Review by Psycho Penguin
"The prime example of a game being beloved just because it's the first."
If there's one thing I hate about video game fans nowadays, it's the fact that if a series has lots of good games, it's automatically assumed that the first game is a classic. Mortal Kombat is the prime example of this. While it is a fine game, it's got a lot of problems that prevent it from becoming a classic. It may have led to a good series, but the original is not a great game at all. The fights are too slow, there's a limited amount of characters, and the game relied too much on fatalities and not enough on regular moves during fights.
Thankfully, the Genesis version happens to be better than the dreadful Super Nintendo version. First, let me get this out of the way, since everyone always seems to mention it first when comparing the two versions. Yes, there is blood in this version, and the Super Nintendo version is bloodless, thanks to the censoring jackasses over at Nintendo of America. This is not really a big deal to me, but hey, if you like blood, this game has it. The thing that impressed me most was the fact that this game had much better controls than the Super Nintendo version. This has a lot to do with the fact that the Genesis controller was better suited for fighting games, though.
The Mortal Kombat series has always been known to have a great storyline, thanks to the fact that each character has their own sidestory, which gets developed before and after the game. While the original's storyline is not that good, it definitely planted the seeds in the series. Several competitors are invited to the toughest tournament in the entire world, Mortal Kombat. They are to go through a series of fights, and if they win, they are the champion. Like I mentioned, each character has their own story, which is definitely a cool thing.
The game was a ton of fun to play back in the day, for a variety of reasons. Fights were your typical fare. You'd get an energy bar and a time limit, and your objective was to deplete your opponent's energy before he depletes yours. To do this, you could rely on your own physical attacks to get the job done. Each character has their own fighting style and moves, so you have to get used to each character and work with their style to outlast your opponent.
The things that were added to this game, that really made the game a success, were Fatalities. When your opponent's energy gets depleted, the words FINISH HIM appear on the screen. You could then input a combination of buttons into the controller, and your character would perform a nasty finishing move on your opponent. One fatality that I still remember after all these years is an uppercut that knocks your opponent up ten feet, then down fifty, landing right into a pile of spikes. The blood squirting out, as the announcer says VICTORY, is something I'll never forget.
The ladder rung in the game was a great idea that was fortunately properly executed. After you select a character, you are at the bottom of a wall, and you see a list of opponents above you. You go from rung to rung, fighting opponents for the chance to move up a rung. Every few fights, you get to do an entertaining side battle, like smashing bricks or smashing falling barrels in a certain time limit. These were an added benefit that really prevented the fights from getting boring and tedious. Plus, the choices were fun and would have been a good game in its own right. The developers really got this right.
However, there are a few flaws that really prevent the game from reaching classic status. The lack of playable characters is a definite concern, as you only have the original batch of Mortal Kombat stars to select from. They have their own fighting styles and moves, which is good, but soon you will get bored with having to choose the same ones over and over. A little more variety would have definitely been nice. And I know it was the first one, but it's a Genesis game, so it could have easily had 10-12 characters in it.
The major flaw with the game, and boy is it big, is the game's reliability on fatalities as a selling point. The game relies FAR too much on these finishing moves, that the fights themselves suffer as a result. The moves are too limited and boring, and the game is way too cheap. Most opponents can go down if you just tap the kick button, for christs sake. Well, sometimes you may even need to punch, too, but this is definitely a button masher's dream. I didn't have any problem clearing any of the ladder rungs, and I usually suck at fighting games.
Fortunately, the controls are a lot better than they were in the dreadful Super Nintendo version. This does have a lot to do with the fact that the Genesis controller is better with fighting games, but that's beside the point really. Moves are easy to execute once you remember them. With only three buttons in a comfortable layout, you will really have no problems executing moves and fatalities. Not like you'll actually need to do too many moves, but oh well.
The graphics kind of suck, though. It's not the worst looking game in the world, but there's something about these graphics that just makes the game look.. somewhat fake. I know it was a graphical sensation back in 1992, as the game uses digitized imagery that makes the game supposedly more realistic. The backgrounds are definitely good, and very varied. I especially like Liu Kang's dungeon. However, the characters are poorly animated and move very stiffly. It really makes the game appear to be less lifelike than it probably intended to be.
This is not the highlight of the Mortal Kombat soundtrack, either. While it's certainly not a horrible soundtrack, it's definitely below average. Some of the songs are really annoying, while others prove to be somewhat decent. I especially liked Sonya's stage theme, but Scorpion's always kind of annoyed me. The classic Mortal Kombat theme song made its debut here, though, and anyone who doesn't like that song has to be nuts. :-P
The sound effects are decent enough, but the voices are pretty bad. The ''Finish him!'' sound is very dark and brooding, which is exactly the way it should have been, but the rest of the voices are horrible. Thankfully, the sounds of kicks and punches sound realistic enough, and the fatalities.. wow. The sounds of the fatalities really added an extra layer of realism to something that was already realistic to begin with.
Like I said before, this game used to have a ton of replay, but its time has sadly passed. I'm not saying the game sucks because it's old, because that's far from the truth. I'm just saying that there's a lot of games in the series that does the same thing this one does, only better. More characters, more stages, more fatalities (including animalities!), and more. The only reason to ever play this game is to see how the series started off, other than that, there's not much here that will keep you coming back for more. Especially after a few runs through the tournament mode.
The game is so cheap, relying far too heavily on punches and kicks, that its challenge level really suffers as a result. I plowed through the tournament pretty easily, which is saying a lot, due to the fact I normally suck at fighting games. Most characters can just win by punching or kicking a lot. One of my opponents let me uppercut him three times, then kick him to death. I never understood why the game chose to be this cheap, and the challenge level really takes a hit because of it.
I'm not too enamored with this game, but I will give it its props and say it was really fun to play 10 years ago. Anyone that had a Genesis back then knows that this was THE game to get, and rightfully so. It was really fun, but now, the lack of characters and easy challenge level makes this game just the first, not the best. The later Mortal Kombat games really improved on this formula, and this game suffers from too many flaws to really be considered a classic.
Now, FINISH HIM OFF!
Reviewer's Rating: 2.5 - Playable
Originally Posted: 11/06/03
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