Review by nastynate3118
"Test your might."
I have a lot of fond memories playing Mortal Kombat as a kid in the early 90s, but if you remove the mask of nostalgia from this game then you will find it is actually not very good. It attempted to be an edgy alternative for fighting games and used violence to make a name in the popular fighting game genre. It was ported to several gaming systems and the Genesis version is the first fighting game I ever played. I enjoyed it back then because it was something new for me but nowadays I find the game to be barely playable.
Mortal Kombat is unique amongst fighting games in the fact that it appeared to be far more violent than other fighting games. Contrary to popular belief, the Genesis port does not feature any blood or gore (unless you use of a special cheat code). All we are left with is a generic, stiff fighting game that serves to frustrate and dishearten the player. Relying on nostalgia, I do have a few positive things to say about the gameplay. MK's fighting is relatively simple and easy to get into: you can punch, kick, block or use a special ability. These special abilities are used with a quick button input that you either have to figure out on accident or look up from an outside source. I enjoyed figuring these out as a kid and showing them off to my friends. The other big feature of the fighting is the fatalities, or special attacks you can use at the end of a fight to kill your opponent. These are very obscure and are pretty much impossible to figure out unless you look them up. Without the blood and gore, these fatalities also look fairly unimpressive.
There are seven fighters to choose from and each come with their own set of special moves and fatalities. There is some variety with this but some of the characters (Raiden, Sub Zero) can simply cheese the rest and are far superior. There is some balance to their fighting styles but not enough to make you not want to pick those characters. The fighting itself is very stiff and awkward. Multiple attacks can be unresponsive because of the slow processing of the game and this causes fights to be very slow-paced. Collision detection is a major issue, especially with kicking attacks. Airborne kicks rarely are effective and often result in you taking an extraordinary amount of damage. Most fights boil down to you cheesing a special attack or hoping that your opponent walks up to you so you can repeatedly punch them until you win. You have to hope that this does not happen to you because of the unresponsiveness of the block button (the fact that it is the start button is problematic on its own).
One thing that has always driven me nuts about the Mortal Kombat games is the programming and AI. It always reacts to your button inputs and automatically does an attack based on what you pressed that is instant. The later fights in the game boil down to trying to figure out how to outsmart the AI and not fall into a trap of it instantly killing you because of your button inputs. The AI can also be very glitchy. There were multiple battles where my opponent simply ducked the entire fight after I used a special attack. All I had to do was stand there and let the timer run out to win.
Aside from the fighting, there is a fun little Test Your Might mini game in which you must button mash A and C and then hit Start at the right time. It is a fun diversion but really adds nothing to the gameplay.
Mortal Kombat declares itself to be a fighting game but honestly is just a test of patience by the player to try and outsmart pesky AI. The first few fights are fun but when you see how cheap the game's AI is and how awkward and stiff the gameplay is, you will be turned off.
The interface in Mortal Kombat is below average. I like the options screen that appears in the beginning of the game, allowing you to set your difficulty and credits and listen to the sound test. There is also a cheat menu available that enables blood to be turned on. Aside from that, there are several frustrating aspects. The game keeps score during your fights but does not reward you in any way (the most logical reward would be an extra credit) and it does not save your high scores, rendering this feature moot.
Having limited credits is annoying. I can understand limited credits for an arcade machine, but the point of having the game on a home console is to avoid the hassles of dealing with an arcade machine. The game forces you to start over after a certain amount of defeats (the maximum is six). Fortunately, the single player mode is pretty short and this is not completely detrimental to the game, but it is still a big annoyance. Along the same lines, I disliked the lack of a pause feature (due to Start being used for to block). This is another instance of an inconvenience of playing in an arcade being transferred to a home console, which should not happen.
As I wrote earlier, the button inputs for the special moves and fatalities are intentionally obscure. This is not a problem for the special abilities because with reasonable experimentation you can figure them out, but the fatalities require either a freak accident to occur or you to look them up from an outside source. I always found this to be rather unnecessary.
There really isn't much of a plot to Mortal Kombat. There is an opening wall of text that describes a tournament and fighters that adhere to a code, but that's really about it. The series is known for having a rather extensive mythology behind it but none of that is present in this game. One nice touch I like is the multiple endings this game has depending on who you defeat the final boss with, but these endings are anti-climactic and told only through a few paragraphs. On a positive note, the ending is followed with a decent credit sequence that showcases every character.
Graphics - 4/10
Yuck. Everything in this game looks grainy or blurry. As I stated before, gore is missing without the use of a cheat code and as a result some of the fatalities look dull. The avatars that you use to choose your fighter look like a pixelated mess and their sprites are not much of an improvement. Midway tried to be innovative by using live actors to be the sprites, but they are animated very poorly (no human moves like that) and look very sloppy. It is impossible to discern the faces on any of these characters.
The backgrounds in this game are underwhelming. There are only a handful of them and they all look grainy and unappealing. It just seems like there was no inspiration or creativity at all behind some of these backgrounds. The only one I like is the area where you fight on a bridge, but even that is a bit of a stretch to call it an acceptable background.
If you've ever played a Sega Genesis game then you know about the heavily synthesized sound of the system's sound chip, and it is no different for this game. Normally I don't mind the funky sound but in this game the music is so insipid that I can barely recall any of it. It is very atmospheric but really sounds like sludge and leaves no impression on the listener. Some tracks sound mildly depressing but for the most part it is just synthesized garbage.
Even worse than the music is the atrocious sound effects, which sound like they belong on an Atari game. There is only a tiny library of sound effects used in this game and they all sound cheap and dated. The voice acting is also synthesized garble and the only notable line is Scorpion's famous get over here! Other than that, the voice acting and sound effects are very poor. One nitpicky thing I noticed is that when Sonya does the test your might mini game, she makes a male grunt. That just shows you how much time was put into the sound effects.
Play Time/Replay Value - 7/10
I finished my playthrough of Mortal Kombat in 49 minutes and 50 seconds. I received one game over and used a total of eight credits to beat the game. This is a very short play time but for a fighting game, it should not be long. There is replay value with the different fighters and multiple difficulties, but I can't imagine trying to play the game on a harder difficulty due to how the AI is programmed. One fun aspect of the game that I appreciate is the multiplayer, so if you have a friend who is in to retro gaming then you may enjoy playing Mortal Kombat.
One other aspect that adds to the replay value is the inclusion of Reptile, a secret character in the game. The MK games have been known for their little Easter eggs and secrets. This increases the replay value and encourages you to explore the game a little bit.
+More violent than most fighting games at the time
+Special attacks and fatalities can be fun to figure out and demonstrate
+Options menu is handy
+Multiple endings available
+ Get over here!
+Reasonable play time length
+Secrets in the game increases replay value
-Blood and gore absent without use of a cheat code
-Gameplay is very stiff and slow
-Collision detection problems are rampant
-Blocking is unresponsive
-AI is programmed to be extremely cheap
-Limited continues frustrates progress
-Fatalities are too obscure
-No way to pause a fight
-Scoring system is moot
-Story is very simplistic
-Visually unappealing sprites and backgrounds
-Music and sound effects lack variety and sound like synthesized garbage
-AI is too cheap for higher difficulties
Mortal Kombat feels more like a novelty in this day when comparing it to other games that came out in that time period. It was controversial and is a big part of video game history, but the game itself was never very good. I think any gaming enthusiast should play it at least once, but don't hold your breath expecting a good fighting game.
Final Score: 5.20833333/10 rounded to 5/10
Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 01/17/13
Game Release: Mortal Kombat (US, 09/13/93)
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.