Format reviewed: Arcade
Publisher: Midway Games
Developer: Midway Games
Submitted by: Ryan McNeilly
The first time I witnessed Mortal Kombat was in a dark arcade near the family Caravan holiday park. Being an absolute Street Fighter fanboy as a kid, I was blown away like a Lui Kang fatality when I first laid eyes on this incredibly life-like (for the time) beat-em-up.
Mortal Kombat was released as direct opposition to the all conquering Street Fighter 2. Apparently, the game was to feature Jean Claude Van Damme (who ended up being parodied in the form of Johnny Cage) however this deal fell through the pit and Mortal Kombat was born. Along with Capcom’s Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat has become one of the most successful and influential fighting franchises in the history of video games.
The first thing the player will notice is the digitized sprites. Real life actors were used as opposed to Street Fighter’s hand drawn sprites. This added realism to the game which was rarely seen before (there was Pit-Fighter, but that was ignored out of choice). The music was dark and atmospheric, just like the backgrounds it was set to.
Players could choose from (now legendary) characters such as Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Raiden and Kano to compete in a tournament to de-throne the champion Goro and punish the sorcerer Shang Tsung to ensure that Earth’s defenders stopped Outworld from winning their 10th Mortal Kombat tournament in a row.
A simple uppercut in Mortal Kombat would send the opponent in the air with blood pouring everywhere in a gruesome yet awesome feast for the eyes. Special moves consisted of spears being launched at the opponent, ice balls freezing the enemy and shadow kicks that send the opponent to the other side of the screen. While some moves were uninspired, they were easy to pull off (Midway decided to go with joystick directional taps instead of joystick motions). Mortal Kombat also introduced juggling, which was the art of comboing your opponent while in the air.
And then, there was the fatality. While controversial, fatalities are what really burned in peoples minds after walking away from the arcade machine. After you defeat your opponent, the announcer will shout “FINISH HIM”, prompting you to kill your opponent. If you knew the correct button combination, you could perform the fatality move specific to your player. For example, Johnny Cage would uppercut the head off his opponent while Scorpion would remove his mask and breathe fire on his opponent, burning him or her to a crisp. Fatalities were a marvelous sight for a young 13 year old kid in the arcade… not so much for their parents.
The fatality has been copied by many games (Killer Instinct and Eternal Champions for example) but the impact caused by the debut of such moves in Mortal Kombat was definitely a factor in its sudden popularity.
Also, Mortal Kombat was one of the first (if not ‘the’ first) to feature a hidden character. The ninja Reptile would appear after fights, taunting you and giving you clues on how to find his whereabouts. Reptile was a palette swap of Sub-Zero in appearance and featured Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s moves.
Mortal Kombat would receive numerous sequels which further expanded its dark and gritty universe. Some sequels great (such as Mortal Kombat 2 and Mortal Kombat 2011), some not so great (Mortal Kombat 4 and Mortal Kombat Mythologies : Special Forces). Furthermore, Mortal Kombat would receive a film based on the hit game (and a dire sequel) and it’s own Saturday morning cartoon, further proving the popularity of this brawler at it’s peak.
Home ports were soon made available. The best of which would be the Mega Drive version (which retained all the blood and gore from it’s arcade counterpart with the use of a cheat code). The Snes, being what Nintendo believed as a “family friendly” product, opted to leave the blood out of the game. The Snes version also featured less violent Fatalities.
Home versions for Mortal Kombat on 16-bit consoles sells fairly cheap on ebay. You can also download an arcade perfect Mortal Kombat as part of the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection on PS3 and Xbox 360. I would recommend all to do this, especially those with an interest in the story and dark folklore of Mortal Kombat.