The Dord of Darien

Musings from the Mayor of the Internet

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Most Overrated Games #7

Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat (Arcade, 1992)

Here is a true fact: when I was eleven years old, my brother and I and a friend decided it would be the ultimate act of punk badassedry to go out into the street in the middle of the night (which, to us, was like 9:30) and yell "Mortal Kombat!" at the tops of our lungs. So that’s what we did. Absolutely nobody cared, as you’d expect, but it made us feel like righteously bad dudes. That’s the kind of game Mortal Kombat is: the kind of game that’s designed more for shocking your neighbours than for actual playing.

As shock factor goes, Mortal Kombat was pushing the envelope back in 1992. The game was brutal. It was full of blood and gore, and featured the now-legendary "fatality" mechanic; each character had a special move he could perform after defeating his opponent that would dismember the poor fool in some absurdly graphic fashion. At provoking a reaction, the game was superb: parents were outraged, teachers were outraged, outrage-centric political action groups were outraged, the First Lady was outraged. Which is why the people who created Mortal Kombat are certified geniuses: all this impotent outrage provided them with tons of free advertising, and it was the most effective kind — the kind that makes kids think they’re being rebellious by sticking quarters into the machine. And this is exactly what occurred.

The parents or legal guardians around the nation were so busy being outraged, and the kids were so busy being righteously punk, that nobody bothered to notice that the game’s a piece of shit. There are not very many characters to choose from, they don’t play very differently from one another, they don’t have many attacks, the stages are fairly nondescript, and the structure is absolutely standard tournament-fighter nonsense. Street Fighter 2 had been in arcades fully eighteen months by the time Mortal Kombat came out, and it was a vastly superior game in all respects. Except, of course, that you couldn’t rip your opponent’s head right out of his body and watch his spine twitch around.

Now, a lot of you are probably thinking "hey, Mortal Kombat 2 was pretty good." And you’re right; Mortal Kombat 2 was pretty good. This is mainly because they built a game to transport the gore that time around. The first Mortal Kombat, however, was bland and uninteresting as a game, and had really stiff controls on top of it. And as if that weren’t enough, Mortal Kombat is also to blame for inflicting the ESRB on us: attempts had been made for years to establish a ratings board for video games, but they always failed because Nintendo held out. A ratings board without Nintendo’s cooperation would not be good for much. The reason Nintendo was holding out wasn’t what you might think, though; they didn’t want a ratings board because they were afraid it would create precedent for gory, sexual, profane, or otherwise non-family-friendly games, which they simply did not want around. In keeping with this policy, Nintendo insisted that the SNES port of Mortal Kombat be cleansed of blood and gore and guts and intestines, and it got completely demolished in the marketplace by the Genesis port, which allowed Sega to regain a decent chunk of its then-dwindling market share by advertising that the Genesis had the "real" Mortal Kombat. Nintendo quickly rethought its position, the ESRB was born, and now video games are saddled with the same moralistic groupthink bullshit that movies have been for decades. So fuck Mortal Kombat.


February 10th, 2010 Posted by | Most Overrated Games Ever | no comments