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The Moonlight War novel by S.K.S. Perry

Mortal Kombat (Genesis) artwork

Mortal Kombat (Genesis) review

"The one-on-one fighting genre is one of the oldest among them all. Anyone old enough to remember gaming in the eighties will no doubt have stumbled upon Yie-Ar Kung Fu, IK+ or Way of the Exploding fist to name a few. As we journeyed into the nineties, Capcom championed the field with the legendary Street Fighter and its multitude of sequels. Its place at the top of the tree hasn’t been unchallenged however, with its main contender being in the form of Mortal Kombat. "

The one-on-one fighting genre is one of the oldest among them all. Anyone old enough to remember gaming in the eighties will no doubt have stumbled upon Yie-Ar Kung Fu, IK+ or Way of the Exploding fist to name a few. As we journeyed into the nineties, Capcom championed the field with the legendary Street Fighter and its multitude of sequels. Its place at the top of the tree hasn’t been unchallenged however, with its main contender being in the form of Mortal Kombat.

Mortal Kombat took a different approach than the other pretenders that had come to pass. Firstly, colourful, cartoony graphics were ditched in favour of digitised images using real actors as a basis for the characters. This gave the game a more realistic look, like real characters were battling it out in the various stages. When you hit your foe, you really hit them - you could almost feel it. From the off, you could tell this fighter was not out to mess around.

What really set this game apart from the rest though was the inclusion of what Midway called ‘fatalities’. Instead of sending your enemy to the dust when you had won your second round, you were commanded to ‘finish them’ off. One quick combination of joystick manoeuvres and button presses later saw your character decapitate, incinerate, electrocute or rip the beating heart from the body of the unfortunate loser – a feature that would possibly pull in the gamers more that the combat itself.

Which is exactly what happened.

Mortal Kombat gave gamers like myself the chance to appal their parents. Beckoning them over just as I was tearing the spine from my hapless victim produced a timeless reaction I’ll never forget. Being gamers themselves however, I presume their reaction was more of surprise than disgust, something I cannot imagine they shared with every parent at the time.

This is, unsurprisingly, the reason why Mortal Kombat made the news. Just as we gamers had been given the chance to shock and appal – the outsiders had been given a chance to condemn gaming as a whole. This didn’t stop the developers releasing the game on every console in existence however, even though some people never saw the full extent of the violence. You see, Super Nintendo followers who rushed out to buy the game were left disappointed, with not a trace of blood evident and even toned down fatalities – not exactly a direct port of the arcade. Genesis owners were luckier though, albeit by a code which let you turn on the blood as you wished. Every brutal move, fatality, drop of blood and just about everything else was thrown in to create the nearest conversion from the arcade you could buy.

Despite all the violence, there was a storyline behind all of this – one which we would see acted out on the big screen no less. Every hundred years a tournament is held bringing the finest warriors of the world together to fight it out for the honour of being the grand champion. Five hundred years have passed since the mighty Goro defeated a warrior monk named Kung Lao, and the half-man, half-dragon remains undefeated. During this time the tournament fell into the hands of Shang Tsung, a man capable of sucking the souls of his victims and then morphing into them at will. Seven combatants have come forward each with their own purpose to enter the competition from personal revenge to untold glory. Let the tournament begin…

Even though everything sounds perfect so far though, the game itself is far from perfect. It isn’t actually the Genesis or the adaptation that is at fault mind, its goes deeper than that. The reason we don’t have the perfect fighter goes back the imperfection of the coin-op itself and the problems we never saw. At the time, as we pumped our cash into the machine in hope to see the next fatality, we never saw the long term life of the machine. Usually, by the time we grow wary of an arcade machine; it is outdated and has been removed from the arcade anyway. Buying the game and playing it over and over soon brings out a few problems, problems which limit the time you are going to spend playing.

Street Fighter 2 was at the time, by far the most superior fighter in existence – and for good reason. As well as having fantastic graphics, catchy tunes, likeable characters and so on, it also had something Mortal Kombat never had. For starters, each character has a different fighting style, which in turn gives each of them moves unique to that character. Zangief for example, being big and strong, favours close combat with devastating grapples and throws. Dhalsim on the other hand is slow, yet can keep his foes at bay with his elastic-like limbs and flame breath. Mortal Kombat, although giving different background history and reason for being to each of their combatants, also gave them the same moves. I’m not talking special moves here though; it’s the regular punches and kicks that are alike. Because of this, each character tends to be judged on the strength of their special moves and fatalities only – a problem which limits the longevity of the game.

What the game lacks in substance it does make up in sheer in-your-face brutality however. Fights take place over pits of spikes, awaiting the victor to knock the loser to their death. Progress through the game and you will be pitted against a mutated man monster with four arms, capable of beating you to a pulp in seconds. It’s not exactly for the faint of heart.

As well as chopping your opponents into bits, you also had the chance to exert your anger on various substances - all in the name of points. Why points matter in any fighter has always been a mystery to me – maybe it’s an ego thing – supposedly being better than your friends. Basically it gave you the opportunity to destroy wood, brick, stone or your joypad buttons, whichever came first.

So despite being true enough to the arcade original, there is nothing to recommend Mortal Kombat over Street Fighter 2. At the time of release, only the slightly flawed Special Champion Edition was available to Genesis owners giving this game the niche to warrant your money. Since the release of Super Street Fighter 2 and the sequels to this title, there really is no need to see what started all the excitement in the first place.

Rating: 8/10

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Community review by djy8c (December 28, 2003)

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