Monday, May 27, 2024

Developer: Probe    Publisher: Acclaim    Release: 09/13/93   Genre: Fighting

Street Fighter 2 is one of the most influential games of all time, not to mention the impact it had on the fighting game genre. Like Super Mario Bros. and Double Dragon it inspired legions of games to follow in its footsteps. While some like Fatal Fury and King of Fighters still remain strong today none have had the impact of Mortal Kombat. Where every other title was content to ape Capcom’s fighter Mortal Kombat forged its own path and stood out for a variety of reasons, not the least due to its violence. The home ports were highly anticipated in 1993 and when the dust settled the Sega Genesis version was the best way to play the game at home for its time.

Mortal Kombat hit the arcade like an atomic bomb. With its digitized sprites and old martial arts theme it was unlike anything else in the arcade at the time. Plenty of fighting games (…actually almost all of them) use the backdrop of a martial arts tournament to justify the fisticuffs but Mortal Kombat sells the idea better than most. But what caught everyone’s eye besides that was the violence. With blood spraying after every hit and the brutal fatalities combined with the “realistic” graphics Mortal Kombat caused quite a stir. While it seems quaint now in 1992 it was enough to senators nervous about the impact the game might have on children. It was enough to help the game break out in a way that its many failed brethren did not.

The hype surrounding Acclaim’s home releases of Mortal Kombat was surreal in 1993. Video games were finally receiving concrete release dates rather than randomly showing up in stores. Acclaim’s marketing campaign surrounding Mortal Monday was everywhere; TV, comics, newspapers, you could not get away from it. All eyes were on the SNES and Genesis ports and Sega would be the ultimate victor of that battle as they allowed the blood and fatalities that made the game popular. But it goes beyond that as the Genesis edition plays better as well.

The roster is small even by the standards of the day. There are only seven playable characters and they are an eclectic bunch. Liu Kang is the main character although the game does not spell it out while Johnny Cage thinks he’s the star. Kano is your typical vagabond, out for no one but himself. Sonya is the lone female combatant in the group with the most moves. Raiden is the coolest in my book; a literal God deciding to brawl with mortals. Calling Sub Zero and Scorpion the Ken and Ryu of the game is selling them short. Despite their palette swapped costumes they both have distinct move sets. Where most video game bosses are memorable due to questionable AI tactics Goro and Shang Tsung excel thanks to their design. Goro is a triumph of Claymation while Shang Tsung is essentially every character in one, a video game pioneer.

Mechanically Mortal Kombat is simpler than its competition. The game uses five buttons, two for high punches and kicks, and two for the low variety plus a block button. The inputs for special moves are very simple, basically tap in or two directions plus a specific button. Eschewing the rotational commands of Street Fighter makes the game easier to jump into. As well everyone shares the same basic move set like uppercuts, sweep kicks, and such. The range and damage may vary but these are very slight. The only major differentiating factor between characters is their special moves and fatalities.

The game trades depth for accessibility and unfortunately along with the small roster makes it feel smaller than it is. The single player mode suffers due to the small roster and normally would go by quickly. However the game tries to drag it out with annoying AI and a series of endurance matches that pit you against two CPU opponents on one life bar. This makes for a better multiplayer game as the thrill of playing as Shang Tsung and Goro doesn’t last long. The sequels do it better in that regard.

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While the Genesis version nails the controls it is very ugly overall. Simply put Probe did not do a good job translating the arcade’s graphics and sound to the system. The sprites are smaller and missing many frames of animation. The reduced color palette looks garish in some places as well. The stages have been simplified in some cases with many background elements missing. Most of the voice samples are missing and like many Genesis titles what remains is very garbled. To the game’s credit the remixed soundtrack is very good. But for those looking for an accurate home port visually the SNES game is far better. Too bad you have to stomach playing it.

In Closing

For its time outside of the MS-DOS version the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat was the best money could buy. Sure it is ugly as sin but it nails the controls and most importantly has all the blood and fatalities. In the long term the original Mortal Kombat does not have the lasting power of Street Fighter 2 as it is a bit bare bones. The game is still fun but the sequels and their legion of improvements make this one a curio at best.

7 out of 10

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