Mortal Kombat still kicks!
Love it or hate it, Mortal Kombat has become a household name since its release in 1991. A fighting game that utilized digitized actors depicting acts of gratuitous violence certainly caused a stir amongst critics, and received fairly widespread backlash from politicians. This was a dark yet exciting time for game players, as they got to lavish in a fight to the death—courtesy of their local arcade. But it wasn't until the release of the sequel—aptly titled Mortal Kombat II—that the foundations of society would be shaken, and the industry would be rocked accordingly. Now available on the Playstation 3 for download, does the game surmount the test of time?
The answer is a resounding yes. Mortal Kombat II—widely celebrated or not—bridges the gap between generations. The “II” in the title serves as a descriptor in more than one sense. It essentially took everything good from the original game, and multiplied it by two. Better graphics, more characters, more fatalities, and much more gore. The game definitely strayed from the super-serious direction the first title established, but the series wouldn’t go completely bonkers until the third installment—where the developers saw fit to over-complicate everything. While the game certainly has its gimmicks placed appropriately, at its very core is an excellent fighting game; and while it may appear to be a bit jaded, there's definitely a sound experience to be had.
It's all about the special moves, and Mortal Kombat II brings plenty to the table in that respect. Almost everything is fairly easy to pull off (with the exception of a few finishers) and provides a reasonable amount of glint and glam for onlookers to enjoy. Nearly everything feels fresh upon executing it, from Scorpion’s Spear attack to Mileena’s somersault; they all seem to fit within the context of the game. New special moves are brought into the fray to spice up old characters, such as Sub-Zero’s ground freeze, which definitely deepens the strategy a bit. Perhaps the most interesting addition—one obviously in response to all the protests and public dismissal—is the inclusion of non-lethal finishing moves. The first of which is a “Friendship”, which unfolds similarly for each character. The combatants settle their differences by exchanging gifts, and while not as interesting as killing your rival, it can definitely be amusing. The other is a more direct form of mockery, in the form of a “Babality.” As the name implies, after defeating your opponent you turn them into a baby.
But what truly sets Mortal Kombat apart from the fray is its zany cast of characters. While the significance of some may be questionable, they all have their own individuality and in the right hands pose a threat to any fighting veteran. Strangely enough, the most iconic characters in the franchise seem to be the palette-swapped ones. Both the male and female ninjas represent a large appeal of Mortal Kombat II in general, which at face value are just the same sprites with different colored wardrobes. Thus has been the tradition of other two-dimensional fighting games from this era, but what separates the ninjas is arguably much more than a sash of a different hue; the personas they undertake are just as interesting as the special moves themselves.
To be fair, maybe this is spruced up a bit too much. Mortal Kombat II at its core is a very simple fighter, especially shallow by today's standards. The omission of a combo system makes hardcore players scowl, as that wasn't introduced until the third game. Then why is it so many people regard it as the best in the series? Hedge your bets on the fatalities. While the game adds a plethora of humor and friendly alternatives to killing your opponents, the fatalities are more violent than ever. Geysers of blood come rushing out of your opponent with every strike you dish out—and even more so for the coup de grâce finishing moves. Whether you're burning people alive, knocking them off a bridge onto a slab of concrete, or cutting them in half vertically with a sharp-edged hat; there's definitely something here for everyone to enjoy, and that's meant in the most sadistic sense possible. The beauty of the finishing move is that you can choose to humiliate your opponent after you defeat them, teaching them a proverbial lesson, perhaps.
So all of this condensed into one 250 megabyte file and downloaded onto an unsuspecting Playstation 3? How does it fare? Surprisingly well in light of recent ports. The graphics themselves are almost identical to the arcade version, in spite of the absence of shadows on the Dead Pool stage. The artificial intelligence is just as despicable as ever, as the computer opponent takes much pleasure in making you look like an imbecile. There are still similar exploits to beat an opponent while they're down, and the visuals present the nice crystal-clear image that the original did. The sound itself is a little buggy, as it has a habit of cutting off the first letter of sentences—so the announcer will utter things like “…atality” or “ound one, fight!” It’s a bit annoying at times, but surely isn’t something to write home about.
But the biggest update to this emulation is the addition of online play, and there also lies the biggest blunder. The game play itself is still very much in tact, and on a broadband connection of a moderate speed, expect most games to run quite smoothly; in fact, sometimes a bit faster than the actual game, which can prove to be annoying. But the shortcoming truly lies in the sheer laziness that this aspect of the game has received. Upon entering the online mode, you can host or search for a game. When a game is made, what it does is run an emulation of the arcade game itself; the opponent actually has to press start to join in, otherwise they'll just watch as you battle against the CPU. When a player un-familiar with the game joins, it's quite evident—and with an obvious lack of voice communication, this means you can't enlighten them on the situation.
In the end, it really boils down to the fact that this is only a five dollar purchase. Even if the menu screen itself looks like a pre-school PowerPoint presentation, if anyone is a fan of Mortal Kombat or fighting games, they shouldn't hesitate in picking this one up. The emulation is almost arcade perfect, albeit not having to fight for elbow room. The potential this game has to offer is endless, as battling online will bring back fond memories of kicking butt at the pizza parlor…back when things were a bit simpler, and almost everyone had a fighting chance. Ah, the good old days.
- Michael Rivard