Censorship is a thorny issue, at least it was in the 90’s. Mortal Kombat smashed into the arcades with the impact of a freight train hitting a defenseless lama. Blood, chunks of body parts, mutilation, impalement and the ripping out of spinal cords send the media into a frenzy. The game hit the Super Nintendo without the sensationalist gore but kept the integrity of the core gameplay intact. How well does the original game stand up without its unique selling point? Read on to find out.
Choose from seven martial-arts experts, each with unique abilities and special moves. Liu Kang is a Chinese monk known for his flying kick, Lieutenant Sonya Blade learned to fight in the US Army – her specialty is the kiss of death. The shadow kick is the trademark of Johnny Cage, an American movie star. Kano, a ruthless criminal and member of the evil Black Dragon organisation dazzles enemies with his cannonball attack and laser cybernetic eye. Immortal Thunder God Raiden charges opponents with lightning, while Sub-Zero, a Chinese, ninja-type assassin, freezes his victims. The last character (and possibly best known), Scorpion is a reincarnated spectre hellbent on revenge against his murderer Sub Zero. He uses a viscous harpoon to spear his enemies then burns them to ashes with his flaming skull.
The cast of characters and their backstories certainly add to the flavour of this fighting game and helped it equal the success of Street Fighter II. It plays like any other game of its genre, in one-player mode, fight against each of the six warriors before a mirror match with your clone. Survive this and there’s a brutal endurance match against two guards. After this, you face the bosses of the game, Goro, a four-armed mutant who has been unbeaten in 500 years and finally taking on the might of sorcerer Shang Tsung.
While these characters have become iconic to the series, a lot of them feel taken from popular movies at the time. Sonya Blade feuding with a metal faced, red eyed Kano might as well have been Sarah Conner and the Terminator. Raiden, the thunder god looks like he fell out of Big Trouble in Little China. Johnny Cage is obviously Jean Claude Van Damme and offers some of the silliest moves in the game. As an aside, the original premise for the title which eventually became Mortal Kombat was going to be a vehicle for Van Damme, but the license was too expensive.
Two player mode is standard head to head brawling with the added drama of ‘finishing’ opponents in a number of horrific ways. These ‘fatalities’ are executed by a complex series of joypad moves, they include a foot to the heart and a sheer drop into a spike pit. As this was Nintendo, these were actually censored versions of the even gorier arcade moves.
Blood was left on the arcade floor, because (as mentioned before) the Super Nintendo version doesn’t have it. Instead there’s sweat. Nintendo just wasn’t willing to let Mortal Kombat be what it truly is. If it had, then this version of the ultra violent fighter would have been the best conversion.
When comparing the SNES version to the Megadrive/Genesis title, its clear that the SNES has the better visuals and sound. This is offset with the understanding that Sega opted to keep all the gore of the arcade. The graphics for the Super Nintendo version are closer to the arcade, so for my money, for visuals alone this was the superior port for home consoles. The game controls well on the SNES with the face buttons being set to the punches and kicks while L and R are designated block buttons. Even though the special move inputs can feel a little frustrating compared to that of Street Fighter 2, I had no issues pull off Scorpions Harpoon attack or Sub Zero’s freezes. All special moves are either combinations of directions or quarter circle forward then an attack button, his makes learning the moves fairly easy.
The A.I. is a bit cheap though. I found that the only way I could beat certain characters was to return the favor. To beat Johnny Cage, I realised that I had to wait for him to get close enough, duck and then uppercut him. In order to defeat the mighty Goro, I found that Raiden’s Torpedo attack was an effective spam. Often I found myself stuck in the corner and being pummeled by low punches that were impossible to block or escape once they started.
Since this is a fighting game, there are plenty of stages to fight in, but all of which seem a little too realistic and humble. Mortal Kombat really sticks to the theme of seven fighters brought to an island to fight in a tournament. You will see areas like Shang Tsung’s throne room, a courtyard, a pit full of spikes and even Goro’s darkened lair. The pit is one of the more (un) pleasant surprises of the game’s background. Looking like a simple bridge it hides one of the easiest fatalities around. Even in this sanitized version, you can still uppercut an opponent off the bridge into the pit during the iconic ‘Finish Him’ prompt.
This is a fun game but in the history of the series it is easily one of the weakest. It pales in comparison to the mighty arcade version and suffers from the lack of authenticity with the removal of the gore.
The first Mortal Kombat game on the SNES features brilliantly digitised graphics, fluid movement and suitably moody music. However, this version with the removal of the gore, just doesn’t live up to the promised hype. It’s also a pity that some of the backgrounds are so sparse, in one area it was black with a few clouds in the background. Playable but not exactly a faithful conversion of the incredible arcade title.
Chris McAuley is a Northern Irish born author, comic book and gaming columnist who has now branched out from talking about comics to helping create them. An acclaimed colourist for 2000 AD and Marvel he has worked on flagship titles such as Judge Dredd, Roy of the Rovers and Hulkverines. Chris also has a commitment to the Indie scene being an inker and colourist for ‘The Lang Way Hame’ a Scottish comic which is tipped for an award later this year. With close ties to heroes of the industry such as the ‘Godfather of British comics’ Pat Mills and Spawn creator Todd McFarlene,