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.
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!
That 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…
Namco, publisher of Weaponlord, did happen to release a weapons-based fighter again shortly thereafter…
And Soulcalibur is a franchise that isn’t shy about acknowledging its origins…
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…
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…
We wouldn’t have this…
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.
- Favorite 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!