The actual game wasn't all that disturbing.
I found the arcade cabinet in the back of an antique shop, and the idea of a computerized fighting game being an "antique" chilled me to the bone. It seemed like only yesterday, when I'd spend all day in the arcade, dumping quarters into the silver slots.
The cabinet was marked down from five hundred bucks to just over two hundred. The colorful sides depicted strange combatants locked in combat, throwing lightning and fireballs and who knows what else.
"SUPER XX PHANTOM FIGHT" was unashamedly emblazoned across the top of the thing. It was nonsense... but such glorious nonsense. The thing was plugged in to show that it worked, and while no one was looking I stuck in twenty-five cents.
"SUPER DOUBLE-X!!!" shouted a booming, thoroughly Japanese voice, "PHANTOM FIIIIIGHT!!"
The character select screen appeared. There were six fighters, each clearly ripped from images of real performers and cleaned up to fit in their 32-bit world. I selected a generic-looking "Dragon Lady", and hit the white button marked "START".
"HA HA HA HA, EFFECTIVE CHOICE!" the voice yelled.
My round of play was over within a few minutes. The first opponent was a tall character with a bucket over his head. I couldn't really get the hang of the controls that quickly, and on my first try there was no chance of using a special move. Bucket-head made quick work of me, and by the time the "CONTINUE" screen popped up, the owner of the shop was standing next to me.
"Interested, or just looking?" The old woman had a sliver of annoyance in her voice.
"Just looking," I chuckled, "sorry."
She turned and walked away without so much as a second look. I sneered at her back.
"OPPOSITE REACTION!?" the arcade cabinet boomed. I turned to look at the screen and saw a demo fight was now taking place.
I left the antique shop quickly since I now felt a bit slighted. There was plenty to see in this tourist trap. I didn't need to be the obnoxious tourist rubbing his greasy fingers all over that old bird's expensive wares.
Stopping in front of a toy store, I watched a woman in her thirties dragging her son along the sidewalk. She had a hold of the child's wrist as he shrieked in pain.
"No! You're not looking at toys!" she snapped. Stopping right in front of me for the briefest moment, she slapped the boy right across his face.
My attention was so focused on this brazen display that the next sound I heard nearly made me jump out of my skin.
"DISCONTENTED ELDER?!" boomed the outlandish voice.
I looked around... literally, I looked left and right like a stupid cartoon character... then I returned my focus to the woman who was now dragging the kid down the street.
"She's over there, Officer!" I shouted after her.
The woman immediately released the kid, and now it was her turn to look around. When she caught sight of me, I smirked and shrugged my shoulders. Sure, maybe I wasn't doing the kid any favors in the long run, but I wanted her to know people WERE watching. At any moment, someone could call a cop on her ass.
"COMPLETE DECEPTION!!" the voice boomed again.
The sound was so loud, I felt like my teeth were rattling. A glance toward some couples outside a cafe told me they'd heard nothing.
Unsure of what exactly was going on, I stumbled into a small market and stood in front of the refrigerated shelves for a moment. Maybe the Summer heat had screwed with my brain.
Soon, I was clutching a cool can of soda as I approached the counter.
"Is that all?" the cashier asked absently.
"Dollar fifty," she said flatly.
I slapped the money on the counter and popped open the can.
"ACCEPTABLE PURCHASE!!" the voice roared, followed by a deep laugh.
"You didn't hear that, right?" I took a sip and gestured to the air around me.
"Hear what?" the cashier made a sour face.
"Never mind." I turned and walked away.
"AWKWARD EXCHANGE!!" the voice called out. The digitized sound of a record scratching nearly pierced my eardrums.
I sat on a bench just outside the market for the next hour and people-watched. Every sort of person you might imagine passed by at some point. Families on vacation, locals going to and from work, even a few people with less than virtuous intentions.
A little girl lost her flip-flop and kept going without noticing.
"FORGOTTEN ARMOR!!" the voice echoed.
A group of teen girls in bikinis walked past, giggling.
A skateboarder wiped out on a bike rack nearby and rolled into the street.
"DANGEROUS MOTIONS!!!" followed by the off-putting digital sound of a bowling ball striking the pins.
Everything that happened, if it was of any interest whatsoever, got its own commentary from the baritone announcer. I couldn't really make sense of the whole thing... other than the idea I'd gone mad... but still, it wasn't exactly threatening me in any way.
I didn't feel any real sense of danger until I removed myself from the bench, sweat silhouette behind me.
As I turned to walk to the waterfront, I noticed something that hadn't been there before. Standing atop the fountain smack-dab in the middle of the street was a familiar figure. He was tall, muscular, and wore a bucket over his head.
"SUPREME CHALLENGE!!!" the voice called out, sounding even more excited than usual.
I dropped the soda can and bolted as the pail-headed thing leapt from its perch with the speed and grace of a true predator. I didn't look back as I rounded a corner and found myself in a back alley. I continued on like this until I found a dumpster I could cower behind.
That's when I heard a door open... followed by the sound of two wheels rolling over a threshold.
"You sure about this?" asked an unseen man.
"Never been more sure about anything in my life. Nobody wants it, kids come in just to mess with it... I'll be glad to have the space!" ranted a familiar, elderly voice.
The door closed again, and I carefully crept out of my hiding space.
"ULTIMATE DISGRACE?!" the voice called out.
This time, it WAS coming from the arcade cabinet. It sat before me on a dolly, ready and waiting to be hoisted into the dumpster.
It was no longer plugged in.
"Well why didn't you just ask?" I snorted.
It took a bit of elbow grease, but eventually I managed to wheel the garish monolith all the way back to the hotel garage and into the back of my van. I don’t really play with it all that much, but I guess being saved from the dump was enough to make the thing leave me alone.