Launching in 1992 amidst huge amount of hype and outrage, Midway’s Mortal Kombat went on to become a landmark title. The main selling point was of course blood in vast quantities, which set a trend for future video games. During matches the combination of punches, knives, spears and much more besides causes your opponent to shed pints of blood.
Such oozing was on a scale never before seen and the levels of violence apparent were topped off with a brutal ‘finishing’ manoeuvre. Subzero, on reflection, was perhaps the main culprit with a move which had the Ninja removing the head of his victim with the moving spinal cord still attached. Surprisingly perhaps, Mortal Kombat was not all style over substance, as beneath the blood lay a decent (if not spectacular), game in its own right.
As a simple one-on-one 2D fighting game, Mortal Kombat implements the usual contrived story often found in the genre. This time around the greatest warriors from earth have to face off against the creatures of ‘Outworld’ in a battle that will decide the future of the planet. A selection of seven cliched warriors range from the usual Bruce Lee rip off to more obscure characters like the God of thunder 'Raiden' and a dead Ninja from hell.
Mortal Kombat is an American series, developed in a genre dominated by Japanese heavyweights. However, to its credit it maintains a unique flavour, partially due to the character designs. Mortal Kombat managed to set itself apart at the time of release through digitised visuals for the fights. The characters were incredibly realistic, something that stands up quite well even today- at least until they move.
While characters are digitised the backdrops are drab by comparison and static - creating an uneasy juxtaposition between the two. Each character has sufficient animation but a few more frames whilst walking would have been appreciated, but overall it's acceptable and the blood is lavishly red.
Blood and hype cast aside, the foundation of the game relied on a decent engine. It's certainly not up to the standards of the Street Fighter series, but good enough to avoid frustration for the player. However, matches can become a mass of projectile moves at times, as normal punches and kicks seem to lack something in the heat of battle. This over-the-top opera of violence and bizzare finishing moves set Mortal Kombat apart - even today. With the blood activated it actually helps the gameplay as when attacking everything seems to be more solid, giving the graphical illusion that punches are connecting with the other character something that was sadly lacking in the Super Nintendo version of the game.
If there is a criticism to be found with the game it would have to be that apart from special moves the characters on offer are not dramatically different from one another. This is especially noticeable with the Ninja characters. This is only a minor gripe in a surprisingly enjoyable and playable title though.
Overall, despite the hype, Mortal Kombat is well designed and implemented and certainly put Midway on the map. It offers a welcome experience, different from those offered by the Fatal Fury and Street Fighter series'. The inclusion blood and fatalities helps to make it really stand out from the crowd. With so many versions released on multiple platforms it is worth noting that the Mega Drive version is really the only one worth owning and is a worthy addition to any Sega owner’s collection.
(Enter Blood Code at 'Code of the Warrior' Screen - ABACABB)