Sometimes we underestimate just how much Mortal Kombat changed the landscape of gaming. And sometimes we deliberately forget how Mortal Kombat changed that landscape in the dumbest ways.
Clayfighter (1) was a pretty straightforward Street Fighter 2 clone. Actually, that may be a bit reductive. Clayfighter was, in many ways, its own thing, but also definitively a double of Street Fighter 2’s core gameplay. You’ve got a cast of colorful fighters using six buttons to clobber each other into submission. Special moves are predominantly only quarter circle motions or “charge” attacks, and the majority of special attacks are either fireballs, rising attacks, or something that shoots your character across the screen at top speed. Fights are on a 2-D plane, and a jump kick is always going to work out pretty well. And, at the end of the whole tournament of whacky weirdoes, there’s the final champion, N. Boss. That… is a pretty obvious parody right there.
But Clayfighter isn’t entirely a parody. It would have been really easy to create a pastiche of the main Street Fighter cast, or even simply stick ersatz clay Ryu or Chun-Li among the fighters. However, give or take Tiny’s “strongman” similarity to Zangief, the cast of Clayfighter was completely independent of fighting game tropes of the time. “A ghost” isn’t that original, but a super snowman battling sentient taffy or operatic “fat lady” is something to see. And they all possessed appropriate special moves, so, even if projectiles and uppercuts aren’t all that exciting, at least the murder clown is tossing cream pies. Clayfighter may have been a parody, but it was a lot more Airplane! than Scary Movie 4.
And Clayfighter 2 seems like it was poised to be more of the same. Apparently, the curators of Clayfighter decided to use all new models and all new digitizing for the sequel, so it was a fine excuse to roll out a cast of new fighters mixed with a collection of revamped originals. Bad Mr. Frosty got a new hat, Blob looked slightly different (only so much you can do with a literal blob of goo), and they were joined by newcomers like a laidback banana man, somersaulting octopus, and Kangoo the Kangaroo (possibly the only fighting clay animal in gaming that was invented thanks to a spelling error). And then there was Hoppy the Battle Bunny.
Everyone remembers Hoppy the Battle Bunny.
It seems that Hoppy was created as another funny parody character. In much the same way that Clayfighter 1 featured Blue Suede Goo, an obvious imitation of Elvis, Clayfighter introduced a character that was less likely to be immediately identified as a caricature of a real person, but still was a pretty clear mockery. Hoppy was modeled off a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator and Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo. He rode a motorcycle, rocked a sweet bandana, and flexed his muscles while speaking in an Austrian accent. Almost by default, he was the most “hardcore” of the Clayfighters. Granted, that isn’t hard when your opponents are a pacifist kangaroo and a literal big baby, but if you needed to see the “jagged” side of this silly game where a bunny battles a banana, then you need look no further than Hoppy.
And that’s exactly what the marketing department did.
Clayfighter 2 was clearly designed to be a typical “Street Fighter”-style fighting game. It was as violent as you would expect a cartoon fight to be, but it did not feature any sort of “fatalities” or other bits of over-the-top violence. This was a silly game for silly fighters, and, playing just the game today, you’d note that this title is about as tame as its predecessor. However, if you were exposed to any advertising for Clayfighter 2… excuse me… C2: Judgment Clay, you might be expecting a different game. C2’s cover and advertising features Hoppy heavily, and he is equipped with an enormous gun in front of the flaming wreckage of some wasteland of a world. He’s joined by Bad Mr. Frosty, replete with his backwards baseball cap, pulling on a metal chain. Chains are scary! I think! Though I do know for certain that no industrial chains appear in the actual game, nor does the bunny ever earn such a deadly weapon. A similar picture appears on boot of the title… but it seems a lot more likely that that was a static image added at the last minute. Does this murder-based bunny appear anywhere in the game proper? No, but that didn’t stop anyone from advertising C2 as the violent successor to that puerile original Clayfighter.
And, if you look at the era, Clayfighter was not alone. If you go back and play Nintendo games from the 16-bit era here in the year 2019, the most “subversive” item you’re likely to encounter would be Donkey Kong bopping old man Cranky Kong off a branch. Other than that, this was the era that saw Mario as a wee baby, Link as a kid with a thumping hammer, and Kirby as… Kirby. However, on the advertising front, this was the era of “Play it Loud” and Nintendo literally shouting about how they were better than Sega, who was also literally crying their name at anyone that would listen. It was the age of attitude, and it’s hard to ignore how Mortal Kombat may have influenced that thinking. After all, the number one way anyone was hearing about videogames in the mid-90’s was through the mainstream reporting on congressional hearings. Pac-Man created a fever, but Mortal Kombat was the potential cause of an epidemic. Won’t someone think of the children? And won’t someone please find a way to profit off wealthy old white men complaining about those vidja games? Any advertising is still advertising, and, if you can hitch your horse to that controversy cart, you’re going to get to market all the faster.
C2: Judgment Clay may not have been another blatant Mortal Kombat rip-off, but it certainly borrowed a few notes from its playbook. There was more than one fighting game back in the early 90’s, but, to the general public, there was only one worth imitating. Even if it was only in advertising, Clayfighter learned a thing or two from a yellow ninja…
But, hey, at least we got a heavily-armed rabbit out of the deal.
FGC #454 C2: Judgment Clay
- System: Super Nintendo exclusive. There were plans to bring this over to… I want to say the 32X? One of those Genesis systems of the era, but it never materialized.
- Number of players: Two is the fightiest number that you’ll ever see.
- Favorite Character: It’s still Blob. He’s got a great name, and he can transform into a buzzsaw. I also enjoy his evil twin. Oh, that reminds me…
- A shape of things to come: C2 committed to a concept that would eventually become a staple in other fighting games. Each fighter has a “rival” boss character, and, upon completing the game, you can unlock the rival for actual gameplay. Unfortunately, the rivals are merely color swaps of their base fighters, and there’s a meager mix of special moves between all of them. Hey! Rival color swaps! Maybe that came from Mortal Kombat, too!
- Other things to come: Now Clayfighter 63⅓, there was a game that mimicked Mortal Kombat. But it also seemed to place enough of an emphasis on combos to make it a Killer Instinct parody. So I guess it was kind of a copy of a copy. And that always works well.
- Cutting Room Floor: Lucy the Gorilla was supposed to be another fighter, but she was dropped for unknown reasons. Given the few images of her that exist, she seemed to be some kind of Pepé Le Pew-esque lover-not-a-fighter, and maybe she was dumped simply because “ugly ‘woman’ is too amorous” was a gag that had already been drained of all comedy before we even hit 1980. No, that can’t be it…
- Did you know? Apparently a different… uh… clay house (?) did the modeling for Clayfighter 2, but the designers didn’t like the final digitized versions. And the programmers had put together a great way to string together the animations over the course of production, so, as a proof of concept, the original scans of Tiny of Clayfighter 1 were reused for C2. And Tiny looks pretty good! So hooray for our side… or something.
- Would I play again: This is a moderately amusing Street Fighter-esque experience… So I’ll probably just play Street Fighter.
What’s next? Have we done any games with weapons this week? Or lords? No? Okay, let’s close out our Mortal Kombat koverage with that. Please look forward to it!
Stupid sexy Butch.