How do you truly test the will power of a person? Do you make them face their internal demons? Do you force them to confront the thing that they fear most?
No, dummy. You make them play a fighting video game from the '90s, and they only win if they don't chuck their console out of a window.
Some fighting games from the '90s were notoriously difficult, and they weren't made any easier by the fact that the characters that you were fighting against were often the weirdest, most disturbing things that you could imagine. Rarely did a day go by in elementary school that I didn't hear about the bizarre new character that a classmate had unlocked and the subsequent new horror that they were exposed to. The games may have been fictional, but the nightmares were oh so real.
So in the spirit of reliving our nightmares, let's celebrate some of the fighting game characters that haunted us during the '90s, starting with the most obvious one...
Meat - Mortal Kombat 4
Mortal Kombat characters can have a tendency to all look the same. When the creators of Mortal Kombat concocted Sub Zero and Scorpion, they struck gold by realizing that they could just create new characters if they switched up the mask colors. Scorpion, Sub Zero, Reptile, Smoke — they all shop at the same H&M for creeps, apparently.
But then I heard about Meat from my friend's Mortal Kombat 4 strategy guide, and even though I hadn't played the game yet, I was instantly entranced. You mean to tell me that there's a guy named Meat that's just... meat? But since I didn't have a copy of Mortal Kombat 4, I was stuck thinking about this skinless man for years. Eventually, I figured that I had just made it up, and that it was a fever dream created by a brain that had become obsessed with horror movies around that time.
But as I later learned when I finally played MK4, Meat is real. And I can only imagine what my elementary school friend must have experienced when he was pleasantly playing MK4 and was suddenly faced with a man with no skin. Ha ha. Oh, childhood.
Yoshi - Super Smash Bros
Yoshi is undeniably cute. He's a little dinosaur with a charming voice, and he lets Mario ride on his back, even though Mario usually loses him in the bottomless valleys that make up a majority of the Mushroom Kingdom. So when he showed up in the first Super Smash Bros., we didn't know what to expect. Could something that adorable really be taken seriously as a deadly combatant?
And then we saw Yoshi consume someone and then poop them off the edge of the stage to their deaths and we learned that the answer is "Yes."
See, in Super Smash Bros., Yoshi can swallow characters and then crap them out in an egg. Then, until that character can desperately mash buttons and break out of the egg, Yoshi is free to pummel the egg and cause more damage. But you can eliminate all of the hassle of pummeling if you just place Yoshi's butt somewhere near the edge of the platform. Then, when you eat someone, you just lay that egg off the side of the world. So your opponent's character is now trapped, screaming from inside of a poop egg, as they fall to their demise.
It's brutal, and it's only made worse by the fact that Yoshi will probably shout, in his childlike dinosaur voice, "Yoshi!", a few seconds later.
But what "Yoshi!" really translates to is "Yeah, I took a dump so hard that it murdered another character. And I liked it."
Sodom - Street Fighter Alpha
Sodom isn't bleeding in any way, nor is he visually gruesome. He doesn't tear out spines or scream about taking your soul. Instead, he's just a very annoying Japanophile. And that's almost more disturbing than if he was the walking reincarnation of death.
In college, I was first exposed to the anime fandom, and while I love anime and believe that most anime fans are awesome people, there is a certain subsect that believe that, since they've watched all of FLCL and know all of the Naruto themes by heart, that they are the grand keepers of all things Japan. No need to ask an actual Japanese person about any of this, or do any research. Allow me, the white guy with the Death Note T-shirt, to explain the ins and outs of what it's TRULY like to be Japanese.
These people can be misinformed and awful, and when I read up on Sodom, an American that wears a samurai outfit and has mistranslated Japanese symbol on his clothing, I cringed a little bit. Because Sodom was suddenly everyone at a convention that would fly into a rage if you told them that you disagreed with their favorite manga. Sodom might not be the scariest character, but he sure brings up the worst memories.
Dr. Bosconovitch - Tekken 3
Most fighting game characters are jacked dudes that do roundhouse kicks and maintain impossible hairstyles. Sometimes they're older dudes, but even still, those old dudes are impossibly muscular. Somehow, becoming a grandfather only enhances the size of your biceps, which makes me super excited to turn 70 one day. Why start a workout routine when you can just age?
And then there's Dr. Bosconovitch from Tekken 3. Dr. Bosconovitch isn't muscular, nor is he the wizened old master character that you see in a ton of cartoons. Instead, he is an old scientist with scoliosis, which is an illness that affects the spine. So he is constantly falling down, sometimes after his own moves, but usually after taking a light amount of hits from the other characters.
No other video game character makes you feel worse than Dr. Bosconovitch. The fact that he spends most of his fights on his back, not because it's his special fighting style, but because he has scoliosis, makes me want to start drinking as soon as the round begins. I drink to forget Dr. Bosconovitch. And I drink the cope with how Tekken 3 makes me feel.
Vertigo - Primal Rage
The monsters in Primal Rage are all pretty standard, with the exception of one. You have your apes and tyrannosaurs and raptors and then you have Vertigo, this cobra/raptor thing that was the first video game character to ever give me bad dreams.
As a child, I loved dinosaurs. I still do, but when I was a kid, I could not manage my obsession. So when I learned that there was a dinosaur fighting game, I'm surprised that I didn't burn the house down out of excitement. But when I first played Primal Rage, I stayed far away from Vertigo. The other monsters were friendly variations of things that I'd seen, and Vertigo was a hell beast from the darkest corner of human evil.
Dural - Virtua Fighter 2
Remember the end of Annihilation, that sci-fi movie that you probably didn't see because most people don't go to the movies unless Iron Man happens to in it? Remember that (spoilers ahead) disturbing humanoid thing that copies Natalie Portman's character?
Okay, now imagine if Natalie Portman had suddenly gained martial arts powers and took on that thing for a round? Yes, it would've improved the ending of Annihilation, but that's beside the point. The point is that Virtua Fighter players have been getting scared by that humanoid since the '90s. We've always known that fear, and that fear's name is Dural.
Dural is a cyborg and she can copy the moves of other characters. So when you fight her, you're not just getting your ass kicked. Your getting your ass kicked by techniques that YOU thought you had mastery over. I still get hints of anxiety when I hear this theme:
Blob - Clayfighter
I remember my parents getting me two fighting games for Christmas one year: Killer Instinct and Clayfighter. Killer Instinct was fun, as it was basically the video game equivalent of all the times that I'd written a story that totally copied Mortal Kombat and then been like 'Nuh uh. My story is called, ummm, Death Battle Z." And I played Killer Instinct so much that I eventually became okay at it. But I never got good at Clayfighter. Not because it was a bad game, but because all of the goopy clay characters made me feel weird.
Especially Blob, who, if you couldn't guess, was just a blob of clay.
That would be the most obvious character to create. You've already invented a clay Elvis and a clay wrestler, so why not a clay pile? But Blob's eyes and mannerisms threw me off. He seemed too human, like the clay version of a kid that would bully me that I also had to do group projects with. He would also turn into a trophy version of himself and smile with big non-blobby teeth, which always worried me. So he's a pile of goo that has a lot of huge, human teeth floating inside of himself?
You could've shown me The Human Centipede at that time in my life, and I still would've given it the second place trophy in the fight to gross me out. I believe video games do more good than bad, but I will picket in the streets if the youth of today are ever exposed to Blob.