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FGC #485 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World

That's Bart!What’s so wrong with Monty Burns?

Today’s game is The Simpsons: Bart Vs. the World. It’s the direct sequel to The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants, and it’s another Acclaim title that puts the “crap” in “craptacular”. This go-around, Bart has dropped all the adventure game-lite trappings of the previous title, and all the action in Vs. the World is wholly based on platforming challenges and boss fights. There are a few puzzles littered here and there, but it’s much more “find this doodad” and not “use spray paint on trashcan” like in Vs. the Space Mutants. As a result, Vs. the World feels somehow… dumber than its predecessor. And, what’s worse, for the reemphasis on platforming and action set pieces (you skateboard down the Great Wall of China!), nobody thought to improve the atrocious controls of Vs. The Space Mutants, so those “platforming challenges” are very likely to be the death of your favorite Simpsons character (Bart, to be clear, not Disco Stu). Basically, the one unique part of Vs. the Space Mutants got dropped, and all we’re left with is that inscrutable “hold jump to run” nonsense.

But Bart vs. the World does have one advantage over Bart vs. the Space Mutants: It’s actually a Simpsons game. Like Fester before him, Vs. the Space Mutants forces Bart to battle aliens who presumably want to abduct some cows, man. And they’re not even Kang & Kodos! They’re just generic aliens (occasionally mutating forms through the different ports). Meanwhile, Bart vs. the World might see Bart up against the world, but it’s a world seemingly controlled by Homer Simpson’s boss, C. Montgomery Burns. This strangely convoluted plot involves Bart entering a drawing contest on The Krusty the Clown Show, winning thanks to Burns’ meddling, and then being sent on a trip around the world wherein Burns can destroy the “despised” Simpsons family. Die in darkness!This, naturally, raises a lot of questions, as… what is the goal here? Burns has to kill one of his employees’ children internationally, or it doesn’t count? Oh, wait, the last stop on the trip is Hollywood, so that doesn’t even work. Maybe Burns’ various assassins don’t want to go anywhere near the Springfield Tire Fire, so they’re scattered about the globe. Or maybe Burns just doesn’t want to spring for airfare for any killers, and shipping one Simpson family around is cheaper. Whatever the case, Bart is on an international scavenger hunt for Krusty brand merchandise, and Burns is trying to kill him all the while.

Which raises the question: if you had to pull a villain out of The Simpsons, why Burns?

At this point in the franchise, you can’t blame the source material. This videogame was released in 1991, and only had a solid two seasons of The Simpsons to draw from. And, in that batch of episodes, there were only a handful where Burns was the antagonist. In Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire, Burns is a “villain”, but only because he won’t grant Homer and other “unskilled workers” a Christmas Bonus. From there, we’ve got Homer’s Odyssey, where Homer is fired for nearly causing a nuclear meltdown… which, let’s be honest, sounds like a pretty reasonable reason for termination. And that’s about it for Burns being a “villain” in Season 1. Babysitters are more of a threat!

Profits?Season 2 of The Simpsons ramps up Burns to full-blown antagonism levels, but we’re still nowhere near murderous. Three Eyes in Every Fish sees Burns running for governor after his plant poisons the local water supply, but, big deal, that’s been the Republican MO for the last few decades. Then Bart Gets Hit by a Car, but that was an accident, and more of a parable about not overreaching when trying to shake down the filthy rich. Brush With Greatness is the story of how Burns has an incredibly nonthreatening penis, and the Season 2 finale (which likely wasn’t even available when Bart vs. the World was being produced) is Blood Feud, wherein Homer goes nuts over Burns not being generous after receiving a blood transfusion. Again, we’re in a situation where Homer expects more than his boss has to give, and the central conflict is that Burns is appreciative, but not appreciative enough.

Yet Bart vs. the World portrays Burns as wholly homicidal. And if we’re going to include The Simpsons Arcade Game (released the same year), we’ve got a Burns that kidnaps babies and launches nuclear bombs. That’s a significant escalation from “sent a pleasant thank you note”!

So what happened here? Why, in only The Simpsons’ second year, did videogames promote Burns from “bad boss” to “genocidal madman”?

Well, it probably speaks to videogame producers identifying what The Simpsons was initially about.

After 20 some seasons and over 600 episodes, it’s hard to remember that The Simpsons started during the 80s/90s wave of blue-collar style sitcoms. After years of high concept situation comedies like “what if people were trapped on a desert island”, “what if they’re creepy and they’re kooky”, or even “what if a woman had a decent job”, The Simpsons rode in on a wave of programs like Roseanne or Married… With Children wherein the protagonists faced very real problems. No more did people worry about magical girl wives or whether they were secretly the dream of Bob Newhart; this new wave of sitcoms derived humor from upsetting real world situations, What is even happening here?like teenage pregnancy, hiding from your landlord, or gradually falling out of favor with your spouse. And the biggest, realest problem of all? Money! The world is a cold, harsh place, and your family is never going to love you if you can’t bring home a host of Christmas presents. There are jokes along the way, but, once upon a time, every “comedy” out there was expounding the horrors of our collective everyday drudgery.

And, while The Simpsons did lend itself to whimsy more often than not in those early seasons (Bart winds up making wine on another continent inside of ten episodes), it was still a very grounded, “real” sitcom. …Granted, this might just be because TV Guide was somehow impressed on a weekly basis that Homer didn’t ride a mastodon to work, so the writers deliberately, defiantly veered into “real world” territory just to sunder expectations… But this is still a franchise that officially started with a treatise on commercialism and a family trying to keep it together in the face of financial hardships. And the cause of that financial hardship? It’s Burns. The man who fires Homer a few episodes later? Burns. The old man responsible for injuring a young boy and then never paying for it? Burns. And is showing kindness to a rich white man financially rewarded? No, because you simply can’t win in a world where you’ve been constrained to the lowest rung of the ladder.

Of course Burns is the enemy of the Simpsons. Burns is the enemy of every working-class family.

Burns is money incarnate. Burns has all the power not only in Springfield (like, literally all the power), but he also decides whether Homer lives or dies. Want to keep earning a salary? Have a good Christmas? Lisa needs braces? Well, that dental plan is 100% controlled by one man. Burns doesn’t have to be villainous, he simply is villainous because of his position. He’s the king of the castle, and the Simpson family has to pay him tribute to so much as set up a tent in the courtyard. Burns is, one way or another, the source of all the woes afflicting the Simpsons.

Winner!So it’s only natural that transposing that character to other situations would mean he would have to adjust to the medium du jour. When Mr. Burns had to be the antagonist of a NES title, he became murderous and gained an army of generally identical/vaguely racist “family members”. When he had to headline a Konami beat ‘em up, he gained a super suit and explosive weaponry. When The Simpsons itself veered away from “reality” and more into “a cartoon”, Mr. Burns became an appropriately cartoonish supervillain with a penchant for petty antics. Mr. Burns was always the villain, just what is “the villain” had to change between mediums and epochs.

Except Mr. Burns himself never changed. In a 1989 sitcom, he was a rich, old, white (yellow) man. In a 1991 videogame, he was a rich, old, white man. In 2020, he is a rich, old, white man. Through thirty years, right there from his first appearance, he’s been a villain. His actions may have varied across the years, but he’s also been the same, easily identified archetype. He’s a rich, old, white man, and that makes him the natural enemy of the average, middle class family.

Mr. Burns was always going to be the villain. Mr. Burns has always been the villain. And everyone has been able to identify that right from the start.

FGC #485 The Simpsons: Bart vs. the World

  • System: Nintendo Entertainment System, but also the Game Gear and Master System a couple of years later. I absolutely do not want to see what this game looks like on the Game Gear.
  • Number of players: Just a Bart, man.
  • Thanks, momCollect-a-thon: This is another weird, early game featuring collectibles that can alter the course of the game. Every level is hiding a hidden Krusty doodad, and, if you collect them all, you get to play one extra level that is atrocious. It’s supposed to be a Duck Amuck-esque adventure for Bart in an “animated” world… but it’s mostly just a half-baked stage with terrible hit detection… which, granted, is basically the same as the rest of the game. But! If you clear it, you get a secret bonus ending where you can hit Mr. Burns with a pie. Cowabunga!
  • Favorite Continent: I guess it’s the final world, Hollywood, as it uses the tinsel town trappings to throw in a whole Halloween level. There’s a skeleton! It’s also, oddly enough, exactly the same excuse for a “horror level” that we saw in Gremlins 2. Was there some Acclaim/Sunsoft overlap?
  • It’s Trivia Time: There are various minigames available between levels. The best is Simpsons Trivia, which offers a number of questions regarding esoteric Simpsons knowledge. That makes fans happy! A sliding block puzzle that reminds good little Goggle Bobs of Beyond the Beyond is… less fun.
  • Say something nice: The “Bartman” powerup was pretty fun in the ol’ days before flight was shoehorned into every platforming game. It may have only lasted for something like seven seconds, but it’s always nice to have movement unfettered by the laws of gravity.
  • That's Moe!Did you know? Entertainment Weekly designated this title as a “travel-action game”. I would like to see more of this previously unknown genre.
  • Would I play again: No thank you. Is The Simpsons Arcade Game available? I think that would be my first choice over this mediocre platformer.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Super Mario Land 2 for the Nintendo Gameboy! Everybody do the Mario! Or the Wario! Please look forward to it!

Homie, no!

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

ETERNAL!They tried. They damn well tried.

Mortal Kombat (1) was released for the Sega Genesis on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993. It was, by all accounts, a wildly successful launch for a game that had been haunting arcades for nearly an entire year. What’s more, thanks to the likes of the “blood code” and the lack of censorship on the console, the Sega Genesis version was considered by many to be the “real” way to play Mortal Kombat at home. This was in stark contrast to the release of Street Fighter 2, which had seen amazing success on the SNES a year earlier, but hit the Sega Genesis like a flopping pile of assorted expired organs. And, two months later, we saw Eternal Champions, the unusual offspring of Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat.

Now, we would hate to disparage Mortal Kombat during Mortal Kombat Week (“week”), but let’s be real here: Mortal Kombat’s initial character variety sucks. By Mortal Kombat 2, we were fighting knife mutants and Oddjobs, but our virgin foray into the world of Elder Gods and dragon men pretty much included one interesting four-armed monster fighting a bunch of dudes in marginally themed gym clothes. The motion capture graphics were revolutionary at the time, but “a pair of sunglasses” does not interesting character design make. On the other hand, you have Street Fighter, which had bright, colorful goblin people fighting stretchy yogis, sumo wrestlers, and at least one Spaniard Ninja. Even when similar fighters are involved, no one is going to mistake Ryu for Sagat. Johnny Cage and Liu Kang, meanwhile, might seem a tad similar. Sub-Zero and Scorpion being clones are a bit of an extreme case, but they also comprise 28% of the playable roster.

Let's fight!Eternal Champions seemed to take a page from Street Fighter’s book rather than Mortal Kombat. Eternal Champions employed Ernie Chan, a Filipino-American comics artist, who worked with the Buscema brothers back in the ‘70’s. Before working with Sega, Chan was known for being an artist at DC Comics (Ghosts, House of Mystery, Detective Comics) and Marvel (Conan the Barbarian, Doctor Strange). Considering Chan was responsible for a healthy number of comic book covers for a full two years at DC Comics, he knew a thing or two about dynamic characters punching each other as hard as possible (the 1970s was before comic book characters decided to just stand around and philosophize at each other for six consecutive trades). It seems only natural that he would be responsible for designing some interesting punch mans, and, let me tell you, we got some remarkable fighters here.

The base concept of Eternal Champions is that the titular (kinda) Eternal Champion has plucked a series of heroes from their respective timelines, and granted them the potential prize of avoiding their otherwise inevitable deaths. Arguably, this could lead to a number of “stock” characters, as different timelines lead naturally to different archetypes, and we can certainly forgive a knight from ancient times or a “future man” from 21XX. But, against all odds, we have a pretty diverse cast in Eternal Champions. We do have a stock caveman, and Xavier Pendragon seems like a typical wizard hailing from Salem, but we also have Shadow Yamato (hm?), a modern corporate assassin that wouldn’t be out of place in Shadowrun. Trident is Atlantean, but basically a merman. RAX is a cyborg built for Teleroboxer, and Midknight is a bio engineer who kinda sorta turned himself into a vampire. And Jetta Maxx is a 19th century circus performer that attacks with all the agility you would expect from an acrobat. Why aren’t there more tumblers in fighting games? That seems like a natural fit!

HUG!None of the fighters in Eternal Champions are exactly setting the world on fire, but there is no way you’d mistake Larcen the 1920’s PI/cat burgler for Blade, the futuristic bounty hunter. And, whether it’s an accident of the “complicated” concept of time travel being involved, or because someone genuinely wanted to create a new Eternal Champions universe, but these fighters all have in-depth, fascinating backstories to accompany their stimulating visual designs. As a prerequisite for the plot, we immediately must learn how each fighter died (which allows for some always fun dramatic irony), why they were targeted for death (the premise of entire half hours of Law & Order), and why, had they lived, they would have made the world a better place. Additionally, this setup encourages the creation of cultures old and new (of course someone has to explain how the “future” works, but even Ancient Atlantis has some ‘splainin’ to do about its fish people), and, since this is a fighting game, it’s important to explain the whys of some of these special moves. Yes, ninja use ninja stars, but why exactly does Larcen have a grappling hook? There’s a reason for that!

Which reminds me: these exciting, distinct fighters work well for not only for biography screen attract modes, but also for actually being fighters. This is another situation where, unlike Mortal Kombat, if a character has a trident for a hand, they’re not going to throw the exact same punch as the robot dude. In fact, every fighter has a defined fighting style, and, while it does seem a little odd that the vampire scientist is trained in Jeet Kune Do, it does mean that every character feels distinct in more ways than simply a special move. And, of course, the special moves are their own kind of distinct, and not just a fireball and a jumping uppercut spread out among the cast. In short, the eternal champions collectively offer a unique experience for a time when the fighting genre was flooded with monotonous knock-offs.

TIME KILL(ERS)But there is one place where Eternal Champions differed from Street Fighter: it had fatalities. Or, to be more precise, the game had “stage fatalities” in the form of “Overkills”: make sure your opponent lands on a particular spot when their health is low, and the background will do your work for you. If you’re in prehistoric times, you’re about to see someone devoured by a dinosaur. Meanwhile, if you’re hanging in the early 20th Century, get ready for a drive-by. The 60’s naturally contain napalm, and the far-flung future of 2345 AD is wall-to-wall robots. It’s entirely possible you could complete Eternal Champions without once seeing an Overkill, though, so it seems like the whole feature was an afterthought. Mortal Kombat was likely an influence, but a fighter being zapped into oblivion by a neon sign (can that actually happen?) wasn’t exactly the point of Eternal Champions. It’s all about the character variety, we don’t need gorefests to sell our Sega cartridges.

Or maybe we do, because the Sega CD exclusive sequel/upgrade, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side dialed the gore up to eleven.

To be clear, Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side is not the kind of fighting game sequel that completely eschewed former graphics and gameplay for something completely different (Battle Arena Toshinden was fond of that move). This is much more the Super Turbo to Eternal Champions’ Champion Edition. More characters were added to the cast (and a great many of them were “joke characters”, like Hooter, a mundane owl with a taste for rats and vengeance), the special move system was rejiggered, and the same overarching plot returned with a marginal twist. The Eternal Champion has gathered his warriors once again to fight for a chance to live (and I guess nobody won the last one), but now there are a few new entrants, and the nefarious Dark Champion is hatching an evil plan to be the hardest-to-unlock character in the history of fighting games (just use the cheat code). Superficially, this Eternal Champions is just the obvious and expected fighting game upgrade that would barely necessitate a season pass in today’s market.

Not fair... for DeathBut that Dark Champion does make an impact on the fatalities of EC:CotD. The Dark Champion can be summoned for a match ending “cinekill”, which will banish your opponent to a pre-recorded FMV hell where they will endure a death based on their greatest fear. Some of these videos are goofy (at least one character is crushed with a “I’m not touching you” finger motion), but the majority are either significantly gory (the cyborg has his limbs torn off in a rather unpleasant fashion) or pure nightmare fuel (I’m not the only one that has a fear of melting into some manner of fleshy liquid, am I?). And if you think the increased gore is relegated to cutscenes, don’t worry, there are also now “Vendettas” that allow you to use a special move toward the end of the match that will be a little more special than usual. They, again, run a realism gamut (which is more likely to make an impact: a character turning into a giant bug or one just whipping out a shotgun for a headshot?), but the end result of most Vendettas is a literal bloody pulp tossed around the arena. And the stage fatalities really earned their “Overkill” moniker, as some are excessive to the point of parody. “The Pit” of EC:CotD is not one, not two, but three pits in one! And, don’t worry, you get to watch as a 16-bit human body churns through three different buzzsaws. Street Fighter has different models for every character’s skeleton thanks to Blanka’s shocking attacks, but EC:CotD goes the extra mile by modeling individual organs that are primed to leak out of those skeletons. Yummy!

And why all the gore? Well, obviously because someone wanted Eternal Champions to be popular.

That's why he's the champMortal Kombat hit the Genesis in 1993, Eternal Champions saw its sequel released in 1995. In those intervening years, Mortal Kombat continued to be a juggernaut, particularly on the Sega Genesis. Street Fighter may have proven to be a lasting victor, but the sales numbers all touted Mortal Kombat as the champion of the system. Eternal Champions wanted a piece of that pie so badly. Sega did everything it could to promote EC, from country-wide, EGM-sponsored tournaments to a 7-11 slurpee promotion, but it couldn’t touch the genuine appeal of the game with the angry skeleton and the kung-fu dude. Eternal Champions never had a hold of the arcade appeal, tried to pump up the blood to compensate, and still got nowhere. An excellently crafted fighting game, and it’s still relegated to the discount bin of history.

Oh, and what finally killed Eternal Champions? Why was there never a third title? Well, there was supposed to be a Saturn version to wrap everything up, but Sega of Japan decided that Sega had too many fighting games (two), Eternal Champions was stealing too much attention from Virtua Fighter, and the eternal champions had to be retired. Sorry, guys, but there’s only room for one fighting game in this company.

Sorry, Eternal Champions. We know you tried everything, but it just wasn’t enough.

FGC #451 Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side

  • System: Sega CD for Challenge, but just regular Sega Genesis for just regular Eternal Champions. The new Sega Genesis Mini Classic Console is also available, but go ahead and grab the 6-button controller for that one.
  • Number of players: Up to and including two.
  • Favorite Character: Dr. Mitchell Midleton Knight has become the bio-engineered vampire monster Midknight! … Okay, he’s just Spider-Man’s Morbius, but… wait a tick. RAX is Cyborg, Shadow is Elektra, Trident is Aquaman, Blade is named friggen’ Blade… maybe these characters aren’t all that original…
  • Send in the Clowns: This happened.
    AHHHHHHH

    I’m never playing this again.
  • So 90’s it’s Grody: Want to know how to determine this game came out in 1995? Well, there’s a hidden fighter simply known as “The Senator” who exists as a parody of the controversy surrounding violent videogames. And he fights in front of an ersatz McDonalds surrounded by security, an obvious sendup of Bill Clinton’s love of jogging to burger joints. And Senator’s fatality is transforming into an uzi-wielding berserk postal clerk. And they claim memes were invented by the internet!
  • Failure State: Okay, maybe the reason Eternal Champions never became popular was because it was impossible to beat. The final boss is the Eternal Champion, and he’s got eight different “forms”, and they all have to be fought and defeated over the course of two rounds. And if you lose two rounds, there are no continues, you’re just booted back to your original timeline as a Bad End. So win eight continuous fights, or die. And Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side introduced another, meaner Eternal Champion after the first one, so good luck winning sixteen continuous fights.
  • Favorite Ending: Shadow Yamoto is a corporate ninja saboteur… and her ending sees her entering witness protection and making the world a better place by testifying against her former employer. It’s not exactly the most action packed finale for a ninja, but it does feel pretty right.
  • An End: Also, Crispy the Chicken’s ending involves losing his fortune in the 90’s financial crisis and then selling his eggs for booz money. This is a very dark game.
  • VIDEOGAME VIOLENCEDid you know? In further support of the Eternal Champions Expanded Universe, there were two spin-off titles released. Chicago Syndicate was a Game Gear title that was fairly Shinobi-esque and featured Larcen cleaning up Chicago in a bright green trench coat (the ‘20’s were a different time). And then there was X-Perts for the Sega Genesis, a light beat ‘em up presenting Shadow and her previously unseen team of X-Men wannabes. Both games are… not worth exploring.
  • Would I play again: If I’m in the mood for a distinctly 16-bit fighting game, I’ll choose Eternal Champions. Of course, that mood rarely happens…

What’s next? We’re going to kill some time with a game with the exact same plot all over again. Please look forward to it!

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

MORTAL KOMBATMortal Kombat was one of (if not the) defining games of the 90’s, a time when gaming was just starting to stand on its own two feet. And, for better or worse, it changed gaming forever (M for Mature… or just “Mortal Kombat”? Makes ya think!). Mortal Kombat, with its spine-rips and death kisses, left an undeniable mark on the face of gaming, and whether it’s a rad scar or festering wound is up to the beholder.

But… why was Mortal Kombat popular?

It’s all about Originality

Street Fighter 2 is easy to understand. Street Fighter 2 is a damn fine fighting game with unique characters that can appeal to any (well, probably male) player. Don’t like generic karate guy? Here’s a green beast man, and he plays totally differently. There’s the lithe and nimble woman versus the gigantic, hairy grappler man. There are bosses that are carefully calibrated to drain your credits, but there is also a two player mode that is a significant draw. Take out your favorite sumo for a date with a yoga master, and battle all night long. Learn those special moves! Master one character, and move on to the next! Maybe one day you’ll beat Red Hitler and his stupid scissor kicks!

YOU GOT KANGEDMortal Kombat features four offensive buttons: High Punch, Low Punch, High Kick, and Low Kick. This is two less buttons than Street Fighter 2’s six button layout. If you’ve ever paid attention to Street Fighter 2’s jabs, you’ll note that every single Street Fighter has a different “light punch”. Same for medium. Same for every damn offensive option available. This is absolutely not the case in Mortal Kombat. “High Punch” is exactly the same for Liu Kang as Johnny Cage. Sonya’s got a jump kick, but it may as well belong to Kano. And you better believe Sub-Zero and Scorpion have the exact same animations, because, ya know, they’re the same person.

Ultimately, the only difference between characters in Mortal Kombat is the special moves, and, bad news, they’re all almost exactly the same, too. Liu Kang has a fireball that flies straight and true. Johnny Cage does, too. And Kano. And Sonya. And Raiden. Oh! Sub-Zero’s fireball freezes the opponent in place. And Scorpion’s fireball freezes the opponent and requires less walking. No wonder he’s the most popular character! Now give everybody a special that helps ‘em get across the screen, and… are we done here? There may be a few outliers, but, by and large, all of these unique characters play about as “uniquely” as White Bomberman and Black Bomberman.

Though maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree there. Maybe people are more interested not in what the characters do, but who the characters are. Maybe…

It’s all about the Characters

RAIDEN!Mortal Kombat has produced some very iconic videogame characters. There’s vain but heroic Johnny Cage, inordinately heroic Liu Kang, generally heroic Sonya, and… wait a tick, all those characters are just the same obvious traits plus one tiny quirk. Maybe they’re physically dissimilar? No, Sonya, Liu Kang, and Johnny Cage all just look like regular dudes that showed up in their gym clothes. Johnny and Looey didn’t even remember to pack a shirt. And it’s pretty clear that Sub-Zero and Scorpion totally botched their twin day fashions.

Am I just looking at the superficial? Well, when Mortal Kombat was lighting the arcades and home consoles ablaze, there wasn’t much more than that, anyway. Like with most fighting games, you got a character profile, and an ending, and that was it. There was the accompanying Mortal Kombat comic book, but its razor thin characterization didn’t exactly fill in the blanks on why Kano was a cyborg (eventual answer: why not?) or how Johnny Cage came to participate in this deadly fighting tournament (answer: he got a letter). Sub-Zero hates Scorpion, Sonya hates Kano, and I guess Goro killed Liu Kang’s ancestor. These razor-thin motivations don’t support characters, they simply support reasons for punching.

So, okay, punching is kind of the point, though. So does that mean…

It’s All About the Gameplay

mortal kombatMortal Kombat is a fighting game, so characters don’t matter past how much fun the game is to play. And is Mortal Kombat fun? Of course it is! I just said it was a fighting game! Pay attention! Fighting games are always fun, because punching some other dude in a digital arena is top shelf entertainment. Even the worst fighting games are fun for a little while.

But does the fun of Mortal Kombat last? At all? Well… uh… We already covered how every character is practically the same, so 2-player battles are going to get pretty predictable pretty fast. Maybe one player mode is more interesting? That has some fights against CPU opponents, the always popular mirror match, and then endurance matches. Endurance matches are kind of cool, right? Like, the same fight, but double? Who could say no to double the fighting? Aside from everyone that just finds it grueling and unfair, of course. And while we’re on the topic of unfair, we have Goro, the penultimate boss that in no way plays by the rules, so he absorbs your punches like they’re being thrown by some pasty nerd standing over an arcade cabinet. And the final challenge is just all the other fighters mixed together with a fireball barrage that can bleed off about 75% health.

The gameplay is pretty damn limited. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not the kind of gameplay that should make Mortal Kombat a perennial favorite that dominated the arcades and home consoles.

But maybe it was never about actually playing the game at all, maybe…

It’s All About the Blood and Gore

BLOOD!My dear, dead granny knew of Mortal Kombat, and she knew its name for one simple reason: blood. As was reported by a million moms clutching a million pearls, Mortal Kombat was unerringly violent, and a gross, disgusting mess of blood soaked through every interaction in this so-called vidya game. Mortal Kombat was such a blood orgy that the United States Senate had hearings showcasing the uncivilized ferocity on display for a mere half a buck in every arcade across the country! Could this epidemic of violence ever be stopped after Mortal Kombat opened the floodgates?!

Except… Mortal Kombat isn’t all that bloody.

Yes, there is blood (how else would we be able to tell the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ports apart), but is Mortal Kombat inherently violent? Well… yes… but not anymore than any other videogame! Contra saw Bill tearing through a thousand poor dudes with backpacks, but Congress never so much as uttered the word “Contra” in its hallowed halls. And Mario! Think of how many poor goombas he led to the slaughter! Is that game inherently less violent simply because it featured a tubby guy picking on chestnuts? Well, yes, but still! Mortal Kombat might have included a coupon for a few globs of blood with every roundhouse, but was it really the bloody mess described by so many Liebermans? Absolutely not.

THE PITBut what of the infamous fatalities? Yes, the scandalous spine-rip is bloody (awesome), but arguably the most famous fatality in the franchise is Scorpion’s “Toasty” finisher, and there isn’t a speck of blood in that ghastly inferno. Sonya’s heated kiss is on the same level, and Kano’s heart rip is about as bloody as a certain Spielberg movie. And the decapitations of Johnny Cage and Raiden are more “yes, that’s right, you do need a head to live” than anything approaching what you’d see in a horror movie of the time.

We may be looking at Mortal Kombat 1 through the lens of jaded 21st Century gamers (“I just watched Samus Aran drink the blood of her enemies six times this morning”), but the violence of Mortal Kombat was often less “bloody gore” and more a literal joke.

Actually, maybe that was the point of Mortal Kombat, maybe…

It’s All About the Humor

Back in the 90’s, it was hard to claim that Mortal Kombat was “funny”. But let’s be real here: the humor was there all along. Right the start (or maybe a particular revision), there was a certain green hidden character that had unlock conditions that seemed designed to be little more than a playground rumor. If “you have to earn a double flawless victory and perform a fatality and never block all while E.T. flies across the moon” isn’t a joke, then I’m turning in my comedian license (issued and signed by Yakov Smirnoff himself!). Speaking of which, what appears to be Peter Pan, an alien, a witch, and Santa Claus will fly over the moon at certain points. That sounds a bit humorous! And there’s certainly a reason skele-face Scorpion faces the screen with his hollow eyes after every fatality. He’s mugging for a laugh!

This became much more evident in later games, when Mortal Kombat introduced such silliness as babalities, friendships, animalities, and fatalities that were clearly just some random dude on the staff playing with Claymation (see Kabal for more details). But even back at the beginning, the humor was there, even before we saw Toasty Dan pop up to announce it was time to fight Smoke.

But it’s pretty clear that this wasn’t a selling point for the original Mortal Kombat. The humor was there, but nobody was feeding those cabinets quarters just because they wanted a laugh.

So what was the secret to Mortal Kombat’s success? It seems like we’ve ruled everything out, except…

Yeah!

Oh man, we have an answer.

Mortal Kombat was successful because it’s all about the sweet uppercuts.

Yeah!

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

  • System: Arcade first and foremost, but then Mortal Monday came, and we had it on Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, and Nintendo Gameboy. Oh boy! Mortal Kombat on a portable!
  • Number of players: 2 kombatants.
  • Preferred System: Genesis might have the blood, but Super Nintendo has graphics that don’t look like the butt end of a butt. And I’m a Nintendo kid, so here we are.
  • Favorite Character: It’s obviously Sub-Zero, as he can freeze his opponent and slide. Amusingly enough, my first “main” for Mortal Kombat was Sonya Blade, but I drifted away from her when I realized she reminded me way too much of Jane Fonda.
  • FIGHT!Did you know? An NES port of Mortal Kombat was planned, but was cancelled fairly quickly (before they even entered the programming phase). For any young’uns out there, this was back when two generations of videogame hardware could be supported by Nintendo simultaneously, and not like today, when the WiiU was publically executed the moment the Switch made the scene.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Mortal Kombat, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t all that fun nowadays as anything more than a novelty, and is 100% supplicated by its sequels. If you’re getting Mortal Kombat today, it likely comes with Mortal Kombat 2 anyway…

What’s next? It’s Mortal Week! Mortal Kombat sure hit the big time with its release, and it had a number of imitators. We’re going to look at a different wannabe fighting game Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the next two weeks, and examine how some games did their best to copy the Mortal Kombat formula (and generally still failed). First up on the list: Eternal Champions. Please look forward to it!

MIGHT!

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

Gaming has changed a lot over the years. Nowadays, if a game is released for multiple systems, it is almost always the exact same game across different platforms, give or take a random feature or frame rate. Skyrim has been released for… let me do the math here… 70,000 videogame systems, and, by and large, every version has been, ya know, Skyrim. If there were some variation in there, you better believe you’d see promotion for the brand new Skyrim Jr., Skyrim Babies, or Skyrim: Centaurs Among Us editions. You buy Skyrim, you get Skyrim, and whether your buddy has an Xbox or Playstation, you’re both talking about the same dragonborn at the end of the day.

Back in the 90’s, things were not so simple.

We consider them members of the same console generation, but the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo videogame consoles were wildly different systems. For one thing, Super Nintendo had Chrono Trigger and Super Metroid, while Sega Genesis had Ecco the Dolphin. Ha ha! I’m joking, because I was primarily a Nintendo kid, and I absolutely will never get over those console wars. I lost good friends to that battle, and I’m not going to let young Jason’s sacrifices (he had a subscription to Sega Visions) be in vain. And why were there such console wars? Well, mostly because of advertising. But! Another significant factor was that a number of games for both systems were as different as their base consoles, so you could experience entirely different playstyles if you decided to pick up a title for Sega or Nintendo. Back then, even a humble Looney Tunes spin-off could be the spark that reignites the blaze of war.

He's the dad in Taz-ManiaTaz-Mania was always an odd duck. For reasons that I’m sure annoy tattoo artists to this very day, Taz the Tazmanian Devil became extremely popular in the early 90’s. This also roughly coincided with the rise of WB/Fox Kids animation domination, so, hot on the heels of Tiny Toons and just before the rise of Animaniacs, Taz got his own animated variety sitcom. This was… an odd choice. Taz was always popular for his general unleashed, unhinged, and non-verbal personality… so naturally they gave him a loving, perfectly normal nuclear family. Jean Tazmanian Devil is a dedicated housewife, and Hugh Tazmanian Devil is a Bing Crosby wannabe perfect father. Molly and Jake are archetypal siblings, and Dog the Turtle is a typical dog (who is a turtle). Basically, Warner Bros. Animation crafted an amusing farce where a feral beast is forced to live with a modern family that inexplicably and unconditionally loves the destructive eating machine. … And it suddenly becomes clear where my generation earned its absurdist sense of humor. Regardless, Taz was joined by a few other characters/shorts (because WB Animation seemed to assume that kids have the collective attention span of a particularly excited chihuahua), so even the main appeal of its chief character was lost for entire segments at a time. For a series that was ostensibly created to capitalize on Taz-mania (oh, I just got that), it sure took a weird route to get there.

But, like the Addams Family before it, it was considered a popular enough show to earn a videogame or two. The first release was Taz-Mania for the Sega Genesis. And, lo, it was good! As one might expect from the era, Taz-Mania was a 2-D platforming adventure featuring Taz questing after a giant egg, because eating things is funny. And Taz-Mania properly featured Taz’s excessive gluttony in other ways, too! Taz would devour anything he could fit in his giant maw, which included food, 1-ups, monsters, and even entire water bottles (he drank the water first, naturally). This even became an interesting gameplay wrinkle, as there were items like bombs and weed killer strewn about, and they could be used as items, but only if you made Taz resist devouring them outright. FrostyFun fact: weed killer is not a balanced part of a tazmanian devil’s diet. Beyond that, this was a gorgeous, fairly basic 2-D platformer, and the goal was to jump on everything from here to the end of the stage. You could even use Taz’s whirly attack every once in a while… but it’s generally not recommended, as it will absolutely get you killed.

Which was kind of the problem: Taz-Mania was super hard.

With save states and other modern innovations, the scope of Taz-Mania is easy to see. However, back in the day, this was a pretty basic platformer for a few levels, and then a series of instant death traps that would banish the player back to Level 1 pretty quickly. In fact, you could easily point toward one single mid-level stage, a freaking a mine cart level, that is a wall-to-wall Taz slaughter. No devils have any hope to survive, and the mere concept of reaching later stages is nothing more than a pipedream. There are a few other sticking points (floating logs introducing perspective to a 2-D game is particularly cruel), but, short of rote memorization, there was no way Taz was going to make it past some terrible mines. Not that the end game is that exciting! But not knowing how Taz’s adventure ends (it’s a fight against a giant seagull, ‘natch) might convince a poor Genesis kid that a purchase is better than a rental. Well played, Sega, well played.

And then, a scant few months later, Sunsoft released its version of Taz-Mania on the Super Nintendo. It was dramatically easier, and, incidentally, boring as hell.

WeeeeYou will never be able to convince me that Taz-Mania (SNES) did not start as a Wily E. Coyote game that was randomly modified to be a Taz-Mania tie-in. This title plays vaguely like SNES Mario Kart, and takes full advantage of Mode 7 capabilities to place Taz on an endless stretch of highway where he must catch kiwis (the highly mobile birds, not the much easier to catch fruit). Every level contains an escalating number of kiwis, and there are few hazards (like buses and… mostly just buses) to keep Taz down. After catching the requisite kiwis, Taz falls asleep, the kiwis escape his gaping maw (that’s how digestion works, right?), and the whole thing starts again. Repeat for five acts (worlds) with three stages each. Throw in a few bonus stages where you can catch infinity kiwis for a score that impacts nothing, and you’re got the entire game.

And, in this case, that’s the clear problem: after playing a whole one stage, you’ve seen everything this title has to offer. Later stages seem to climb in difficulty only by adding incredibly unfair traps (arrows will spawn practically on top of Taz, and presumably you’re supposed to dodge them by using psychic powers), but it’s mostly moot anyway, as devouring practically anything (including your kiwi goals) refills your health. Like the endless stretch of highway to which Taz has been sentenced, the game is just an interminable slog of the initial stage repeated a solid fifteen times. Backgrounds change, sometimes you see the Road Runner, and occasionally you’ll earn a powerup that makes Taz move slightly faster, but other than that, it is tedium. It’s tremendously more beatable than its Genesis cousin, but even the first act makes it clear that there’s no future for this Taz. It’s the exact same plot across both games (Taz hungry), but there is exactly zero reason to progress through the SNES version.

GULPSo who wins? Guess it depends on your mood. SNES-Mania is basically an endless runner (almost literally), and is good, repetitive fun if you’re in the mood for such a thing (the sales on mobile games seem to indicate this is true of at least some people). On the other (brown, furry) hand, you’ve got Genesis-Mania, which is a creative, intricate platformer that requires endless memorization or a healthy glut of cheating. It’s (God help me) the Dark Souls of 90’s WB Animation Game Tie-ins. So, in this situation, it’s like comparing apples and oranges, and one could no more declare a winner than objectively determine that ducks are more suited for space travel than vegemite. In this situation, both systems have their own, personal Tazs, and that’s just fine.

Which is nice for Sega, because the SNES wins at everything else.

FGC #371 Taz-Mania (Sega Genesis) & Taz-Mania (SNES)

  • System: Sega Genesis for the platformer, SNES for the runnin’ of the Taz. The Genesis game was compromised and ported to Master System and Game Gear, too. Also, there was a Gameboy version that had nothing to do with anything.
  • Number of players: Single player across the board. The SNES version could easily have had a head-to-head kiwi catching contest, but noooooo.
  • Favorite Level (SG): It’s a shame that the final area of Genesis-Mania is so difficult to reach, as its “ancient ruins” aesthetic is great for the level design, and contains a number of gags that indicate Taz’s ancient ancestors were just… Taz. He’s perennial!
  • Favorite Level (SNES): There is no way to tell these stages apart, and I will not entertain notions of trying.
  • OUCHLet’s Talk Cartoons: Given the choice, I’d take Taz-Mania the Series over a number of its descendants, like Histeria!, Animaniacs, and a third one that I know I’m forgetting. Freakazoid is the best, but Taz’s general… Tazness fit the variety show format well. Also, I really enjoy orange juice, and no one understands when I make that Hugh reference anymore.
  • Did you know? Genesis-Mania contains a complete debug cheat, which allows for level skipping, invincibility, and instant health restoration. SNES-Mania simply contains a level select code. Welp, I know one place where the Genesis version excels.
  • Would I play again: SNES version isn’t happening again, as I’m not one for score-based games. Genesis version is a maybe, but only with the assistance of save states and such. Or… probably not ever, because there are better games available in both genres. Sorry, guess the Taz stays in Taz-Mania.

What’s next? Our next SNES/Genesis matchup is… Billy and the Clone-Osaurus! There’s a park full of dinosaurs, and I guess we’re trying to escape it for some reason! Please look forward to it!

The kid