Mr. Nostalgia talks video games and screams, “MORTAL KOMBAT!”…

This past weekend my sister had a surprise for me when I get to my mothers.  Sunday was a crazy day to begin with due to us finding out my wife’s car needed to go in the shop for some work when the check engine light came on.  It was 70 degrees that day and we were in the midst of weather-schizophrenia with snow on the ground, 70 degree temperature, rain and fog coming from the warm rain melting the cold snow.  On our way to church we saw the light for the engine, then turned around to get my car.  After church we food shopped, dropped off the food, then went to my mother’s house to see my family and cousins for a Christmas get together.

My sister said she had a surprise for me, and when I walked into what was once her bedroom she turned on the TV and there on the screen was Mortal Kombat 3.  My mind suddenly filled with trying to remember the way to make Subzero freeze someone, memories of summer nights spent playing this game before going out, my brother, sister, some friends and I trash talking each other, seeing someone run on screen and say “toastie” and of controllers being thrown when someone lost (and my sister saying, “Don’t throw the controller!” as we did). A grin much like Han Solo would use crossed my face. “Yes,” I thought to myself, “we will play the Mortal Kombat.  We will trash talk, and we will win.” The rest of the day was lost in playing Mortal Kombat 3.  While there was some trash talking, no controllers were hurt in the loss of a game.

My brother, sister and I started out old school on video games.  We had an Atari 2600.  We rocked that thing for years, playing games that were great (Pitfall, Berserk, Spider-man, River Raid) and some that were not so great (E.T., Raiders of the Lost Ark (sorry Indy)). One of our cousins had a Coleco Vision, which I never liked for two reasons.  The first was I hated the controller, it seemed so awkward compared to the Atari one, second was my cousin had a Coleco converter, or whatever it was called, that allowed him to play Atari 2600 games on it.  So not only did he double his games when we came over, but he knew his games well enough to beat us, so we had to really concentrate on winning with our games.

We also spent some time in dark places called “arcades”.  While the word sounds familiar to some, younger readers might not know what one is.  That’s cool.  Mr. Nostalgia will explain.  An arcade was a place that held arcade games in them that only cost one quarter for three lives. Not only were the games reasonably priced, but they were full of games everywhere.  I remember once playing a table top version of an arcade of Popeye. (Table top versions of arcades were just what they sounded like, the screen was in a table and you would play looking down at the table top instead of looking straight into a standing machine. If you don’t know who Popeye is I might have to write a blog about him so you know.  Not only were the cartoons great, so was the video game, and Robin Williams once played him, very well too I must say, in a really stupid movie.) One of the best arcades ever was the original Star Wars one where you flew and destroyed Tie-fighters then into the Death Star itself to destroy. This was a standing game, though there was also a sitting down version which was so much cooler.

In an arcade there was one simple type of etiquette.  This was for whoever got “the next game”. This was decided by saying, “I got next game” and placing a quarter on the console window.  By placing the quarter there you were getting “dibs” on the next game, and there was no discussing it.  Someone could walk up and say, “I got next game” and you could refute that by saying, “Dude, I do, see my quarter?”  The quarter on the console was binding, much like a legal document is binding when buying a house. (To see what this looks like I recommend watching the Disney movie Wreck-it Ralph, 2012, which shows the kids doing this in the movie.)

Mostly our parents didn’t want us hanging out in arcades, though my mother did take us to one once to meet my Coleco-cousin there.  When we wanted to play arcades we would either go to “The Candy Store” down the street to play (now long gone, the candy store sold candy, drinks, and some other crap I totally don’t remember.  I DO remember the stupid owners telling us we had to be seventeen to play the arcade, which we knew was crap since we’ve played them before and knew there was no age-limit on the things, and I remember my sister and I going there once, possibly with other friends, and me buying a Coke and my sister trying to pay fifty-cents for a can of non-alcoholic beer.  When the lady told her to put that back my sister tried to reason with her with, “But it’s non-alcoholic.”) or when we were older in the movie theatre.  There were also places like “Show Biz Pizza” that we went to or when we were much older a place that was called “Sports World” that charged five dollars in quarters to get in before it got busy and then would charge ten.

We had the Atari for several years before it finally lost its coolness.  While we were video game-less my buddy Rich did have the Atari 7200.  This was a newer model, it could play all the old games, plus had this game called Robotron (which was basically just a cooler version of Berserk) where you had to shoot robots before they shot you.  Rich’s parents were NEVER home which meant I was always over there and we were playing video games.  To play Robotron, for some reason, we had to do this.  Have some Coke to drink.  Make microwave popcorn to eat.  When the microwave went ding Rich would get the bag of steaming popcorn, and before serving it, for some reason I don’t know why to this day, would throw it into the room. No steaming hot kernels ever flew into my eye thankfully, and never did the bag ever rip open in flight causing us to be popcorn-less.

Around 1988-1989 my sister got the NES Nintendo.  Ever the trend setter, she followed that with a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. A year later I would get my own Nintendo, and many nights while in high-school were spent playing Super Mario Bros 2 or Zelda.  While Mario was a great game, it did not have a save feature at the time, so when you’re trying to beat the game and it was past midnight and you were tired, you couldn’t save where you were, which meant you either shut it off and start over the next day because you lost where you were (which was not an option), or, you paused the game and shut the TV off. This was THE only option.  When we got Zelda (the cartridge that looked like it was in gold no less) this came with the save feature, which meant we could play the game and save the levels we won until we got the silver arrow and could beat Ganon, restoring the Tri-force.

In 1992 Disney released the film Aladdin.  Great movie.  Great video game too. The winter of 92 (I sound like a crazy old man talking about the worst winter ever, don’t I?) I was a senior in high-school. I also got mono that winter.  I was off from school for one week.  My week home consisted of the following: waking around 9, eating some breakfast, watching reruns of Muppet Babies on Nickelodeon, then playing Aladdin on my brother’s Sega Genesis, having a bowl of orange and cream ice cream, resting on the couch before my dad and brother came home for lunch (they worked down the street), talking to them during their lunch, then playing more Aladdin when they left, having a snack, watching TV until my mom came home and then going upstairs when she did.

Aladdin was a great game.  One thing I remember commenting on about the game to my two younger cousins was how it looked like a cartoon.  You have to remember, I lived during the 80’s, population for a video game 224X256 (the most common resolution for the classic 8-bit video game) and was able to go from seeing my godfather have a Pong game in his basement to NES.  Impressive.  Like going from silent movies to “talkies”, or seeing black and white TV’s then get a color one. I don’t remember much about Aladdin except one thing, I believe it was on level two, but there would be a clothes line starting out pretty early in the level, and on that clothes line was a pair of “mouse ears”.  If you let Aladdin stand in just the right spot, when he looked to his right, the “mouse ears” would look like they were on his head, and you’d get an extra life. I thought that was pretty cool.

I’d also get a Super Nintendo while visiting my cousin that spring.  I was to be in his wedding the summer of 93, which is when I would graduate, and had to drive out to Long Island with my parents and grandparents. After getting fitted for my tux I was waiting and spent the time in a Toys R Us (same one where I years before bought a Raiders of the Lost Ark Well of Souls Kenner play set) and bought the Super Nintendo on a whim when I saw the Super Nintendo Star Wars game.  Coming home that day and playing the game got me hooked.  I would spend many nights getting to the point where I would beat the game, and when I did, I would have to wait for Super Empire Strikes Back and Super Return of the Jedi to come out.

Despite liking my Super Nintendo I didn’t go nuts buying games.  I had the Super Star Wars trilogy as mentioned above (this was BEFORE George Lucas would ruin the franchise) and had the Indiana Jones Greatest Adventures for the Super NES, I think a few more. But the one game that would be the most time consuming, the one game that would have my sister shouting, “No throwing controllers,” as she ducked for cover, the one game that would have us trash talking each other like a celebrity roast, was MORTAL KOMBAT 3 (caps for shouting effects, folks).

Mortal Kombat 3.  I can say the game name and look off into the distance, almost hearing the trash talk, hearing the controller keys going, the cursing at losing, the inevitable cry of my sister with “No throwing controllers”.  The game haunts me like a war veteran. In 1995, when the movie Mortal Kombat was released I was out of work. A friend took me and his little brother to see the movie, and when we went to sit down I looked at the floor and found five dollars.  I looked at my friend and said, “I’m keeping this.” Free movie and found five dollars, pretty good day.

I don’t know where the trash talking came from.  We never started out to try it, it sort of just happened. Like a mysterious kung fu form long thought forgotten, trash talk became as valuable a tool in this game as knowing how to control your character. In the game of Mortal Kombat 3 where I come from, if you don’t trash talk, you don’t bother showing up. Trash talking was more than just talk, it was more than just saying things to piss my brother off, it was a way to get inside his head, into his psyche, and really mess with him while playing. Not only did you get him riled up before or during a game, which would mess with his playing, but you could also make him laugh, which also messed with his playing.

The best bouts of trash talk came from my brother and me.  One time, I kid you not, I beat him in forty seconds with trash talk.  He was already pissed from playing the game with my sister, and when “I got next game” I started out instantly with the trash talk saying, “Dead man walking. We got a dead man walking here.” My brother never stood a chance.  I got into his mind, got him to lose thought, and the next thing he knows he’s getting his spine ripped out in a fatality. He got up, walked out of the room, closed the door, then turned around and opened it once more within seconds not wanting it to end the way it did.  For him, it only got worse. My brother may have beat me at lots of thing in life, both beating the crap out of me or in games, but the one time I could always get him was when playing Mortal Kombat 3.  This weekend proves this, and proves the power of trash talking.

But trash talking took on a whole new level when my buddy Rich and I started playing Godzilla for the Nintendo GameCube. Godzilla Destroy all Monsters Melee was THE game to do battle as one of Toho’s monsters, the game where Rich and I would kick the crap out of each other in different cities and choosing from 14 classic Toho creatures (I was always either Godzilla or Jet Jaguar while Rich could take any character from the movies and learn to master them.  Rich is a Godzilla nut and whether it be movie or video game the guy just digs his Japanese monsters). Rich was good at this game.  He was good at trash talking too.  When we played, we didn’t just trash talk, we commented on the game, giving titles to moves that we didn’t know the name of, so when Jet Jaguar jumped and kicked in the air I’d shout, “It’s the Tommy Tune!” or when we’d be kicking the crap out of each other one of us would shout “It’s a battle royale!” (yes, we said “royale” because it sounded cooler than “royal”) as we gave a fight that Godzilla fans never saw their radioactive tyrannosaurus hero do. But to talk about Godzilla means I need to start at the beginning of that game for Rich and me, and to do that, we need to go to the year 2002, the night before I got married.

It was Saturday night when Rich picked me up.  I saw my future-bride-to-be earlier that day and now we were both getting ready for our wedding the next morning in our own unique way, what I didn’t know at the time was that mine would be playing video games all night.  When Rich picked me up we headed to my favorite (my wife’s too) Chinese restaurant for some take out, then went back to his place and watched the best Star Wars movie ever, The Empire Strikes Back. After eating the food and watching the movie Rich and I spent the next several hours playing Godzilla Destroy all Monsters Melee. Then something happened.  We started trash talking.  It was the first time we ever did that, and it just seemed to come natural.  Perhaps all the hours of playing Mortal Kombat 3 prepared me for it, but Rich and I never trash talked when we played.  Next thing I know insults are being thrown eat each other, comments on the lack of talent, stupid names for moves we just did but had no idea how were created, and a ton of laughter was heard.  We’d play until midnight before I finally went home to marry the best woman ever.

After my wife and I married and came back from our Honeymoon we bought our first house and moved in a couple months later. A tradition started where every Saturday Rich would come over, I’d cook the three of us dinner, and Rich and I would play Godzilla all night.  Trash talking included.  We’d start trash talking with everything we did. Play Godzilla, 500 Rummy, when we painted my second house, the trash talk just kept going as did the laughter.

Cut to this year and several months ago when my sister and I are talking through email while at work. For some reason the thought of screaming “MORAL KOMBAT!” came to mind and I told my sister this.  We then began talking about the old days when we played MK3, how my brother reacted to “trash talk”, and of course the controllers being thrown (for those reading this and think we’re crazy for throwing a controller when we lost, I have this to say, I know you threw yours too, it’s part of the video game experience, so don’t judge). She told me that there was an anniversary for Moral Kombat and toys released on the game, one of which she saw in the store was Nightwolf, one of the two characters I always used (the second being Subzero).

She’d wind up surprising me with the figure weeks later, as well as with this game this past Sunday.  We weren’t playing the game on a Super NES.  It was a system called Retro Game and though it looked like a Super Nintendo, it could play both classic NES and Super NES games.  Our friend and fellow blogger to this site Tommy bought it for her for Christmas, and they then drove to several video game stores just to find MK3. While my brother and I played, me trash talking him and my cousins looking up how to have the character perform his weapons to help my brother, I couldn’t help but think how nice it was to be playing again.

Sure it has been quite some time since we last played, and sure the controller felt odd to use not that I use a Nintendo Wii, but it was nice to trash talk again, to see the words fatality on the screen, and see my brother get twisted from not only losing but from being trash talked, in front of his kids no less. Revenge is sweet.

So remember, those classic and Super NES games you got could still be used, and don’t underestimate the trash talking.  Just don’t throw the controller when you lose and you’ll be fine.

Mr. Nostalgia


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