About the Game:
Mortal Kombat was definitely one of the more defining games of my childhood. The first time I remember being exposed to the first game in the series was at a skating rink in Rialto, CA. My mom would give me money for drinks and snacks and whatnot, but every quarter I could come up with went into that arcade cabinet.
I believe the first time I owned this game it was actually on the Genesis. At the time I was more of a Street Fighter fan and preferred the SNES controller for fighting games, but Mortal Kombat always held a special place for me.
For me, the pinnacle of Mortal Kombat was always Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and playing anything prior to that just felt slow and shallow. With those expectations in mind, I was actually surprised to see that MK1 still provided a fun play experience. Sure, there’s no combos, damage is completely unbalanced and the movement could be incredibly wonky, but there was still fun to be had.
You’re given a choice of seven iconic characters, all of which play identically save for their 2-3 distinct special moves. Combat itself is limited to said special moves, a punch button and two kick buttons. Block is relegated to Start. I initially thought playing this game with a 3-button Genesis controller would be extremely awkward, but it actually felt pretty comfortable and natural. You’re able to set your difficulty, then it’s off to fight against all the other combatants, a mirror match, three endurance rounds, then the final showdowns with Goro and Shang Tsung.
The initial seven matches are pretty straight forward, with you simply needing to win two out of three fights against a single opponent. The following three endurance matches require you to deplete the health of your opponent, only for a second to appear it full health. You only have one health bar with which to defeat both opponents. Goro is the first of the game’s two bosses. He’s big and mean and can end you quickly if he gets his hands on you, but he also folds to aerial attacks. Shang Tsung is the final boss, and has the ability to shift into any other character (even Goro!) in the game.
What’s really cool about Shang Tsung in this game versus his appearance in all the sequels is that he’ll generally only shift into another character just long enough to use one of their special moves, then back into his original form. It’s really cool to his phase into Scorpion to throw his spear, then straight into Rayden to torpedo you across the field! In other games, he simply changes into another character for a set amount of time, then back.
Story / Value:
Mortal Kombat still hadn’t figured out what story it was trying to tell at this point, and that wasn’t particularly uncommon for fighting games. In fact I’d argue that the story in this series didn’t actually start mattering until the very recent Mortal Kombat 9, which is still my favorite game in the franchise.
That said, there’s still a reasonable amount of gameplay here all things considered, especially when you decide to plug in a second controller.
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The visuals in Mortal Kombat just do not hold up. Characters are blurry and ugly, background textures are boring, and projectiles barely look like they’re from the same game. Compare this to Street Fighter II which practically can’t age due to it’s graphical style.
Additionally, and I don’t know if this is the case for all versions of MK1 or just the on Genesis, but the sounds effects come across as muted and low quality. Even Scorpion’s “Get over here!” seems to have lost a lot of its impact. Music is a mixed bag of decent and okay, but nothing really stands out.
So I kind of thought I was going to hate playing this game, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much that was not the case. Sure, it’s still not something I’d recommend to anyone over other options from the era, but it does well enough to stand on its own. All in all I had a pretty okay time with Mortal Kombat, though I don’t know if I’ll even pop it in the Genesis again…