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Now & Then: Mortal Kombat II (Midway)

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Midway must have known it had a hit on its hands with the original Mortal Kombat because no time was wasted creating the sequel.  While most of us anticipated the home release of the first title, Mortal Kombat II (MKII) snuck into arcades and blew our minds.  This game literally had it all – more characters, more fatalities/finishing moves, and more violence.  For most MK series fans, myself included, this is considered to be the best and it’s one of the highest grossing video games of all time. 

MK Meets its Match

The original Mortal Kombatwas an impressive fighter, especially for one that was developed with digitized actors in only 10 months, but creator Ed Boon wanted to do more.  “[MKII] had everything we wanted to put in the original MK but didn’t have time for,” he said in an interview with EGM2 (issue 5, Nov. 1994).  It does seem like there’s some truth to his claim, especially with the introduction of more stage fatalities, a second fatality for each character, and even joke finishers “friendships” and “babalities”.  I’m not so sure the roster was an initial idea, nor was the background concepts of Outworld, but I can definitely see the Midway team wanting to break away from the perceived reality of the original.  Not only was MKII the definitive version of the original concept, but it continues to be the template for which all other titles in the series are based on.  

In the second installment, Liu Kang has won the tournament and Shang Tsung returns to his home dimension of Outworld, defeated.  He begs his ruler, Shao Kahn, for another tournament, this time in Outworld.  Kahn agrees and gives Tsung back some of his youth while Raiden gathers a new batch of fighters.  As a result the cast of 12 characters is made up of half Earth realm fighters and half Outworld fighters.  In addition, all backgrounds take place in the demonic realm of Outworld, giving a slight cartoon feel to the previous game.  While the game was in development it was decided that the motion capture sprites would be replaced by chroma key implementation (an effect that allows multiple layers into a moving object).  This technique resulted in more muscular and shiny looking sprites, which helped to remove the reality feel of the first.  Finally with extremely violent fatalities and joke finishers the game gave a distinct “not too serious” impression on what originated as a very dark theme.

All of the original fighters were planned to be in the sequel, but memory limits claimed the deletion of Sonya and Kano and in their place Reptile and Mileena were added.  For those that wonder why the same number of characters can take up less memory, these are all palette swaps with already existing characters and thus require much less space to implement.  This also explains why secret characters Jade (a green palette swap with Kitana), Smoke (a gray palette swap of the various ninjas), and Noob Saibot (a shadowed black version of the ninja template) all originate with other characters.  Extreme attention to detail was taken and this is clear with the inclusion of Kano and Sonya in the background of the Kahn’s Arena stage as well as plenty of secrets held within the game.  We’ve already mentioned them, but each character this time around two fatalities, a stage fatality (used on the Tower for spikes above and the Pit II for cement below), a friendship that gifted the opponent in some way, and a babality that would turn the opponent into a crying baby.  The Acid Pool level also had a way to uppercut enemies into it, however this move was specific to that level as opposed to stage fatalities that were specific moves for each character.  Rumors of “animalities” sprang up with Liu Kang’s second fatality dawning a large dragon that bit the opponent in half, which may have later led to the inclusion of these finishers in Mortal Kombat 3.  Each secret fighter had a specific way to fight them and they all posed difficult threats just as Reptile was in the original – side note: Noob Saibot’s name derives from taking creators Boon and Tobias backwards.

I still remember the day this first came out and in an instant dethroned the original Mortal Kombat as an arcade gem.  No one touched the Mortal Kombat cabinet if MKII was there, even if it meant waiting in a long line.  This also started the collecting and passing around of moves and fatalities – with the Internet not mainstream we actually had pieces of paper that we would bring with us to collect everyone’s moves – and was a true testament to word of mouth.  While we all still picked up the original for playing at home, Midway had found a way to get us to the arcades just as often as before.  As expected, when the game came to home consoles a year later, there wasn’t a video game system owner that didn’t want it and this time around Nintendo wouldn’t make the same mistake.

Homekoming

As was the case with the previous game, Probe would be responsible for the Sega ports including Genesis, Game Gear, and now 32x.  Since the Genesis was expected to be the lead platform and the largest performer – remember that although the SNES version was technically a closer port, many gamers had opted to get a Genesis for the original and would then get the sequel on that console as well.  This time around there was no blood code to unlock and tons of secrets were included in the game with everything from one button fatalities to the infamous “Fergality” (you could enable the “Oooh Nasty!” cheat and play as Raiden on the Armory and make Probe CEO Fergus McGovern appear).  This version was faster performing than even the arcade version due to its strong processor and visual limitations, but the game did look rough around the edges.  In addition several things like backgrounds, winning animations, and sound effects were cut or changed from the arcade version.  For most gamers, though, this didn’t seem to matter as the game’s fighting mechanics were spot on and the six button controller closed the gap that some users of the first game complained about.
Probe’s 32x port was supposed to significantly improve the sound and visuals, creating a more complete version of the game, but after playing it I have to say it’s pretty much the Genesis version.  A few sound effects are included and all the winning stance animations are now intact, but hardly worth it for the advertised improvements.

The SNES version did look and sound extremely close to the arcade counterpart, especially given that all the blood had returned to the game after lackluster sales of the original (in Japan the blood was changed to green and fatalities were performed in black and white).  Not only that, but Nintendo was so scared of consumer backlash for the violence that the game had not only a large “M” rating in accordance to the ESRB, it also had a large warning label from Nintendo warning of the extreme violence.  Although there were some bugs in the original release (you couldn’t face Noob Saibot, for example), they were fixed and updated by the second release window and I never heard any of my SNES friends complaining.  For those of us in the Mortal Kombat gaming scene, this was the version to grab. Mortal Kombat IIon the SNES also broke the mold on how violent games on the console would be moving forward.

With Probe on board for both portable iterations and Nintendo laxing its rules on violence, there was a degree of brutality in each version.  The roster was stripped by four fighters, obviously the palette swapped characters all making it into the game, and each character had one fatality and oddly enough a babality.  Both the Gameboy and Game Gear versions were identical save for the addition of color, blood, and a few extras in the Game Gear version.  Some of the fatalities in both versions were altered slightly to re-use animiations for the sake of storage space.  For what they are, both games are an achievement on their respective consoles.

Interestingly enough, this game was also re-released on PC, Sega Playstation, and Sega Saturn a couple years later.  While we did not get the Playstation version, most of the disc-based versions of this game were plagued with sound issues because Probe didn’t make the tracks into redbook audio (or CD tracks) and instead included synthesized data on the disc.  Furthermore the game would completely freeze up with the MK dragon in the center as it loaded each character’s morph with Shang Tsung – the Sega Saturn version allowed you to pre-load a few characters before the match and it would also allow palette-swapped characters even if not selected, thus granting the player at least half the roster when selecting Shang Tsung.  Aside from those minor hiccups, these ports are extremely close to arcade faithful. 

You can also find this game on various other platforms like the Midway Treasures Collection Vol. 2 on Xbox, PS2, and PSP, as well as an unlockable for completing the PS2 title Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.  For a brief period of time a completely arcade faitful port was released on the PS3 as a downloadable PSN title, complete with online play, but it was removed once licensing with Midway expired.  Now you can find the game in the download title Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection on XBLA and PSN, which includes the first three games all enhanced with online play.

Kontroversy

This game was one of the first to be banned in Germany (we covered many banned games around the globe here), and Jax’s arm rip became one of the official bloodiest moments in gaming history by IGN as well as one of the goriest games of all times in an issue of EGM (1995 buyer’s guide).  Another interesting controversy surrounded something that wasn’t even in the game: the rumored “nudality” or “sexality” that many spoke of as being an unlockable feature in the game.  Now I can scoff that off as proposterous, but back in the arcade days when we were discovering different secrets left and right, it sure seemed possible.

Written by spydersvenom

June 19, 2012 at 11:16 am

Now & Then: Mortal Kombat (Midway)

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Last week Mortal Kombat released for the Playstation Vita and while I was playing it for review I couldn’t help but notice that the series has not changed much since it first released.  Normally this is a bad thing, but in the case of this series its strength relies on its simplicity.  Mortal Kombat is a game all about beating the crap out of your opponent and then topping it all off with a finishing move that is extremely violent in nature. 

First Impressions

I still remember the day that I saw the first Mortal Kombat arcade out in the wild.  It was 1992, I was 10 and frequented the local roller rink where I could meet up with friends and play arcade games.  Yeah, even in 1992 the roller rink was still alive and well in Chicago’s northern suburbs.  At that time the arcade was dominated by Street Fighter II, a cartoon-like fighter from the geniuses at Capcom, but I wasn’t all that good at it and truthfully had little interest in fighters.  That is, until I walked in and saw a new game that prominantly displayed the title “Mortal Kombat” in bright yellow letters.  My first thought was how stupid it was that the word “combat” was misspelled, but then I noticed that the game used digitized realistic looking actors. Even more impressive was when the first uppercut made contact and a shower of blood erupted from the opponent’s face.  I was intrigued. 

The line was long to play the game and I would waste a good 30 minutes “quartering up” (a term that meant you would place your quarter on the glass bezel to signify your place in line).  The game consisted of seven characters – two ninjas that shared the same costume with different colors, a guy that looked like Jean Claude Van Damme, a guy with a half-Terminator face (T2 had just come out), Bruce Lee, some chick, and finally a lightening guy with a ridiculous hat – you probably know the cast better by their actual names which are (in order of my descriptions): Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Johnny Cage, Kano, Liu Kang, Sony, and Raiden (misspelled Rayden in certain ports).  I favored Kano and Raiden because back then I based it purely on what the character looked like, not how they played.  Those first inital weeks were spent getting to know the game, utilizing all the moves that emitted blood, and learning the special moves.  Then one day I saw a guy playing as Johnny Cage beat Sonya and when it said “Finish Her” (usually a cue to uppercut) and he put in some special move, the screen darkened, and he punched her head right off.  As the stump spewed blood like a volcano, we all stood in absolute amazement and for the moment that guy was the coolest gamer I’d ever met. 

Mortal Kombat has always held a special place in my heart because, lets face it, I was young and it was violent.  Some say it doesn’t have the game mechanics necessary to be a true “fighter”, whereas others feel the fact that any skill level can have a chance is intriguing.  Whatever the reason the game was responsible for taking at least half my weekly allowence.  Then the big news came: Mortal Kombat would be receiving home console ports to the Genesis, Super NES, Gameboy, and Game Gear.  Each game was to release holiday 1993 and it was unknown whether or not the blood and fatalities would remain.

History

Mortal Kombat was initially created by two men: programmer Ed Boon and graphic designer John Tobias.  The two men wanted to create an arcade game where Jean-Claude Van Damme would run around and beat up bad guys (Bad Dudes?) and even toyed with a fighting game based on Bloodsport (Pit Fighter?).  It turned out that Van Damme had been in talks with another developer, passed on the license, and that title never saw the light of day.  Midway then asked that the team develop a fighting game that was to compete with heavy hitter Street Fighter II and with a one year or less development cycle. Mortal Kombat would successfully be completed in 10 months. 

Starting out Boon and Tobias recruited John Vogel as another graphical artist and Dan Forden for sound design.  The team would extend beyond this, but these four crafted the original members of the Midway team and would go on to gain quite a bit of fame in the early-to-mid 90s for their work on the Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam series.  One of the first decisions made was to model Johnny Cage after Van Damme as an homage to the actor (complete with initials “J.C.”) and famously included a splits groin punch after the scene in Bloodsport.   Ho Sung Pak played the screaming Liu Kang and ironically the final boss Shang Tsung (ironic because the cannonized plot has Liu Kang winning the tournament).  Elizabeth Malecki played Sonya, Richard Divizio played Kano, Carlos Pesina played Raiden, and brother Daniel Pesina would round out the cast playing Johnny Cage, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Reptile.  Goro, the sub-boss for the game, was a stop motion miniature because of his mutated look and four arms.  While not many members of the development team made appearences in the first game, they would make subsequent appearences in sequels and a couple were even secret characters in the NBA Jam series. 

Of all the things the development team struggled with, the name was one of the biggest.  Discarded names included Kumite(sparring), Dragon Attack, Death Blow, and even Fatality.  Eventually someone wrote over the word “combat” on Boon’s white board, giving the word a “K” in the title instead of a “C” and pinball designer Steve Ritchie, during a visit to Boon’s office, suggested the name “Mortal Kombat“.  According to Boon, after that the name, “just stuck.”  From that point on, the developers would tend to integrate “K” in for “C” for various words.

Mortal Kombat Komes Home

Mortal Monday, which was some Monday in the summer 1993, was the official launch day of Mortal Kombat on home consoles.  There would be four versions, one for each home and portable console for Nintendo and Sega and none of them would have blood or fatalities.  Well, that’s not exactly true, Sega wisely decided to include the one aspect of the game that people wanted but shipped with the blood locked away behind a code.  At that time Sega was self-rating its games and gave Mortal Kombat an MA-13 (the game equivalent to PG-13) with the ruse that the rating was based on the “locked” version.  There is not a gaming child of the 90s out there that can’t tell you about ABACAB (these are the button presses to unlock blood on the “code” screen) and DULLARD (button presses to unlock the cheat menu).  Lesser known but still valuable was 212DU, the button presses for blood that was on the 3rd “code” screen in the Game Gear version.  As a result, while I was enjoying ripping off heads and dangling spinal columns my SNES friends were looking at gray “sweat” blood and “finishing moves” that were pathetic. 

MK on SNES (gray blood)

While it was nowhere near as pretty as the SNES version, the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat clearly took home the prize for best port.  It’s rarely discussed, but the speed for which the game moved also provided a benefit for Genesis owners, whereas the SNES version was sluggish and felt slightly delayed.  Later on a port for the Sega CD was released, which took advantage of the extra colors and memory to create a version that looked much closer to the arcade.  This version also had red book audio, which made for the wonderful soundtracks that CD-based games of this time often had, and Mortal Kombat was no exception.  Unlike all other versions the blood was unlocked from the start and thus the game was internally rated MA-17 by Sega’s board, but also unlike all other versions the CD format brought with it load times each time Shang Tsung would morph into a new character.

Video Game Violence Heats Up

With the home version finally in place and most gamers in the country eagerly playing, it was only a matter of time before parents and governmental officials took notice.  All of the graphic violence and digitized realistic characters would have been ignored had it not been for the game invading homes and kids were playing for endless hours.  It was impossible to avoid – screams, blood, and decapitation was in front of every parent’s eyes.  It was at that time that violence in video games not only came under scrutiny, but Mortal Kombat was instantly connected with every case the senators brought up.  While historically the focus over video game inappropriation and violence likes to put Grand Theft Auto on the forefront, it was begun by Mortal Kombat and Night Trap way before that.

Toasty Eggs

Another great aspect of Mortal Kombat was the various secrets hidden in the series.  Back in those days it was difficult to confirm or deny any rumors you had heard and those that weren’t in magazines or early web sites could also be dominated by simple playground talk.  I had friends who unlocked the power to play Goro in the Genesis version, performed a “nudality” and saw a naked Sonya in the SNES version, and even unlocked Ermac in the arcade version.  None of these were true of course, but that didn’t stop people from making up whatever rumors they wanted to.  It didn’t help that a lot of the true secrets and easter eggs were so off the wall that anything was possible. 

You could fight against Reptile, a hybrid of Scorpion and Sub-Zero with a green costume, in the first game.  It was no easy task: you had to be on the pit, shadows had to cross the moon (only one in six fights on the arcade version), you had to get a double flawless victory without using block and perform a fatality.  If all of these things happened at once, you would get to fight Reptile at the bottom of the pit with a 10,000,000 point bounty on his head.  He was brutally difficult and although the points didn’t really matter, it was a surefire way to get your initials permanently placed at the top of the machine’s leaderboard.  In the console versions there were ways to glitch the game and create a green-coated fighter for the second player if they joined while you fought Reptile. 

Some of the rumors were based on possiblities, like the Ermac being the rumored name of Reptile if the machine accidentally glitched from time to time on the arcade.  The glitch would display Reptile as red instead of green and an internal counter would trigger and “ERror MACro” would be displayed.  This lead to the idea that a fighter named Ermac could be unlocked and fought, but he never made an appearence until Midway created him as an unlock in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.  There were obvious blood code rumors for the SNES version, but the only truth to that was a simple Game Genie code that would change the grey sweat to red, thus emulating blood, but nothing else changed.  Electronic Gaming Monthly also put an April Fools prank out suggesting the unlockable fighter Nimbus Terrafaux in the Genesis version, complete with an altered image that fooled me for a few weeks.

As for all the other rumors, they rely solely in gaming urban legends.  Several Mortal Kombat clones were released, all of which were terrible, that attempted to bring some of these rumors to light.  Primal Rage was also developed by Midway and had similarities to Mortal Kombat, but only had controversy thanks to a large ape named Chaos that could throw up and urinate on his opponents.  Time Killers removed most of the hassle of remembering fatalities and waiting for a win, instead allowing the removal of limbs through regular gameplay and generic finishers that dismembered the other player.  Data East also created an unreleased arcade game called Tattoo Assassins that was nearly finished and exists in a fully playable version on MAME, that had multiple fatalities for each character and even the rumored “nudalities” that would stip the player down to nothing (no actual nudity was displayed).  Even Naughty Dog’s first game was a horrid recreation of MK called Way of the Warrior, which existed only on the ultra expensive 3DO, but don’t worry you aren’t missing much.

Mortal Kombat!

There’s no doubt that this fighter was one of the definitive games of the early 90s, during a time where the genre was beginning to rule supreme.  It’s not a particularly good fighter and its focus is more on button mashing than anything else, but it was that simplicity that made the game fun.  Oh yeah, and a ton of blood.

Written by spydersvenom

May 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm

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