Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Missed Potential #1: Mortal Kombat II for Gameboy

"So Evil. So Deadly."
Today I whipped out my Gameboy Color, and after stealing the batteries out of my trusty Gameboy Advance, I was ready to party like it was 1989 (through about 2001). I suppose I could have used an emulator, but emulation is for suckas and Japan only releases. But mostly suckas.

Thanks to both my packrat nature and a two-for-one original Gameboy sale at Electronics Boutique about seven years ago, I could survive for months after a nuclear war by eating nothing but Gamboy cartridges. So out of all those choices, including titles from the Dragon Warrior/Quest series, Super Mario Deluxe and four out of five of the GB-exclusive Mega Man games, what did I choose to play?

If you said a crappy port of Mortal Kombat II, you win a cookie!*


The Gameboy version of Mortal Kombat II offers players a staggering eight characters and one boss, compared to the 12 fighters and two bosses found in the arcade version. Yeah, I know the Gameboy is a lesser system than the other 97 consoles/toasters on which MKII showed up, but I’m pretty sure the programmers were taking advantage of the fact the players generally don’t expect much out of Gameboy software. This is pure laziness; a cash-in on the mighty Mortal Kombat franchise. Don’t tell me there wasn’t enough space on the cartridge to hold the likes of Kung Lao, Baraka, Raiden and Johnny Cage; the fact that Mortal Kombat II was also released as a “kombo pak” in the same ROM with the first game dispels any doubt. I’m pretty sure the programmers thought that if one could buy a nearly complete version of MKII for about half as much as the SNES and Genesis/Mega Drive versions, some players would just stick with the cheaper option.

Can you tell the difference between these ninjas? Neither can I!

So who are were left with? Virtually indistinguishable versions of Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Reptile, skank sisters Katana and Meleena, and three other dudes who actually use their own sprites. The original version of MKII was skating on thin ice with its reliance on clone characters, but the Gameboy version looks like some kind of bizarre ninja jamboree that Jax, Liu Kang and Shang Tsung snuck into so they could meet some chicks. Consider this: Every time your boot up MKII for the Gameboy, statistically, there’s more than a 50 percent chance that you will be playing as a palette swapped clone. And 50 is a LOT of percents.

There are three backgrounds, but unless you meet up with a secret character, you’ll only ever see two: The Pit and the Kombat Tomb. Who are these secret characters you say? Why, it’s Jade and Smoke, more ninjas! Yaay!

No, Kang's not doing a super move; my camera just sucks.

So I’m saying that this game sucks, right? Well, not quite. The Gameboy does an impressive job of cramming most mortal moves into a two-button scheme, with the Start button substituting for the all important block, just like in the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive version. There’s no high punch, low kick or ducking punch, but everything else – including the ever-infuriating, rinse and repeat foot sweep and the trademark MK uppercut – are present and accounted for. The moves are all easy to execute, with the exception of, oddly enough, jumping toward your opponent.

Whenever I load up MKII on the Gameboy, I feel like I’m playing a pretty good beta of a game that’s going to be released in the next four months or so; it’s a great start, but it could have been so much more. The missing characters are too many, the backgrounds are too few, and would it have been too much to ask to have mapped high punch to back and punch like on the Genesis?

No. But it would have taken more time and effort to complete, and God forbid anyone put time and effort into a Gameboy title.

What we’re left with is an almost competent fighter, which was sorely lacking on Nintendo’s premiere portable. With a few tweaks, Mortal Kombat II’s little monochrome brother could have delivered a rim rockin’ headshot to the on-the-go gaming market. But instead all it heaped upon mini Mortal fans was a bloody bucket of missed potential.

I wanted to record myself playing Mortal Kombat II for the Gameboy, but that required me to hold the camera with one hand and fight with the other. All I could reach was the low punch button. EXCITEMENT!

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