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In 1992 a new, brutal and exciting fighting game franchise blasted onto the scene and punched Street Fighter 2 right in the balls! It was everywhere and the gore, the violence, mixed with an impressive level of realism (for the time), created a controversial whirlwind in the media. Just about everyone was outraged, apart from those who dwelled in the arcades, uppercutting their friends into a pit of spikes.
We’re talking about Mortal Kombat and within a year later it was ported to the home consoles! In this review, we’ll be looking at the Sega Genesis / Mega Drive version.
The Blood Code (A, B, A, C, A, B, B)
The main advantage this had over the Super Nintendo was that it included all the gore. By entering the blood code during the grey startup screen, you had a more faithful port of the original arcade game. As you can imagine this made it much more popular than Nintendo’s censored version.
“Get Over Here”
Mortal Kombat 1 features 7 characters to play as, which by today’s standards feels really limited. What Midway did though was give each character a brief but interesting back story and separate ending, which paved the way for their now renowned universe and mythology.
Each character has a unique style and series of moves, from harnessing the power of fire, ice and lightning, to acrobatic skills and brute strength. The graphics are also made up of digitised real actors, which is why they are a lot more lifelike when compared to other fighters from around that time.
What made Mortal Kombat stand out most though was not just the pools of blood, but the Fatalities! The concept of finishing off your opponent was original, shocking and exciting. Prior to this you would land a finishing punch or kick, but now you could rip their head off!
Creators Ed Boon and John Tobias are said to have created this game in just a mere 10 months with John Vogel and Dan Forden. The full arcade release used 8 megabytes of graphics data, with each character having 64 colors and around 300 frames of animation.
In the Mega Drive home conversion, there are a few differences which make it not quite perfect, such as the lack of various sound samples and missing some key frames of animation. Although, it’s still pretty damn close and quite a technical achievement for the hardware and time of release.
“Test Your Might”
Thankfully, this game has an options screen which you can set to “easy” for the single player mode. Mortal Kombat is known for being brutally hard and often the AI uses cheap tactics to beat you. One rumoured trick I read about was that the AI reads your controller input and quickly uses a counter move, making things slightly unfair. I don’t know much about the coding, but I often find this game much harder than most others. I remember having serious problems with Shao Kahn in Mortal Kombat 3 for example, making M. Bison feel like a friendly stroll in the park by comparison!
The single player mode is enjoyable thought and Goro is one of my favourite characters in the series. During progression, there’s also a few fun “test your might” mini games to break up the battles. One slightly annoying flaw though is that you cannot pause the game during fights as that button is used to block. Which is not ideal when your dinner is ready!
The most important area for a fighting game to shine is in it’s multiplayer mode. The characters in Mortal Kombat are well balanced, requiring you to use various moves and tactics to beat your opponent. Blocking also opens up a countering mechanic which I believe was new for the time and there was room for some small combos, which was also expanded on in later games and has influenced a lot of other titles.
One major downside to Mortal Kombat 1 is that compared to modern fighters, it does feel very slow and a bit clunky. When it comes to playing old games you have to get in the mindset of what it was like to experience during its original release. Failure to do this often results in misconceptions that a game is rubbish, as by today’s standards not every “retro classic” can keep up.
It is for this reason that I personally love this game, but find it very hard to recommend. For someone interested in fighting game history, the origins of Mortal Kombat or just a hardcore fan of the series, I would say definitely pick this up if you haven’t already. I think that’s a clear and easy decision to make.
If you are just looking for a great fighter on the Mega Drive, I would urge you to try out Mortal Kombat 2 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, as they improve on the great foundations set by this game. The series as a whole is an incredibly enjoyable one even though they’ve made a few bad decisions over the years (Here’s looking at you Mortal Kombat Mythologies). I think it’s fun to explore these and overall, the Mortal Kombat franchise is definitely up there with the likes of Street Fighter.
Another title worth looking at is Eternal Champions, which I hope to review in the near future along with Mortal Kombat 2 and 3. But for now, that’s all for this review. So please let me know what you think of the game in the comments below.
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