It was 1993. A Taco John's; downtown Dubuque. With the drab and burnt orange color scheme of the West-Mex fast food dimly lit corner diner, the garish red and blacker-than-Noob Saibot's garb cabinet would have attracted my attention even if I had already been deaf enough to miss the aggressive promises issuing from the speakers.
Two softshell tacos, meat and cheese, but only easy cheese, with a dollop of mild sauce. And an order of nachos with the extra-large tub of melted "cheese", if Mom felt like I'd earned it or Dad was the one footing the bill.
Once the order was in, I'd hop over to whichever quarter-devouring device was ensconced in one dark nook. I was already pretty addicted to the faux-meat and processed cheese-like substance rolled in vaguely-almost-tortillas by the time Mortal Kombat II made its way to the Midwest. Even a $10 million dollar marketing campaign only buys so much real estate in the fly-overs, and that was still a year away for the console launch.
I'd fed innumerable Washingtons to a wide variety of blinking, chiming, confounding cabinets before MKII, is what I'm getting at. Gauntlet made an appearance at least once; Galaga before that. There was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cameo, but that might have been after.
Whatever the hook, dungeon crawling or space battles, none of them appealed to me quite the way the fighting game did. Trying to learn the moves, master more than the easiest Fatalities, defeat the slightly-douchesque high school kid who you knew had to have bought a strategy guide at some point. There was no end to the struggle for guru status.
And there was a story. Sort of. The expanded lore caught my budding writermind and drew me in like sunlight pulls…you know what, that was a terrible simile. Still a better love story than Twilight.
But nonetheless, I found myself desperate to understand more of the Kitana and Mileena relationship. Were they like actual sisters or if Mileena really was adopted would that mean it would technically be okay if well and Johnny Cage? Fuck that guy. You can finish the other thought the way the prepubescent boy in you would.
Liu Kang's struggle and de facto protagonist status, I'm not entirely ashamed to admit, made him Cena-like in my book. I do hope your brainlash shuffling between two wildly different pop culture eras wasn't too severe.
There was also the bit about turning into a dragon. Figuring out how to do that would have been the highlight of my pre-teen years. I settled, sadly, for living vicariously through the tie-dye and impressively-deep-pocketed-JNCO-clad high schooler as he polymorphed and nommed on nubs with his finisher.
MKII was replaced eventually, probably by a terrible rip-off like Killer Instinct. We started using the drive-thru more often, and I gave over more of my scrounged change to side-scrollers and shooters at Aladdin's Quarter-vortex.
But twenty years after the game was released on the Genesis my brother and I pooled our Christmas allowance to fight over opening on the fated holiday morning, I still remember the old, and thoroughly delicious if my initial depiction implied lackluster flavor, Taco John's, and the familiar siren's call when Scorpion tapped back, back, low punch.
"Get over here!" indeed.