Culled from Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman, this is a story of how a best friend, one groovy dad and some phantasmagorical imports made the summer of 1994 one for the ages. As a kid, I always dreamt of having one perfect summer. And 20 years ago...I found it. Some summers stay with you forever. Some more than others. Part of me can't believe it's been that long. On any given hot, lazy June Saturday afternoon, I still can't help but think back to that fateful day. It was a summer of discovery... a summer of magic... THE SUMMER OF IMPORTS. Something about summer and gaming that goes together; especially though, when we were kids. There was a magic to it. You just needed your best friend, some good games, and you were set
*NOTHING* COMPLETES CHILDHOOD fully quite like sharing it with a best friend. While I had my legendary gaming crew, I was fortunate enough to have a best friend outside of that group, named Nelson, who lived within walking distance. We grew up together best friends since Kindergarten. I loved my old gaming crew, but they were a long car ride away which meant I only saw them whenever my parents were free. So in other words, my gaming crew and I met up only once or twice a month. Nelson, on the other hand, I saw that bastard every single day. We were often in the same classroom together and we shared the same interest in just about everything. We spent nearly every waking moment of the weekends hanging out and playing games. It certainly made for some memorable times. Whenever I think back to my childhood, or to the glory days of gaming, inevitably, Nelson always comes to mind. The big fella and I had some great times... I could write a book about the coming-of-age adventures Nelson and I shared growing up. (I sorta did. Well, an article, anyhow)
I’d like to take a moment to pay my respects to the memory of renting games back in the ‘90s. Every weekend my dad would take me to the local rental store(s) and I would pluck out one title to bring back home. My brother, Kevin, was too shy or embarrassed (or both) to go rent games, so he always made me his little grunt to carry out the deed. Though I was renting the games he wanted (well, at least most of the time...) there was always something magical to those pseudo-adventures my dad and I shared. It was a weekly tradition, rain or shine. Sometimes, even Nelly would join me on those renting excursions. And there was one such instance that happened 20 years ago that left an indelible mark on us, making that summer one he and I would never forget
The year was 1994, and as the final piercing school bell of that year rang, the euphoric cries of 800 kids rang out even louder. We all knew what stood ahead: 2 and a ½ relentless months of splendid carefree summer days: no teachers, no homework, and no school to interfere with our final days of childhood. As much as I love the fall season for Halloween and Christmas, there is nothing... and I mean NOTHING... like summer time, especially when you had a best friend like Nelson to share it with. He and I had just finished the 5th grade together. It was the best year of my childhood. My best friend was in my class; we had Mr. G, the best teacher ever; we had the two hottest girls in our class, Elaine and Jennifer, and Nelson and I were simply at the top of our game. We were 10 years old, going on 11 that summer. We had come of age, and that summer was fit to be one for the ages. Nelson and I made a verbal pact to make it the best summer ever
The very first Saturday morning of that summer, Nelson rode his bike over and my dad drove us to Game Hunter. Game Hunter was alegendary privately owned video game rental store. It was renowned in my neck of the woods for catering to the diehard gamer. Game Hunter didn’t bother to waste time with movies. It had every video gaming system library under the sun, from the 8-bit Nintendo to the Neo Geo, which back then was truly an awe-inspiring and mythical beast. Being able to actually touch and pick up those classic bulky Neo Geo boxes was unbelievable. Game Hunter even housed an arcade machine or two, plus a small ANIME section! How many stores could claim that?! GAME HUNTER WASSIMPLY THE STUFFDREAMS WERE MADE OF
But, what made them stand out was their unforgettable import selection. Back then, gaming imports symbolized a whole lot more than merely just "the Japanese version of a game." Indeed, back then, imports held a certain aura of mystique to them, especially when you read all the little blurbs on those games in Electronic Gaming Monthly and DieHard GameFan on a monthly basis, realizing that they were an ocean away and that you would never even so much as sniff one. So... you have to understand that standing there, seeing a wall covered by mythical Super Famicom boxes, never failed to amaze my little ten year old self. They sat on the very top shelf, purposely out of reach. It was symbolic, even. They would cover the entire upper wall from left to right. You were completely mesmerized as your eyeballs darted from one treasure to another. It was a never-ending parade of divine, exotic esctasy. These were games that were either Japanese exclusives, or Japanese versions of games that were set to hit American soil a month or two later. It was nothing short of magical, and a time I'll always cherish
*** FLASH BACK TO LATE 1992 ***
Game Hunter’s origins began innocently enough on what appeared to be just another ordinary Saturday morning. But as fate would have it, this particular Saturday morning was anything but. My dad and I were set to embark on our latest renting mission together. But first we had to stop by my cousin’s house which was a good 15 minutes away. After that, my dad needed to run an errand at the local drug store a block from my cousin’s house. I didn’t mind, as I always enjoyed being out with my dad... especially after a long school week. Little did I know that fateful morning I would stumble upon a hot shot of a new renting store: GAME HUNTER. The store was decked out from top to bottom with video games from every system imaginable... from 8-bit Nintendo to Neo Geo to even handheld games. I wasn’t a religious kid but I’m pretty sure I thanked God right then and there. It was as if some heavenly angel, in a moment of extreme generosity, decided to plop a slice of paradise right here in my own backyard. Even an atheist would have shout AMEN
I made my way over to the SNES section looking for my brother’s requested title of choice. When I happened to gaze up, I discovered the upper shelf teeming with hypnotic Super Famicom imports. At that point, all bets were off as I had officially gone rogue. Sorry, Kevin. Power Athlete caught my eye. My dad lifted it off the top shelf and I examined the back of the box. It was a Street Fighter IIwannabe. SOLD! My dad obliged and I came home that day with the Japanese version of POWER MOVES. My brother flipped out because A). I disobeyed him and B). we found out that it didn’t even play on our Super Nintendo, as it refused to fit inside the cartridge slot. I had never seen my brother so damn angry before. I promptly called Game Hunter to let them know of my plight, and they explained how I had to rent the device that allowed me to play import games on an American SNES. Yeah thanks guy, you could have warned me about that before I left. Yeah, let’s just say Game Hunter was never known for their stellar customer service. But, much like how one goes to Five Guys for greasy goodness, we went to Game Hunter for their legendary and vast gaming library. After all, nobody goes to a concert for meditation
The import craze started here... late 1992
Luckily, they still had one in stock, and said they would hold it for me. So, being the great father that my old man was, we traveled back to Game Hunter to pick it up. This time, even my brother came along as he himself wanted to come see this new store that I'd hyped to the moon as the end-all, be-all gaming haven. Once there, our pops rented out the special converter adapter for a dollar while Kevin and I stood there gawking at the import selection. The very next week, he and I went back and we picked up our 2nd import game,The Combatribes. We had fun terminating Martha Splatterhead and her sleazy gangs. Game Hunter had become our new favorite store. It was revered within my gaming circle for damn good reason
"CYBORGS AIN'T LADIES!!"
Flash forward back to that Saturday morning of June 1994. There Nelson and I stood, eyes poppin', drool coming down the sides of our mouths. On the very top shelf, sitting there as pretty as a supermodel, it was the Super Famicom ports of Fighter’s History, King of the Monsters 2 and Saturday Night Slam Masters (Japanese name Muscle Bomber). These were 3 arcade-to-SNES conversions that Nelson and I were dying to play! And it was on that idyllic June Saturday morning that they stood right before our very eyes. Their US counterparts were still weeks, even months away! After a brief moment of dead silence, Nelson and I looked at each other in astonishment. And just like how it was over a year ago when I first saw Power Athlete, at that precise moment in time I'd forgotten whatever game my brother wanted me to rent. Once more, I had gone rogue
The only "dilemma" was picking which one of those three games to rent. The indispensable thing about having your best friend along with you meant he could rent one and you could rent one. Nelson was adamant on choosing FIGHTER’s HISTORY, the infamous Street Fighter II clone that Capcom even attempted to sue. I was plenty happy about that as I loved Fighter’s History in the arcades and was long anticipating the SNES port
Who didn't wanna be Karnov or an evil clown in a fighting game
So it boiled down to King of the Monsters 2 versus Capcom's Saturday Night Slam Masters. I'd played Slam Masters a good bit in the arcades. I adored Capcom’s representation of the zany pro wrestling world cranked to the 10th degree, thanks to Slam Masters’ comic book-like violence and über-wacky wrestlers that were even MORE outrageous than those found in the WWF. After all, few things can rival spewing venomous mist into someone's eyes, or piledriving bastards into oblivion all over the globe with Metro City's mayor!
"SATURDAY NIGHT'S ALRIGHT FOR FIGHTING." Haggar agrees!
King of the Monsters 2 and I were like two SHIPS PASSING IN THE NIGHT. Somehow, we had always missed the other. I never played the arcade once. As a staunch supporter of the original, I was dying to FINALLY play the sequel. From 1992 to '94, finding a King of the Monsters 2 arcade became my white whale, so to speak. None of the local arcades had it for whatever reason. And the one time that I did find it, it was at an arcade hall 2 hours away from home, but of course the machine was broken. That sums it up perfectly. It was that one game that somehow always managed to elude me. Standing there with a choice between Saturday Night Slam Masters or my great white whale, King of the Monsters 2, it dawned on me suddenly which one I was going to pick to rent!
Finally it was time to put my great white whale to rest at long last
As Nelson and I rode home in the backseat talking excitedly about our import finds, it suddenly dawned on me that I soon had to face the music. The last time I went rogue and rebelled against my brother he did everything but tear up the house. But I figured with Nelson by my side, maybe Kevin would be less demonstrative. After all, in public, or whenever there were guests, Kevin had no choice but to uphold a certain degree of decorum. Nelson knew this even without my having to ask him for backup. That’s how close we were. Like I said at the beginning, nothing completes a healthy childhood quite like having a best friend support you through thick and thin. He gave me a nod as my dad pulled into the driveway; I knew he had my back. The moment of truth had arrived. My dad went inside the house as Nelly and I stood there on the driveway... import games in hand
We were delaying the inevitable. But there's a reason they call it the inevitable
“Did you get it??” my brother asked excitedly as he came to the door about a minute later
“Uhhh, no. But I got this,” I stammered, handing the game over to him as if it were an adequate consolation prize. It wasn't
“King of the Monsters 2?!” A mixture of shock and disgust filled his voice. “Was my game there for rent or not?” His eyes, which had turned into burning coal, burrowed its way deep in my soul
Now, I could easily have lied right there, "No, your game was rented out." But I was a straight shooter. In hindsight... maybe I was being foolish. But I had made my choice to "disobey" my brother. The least I could do was be honest about it. When I told him I forgot to look for his title once Nelson and I caught sight of the imports, my brother lost control. The scary thing was all this happened even in front of Nelson. I can only imagine how much crazier it would have been without Nelson there next to me. My brother flipped out, stomping and screaming expletives like a drunken sailor. Then he ran to my room, sprinted back and threw my Crash Dummy break-apart plush buddy, Spin, out the door. It smacked me in the face with such velocity that the head flew off its shoulders. Thank goodness it wasjust plush! Nelly retrieved the head which had rolled onto my front lawn and placed it back on Spin’s headless Velcro neck. You would have thought that I killed my brother’s puppy or something. He stormed off, leaving the door open. You know those parts in action movies where the guy says, "Don't you think this is a trap?" Yeah. I took one glance inside and then back at Nelson. Once again, without even having to say a word, he knew. Just to confirm, he said, "Um... let’s go back to my place for a while…"
And so it was. On the first Saturday afternoon of my last carefree childhood summer, I found myself walking with Nelly to his house. He clutched his copy of Fighter’s History while I had in mine King of the Monsters 2, along with my Crash Dummy action buddy, Spin. I'm sure we were a sight for sore eyes. As soon as we got out of viewing distance, Nelson started trash talking my bro. One might think that boy would happily join in with his best friend to pile on his bro, but no. Like a battered victim of Stockholm syndrome, I actually defended my brother a little bit. Hey, blood is blood, no? Sure my bro could be a little rough around the edges, and there were plenty of times where I wished he could have been more quixtoic and slow to anger, but you don't get to choose family. I mean, sure, he could snap every once in a while, but he was not a bad guy, or a psycho or anything. Nelson couldn't believe I was defending Kevin. Finally the matter was dropped as his house came into view slowly but surely. Suddenly, the excitement of our import snags revived us. We were about to play two arcade conversions not anyone else in the entire town had at the time so that made us, as far as we were concerned, thetwo luckiest sumbitchesthat weekend ^_^
With King of the Monsters 2 in one hand and an overly abused Crash Dummy in the other, we sauntered down the street to Nelson's house
We wasted no time in firing up Nelly's Super Nintendo. We threw in Fighter's History first and took turns wasting the computer opponents. We were both impressed by how faithful it was to the arcade original. There was a simplicity to the game that Nelson and I found to be charming
To this day I can't play Fighter's History without remembering that fateful Saturday afternoon over at Nelly's. It was so hot that we propped open the living room windows and left the front door wide open. Lee's stage is SEARED into my retina. That peaceful and calm lake, the family of ducks nibbling away, a fisherman enjoying the great outdoors with his line dipped lazily in the water, and those picture-esque moss-covered hills in the background. Finally, a formation of clouds move their way through the sky in a very haunting and majestic manner. This bucolic stage SCREAMS June 1994 to me. It's an incredibly nostalgic sight and anytime I see it, I'm transported right back to Nelson's living room 20 years ago. This stage perfectly captures that whole time frame for me. One look and it feels like I'm 10 hanging out with my best friend on a hot June Saturday afternoon all over again. Nelson feels very much the same as we still reminisce fondly of that epic weekend
Then, we swapped it out for King of the Monsters 2. He chose Cyber Woo, the King Kong doppelgänger,* and I picked Super Geon, the Godzilla lookalike. We waded our way through the various cities demolishing everything underneath our feet. Conquering all the bosses, 2-on-1 style, we loved it! It was just mindless monster mash ‘em up fun. Finally, after several hours of switching between the two games, late afternoon descended upon us and we agreed that just maybe Kev had had enough time to cool down already. Nelson headed back with me. *Well, in this sequel, MECHANI-KONG I couldn't hide at Nelly's forever. Was Kev still mad?
And sure enough, cooler heads had prevailed and my brother was suddenly interested in trying King of the Monsters 2. It's funny how we each had our own pet favorite. Nelson liked Cyber Woo, I dug Super Geon and for my brother, it was all about Atomic Guy. The 3 of us rotated turns and passed off the controller whenever one of us died. On some stages it was Kevin and me. At other times it was Nelly and me. There was Kevin and Nelson, even. To see the two of them laughing together as they trashed the Grand Canyon was a sight I didn't envision just a mere couple hours prior. Kevin was out of control while Nelson was bad-mouthing him behind his back. Now, looking at the two of them working as one cohesive unit, you never would have thought it. In a way, it was poetic. And of all my gaming memories I harbor, that one remains, still, one of the sweetest ones
The three of us played King of the Monsters 2 and Fighter’s History to death that unforgettable weekend, before returning them both late on Sunday evening. I told my brother we'd also seen Saturday Night Slam Masters. He grew pale at the mention, being a Slam Masters fanatic. We'd played it tons in the arcade. He ordered me to go rent it the next weekend. This time in particular, I was more than happy to carry out his command. No fat chance of me going rogue, as Slam Masters was also right up my alley with its outlandishly wacky wrestlers and frenetic 4-player mayhem. Giant foam fingers, flashing cameras, comic book moves come to life, and Mike F'N Haggar, made Saturday Night Slam Masters, or in this case, Muscle Bomber, one fantastic brawl-for-all. Once again, thanks Game Hunter, for another glorious import memory. Still, nothing can top that Saturday afternoon Nelson and I rented Fighter's History and King of the Monsters 2
Game Hunter eventually closed shop in the mid-late 1990s, as rental stores started to become more and more a thing of the past. It was fast going the way of the dinosaur. While their service was not always top-notch, I will always remember them for their import selection. Game Hunter arrived during a precious period of my childhood, and at a special time in gaming when renting games blindly and taking weekend trips with your old man was all part of the magic and wonder of the hobby. Sometimes, the game you wanted was already rented out at the first two or three local rental stores, so you had to go to your 4th or 5th options around town to find it... and sure enough, it would be there. It just meant more hunting and more quality time spent with your old man. I will never forget those days when my dad and I would hit up all of the rental stores every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine. They symbolized a simpler time in my life. A time where bills, junk emails and clogged six-lane highways didn’t yet exist. The renting relics of my youth were more than just brick and mortar. They are deeply embedded in what made gaming as a child so magical and wondrous. And I am so thankful I was able to enjoy it with a best friend like Nelson
The summer of 1994 was memorable for many reasons. It’s hard to believe those halcyon days are a little over twenty years old now. I credit Game Hunter, the Super Nintendo and Nelson for helping to create so many fond memories. It was in large part thanks to those three that made summer of '94, the last carefree summer of my childhood, bar none, the best one I had as a kid
Thanks for joining me on this jaunt down memory lane. You can read many more retro gaming-related nostalgia-filled stories in Rob Strangman's book MEMOIRS OF A VIRTUAL CAVEMAN
[Are you trying to deliberately scare potential buyers away? -Ed.]
[Actually, I'm in the book too, damnit! Check it out! -Mega Man]
In December of 2013, Rob issued me a message on the Hardcore Gaming 101 forums. He asked if I was interested in writing a few guest stories for his book. I couldn't believe he'd ask little old me. I sat there for like 5 minutes, just staring at his message, reading it over and over again. "HEY Steven, I was wondering if you wanted to contribute a story to the book. Let me know."Would I?! Oh hell yeah! When I was a child, my very first dream was to become a writer. But like so many young dreams, they dissipate with time. Yet writing has ALWAYS been something I enjoy. I guess RVG Fanatic gives me an excuse to carry on my dream. But it's not the same, not quite, as having one's work published in a real physical print book. It is literally a lifelong dream come true, so thanks Rob. The book's NOW available for purchase on lulu.com. Weighing in at a massive 472 pages, it contains pictures and is already receiving rave reviews. In Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman, you will read a myriad of nostalgic gaming stories. The defining moments in gaming, as experienced through the eyes of Rob and twenty guest contributors. The diversity amongst this group of 21 is wide and varied giving you, the reader, a range of scope and perspective. Some of us grew up gaming in the '70s, while others fondly recollect their memories during the 8-bit NES boom and the vaunted 16-bit era. From the influences of MEGA MAN to the unspeakable joy of renting imports, Memoirs of a Virtual Caveman will transport you right back to the Golden Age of Gaming. A time in our lives when life was simple.A time we'll never forget
Thanks again Rob for including my stories in your book. Cheers!