sunnuntai 24. kesäkuuta 2012

REVIEW - Mortal Kombat | SNES | 1993

GENRE(S): Fighting
RELEASED: August 1992 (Arcade)
DEVELOPER(S): Midway Games, Probe Software, Sculptured Software (SNES)
PUBLISHER(S): Acclaim Entertainment, Virgin Games (Amiga), Arena Entertainment (GG, Sega-CD, SMS)
DESIGNER(S): Ed Boon & John Tobias

I’ve told the story a million times - just one more won’t hurt. Back when I was about eight years old, Street Fighter II changed my life, and my perspective as a gamer. Me and my best childhood friend, we loved Street Fighter II. It was pretty much the best game in the world at the time. Street Fighter II spawned a whole flurry of followers, most of which made their mark in the 16-bit era. Some were successful and have remained genre classics to this day, some have been totally lost in the mists of time and hardly regarded, and when they are, that regard is one of fear and loathing. But, there was only one arcade game in the 16-bit era that truly stood up to Capcom’s Street Fighter franchise, just because it was different and attracted more mature players. This game was called Mortal Kombat; this one-on-one fighting classic was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias to test the limits of good taste and censorship. The original arcade game was a huge success, despite brewing up a lot of controversy. It was so successful that even Nintendo, among others, wanted a piece of it. This was weird, because due to its ultra-violent nature, Mortal Kombat stood against every possible Nintendo guideline. People were still excited to see how the SNES version would turn out, because NINTENDO. They knew what they were doing, right?

FINISH HIM! …But be gentle.

An old, evil sorcerer by the name of Shang Tsung invites seven of the best martial artists in the world to take part in a one-on-one fighting tournament between warriors of the Earthrealm and the demonic forces of the Outworld. What he fails to mention is that in order to win the tournament, one must actually kill each of his or her opponents.

Those humble beginnings...
Even though I’ve never taken the franchise on to review it, I’ve talked a lot about Capcom’s Street Fighter. Midway’s Mortal Kombat, not so much – that is because I’ve been so apart from the franchise for the last 15 years, while Street Fighter has remained a classic in my books due to the one-on-one fighting phenomenon it started. Mortal Kombat is by no means any less of a classic when I really think about it, and by the time Mortal Kombat 3 came out, the franchise had actually taken over as my favourite series of fighting games. But, it just stopped there. After getting my hands on Tekken for the first time, I left all other fighting games behind. I missed a million Mortal Kombat games and a million variations of Street Fighter all due to Namco’s alpha bashfest, and my eventual, total abandonment of the genre, which happened around 2002, ten years after I first laid eyes (and hands… and feet) on Street Fighter II. As far as I was concerned, the genre had outlived its purpose…

"COME 'ERE!!!"
…But now, it’s coming back, globally, as well as in my very own cave of nerdiness. Tekken has gone down, seriously – each game gets stupider and fuller of bad ideas to diversify the gameplay experience. They’ve tried to outdo the masterpiece Tekken 3 for 15 years, and they still haven’t got the grip to create a mere equal. When the best fighting game in history goes down like this, it’s easy to think that the whole genre’s dead, but in reality, it’s nowhere near. Look at Street Fighter, how well Street Fighter IV and all of its updates – that seriously mirror the ridiculous “sequels” of Street Fighter II back in the day – have flourished. Relating to that subject, Marvel vs. Capcom is very entertaining – it’s an unforgiving murder of thumbs, but it pays back with its candid comic book stunts and just about the coolest all-star cast of characters that could ever grace a fighting game. There’s also the Street Fighter and Tekken hybrid, which I’m not interested in for one bit – again, that goes to show how I view Tekken these days. Sony has a hyped all-star fighting game coming up, starring characters from Sony’s exclusive games such as Uncharted and Heavy Rain, much like the Super Smash Bros. series for Nintendo’s consoles. Last year, Mortal Kombat made a HUGE comeback – with a game that served as a sequel, reboot and remake, all in one. After getting my brain blown to seven dozens of icky bits – both on screen and in real life – by the new Mortal Kombat, I decided it was time to return to my childhood, starting with the very first 16-bit Mortal Kombat game for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. A heavy dose of nostalgia and a sympathetic smile were the only good things picked up from this round trip. I could say Mortal Kombat for the SNES has seen better days, but it hasn’t. After all these years of experience and all these games in between, I can finally see all that was wrong with this version of one of the greatest arcade classics of all time since day one.

First, I thought I could cope. Goro coming up and slapping the Acclaim Entertainment logo to oblivion in the very beginning of the game still looks as cool as it ever did. It made us fear Goro, although he turned out quite easy, and Shang Tsung turned out to be the real bastard we spent hours and many continues on. The graphics still look great, actually way better than in the hideous Batman Forever, which was based on the Mortal Kombat engine and came out a couple of years later. The digitized speech brought over directly from the arcade game sounds excellent considering the limits of the platform, and in comparison to Clay Fighter – which also came out a while later than Mortal Kombat. So, it’s true that Mortal Kombat pioneered a lot of features that were rare in 16-bit games, and remained an outstanding game in terms of audiovisuals right up until the end of the SNES cycle. And, I might add the personal note that there are hardly hotter images on the SNES than Sonya Blade’s winning pose in the first Mortal Kombat game – actually there is one, and that is the whole character of Sonya Blade in Mortal Kombat 3. But that’s another story, saved for a while later.

FATALITY! ...Or something like that.
The character select screen brings back very vivid memories. My best friend’s dad bought the game as an U.S. import back in late 1993, and I think we had been playing Street Fighter II up and down up ‘til that point for a whole year – I believe he got it as a Christmas present in ’92. The first thing we both noted, in a negative fashion, about Mortal Kombat, was the somewhat “pathetic amount” of playable characters. Well, the original 16-bit version of Street Fighter II had eight playable characters. Mortal Kombat had seven of them – that’s one less character, for you who are less mathematically gifted. The character select screen was just arranged in such fashion that it seemed that there were even less characters, or anything below eight was a rip-off, I don’t know. Anyway, once we had both picked our favourite characters – Sub-Zero and, well, Sub-Zero – we started to clash through the fucker and although we didn’t really care for the muddy controls, we liked the graphics, the music, the atmosphere, the character design and merciless minigames by such a lot that we found ourselves playing a lot of Mortal Kombat, and Street Fighter II could go to hell with its endless updates as far as we were concerned, but we didn’t make that statement before the Mortal Kombat sequels came out. Why? ‘Cause this one stinks.

For the record, Scorpion has become my favourite Mortal Kombat character of all time as years have passed, instead of my initial favourite Sub-Zero, so I started this playthrough – which was my first in almost 20 years – using Scorpion, or “the yellow one”, as we called him at one time, to further exclamate our fascination with Sub-Zero, who we never called “the blue one”. Before I explain how this went, let me explain the basics of Mortal Kombat.

Unlike the world tournament in Street Fighter, and the King of Iron Fist tournament in Tekken, the Mortal Kombat tournament actually makes some sense – as much as a fighting game can. Shang Tsung is planning to take over Earth, but due to some divine rule written in the ancient past, he can’t just simply walk into Mordor. I mean Earth. Humans are given the chance to fight for their freedom and survival in this fighting tournament, but the punishment for losing is a very violent death, compared to which the end of the world would be a blessing. To somewhat be able to compete with a demonic sorcerer, the humans have acquired the assistance of Lord Raiden, the God of Thunder. The playable cast features representatives of both realms, but at this point, it was not very clear who’s on who’s side. Frankly, it was just a game of kick-ass and no one was interested in the plot; this is how a lot of fighting game franchises started out. There was a plot, but no one cared. Then the developers started adding depth to that initial plot. In Mortal Kombat’s case, they succeeded, but in games like Tekken, the plot just simply does not work and brings the game down. It’s fun to revisit the game, to see how much the importance of the plotline has shifted, but how the game has remained the same in terms of atmosphere.

The start of a beautiful rivalry.
The game progresses differently than Street Fighter II. In that game, your character was pitted against every other character on the roster, and four bosses. After that, the game was over. None of your opponents were any easier or harder to beat than the next one, they were pretty much even matches. Well, in Mortal Kombat you fight your way through a similar ladder, up until there’s the breakpoint in which you would have to beat the bosses. At that breakpoint, you’ll face the mirror image of your current character – and let me note that the two characters don’t differ AT ALL, not even by the colour of their clothes! – then, I guess the spirits, of your already slayed foes in a series of highly enfuriating handicap matches, the Shokan prince Goro, and then, the boss of all bosses (or so he'd claim), the shapeshifting sorcerer Shang Tsung himself. There are a couple of Test Your Might minigames in the between, in which you’re supposed to button mash your way to victory to break a set of wood or rock with your bare hands, as well as special conditions to encounter and try your luck against the hidden, non-playable character of Reptile, a.k.a. “the green one”.

The characters, although aesthetically different from each other, share similar sets of moves, from basic to special ones. Each character has a projectile to use; Kano uses knives, Sub-Zero uses his ice attack, Raiden uses his lightning attack, Scorpion uses the harpoon, Liu Kang shoots fireballs, and both Sonya and Johnny Cage are able to shoot some sort of energy bursts. Also, each character has a special attack he/she can use not only to do damage, but to “teleport” from one side of the arena to the opposite one. All of these abilities are useless in the beginning of the game, since it’s so easy, but unfortunately, at some point they might turn out your only methods to survive. Unfortunately? Read on.

There are the basics, so let’s get down to business, as brief as that business might be. I’ve mentioned the atmosphere a few times, and the very basic atmosphere is one of the only things still right with this installment of Mortal Kombat. As soon as the “ROUND 1 – FIGHT!” cue breaks out, everything just goes to hell. The digitized voices and music, as good as they basically sound, keep breaking and distorting along with impact from every other kick or punch. The controls are horrible. They were bad back then, but now they’ve been rendered utterly horrible. There seems to be a constant delay, and at fewer times (luckily), the characters just do not respond. Their failure to respond to basically simple special moves very easily drives you to use flurries of quick punches and uppercuts. Seriously, that uppercut is mean! …But, that’s not the way Mortal Kombat wants you to work, oh no. As you make progress in the game, your opponents’ A.I. increases to the point they start reacting to your moves a lot faster. Doesn’t sound like much, I know. I guess you’d have to play the game yourself to know the effect the delay has, but let me put it simply: attack with a high punch, the opponent ducks and counterattacks low. Attack with an uppercut, the opponent stays away just by the mere inch that saves their ass, and punches you in the armpit while your fist is still up in the air. Attack with a low kick, the opponent’s in permanent block mode. At this point, your only solutions are to either get the special projectile attacks working – CONSTANTLY, which is impossible – or try your luck in beating them down with dropkicks, which can go either way, especially in the handicap matches, in which you seriously need to beat TWO rounds against TWO opponents using whatever’s left of your pathetic health bar.

A flawless victory in 12 seconds.
Well, if this was all of the crap I had to throw at the SNES version of Mortal Kombat, I could lay it to rest with a laugh and a half. But, it’s not – and the reason to that has been critics’ favourite peeve about the game since day one. There is NO – that’s ABSOLUTELY NO – blood in this game! If there are some people who’ve never played this version of the game, but know most of the Mortal Kombat franchise inside out, they must be going “oh, come on” right about now. “This is a game where you uppercut opponents to a pit that has huge spikes all across the floor.” Uppercut away, but there’s no blood. “Sub-Zero uses a Fatality in which he freezes his opponent and rips off his head.” Yeah, in the arcade version; here he just crushes the upper torso of his opponent, turned into a formless block of ice with just a faint clue that it’s actually a human being. “You could bring down Goro easily by smacking him right in the balls!” That doesn’t work here, either. Actually the swift punch to the balls was entirely removed from the game; after it turned into legend in the 1995 movie (honestly one of the best game to movie adaptations ever), its removal pisses me off even more.

What we have here is kind of a nostalgic game, but if it’s at least a near-MK experience you want with the equal amount of bits, you should turn to the version on the Sega Genesis. The SNES version is a shadow of what Mortal Kombat actually was back in that time, more like a production demo than the real thing – actually, I wouldn’t be surprised if the bad execution of the game’s concept would have encouraged people to go out and buy a Sega Genesis to quench their bloodthirst! Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3 raised the bar from this unbelievable low to what was an unbelievable high at that time. I can’t really spit on Mortal Kombat due to how fun the game was to play before its SNES sequels blew it right out of the water along with its non-sensical censorship, but there’s no doubt this was the last time I’ll ever play this version of the game again.

+ The very basic Mortal Kombat atmosphere is there…
+ …Which is largely due to the audiovisual concepts; unlike many other games of the era, Mortal Kombat was an accomplishment in the use of digital audio and video
+ Some priceless, yet very random nostalgic moments such as Raiden’s “ALIBABALEE!!” battle cry and Sonya’s boobtastic victory pose

- There’s a lot of sweat and tears, but NO BLOOD!
- The controls are horrible, and there’s NO BLOOD!
- Cheap tactics are easy to learn and execute, but they won’t carry you through the whole game, they’re not fun to use, and there’s NO BLOOD!
- The censorship values are all-around ridiculous in this context, but the worst thing is that there’s NO BLOOD!
- The Fatalities are easy enough to execute, but there’s NO BLOOD!
- Overall, the game is a sad excuse of the fine arcade title it shares its name with. You know why? 'Cause there’s no blood.

< 5.0 >

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