Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mortal Kombat (SNES)

Many politicians, concerned parents, religious leaders, teachers, and the like have discussed, debated, and railed about whether or not violent video games produce violence in reality. It's a topic that's probably a bit too heavy for this particular blogger's taste (or maybe I just don't feel like citing research. After all, that was what college was for.) Given that we're here on a video game retailer's blog, it would stand to reason that I take the opposite view of this: violent video games do not have a causal relationship with violent behavior. And it's true: I've played plenty of violent video games and never had the urge to off anybody (outside of maybe driving through downtown traffic - but I don't blame Carmageddon for that one.)

However, I would love to play devil's advocate for a second. I would like to take you back to the first time you played Street Fighter II or Mortal Kombat in the arcade. Remember the intensity with which you played (probably against another player,) and how feverishly you hit the buttons? How your sole aim was to smack that other dude's character silly? Remember jumping up and down when you won or banging your fist on the machine when you lost? How about the glee you had when you finally unlocked the first fatality or figured out how to pull off any of Zangief's moves in SF2 (which are honestly like deciphering Sanskrit to me.) Sure, you didn't run out and punch a baby afterwards - but you have to admit that these games unlocked a very reptilian part of your brain that Bubble Bobble just doesn't. A Roman Coliseum of bloody pixels and sweaty joysticks.

Sweet, glorious violence! Call Slayer - it's Raining Blood!

As far as fighting games went in the early 90's: there were two frontrunners. The original button-mashing, quarter muncher - Street Fighter 2 and the ultraviolent new kid on the block - Mortal Kombat. They were the Coke & Pepsi of the arcades and people would line up to play both: memorizing special moves and seeing how far they could make their 25 cents last. I loved me some Street Fighter, but Mortal Kombat was my jam. So when Midway released the game on home consoles in 1993/1994, (I'm embarrassed to admit this) I bought the game on every system I had. Now THAT'S dedication. The Sega Cd version was probably the most accurate console version I had (it was the most faithful to the arcade,) and the Genesis and Game Gear versions had all of the fatalities and blood intact by way of the famous "ABACABB" code, and the game boy version was...well...Mortal Kombat on a Game Boy. However, it's the Super NES version that is a true oddity and served to cause controversy among fans and had myself and many others scratching our heads in confusion.

They did leave in the part where Scorpion gets a splinter

Nintendo has had a long history of censorship over the years in regards to games that are ported over from arcades and games that are imported from Japan. Often games with politically incorrect humor, taboos such as smoking, sexual innuendos, salty language, religious elements and of course blood and guts - would either get the axe or get trimmed or somehow otherwise censored when released for the Nintendo or Super Nintendo. Sure, there's a handful of games that break with these rules - and they seemed to have been enforced on a game-to-game basis, but a game as bloody and controversial as Mortal Kombat was bound to be stripped of its blood when it was released for the Super NES and Game Boy. The question is this: does this hurt the game and are there any areas where the Super NES is superior to the other ports? Let's dig in!

The plot is pretty basic: you play as one of seven fighters (each with their own backstory) competing to the death in a fighting tournament called Mortal Kombat. You must beat the other 6 opponents, a mirror version of yourself, a few tag-team battles, and finally the shapeshifting master Shang Tsung and his 4-armed henchmonster Goro. Each of the characters have their own unique special moves and a finishing move that can be executed while your enemy is stunned at the end of the final match. These finishing moves are primarily where the Super NES version differs from the arcade game and the Sega ports - as instead of ripping out spines or hearts, you're dealing a weak punch or kick to the chest. A few of the less gruesome fatalities still exist, such as Raiden frying combatants into a pile of ash or Scorpion roasting them into a science lab skeleton complete with "oh no!" face. No longer do big, unrealistic droplets of blood rain from the sky when you uppercut your opponent - instead, they spray sweat off of their foreheads like a tubby kid trying out for track.

We could fight...but I'd rather talk about the deficit!

Is the omission of graphic violence a bad thing? Well, sort of. After all, half of the appeal of the Mortal Kombat franchise lies in the absurd humor of ripping a fella's head off and dangling his spine like a mobile. That being said, the SNES version does a lot of things right. For starters, the graphics are possibly the best of any version of Mortal Kombat; including the arcade version. The shading is crisp, the sprites look cleaner and even more lifelike, and truth be told the sweat spray is a smidge more realistic than the globs of hemoglobin that splattered everywhere in the arcade and Sega versions. Heck, if you want a small taste of the ultraviolence you can hook the cart up to a Game Genie and there's a code that will turn the sweat into a burgundy color - not quite the same but it sorta works. The health bars are bigger, the sprites are bigger, and the overall detail level is great. This trend of graphical excellence continued when the second installment came out for the SNES (with all of the gloopy, gory violence intact!) The gameplay is solid, the controls are easy to master and you don't have any of the choppy loading that the Sega CD version has (which was always one of the most frustrating elements of that system.) The sound and music are also top notch and capture the arcade's thunderous music. This game always had a great soundtrack and the SNES version is one of the most faithful representations of the arcade's thumping tunes. So it really comes down to how much you miss all of those body parts in the pit stage and tearing out someone's heart and showing it to them.

Hellooooo Nurse!

We know what's missing: the blood. Anyone who wants that should feel free to pick up the Genesis version of MK1 or pick up any of the follow-up games for the SNES. Though the Sega CD version was most faithful to the arcade out of the early ports - the SNES version had a leg up on that version in several different aspects including graphics, load times, and overall gameplay. It's a port that perhaps didn't get a fair shake simply because of the lack of violence. While we all love a good gladiator fight - maybe solid graphics and fun gameplay trump that every now and then. Then again, sometimes they don't. Pick up a copy from Lukie Games and judge for yourself!

She fell into a pit of spikes and didn't hit a' ONE on the way down!