy stomach was caused by the sudden absence of Street Fighter II in my life once more, rather than the food at ol’ Double C.
No, it was definitely the food. I’m just lucky I gave up the chain’s cuisine years before another Pittsburgh-area Chi-Chi’s — the Chi-Chi’s closest to my home — made a whole bunch of people sick. That would be the eventual death knell for Chi-Chi’s.
In another bit of luck, the onset of sopapilla-related sickness was the second-most memorable event of that night.
I watched as some older kid played the game. “Street Fighter II.” (When and how did I miss “Street Fighter?”) The characters were large. The animation was awesome. Fireballs and kicks were flying. Half of the time, I wasn’t even sure what was happening. But I definitely wanted in.
The kid left. The machine was mine. I found a few quarters and there, in all its glory, was the character select screen.
Yes, that alone was reason for excitement. Not too many games back in the day would let you pick your character. And there were eight choices. Eight! Being a kid, I started with Blanka.
A quick guide to who picks which Street Fighter II characters:
Blanka – Kids playing for the first time. People who like monsters.
Ryu – People who don’t know how to move the cursor on the character select screen. People who like to win.
Ken – Jingoists who like to win. Fair-haired folk.
Guile – War veterans. People who prefer moving their left thumb in straight lines.
Dhalsim – People who just found out that his limbs could stretch across the screen, thinking this would give them a tremendous advantage.
Zangief – Wrestling fans. Bear admirers. Commies.
Chun-Li – Girls. Secure guys who like to win.
E. Honda – Nobody.
I may have won a fight or two that night. I don’t remember. I just know that I wanted more.
I never bought Street Fighter II for Super Nintendo, but I rented it and played it for two sick days straight. (You could say sickness and Street Fighter go together, but I always played video games when I was sick. I spent one sick day playing Ranma 1/2: Hard Battle for hours.)
The first sick day, my brother Mark was also sick. Seeing as how this had never happened before, and would probably never happen again, we took advantage of our time, playing Street Fighter II all day. He went back to school the next day. I went back to battle M. Bison. And I battled him. Oh, did I battle that blank-eyed freak. Every time it looked like victory was in sight, he would whip out a Psycho Crusher or two, and that dastardly slide kick.
My nonna had never seen me so angry before. She pleaded with me. “It’s only a game!”
Maybe it was. But the sense of satisfaction that came from eventually defeating the caped warlord probably restored my health.
I didn’t buy Street Fighter II, though, because at that point, I was waiting for Street Fighter II Turbo. I wanted to control Balrog, Vega, Sagat, and most of all, M. Bison. I dropped $70 on Street Fighter II Turbo the day it came out. Yep. $70. You kids don’t know how good you have it. But it was $70 well-spent. Street Fighter II Turbo is still my favorite version of Street Fighter, even if E. Honda went from utterly useless to nearly unstoppable, due to the fact that he could now move while doing his Hundred Hand Slap.
By this point, Mortal Kombat was taking hold of America’s youth. And though I didn’t know it at the time, the Mortal Kombat/Street Fighter debate was teaching life lessons — about falling for the hot new thing, following crowds, and appreciating true quality. It was a classic case of style vs. substance … no, I can’t even say that. It was more like flash vs. substance.
Mortal Kombat had its flash — fatalities, which were very, very cool. The only problem being, you had to slog through a Mortal Kombat match before reaching the point where a fatality could take place. And when that moment arrived, you only had a few seconds to seize the opportunity.
Every kid knew fatalities were the reason for Mortal Kombat’s success. Sure, the blood was cool, but it was merely accoutrement. The fatalities were the pièce de résistance. Some of us wondered why more fighting games didn’t have fatalities. (To this day, I wonder. It’s a great idea that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the fight.)
Tons of kids thought Street Fighter was obsolete as soon as those blood drops start flying. But Street Fighter II was the better game. Some of us still knew that, even if Liu Kang did turn into a dragon and bite off the top half of his opponent.
Street Fighter II always would be the better game. Time would prove us right. Today, ask any honorable gamer how to throw a Hadoken. Or a Sonic Boom. Then, ask him or her how to do Kano’s Heart Grab fatality.