A sorcerer by the name of Shang Tsung , along with a four-armed half-man, half-dragon beast named Goro, seized and conquered a tournament called Mortal Kombat, by defeating the champion Kung Lao. Tsung hosts another tournament, and 7 fighters with their own goals enter the tournament. -summary
The 90's are indeed memorable to me entertainment-wise for several reasons. One reason I can look back fondly on would be the evolution of video games, in this case, the one on one fighter. Long story short, the fighting genre eventually caught on like wildfire, and Street Fighter II: The World Warrior released in 1991 was the main reason for that. The game revolutionized the fighting genre with its colorful gallery of martial artist, and amazingly tight game play that would be unrivaled for quite some time. It wouldn't be wrong if I said Street Fighter II can be considered the blueprint on how to craft a fighting game. The success of the game brought many other gaming companies out of the woodwork to try and capitalize on its success. Gamers would eventually witness several SFII influenced games. Fatal Fury II held up pretty well, while World Heroes would copy the game shamelessly, yet fail with the slightest amount of innovation. Mortal Kombat which was released in 1992 by Midway would appear setting itself apart from the rest of the pack, with its own unique game play and twist.
Mortal Kombat was quite different from everything, and yes, gamers will be quick to point out the gory nature of the game. It was the first to introduce puddles of blood shooting from opponents, and its greatest feature was being able to kill your opponent. Unfortunately, the first Mortal Kombat of the series would go on to be remembered only for its psychotic bloodlust, which is actually a bad thing because the violence completely overshadows the little bit of depth in its game play, as well as the advancement towards the arcade fighter.
Mortal Kombat is a one on one fighter that features seven playable characters in two out of three rounds fighting. The characters are Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Kano, Raiden, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero. You will battle your way through the entire character roster until you make it to the top of the list and take on Shang Tsung. The characters have up to two special moves, with several having up to three. The game tried its best to be different from the pack and it shows. Many of the moves are really cool; Sub Zero hurls an ice projectile to freeze opponents leaving them open for punishment. This is clearly the best projectile in the game, because you will always be at a disadvantage trading projectiles with him. The Van Damme-ish character Cage, delivers a split punch to the balls that still looks painful. There are various moves in the game to either stun or close the gap between opponents. The most memorable moves of course were the fatalities. Mortal Kombat was over the top when it came down to shock value; from Sub Zero ripping opponents heads off, to Kano ripping out their hearts. Those are definitely among the greater " Oh Shit!" moments in gaming.
The only issue I have concerning the moves outside of the specials, is that the characters basically have the same regular moves, and there's no difference in their fighting style when delivering standard punches and kicks. This is where SF II and even Fatal Fury II come out the winner, because their character rosters had a great amount of depth and various fighting styles to keep one learning how to play with them.
Midway attempted to make up for this with small details in the game play that many people overlook. One of the things about fighting games to annoy me was the ability to sit in a corner and block attacks constantly aka "turtling". SF II players were bad about this, and you could do it without any real penalty, because you could only drain health with special attacks, plus throwing was considered "cheesy", despite them cheesing in a different way. Mortal Kombat fixed that problem, by allowing regular attacks to drain health during blocks. This tick damage maybe didn't seem like much, but it was sometimes a great way to snatch that last bit of health to end a match. The game is probably also the first to introduce the juggle system, which is something that is also overlooked and unfortunately undeveloped here. This allowed characters to dish out extra damage to airborne opponents when hit in the air. For example, if you were able to counter a jumping opponent using Scorpion with either a quick jump kick or even a standing straight punch; then you would be able to snag them with the spear before they hit the ground and add additional damage. All of the characters were capable of this in some way. The Tekken series would later come around, and take juggling to the next level in fighting games making it the principle strategy in its game play.
Mortal Kombat also had a pretty tough AI. Once you got pass the second character, if your skills weren't far above average, then it was usually game over for you. Once you defeated the regular characters, plus fought your copy in a mirror match, then you engaged in the Endurance Match, where you fought two characters one after the other. This indeed increased the challenge, and it was something new at the time. The final two bosses Goro and Shang Tsung were pretty unbalanced, and this resulted in two good fights. Tsung battled using a devastating three hit fireball that could finish you quickly; adding to the danger, he was also able to shape-shift in to all of the characters including Goro. To me, Tsung and Goro were the coolest bosses in a fighting game for a while. I have to also give credit to the game for actually taking time to provide character backgrounds and some type of story. For a fighting game, Mortal Kombat probably had the best story and some of the better endings.
Mortal Kombat shined in its two player like all games of this type. And I enjoyed playing skilled opponents just as much as garbage players. Pounding the daylights out of the latter was great, because you learned how to use the juggles a little better to show off on them.
Many fighters attempted to be a lot different in this area from SF II, with Mortal Kombat only being another one. The game featured a 5 game set up; High Punch, High Kick, Low Punch, Low Kick, and Block. In combination with single button presses and moving the joystick either back or downwards; the player could execute different attacks such as uppercuts and sweeps. The controls were pretty responsive from what I remember, and once I got the specials and fatalities down. I was pretty much a beast here. Like all fighting games, practice was the key here.
I still adore the gritty and macabre look of the game. It definitely felt different from everything else out there, and there were stages with the stench of death on them, such as Goro's Lair, where you saw chained up skeletons in the background, and the infamous Pit, where you sent your opponent falling to their death while fighting on a narrow concrete pillar. The game featured digitized graphics for its characters, and although dated, there was this life-like feel to them that looked really cool back then, with some nice fighting animations. There were also some sick details for the fatality animations; you could see the heart still beating when Kano ripped it out of his opponents chest, and even the hanging spinal cord during Subzero's head rip, with small streaks of blood running out of his victims mouth or nose. This game was incredibly grisly and offensive to many, which is why the backlash for it was so strong leading to the ESRB rating.
The soundtrack is something else that deserves a good mention. The BGM worked very well with the personality and battle locations of the game. It didn't use a rock heavy or upbeat tune at all. It was a traditional Chinese influenced synthesized score with a morbid feel. The Pit stage comes to mind, as it really does feel as if the characters are fighting for their lives, and they really are too, because death is your only fate in this stage. The later games in the franchise would boast some very good and even better music scores, but I think this game was more atmospheric in regards to how the music was used. The sound effects had some good moments. I still remember how freaked out I was when I first heard Scorpion shout" Get Over Here!". And the genuine light thumping sound on the chest when opponents were being punched. The sound was just right and it didn't feel over exaggerated at all.
Mortal Kombat is a game that I think one had to be around to experience in order to appreciate. I was around to see the fighting genre make its advancements, and I was able to see then that the game had a little more to offer than the blood and violence. And I believe others saw it too, because let's not forget that Time Killers came around and thought it could get away with blood and violence with very shitty gameplay. We all saw how that turned out in the end, with that said, I don't believe naysayers truly think Mortal Kombat is that terrible of a game, they're just picking on it for whatever reasons. If they do, then it's their own fault they can't see what the game offered past the violence. I also find it particularly hilarious when some folks take shots at the character selection being only seven strong. As if fighters at that time had these over-sized rosters. Hell, Street Fighter II has only seven characters if you really think about it. Pull Ken out, and the styles and strategies are actually more well rounded.
I'm not saying Mortal Kombat is or was a fighting game masterpiece. It was definitely lacking even then and felt dated only a year later in light of its sequel. Mortal Kombat II would go on to expand on the original system with deeper game play. As a recommendation, I would only advise to check this game out for history's sake to see the starting point of the franchise. But if you want to try out a great to excellent fighter from that era, then the second sequel would be a much better pick.
Pros: - Challenging AI, Production Values
Cons: - Feels very dated and even undeveloped
Where can it be found? I replay it on the Mortal Kombat: Deception Premium Pak, but I wouldn't be surprised if it can be downloaded.