Friday, May 18, 2012

Double Dragon, I can’t quit you…

I have played a million and a half games in my lifetime.  One game that will always be in my head is an arcade classic by the name of Double Dragon.  It was the first arcade that I have ever finished and still one of my favorite things to play to this day. 

The year was 1988, I was a rambunctious seven year old, full of energy and hope like every other kid at that age.  I had a Nintendo, which I played every single day, rain or shine.  That year I had broken my arm climbing a fence, and I remember cutting a hole in my cast so that my thumb can mash down the controls on that super small controller.  That’s pretty hardcore if I do say so myself, but that’s a horse of another story altogether.

There was a grocery store right on the corner in my neighborhood.  It’s been there since the 70s and was owned by a Puerto Rican family who befriended my family because that’s what neighbors used to do back in the day.  I miss that.  In the 80s and 90s it seemed like every grocery store, every fast food joint you would walk into had a room just for arcades; it attracted kids and brought more business.  Luis, the shop owner was late to the party on this, but once he realized it, had at least 2-3 machines in the store at all times, switching them out every few months, depending on popularity.  The first two arcades that were featured filled this tiny store with kids and teenagers alike.  The first game was a fighting game called Yie Ar Kung-Fu.  It was a first of its kind, just pitting one on one fighting with semi-special moves. It was no street fighter, but it definitely laid the groundwork for future fighting games.  

The second game caused a line from the machine to the middle of the bread aisle.  This game had two lines, one for each player.  This arcade was Double Dragon.  If ever there was an aura from an inanimate object, this was that moment.  Quarter after quarter, from start to completion, the game never saw an empty line.  Kids and teenagers alike would discuss their methods, tips and even offer to give the person in front of them an extra quarter to let take their place in line.  That’s how I met my drummer actually.

Finally, it was my turn in line to play and I was floored.  This was the first time I have ever played a game with another person that used teamwork to take out the bad guys.  I punched, kicked, head butted and later learned to elbow my way up and down that game.  Many a quarter was used to perfect my method.  Once I learned the elbow trick, I was able to zip through the game's 4 missions without much of a resistance from Abobo and his crew.  My earliest and greatest achievement in gaming was finishing Double Dragon with one quarter, of course, it was a day where the grocery store was empty so I shared my victory with Luis’ daughter Marisol, who was my age, but could give a damn about video games. She was my first rejection, but the victory was too sweet to bring me down.

I would play Double Dragon every day until it was taken out.  I would always ensure that the high score read “KWK” and if not, I would mop the floors, take out the trash, whatever it took for more quarters to rectify the situation.  The other arcades that replaced it never had the excitement that Double Dragon did.  It was definitely a golden age for the grocery store, kind of like the movie Awakenings.  For that summer, it was amazing, but after that summer, it was just a memory.

Flash Forward 23 years.  I still play Double Dragon on the Xbox LIVE Arcade, which is one of the few games I have all of the achievements for.  And I lead my friends list on the high score, which is the only way I would allow myself to sleep at night.  I recently found an arcade in the suburbs of Chicago that is quite amazing.  It is a mecca for arcades and old school gaming, as well as one of the strongest fighting game communities.  This magical place is called The Galloping Ghost Arcade.  As soon as I walked in, I felt 7 all over again. The excitement was back.  And even better, the aura of an arcade was glowing in the first row toward the back of the arcade.  As I followed it, I found my first childhood sweetheart, Double Dragon.  I fell in love all over again.  Even though I had over 200 arcades to spend my time with, I couldn’t help catching up with Billy and Jimmy Lee.  

For a time, I set the local record there and only recently was taken down.  But I try to go back as often as I can to reclaim my throne.  It’s not just a score to me; I feel like I owe this game my best, because it stuck with me for so many years and cheered me up through every breakup and downfall in life.  I had Double Dragon, and that could never let me down.

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