Insert Disk collects the Mortal Kombat series. Part 1 of 3.
Today’s retro game review is part 1 of a 3 part mini-series looking at the Mortal Kombat series. This classic retro game series will look at Mortal Kombat 1, Mortal Kombat 2, Mortal Kombat 3 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. In this first episode we go back to the beginning to re-visit the original Mortal Kombat home releases. Expect blood, gore, controversy and of course fatalities.
Greetings game collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Today I’d like to take us on a journey in to the early years of the Mortal Kombat franchise in a 3 part special. As it stands there are literally dozens of Mortal Kombat games available for numerous platforms new and old. For this retrospective I’ve narrowed my scope to cover just the early generation of the franchise. We’ll be taking a look at the original Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Join me as I take a look back at the game that spawned a collection of TV series, movies, an incredibly catchy theme tune by 2 Unlimited and of course more game sequels than you can shake a dismembered arm at.
Back in 1992 the home gaming landscape was very much a battle of the 16-bit consoles. The two big hitters of the day were the Super Nintendo and the Sega Mega Drive /Genesis. Chances are that if you did play Mortal Kombat at the time it was on one of these platforms although other platforms such as the Commodore Amiga and Sega Master System were also supporting the series. Before Mortal Kombat hit the home market it had already built up a cult following in the arcade. A game that let you brutally execute your opponent was the talk of the playground… and the US government. It was always inevitable that Mortal Kombat would come to the living rooms of gamers worldwide. Due to Nintendo’s rules of watering down explicit violence and blood as well as any religious imagery the Super Nintendo receive a somewhat muted version of the game. The Sega Genesis version though, well let’s just say that Sega knew their audience. If you’re buying a game for the blood there had better be blood… and there was plenty to go around.
With only 6 playable characters (not including Reptile) Mortal Kombat was a little under powered in terms of a player roster. Kano, Lui Kang, Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Raiden and Sonya Blade though are still all iconic characters today so arguably the relatively few characters have endured well though the series. The overriding backstory of Mortal Kombat is very cliché. You must defend Earth by competing in a tournament against your own kind and that of the Outworld. It’s a wafer thin plot but I don’t think we could expect anything else. The game plays out as a rather traditional fighting game. Expect all of the standard punches and kicks as well as a set of special moves. What set Mortal Kombat apart was the presentation. The pre-rendered graphics instantly make the game identifiable and semi-realistic (at least compared to the more traditional animation style of other fighters such as the Street Fighter series).
The move set was also very well defined. The leg sweep and follow on uppercut remain a Mortal Kombat staple to this day. Of course the move set wouldn’t be complete without the all important finishing moves. To this day you just can’t year the words “Finish Him” without thinking of Mortal Kombat. The finishing moves in the original game were two fold. Either a stage fatality such as the pit. Or the standard character fatalities. Lui Kangs Dragon, Scorpions Fireball, Kanos Laser Burn, Johnny Cage’s Uppercut and Sonya’s Blade all horrified the US government. It was Sub-Zeros Spine removal though that really tipped the establishment over the edge though. It’s perhaps an episode for another time but to cut a long story short Mortal Kombat was one of a set of games that contributed to the formation of a games rating code. Whatever your stance on video games violence, censorship and ratings it’s undeniable that it was inevitable mediums such as video games would become regulated as had the movie industry in the previous decades.
The main argument was that children would be influenced and emulate the violent acts they saw within the game. To be fair the day my mate Steve transformed in to a dragon in the school playground and decapitated Dave whilst the lightning God looked on, took us all by surprised. Oh wait, that never happened. Nor did we ever decapitate a classmate. My opinion (and it is only an opinion) is that whilst watching violence does influence some more than others there’s a far more complex reality. Mortal Kombat won’t turn you in to a mass murderer any more than playing Pac-Man will make you go round popping power pills and chase ghosts around the neighbourhood maze. Besides the Kombat Kode strictly prohibits fights outside of the official tournament. Should you take on the tournament you’ll slowly climb the ranks. One nice touch are the stone breaker bonus rounds. Pump up your player and destroy those blocks. It was a feature dropped after the initial game.
You’ll then be on to the tournament end game. Firstly fighting Goro, the 4 armed hulk. He deals out a significant amount of damage but can be taken down if you have the right strategy. It’s then on to the final against Shang Tsung. Appearing as an old man in the original he puts up a good fight. His trademark move is to transform in to the other contestants. In truth this is perhaps a little bit of a cheap move but Shang Tsung is rather iconic as a game boss. He’s actually easier to take down than Goro as he spends a fair amount of his time shape shifting rather than focussing on the actual fight. Mortal Kombat does hold a few secrets such as being able to unlock the third ninja, Reptile. Between rounds you’ll have a short visit from Reptile leaving you a set of clues of how to find him. You’ll need to get through a series of rounds without blocking, pull off the finishing moves, have flawless victories and ensure you are on the pit stage. It’s all a bit of an ask but finding Reptile is an iconic achievement in retro gaming if you can pull it off.
As mentioned earlier here are a sample of Mortal Kombat games from my collection. The Amiga, Master System and Mega Drive versions all have consistent branding as does the Super Nintendo version. Really it’s just the box format that differs. In terms of quality there’s a never ending debate on which version of Mortal Kombat is the best conversion from the arcade original. Personally my go to version of the game is the Mega Drive Genesis version for gameplay but graphically I still enjoy the charm of larger sprites on the Amiga. The 8-Bit Sega Master version is obviously a bit handicapped compared to its 16-bit big brothers. The Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat is a bit of a mixed bag whilst the sprites are a decent size the audio lacks the grungy sound of the Sega Mega Drive version. The animation is smooth but you may be disappointed with the lack of any real violence. It’s a real Achilles heel for earlier Nintendo games. It was a different place and a different time, whilst you could easily get hold of violent games such as Splatterhouse 2 on the Mega Drive and Genesis Nintendo console owners were constrained in these years to family friendly guidelines. Some of these policies were later reversed or at least the stance softened by Nintendo in later years. Mortal Kombat’s first outing for the home console market highlights an important debate on age ratings and censorship. A few decades on and the violence in this original edition looks almost family friendly compared to newer realises in the series.
Regardless of how you first played it, it was clear that Mortal Kombat was a smash hit and here to stay. Mortal Kombat may have laid the foundations of the franchise but things were about to get a whole lot bloodier in the follow-up game, Mortal Kombat 2. Join me in part 2 as we take a look back on a sequel that not only improved on the original formula but pushed the gore factor to the next level.