Tag Archives: mortal kombat

FGC #455 Weaponlord

Here come some weapons!This FGC series has been all about games that aped Mortal Kombat in an effort to reclaim the hearts and wallets of the youth of America. Some games copied the superficial, some copied the attitude, and some did their best to emulate the gameplay involved. All took different routes, but all managed to copy something about the original Mortal Kombat formula. These are all games that, if not for Mortal Kombat, would be very different animals.

And that isn’t always a bad thing.

Weaponlord is, indisputably, a game influenced by Mortal Kombat. Right from the start, we’ve got an edgy font describing a tournament led by a hulking barbarian warrior that is out for blood and/or conquering the known world. Press start, and you’ll be treated to a bloody battle between warriors that may end in a fatality. Do you enjoy tearing body parts off people? This is better than Time Killers (though, granted, the same can be said of poking yourself with a sharp stick). And, complete with a hasty Genesis port, it seems like Weaponlord exists solely to ride Mortal Kombat’s coattails straight to the Successful Fighting Games’ Ball (monocles are mandatory).

But Weaponlord did not start with Mortal Kombat. Weaponlord started with Street Fighter 2.

Weaponlord’s lead designers, James Goddard and Dave Winstead, were originally from Capcom. Remember Dee Jay? The Jamaican street fighter that was the only Made in America character on the roster? Well, you can attribute that Maximum dancer to Goddard. And given this was the start of the fighting game scene, Goddard and Winstead knew a thing or two about fighting games, and wanted to bring the genre into the next century. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, their goal was to leave the arcade behind, and bring the competitive scene into everyone’s living room. These pioneers wanted to see battles online.

Too bad they were about a decade too early.

Korr Blimey!Goddard and Winstead did not have enough support at Capcom to realize their vision, but Namco was ready to fund such an endeavor. Unfortunately, the only reliable online console play infrastructure at the time was XBAND, which was, naturally, based on dial-up technology. This offered a challenge to the creators of Weaponlord: how could you design a high-octane fighting game that relied on the same connection that could barely download a JPG? (I experience a certain level of pride when I consider how I am now responsible for a website where just one GIF would likely crash my original AOL-based computer.) Goddard and Winstead had to do their best to create a game optimized for 24K (seriously, not even 56K). How did they manage to pull that off? Simple! They added weapons (hey, that’s in the title!).

A number of fighting games treat weapons like bonus limbs. Even in worthwhile, non-Time Killers based games, items like metal claws or someone’s stimulating new bat are still treated exactly like another fist. And, in a way, this makes perfect sense. Street fighters routinely hold an elbow up to defend against literal great balls of fire, a thrown knife or katana is clownshoes by comparison. But, in anything resembling reality, punch properties are very different from sword stuffs. Some games revel in this difference, but the typical crouch and block was still standard for weapon-y fighting games of the 90’s. But Weaponlord decided to do something a little different. A parry system was created, so fighters were encouraged to cross swords and defend offensively (kind of like in the later Street Fighter 3). This not only created a system wherein swords actually seemed to do sword things (like in the movies!), but also allowed for some micro breaks in the action where a lagging modem could catch up. The player watches radical sparks fly over clashing warriors, and the RAM just has to produce a simple parry, not an ineffective seventeen hit string on a dude sitting there blocking. Everybody wins!

Belly buttonThat takes care of one memory issue, but if you wanted a videogame in 1995 to look good, you had to limit the number of characters, too. Weaponlord features big, chunky heroes and villains, and the graphics are pretty dang swanky for the same system that could barely render a raft without slowdown back in the day. Unfortunately, that meant a roster of merely seven fighters. And this isn’t even a Mortal Kombat situation, wherein there are seven fighters, but two or three more additional, unplayable bosses. Seven is all you get! But, as a compromise, Weaponlord’s fighters all have at least nine (or so) special moves, a number practically unheard of even today. And that’s special! There is a lot to learn about each individual fighter, and, if you’re the type that really likes to specialize in a “main”, then have at it. It will take you forever to master just one lord o’ weapons.

So, while Weaponlord may initially appear to be simply another Mortal Kombat clone (and one that, given the artistic style, was also trying to ape Todd McFarlane so bad), it was very much its own beast, practically from the ground up. It was created by people who knew what they were doing, knew exactly the market they were aiming for, and knew precisely how to adapt to the environment they desired. A weapons-based fighting game with online functionality was going to be the future of gaming, and Weaponlord was poised to not simply be a Mortal Kombat clone, but the next, real Mortal Kombat that changes the face of fighting games.

And then it crashed and burned, because who the hell had an XBAND!? What the $^*% is Catapult Entertainment?

Weaponlord seemed to do everything right for specifically what it wanted to do, but where it wanted to be simply didn’t exist yet. The arcade scene would still be healthy for another few years, and online play wasn’t established enough to push Weaponlord past the glut of unremarkable fighting games of the era. It may have earned the cover for Gamepro one month, but Weaponlord was not on the top of everyone’s Christmas list. Without an arcade presence, Weaponlord languished as yet another console fighter practically indistinguishable from Fighter’s History. The seemingly inevitable sequel teased in a number of Weaponlord’s endings was never to be…

Except…

Namco, publisher of Weaponlord, did happen to release a weapons-based fighter again shortly thereafter…

THE SOUL STILL BURNS

And Soulcalibur is a franchise that isn’t shy about acknowledging its origins…

This specific soul still burns
Mostly burning

But what of the creators of Weaponlord? Well, James Goddard stuck around the industry, and he wound up working on another game that many called a Mortal Kombat wannabe…

This has nothing to do with souls

And considering Killer Instinct is easily the game on Xbox One I have played the most, I’m going to say that title worked out.

What does this all mean? Well, basically, without this back in the 90’s…

WHAMMO

We wouldn’t have this…

Now we're back to burning

Today and on my Playstation 4.

Not all “copies” are bad. Sometimes the popularity of another game is what allows a new game to exist in the first place. And sometimes the innovations of that game lead to all new experiences that endure for years to come (and then let us fight a robot lady). Mortal Kombat may have konquered the world with its innovation, gameplay, cast, blood, and humor; but it birthed a lineage that went to some exciting places. Some of its progeny may have been forgotten to the ages, but they all fit in the rich tapestry that is…

Oh screw it, I’m done with this MK retrospective series now. Need to grab a controller and get back to delivering some sweet uppercuts.

FGC #455 Weaponlord

  • System: Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The Genesis version is apparently a port of the originally intended Super Nintendo version, so your best bet is likely the ‘intenda.
  • Number of players: May our next game be a single player title.
  • OuchFavorite Fighter: Remind me to make a game starring warring barbarians, as the outfits required seem to all be variations on “throw some fur over those naughty bits”. That said, Jen-Tai is basically Red Sonja, and her default standing stance shouts, “You hit me with your sword, and then I break your face.” That is exactly what I want from a game titled Weaponlord.
  • Story Time: I want to say this is one of the earliest fighting games to have a dedicated “story mode”, and not simply “be happy your character has a unique ending”. It’s not that different from your typical (and offered) arcade mode, but it does change slightly depending on who you choose to kill along the way. Killer Instinct 2 arcade would ape this kind of storytelling in its arcade version a year later, so that’s another point for Weaponlord being ahead of its time.
  • What’s the Password? This is also the rare fighting game that saves your progress in story mode with passwords. That… feature didn’t catch on.
  • Did you know? I joke, but the XBAND was fairly successful for its time. The company also hosted a promotional tournament featuring various games on its service, which led to Peter Kappes of Orlando winning a grand prize of $200, a custom player icon, and the honor of being the first person in history to win a national tournament over a videogame console.
  • Would I play again: I would be very happy with a Weaponlord 2, but this Weaponlord is a little too roster limited for my tastes. I’m a random select kind of guy! And speaking of random…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to randomness, and has selected… Asura’s Wrath for the Playstation 3! Asura is gonna get his revenge! Please look forward to it!

We're done

FGC #453 Killer Instinct

KILLER INSTINCTMaybe Mortal Kombat was successful simply because it had a little support…

Nintendo has a weird history with the arcades. Donkey Kong is amazing. Donkey Kong is a game that is still, to this day, played in arcade cabinets across our nation’s seven remaining arcades. But past Donkey Kong? The likes of Clu Clu Land, Balloon Fight, or friggen Ice Climber never made a remotely similar smash. Even Donkey Kong’s sequels, DK Jr. and Stanley’s Big Adventure, received lukewarm receptions compared to many of their contemporaries. Pac-Man wound up with some warmly received sequels, but there was never a Ms. Donkey Kong to put Nintendo at the top of the arcade again.

But it could easily be argued that Nintendo didn’t ever need to rule the arcade. Sure, it would be nice to have more money and a market 100% held in Mario’s fireball-tossing hands, but Nintendo so totally dominated the console market that it seemed almost quaint that companies bothered with that other hardware. And when your Street Fighters or Mortal Kombats finally had to make their way to people’s basements and bedrooms, it was Nintendo holding the keys to the door. Nintendo would get a piece of that arcade dough one way or another, it just might need to send out an issue of Nintendo Power to remind its loyal base it was time to get hyped about that game they played at the mall a year ago. And don’t forget to promote Mario Paint if there are a few pages left!

COMBO REGULAR!But it seems like the cradle of the baby N64 Empire decided to include an arcade pacifier. Back in 1994, Nintendo struck up a deal with WMS Industries, the parent company of Midway, and started development of arcade cabinets based on Nintendo 64 architecture. Excuse me, at the time, it was known as ULTRA 64. Cruis’n USA was born of this union, and, just to prove that Nintendo was a “mature” and “serious” company, we also saw Rare create Killer Instinct, a fighting game more than a little inspired by Mortal Kombat.

Killer Instinct had it all. You want stylish fights that employ the cerebral combo system of Street Fighter? We got that! And you can even dial-a-combo if linking a special move to a sweep kick is a little too complicated. Oh! And great special moves! Totally unique for every character! Unique punches, kicks, and even combo breakers, too! But there’s blood! So much blood! These fighters are blood balloons, just like in Mortal Kombat, and you can even do fatalities. They’re called “No Mercies”, but every character has two, and a cool CGI movie plays afterwards. It’s rad! We’ve got stylish finishers with Ultimate and Ultra Combos! And funny finishers with our Humiliations! And the final boss? If you thought Goro was a menace, you’re going to love Eyedol! And you can even play as him if you know the code! Killer Instinct is jam-packed with every fighting game convention you could ever want.

In fact, it almost seems like Killer Instinct was designed by committee to be the “ultimate” fighting game. Not only did it adopt practically every beloved trope from the genre at the time, but it also seemed to lean heavily into disguising its own flaws. The sleek, “metallic” graphics of the Ultra 64 might look futuristic… but they can’t render a human being that looks human. But does that matter when you only have four humans on the roster? Do you want to play as “the ninja” or “the girl”, or do you want to try out the dinosaur, skeleton, werewolf, fire elemental, ice alien, or robot? B. Orchid looks vaguely monstrous, Hot stuffwhich is probably why you’re more likely to pick one of the roster’s literal monsters. Nobody wanted to see this engine’s M. Bison, they went straight for a hulking ogre with a club. In a way, it seems obvious how Killer Instinct was calculated to be the king of the arcade.

And, honestly, that was a break from about 90% of fighting games released in the 90’s. So many games were chasing the tails of Street Fighter and then Mortal Kombat that it seemed like a great many shot out of development studios before even the tiniest bit of polish. In fact, that was likely seen as a feature, not a bug, as if Fighter’s Generic Championship actually wound up being a hit, then they’d make it an actually good game for the Super Fighter’s Generic Championship Turbo upgrade. Much like many gaming fads, a number of games superficially copied what was popular in the genre, but did very little to capture what truly made those games great in the first place (see also later fad examples: GTA, Skyrim). Killer Instinct had all the refinement of a real fighting game release, and the arcade rats of the time responded in kind. To this day, there are those that claim Killer Instinct is one of the best fighting games ever made.

Unfortunately, the Ultra 64 was not one of the greatest systems ever made.

Killer Instinct featured an attract mode that advertised it would soon be coming to your living room through the new, amazing Ultra 64 home console, available shortly. It… was not to be. The Ultra 64 was delayed at least a year past its original mark, and Killer Instinct gradually became old news (oh, hello Mortal Kombat 3). In an effort to not lose on this investment, Nintendo decided to port Killer Instinct to the Super Nintendo for the 1995 Christmas season. It was a blisteringly compromised port, and, give or take a rad black cartridge, it was arguably a complete waste. This isn't the SNES versionOkay, maybe it wasn’t utterly terrible, but a healthy chunk of what made Killer Instinct into an arcade juggernaut was left on the cutting room floor. Maybe it was yet another secret advertisement for the Ultra 64, though, as apparently the SNES wasn’t going to be able to capture the “arcade experience” for much longer…

But if Killer Instinct was ported to the SNES, what would the Ultra 64 have to offer? Killer Instinct 2 was rushed into arcades the following year, and three new human characters were added to the roster, because someone finally figured out how to render a face that didn’t look like it had recently encountered a shovel. And it was a success! It was not nearly as revolutionary as its predecessor (and, in a world where Nintendo didn’t need to promote its latest system, it likely would have “only” been a “super turbo edition”), but it did offer new and interesting twists on the genre, like an insane combo system and branching endings. Thus, there was a new Killer Instinct all ready for the release of the newly-dubbed N64.

And then we got Killer Instinct Gold with (roughly) the launch of the N64.

And then the N64 was a distant second behind the success of the Playstation. And the Playstation’s FMV magic made JRPGs the hottest new genre. And the fighting game fad faded into nothing. And Killer Instinct was never seen again.

It’s pretty obvious what happened: Killer Instinct was supposed to prove the worth of the N64 and Nintendo’s own dominance in the fighting genre… but, despite Killer Instinct doing everything right, the winds of popularity changed directions, and KI was left out in the cold. While KI’s contemporaries went on to see sequels even during the fighting game-lean Playstation 2 years, Killer Instinct sat inert for decades, only returning in 2013 when Microsoft needed a new way to showcase dinosaurs fighting skeletons on its latest gaming hardware. This version of Killer Instinct saw support for a solid five years, and given the overall success of the project, a Killer Instinct “4” would not be the most unusual announcement.

And it just goes to show that all Killer Instinct needed was a little support from its corporate masters, whether they be Nintendo or Microsoft or whoever is next (maybe… Google?). People like Killer Instinct. It is a good franchise. And, in another world, it received the same consistent support as Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat. In that world, Killer Instinct 9 is just gearing up for another reboot, and we’re all anxiously anticipating what crazy bionic implant Sabrewulf is going to get next.

But, in this world, Killer Instinct was doomed by its rulers. In this world, we’re just left to wonder what other games suffered the same fate…

FGC #453 Killer Instinct

  • NO MERCYSystem: Arcade for the big boy version, and then Super Nintendo for the itty bitty version. There was also an even more widdle itty bitty version on the Gameboy, too. Oh, and I suppose we should count the Xbone promotional port of the arcade version. That’s probably your best bet.
  • Number of players: One plus punch equals two.
  • Favorite Fighter: This is a tough one! Glacius is my boy, as a teleporting uppercut is satisfying and useful. But I also might side with Riptor, the first lady of fighting dinosaurs. It’s Dinosaurs vs. Aliens here at Killer Instinct.
  • Imitation is Flattery? Cinder the fire dude is very similar to the eventual Mortal Kombat boss/hidden kharacter Blaze. Spinal the super battling skeleton may as well be Meat of Mortal Kombat 4. And don’t get me started on the similarity between later versions of Reptile and Riptor. Good thing MK never had a werewolf!
  • What’s in a name? The big, scary company that is responsible for the Killer Instinct tournament is known as Ultra Tech. While they are responsible for amazing innovations like reanimating the dead and firing up killer robots, they do seem to be unequivocally evil in the overall plot. This is kind of odd given the whole thing was supposed to promote the Ultra 64.
  • Race Relations: T.J. Combo is very subtly treated extremely terribly by the Killer Instinct narrative. He was a successful boxer, but became disgraced, and was forced to “return to the ghetto” (per in-game bio) for Killer Instinct 1. Then, he was injured during KI, but was caught in the time travel shenanigans of Killer Instinct 2 because he was at the Ultra Tech building “looting”. BOXING!The reboot makes T.J. Combo more “good” and less “greedy”, but still predominantly maintains the same “disgraced boxer” status. This is in sharp contrast to characters like Cinder, who got upgraded from “criminal” to “decorated special forces operative”. I wonder what is different about T.J. Combo from the other fighters that seems to keep him narratively down?
  • Did you know? Eyedol’s ending is a parody of Blanka’s Street Fighter 2 ending, wherein a mother discovers her long lost son has become a fighting monster. Blanka’s real name is revealed to be Jimmy, but Eyedol winds up with “Billy”. Why? Well, say “Billy Eyedol” out loud.
  • Would I play again: I should think so. As a novelty, yes, but the game is pretty good for a 90’s fighter. Now I just need to get that Eyedol code working again…

What’s next? Humiliations are funny and all, but have you ever seen someone fighting with clay? Please look forward to it!

SKELETON!

FGC #452 Time Killers

THE KILLERSThe fact that I can hold this game in my hands is a testament to the amazing degree to which Mortal Kombat was popular… and how absolutely no one understood that popularity.

According to records from the distant past of 1992, Time Killers was unleashed upon arcades a few months after the venerable Mortal Kombat. I’m going to assume that it takes longer than a week to roll out a few hundred arcade cabinets, and conclude that Time Killers just happened to be a massively violent game that incidentally was released in proximity to, but not because of, Mortal Kombat. In all likelihood, Time Killers was, like Mortal Kombat itself, just another game that was trying to cash in on the success of Street Fighter 2. On the other hand, it is entirely likely that Time Killers was intended as a Mortal Kombat clone (klone?), as it is pretty obvious the visuals of Time Killers could be reproduced by a five year old with half a box of crayons. Colored pencils are too classy for Time Killers.

Time Killers is an ugly, ugly game. The graphics are just terrible, the animation is sub-2000 Newgrounds, and the character variety is nonexistent. This is another time-travel based fighter, and its stock “caveman” “knight” and “Viking” all probably required a solid sixty seconds of design. The final boss is Death with a capital D, and this interpretation of the Grim Reaper looks more like something you’d find scribbled on a local heavy metal band’s demo tape. It’s not, like, the actual album art, man, it’s just, like, something the bassist’s little brother did, and we thought it looked cool. And, in a way, that’s the ultimate goal of Time Killers: it’s a bunch of stuff that is supposed to look cool… but doesn’t quite get there. A warrior woman from the future wielding a lightsaber laser sword should be a show-stopper, but here we have less future gladiator, more American Gladiator. NES American Gladiator…

OUCHBut, arguably, none of that should matter. There is one thing people notice about Time Killers, and that’s the almost unheard of level of blood and gore being tossed around any given battle. Every fighter is equipped with at least one martial weapon (or martial appendage, in the case of that one bug lady), and when a dude with a mohawk is swinging around a chainsaw, the inevitable happens pretty quickly. Legs can be damaged, arms can be severed, and, assuming you can pull off a special move that involves smashing all the buttons at once, a dizzied character can be utterly decapitated mid-match. Suffice to say, even if the freshly headless participant had a mostly full life bar, the severer still gets a win point over the severee. But even if no one loses their head during a battle, there are almost always still severed, flopping limbs littering the battlefield. Heck, even before the fight begins, there’s often a bloodied corpse or guillotined head hanging in the background. Time Killers is all about the blood, and is arguably the game concerned parents believed Mortal Kombat to be. This is the title that is going to turn Little Timmy into Timothy “The Meat Mangler” Littles.

But, good news for a million moms everywhere, gamers weren’t having it.

Time Killers is certainly a game you could find in an arcade or two, but it was never nearly as popular as Street Fighter 2 or Mortal Kombat. This was likely a result of the combination of its horrible ugliness and the fact that the gameplay absolutely sucks. It’s five buttons, but there’s an entire button that barely does anything! Special attacks are incredibly boring (which is really disappointing when you’re controlling a futuristic cyborg). And the previously mentioned “fatalities” that can occur at any time during a match can lead to some incredibly one-sided fights. Heavier characters are a lot more likely to dizzy their opponents, and when a dizzy condition can lead to an instant-win… well, why play as anyone other than the strong men?

Chop chop, guysSo, suffice to say, people weren’t exactly clamoring for a home release of Time Killers. In 1992, we had plenty of fighting game options, and it seemed like there was a new version or sequel every other month. Fighter’s History already showed us the apex of the genre (by allowing us to fight Karnov), so it seemed like the public at large was okay with Time Killers sticking to a few seedy arcades. Videogame preservation is nice, but I’m sure resources could be allocated to other projects. Time Killers will just have to wait for emulation and…

Oh. Time Killers was ported to the Sega Genesis. In 1996.

To put this in perspective, Time Killers’ home port was released the same year as other Sega Genesis games Sonic 3D Blast, Vectorman 2, and NBA Hangtime. Donkey Kong Country 3, Kirby Super Star, and Super Mario RPG were over on the Super Nintendo. The Nintendo 64 was released in the Fall of 1996. And here was Time Killers, for your Sega Genesis, and it looked like this:

OH GOD

Yes, Time Killers’ port took a bit of a hit from the arcade graphics. It featured no new characters, no extra gameplay modes, and tied it all up with the limited buttons of a Sega Genesis controller. Time Killers was already a turd floating in the toilet bowl of gaming, so why would anyone ever decide that the Sega Genesis needed this floater to bubble up to the surface?

Well, Mortal Kombat 2 sold at least 1.78 million copies for the Genesis in the United States, and MK3 came in at 1.02 million. That’s more copies sold than the most popular NFL games of the time. That also makes MK the highest selling franchise on the system that wasn’t rated for all general audiences. Hell, Mortal Kombat for Genesis practically invented the ratings system for videogames! Of course you want a piece of that action with your bloody brawler!

Had to do itDid Time Killers make the same splash on Genesis as Mortal Kombat? Of course not! But it was rescued from the dustbin of history because someone thought it might. And why did they imagine such lofty goals? Because there’s a significant portion of the population that thinks Mortal Kombat was successful only because of its gruesomeness. And Time Killers had gore to spare, so, logically, those silly gamers would go for it. Mortal Kombat has blood = success, Time Killers has more blood = more success. It’s basic math!

And, in the end, all this means is that Mortal Kombat was a massive, if completely misunderstood, success. Time Killers is not any good, but it received a home port in an effort to chase the prosperous Mortal Kombat. Did it help Time Killers one iota? Not at all. But it did preserve Time Killers for future generations of people trying to kill some time.

Mortal Kombat achieved a flawless victory. Time Killers just lost its head.

FGC #452 Time Killers

  • System: Sega Genesis and Arcade. Arcade gameplay is used for the majority of this article, as actually playing the Genesis version hurts my eyes.
  • Number of players: Same as Mortal Kombat.
  • Bugs love their lawnsFavorite Character: Time Killers was actually at my local arcade back in the day, and Wee Goggle Bob was convinced Mantazz was the best character, because she had a “head” button that actually did something. As an adult, I know that is fairly useless, but I still like Mantazz, as I appreciate how she was clearly auditioning for her iconic role in Secret of Mana.
  • What’s in a name? Wulf is a chivalrous knight that wields the holy sword Excalibur (we know this because he shouts that about every other second). Why didn’t Time Killers go with the significantly more obvious (and public domain) “Arthur”? They didn’t have any problem with naming their Viking “Leif”.
  • Science!: Orion’s stage is on a space ship floating somewhere in the universe. When an opponent loses on that stage, they start to float away, because gravity only impacts things that are alive. This is why we bury our dead, lest they drift off into the atmosphere.
  • An end: The character-specific endings are straightforward “fighter gets whatever they want” affairs, which is pretty typical for fledgling fighting games not setting up sequels. However, Thugg the Caveman gets a particularly interesting ending, as it involves ol’ Thugg excitedly and accidentally discovering fire. Does this mean that Thugg is the canon victor of the tournament?
  • Did you know? There was a UK comic book called “Time Killers”. It was based on a series from the same folks behind Judge Dredd, and it theoretically had nothing to do with the game (or any kind of consistent plot at all). However, issue #3’s cover features a woman that looks a lot like the game’s Matrix character. On the other hand, maybe there are only so many ways to depict a “future” woman…
  • Would I play again: No. This game is in no way fun, and I don’t want to deal with it ever again. If I’m ever tempted, I’ll just do a google image search for car accident photos and be done with it.

What’s next? That was awful, and I need something that is going to get this Mortal Kombat week back on track. I need something that is going to help me reclaim my Killer Instinct… Please look forward to it!

Look away

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!