Thursday, September 28, 2023

Portable Mortal Kombats, Part One


That's right, today I'm going to take a look at some of the lesser-known games in the franchise, specifically portable versions of Mortal Kombat 1+2. Are any of these actually gonna be good?

Well, the box is pretty nostalgic at least. I would have snapped this up if I saw it in a store circa 1993-1997.

It's yet another of the many Game Boy games that I'm...really glad I didn't see in a store circa that timeframe.

If I had it my way I would have been swimming in T2: The Arcade Game and Mortal Kombat Game Boy ports instead of actual good games...

Goro looks pretty good in this game. Almost like early ACM graphics on Game Boy (aka that pseudo3D that'd characterize Donkey Kong Land later)


Looks like they booted Johnny Cage from this one. Why's it always Johnny Cage?? Shao Khan kills him before MK3, now he's just plain being left out of the Game Boy version because they didn't want to disrupt the equilibrium of their six-box.

For a fun game, try telling Scorpion and Sub-Zero apart on a Game Boy hardware screen. You can't, because the only way to tell is by penis (Scorpion's was lost in the fire) and we can't see that in these shots.

In the battles it's easier to tell them apart. Scorpion is lighter-colored and looks like a well-textured ninja sprite.

Sub-Zero on the other hand looks like a hologram with no light reflected off of him and no texture. Pretty terrible character model here, compared to the decent ones everyone else has.

I pick Bruce Lee and get to work.

Once the actual battles start... My God. This game runs at about 3 FPS. At a time when SNES, NES, and even sometimes Game Boy games were routinely running at 60 FPS whether they liked it or not, this seems really low. There's also a TON of input lag and sometimes commands don't even execute at all.

When attacks connect and foes fly backward, they usually disappear for a second entirely so it looks more like they're warping back rather than physically moving. This has more in common with a Tiger Electronic game than with a Game Boy game.

I quickly find that just spamming the punch button seems to work fine for doing large amounts of damage. Cause getting the special moves to work AT ALL is a pain and I can't be arsed with this. So I just get in there and pummel the attack buttons and it actually works.

Side Note: Liu Kang doesn't have a fireball animation, he just punches and the fireball flies out of the punch. Also, the fireball doesn't have its own sprite, and uses the same sprite as Sub-Zero's freeze. So Liu Kang basically punches the freeze at enemies.

The uppercut looks strong and well-animated. That's the thing, it LOOKS that way in screenshots. It's just as choppy and slow as everything else, and with the hit detection being so bad you're lucky to even land one.

Everything about this game strikes me as "focus on making it look good in screenshots for video game magazines"


Shang Tsung's throne stage doesn't have the throne, so no Old Shang Tsung watching the proceedings. Game loses quite a bit of character just from that omission. But really, the problem is the input lag and the framerate. They form a devastating cocktail of un-functional gameplay.

Rayden was my favorite MK1 character as a kid. I'm remembering now. I saw this game somewhere and hoped I'd get it, planning to play as Rayden all the way through. This never happened and despite being the character I liked the most as a kid, I don't think I've ever really actually finished any of these games with him.

The endurance rounds are the hardest part of this version, just like most versions. The game making you go through 3 of them was pretty lol. And without being able to do the special moves, it's dumb luck whether you'll get enough attacks through to move on.

The 3 FPS festivities continue through to Goro, who looks good in screenshots. No Goro's Lair? Also this is a good time to mention that the game has limited continues, unlike the SNES version, making it a lot less fun to try and beat. Good luck with Goro if you lost most of your lives on the endurance rounds!

Tsung is the final foe, as is tradition. He hovers around and morphs, and also he really wants a bride with green eyes.

Yeah, this game is barely playable. One button for punches, one button for kicks, and some creative-but-limiting workarounds (like holding down/back then kick to do a sweep instead of a roundhouse) are about as well as this game could hang in there. It's a cash grab, nothing more. Nice box though and kind of nostalgic to look at.

But wait! The next one has the potential to be decent. I believe this one got some coverage in whatever NP issue had Mega Man V (GB), and they made it look good.

More respectable roster this time. It's missing four characters from MKII but it's okay. Note how they went with as many pallet-swap ninjas as they could.

Character models look really solid, and more importantly they're well-animated. The framerate has leapt from 3 FPS to 10 FPS!

Can't wait to see how Kintaro looks.

I use my usual strategy of Fireball spam, only to find that the CPU in this is a duck-thusiast. Ducks under everything.

Let's not bury the lede though: SPECIAL ATTACKS WORK.

With the smaller roster, you have far fewer fights to get to the end.

Kitana socks me right in the face!

This game is also Super Game Boy Enhanced(tm) which means it can be played on a TV in color. Obviously it's way easier to tell characters apart in that scenario.

The CPU also blocks a lot. All in all though, this is probably the best you can do for an MK experience on Game Boy. Plays decent, looks decent, has a new engine. Later MK games on the system would actually go backwards and have shitty engines again... and I have no idea why. More on that later.

The music is taken right from the console versions of the game, just scaled-down. The special moves seem to all be here as well. I mean they did a very good job with this port.

The main way to tell Mileena and Kitana apart is that Mileena has a badonkadonk.

What that means is that she's got back, or she thicc, depending on what decade you were born in.

Sub-Zero is a real bastard, and spams freeze. Sub-Zero is now just as well-rendered as the other ninjas so I can't tell them apart. At least he doesn't look totally out of place though.

Little details like spike ceiling fatalities really up the production level of this game. Instead of feeling like a Tiger Electronic knock-off it feels like the console version (greatly pared-down but still) 

Also SPECIAL ATTACKS WORK. And have proper animations...or as much as they could anyway.

The only secret fighter as far as I can tell is Jade, who has the moves of both Mileena and Kitana.

Wait a minute...NO KINTARO? That's right, Shang Tsung gets penultimate boss status. Which kind of makes sense and good for him getting a raise.

Kahn himself is all about shoulder-charges and falls pretty easily to jump kicks.

So that happened. Good game, actually might be worth a $20 purchase in the mid-90's if you found it cheap and couldn't get the console versions. Kind of a pale imitation of console versions of this game but for a portable MK it's real respectable. Kids needed something MK-related to sneak onto the playground and the first game wasn't cutting it. 3 FPS was probably giving that game too much credit.

What's this? Game Gear Mortal Kombat??

This is basically the Master System version again in pretty much every regard, just with lower resolution. They added Johnny Cage back in, but took away Kano! I'm going to guess Johnny and Kano were the two least-popular characters in the first game. They probably kept stats on who got the most play in arcade cabinets.

My guess as to which characters were the most-played in the arcade:

7. Kano
6. Johnny Cage
5. Sonya
4. Rayden
3. Liu Kang
2. Sub-Zero
1. Scorpion

Endurance rounds. They HAD to do endurance rounds. No Kano but we got all the endurance rounds you can stomach!

Well, this...the Game Boy version, only with color. Terrible framerate, super choppy, basically Tiger Electronic level animation. It's also so similar to the Master System version that I think they might have used the same general coding for all three versions.

It looks good in screenshots but not motion, like the other versions. And uh...yeah, that's most of what these is to say about this one.

Oh yeah, this also has a blood code, like the Genesis version, so there's that.

Sub-Zero looks really good here thanks to the colors. I mean, if someone's really desperate, this might be passable. Like the Master System version.

So who wins, Game Boy or Game Gear? On this one, I'd give it to Game Gear just for not looking atrocious. They both play pretty badly though.

Goro. The difficulty here is way lower than the console versions, just like the other portables. Also Goro is short for some reason, shorter than the other characters. It's really weird.

Annnnd Shang, who is actually taller than Goro. Yeah, this game existed. Maybe the sequel will fare a bit better?

Here's MK2. The colors really pop. Looks like they have the exact same character lineup as the Game Boy version.

Kintaro is restored, so between that and the color this is looking like it might actually be a solid version of the game.

Special moves work, backgrounds are nice, and the animations aren't terrible. Seems to me that they used a new engine for both this and the Game Boy MK2 and it was a vast improvement over the engine used for the GB/GG/Master System MK1s.

The music is a significant step down from the SNES version, and lacks wind instruments.


Special moves work, but also look kind of anemic. Everything feels kind of floaty, as well. The portable MKII's may be the top of the heap for portable Kombat, but still can't hold a candle to their console counterparts.

Kintaro. He isn't bad at all due to the scaled-down difficulty of this version, but having a smaller screen area gives you less room to manuever so that's a bit of an issue.

Lastly, this guy. They did a really good job with what is, at the end of the day, an 8-bit system.

So for MKII, who wins? It's almost a tie but I'd give the edge to Game Gear again. Colors, Kintaro, and generally looking better (while playing the same) gives it the win here.

Next up: The Game Boy games fly off an absolute cliff, so tune in for that.

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