One of the Super Nintendo’s strengths was in converting certain arcade gallery classics into equally excellent experiences on home console. A couple examples that come to mind are Midway’s NBA Jam (1993) and Capcom’s Street Fighter II (1991). Both of these games were paramount for reinvigorating their genres, but it’s thanks to their well-balanced cartridge content that have made them stand the test of time. Other games, like Midway’s Mortal Kombat (1992), didn’t quite embody the same punch that its gallery counterpart was able to offer. Instead it is an example that the transition from cabinet to cartridge is very tricky, and sometimes takes several attempts to properly emulate.
Like any martial arts fighting game, there must be an explanation for the “tournament,” and the back-story offered in Mortal Kombat (MK) is as good as any. The traditional origins contend that five centuries ago the tournament was taken over by one Shang Tsung after a half-dragon, half-human named Goro defeated a Shaolin fighting monk named Kung Lao. Other scriptures include an invitation to “warriors of all styles” to fight for the right to live, and list the setting as the island fortress of Shang Tsung. Still another version indicates “Goro has weakened the barriers of the Earthrealm.” As the tournament plays out, a fighter must defeat the six other characters before facing his/her own likeness in a shadow match. After surviving four matches against a pair of serial opponents, the contestant gets to face the 500-year champion Goro before taking on the morph-happy Shang Tsung for all the marbles. 
Given that for over two decades Earthrealm has been filled out in the avenues of Mortal Kombat movies, television series, a card game and even a guided tour, the first impression MK will give most gamers is a sense of limitation. All seven characters (with Sub-Zero and Scorpion sharing a base sprite) are equipped with the same stock of low/high punches and low/high kicks, and as little as one signature launch attack and fierce attack each. Several purposes seem to be sought after with this stripped-down design. Firstly, the limited move list makes it easy for beginners to jump in, and button-bashing seems to be encouraged. Secondly, to become advanced, one must accept that timing is a premium as well as block-to-counter moves, rather than knowing character weaknesses. Lastly, since there is little style during battles, there is a focus put on fatalities. There’s nothing that captures the spirit of Mortal Kombat like its gruesome fatality sequences, except for of course the gobs of blood.
Which brings us to an unforgivable weakness of MK in its SNES format: there is no blood. Not only is there no option to turn blood on/off, there isn’t even a blasted ‘blood code’! While this choice was likely made to gel with a larger demographic than its arcade version, in hindsight this doesn’t do credit to the franchise’s legacy. The gamer will have to be satisfied with the token Midway Easter eggs, as well as ‘hidden’ fatalities. It is also possible to play as Goro or Reptile by beating the game and punching in a code. Unlocking a match against Reptile is also possible, but very challenging to conduct since it involves a pair of double-flawless victories. 
If we are set on spinning its limitation in a positive light, we can note that MK does even the playing field in certain respects. Everyone must play offense and defense, given that blocking does incur damage, and over-blocking will result in being thrown frequently. The rudimentary layout does allow for certain ‘cheap’ moves of certain characters, but none so domineering as what I’ve experienced with Street Fighter’s M. Bison or Samurai Shodown 6’s Lin Fei. For better or for worse, in multiplayer one needs to be aware of the other gamer’s tendencies and reflex capabilities, rather than knowing which of his moves overpowers one’s own, since most are stock. If you enjoy dialing in on that ‘favorite’ character, all the sudden it becomes more about a character’s visual aesthetic. For example, I think Sonya’s gymnast victory stance is hilarious as her Fire Kiss fatality is badass. On the other hand, you may fancy intimidating your opponent with the 7’0 tall, crazy-eyed Raiden whose electric presence has been known to spawn a torpedo battle cry.
Another significant aspect of MK I can see going either way for gamers is its visual presentation. Maybe it’s because I didn’t grow up with Mortal Kombat in my household (even Street Fighter was pushing it), but I really dig the digitized 2D animation. It gives me the sense I am controlling actual fighters, not merely stylized cartoons. The stage backgrounds have a similar feel to the foreground, though overall they pale in creative comparison to the likes of Street Fighter and Samurai Shodown. I do appreciate it when a game has something unique to offer its genre. But even with its ability to charm, more than anything the graphics of Mortal Kombat leave the gamer wanting more, and in the end this might be the fatal element that forfeits much of the game’s replayabilty. Two more installments of Mortal Kombat followed MK on the SNES, not to mention next gen remastered versions, and that’s likely where the gamer will want to head to get his full Kombat fix.
There’s no part of MK that requires sequels for polishing up more than the fighting itself. Aside from the overly simplistic traits already mentioned, the characters lack the significant aspect of ‘weight.’ One character is just as nimble or quick to react as another. Jumps are virtually the same — there is no quick evasion maneuver ala Street Fighter’s Vega, no floaty Samus Aran or flighty Fox McCloud ala the Smash Brothers franchise. Even further, there appears to be randomness in the hit detection. With the logic replaced with chance, Earthrealm seems to have little credibility. There was much to improve upon, and seen by the thriving of the series to date, the developers were able to do just that.
Overall Mortal Kombat grades out as an average game. It is functional with lots of promise, but very little pizzaz. As easy as it is for beginners to jump into, MK is too stripped down to have much lasting value. It makes gamers lust for more — not merely more blood, but more characters, more stages, more tournament options … and yes, even more fatalities.
Three out of Five Stars
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