Originally Released: 1992
Developer: Arena Entertainment/Probe Development/Midway
Original Developer: Midway
Also Available For: Arcade, Mega Drive, Mega-CD, Game Gear, Game Boy, Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), PC, Amiga, PlayStation 2, PlayStation Portable, PlayStation 3, Xbox, Xbox 360
A Brief Background:
You’ve all heard of Mortal Kombat, right? The violent fighting game series that revolutionarily used digitised sprites instead of traditional 2D sprite art and was filled with all kinds of controversial violence and blood? These days, the blood and brutal Fatalities the series is known for don’t cause nearly as much outrage as they did back in the day but, in the early-nineties, parents and organisations alike were fuming at the levels of violence Mortal Kombat depicted. As you might expect, this meant that Mortal Kombat was massively successful; kids finally turned away from Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) and wasted their hard-earned pocket money trying to tear their opponent’s spines from their bloodied bodies. Given its level of popularity, Mortal Kombat received numerous ports to home consoles; the Mega Drive version reigned supreme thanks to SEGA including the game’s trademark blood and Fatalities (albeit after a code was entered), while Nintendo lagged behind with heavily edited “Finishing Moves” and substituting blood for “sweat”. While the Mega Drive version is sluggish and hasn’t really aged very well, it’s got nothing on this Master System port!
After slotting Mortal Kombat into the Master System, you’re treated with a long diatribe about “codes”, which was the developer’s sneaky way of telling you that you need to enter a code to enable blood in the game. I skipped this, however, and, as always, selected Sub-Zero to take on the game’s arcade ladder.
The first thing you’ll notice is that Kano is missing from the game’s roster; the second thing you’ll notice is how absolutely God-awful the game’s graphics are! I grew up playing the Amiga version of Mortal Kombat but, mostly, was playing either Mortal Kombat 3 (Midway, 1995) on PC or Mega Drive (except for that odd period were I happened to have a copy of Mortal Kombat II (Acclaim Entertainment/Probe Development, 1994) for the Master System) so maybe I was a little spoiled but…my God, the graphics here are terrible! The downgrade to 8-bit has left the already-questionable digitised sprites looking blocky and blurry. Sprites seem to float or merge with the foreground and background, and so many frames of animation have been lost that there seems to be a delay in every button press!
It’s not all bad, though; the backgrounds are okay, for the most part, those there’s a noticeable lack of stages here. Each character also has their signature moves but, thanks to the Master System’s two button setup, I couldn’t throw even one Ice Ball for the life of me. None of this changes the fact that the game plays like absolute garbage, though. One of the things I love about Mortal Kombat (especially the early titles) is how the game is easy to pick up and play and gets deeper the more you master its controls; unlike Street Fighter II and its sequels and spin-offs, you don’t have to stress yourself with worrying about “frame cancels” or whatever. Every Mortal Kombat character basically plays the same, with only their special abilities separating them, meaning it comes down to how good you are at getting through the opponent’s offense and landing your own.
In this version of Mortal Kombat, you can technically wipe the floor with the computer without any real problem; if you select the “Easy” difficulty, you can pretty much trounce every opponent with just flying kicks, rapid punches, and leg sweeps no matter how much better they are at throwing their projectiles at you. The issue is, though, that you have to battle against some really dodgy hit detection and slow-down; it’s like the game is taxing the Master System to its very limit, as you’ll slowly stutter through the air and punch through the opponent more often than not.
When I fired the game up to have a quick playthrough, I selected the “Easy” difficulty, picked Sub-Zero (because…obviously…!), and played through the arcade ladder. I managed to get all the way to the Mirror Match without losing more than one round (Rayden turned out to be a cheap spam-artist) and was promptly, soundly defeated by my doppelgänger. Truthfully, I’m not too bothered about this as the one thing I always hated about Mortal Kombat was those damn annoying Endurance Matches, where you have to take on two opponents with two health bars while you only get one. That probably wouldn’t be so bad but you need to fight your way through three of these bloody things before you can take on Goro and, eventually, the game’s final boss, Shang Tsung.
Honestly, the original Mortal Kombat has not aged well at all. The only version worth anyone’s time is the arcade version, and even that is slow and graphically sub-par to its later sequels. This 8-bit port of the game is a joke from top to bottom; it’s literally the poor man’s version of Mortal Kombat, made for those kids unfortunate enough to not be able to upgrade to the Mega Drive, and should be avoided at all costs. Am I being too harsh on the Master System port of Mortal Kombat? Which was your favourite version or sequel to Mortal Kombat? Do you have any fond memories of wasting your childhood away in arcades trying to set your opponent on fire? Write a comment below and let me know.