Smoother gameplay, new moves and more characters than its predecessor made Mortal Kombat II a hit with arcade players. The Game Boy port of the first Mortal Kombat had been a sluggish, border-line unplayable mess with terrible music so it seems unlikely anyone would have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the second game on the system. However arrive it did and was something of a pleasant surprise.
Not all the characters made it across to the Game Boy, but there are still eight of the 12 playable characters available including fan favourites such as Liu Kang, Sub Zero and spear man Scorpion. After defeating these eight characters you must take on the mighty powerful and ridiculously dressed Shao Kahn. Along the way it is also possible to go up against two hidden characters.
The sprites are quite detailed, showing off the different fighters and their moves. Of course the Game Boy being a monochrome system means the palette-swapped characters all appear the same. As the character select screen doesn’t bother to include names this can cause some confusion. Luckily, different fighting stances help to clear things up in-game and to help further, should you be up against a similarly clad opponent, they’ll kindly change into a darker shade to avoid the embarrassing situation of being seen out brawling in the same outfit as someone else.
Character movement is smooth and the controls are responsive. Due to a lack of buttons there is only one strength of punch and kick but a wide variety of moves are available as well as each character possessing a number of special attacks. Specials are easy to perform, requiring just a few quick taps and you’ll soon find yourself mixing them with regular moves to produce some devastating combos.However, there is one area where the controls fall down: blocking.
Mortal Kombat games have always used a button for block. It’s an irritating feature, especially here. With A and B being used for attacks, blocking is performed by using the Start button (unlike most GB games, Select pauses the action). The start button is of course a little out of reach meaning you have to either fight without using it or play with your hand claw-like to allow blocking when needed. In some cases you have to adopt the latter approach as moves such as Jax’s backbreaker and many of shape-shifting Shang Tsung’s morphs require the use of block to perform. For other characters, you will switch between methods as needed, as not blocking is only really an option on the easiest difficulty setting.
Fights take place on one of two stages: The Pit II and the Kombat Tomb. The Pit is the better looking of the two; a moody night time stage featuring background scenery including clouds and a distant bridge, but whilst simplified both resemble their arcade counterparts. Should you get to fight one of the hidden characters, you will travel to a third stage: Goro’s Lair. This stage consists of a brick wall and looks a bit crap really, but overall (combined with the sprites) this port does a good job of capturing the look of the original game. For extra authenticity uppercutting your opponent sometimes causes Dan “Toasty” Forden to pop up in the corner of the screen.
Whilst blood has been removed from this port, some of the infamous finishing moves are included. Each character has one fatality move, although with the ability to change into other characters Shang Tsung has more available to him. There’s some variety on display: Liu Kang turns in to a dragon, Sub Zero freezes, then smashes his opponent and Mileena swallows them whole. As well as these fatalities it is possible to finish your foe off by upercutting them on to the ceiling spikes of the Kombat Tomb. If at the end of the fight you’re not feeling murderous you can perform a Babality, causing your opponent to turn in to a smaller nappy-wearing version of themselves.
The arcade game featured impressive sound effects, speech and atmospheric music. You may think the Game Boy couldn’t possibly replicate this and you’d be right. Whilst the music does fit the look of the game it suffers from being a little beepy. It doesn’t overly annoy and is certainly an improvement on the first game, but it’s far from the best you’ll hear from the system. Sound effects are simple but there’s quite a range of them and some such as Reptile’s Forceball and a bouncing severed head (Kitana’s fatality) work particularly well.
There’s just one ending in the game but trying to master each character will keep you occupied for a while. You can adjust the difficulty level in the options menu (3 levels) as well as choosing from 3-6 credits. Once you’ve got the hang of the game, the easy mode will not really cause you any trouble until you get to Shao Kahn, but the other two are trickier – though this is partly due to the awkwardly positioned block button. A good thing to add to a beat ‘em up is a two-player versus mode and thankfully it is included here, allowing you to decapitate a friend without the police asking awkward questions afterwards and adding lots of replayability to the game to boot.
To bring the game to the Game Boy there has (unsurprisingly) been some cutbacks, but what remains manages to keep the feel of the original and there’s much fun to be had from finding new ways to string together attacks. The music is not great, but the simple sound effects work effectively. Having to block using the start button is annoying, but the controls are otherwise excellent. Overall Mortal Kombat II is an early example of a decent portable fighter which will keep players entertained.