Tag Archives: skeletons

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 #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 #446 Odin Sphere (Leifthrasir)

Good catWhy bother with yet another beat ‘em up? Why bother with Odin Sphere?

Odin Sphere is, at its core, a beat ‘em up game. Yes, it is the unusual 2-D beat ‘em up, and, yes, it has many “RPG elements” that separate it from the typical beat ‘em up title, but it is still “only” a beat ‘em up. You move from screen to screen, defeat some enemies, and then break a few crates for items before eventually reaching the boss. Basic mooks are continually recycled between areas, the areas themselves are limited, and even bosses are fought multiple times in multiple configurations. Odin Sphere is a beat ‘em up, and, even though it is gorgeous (or maybe because it is gorgeous), it is still fairly limited. It seems like there are five hours of unique gameplay in this twenty hour game.

So why bother? This isn’t an arcade beat ‘em up that includes fun times with friends, and, while some of the “JRPG elements” are interesting, you can’t hang an entire game on shoving sentient turnips into flasks. While Odin Sphere is damn pretty to look at, graphics are not everything (or at least I’ve been told that by every lying gamer I’ve ever encountered). There’s good beat ‘em up nonsense available here, but hitting any other title that is over in about a quarter of the time seems like a better choice.

Except other beat ‘em ups don’t feature Velvet.

Odin Sphere might be a simple beat ‘em up with repetitive monsters and locations, but it contains a very engrossing story. This is not to say it is a unique story! Most of the heroes and heroines of Odin Sphere are basic operatic archetypes, and God help me if I have to deal with one more character that has daddy issues and must go on an adventure to find their own place in the world. “What is this emotion called… love?” asks the entire speaking cast of Odin Sphere. And Oswald is clearly just Darth Vader minus the fatherhood angle, which leaves us with… Darth… Nothing? But! Despite all of this, the walking clichés of Odin Sphere are a collection of surprisingly memorable lads and lassies, likely because their proclivity for Shakespearean soliloquies grants us a rare look into these protagonists’ minds (also: fun Shakespearean tropes like “I can only be killed by a tree” “Well my middle name is ‘Tree’” “Oh fiddlesticks”). Aren’t we all tired of silent protagonists? Give us more adventurers with deep-rooted psychological issues.

And the leader of the pack for these nerds is obviously…

VELVET!

Velvet Valentine. I mean, look at that idle pose! She’s got more personality just standing there glaring at a rabbit than most characters earn over the course of a 40 hour adventure.

Get 'em!

But it’s not just about classy poses, she also possesses a ridiculous whip chain weapon (that incidentally absorbs the souls of the dead). And everyone knows that in videogames (unlike in our mundane, crappy world) whips are the most powerful weapons on whatever passes for Earth du jour (Erion?). Whips have range, power, and, if you’re good, the power to command fire (Belmonts have known this one simple trick for centuries). Yes, there’s that whole bondage connotation, but who cares about that when…

Spider-Man!

Whips allow you to become Spider-Man! Who cares about anything when you can be Spider-Man? Actually, given Velvet has experience as a dancer, she’s more Spider-Gwen… and maybe that’s even better? I mean, there are a lot of Spider-Mans running around out there, but Ghost Spider is pretty unique. And, like Velvet, she has a cool costume, too.

But it’s not all sunshine and roses for Velvet…

This sucks for everybody

Velvet comes from circumstances. Velvet and her twin brother were abused by their grandfather, a man who also killed their mother in a fit of rage. Apparently Grandpappy King Valentine would arbitrarily whip his grandchildren, and force his granddaughter to dance for him for reasons that can only be maximum skeevy.

Bro!

This created an unfortunate situation wherein Velvet’s brother grew up to be a duplicitous jerk/three-headed dog monster (although Pappy Odin kind of added to those issues, too), and Velvet herself eventually became an adult with an understandable level of PTSD. And, considering Velvet is also stuck in a magical universe where anything can happen, she lived in fear of her abusive grandfather returning from the grave. When he inevitably does that and kicks off a (surprisingly successful) plan to destroy the world, suffice it to say, Velvet is not having a fun time.

Samus!

But she’s having a fun time when she’s flipping around like Samus Aran. Hey, that bounty hunter had problems with authority and dead parents, too! Samus and Velvet should hang out and play with their grappling beams together!

Such a dreamboat

And it’s not only jumping skills that will make Velvet’s life better. She has the love of a loyal prince, Cornelius, who, despite being cursed about ten seconds after his introduction, is a true Prince Charming. He fights for his country, his people, and, most importantly, Velvet. And he didn’t even need a magical sword to defend his love against his vaguely patricidal father. That’s a man worth keeping, Velvet! I can count on one hand the number of people I know that would fight a sewer dragon for their lover.

Bunny!

Oh, and she really likes rabbits, too. Rabbits, in many cases, are better than a doting boyfriend. If only there were some way to combine the two…

Now, is anything about Velvet here all that revolutionary? Nope! I compared her to three other fictional characters in the span of a few hundred words, so it’s pretty clear Velvet isn’t the most original character (that you should not steal). But she’s… fun. All these traits seem to alchemize into a perfectly golden heroine, and wanting to see what becomes of the wannabe Romani is a fine reason to fight the same stupid five bosses all over again.

Why do we play some videogames? Maybe it’s just a matter of having the right character.

FGC #446 Odin Sphere (Leifthrasir)

  • KISS MESystem: The original Odin Sphere appeared on Playstation 2, but then we saw a rerelease on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, and Vita eight years later, presumably because of phat piles of Dragon’s Crown cash.
  • What’s the difference? The new and improved Odin Sphere Leifthrasir contains a number of quality of life improvements, new skills, and the occasional area where you can jump around like an idiot for no reason. But it barely offers any new story content or “levels”, so only seek out the remake if you have eyeballs that enjoy gorgeous graphics carried along a HDMI cable.
  • Number of players: One Valkyrie at a time, please.
  • What’s in a name? The titular Odin Sphere is likely a reference to Odin’s gigantic spikey-ball thingy. Or it could be a reference to the circular arenas featured in every battle stage. Or some kind of upgrade on Wagner’s “cycle” of music dramas. Or it just bloody sounds cool. I didn’t make this game!
  • Other naming issues: Wagner the Dragon has a name that is pronounced like “Vagner”. Oswald the Unlucky Rabbit gets the proper American/English soft pronunciation of his W. I’m not one to fiddle with accents and articulation, but try to be a little more consistent, Japanese-created magical Norse creatures.
  • Favorite Character: Go ahead and take a guess.
  • An End: I very much appreciate that the final boss gauntlet initially appears as a “choose your favorite fighter” situation, but is actually deeply tied to the lore of the piece, and asks the player if they’ve been paying attention to the various prophecies floating around. However, I am not a big fan of the fact that these five (mostly) original bosses were all herded into the final moments. We could have used original content elsewhere, guys!
  • Did you know? Sheep grow on trees.
  • Would I play again: Maybe we could see this one on the Switch? The grindiness seems like something that would be ideal for a kinda portable system… but then again the same could be said of nearly every modern beat ‘em up. That’s it! Go ahead and put every beat ‘em up on the Switch! It’s the only way to be sure!

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… We ❤ Katamari for the Playstation 2! That one is sure to roll up a lot of fun. Please look forward to it!

This sucks for everyone involved