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Mortal Kombat

A popular 1992 fighting game.

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Daddy, What's that Red Stuff Coming Out of Kitty's Ear?

  • Jun 23, 2011
  • by
Any self-respecting gamer remembers the first time he laid eyes on Mortal Kombat. I know I do. I don't even think I was a teenager at the time. But I remember casually walking into a local gaming spot and seeing it. At first I thought it was odd that Combat was spelled with a K instead of a C, but the misspelling of the title was quickly forgotten as I gazed upon the photo-realistic characters. I thought it was incredible how real they looked. Then I watched a character get smacked around while fantastic arcs of a red goo-like substance flew all over the screen. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what it was. I noticed it flew out of the characters who got hit. BLOOD! IT WAS BLOOD!!!

Needless to say, I was quite shocked. It wasn't that I had never seen blood before. My younger days were filled with cuts and scrapes from cycling, touch football (don't ask how) and the like. It wasn't even the first time I had seen blood in a video game. The characters in Cadash for the TurboGrafx-16 mostly exploded in quick waves of dark blood. There's even a little blood in Street Fighter 2. But Mortal Kombat was the first time I had ever witnessed video game bloodletting to such an extreme degree. Bright red drops flew around in spectacular rainbows. After the shock wore off, my head quickly moved on to a new thought: Who had the nerve to finally do this? Then another thought: THIS IS THE COOLEST THING I'VE EVER SEEN!!! I was so taken in by the gimmick, Mortal Kombat immediately took its place at the top of my favorites list. I then proceeded to waste years and dollars on the series.

Now I'm a little bit older, a little wiser and a little less naive. I was deprived from video games for the most part back then, so I had no way of knowing about the realization I would come to years later. Mortal Kombat really wasn't very good. Holy cow, I've wasted my life and money.

But this review isn't about my petty realizations. It's about the conversion of Mortal Kombat from the Arcade to the Genesis and whether it stayed intact for the trip.

Before I get to that, though, you really have to understand something about Arcade games back then, if you're new to gaming. You see, back then the Arcade was THE king, end of story. 16-bit technology and a dominant cartridge format made Arcade-perfect translations of popular Arcade games a mere pipe dream. So the programmers had to make do with what little technology existed, and as a result, many Arcade translations were either hit or miss. Street Fighter 2 was a big hit that did a lot in the way of translations. Old Sega Arcade games, like Golden Axe and Altered Beast, were also mostly hits. The Genesis version of Samurai Shodown was a hit because it was mostly faithfull, although the subtraction of scrolling graphics and a character detracted from it. Final Fight for the Super NES was a miss because it took away a character, a level and the two-player mode. Time Killers was a miss on the Genesis, but the original version wasn't that great either. Genesis version of Virtua Fighter 2? Miss, and hopefully the person responsible for it was fired.

The first Mortal Kombat on the Genesis is a hit, but another millimeter closer to the edge and it would have been a miss. When everyone first showed up at the game stores on that fateful Mortal Monday, bought their own personal copies of Mortal Kombat and rushed home to play them, many were shocked. The people at Sega and Nintendo, always thinking of the fragile minds of their demographic audiences, embarked on a quest to protect them by removing the blood from the game. But the sneaks at Sega were aware of the fact that the game was popular BECAUSE of the blood, so they tossed in a code that would let experimental gamers play with the blood intact. Word got out, and now the blood code (press abacabb at the Codes of Honor screen) is as famous as the Konami code. It was strictly because of this feature the Genesis version outsold the bloodless Super NES version by a wide margin.

I'm sure many story buffs will be happy to know the original story is also still alive and kicking in the Genesis version. A long, long time ago, in a galaxy very, very near, there was a prestigious martial arts tournment called Mortal Kombat. It was an honor and glory contest in which people from everywhere competed to win the title of Grand Champion. Then the tournament got corrupted by the evil shape-shifting demon Shang Tsung, who began slaughtering competitors by the dozen and stealing their souls at the end. With a right hand (well, two right hands, as is the case here) in the half-human dragon Goro, Tsung began a 500-year domination of the contest. Today, seven more warriors have lined up for Tsung to knock right back down. Of course all seven of these nutty characters have their own personal reasons for entering the contest. A rather lame plot, I know, but it's still pretty good for a fighting game. And the next two games in the series did quite a bit to enhance it.

Although the plot was kept intact, the Arcade version's challenge was not. There are five levels of challenge to test you, but even the highest isn't half as difficult as the Arcade version was. A veteran MK freak won't have any trouble blasting through the first seven opponents. He may have his problems during the endurance matches, but if he lives through them, Goro and Shang Tsung won't be obstacles between the player and completion of his game. Reptile, the extra-fast hidden boss who mimics the moves of Scorpion and Sub-Zero, is pathetically easy. It's a good thing Arena kept the Arcade version's score counter, because the only real challenge you'll ever face is that of trying to top someone's high score.

The lame bonus rounds between the fights are still there, and just as lame as they were in the Arcade. In these stages, your character stands there looking tough as you tap two buttons at a ridiculously fast pace to build up their power. Once their power reaches a certain level, you press another button to have them chop through one of a variety of items. Problem is, if you don't have fingers like The Flash, you won't be able to break through anything except the lowest level item. The best way to do it is to turn up the auto-fire.

All seven characters are still there, with all their moves intact. While this is good for the translation, it does little for the game itself. Except for their different clothes and special moves, every character in the game plays exactly the same. This is what makes the series so forgettable. Everyone has the same high punch and kick, low punch and kick, block, uppercut, sweep, and roundhouse. In close quater combat, everyone knees and throws. Almost every fighting game has palette-swaped characters-that is, characters who look the same and play almost the same, but have different colors. So in this way, all seven of Mortal Kombat's characters are palette-swaped. This makes the real palette-swaping of the ninjas, Scorpion and Sub-Zero, even more of a crime. Given the names and backgrounds of some of these characters, the game could have been a lot more interesting. Rayden is supposedly the god of thunder, for crying out loud!

For all I know, all the combos from the Arcade are still there too. Problem is, you don't have to have tons of skill in order to pull many of them off. And some of the special moves and combos are incredibly cheap. Scorpion's harpoon move not only brings the opponent closer, but leaves him temporarily stunned. Sub-Zero can freeze his opponents. Fortunately, Mortal Kombat managed to corect one of the few glaring problems in Street Fighter 2: Instead of canceling each other out, projectile attacks pass right through each other. I always considered Ryu the cheapest character in Street Fighter 2 because if the player is skilled enough, he can sit in a corner, launching an endless stream of fireballs and nailing any opponent who gets close enough with a Dragon Punch. You can't do that in Mortal Kombat. It's also good that the projectiles can actually be ducked under.

Now for everyone's favorite part: The fatalities. Playing Mortal Kombat, one takes note of the fact that dizzies are nonexistant. Except for the very end of a match, during which the loser, having been depleted of his energy, stands there wobbling. This is a time during which the winner gets to move in and nail him with a free hit, free of any retaliation. While it's permissable to just smack him with an uppercut, most players will opt to completely destroy him with a move specially designed for this very moment. The winner stands in a spot, hits a combination of buttons, and watches as his character rips out his opponent's beating heart, spine or simply fries him. It's worth a few extra points, not to mention the look your human opponent's face as he watches his dignity go up in flames.

Honestly, all of this is so easy to pull off in the single-player mode, it's barely worth it. Single-player mode is just for a guy with 20 minutes on his hands. But the same thing that makes the single-player mode so lame is the very thing that makes the two-player mode a complete gas! Everything is easy, so you get to test your skill against that same kind of easiness. It's lots of fun.

Sad to say, the graphics got murdered in the process of translation. The characters and backgrounds both look completely muddled, and the characters are missing a lot of frames of animation. While the silhouette in the pit stage is still there, most of those nice little details are gone. The bottom of the pit is free of bodies. Johnny Cage's shadow kick doesn't execute with multiple shadows. And the lack of color is simply staggering. I again refer you to poor Cage, whose green flame is now silver. The only character who look half-real is Goro, and that's because he looks like he was animated in claymation. And most of the backgrounds aren't very creative, but that's the fault of the Arcade.

The sounds fare even worse than the graphics. Apparently, some musical geniuses over at Arena decided the original composition wasn't good enough. They also overlooked their own shortcomings in that area. The result is a terrible, cliched musical score. Although the original thuds are still in the game, at least 90 percent of the voices are gone. No announcments of characters, who won, what round it is, just the FIGHT! that opens every round. The characters are all remarkebly silent for the amount of punishment they take. The only line left intact was Scorpion's "Get over here!" They even removed Rayden's "Gotta call the cops!" sound that he shouts whenever he performs the superman move.

I've mentioned the controls time and time again, and there's really nothing more I can say. The special moves all come off without a hitch, but they don't require any skill, either. So while the lack of bugs in performing any kind of move is a good thing, you don't need tons of skill to pull of a special move or combo either, and that ultimately makes the game too easy for its own good.

Mortal Kombat's lack of creativity makes it a sub-par fighting game. Its lack of challenge on the Genesis makes it a wastefull single-player game. But its hilariously easy to perform moves make it a wonderful party game. It's a gas seeing who can score the most points while pounding his or her way through the single-player, very easy mode and playing against each other with nothing but special moves. It's a worthwhile five dollar purchase, but it may soon wind up collecting dust. For the party reasons, I'll recommend it.

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June 23, 2011
Awesome review, Nic! I actually don't remember the first time I ever played this, but I do have very early memories of it. My older cousins owned it and I always played it every time I went over to their house.  Mmmmm... nostalgia :)  btw, you might appreciate @' review of it, too!
June 23, 2011
Yeah, it's really one of those games which was popular for shock value. To me it was the 90's version of rock music - I played to shock my folks.
June 24, 2011
My dad played along with me. My mom looked in disdain :P
June 25, 2011
My mother looked on in disdain. My father didn't care one way or the other.
June 23, 2011
this was fun for its time in arcades and I do agree with your review. How did you feel about MK 3?
June 23, 2011
That one is coming...
More Mortal Kombat reviews
review by . April 19, 2011
Reviewing the first Mortal Kombat game is pretty challenging.  Especially in a day and age where it hasn't aged quite as well as people would've liked for it to, and where it's sequels more than outshine it.  But what makes it harder to review is that the game is so beloved... but for mostly the wrong reasons that we'll get to.  With a new one right around the corner (tomorrow, in fact as I write this review) I thought it would be apt to go back and play the game for …
About the reviewer
Nicholas Croston ()
Ranked #17
Hi! I'm here in part to plug my writing and let everyone know that I'm trying to take my work commercial.      Now, what about me? Well, obviously I like to write. I'm … more
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About this video game


Mortal Kombat is a fighting video game developed and published by Midway for arcades and by Acclaim Entertainment for home versions. The game was released in North America in 1992. It is the first title in the Mortal Kombat series. Upon release, Mortal Kombat became one of the most popular arcade games of all time. It was subsequently ported to home video game consoles and became a best-selling game. Mortal Kombat also became one of the most controversial video games, for its depiction of gore and violence using realistic, digitized graphics.

Mortal Kombat focuses on the journey of the monk Liu Kang to save Earth from the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung, ending with their confrontation on the tournament known as Mortal Kombat. The game spawned numerous sequels, and is considered one of the most popular American fighting games to date.

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Publisher: Midway, Acclaim
Developer: Midway
Console: Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), Sega Genesis, Arcade
Genre: Fighting Action
Release Date: 1991
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