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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Memories #6: Mortal Kombat

In the early 1990s word was spreading fast about an upcoming fighter called Mortal Kombat. Publisher Midway did everything within it's power to make sure gamers heard about Mortal Kombat. Only those that were dead or weren't born yet knew nothing of this game. It's that simple. TV ads, comic book and magazine ads and good old fashioned word of mouth made MK fever spread like wildfire. Posed to give Street Fighter II a run for it's money, MK featured realistic graphics the likes of which we'd never seen. The fighting combatants really sprung to life thanks to the digitized visuals with realistic character models.

Of course all of that stuff wasn't what made MK gain so much attention. It was it's over the top violence. Just punching your opponent made an insane amount of blood pour out of them. What's more, during the second round after depleting your opponent's vitality, the announcer would yell "FINISH HIM" (or "FINISH HER" if you happened to be fighting Sonya). If you knew the right inputs, you could execute a fatality, a death move that would kill the loser. It was shocking, gory, and awesome all at the same time. This same level of violence is what brought Mortal Kombat to the attention of Congress. Long story short, this game is one of the primary reasons we have the ratings labels on games that we have today. Naturally, I was completely unaware of this at the time. Ah, to be young and ignorant to the happenings around you.

Even I'd caught MK mania and wanted to give the game a try after hearing my good friends at church talk about it. But would my folks allow me to play it? While most mid to late teenagers probably wouldn't have a hard time getting the chance to play MK, us twelve and under kids had a bit of a struggle. See, at that age, playing MK was like watching an R rated move you had no business watching. Getting to play MK felt like getting to be part of the grown ups world and it was a chance that was just too good to pass up. I never played the arcade version and since a SNES was all I owned, I rented that version around the game's 1993 console release. At first, I was worried my parents wouldn't let me play the game, but to my surprise, they really had no problems with it. I'm guessing they trusted my ability to distinquish between what was real and what wasn't. It probably helped that I wasn't insane, but whatever.

"GET OVER HERE!" Come on, you
know it had to be said.
As powerful as the SNES was, I can still remember being wowed by the graphics that MK produced. First Street Fighter II, Star Fox, and now MK, the SNES just kept bringing out visual feasts. Anyway, I didn't know any moves (no instructions) so I just mashed buttons. I believe Sub-Zero was my first pick, probably because he was a ninja that wore blue, my favorite color. I won both rounds and was feeling pretty proud of myself. I'm pretty sure I discovered what is in my opinion, one of the series best moves in just the first round, the uppercut, which became my favorite. I just love how cool your fighter looked when doing that move. Plus it just felt so empowering for me to use it. Scorpion became one of my favorite characters thanks to Ed Boon's awesome voice.

More than likely, this is what happens
after Scorpion gets you with his harpoon.

I can remember one Wednseday afternoon during my rental period. We were playing as Raiden against Sonya on The Pit. It was a pretty tough fight and we were just frantically passing the controller back and forth. We were very low on health and she shot out her projectile move. Somehow, my friend teleported behind her (again, didn't know the moves) and we were slack jawed, because that one hit would have meant game over. The teleport gave us the opening we needed to take down the last of her health. The controller was handed back over to me. "FINISH HER!" the announcer demanded. I said "OK, I'll finish her!" and with that, I did my favorite move, the uppercut. I figured the match would just end like usual, but she went way up into the air and came crashing down into a pit of spikes. My jaw, along with my friend's jaw hit the floor. We'd never seen anything like that. I was actually a bit frightened by that. Looking back on it, I now think it was one of the coolest things I'd ever seen in a game at the time.

All my time spent playing Street Fighter II had made me a bit clueless as to what to expect as I moved up the fighter chain. After taking out the six regular opponents, I was met with what the game called a "Mirror Match." I don't remember these being too tough, but even after playing Street Fighter II: Turbo on the SNES, I wasn't use to fighting in these type of matches. What was really difficult for me was the endurance matches. In these fights, you had to fight two opponents back to back with no health recovery. Endurance rounds were pretty much what kept me from making it to the last two fights during my rental, but even so, I still had a blast playing MK.

During my week long stay in Toronto Canada (lovely city, by the way), my uncle had given me some cash to do with whatever I wanted. When we finally went to a place that sold video games I picked up Goof Troop, Mega Man X and Mortal Kombat. These actually mark the first time I'd ever bought a game in another country. Since I could now play MK for as long as I wanted, I finally had a chance to better myself at the game. When I got back to America, I played MK to death. I was able to advance beyond the endurance rounds and make it to Goro! And what happened when I made it to the four armed freak of nature? One of my earliest memories of a no-holds-barred-beatdown in video games. Most of the match consisted of me getting thrown back and forth as well as stomped on as I looked on in frustration and disbelief. I hadn't gotten a beating that bad since M. Bison. But in all my loses, I discovered Goro was vulnerable to spam attacks like fireballs and Scorpion's harpoon. With Goro down, I moved on to Shan Tsung and like Goro, he also mopped the floor with me. Thankfully, like Goro, he could also be beaten by spam tactics. After what seemed like many struggles, I'd finally beat MK.

After what seemed like many struggles, I'd finally beat MK. And yet I would still play it over and over. Via Nintendo Power's Mortal Kombat II coverage, I found that many of the fatalities for that game would work on the original. When I learned Scorpion's fatality (which was a simple block, up, up) I was thrilled. It felt awesome to be able to finally "FINISH" someone.

A few years later I discovered that the SNES version of MK was heavily sanitized. The blood was gone completely and some fatalities were heavily altered. Why was MK met with such censorship? Nintendo of America's family friendly practices at the time. This ended up costing the SNES version in sales as the Genesis version of MK pretty much took a nine iron to it at retail. Even so, I still dug this version of MK. And with Game Genie, I turned that sweat, mist or whatever it was into blood.

I never saw a lot of kung fu or martial arts movies as a kid, but the SNES version's audio of MK made me feel like I was watching that type of film. The character select screen still sounds amazing. Not only do I love the pit for what awaits the loser at the bottom, but the background music there was just so sweet! I can still see Shang Tsung sitting in the throne room watching you fight endurance rounds. Even the starting area, the courtyard, another stage where Shang Tsung watches is remembered thanks to the awesome music. That theme is so good, it was actually remixed in Mortal Kombat II.

These days, I can see that the original Mortal Kombat was loved so much mainly for it's gore. If it hadn't been for that, it probably wouldn't have been talked about and played as much as it was all those years ago. Doesn't it taint my memories of it? Not in the leeast. This is one of those games that I'll always remember fondly. How many kids wanted to play this game when it hit the home consoles but couldn't because mom and dad wouldn't let them? I was one of those kids that got to play a "grown up" game and while the first entry may be pretty shallow today, if I could go back and do it all over again, I'd do it in a heartbeat.

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