Mortal Kombat II (MK2) was released right at the start of my loser phase. For those that don't know me (which is basically everyone reading this) this was a period from 1992 to 1996 when I was a certified junior college dropout working at an Electronics Boutique. Needless to say I had a lot of spare time to blow at the local arcade, and a lot of that time was spent perfecting MK2. I'm not going to claim I was unbeatable, but I always managed to play for an absurdly long time on a single credit. MK2 was the pinnacle of fighting games at the time, it was the last great 2D fighting game. It had a wide selection of characters each with their own array of moves and combos. They lacked the balance found in the original MK where all the fighters were pretty much equal for a skilled player. This caused players to actually weigh their selection carefully based on their opponent. Even the Street Fighter series, where 2-4 characters where considerably better than the rest, missed this element. A while later MK3 was released but I never got into it. The first time I watched it in action I saw someone hit an arbitrary button sequence which caused his character to break out into a frenzy of moves. A little message appeared that said something like "combo +5". I thought "gee, it's not really a combo if the game did all work" and I never looked at MK3 again. When the later sequels came out there was no longer a local arcade nor the time to play them.
Anyway, back to MK2.. Being an arcade smash there were several home versions made. At the ol' Electronics Boutique we sold a ton of them. Maybe I even sold you a copy. All the time customers would ask "hey dude, what's the best home version of MK2?" I'd usually recommend the Super Nintendo version without thinking about it too much. It was much better than the Sega Genesis version but shoppers were rightly skeptical after the debacle with the original game. Despite the expanses of free time I had back then I never got around to trying the different versions to see how they checked out. So roughly 11 years after their initial release, I decided to take a step back in time and try them all again with the intention of ranking them from best to worst.
Games are ranked on the following criteria:
Play control: This is considered the most important factor. The port should play like the original arcade game with working combos and whatnot.
Graphics: It's unrealistic to expect the home versions to look exactly like the arcade but it should be as close as the hardware supports.
Sound: The same goes for the sound effects, music, and voices.
Extras: Was anything extra added to the home version?Instead of a boring 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 Sega 32X
Although I don't have a single statistic to back this statement up, it's safe to say this is the least played port of MK2. The 32X was never a big seller and MK2 was released well after its brief heyday. I had a 32X when it was new and but didn't buy a copy until 2004. That's unfortunate because this was a great home translation.
Play control:Strictly from a play control standpoint this is the closest to the arcade version. Everything about it just feels right. The moves, combos, and finishers work exactly as expected.
Graphics:The additional colors of the 32X really pay off here, especially when compared to the Genesis version. The characters are shorter than the arcade version but look very detailed.
Sound:The soundtrack is close to the original.
There's adjustable difficulty and support for that goofy Activator gizmo.
#2 Super Nintendo
The Super Nintendo version of the original Mortal Kombat was technically superior to the Sega Genesis one. However, the play control was off and, as we all know, it was missing the blood and some fatalities. These two factors caused the Genesis version to hugely outsell the Super Nintendo one. This was remedied with the release of MK2. The Super Nintendo version was better than the Genesis one in every measurable way. Nintendo conceded and allowed all the gore to be included as well. The result was the Super Nintendo version of MK2 being the clear winner among 16-bit platforms, both in quality and in sales.
The play control is very close to the arcade, the differences are hard to notice. The timing of some combos are slightly different but nothing major. I found that Kintaro and Shao Khan are easier to beat in this version than the original as well.
The characters and animation look great on this version.
Very solid port of the soundtrack to the Super Nintendo.
This version has one of the coolest features of any fighting game, an 8-man elimination match (also called "tournament mode"). I guess this is kinda ripped off from King of Fighters but whatever. I spent hours playing friends in this mode, it was even more fun than playing at the arcade. In addition to that it has adjustable difficultly, configurable controllers, and a host of cheat codes.
#3 Midway Arcade Treasures 2 for Nintendo Gamecube
Unlike the others on this list, this appears to be an emulated version of the arcade game. What gets me is that MAME does a much better job emulating this game. It's amazing how MAME developers, working for free, can outdo the presumably highly paid crew at Midway. The biggest flaw with this version is that it appears to be high on speed. It runs faster than the arcade and is a bit jerky. You're given about ten milliseconds to execute a fatality, that's if you can even wrestle it out of the Gamecube controller..
The Gamecube controller is just not right for this type of game. This isn't Midway's fault of course, they did what they could by allowing the player to customize the buttons. It doesn't really matter though. Combos and fatalities are almost impossible. Moves such as Kitana's fan, Sub-Zero/Reptile's slide, and the acid fatality simply can not be executed. Both the analog and digital pads are equally miserable to work with. I would rank this lower than Reptile but I'm going out on a limb that if you could find an arcade style joystick for the Gamecube it would play better.
The graphics are absolutely perfect if everything is standing still. The animation is occasionally jumpy and the shadows have a habit of flickering. It looks like this is due to the emulation running too fast.
The sound emulation is spot on perfect.
All the settings from the arcade DIP switches are available. There's a much-needed menu to configure the controller. It includes some promotional material from the original arcade release; a scan of the pamphlet that went to arcades and a grainy video, nothing to write home about. High scores are also saved.
#4 Sega Genesis
As consoles go, I favor the Genesis over the technically superior Super Nintendo. Sega used to run commercials that "demonstrated" the technical "advantage" of the Genesis by "running" Sonic the Hedgehog on a Super Nintendo. Nobody bought it. MK2 is a fine example of how the Super Nintendo was a technically superior console to the Genesis. They both run at the same speed and the play control is comparable. However, the Genesis clearly lacks the color depth of the Super Nintendo. If you compare them side-by-side you'll see how bland the Genesis version looks. This is still a good translation, but owners of both systems would have been well-advised to purchase the Super Nintendo edition.
The control is very good, not perfect but close. The length of the jumps seems to be off just a little bit.
The color palette of the Genesis is pretty much maxed-out here and gives the entire game a dull appearance. It lacks the detail found in the Super Nintendo version but is still quite good for a Genesis cart.
The Genesis had an impressive sound chip so it was able to respectably imitate the original.
There's adjustable difficulty and support for that goofy Activator gizmo.
#5 Sega Saturn
I'm completely puzzled why the Saturn version of this game turned out so bad. Other fighters worked great on it but somehow they butchered Mortal Kombat II. It looks like a Saturn game but plays like a Sega CD game due to horrible load time issues.
The first time a character does a special move in a fight the game pauses for 1-2 seconds to load the animation. Same for Shang Tsung's transformations and all the finishing moves. It seriously breaks-up the cadence of the game and is terribly annoying.
This version looks really great, practically a clone of the arcade in that regard.
The music is fine but some sound effects are off.
Although this came out later than previous installments, it doesn't really offer anything new. It's got the standard stuff like adjustable difficulty and custom controller configurations.
#6 Sega Game Gear
The Sega Game Gear was essentially the same hardware as the Sega Master System. Their versions of MK2 are logically quite similar. The screen sizes are cropped differently to account for different resolutions. The sound is virtually identical. The Game Gear gets the nudge over the Master System because it looks so much brighter and plays a tad better (due to having an extra button to work with).
It takes a while to learn how to execute moves with only two attack buttons (i.e. D+kick for a leg sweep). The start button serves as block but on an actual Game Gear is awkward to use.
The characters look fairly good, they're bright and colorful. Plus they're almost the same relative height as the arcade version. On the downside, the backgrounds are cropped along the top.
Sound:The soundtrack is pretty scratchy and experiences some brief pauses at times.
Three levels of difficultly to choose from.
#7 Sega Master System
The Sega Master System had a long shelf-life in Europe and an even longer one in Brazil. It was popular enough in these markets that it outlasted the NES by several years. It even survived long enough in Brazil to get a port of MK3 released. Unfortunately, 8-bit consoles just aren't able to handle games like the MK series. If they didn't try to replicate the look and feel of the original they might have been able to pull-off a decent fighting game. Instead they tried too hard to duplicate the arcade experience on a platform that just couldn't handle it.
It was very difficult to rank this above the Gameboy version because the control makes this edition almost unplayable. To compound matters, the Sega Master System only has a two-button controller. No start or select button either, just one more button than a 2600. This means the only way to block is to hold punch+kick together. Needless to say this makes the game play difficult. Even with a third button this would still play badly though.
They did about the best they could with the colors available. The backgrounds consist of roughly 2-4 colors with the characters taking up the rest. The animation is pretty bad though. When you jump it looks like there are no frames between the "standing" and the "fully in the air" animations. Uppercuts and leg sweeps have the same problem.
The Sega Master System had some decent sound capabilities, see Phantasy Star, Outrun, or Ys for example. The MK2 soundtrack is identical to the scratchy Game Gear version. They could have done better in this category.
Three levels of difficultly to choose from.
#8 Nintendo Gameboy
The Game Boy was, and still is in some form, the most popular handheld system. Naturally they had to release MK2 for it, the potential market was just too large to ignore. Of course the resulting product resembles MK2 in name only. I can't be too critical about this version. It accomplished what it set out to do, offer Game Boy owners some version of MK2. No one could reasonably expect a great translation of MK2 to this platform so there's not much to be disappointed about.
Unlike the other versions this makes no apparent attempt to copy the arcade feel. That actually helps this game a little. This platform couldn't replicate the original controls so why make a bad game in a vain attempt to do so?
Hey it's a Gameboy. there's not much to work with. The backgrounds look reasonably good but the animation is awful and fatalities comical.
By Gameboy standards the sound is alright.
The original MK on Game Boy had a feature to play as Goro. That alone make the game worth buying. No such luck for MK2 which doesn't have anything extra other than adjustable difficulty.
Versions I Haven't Played Yet
There are a couple of other MK2 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: The only decent info I could find about this version is on MobyGames and this review. I actually have an Amiga that meets the bare system requirements so I might have to scan for this one on eBay
PC: This is just a matter of being too lazy to try and make this run under Virtual PC.
When MK2 was new there were tons of weird animality rumors floating around the arcades. Kids would be talking about how they saw Sub-Zero transform into a polar bear and eat his opponent. It sounded so incredibly stupid that I never believed it. Of course I thought the same about the Babalities too. These animality rumors proved to be false in time. For some reason they decided to include this rather silly -ality into MK3 (yet another reason why I never liked that game).
At the Electronics Boutique we'd have kids ask "Do you have a magazine that lists all the animalities for MK2?" We'd reply "no that's just a stupid rumor" and they'd then explain how they saw them in the arcade and we didn't know what we were talking about. We decided to have some fun with this. At the arcades we'd target gullible-looking players and tell them about the secret "Fruit-and-Vegetabalities". These were secret finishing moves where you'd turn your opponent into a fruit or vegetable. For example, Sub-Zero would turn his opponent into a bag of frozen peas, Scorpion would turn his into a banana and so on. We made them almost impossible to execute. First, you had to win using only special moves. Try this with Sub-Zero where sliding is his only damage-causing special move. Then we created insane button sequences; not too crazy that they weren't believable but crazy enough that they were difficult to pull-off. It took just under a week for kids to come rushing into Electronics Boutique, adamant that they saw a "Fruit-and-Vegetabality" in action. We'd mockingly explain that we made the whole thing up to see how long before some moron came to the store to try and find the codes. The funny part is that they didn't believe us, they were 100% convinced that the "Fruit-and-Vegetabalities" were real and we were either liars or wrong. People are dumb.