Review by Ryan Harrison

"Stick to the Mega Drive version."

The game Mortal Kombat, which first appeared in arcades in 1992, proved to be such a massive hit with its controversial levels of violence and blood, impressive digitised real-life character models and gruesome fatality moves to add to a number of decent looking special moves, a few home console ports were never going to be too far away; and with fighting games fuelling some fierce competition between the two big-name 16-bit consoles (the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo), the game duly made the transition the next year. Unfortunately, these particular qualities that had made the game so popular, when dumbed down and very much butchered in the process of making the transition to the SNES, sadly make this one of the less enjoyable ports.

Now, just about everyone who knows the story, knows that the Super Nintendo port of Mortal Kombat is most notorious for the bad rap it got for removing all traces of blood and violence, and thereby taking away one of the game's signature trademarks, turning the end product into little more than a standard, mediocre fighter. I myself have never really gone by the measure of the level of blood, gore and violence determining how awesome it makes a game, as I have played more than my fair share of fighters and know there are a good number that despite lacking blood and gore can still be incredibly fun and addicting to play. Where I think the problem lies with the very first MK game (in general, not just for this version), is that it is one of the classic examples of how being the very first in a major gaming series, it gets merited and heralded on that fact alone.

On the face of it, Mortal Kombat for the Super Nintendo is as faithful a home console transition as any in terms of the characters, moves (mostly) and structure of the game. It is set in the realms of the 'Outworld', in which seven competitors, each with their own unique character backgrounds and motives for entering into the tournament, aim on conquering all other challengers before testing their endurance in a set of handicap battles, before finally challenging Goro and Shang Tsung to claim the Mortal Kombat tournament title. It is pretty basic and while seven characters is by most standards a rather small selection, it's still good to try every one out and get through for each individual ending story.

The controls of the game are rather slack, with notably delayed response, particularly in pulling off special moves or fatalities, which require a combination of D-Pad buttons and action buttons being pressed in a sequence to perform. Character movement is unusually slow and quite slack, and until getting the hang of the timing and speed with which one presses each button in succession, I'd often see my fighter moving back and forth and simply punching or kicking into thin air.

The gameplay style itself, for a single-player playthrough, will see you start at the bottom of a table of characters, gradually advancing upward for each battle you win. The last of the seven regular characters you challenge is always a 'mirror match' against a palette-swapped doppelganger, then you fight three 'endurance' rounds, which are basically one-on-two gauntlet-style battles where you have to fight two fighters in succession, all on one life bar of your own. Following this you then proceed to take on Goro , the four-armed beast and champion of the MK tournament, before taking on the shape-shifting final boss Shang Tsung to win the game.

Each battle in the game is fought in a 'Best-2-out-of-3 rounds' style match; to win a round you have to pummel away at the other guy until their health bar is completely depleted, and one of the signature touches is how you can 'FINISH THEM' with one final blow when their health bar is emptied at the end of the decisive round. If you know the button combination, you can therefore execute a fatality, which sees you cap them off (though not quite in as brutal a style as you would in most other versions).

The graphics of the game are rather dull; backgrounds seem to use a lot of grey, and backdrops look rather grainy and not at all good on the eyes. The stage designs are okay and character designs are by no means too shabby, though they still could have potentially looked much smoother, as a good deal of other fighter games on the same console, even including the MK sequels, do a much better job with the graphics. It's possible to make characters out without too much trouble, yet the models do look pretty grainy and rough. The animation is rather choppy and there is some lag and the occasional glitching with the graphics, so these could definitely have been done better.

The music of the game is tolerable, though not so memorable. The game seems to go with some rather generic music that complements the martial arts and action style, as well as the dark feel of Mortal Kombat, though many of the trademark themes from the arcade version that were also in the Genesis port appear to be lacking here. The Genesis port also had music that was much deeper and richer in composition, and was much more memorable. Whereas is one were to listen to the music of the Genesis version of the game you would be able to recall it, with this version, you probably wouldn't.

The sound effects are good, yet rather basic. Simple sounds of punching and kicking when you attack, and various clobbering sounds when you make contact with an opponent. There are some nice sound effects for special moves too, yet voice acting is quite muffled and at times not nice to listen to. At times I even noticed that various actions seem to lack sound effects altogether.

When it comes to the characters at your disposal, as I said before you have a selection of seven selectable fighters - a rather small figure by today's standards, though still enough to see you play through the game enough times with each one to get some good replay value. You have Johnny Cage, Kano, Raiden, Liu Kang, Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Sonya. The good thing about the characters is that they are all designed well; many with their own distinct strengths and weaknesses, and their own set of special moves and fatality moves. I did pretty much find the general fighting style not to differ too drastically between fighters as it perhaps would have done in a Street Fighter game, though I still enjoyed trying each one out and coming to grips with, and knowing how best to fight with them.

As for modes, there's only the standard Tournament mode outlines before that sees you climb the tower and picking off all the other fighters one by one before the endurance rounds and the boss characters. Other than this there's also the option of trying yourself out against a second player, though the game would really have benefitted from some extra multiplayer offerings; like a gauntlet match where you can pick more than one character, or even a tag match seen from other fighting games. Besides this, the only other kind of gameplay comes in a very brief 'Test Your Might' mini-game where you try to win some extra points by repeatedly mashing buttons to build the character's strength meter, then destroying an object by hitting it once the strength meter goes past a certain level. It's a decent little test and something different between every few matches, though nothing to really enhance the experience.

The fighting action itself, however, seems to pan out pretty slowly and can soon start to feel rather mundane after a short while. Again, with some rather sloppy control and the game playing at a frustratingly slow pace, the game does not feel as enjoyable as it could potentially have been, and there really does not seem to be anything that would make you want to keep coming back several times over, especially given how future games in the series very much deliver everything this one has to offer, plus a whole lot more.

The challenge of the game is also flawed; not least due to the control and mechanics that are rather difficult to work with, yet even on easier settings the later battles are too darn hard. The game is beatable, but will take a good deal of time, and having a good grasp of the move sets of each fighter will prove pivotal. It seems the only way I was able to find a way past the later battles in the Tournament mode with certain characters was by taking advantage of a glitch in the game engine concerning the use of projectiles. Having to resort to this didn't really make the challenge seem fair, so this really could have been worked on.

Overall, Mortal Kombat for the Super Nintendo is not as bad as it could have been, and it really can't be criticised simply for lacking the violence levels from the arcade version, but this is not a very enjoyable game as a result of some glaring flaws, and dumbed-down and at times dull visuals. Only devout MK fans and collectors would be advised to go for this one, and I will still maintain that the best way of enjoying the original MK is to stick with the arcade one, or failing that, the Genesis/Mega Drive port. This is a sadly rather butchered port and not a good first outing for the series on the Super Nintendo, though luckily the follow-up corrected many of the issues and delivered a much better experience, so don't let this put you off other MK games on Nintendo systems!


Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 12/03/13

Game Release: Mortal Kombat (EU, 10/28/93)


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