Back, back, B. That’s the command that you need to enter to perform Scorpion’s spear move – but you have to do it slowly. Forget the quick tapping that you’d expect for a beat ‘em up, this is something with which you must take your time. It’s the same for all the special moves in the game, an irritant that’s just one of the many problems found in this Game Boy port of Mortal Kombat.
Switch your system on and the first thing that you see are some logos accompanied by silence. Enjoy the peace and quiet, because soon “Midway Presents” appears on screen and the horrific noise begins. A distorted combination of scratches, whines, beeps and ringing come together to create a truly awful audio experience. Some other Game Boy games may have music that's beepy or a bit whiney, but it usually maintains a kind of charm. This, however, is just painful. There are a couple of tracks that play during the main game which are just as bad. Further scratches make up the sound effects, but the music tends to drown these out.
The character lineup is actually quite close to the arcade original, with six playable fighters. Johnny Cage is the one who didn’t make the cut, the only other omission being hidden opponent Reptile. The sprites (including the two bosses) appear quite close to their arcade counterparts. There are three stages which are simplified but recognisable, although one looks a bit messy, with pasted together elements including cloned spectators. There is an arcade-style attract mode, and waiting on the title screen will show you a winning streak table, character profiles and brief gameplay snippets. It thus seems that at some point during development, they spent a little effort to replicate the arcade experience. Try to play the game, however, and the impression is that the coding was largely handled by some kids on temp work assignments.
Character motion is a bit jerky and some movements can be slow. It’s particularly noticeable when someone is falling through the air or when a fighter uppercuts their opponent, then stops, arm raised high, almost as if they have a sponsorship deal with an antiperspirant company and are inviting the watching world to admire their sweat-free pits.
Also disappointing are the controls, which suffer from input lag. That‘s all, if you‘re lucky. At other times, button presses simply do not register and your gormless fighter just stands there waiting to be punched. Sometimes attacks connect but there is no reaction or energy deduction from the opponent. One interesting (though admittedly rare) feature is that if the characters are close, but not close enough to hit each other, striking thin air will occasionally send a passing wasp flying into the other fighter’s mouth that it then proceeds to sting, depleting some of their energy – they may even fall over in agony. These insects aren’t actually visible, but it is surely the only explanation of why you can take and receive damage without attacks actually connecting.
The original arcade version of Mortal Kombat may not have been the greatest beat ’em up, but it could still provide some entertainment, and each character’s unique special moves added variety to proceedings. However, whilst the developers included these in this port, it is impractical to use them. Assuming the game decides to register your button presses and you have inputted the commands at the correct speed, the time taken to do this gives your opponent ample time to block, avoid or jump over your attack and get in a blow of their own. You may manage to pull off a few specials for your first couple of fights, but soon you will have to switch to basic attacks and, once you do, the six characters are not all that different from one another.
After defeating the other five fighters, you have to battle your clone, three pairs (one energy bar to defeat two opponents), Goro and finally Shang Tsung. You have six credits and while Tsung is easy to defeat, the fights otherwise get steadily tougher as you progress. However, the only real challenge comes from the fact that you have to use basic punches and kicks that your fighter won’t always perform when you tell them to.
One addition to the Game Boy port is the ability (via a code) to fight as Goro. Unfortunately, you have to complete the game normally before you can hold the necessary buttons to unlock him. If you do so, the other character‘s names change and you will find yourself fighting the likes of Bob, Eric and Gary. Goro is extremely strong, removing any challenge from the game, but it is still a fun inclusion.
There’s no blood, but the controversial fatalities are present (one per main character) although they are toned down somewhat. At the time of release Nintendo frowned upon ripping people’s spines out, and so the developers have replaced the more gruesome finishing moves. Former backbone-collector Sub Zero now simply punches his opponent. Worst. Fatality. Ever. Just like the special moves, inputting the commands to perform the fatalities is an extremely difficult challenge, so you’re only likely to see them when you lose to a CPU controlled fighter.
If you are tired of fighting alone, there is a two-player versus mode available, so if you happen to know some other poor sod who owns the game you can link up and suffer together.
Unless you are an interrogator looking to experiment with audio torture, you should turn the volume dial all the way down at the first opportunity. Sadly, the other problems are not so easily solved. This port does have some good points: the look of the arcade game is captured well and playing as Goro provides a little bit of entertainment, but the few pluses are greatly overshadowed by the negatives. Input lag, difficult-to-perform special moves and a number of other problems (you can’t pause the thing!) remove any fun from the game. Game Boy Mortal Kombat is one to avoid.