In case you’ve been wondering, yes, I am in fact still alive and yes, I’m still posting updates at the Labs. This is going to be a smaller one, a bit of a bonus thing to tide you over while you wait for my hard-hitting analysis of Mortal Kombat X (which will be coming sometime before the heat death of the universe, probably).
As some of the more astute readers may have realized by now, in this extra installment of MK Retrospektive I’ll be taking a look at the handheld versions of the various Mortal Kombat games. I admit up front that I have not played all of these, so I won’t be going into as much depth as I usually do. The main focus is going to be on the first couple of Game Boy and Game Gear versions, but we’ll be taking a look at every handheld MK game to date. Be forewarned, some of these will not be pretty.
The home console versions of the original Mortal Kombat were released on September 13, 1993, commonly called “Mortal Monday” (in the US, anyway — we filthy Euros got to wait a bit longer). Acclaim spent millions on promoting these releases, and while the focus obviously was on the 16-bit console versions, the SNES and Genesis versions weren’t the only MK ports released on Mortal Monday. Nintendo’s Game Boy was hugely popular at the time and Sega’s Game Gear also had a decent following, so Acclaim obviously figured that they might as well try to squeeze some cash out of the handheld gaming audience. The Game Boy and Game Gear conversions were developed by Probe Software in the UK, who also did the Genesis, Sega CD and Amiga versions as well as the later Master System port. (also, this has nothing to do with anything, but the PC DOS version was developed by a company called Ultratech. Thanks a bunch ARIA, that version was really good)
Now, let’s face it: the 16-bit consoles were far less powerful than the original arcade hardware and couldn’t really recreate the visuals and audio which were so important for the original Mortal Kombat, so how in the blue hell would this game work on an 8-bit handheld system that has only two buttons? Well, the short answer to that is “poorly”. The long answer would be “extremely poorly”. Graphics and sound are one thing (although the Game Boy version does feature some nice chiptunes), but the main issue with these ports is the fact the controls suffer from horrific input lag (we’re talking seconds) and poor frame rate, making the game almost unplayable. The Game Boy version also has the slight issue where it can be difficult to tell which ninja is yours.
Both versions omit one of the main characters (Cage on Game Boy and Kano on Game Gear) as well as Reptile, although the Game Boy port is somewhat notable for being the only version of MK1 that lets you play as Goro. Naturally, there’s no blood on the Game Boy, but the Game Gear does feature the blood code for all your blocky red pixel needs.
Acclaim, being Acclaim, wasn’t even slightly concerned about the fact the portable MK1 ports were utterly hideous. They apparently sold quite well thanks to the brand recognition, so when the home versions of Mortal Kombat II rolled around, Game Boy and Game Gear were getting their own ports again, with Probe at the helm once more. Both portable versions cut the playable roster down to eight characters (Kung Lao, Johnny Cage, Baraka and Raiden are omitted) and Noob Saibot is missing, as is Kintaro from the GB version.
Surprisingly, the Game Boy version is actually quite decent. The graphics still aren’t great and the animation still lacks frames (and of course, the lack of color is a problem), but the controls are far better than the MK1 port. It’s actually playable now, and I was even able to pull off things such as dodging Kitana’s fan throw with Mileena’s teleport kick quite reliably.
MKII on Game Boy is a perfectly acceptable handheld version of one of my favorite games, and had I owned it back in the day I’d have spent all my days at school playing it. MK and MKII were later released on a single Game Boy cartridge, imaginatively titled Mortal Kombat & Mortal Kombat II. This release appears to be something of a collector’s item nowadays.
I haven’t played the Game Gear version so I can’t really speak of its quality, but from what I’ve seen it appears to be a slow, sluggish mess with entirely too large character sprites and about three frames of animation. The Master System version is the same game, albeit with a less cramped screen.
Mortal Kombat 3 was once again ported to the Game Boy and Game Gear, although the Game Gear version was only released in Europe and is now rare and expensive and entirely not worth the outrageous prices on online auctions. Probe, who had done a good job with the MKII port on Game Boy, was not hired for these ports (being too busy working on quality projects such as Batman Forever and Judge Dredd) and fellow UK studio Software Creations were given the reins. Software Creations, of course, initially made a name for themselves with quality ports of arcade games for the Commodore 64 in the 80s, although by this point they were better known for developing a bunch of lackluster licensed games (later, they’d earn my eternal hatred by making the staggeringly awful Carmageddon 64).
So, how do these versions measure up? Not particularly well, I’m afraid. While I haven’t tried the Game Gear version, MK3 on Game Boy is far worse than the MKII port and not worth bothering with. The engine would be reused for the Game Boy Color port of MK4 later.
Ultimate MK3 did not get a portable version until some years later (and it would take even longer for a decent portable version to appear), but Mortal Kombat Trilogy actually did get a handheld port shortly after its initial release. This one wasn’t on the Game Boy or Game Gear, though…
For those of you who have managed to remain blissfully ignorant of the game.com, allow me to ruin everything. The game.com (pronounced “game com”) was an attempt by Tiger Electronics (known for making many, many bad LCD handheld games throughout the 80s and 90s, including some Mortal Kombat ones) to compete directly with the Game Boy with their own cartridge-based handheld that had touchscreen and internet capabilities and all that jazz. Tiger secured licenses for several popular game properties including Resident Evil, Sonic the Hedgehog, Duke Nukem and, of course, Mortal Kombat. All game.com games were programmed in-house at Tiger. All game.com games were also extremely bad, including Mortal Kombat Trilogy.
The graphics are nice enough for an old handheld version (at least in screenshots, where you can’t see the janky animation), but from everything I’ve gathered, that’s about the only good thing about this port. Even if it were okay, that wouldn’t matter because you can’t see shit on the game.com’s screen. The above screenshot is from a Youtube video where some poor bastard plays the game on an emulator, but if you were to play it on an actual game.com the experience would look more like this:
Naturally, the game.com failed miserably. Tiger attempted to salvage things with a revised model that was smaller and had a (slightly) better screen, but to no avail.
Now that we’re firmly in the trainwreck portion of this retrospective, let’s continue with the Mortal Kombat 4 port I mentioned earlier!
This Game Boy Color release uses the engine from (and plays just as bad as) the Game Boy version of MK3, but somehow manages to look even worse (I spent some time trying to find a screenshot that looked halfway presentable, but gave up because it wasn’t happening). The huge selling point — insert the world’s biggest air quotes — of this version were the FMV Fatalities, which would show clips of the fatalities from the arcade version. Well, in theory anyway.
I think that’s supposed to be Sub-Zero doing the spine rip. Might also be literally anything else, like two bears high-fiving or a drug-induced hallucination. Suffice to say, this port didn’t fare too well. Neither did Mortal Kombat Advance, released just in time for the Game Boy Advance’s launch in 2001 and, as we’ve mentioned in an earlier article, being so terrible EGM had to revise their scoring system to accommodate a low enough score.
When Mortal Kombat was brought back from the dead in 2002 with Deadly Alliance, the console versions were accompanied by a Game Boy Advance port that retains the 3D style gameplay but uses sprite graphics for everything. Two Game Boy Advance ports, actually; one bearing the Deadly Alliance name and another called Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition. The latter is somewhat notable for being the first and only MK game not to include Sub-Zero at all (since he’s in the other version). It’s also the first one where Sareena is a playable character, but that’s not exactly notable.
I haven’t played either of these, but the gist of things is that they are basically two halves of one game, with each having a different cast of characters. The fighting styles from the main console versions are retained, and you can still unlock things in the Krypt. At any rate, they seem to be a lot better than the previous attempt on GBA.
I’ve already talked about Mortal Kombat: Unchained in the Deception retrospective, but let’s go over it once more: this is a very good PSP port of the console game and worth looking at if you like Deception. All the content is there, and even some extra characters are included. The graphics can look a bit crummy at points (check out the screenshot below) and it doesn’t run quite as smoothly as the console versions, but for the PSP it’s a good effort.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 finally got a respectable handheld version in 2007, when it showed up on the Nintendo DS. This version, simply titled Ultimate Mortal Kombat, was meant to include MKII, MK3 and Puzzle Kombat from Deception, but MKII didn’t make the cut and MK3 was (wisely) replaced with UMK3.
The visuals aren’t quite as crisp as the arcade version, but aside from that UMK is a very faithful port of the classic game. Puzzle Kombat is also pretty much unchanged from its initial appearance, and both modes use the second DS screen as well.
Finally, there’s the PS Vita version of 2011’s Mortal Kombat. I covered this one in the MK2011 article, and everything I said there still applies. While the graphics have taken an obvious hit (which is even more obvious if you’re looking at screenshots), the gameplay is exactly as it is in the console and PC versions and there’s some bonus content as well. An extremely solid port of a fine game.
Whew! That’s about it for Mortal Kombat on handhelds. There is also the iOS version of UMK3 and the Midway Arcade Treasures emulations on PSP, but I didn’t consider those notable enough to warrant a closer look. Well, the game.com isn’t notable either, but at least it’s amusing because it’s so awful.
I have no idea when I’ll be doing the Mortal Kombat X article, because I’ve got some other plans for the time being. MKX is still a fairly new game and is getting patches and content updates, so it might take a while before I tackle that one.