Overall Rating: 3/5 Stars
For those of us who grew up in a time when 16-bit home consoles were cutting-edge and our parents questioned the wisdom of spending so much time playing video games, the release of Mortal Kombat in 1992 from developer Midway was a watershed event. Not only did it highlight the controversy of video game violence by truly putting it into the spotlight for the first time, but the Kombat title, along with its peer competitor Street Fighter, highlighted the fighting game genre as a viable choice for gamers everywhere.
With its colorful characters, blatantly brutal violence, and two-player competition, Mortal Kombat was a dark-yet-fun cartridge that millions enjoyed as it successfully bred several sequels and later entries in the franchise.
Mortal Kombat was a head-to-head fighting game, with the player controlling a combatant, or shall we say Kombatant, that could utilize punch, kick, blocking, and jumping moves, along with a modest selection of special moves unique to each character, like Liu Kang’s fireball or Johnny Cage’s shadow kick. While two-player mode was simply a fightfest taken personally, the one-player mode was a simple fight-by-fight quest to win every match until eventually defeating Goro, the four-armed monstrosity, then Shang Tsung, the mystical shape-shifting warrior. Although in its time it was seen as revolutionary, if you ever fire this game up nowadays, it seems sluggish by comparison, though the modes of play can still be challenging. However, the highlight is the gore of the Fatality end-moves granted to the player who wins a match; but, for the Super Nintendo release, all blood is absent, which somewhat removes from the exaggeratingly violent aspect that was so characteristic of the Mortal Kombat games as a whole.
Mortal Kombat, in context, looked incredible: It featured fighters that were obviously photo-realistically based on real actors, the backgrounds scrolled smoothly and were even animated (and, in some cases, mildly interactive), and the Fatality moves granted players an unprecedented level of on-screen brutality. For its time, as far as its fans were concerned, there was no better-looking game in existence. Even if it seemed mildly pixelated and fudged-over, somehow, making Kano even more ugly only added to his gritty appeal.
The soundtrack was solid, with many of the tracks being singularly recognizable in their own right. The effects were appropriately crunchy, splashy, and wet, depending on the sort of move being executed. But the true quality of the sound of Mortal Kombat was to be found in its speech samples, including the voice work of Scorpion’s “C’mere!” yell when he executed his grappling hook move into another character; or, arguably the most legendary early voice work on video games, the infamous “Finish him!” deep-throated cry that announced the possibility of a Fatality.
Not only was the fighting-game genre somewhat new in and of itself, but Mortal Kombat was definitely an early predecessor for the violence controversies that still persist today, maybe flaring up again most noticeably at the release of the Grand Theft Auto titles. The use of extra-gory Fatality moves as a post-round finishing touch was a novel invention, and the creativity behind the character creation was noteworthy as well.
For somehow both inventing and reinventing the fighting game arena all in one title, and being an undeniable classic in its own right despite not even being an excellent game by strict gameplay merit, Mortal Kombat earns three stars out of five.