Mortal Kombat Home Version Rankings

Introduction

I've already wasted too much time recapping my love affair with Mortal Kombat so I'll skip the history. To put it briefly, I played a lot of Mortal Kombat in the arcade and had the misfortune of working during the home version launch. Unlike Mortal Kombat II, none of the Mortal Kombat home editions were all that great. I think they all missed the mark pretty badly in one aspect or another. Still, they managed to sell mountains of copies. The Sega Genesis version was by far the top seller back in 1993. The contributing factors were a larger install base than the Super Nintendo, and of course the lack of fatalities in the Super Nintendo version. There were also portable and PC versions available, even more than a decade later a direct-to-TV version was published. Which one of these various games were really the best though? A while back I pondered the same for Mortal Kombat II, now it's time to go even further back to judge which Mortal Kombat port is the best.

Games are ranked on the following criteria:

Play Control: How close does this edition come to replicating the original controls?

Graphics: How does the game look relative to hardware capabilities?

Sound: Is the sound accurate or annoying?

Other Factors: A miscellaneous bucket for all the various irritations these ports contain.

Instead of a mundane 10 point scale I'll use the following system based on my personal ranking of the characters:

I suppose at some point I should explain why I ranked the characters in that order. Maybe I'll save that for the future..


#1 JAKKS Pacific TV Games

I've been pretty unimpressed by the plethora of direct-to-tv games I've tried. Most of them appear to be poor emulators of the original. It will never cease to amaze me how "amateur" programmers can write emulators that blow-away "professional" ones. My first impression of the JAKKS Pacific TV Games Mortal Kombat was disappointing. I thought it was basically the Genesis version. That was until I went back and played the Genesis, Super Nintendo, and Sega CD versions again. This direct-to-tv gizmo is better than all three by a healthy margin.

Play control:

This is near-perfect in terms of replicating the feel of the arcade game.

Graphics:

My understanding is that this is essentially a "Genesis on chip" but it's clearly not running the Genesis ROM. The backgrounds are more detailed, characters more colorful, and animation smoother.

Sound:

Pretty accurate conversion of the original soundtrack.

Other Factors:

The controller itself is bulky and uncomfortable after a prolonged period.


#2 MS-DOS

By today's standards the PC version of Mortal Kombat was tiny. It came on a measly three 3.5" disks. Even with an incredible compression ratio that's under 9mb total. It managed to deliver a decent conversion with that tiny footprint.

Play control:

I've never liked playing games with the keyboard but I hear others prefer it. Once I got the hang of using the keys I found this to be an accurate representation of the original.

Graphics:

Outstanding graphics and animation, easily the best of the versions reviewed here.

Sound:

Sound Blaster, Ad-lib, and good ol' speaker sound are supported. All are terrible.

Other Factors:

This isn't exactly the most accessible edition of Mortal Kombat around. Don't even bother trying it on anything past Windows 98, ran great in Virtual PC though.


#3 Sega Genesis

The Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat outsold the Super Nintendo equivalent roughly 4:1 based on my non-scientific observations.

Play control:

Very accurate control, some combos don't work but overall a good translation.

Graphics:

Pretty good job with graphics, at the time it was above-average for Genesis games.

Sound:

Just OK, the Genesis is capable of much better.

Other Factors:

Somehow they thought they were "protecting" kids by requiring a "blood code" to be entered to unlock all the gore. Yeah, the "blood code" didn't exactly require parental consent to enter. If I had a dollar for every time I had some annoying kid ask me for the code I'd be long retired.


#4 Super Nintendo

I've speculated that the team working on the Super Nintendo Mortal Kombat gave up once they learned they had to water-down their product. It's the only explanation I can fathom for why this is such a sub-par translation while its sequel was excellent.

Play control:

There's a nice delay between the time you hit a button and the time something happens on the screen, this is especially noticeable when jumping.

Graphics:

This definitely showed that the Super Nintendo could deliver much better graphics than the Genesis.

Sound:

The audio was also superior to the Genesis.

Other Factors:

Forget the lack of fatalities for a second, what about the lack of proper endings? Weak.


#5 Sega CD

The Sega CD version of Mortal Kombat wasn't part of the initial "Mortal Monday". They took a little extra time to add a grainy music video, high-quality music, and slightly updated graphics.

Play control:

Basically the same as the Genesis edition.

Graphics:

A slight upgrade over the cartridge, but not enough to bump-up the ranking.

Sound:

The background music is great, identical to the arcade.

Other Factors:

See the loading screen to the left, get used to it. If that's not bad enough the game totally freezes to load music whenever you execute a fatality. Oh it gets worse.. whenever Shang Tsung transforms you get a nice ~5-10 second delay.


#6 Sega Master System

Sometimes I think life in Brazil would be grand. Tropical weather, steady economic growth, beautiful Brazilian women, all the bananas you can eat, Sega Master System.. woah, hold-on one second.. the Sega Master System is the only game system around? Never mind.

Play control:

Once you get used to the two-button scheme it's workable.

Graphics:

The Master System could crank out some decent graphics. On average it looks better than the NES.

If they didn't try to replicate the digitized look this would have been better.

Sound:

Just average, not the best performance on the SMS.

Other Factors:

Overall this is a pretty average game. The Master System just isn't a good platform for Mortal Kombat and it shows.


#7 Game Boy

I'm sure I laughed when I heard there would be a Game Boy version of Mortal Kombat. Yeah, it's about what you'd expect yet somehow not the worst Mortal Kombat port.

Play control:

The control is awful, very slow to respond and inaccurate. I can't count how many times I saw an uppercut glide right through an opponent causing no damage.

Graphics:

I guess I could go higher on this. The detail is good but animation dreadful.

Sound:

About as good as the MS-DOS version. That's not a compliment.

Other Factors:

The whole thing that makes this game worth picking-up is the Goro code. After winning the game you can play through again as Goro which is a blast.


#8 Game Gear

And now we reach the bottom of the barrel, the Sega Game Gear version. Yeah, the Game Gear was more advanced than the Game Boy but it didn't help this game one bit. The graphics look nice when everyone is standing still but the game itself is horrible.

Play control:

I wish there was some lower ranking I could come up with. Maybe ERMAC? The control is just awful and ruins the entire game.

Graphics:

The characters look good, nice job with Goro too. However, the animation is super choppy.

Sound:

Decent enough but not really great either, just like Kano.

Other Factors:

Playing this game didn't give me cancer (that I know of), that's the best thing I can say about it.


Dishonorable Mention: Pirate Famicom Version

There are a variety of pirate Mortal Kombat games originating in China, Hong Kong, and/or Taiwan. Most of them have numbers in the title to imply they're some kind of sequel. This "review" is for "Mortal Kombat 1996" which seems to only contain characters and scenes from the original.

Play control:

Virtually unplayable, bears no resemblance to the original.

Graphics:

Bad.

Sound:

Bad.

Other Factors:

Single-player mode is darn near impossible.


Versions I Haven't Played Yet

There are a couple of other MK home versions that I haven't been able to get a hold of. If I get a chance to play these I'll add them to this list.

Amiga: I have an Amiga that can run this. If the PC version is any indication it's probably fairly good. What are the chances I find a copy at a garage sale?

Mortal Kombat Deception Kollectors Edition: This included an "arcade perfect" version of Mortal Kombat as a bonus.


Tweet