Inventories: Mortal Kombat Klones
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When the original Mortal Kombat released in 1992, it proved to be a massive success that gave a very different alternative to current fighting game king Street Fighter II. Of course, however, it's a law that almost any game that proves to be that popular will spawn imitators, very few of which would ever receive the acclaim MK ever did. In the case of more blatant imitations, this isn't much of a loss, but every so often, you'll see the sort of game that has a lot of genuine love and effort put into it, and yet never quite achieves greatness. Overall, though, games like these cover the entire spectrum of quality, from barely controllable drek like Battle Wrath to hidden gems like the Jackie Chan fighters.
A good rule of thumb to follow, however, is that the more they're willing to break away from the mold established by Mortal Kombat and take more after the Japanese end of fighters, the better they tend to age. A lot of the awkwardness can be forgiven by the fact that so many of these games were made before the conventions of the fighting game genre were really settled, which let developers really go wild with ideas and mechanics that wouldn't fly today. On top of that, a lot of these games were made more by fans of the genre than people who had experience with them, especially where productions of computers of the time were involved. Games that came out on the computers of the time tended to have the worst of it, especially since they had direct ports of games like Mortal Kombat to compare themselves to.
Some games make their inspiration less obvious than others, but most of these games tend to share at least one of three things. They'll often have digitized graphics, using real actors to play the various characters, although you'll find plenty of exceptions using traditional pixel art or computer rendered graphics. When it comes to the digitized stuff, however, you'll often never find that high of a budget. Costume quality varies greatly, and it's no guarantee that the fighters on screen will even be played by actual martial artists, as opposed to say, friends of the developers.
Games like these tend to have a focus on extreme violence, with buckets of blood bursting out of opponents with even the smallest impacts, although this isn't a guarantee. More than anything, though, games like these tend to be remembered and judged by the quality of their finishing moves. Games like Primal Rage, which let you defeat an opponent by urinating acid on them, tend to get a lot more buzz than a game like Pray for Death, which won't even give you so much as a basic decapitation. Some games seem to advertise themselves on just how many finishers they can fit, as opposed to things like gameplay.
Finally, games like these love their secrets and easter eggs, being from an era where people depended on magazines to find all the hidden moves and hidden surprises. Mortal Kombat was the first fighting game to offer a secret character, and so every MK imitator did their best to follow along. Games like Bloodstorm had literally dozens of secrets, offering everything from insulting your opponent with hidden codes to a multitude of obscure conditions to fulfill to fight secret challengers. All these hidden surprises tended to give these games a very irreverent, goofy feel to them. Sure, you might have a game that, by all appearances, tries to give itself a gritty look and a serious plotline, but that doesn't mean you can't force characters to perform goofy dances.
Time Killers - Arcade, Genesis (1992)
As quite possibly the very first of the many Mortal Kombat clones that followed, Time Killers has some unique ideas, even if it's still not actually all that good. It has a peculiar gimmick where enough hits on a character will chop their arms off, which forces them to fight with only kicks and headbutts. Because of this, gameplay usually descends into smashing the buttons as hard as you can to try and remove as many appendages as possible. It's still fast enough that there's some fun to be had, as long as you don't mind that matches can basically be decided with one good hit. Special moves are generally a waste of time compared to just whacking on your opponent, as well. While it's speedy enough that there's still fun to be had, there's not much to sustain it, except for the silly character design and Deluxe Paint-quality graphics.
Survival Arts - Arcade (1993)
One of the few Japanese contributions to this part of the genre, Survival Arts feels like an odd cross between Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter. It's not especially great, if mostly because the balance is completely out of whack. Take Mongo, for example, who can win a lot of fights with his move where he jumps into the air and drops bombs all over the screen. Weapons like guns and swords can be picked up and used against your opponents, which is a neat touch. It makes a great game to laugh at, though, for both the terrible voice acting and some of the cheapest costumes you'll find in any digitized fighting game.
BloodStorm - Arcade (1994)
The spiritual sequel to Time Killers and the game that killed Johnny Cage, Bloodstorm isn't a massive improvement over its predecessor. It shares a lot of the same features, including the ability to hack off limbs - adding the ability to remove your opponent's legs, as well. An interesting new feature is the ability to take moves from defeated opponents, although it isn't as useful as it sounds. The game's biggest improvement is making the limb removal a little less random, which helps ease the feeling that the round's decided by whoever gets the first blow. What this game does add is tons and tons of secrets, including a secret character named Blood who has an eternally spouting jet of crimson where his head should be. You can also tell your opponent to subscribe to Electronic Gaming Monthly after winning a match.
Tattoo Assassins - Arcade (1994)
When you have Data East's pinball division working on a game that has a story written by the guy who wrote the script to Back to the Future, you've got something special. Tattoo Assassins is more or less a complete fever dream of a Mortal Kombat II clone, straight down to the button layout. When you have a game that has you select characters off of a woman's naked back, however, you know you've got something special. The real draw are the fatalities, as well as other sort of -alities like nudalities, which range from running somebody over with a Delorean to farting out a fully cooked turkey at them, which bounces off the combatants and multiplies until the screen is covered with fart turkeys. The gameplay, sadly, doesn't have that kind of creativity, meaning it borrows pretty much all its mechanics liberally from MK2. Overall, it's a game only worth playing to see its goofy finishers, which may partially explain its cancellation.
Way of the Warrior - 3DO (1994)
This was the last game Naughty Dog brought out before rocketing to success with Crash Bandicoot, leaving it as a minor footnote in gaming history. The game's best feature would probably be some rather creative characters for the era, like an outback hermit, a badass biker lady, and a British soldier who roids out to power himself up. The gameplay, while it takes inspiration from both Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, matches the quality of neither. The actual combat is completely unsatisfying, mostly due to hits that have no impact, so combat generally involves jabbing over and over at somebody until they fall down. There's also a particularly weird mechanic where certain special moves are tied to your score, not that they'll help you much against the game's absolutely merciless AI. It does have a soundtrack made up entirely of White Zombie music, though, if that's your bag.
Shadow: War of Succession - 3DO (1994)
Shadow: War of Successor is so fast it's almost impossible to keep track of what you're doing, which apparently makes it so spamming fireballs until the AI has no way to react is your best option. Beyond that, you've got costume design that looks like it came out of somebody's dad's closest, and some very, very questionable voice acting to round out the package.
Primal Rage - Arcade, etc. (1994)
Unlike many other games in this inventory, Primal Rage has some real love put into it, which makes it a massive shame it didn't end up better. The idea of giant dinosaurs and apes battling each other is definitely new for a fighting game. The stop-motion animation is a little cheesy, but gives the game a very unique look. The game is full of some cool ideas, from a rather technical combo system to the ability to eat the little humans who wander along the arena during a fight. Unfortunately, what keeps this game from greatness are some of the most awkward special move inputs in fighting game history, most of which require holding three different buttons at once. There's a lot of potential for a much better game in there, which is sadly wasted, especially in the inferior ports.
Rise of the Robots - 3DO, Amiga, Amiga CD32, Arcade, CD-i, Game Gear, Genesis, IBM PC, SNES (1994)
The ultimate cautionary tale of not believing the hype behind every massive release, Rise of the Robots is still a disappointment in every way. It has a fantastic presentation for the time, with a main theme by Brain May and quite a lot of pre-rendered FMV. Once you get into the actual game, however... well, it's no secret by now that it's not an especially fun game to play. There are no special moves, no combos, and not even any music during the game itself. The game would have been impressive in 1990, even plain old Street Fighter II had it beaten in every way. If you have to play any single version, the unreleased arcade version at least lets you play as any character you want, as opposed to forcing you to play as the cyborg. It also one of the game's characters flips you off if you don't continue after losing, so that's also a bonus.
Killer Instinct - Arcade, SNES (1994)
While it certainly hasn't aged entirely gracefully, Killer Instinct still has a lot of unique ideas that lead into a game that's, at the very least, interesting. It certainly has a great presentation, with characters like an animated skeleton and a half human, half raptor hybrid. It's a pretty fun game to watch, as well, with character unleashing lightning fast barrages of attacks, with an overenthuastic announcer that's still quoted around the internet from time to time. The game's big problem, however, are its mechanics, which are nothing like almost every other fighter. You'll have no chance of success unless you learn the game's combo system, which involves learning the various terms and how they all chain together, with some incredibly quick reflexes required for anything beyond a few hits. Sadly, learning all this is almost more trouble than its worth, which is a shame, considering how much goofy fun the rest of the game is.
Blood Warrior - Arcade (1994)
From Kaneko, the folks who brought you those Chester Cheetah games, Blood Warrior is another Japanese take at a Mortal Kombat style game, even though it's kind of a sequel to the 1992 game Shogun Warriors, which predated Mortal Kombat. When it comes to gameplay, it does all right, even if it's not exceptional. There's nothing particularly unique about its mechanics, although it at least plays well enough. The presentation, however, feels like a particularly low budget sentai show, with characters like a kappa and some kind of Buddhist statue as part of the cast. Despite its goofy look, it's also surprisingly bloody, with characters frequently exploding into piles of organs. The same developer would go on to make the Jackie Chan fighters, which were much better games all around.
Street Fighter: The Movie - Arcade (1994)
While this game is just as far diverged from Street Fighter as the movie it's based off of, it's so charmingly goofy that it's impossible to not get some sort of enjoyment out of it. Brought to you by the same people who developed Time Killers, Street Fighter veterans are going to be entirely lost. Characters can juggle each other across the screen, and Guile can toss pairs of handcuffs along with his traditional Sonic Booms. It's actually pretty enjoyable, even with how brutal the AI tends to be, mostly for just how goofy the presentation is. Defeating an opponent with a super makes their health bar explode into flaming metal, and the way Ken's actor mispronounces all his special moves is pretty great, as well. It can be a bit frustrating to play, especially remembering which moves require you to hold a button to perform and which don't, but it's still worth playing just to hear the noise the game makes when you insert a credit.
Street Fighter: The Movie - PlayStation / Saturn (1996)
While the console version of Street Fighter: The Movie is still based off of the live-action film, and uses similarly digitized characters, it's also developed by Capcom proper, making it a very different beast. Compared to the odd mixture of traditional Street Fighter with Mortal Kombat's goofiness that was the arcade version, the console version feels more like a reskinned Super Turbo. The only character who wasn't directly replicated from that game is Captain Sawada, who has a move where he stabs himself so hard his spray of blood hurts the opponent. So, that's something. There's also the addition of EX Moves, powered up special moves that would eventually appear in later SF titles, as well as a simple story made based directly on the events of the film. All told, while it's technically a better fighting game than the arcade version, there's no real reason to play it over plain old Street Fighter II.
Kasumi Ninja - Jaguar (1994)
Kasumi Ninja is generally considered at the top of the list when it comes to bad Mortal Kombat clones, and it definitely looks the part. It's yet another game that takes as much from Street Fighter, although it makes just as many more questionable design decisions. As if that's not bad enough, you first have to unlock all but two characters. The fact that the cast includes a Native American who scalps people and a Scotsman who shoots fireballs from under his kilt doesn't help.
One Must Fall 2097 - IBM PC (1994)
Given how many of the DOS-exclusive fighters out there tend to be dreadful, it's surprising that a shareware production like this manages to outclass them all. One Must Fall works with the weaknesses of DOS hardware of the time, making something that's fast, highly playable, and in some ways, incredibly ahead of its time. The two button setup is forgiving enough to play on a keyboard, while the gameplay is smooth enough to allow for some impressive combos. The characters, being giant robots of various forms, have some pretty interesting designs, and the lack of human on human violence doesn't make the various finishing moves any less satisfying. The game even manages to have an interesting single player component, with an RPG-style tournament mode that lets you take a weak 'bot and slowly upgrade them into a customized force of destruction. Pretty much no other computer-exclusive fighter even comes close to beating out this one, and it makes every other attempt look shameful in comparison.
Cosmic Carnage / Cyber Brawl - Sega 32X (1994)
There are some pretty cool ideas in this one, like how some characters wear armor that changes up their moves but that can be broken off during the fight. On the gameplay end of things, it leans much closer to Street Fighter II, with fatalities performed by ending the match with a special. Unfortunately, it's also pretty sluggish, with some massive pauses whenever somebody connects with a hit. Specials are rather finicky as well, which means your character can end up taunting just as much as they perform the move. At the very least, it makes a great tech demo for the 32X's hardware, with plenty of use of scaling and rotation, complete with a zooming camera for throws. The soundtrack isn't half bad, either, and is probably the highlight of the game. Playing on a Western console replaces the human characters with some rather unconvincing aliens, but the game can be switched to its Japanese form with a cheat.
Twin Goddesses - PlayStation (1994)
About the most noteworthy thing about this Japan-exclusive fighter is its odd look. The eponymous goddesses that you play as are digitized sprites, while the other fighters and the backgrounds they inhabit are traditional pixel art. This makes for a Roger Rabbit-esque effect, only far more uncanny. In terms of gameplay, it's a pretty basic fighting game, with about the only thing it really offers over Street Fighter II being a shop where players can purchase items to use during the fight. Given the game is in Japanese, however, good luck figuring out what they do. This also applies to the VS mode, however, which means that you can buy a ton of healing potions and assure that none of your unsuspecting friends will ever, ever beat you. Like a lot of the Japanese entries on the list, it's an entirely functional game, with nothing about it being actively broken. There's just not much to recommend this, aside from gratuitous amounts of FMV of women posing and a goofy soundtrack.
Ultra Vortek - Jaguar (1995)
The other Mortal Kombat clone exclusive to the Atari Jaguar, Ultra Vortek was developed by Beyond Games, and is also pretty bad. In this post-apocalyptic world, a devil-looking creature called the Guardian has threatened to destroy the scorched remnants of civilization, unless humanity (and the robots it created) can come together and destroy it. Most of the characters are pretty lame, however, including a robot called Skullcrusher who at no point does such a thing to anyone, and a big dumb rock creature called Grok. It does, on the other hand, have a "Poopality", which turns the defeated opponent, into... well, Ultra Vortek isn't a particularly classy game. It is, however, a fair bit better than Kasumi Ninja, and it's the only Jaguar game to support the Voice/Data Communicator, allowing for direct modem play, though the unit itself was not released publicly.
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