Looking back on Mortal Kombat

So lately, I had an urge to revisit one of those games that was a big part of my childhood. I’m sure any gamer who was alive in America during the early 90s remembers “Mortal Monday” and the huge hype that followed the home releases of arcade hit Mortal Kombat and later, Mortal Kombat II. By the time Mortal Kombat 3 and Ultimate MK3 happened, I had long since lost interest in the series.

I’m curious: MK1 had Mortal Monday and MK2 had Mortal Tuesday. Did MK3 have a Mortal Wednesday?

Mortal Kombat was not an especially great fighting game, even back then. One thing I noticed even as a kid was that all the characters played basically the same, literally only differentiated by their specials moves. So by comparison to the contemporary Capcom or SNK fighters of the time, Mortal Kombat was a little on the shallow side. I could make some lame point about American vs. Japanese developers, but I’ve read that MK was one of those filler games that they didn’t think would be all that popular, so it would be just silly to make an issue of it.

MK’s real charm comes from its rather B-Movie feel. The first game especially feels like you’re playing a low-budget Hong Kong kung fu flick. And I don’t know how I went so many paragraphs without mentioning the blood. Oh yes, while MK was not the first game to feature copious amounts of violence or bloodshed, it was the first to do so while being immensely successful. Admittedly, for how much it was hyped, there wasn’t really that much–you really only saw it if you uppercutted or performed a fatality, which to my twelve-year-old mind was a little disappointing. Of course, nowadays if I ever wanna see blood I just have to tease my cat a bit, so that aspect has kind of lost its appeal.

One thing that gets me about Mortal Kombat today, is the special moves, or rather the commands to use them. The thing about special moves in most fighting games is that the commands make some sort of sense. I mean, think about Ryu’s fireball motion. Try performing that motion in real life, and you’ll start to understand the whole down-downforward-forward thing. In Mortal Kombat though, the moves just have no rhyme or reason to them. I’ve heard it argued that they were designed to be easy to input, which is true enough except for the Fatalities, where they’re all over the place–Johnny Cage’s is very easy to pull off, while Liu Kang’s requires something of a miracle. One theory I came up for this was that they wanted Fatalities to be a “reward” for skilled players, which I guess is fair, but when the over-the-top deaths are one of the draws of your game it might behoove you to make them a little easier.

Admittedly, I still wouldn’t mind owning at least one home port… besides the Gameboy version, which I do own and which is surprisingly playable considering its garbage. The problem is I don’t know which would be the most fun. I’ve heard the Sega CD is the best one, or else the IBM PC version, at least in terms of “closest to the arcade.” With Mortal Kombat II it gets harder–supposedly the 32x and Saturn versions are the best. Too bad I own neither system (there is also one on the PS2 as part of the the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 compilation, but I’ve heard that one is buggy). At the moment, I’m not sure if I care to go into MK3, or just stick with the games I knew from my childhood.

One amusing little anecdote: For most of my life, I thought the MK symbol was a horse. It wasn’t until recently that I learned it’s supposed to be a dragon. Still looks like a horse to me.

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