Jeff Greeson - February 24, 2005
Teleport ahead 12 years to today and technology has surpassed itself in so many iterations. Mortal Kombat is now considered an arcade classic. It only seems like yesterday that I was sitting in front of that Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet at the local Putt-Putt, feeding it hundreds of tokens. But alas the arcades are now ruled by simulation games and the newest Mortal Kombats are being released on next-generation game consoles. But the arcade experience is not gone, it has just evolved. Several arcade games have made a comeback and in a form factor that appeals to everyone, including non-gamers. Thanks to technological advancements, you no longer need to own a $150-$300 game console or a $500 PC to play some of the greatest arcade games of our times. Games are now coming on their own full featured $20 controller that contains its own sound and video processor. The only thing you need is a television with a set of RCA input jacks. Initially the games that were using this technology were basic like Ms. Pac-Man and Pole Position. But now, the games are becoming more ambitious, like NHL and Madden EA Sports games. Thanks to Jakks Pacific and Midway, the granddaddy of all arcade games, Mortal Kombat, has now made it to this unique platform.
First off the Mortal Kombat TV Games packaging is very slick. It will retail for $19.99 to $24.99 at pretty much anywhere that sells electronics and videogames in March 2005. The controller is the central focal point and the box just exudes that this is a quality product, not some rinky-dink piece of plastic. As you can see from the comparison shots with the PlayStation 2 controller that the unit is actually pretty small considering what all it does.
Inside of the box contains the extremely cool designed controller with 8 feet of cable attached to a set of audio and video plugs. The original arcade Mortal Kombat only featured mono audio, so missing the right channel plug does not detract from the authenticity. Also included in the box are a warranty card, setup guide, and the game's manual which contains the entire move list for each character, including fatalities. Finally, there is a 6 foot 2-player link cable included with each end labeled P1 and P2.
On the back of the controller there is a green port labeled "Multi Player Input" where you connect the P1 side of the link cable to the controller that is plugged into your TV or VCR, and the P2 side into the second controller. Both controllers need to be on in order to play, but just one controller will to be connected to the TV as the P2 controller simply acts as a second input to the primary controller. MKTVGames takes 4 'AA' batteries, which are not included. We spoke with Jakks Pacific and were told that a typical session would last 4-6 hours on fresh batteries. An AC adapter is in the works at Jakks; although, MKTVGames does not feature an AC port. Personally, I don't think that the game needs it, but it could save a few bucks on batteries especially if you are just going to use it at home. More on this later.
Setting up the controller was a no-brainer. First you have to unscrew the battery door on the unit to install the 'AA' batteries. Once that is done, there is a small plastic tab that needs to be removed in order for the game's internal battery to make contact. This battery will keep your high scores saved when you turn off the unit. Finally, you just plug the controller inputs into the front inputs of your TV. Luckily our TV does feature front inputs; however, we did try to connect the unit through a VCR as most VCRs have front inputs. It may take a few minutes to set your VCR to the right inputs and there are some generic instructions on connecting the unit to your VCR featured in the setup guide.
Flip the switch on, and in a few seconds you're greeted with the game's title screen. From this first screen you can immediately tell that this version of Mortal Kombat is not going to be exactly like the arcade version. Pressing any button does start the game for you, even though the Start button is there. The entire Mortal Kombat roster of seven is there from the arcade.
Since so many of you in our forums have pointed out the flaws in the MK: Deception bonus disc version of Mortal Kombat, we will first go over what is different in this version of Mortal Kombat. First off, the most noticeable difference is the game's music. MKTVGames' music sounds like a midi played off of an old 16-bit SoundBlaster. All of the notes are correct; it just has a few wavetable instruments missing and it is quite noticeable. The arcade's Mortal Kombat music wasn't exactly CD quality either, but it was definitely more robust than the MKTVGames' version.
The next biggest difference is the game's backgrounds. The arcade version featured backgrounds that had 4-5 levels of parallax scrolling. MKTVGames' backgrounds are flat and are also shortened, illustrated by this comparison to a screenshot from MAME. In the Courtyard level, the monks in the background are not animated nor do they clap at the end of the round, although the clapping sound is there. Check out this video to see what we're talking about. Silhouettes do move in front of the moon on The Pit stage; however, the silhouettes sometimes will cross in front the pit bridge because of the lack of layering of the background. Also when you knock your opponent to the bottom of the pit, they rest in front of the spikes also because of this layering issue.
Next issue is the game's character shadows. The Deception bonus disc version featured tons of glitches with respect to character shadows, and people noticed. MKTVGames solves this by not even including character shadows, which is probably for the better as the shadows in the Deception bonus disc were somewhat distracting.
And finally, one of the most glaring differences is in a one-second pause in between characters in the Endurance Battles. When you defeat the first character in an Endurance Match, the second character immediately jumps on the screen and stands there for about half a second, allowing you to either spear or freeze them before the game literally pauses for a second with a "Loading…" message across the screen. Check out our video illustrating this situation.
What are the reasons for these differences? We spoke with Jakks Pacific's Mortal Kombat TV Games Executive Producer Petro Piaseckyj and Producer Josh Miller. They both told us that many of the decisions made to cut certain features of the original were because of SRAM (scratch ram) and ROM limitations of the game's hardware. Petro explained that they had to make decisions on what needed to stay and what needed to be cut in order to keep the game within the hardware's limitations and keep the game at its $20 price point. A decision was almost made to cut a character in order to keep a few features, but in the end they decided to flatten and narrow the backgrounds to save ROM space. Personally, I think they made the right decision. I'm sure that fans can deal with the scrolling issue, but I'm not sure that they could have dealt with a roster of six characters instead of seven, especially if it turned out that their favorite character was cut.
The loading issue was explained as a side-effect of the game's SRAM (scratch ram) limitation. The development team could load either the character sprites or their moves set, but not both. They decided that having the second character quickly jump on the screen after the first one was defeated and pausing was more acceptable than pausing the game right after the first character was defeated. The fact that you are able to hit the character before the loading screen is actually more accurate to the arcade version as you did have a slight time advantage as the second character jumped on the screen, albeit not as long as the MKTVGames version. The length of the pause was a lot longer in previous revisions of the game, Jakks explained. The fact that it is now down to one-second is attributed to the hard work put in by Digital Eclipse's designer and programmer Chris Burke.
Aside from all of the differences, Mortal Kombat TV Games has a lot going for it in the good column. The first good thing is that the character sprites fill almost half of the entire screen. When it comes down to the overall look of the game, the larger the character sprites are, the more substantial the game feels, and MKTVGames exudes substance.
Although the music deficiencies are noticeable, the game's digitized sounds and voices are actually very good. They're a little muffled, but are definitely less noticeable than the game's music. Most of the game's sounds made the ROM space savings cut, including the sounds of bones hitting the ground when your opponent is burnt to a crisp. The only noticeable omission is the pounding noise when Goro picks his opponent up and beats on them, which makes for a very odd visual.
When we first saw the loading pause in the endurance rounds, we were immediately expecting a very poor experience with Shang Tsung as he morphed into each character; however, we were pleasantly surprised to see that the battle with Shang Tsung had no pause or lag what so ever between character morphs. And in defeating Shang Tsung, there was no lag when the characters were leaving his body and exploding.
For those who insist that Reptile is not in the Deception bonus disc version of Mortal Kombat, Reptile is definitely in Mortal Kombat TV Games. Reptile is featured on the product's packaging and in the manual. Also, Reptile does in fact jump down and give you clues on how to find him.
Lastly and probably the most important feature MKTVGames has going for it, is the game's controls. MKTVGames is so close to the arcade's gameplay that we even dare to say that this is the BEST playing port of Mortal Kombat ever created. The controls are so spot on to the original arcade game's that scorpion's jumpkick spear combo and Sonya's jumpkick leg grab timing is dead perfect. The controller's block button in the center of all of the attack buttons is unseen before on console controllers and it is a welcomed addition, although performing Sub-Zero's slide and Sonya's leg grab is somewhat a challenge in the beginning to perform with one thumb. (One minor quirk, Sub-Zero's slide is performed without holding back on the directional pad. If you do, it will not work, which is different from the arcade, although Sonya's leg grab is performed with the down directional.) The game's directional pad is one of the best, most responsive, we have ever used. Each direction is very well defined and features the right amount of stiffness, allowing for very precise movements. The only negative we can find about it is the raised ridges and the MK dragon symbol on the d-pad tends to wear on your thumb after a while. The controller itself seems well balanced even though the controller holds a hefty 4 ''AA'' batteries in its bottom compartment.
Once you get past the differences and limitations of Mortal Kombat TV Games, you come to realize that this game is extremely fun to play. The trade-offs made are somewhat hard to notice, unless you're a diehard fan or you read this review, but are easily forgotten. Not a single trade-off was made in how the game controls and we think that this is an extremely important point. Mortal Kombat fans have always considered an arcade perfect Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II to be the Holy Grail for some. What is great about Mortal Kombat TV Games is that it is the closest version of Mortal Kombat to date to reach that lofty goal of arcade perfection. Combine the game's perfect gameplay with the benefits of its portability; Mortal Kombat TV Games is an unbelievable value at $19.99. Because the game is fully contained and runs on batteries, the possibilities are endless. Can you image being a kid again, sitting in the back of the SUV with the drop down video screen, and being able to play Mortal Kombat all the way to grandma's house without needing to lug your PS2 or Xbox with you and finding a way to plug it into the cigarette lighter? What a difference 12 years makes. Mortal Kombat TV Games brought out the kid in us and brought back memories of the heyday of the arcades. Are your memories and nostalgia worth $20? Absolutely! Mortal Kombat TVGames is an unbelievable value and provides an overall enjoyable experience.
Score: 8.5 out of 10
By: Jeff Greeson
Last Modified: February 24, 2005
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