This review is based on the Sega Mega Drive port of the original 1992 Mortal Kombat.
So Mortal Kombat 11 has recently been unveiled, and my body is ready. I grew up on the franchise, and have played through the good and bad (looking at you MK Advance) entries and honestly enjoyed them all. I figured with MK11’s reveal it would be a good time to look at the one that started it all, the 1992 original. But not just any version of the 1992 original, but the best version of it, the Mega Drive port. Was the original a Flawless Victory? Let’s have a look.
Now with my Retro-Views I like to look at the visuals in regards to how they look at the time as well as how they hold up, and I must say Mortal Kombat succeeds from both aspects. Compared to the hand-drawn sprites of its competitors, the digitised actors MK used were certainly unique for the time, and looked great. These digitised actors were placed into very well designed stages, and honestly that is the aspect that holds up the best today. The eastern style is something that is unique to this game in particular, as Mortal Kombat 2 had a more Outworld aesthetic and Mortal Kombat 3 went for a gritty urban design. Also we have to mention the gore, which is the reason I picked the Mega Drive version in particular, as the Blood Code (A, B, A, C, A, B, B. Thank me later) enables this game’s fantastic gore, which helped the game garner infamy and make it stand out.
The story is based around a tournament aptly named Mortal Kombat, and takes place on the island of the sorcerer Shang Tsung. In game, that’s all we basically get besides the bios and endings of the fighters. The story is basically non-existent here, but is HEAVILY expanded by the game’s sequels, prequels and tie-in media.
It’s a fighting game, dummy, you know what that means. You beat the absolute crap out of your opponent till one of you runs out of health. Win two rounds, and proceed to the next stage. Rinse and repeat until you beat the final boss. The basic fighting isn’t what made Mortal Kombat stand out. It didn’t have combos, so it wasn’t very complex. Instead, it was everything around the fighting that made Mortal Kombat a classic. For starters, the character roster is one of the most iconic in gaming today. You have the Shaolin Monk Liu Kang, Hollywood actor Johnny Cage, Special Forces agent Sonya Blade, the Thunder God Raiden, mercenary Kano, and rival ninjas Scorpion and Sub Zero. While seven playable characters isn’t a lot, the seven were all different in terms of design and special moves, such as Sub-Zero’s ice or Scorpion’s iconic Kunai grapple. There’s also three non-playable characters: the final boss, the Sorcerer Shang Tsung, the 4-armed Shokan Goro, and the first-of-its-kind secret fighter Reptile, who add to the unique roster even in their non-playable state.
That’s not the most iconic part of the game however. You all know what the best part is. That’s the fatalities. Each character has one incredibly gory (if the Blood Code is on) finishing move that can humiliate an opponent. Whether it be Kano ripping out your still-beating heart, Sub Zero ripping your head off complete with the spine still attached, or Scorpion’s ‘TOASTY’, each Fatality is unique and the icing on the cake for this game. You do have to work for them, because you’re never told how to do the fatalities, and this was released back before the internet was a thing, so word-of-mouth was the way to go.
Rather than porting the Arcade original’s music to the Mega Drive’s sound chip and butchering it, the team who worked on this port made the genius decision to completely recompose the music specifically for the Mega Drive sound chip, and it honestly sounds fantastic. Each level has its own track, and the main menu theme still pops into my head from time to time. Sound effects are also solid, and the satisfying thump when you land an uppercut actually makes the fighting feel better.
For a game in 1992, you couldn’t get much better than Mortal Kombat. Sure the fighting wasn’t very complex with a lack of combos and the story was non-existent, but my god was everything else fantastic. The visuals with their digitised actors were unique for the time and the eastern style of the levels is unique amongst the 2D trilogy of Mortal Kombat games. The seven fighter roster may be small, but damn was it varied, with all 10 characters, playable and non-playable alike, becoming video game icons to this very day. The Mega Drive’s Blood Code also uncensors the gore and fatalities, giving you a perfect way to finish a match. The recomposed soundtrack and satisfying sound effects are just the icing on the cake. It isn’t a Flawless Victory by any means, but man is it a good time.