Thursday, 31 July 2014

Mortal Kombat (Arcade)

Mortal Kombat arcade title screen
Today's 'M' game is the original MORTAL KOMBAT!

Yeah I realise that I'm crap at fighting games and only understand them at the most basic level, but the game was requested, so the game's getting played. I actually know a tiny bit more about this one than most though as I played the first few Mortal Kombat games a bit when I was younger. I bet I can even remember a couple of the special moves.


Look at them little profile animations go! I'm used to the cut down Amiga version so it's nice to see them with a decent amount of colours for once.

Street Fighter II was kind of a big deal in the early 90s, giving players a taste for proper competitive gameplay, arcades the kind of popularity they hadn't seen since the era of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong, and developers a brand new bandwagon to hop onto. By the time Midway decided they wanted to throw their hat into the ring, they were going up against an army of these clones and needed a way to stand out from the crowd.

The solution: borrow Narc and Pit-Fighter's technique of filming martial artists and converting the footage into sprites, making sure that their new game looked like no other fighting game in the room... well, until devs started ripping off Mortal Kombat's look anyway.

The seven player characters (plus the final boss) are performed by five actors, but Goro here is actually a little stop motion clay sculpture. Sadly this is the only time he's going to show up in this article because you can't be Goro in multiplayer and there ain't no way I'm going to manage to reach him in single player.

No, don't bother scrolling down to check, I'm not trying to set up a shocking ending where I manage to triumph over adversity against all the odds, I really won't get up to Goro. Sorry.

Man, what a difficult choice: banana flavoured ninja or bubblegum flavoured ninja? Sub-Zero can freeze a man solid from across a room, but that doesn't do me much good if I've forgotten the button presses to do it. Scorpion on the other hand can fire a grappling harpoon out of his sleeve and I'm pretty sure I still know how to pull that off. Plus he yells shit like "GET OVER HERE" as he does it, so I gotta go with the yellow guy this time around.

These seven people didn't just decide to get together one day and beat the shit out of each other for no reason by the way. Nope, the FATE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD depends on the outcome of this fighting tournament, as if Earth's champions cannot win then it shall be conquered by another realm. Or maybe that was all retconned in afterwards by later games, I forget.

MS-DOS
The original PC port of the game has its own take on the story, mentioning an Imperial Court of Immortals, though the grand prize is much the same. Basically they won't be giving out any silver medals for this tournament.

'Battle plan'? It's a fighting tournament, not a war mate.

I've got twelve fights standing in-between myself and ultimate victory, and it seems that Kano is lucky enough to be fighting me three times. Hey does that mean if I get a Fatality on him the first time we meet I can make it easier on myself later? Didn't think so.


ROUND 1: SCORPION VS. SUB-ZERO.


Fight number 1: The Battle of the Palette Swapped Ninjas.

They're not entirely clones though, as they have different idle animations and special moves. Oh and in case you're wondering, the actor was wearing red when they captured these two, meaning that neither of us is the true OG ninja in this fight.

Okay, so was it 'back', 'back' and then 'punch' maybe? Crap, there's two punch buttons here.

Fuck off would you, I'm trying to remember my move!

Mortal Kombat has four attack buttons: 'high punch', 'low punch, 'high kick' and 'low kick'; fairly normal for a fighting game so far. But then it goes crazy and adds a 'block' button to that as well. I have to hit a separate button to block attacks, I can't just pull backwards like in every other game, and even if I do remember to hit it and get my arms up in time I'll still take chip damage with every punch he lands on me.

Whatever, I never block anything in fighting games anyway.

Blocking is for people too chicken to rely on last second miracle wins. I've got a nice big health bar there, I might as well make full use of it.

The Shaolin monks in the background are nice enough to give me an animated round of applause for my epic victory, though their clapping kind of sounds like it was recorded at a snooker tournament. But this is a best of three contest, so I have to pull off another win against frosty to go through to the next round. Shouldn't be too hard though, the guy isn't even using any of his special moves.

Not that I've figured out how to get my own harpoon attack working yet, but the basic punch is practically a special move on its own. Look how fast I'm burning through his health there! This fight could be over in seconds if I had him pinned against a wall.

The developers thought of this though, and added a push-back feature to shove you away once you've gotten a few hits in on a cornered opponent. The folks who ported it across to the Super Nintendo however apparently forgot to put this in, allowing SNES players to pull off a one button infinite death combo. Oops.

COME HERE! 

It was BACK BACK LOW PUNCH! I finally nailed it!

I followed up my harpoon move with an uppercut while he was stunned to send him flying across the screen, and then finished with a flying kick while he was still picking himself up off the floor. That ought to cut his health down a little I reckon.

Oh crap, I don't know what to do now! Even back when I used to know his Fatality, it was on an entirely different system with different controls.

I used to play the Amiga version of the game you see, and the thing about Amiga computers is that... well, the joysticks for them only tended to have two buttons at most, and more often than not they both did the same thing. Amiga Mortal Kombat does support proper two button joysticks, but that's still only half the controls (and no block button), so it's kind of an awkward experience even at the best of times.

I remember when I moved on to Mortal Kombat II I had to have a magazine open (or two for two player) with all the special moves for each character printed in it, so I could glance over quickly whenever FINISH HIM flashed up and see what I needed to do. Not that it ever bloody worked.

Original Mortal Kombat doesn't have all those Friendships and Babalities and other things you find in the sequels though. In fact it has far less moves to keep track of per character in general. The thing that's always confused me though is... why weren't the moves for the Fatalities written in the game manual or in game? Were players honestly expected to figure them out themselves through trial and error in the three seconds you get to put the code in, then trade what they learned between friends?

"Okay I've won another fight and got the FINISH HIM message again, I'll try holding 'block', then tapping 'up', 'up', 'down' and 'HK' this time...nope, didn't work. Right, I'll finish another two rounds, get another victory, then try 'up', 'down', 'down' and 'HK'."

It's insane, that's what it is. Insane.


ROUND 2: SCORPION VS. LIU KANG.


 Mortal Kombat Kollection (PC)
Fight 2 is against the mandatory Bruce Lee clone (every fighting game's got one), only I don't remember Bruce Lee being able to shoot fireballs from his hands. What was that, an off-brand hadouken or something? As far as I know the playable characters are all basically the same guy with minor stat differences, but their special moves set them apart. If you're fighting Liu Kang, you've got to be ready for flying kicks and fireballs.

Hey look it's me in the background, they've made a statue of me! Or it could be Sub-Zero I suppose. Wait, there's only six statues back there, so one of us ninjas got snubbed and I can't tell which! I'm sorry about these blurry graphics by the way; I couldn't figure out how to make this Windows port of the game display sharp clean pixels. It seems to be using the original arcade-sized sprites though, which is a step up from the half-sized fighters from the otherwise faithful DOS version.


ROUND 3: SCORPION VS. SONYA BLADE.


Mortal Kombat Kollection (PC)
Damn, I tried messing around with every graphics option I could find, but it's just made it worse. If that simulated CRT had any more of a curve to it it'd be a sphere. If they couldn't fake a TV screen properly, why'd they even bother adding these gimmick options at all? And why are people so scared of pixels?

I couldn't find an option in game to turn off widescreen either, and decided in the end that I really couldn't be bothered. I think I was better off with the DOS port to be honest, at least for offline single player.

Hey it's one of those button mashing interludes to reward me for my success. Well, my persistence anyway; I've lost as many fights as I've won so far. It's a little like the car punching minigame from SFII, except with four blocks of wood instead of a Lexus.

Well I could hammer the buttons (or waggle the stick on the Amiga port), but I don't really want to! I don't want to risk damaging my expensive hardware for a few entirely useless bonus points. It can fuck off.


ROUND 4: SCORPION VS. JOHNNY CAGE.


You know, I don't mind losing a fight every now and again, I'm terrible at these games and I'm deliberately not blocking so it's going to happen a lot, but the least my opponent could do is give me a proper Fatality when they win!

I mean look at this shit, he backs off into position like he's going to do something and then just hits me. It's insulting is what it is.

Okay that's it, I'm checking GameFAQs...

Mega Drive/Genesis
And that, Mr Kage, is what you're supposed to do when 'Finish Him' flashes on screen. Cage. Whatever.

Well he's certainly not going to be back for Mortal Kombat II! Oh wait, actually he is in the second game, along with almost everyone else. I guess in the canon ending to the story none of the characters ever figured out how to pull off their Fatalities.

Mortal Kombat on the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis actually looks and plays a lot like the arcade version, making use of six button controllers. Sure it's lower res, lower colour, and the music's not as good, but it does well with the inferior hardware. But just imagine what it could've been like without the limitations of cartridge space!

Mega CD
Well obviously the first thing they'd do is put an FMV intro at the start showing the 'Mortal Monday' TV commerical with techno and voice clips from the game playing over it. It's not Techno Syndrome by The Immortals (youtube link) but it's alright. They still yell "Mortal Kombat" a lot, so what more do you want?

This is definitely an upgrade, but you'd have to put the cartridge and CD versions side by side to really notice the differences. The music's been recorded from the arcade cabinet, the sprites have been cleaned up a bit, there's a couple more animation frames, there's more detail in some of the backgrounds... and every fight now takes a few seconds to load. Oh, plus you don't have to put in a code to turn the blood on anymore, which makes the bloodless footage in the intro seem even weirder.


ROUND 5: SCORPION VS. KANO.


MS-DOS
The DOS version definitely doesn't need any code to get the red stuff spilling out. It's mostly mine so far though I'm afraid, as my opponents are getting tougher as it goes on. Kano here keeps throwing blades at me, and when he's bored of that he throws himself at me instead.

Hey wait, didn't his metal Terminator eye plate used to be on the other side of his head? That's why you gotta make your characters symmetrical if you're not planning giving them double the frames.

MS-DOS
At least the guy had the decency in the end to rip out Scorpion's heart. Finally an AI character who can be arsed to do a Fatality! I wasn't sure ol' skull-face the undead ninja even had a heart, so I've learned something here today.

SNES
Whoa it's Reptile! I didn't think he showed up until the second game. He's not playable, but I do get to fight him if I follow all of his clues. Though 'you have to find me' isn't all that helpful. It's not as if I can go looking, I'm fighting through a series of prearranged matches in random locations, so what does he expect me to do? Huh?

It's funny how the secret characters in the 2D Mortal Kombat games always seem to be palette swapped ninjas.

Also the palette swapped ninjas change their look in every game, and yet always end up wearing the same style outfit! They could form a Power Rangers team by the time you get to Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.


ROUND 6: SCORPION VS. RAIDEN.


Crap, if I fire off my harpoon too early like this my opponent simply blocks or ducks beneath it, leaving me standing here like an idiot helpless while they stroll over and hit me. It's a bit of a risk to keep doing this, but I really rely on the harpoon to get any momentum going.

Steady on mate! Quit human torpedoing my ninja's groin. Or at least give me a bit more warning next time so I can leap out of the way.

Don't get me wrong, I love special moves; I'm just not so keen on everyone else starting to use them on me.

Great, another asshole who doesn't follow proper Fatality etiquette. Uppercuts are great for sure, I use them a lot myself, but they're not exactly lethal are they?

Yeah okay, I can see how falling 40 feet onto a bed of spikes might be a little bit lethal. It's Scorpion's own fault for fighting on that bridge though really, as any sane person would've looked over the edge of the narrow bridge, noticed the blood, spikes, and skeletons down there, and decided to move the fight a few meters back down the road.

This interaction with the level is another thing that set the game apart from the competition at the time, as Street Fighter 2 has nothing like this in it... that I'm aware of.

SNES
Interestingly the SNES version of the game still has the spikes, though they've scrubbed them clean of all the blood and dead game developers. Nintendo were very strict at the time about violence in their games, so fighters knock the sweat out of each other instead of blood and the Fatalities have been toned down.

SNES
Well some of the Fatalities have been toned down.

The Super Nintendo version of the game has good sound, all the buttons you could want, and better colours than many of the other ports, but it's probably not the slickest of them and the sanitized gore drove a lot of gamers towards the visually inferior (but more faithful) Sega version. Who knew that the selling point of the arcade game would be a selling point for the console release?

Nintendo and Sega actually ended up taking their philosophical battle over the game all the way to a US Congressional hearing about the outrage over titles like Mortal Kombat and Night Trap. Sega was aiming for an older audience and felt that a rating system would keep games with sex, gore, violence and naughty language out of the hands of young children. Nintendo on the other hand wanted all their games to be family friendly, making a rating system redundant. Not that they were deliberately excluding adults from gaming... I mean, they still had games like Tetris to play, right?

This little controversy led to Mortal Kombat becoming the first game rated M on the new ESRB rating system. Mortal Kombat II was later released with all the gore intact on both consoles and everyone lived happily ever after. Well, until the next moral panic at least.


ROUND 7: SCORPION VS. SCORPION.


It seems like every fighting game out there manages to contrive a way for the player's character to eventually fight an identical clone wearing a slightly different coloured outfit. And why not? I mean we've already got a yellow, a blue, and a green ninja, what's wrong with throwing an orange ninja in there as well?

Sure it's a bit weird that he's called Scorpion and has all my moves (and is much better at using them than me), but the later games actually did this same thing as part of the story, with a second person dressing in blue and using the name Sub-Zero.

Game Boy
Here's what they look like on the Game Boy port (which is something that actually exists for some reason). They're surprisingly humanoid and actually recognisable as being Scorpion and Scorpioner. Oh wait hang on, that's actually Sub-Zero on the right (or left?) Palette swapped ninjas on a monochrome screen, hilarious.

Game Boy
It's funny because they actually dropped a character for the Game Boy version, but it wasn't a ninja. Nope Johnny Cage is the guy they chose to sit this one out, the first character originally created for the game!

There are apparently still seven playable characters in the game, but one of them is a pain to unlock as you have to finish the game first, and the game's slow and awkward and really not much fun to play. But if you put up with it to the end and enter the code you can play as... Goro the four armed half-human dragon man! This is in fact the only port of Mortal Kombat that lets you 'be' Goro. Or so 'they' claim.

Game Gear
A Game Gear version of Mortal Kombat also exists and is about as well made as you could reasonably expect. This time Cage is in and Kano's the one that has been given the boot.

Game Gear
It still has the digitized fighters, but the low resolution and jerkier gameplay makes it look like a spoof game from a TV series like The Simpsons or CSI.

Master System
The Master System version is a lot like the Game Gear one, except with more space to move around and less buttons on the controller (and the Game Gear only had three of them to begin with). Hey wait a second, what the fuck? Wasn't he called 'Raiden' a second ago? I'm sure I remember seeing "Raiden Wins" flash across my screen a whole lot earlier.

Huh, it turns out that he's been Raiden in the in the arcade games from the start and Rayden in the home ports all the way up to Mortal Kombat 4, and I've never noticed.

Speaking of ports, apparently Software Creations (the folks who brought the world Plok and Tin Star) were originally in line to produce the home versions, but they lost the contract due to drama during the development of Spider-Man and the X-Men, and ended up missing out on tens of millions of dollars. They ended up making Barbie: Vacation Adventure instead if you were wondering.


ROUND 8: ENDURANCE 1 - SCORPION VS. SUB-ZERO AND SONYA BLADE.


MS-DOS
Damn, where did Sub-Zero get these moves from all of a sudden? He was all fists and feet first time we fought, but now he's countering with ice hadoukens whenever I try to harpoon him. I'm not all that shocked that the game has a difficulty curve, with fights getting tougher as the game progresses, but this is an Endurance fight, meaning that I have to take down two fighters, one after another, on just the one life bar. So the game's making me fight tougher opponents and basically making me do it with only half my health.

Still, it could be worse. The Amiga version of the game loads from floppy disks, so the player has to wait for the second fighter to load in mid-fight. Floppy disks are fine for a lot of games, but they do not go well with fighting games.

Amiga
Awesome, someone else finally got off their ass and did a Fatality! But this is the Amiga version so now I have to wait for the 'press button to continue' screen to load, then wait for the character select screen to load so I can pick Scorpion again, and then wait for the fight to load up again...

I have no idea how I put up with this when I was younger. I must have had the patience of... well, someone with nothing better to play.

This is why you should always machine wash your Scorpion at 40°C or lower.
The Amiga port is surprisingly fast and looks almost on par with the Mega Drive/Genesis version, but the controller and disk drive really let the rest of the hardware down. I can't endure these loading times any more, which is fitting because these endurance rounds are too much for me as well. I think I'll quit now and let Sub-Zero have his little victory for now. He'll be dead by the time Mortal Kombat II comes around anyway... I think.


CONCLUSION

Mortal Kombat is much faster, deeper and more entertaining than I remember it being, which isn't really surprisingly seeing as I'm remembering the Amiga port. I can't say if it's good, I've never gotten into fighting games enough to care about things like cancels, combos, hit boxes or blocking, but I've played enough shit fighters over the last few years to know that this ain't one of them.

It's funny how the gore was always such a huge selling point for the game, because I played the Mega Drive version for a long while before even realising that the blood was turned off. It's always a laugh to watch a guy with a cyborg eye rip an undead ninja's heart out of his chest in the heat of the moment and then find he's got nowhere to put it, but the Fatalities are really just a punchline. They're an opportunity for the winning player to feel smug because they've remembered the combination of buttons to hit and they know how far away to stand to make it work. But the core appeal of the game is the actual process of kicking the blood out of the opponent, rather than the blood itself; just like it should be.

Personally I still prefer it to Street Fighter II, and not just because I'm absolutely terrible at special moves where you have to roll the stick or d-pad around in an arc. Give me 'back, back, back, forward' over 'quarter circle forward + punch' any day. I'd be perfectly willing to concede that SF2 is a better game for higher level competitive play, if that's actually the case, but I have more fun with MK. Damn, I think I've actually talked myself into giving this fighting game a shiny golden star.



If you want to say words about the original Mortal Kombat, the MK series in general, my writing, my website, uh, fighting games... and stuff, then by all means do so. Fill that box with your thoughts and then hit that reply button.

9 comments:

  1. Palette swapped ninjas! The coolest thing in the game =D
    and Ultimate MK3 adds palette swapped robots (+ more ninja colors)!!
    My only regret is that I was never able to finish the enemy with a fatality back on my mega drive days....

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  2. "MMMOOORTAAAAL KOOOMBAAAAAT" *cue techno music*

    I love fighting games - and Mortal Kombat was the very first. I owned both Mortal Kombat and Super Street Fighter 2 for the Sega Mega Drive, and I loved them both... but it was MK that I was obsessed with.
    And I got my friends involved with my obsession: I remember how I invented this sorta game of tag except each of us was a MK character and the winner acted out a fatality on the player that scored less points. And I remember one of my birthdays (my 9th, perhaps?) which at one point turned into a chaotic, awesome MK tournament in my living room.
    All I'm saying is - I have so many good childhood memories linked to this videogame!

    I really appreciate how this review mentions the differences in the various console ports; it's informative because the only two versions I knew were the Mega Drive and Super Nintendo ones.

    And those animated character intros are now perfect forum avatars!

    And the gold star, of course. Mr. Hardgrit gets it!

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  3. Excellent Review! I nearly died a few times while reading :P

    Hey, can you play Animaniacs for the SEGA Genesis when you are done with the present list? I´d love to read your thoughts of the game.

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    Replies
    1. I'm playing through games alphabetically this year so it'd take a long while to get around to it, but I'll add it to my requests list.

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    2. I know, and I have no hurry.

      Thanks man!

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  4. This and SFII were huge in the arcades, I did prefer SFII as it felt like it had more skill to it and it was the first, but maybe I was just better at that one. We all knew all of the fatalities after a few weeks, I have no idea how with no internet back then!

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  5. This article reminded me that there was a battletoads game called Super Battletoads in the arcades that wasn't so family frendly.
    I recall that one of the bosses was defeaded by grabing him from the groin and punching him in the nuts repeatedly (several years before in duke nukem forever) and the basic enemies often got their heads torn off with blood flying everywhere, I think some of them also had a groin kick as a stun move.

    I wonder why there wasn't a SNES port for that. [/sarcasm]

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    Replies
    1. I remember reading a little about that and I think they were working on a SNES port for a bit before it got cancelled. Or maybe I'm thinking of Killer Instinct 2...

      The gory SNES port of Mortal Kombat II would've been out at that point though, so I'm not sure there would've been much drama about it.

      Delete
  6. well, you know, this is the tipical norte american game of a calient pipol. ahora eso si, si lo habre jugado y me habre pajeado con sonya blade

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