Genre: Fighting Developer: Probe Software Publisher: Arena Players: 1-2 Released: 1993
Yes, folks, this is the game that started it all: the video game ratings system, the debates on video game violence, the only GOOD game-based movie, and a series of fighting games that stands tall today. Way back in 1992, a new fighting game hit the arcades called Mortal Kombat. It played similar to Street Fighter II, except it featured digitized characters, an interesting mythology, and lots of blood and gore. Naturally it was a blockbuster hit. The following year, Mortal Kombat hit the home systems on September 13, 1993, aka “Mortal Monday.” While both the Super NES and the Genesis systems received ports, everyone flocked to the Genesis version for obvious reasons. MK1 may have been great back then, but is it still good now?
For those of you who may have never played the first Mortal Kombat title, here’s a quick rundown of the storyline. The setting is the Shaolin Tournament, a once-honorable fighting competition. In the past few years the tournament was corrupted by the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung, who feeds on the souls of warriors he defeats. For 500 years Tsung ruled the tournament with the aid of his pupil Goro, a four-armed monster who has reigned as Grand Champion all those years. Now seven warriors have been brought to the tournament, each with a different reason for fighting. Can one of them go all the way and defeat Goro and Tsung?
When you begin the game you (and a second player) get to choose from seven different characters. The original seven are: Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, Raiden, Sonya Blade, Kano, Sub Zero and Scorpion. Each character has their own special moves and abilities. The one player mode follows a ladder-like system. First you take on the other six fighters in a series of one-on-one matches. If you defeat them, you have to face a double of yourself in a mirror match. But that’s not all; should you beat your clone, you must now go through Endurance matches, where you have to take on two fighters with one life bar. If you can get past three Endurance matches, you get a shot at Goro, and finally Shang Tsung himself. However lurking about is a hidden character called Reptile, who pops in occasionally to give clues on how to find him. If you find him and somehow defeat him, you’ll get a ton of bonus points.
The gameplay follows the standard fighting formula. Each fight is a best of 3 rounds, and you try to deplete your opponent’s life bar to win the round. You can use a selection of martial arts attacks and special moves to beat down your enemy which are done with a series of controller movements and button presses. Now here’s what made the Mortal Kombat games so famous: in the last round, once you defeat your opponent the words FINISH HIM will appear on the screen. You can use this time to launch a devastation finishing move, of Fatality, to kill off the unlucky soul. Each character has a different fatality to end the match, and they are all pretty deadly. Also if you’re fighting in the Pit level, you can uppercut your opponent off the bridge and they’ll fall into the spike-lined pit below.
The reason the Genesis version was such a blockbuster was that it had all the blood and carnage of the arcade original, while Nintendo forced Acclaim to censor the SNES port. The blood is turned off by default, but there’s an easy way to turn it on. When you boot up the game, a screen about codes appears. Once the screen finishes and asks if Mortal Kombat contains secret codes, push buttons A, B, A, C, A, B, and B. The text will turn red and it’ll say “Get over here!” Now you’ll have flying blood and uncensored fatalities too.
The graphics are okay, but certainly no match for the SNES’s color palate. The characters have a slightly grainy look to them and many of the animations are jerky. The audio is a mixed bag. Many of the sound effects sound muted, and all the characters have the same grunts (except for Sonya, of course). Only a few of the arcade game’s voice clips are here, and those that are present sound scratchy and muffled.
On the other hand, the music is great to listen to, especially the theme on the Pit stage. The gameplay works well, with several skill levels for every type of gamer. Be sure to set the difficulty to medium or hard for a real challenge. This port plays better than the SNES port thanks to the tight controls. The game works well enough with the standard three button controller, and while you do have to push FORWARD + A for a high punch, for the most part it’s pretty easy to launch most of the moves and combos, (some of the attacks and fatalities can occasionally be a pain to get off). However, you have to use start for the block button, which takes some getting used to. The game is also compatible with a six-button controller, which makes playing a little easier since high punch is now mapped to button X and you can use either of the middle buttons to block, just like the arcade setup. Note that on the 6-button pad start also blocks. Either way there’s no way to pause the game, just so you know.
The bottom line is while the SNES had the better graphics and sound, the Genesis port got better gameplay and controls. So does this game still hold up today? Well, yes and no. While MK1 is still a blast to play, it just seems so limited when compared to Mortal Kombat II, or even Street Fighter II, which was released around the same time. There’s only seven fighters, with a handful of moves, as well as two bosses and Reptile. MK II has the same gameplay but just offers more of everything. That’s not to say MK1 still isn’t fun. It’s a decent two-player title, and with different endings it does have a bit of replayability. Plus it serves as piece of gaming history, so it has some value.
In closing Mortal Kombat on the Genesis is/was a great arcade port, one of many games that help Sega stay ahead of Nintendo. While the sequels do overshadow it, Mortal Kombat still provides a good fighting gaming session.
SCORE: 7 out of 10