Review by Grammatical King
"For a game to almost blatantly promote such violence as this, I cannot help but condone it."
A good fad can completely ruin credibility for a number of things. Whether that fad be the degradation of a perfectly acceptable medium or the wanton attention a person or object might receive when they certainly don't need it, fads have been known to create anomalies in the system, glitches in society. When something becomes famous for reasons it should not, that sets an improper standard that many will follow, if only because of the precedence created. Fads, given enough people following them, create fads upon fads. It is with great disdain that I pen my feelings towards another extremist fad, enclosed upon a video game whose popularity was unrightfully large.
The game Mortal Kombat is firmly planted in the Fighting Game genre, created in 1992 by the sports-savvy gaming company ''Midway'' (known for their ''NBA Jam'' franchises). You pick one of seven characters to do battle on a 2-Dimensional landscape, using a variety of punching, kicking, and special moves to reduce your opponent to a negative health score. This is standard fare for a Fighting Game, as Mortal Kombat was not a series to make any attempts at breaking grounds in gameplay. Rather, the wizards at Midway preferred to go with a few gimmicks in their run-of-the-mill slugfest, paring their own gameplay down to practically nil while hoping their own standout ploys would carry the title.
The two programmers purporting this poorly planned, paltry project were perpetrators Ed Boon and John Tobias. They have commented in interviews how they wanted to make their game different, something along the lines of adding in a ''final blow'' after beating your opponent. This idea of getting that last hit in extended itself into the Fatality, Mortal Kombat's #1 gimmick and longest-running standard from game to game. The premise, as you might logically deduce, is that after you beat your opponent, they stand there motionless while a voice calls out for you to finish them. You may then input a special button command that allows your character to kill your opponent in fairly gruesome ways. Heads being punched or ripped off, hearts being wrenched from chests, people being reduced to naught but skeletons incendiary, death of these sorts permeated the games' match finales.
Given the style and presence of past fighting games, Mortal Kombat was extremely weak on control and style. Each character has 2 punches, 2 kicks, and the ability to jump, duck, and block. In a day where every fighting game simply has you press away from your opponent in order to block an attack, the concept of an additional button press to enact the same action made adjusting to this new game quite frustrating. Even more destructive to the gameplay was the fact that everyone had the exact same normal movements, the only differences being which character was performing the move. Crouch and press the High Punch button and you will perform an uppercut, regardless of which character you picked; holding Away and pressing High Kick would always result in a spinning Roundhouse, Away and Low Kick would reveal the exact same sweeping movement.
Due to its heavy redundancy from character to character, the only difference you had from character to character were their special moves - which shared heavy similarities nonetheless. Everyone had a projectile, only 2 peoples' projectiles having different properties to them that would set them apart. 6 of the 7 characters had special moves that would propel them directly across the screen, while the remaining - Scorpion - would flit off one side of the screen and appear on the other whilst attacking. Therefore, not even the special moves themselves relegated much uniqueness from each ''k''haracter. Thankfully, everyone looked different and had different Fatalities, giving you more esoteric differences to make up for the faulty gameplay.
However, not even this is true. Mortal Kombat's second gimmick going for it was the usage of digitized characters. Two of the Seven ''K''ombattants (Scorpion and Sub-Zero) are Ninjas, simply palette-swapped versions of one-another. Instead of taking the more traditional route of drawing and animating characters, Boon and Tobias opted for the easier (creatively) route of hiring local martial artists and recording their actions before a blue screen, then programming around these characters. Thus, not only were Scorpion and Sub-Zero palette swaps of each other, but they were actually the same person - local martial arts guru Daniel Pasena. The digitized-fighters gimmick had gained previous popularity from the game Pit Fighter, despite P.F.'s terrible gameplay. Not surprising, Mortal Kombat - a game that already lacked a decent fighting structure - employed this poor-man's video styling. The backgrounds of the game employed digitized characters interspersed with computer-generated locales, almost giving a cartoonish feel to the characters.
Mortal Kombat received a huge following upon its initial release, although it did receive quite a backlash from soccer moms and religious zealots. As this is easily understood due to the graphic nature of the game, it is still a quandary how a game's negative feedback could so easily generate such a fanbase. Despite its backlash, Mortal Kombat quickly became a popular-enough venture for Home Consoles to pursue. Herein created another conceptual dilemma, sparking from Nintendo and Sega's rivalry. Nintendo, ever attempting to keep a more ''wholesome'' image, decided that they would craft the game in a slightly different measure to tone down the excessive violence. Sega preferred a different route, including every last bit of gore and depravity demonstrated upon the screens protruding the Arcade Cabinets; accompanying this was a ''Password'' Feature that would lock and unlock the extra violence. By this merit, Sega was able to moderately avoid retaliation from the political pundits whom attacked the Arcade version so very vigorously.
However, Sega's Genesis still encountered problems of its own. Due to the nature of the system and the capabilities it carried, the cartridge couldn't possibly contain the entire Arcade version without having to axe certain elements. Wanting to avoid removing as little as possible, Sega opted to reduce the graphical complexity of each character and background, as well as removing the animated visuals that supported each character introduction. However, this was still not enough to effectively allow the games' transference from medium to medium, forcing Sega to reduce the number of frames per animation on each character. Eventually, the game was able to be produced feasibly for anxious-awaiting Genesis aficionados, but they found themselves playing what felt like an unfinished product - the animation was incredibly choppy, the characters looked and moved stiffly, and you had to figure out a password just to regain the main gimmick the game was known for.
Mortal Kombat is a degrading debacle of a game, depicting realistic, digitized characters demeaning themselves by decapitating and destroying one another. Even more violence has been tolerated in games that did not feature such realism, and rightfully so - after all, in game such as Weaponlord or Eternal Champions you are not playing realistic characters. No, the heart of the matter with Mortal Kombat is that you take characters who thrive on realism and then proceed to brutally maim and kill each other, blood vigorously spurting in every direction all the while. It has terrible controls, extremely choppy animation, and was a terrible game to work with; seeing as how the Genesis version of M.K. was even lesser than its arcade counterpart, I cannot see myself rating this game any higher than a 2, minimum. At least it made the effort of including a password to prevent children from seeing such travesties onscreen. The most terrible thing about the game, though, is that despite its glaring flaws as a game it still managed to surmount critical analysis and gain a very large following, spawning numerous sequels, a few television sequels, and even a pair of movies. For society to be so blind as to give such attention to a game as this, I am thus compelled to drop its rating to the lowest applicable score.
Reviewer's Score: 1/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/02, Updated 04/21/02
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