Growing up, there was a Tilt Arcade at the mall near my house. It sat upstairs in the corner of the food court. It had a bright, neon sign that beckoned to me like a moth being drawn to a flame. I’ve got no idea how much money I wasted there. I probably could have paid my way through college with all the quarters I stuffed into their machines.
They had games like The Simpsons, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Streets of Rage, and Mortal Kombat. I loved them all. One of my favorites was Pit-Fighter. It was a beat ‘em up style video game released in 1990 and developed by Atari. It came out during a sort of golden age for fighting games. The original Street Fighter was released three years prior, and the first Mortal Kombat would come out two years later. Pit-Fighter was more realistic than either. Fights were set in locations that looked like abandoned industrial zones, the kind of place you might actually find an illegal, bare knuckle boxing match. They were a bit like the locales used by Tyler Durden in the movie Fight Club.
It may not have had the brutal kills of Mortal Kombat, or the memorable characters of Street Fighter, but this back alley ambiance gave it a brutal feel. This was accentuated by the rowdy crowds that gathered to watch the fights. The crowd could even interfere. Occasionally people in the crowd would come into the pit and attack fighters with knives or sticks. They would also shove fighters back into the ring if they ventured too far from its boundaries. Players could pick up random objects like crates that could be used to bludgeon your opponent. The game’s realism was further enhanced by the fact that actors had been hired to perform all of the characters’ moves. The blue screen footage was then used in the game, as opposed to being redrawn.
Pit-Fighter accommodated up to three players, and you could choose between one of three playable characters: Buzz (a former professional wrestler), Ty (a kick boxer), and Kato (a black-belt). There were also a number of unplayable characters that you battled in the course of the tournament. There were a total of 15 matches, including the “Grudge Matches” that gave you the opportunity to earn extra money. In the Grudge Match, you battled a clone of yourself (if you were playing alone) or the other players. The goal was to knock your opponent down three times.
The championship match was against the Masked Warrior character, but there was a catch. If you had been playing with other people, you would have to fight them to the death until only one player remained. That player would move on to the championship round. This sort of thing could be perilous to friendships. My best friend in high school once told me that the last time he’d thrown a punch at someone, it had been thrown at one of his best friends. The cause of this little, arcade brawl? Pit-fighter.