Love it or hate it, Mortal Kombat is still an important series. One of the innovators of video game gore, it is best known for splattered blood when someone is hit and dramatic kills in the form of Fatalities (finishing moves). But there are those who see these games as all violence and very little substance. I now visit the game that started it all.
Plot: 7 out of 10
This series has one of the best plots the realm of fighting games has to offer (I wish that were a greater compliment), but we don’t see that here. No, this game provides little indication of Outworld and its conquest of Outworld and attempt to do the same to Earthrealm. For now, Mortal Kombat is just another martial arts tournament. Characters are interesting enough, though, and three of the big rivalries of this series — Liu Kang vs. Shang Tsung, Sonya vs. Kano, and Scorpion vs. Sub-Zero do begin here. Throw in the reasonably well-written bios and endings and perhaps I can give this a good rating.
Graphics: 8 out of 10
Despite some apparent flaws, this game looks great. It uses digitized graphics to make it look real, or at least as real as they could look in 1992. And of course there’s the intense violence, especially in the aforementioned Fatalities. In fact, this game caused a U.S. Senate investigation that lead to the creation of the ESRB ratings system. Controversy aside, MK helped write a new chapter in gaming.
Sound: 8 out of 10
Rock-solid music, sound effects, and voice acting. Is there anyone who played this game and doesn’t remember Scorpion shouting “get over here!!!” as his Spear reeled in a hapless opponent?
Gameplay: 7 out of 10
This has never been MK’s strongest point, hence its detractors. There are four attack buttons instead of six for the various versions of the competing Street Fighter II. Skill is not entirely rewarding either as uppercuts (crouching punches) do very heavy damage and knock the opponent a distance away, throws are rather easily pulled off, foot sweeps are a quick and easy knockdown*, and special moves tend towards cheapness. The two biggest offenders are Sub-Zero’s Freeze and Scorpion’s Spear, both of which leave you stunned.
But, hey, they can’t all be Virtua Fighter. For those who prefer a simpler kind of fighting game, this delivers. At least the controls (except on that abysmal SNES version, which isn’t the one I’m reviewing) are pretty responsive. And isn’t that a good point?
*Plus, a lot of people found good sweepers to be unbeatable because they didn’t know that you have to block low.
Challenge: 3 out of 10
For future reference, much of the challenge in this genre comes in people taking each other on. And it’s the gameplay that gets them both to play. So this category is about computer-controlled opponents. They may seem somewhat difficult, especially in the Endurance (two opponents instead of one), but not after you figure out that if you jump back after landing a jump kick, you can do another jump kick and repeat until you win the round. Needless to say, this makes things way too easy. Four-armed monster Goro still presents some challenge, but only some. Oddly enough, the final boss, Shang Tsung, proves to be easy even for this game. After the much harder battle with Goro, I always found that to be weird.
Overall: 7 out of 10
I’ll back the naysayers on one thing: Street Fighter II was the all-around better game. But that doesn’t mean this isn’t a solid package. Just don’t expect it to be all that “hardcore” a game.