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Retro Review: Mortal Kombat II [Genesis]

A first-time player's perspective of this klassic fighting game

Setting the Stage

Before I start this review, I want to be completely transparent about my perspective. To do that, I’ll need to provide some background on myself and how I came to playing this game. I have been a Mortal Kombat fan for eight years. While that feels like a long time for me, it’s relatively short compared to the franchise’s storied history dating back to the early ’90s. Unfortunately, being only 22-years-old, however, means I was not able to experience the games in their early heyday.

Mortal Kombat Modern Trilogy

With the exception of one time when I stumbled upon an old arcade cabinet of Mortal Kombat 3, I never even played one of the klassic games until yesterday. I entered the franchise when I was a freshman in high school with the soft reboot Mortal Kombat 9. Knowing nothing about the game at this point, the inclusion of Freddy Krueger solely enticed me. The brutality of the gameplay instantly hooked me, and Mortal Kombat soon became the go-to game to play with friends.

Naturally, I had to get both Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11 once those games released. Until this year, however, I really only played the towers and multiplayer modes. With the release of the Mortal Kombat movie this year, I knew I had to get into the story. Going in blind, I was fascinated by the rich lore and insanely unique story the games offered. Playing the stories to these games only cemented my love for this franchise, and I knew it was time to play some of the originals.

A Bloody Masterpiece

As I’m sure you can tell by the prelude, this will not be your standard retro review. As yesterday was my first time with Mortal Kombat II, I don’t come in with any nostalgic memories of this particular title. My playthrough yesterday was completely blind. As a result, my perspective most likely differs drastically to those who grew up with the game.

Mortal Kombat Controversy

For those of you who are also new to Mortal Kombat II, the game is a direct sequel to the highly acclaimed Mortal Kombat from 1992. The controversy surrounding the original game’s gory fatalities made it a smash hit, and the sequel was inevitable. However, lead programmer Ed Boon stated that the success was so unexpected that a sequel was originally never planned. Until his general manager instructed him to begin work on Mortal Kombat II, Boon had plans for a Star Wars game.

Headed by Boon and lead designer John Tobias, Midway developed and published the arcade cabinet for Mortal Kombat II, and released it in 1993. The sequel built upon the success of the original, adding new characters and fatalities. In addition, they introduced the humorous babality and friendship finishers as lighter endings to fights.

Like the original, Mortal Kombat II was a critical and commercial success. As a result, development began on console ports. Although many consoles received ports of this game, the two major ports were for the Super Nintendo and the SEGA Genesis. Each released simultaneously in 1994, and each version has its benefits. Objectively, Nintendo’s version has superior graphics and sound to its SEGA counterpart. However, many agree that the Genesis version still plays better overall.

Graphics Comparison: Genesis VS. SNES

A Kast of Fighters in Mortal Kombat II

As someone who’s previously only played the most recent entries to the Mortal Kombat franchise, I knew in advance the list of playable characters would be significantly smaller. For its time, however, the upgrade from seven characters in the first game to twelve in its sequel was a massive upgrade. And I’ll admit that I was still highly impressed with the characters I could choose.

Liu Kang, Scorpion, Shang Tsung, Rayden, Reptile, and my personal favorite, Johnny Cage all returned for Mortal Kombat II. In addition, Sub-Zero returned, although in this game he is canonically the younger brother of the original Sub-Zero from the first title.

Character Selection

All new characters who would become franchise staples were added as well. The new characters include the likes of Baraka, Jax, Kitana, Kung Lao and Mileena. Seeing the original interpretations of these iconic characters for the first time was a truly awesome experience. With the evolution of the Mortal Kombat series in the modern age, my appreciation is deep for its roots.

Round One. FIGHT!

I died again…

Upon starting the game, it’s worth noting that there are only two items you can select: Start and Options. I was so eager to start that I completely ignored the option menu and went straight into the tournament. Naturally, I selected my favorite character Johnny Cage and rushed right into The Dead Pool to fight Sub-Zero. My overconfidence turned to shock as he promptly demolished me in both rounds before sending me into the acid bath with a fierce uppercut. On the bright side, I got to witness the iconic Stage Fatality. Right?

Frustrated with this loss, I continued to try new fighters. Each fight ended with my opponent getting a Flawless Victory. Needless to say, I got to witness many fatalities during my playthrough.

Defeat after defeat from the first opponent in the tournament prompted me to checking out the options menu. I knew there had to be a difficulty meter to make the game easier. After all, how can I review a game when I can’t even make it past the first stage?

Relief swept through my body upon finding the difficulty meter. I rubbed my hands together before opening the menu up. You really should have seen the look on my face when I discovered the game was set to “Very Easy.”

Rayden Wins

Remembering the respect I have for the Genesis controller, I stopped myself from hurdling it across the room. It then dawned on me that I was playing with the three-button control layout. Sure, the game plays fine with three buttons, but I have a six-button controller. I switched the settings and set off again.

With the new control scheme set, I had more luck progressing up the ladder to different opponents. Ironically, I made it the furthest playing as Rayden, even though I loathe playing as him in modern titles. Still, I fell short of even making it to the boss Kintaro. I had to watch the boss fights for him and Shao Kahn on YouTube instead.

Finish Him!

Playing Mortal Kombat II on the SEGA Genesis for the first time taught me two valuable lessons. The first is that I really do suck at video games. The second is that regardless of my ability, or lack-thereof, MKII is an amazing game and a must-have for fans of the series. Although the graphics and sound pale in comparison to its arcade and Nintendo counterparts, the gameplay and controls for the Genesis make Mortal Kombat II a worthy addition to all classic SEGA collections.

Sam Fronsman

A writer with a love for video games, both new and old. A collector of games, CDs and DVDs. Can sometimes be found behind a camera or playing guitar. The X-Men games for SEGA Genesis will always hold great memories.

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