Mortal Kombat Retrospektive #2: Mortal Kombat II (1993)

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Mortal Kombat was extremely popular and made millions of dollars for Midway and Acclaim despite (partially because of) the controversy surrounding the game’s content, so there was absolutely no chance Ed Boon’s team wouldn’t be making a sequel. Indeed, 1993 saw the release of Mortal Kombat II in the arcades, and it was everything the fans had asked for and more. Better graphics and sound, faster gameplay, more characters, more blood, more special moves and fatalities, more of that Mortal Kombat goodness.

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The story is more elaborate this time around. Liu Kang defeated Goro and Shang Tsung in the last tournament and saved Earthrealm from getting conquered by Emperor Shao Kahn and his Outworld army. Kahn is not pleased and is about to execute Shang Tsung for his failure, but Tsung convinces the emperor to give him another chance. His plan? Hold another tournament in Outworld, where the Earth’s kombatants would meet certain death by Shao Kahn himself.

To help lure the Earthrealm fighters to Outworld, Shao Kahn captures Sonya and Kano and has his forces destroy the temple of Liu Kang’s White Lotus Society. I’m not sure why he bothered because the whole point of the plan is that an invitation to Mortal Kombat can’t be refused, but to be fair these guys are mustache-twirling villains.

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The playable roster has grown from seven characters to twelve. Everyone except Sonya and Kano return from the original game, and there are some interesting new faces making their debut appearances. Everyone has more special moves and two fatalities, and the character sprites are much more detailed with smoother animation.

THE KOMBATANTS:

Liu Kang (Ho Sung Pak):

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The new Grand Champion of Mortal Kombat returns home, and sees it razed to the ground and his brethren killed. This time he’s pissed, no more of that “no killing” bullshit. Liu Kang does actually still have his original non-fatality, but his other fatality makes up for that as he turns into a dragon and chomps the opponent in half. He also has an all-new bicycle kick special move, complete with the most ridiculous voice clip ever. Seriously, dude sounds like a turkey on PCP.

Kung Lao (Anthony Marquez):

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Liu Kang’s fellow Shaolin monk tags along when Liu heads to Outworld to beat the shit out of Shao Kahn. Kung Lao is another descendant of the Great Kung Lao, but doesn’t care about being a great warrior and would rather live in peace. In battle, Lao uses his razor-rimmed hat to great effect and has some of the coolest fatalities in the game.

Johnny Cage (Daniel Pesina):

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Cage disappears off the set of his latest film to join Liu Kang on the journey to Outworld. He’s gained a couple of new moves including a shadow uppercut and a stronger, red shadow kick, but other than that he plays mostly the same as before. If you liked him in the original, you’ll feel right at home playing as him here. His fatality in the original game had a glitch that allowed players to uppercut more than one head off the opponent, and you can still do that here.

Jax Briggs (John Parrish):

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Jax was originally planned for the first game (as Kurtis Stryker) but was replaced with fellow Special Forces member Sonya. Now that Sonya’s been captured by Shao Kahn, Jax has come to try and rescue her. Jax is sort of the grappler character of Mortal Kombat II, but doesn’t really play like a traditional grappler. One of his fatalities has him ripping the opponent’s arms off, which is quite amusing because the victim will just stand there afterwards like “welp, guess I have no arms now” instead of falling over.

Raiden (Carlos Pesina):

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The god of thunder is back and this time he’s helping out the Earthrealm warriors, which would become his role for most of the series from here on out. Gameplay-wise, not much has changed with him, although he does have a new attack where he grabs and electrocutes the opponent.

Sub-Zero (Daniel Pesina):

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The Lin Kuei warrior was thought to be dead after the previous tournament, but shows up in Outworld seemingly unharmed and is still on a mission to kill Shang Tsung. However, if you beat the game as him (or read the tie-in comic by John Tobias, where Sub-Zero shows up wearing a suit and handing out business cards), you find out that the original Sub-Zero did in fact get killed in the tournament and this is his younger brother. The younger Sub-Zero is much less of a dick than the original and is established as a good guy in this game. He has all the moves his brother did (no spine rip fatality, though, just a couple of ice-based ones), and can also create ice puddles for opponents to slip on.

Scorpion (Daniel Pesina):

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The hell-spawned spectre rises from the pits and sees Sub-Zero walking around despite killing him in the previous tournament. However, he sees Sub-Zero spare the life of a beaten opponent and realizes this is not the man who murdered him and his family years ago. Scorpion lets the younger Lin Kuei warrior live and becomes his guardian to atone for killing his brother. He plays much the same as before, aside from new air throw and leg grab moves.

Reptile (Daniel Pesina):

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Now a playable character from the start, Reptile has gained his own moveset (although still has Sub-Zero’s slide move) and storyline. He is an actual lizard man of the Saurian race, acting as Shang Tsung’s bodyguard in the first tournament and working for Shao Kahn in this game. Reptile can spit acid and shoot green force balls, as well as turn invisible during fights (which, naturally, does nothing when you’re fighting the AI).

Kitana (Katalin Zamiar):

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Kitana is Shao Kahn’s personal assassin, who fights with sharp metal fans and is able to do some impressive air juggle combos. She is also Kahn’s step-daughter, raised in Outworld after Kahn killed her father to conquer the realm of Edenia and take her mother as his bride. However, Kitana is aware of her past and is simply feigning loyalty to Kahn, and is communicating with the Earthrealm warriors (mainly Liu Kang, I assume) to help them take Kahn out. These actions have not gone unnoticed by her twin sister, though…

Mileena (Katalin Zamiar)

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Mileena is introduced as Kitana’s twin sister and fellow assassin, armed with a pair of sais and a variety of quick, acrobatic attacks including the wonderful teleport kick. She remains loyal to Shao Kahn, though, and is tasked by Kahn to make sure Kitana stays that way as well.

Of course, Mileena is not actually Kitana’s twin at all, but a clone created by mixing Kitana’s essence with a Tarkatan monster man’s. As a result, her mask conceals a hideous mouth full of sharp fangs, which you might think would be hard to conceal when she’s supposed to be Kitana’s sister, but whatever. Maybe they just don’t spend much time together, as it’s said Mileena doesn’t like Kitana very much.

In this game, Mileena is a very good character and able to pull off some badass combos, although I must say her fatalities here are kind of lackluster especially compared to the horrifying shit she does in the newer games.

Baraka (Richard Divizio):

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I mentioned Tarkatans in Mileena’s bio, and here’s one of them. The Tarkata are a race of nomadic warriors with sharp blades growing out of their arms, and Baraka was the guy who led the attack on the Shaolin temple. His face is actually a Count Orlok (Nosferatu) Halloween mask with press-on fingernails glued to it to create the teeth. This is the first time MK has an obviously non-human character in the playable cast, so Baraka is pretty cool and I played as him a lot when I was a kid. He has some of the bloodiest special moves in the game, which also helped.

Shang Tsung (Philip Ahn M.D.)

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The sorcerer has been granted back his youth by Shao Kahn. He’s still capable of turning into any of the other playable characters and can shoot skull fireballs, which have at least been made less overpowered since the first game. Has a really cool secret fatality where he morphs into this game’s sub-boss and punches the opponent in half. Also acts as a sub-sub-boss in the arcade mode.

HIDDEN CHARACTERS:

Smoke (Daniel Pesina):

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Not much is known about Smoke in his debut appearance, other than that he is also a Lin Kuei assassin. To fight Smoke, play a match in the Portal stage and press down+Start when Dan Forden appears and says “TOASTY!” He has Scorpion’s moveset and Reptile’s stance and is extremely fast, and also constanly emits puffs of smoke from his body.

Jade (Katalin Zamiar):

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Another one of Shao Kahn’s female assassins, it’s assumed that Jade is spying on the tournament on Kahn’s behalf. In kombat, she is a faster Kitana who is immune to projectiles. In order to reach her, you need to beat the opponent before the question mark in the arcade ladder using only low kick based attacks. This, by the way, is easier said than done unless you exploit AI glitches.

Noob Saibot (Daniel Pesina)

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The shadow ninja reveals himself to a player who wins 50 matches in a row. He is another palette swap ninja with Scorpion’s moves (and Sub-Zero’s stance), and moves even faster than Smoke. His name is, obviously, Tobias and Boon backwards.

BOSSES:

Kintaro (stop-motion):

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If you thought Goro was bad, here comes his fellow Shokan from the Tigrar subspecies who is even more badass and looks a lot cooler than his predecessor. Kintaro was initially designed as an anthropomorphic tiger who was going to be playable, but that didn’t work out and he became another four-armed sub-boss instead. Kintaro is a typical Mortal Kombat sub-boss, meaning that he is a cheap bastard who can and probably will counter everything you do with grabs or fireballs. Then he’ll uppercut you to the stratosphere and teleport stomp on your corpse when you land. Prepare to see a lot of this:

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Kintaro occasionally stops curbstomping you and shows off for the crowd at Kahn’s coliseum (who will cheer loudly at everything he does), which is your best chance to do some damage with the biggest and ugliest special move you have. Even that probably won’t be enough, so hopefully you’ve got plenty of credits. The SNES version only gives you five unless you enter a code at character select, so good luck with that. Even the seemingly generous 15 credits of the Genesis/32X versions may not be enough, especially since the worst is yet to come.

Shao Kahn (Brian Glynn, voiced by Steve Ritchie)

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YOU WEAK PATHETIC FOOL. If you thought Kintaro was bad but somehow managed to get past him with some credits left, here’s where you will get your shit kicked in. Shao Kahn the Konqueror, Emperor of Outworld and barbarian sorcerer pimp (thanks to Gavin Jasper of Den of Geek for this description, couldn’t have said it better myself), is one of the cheapest bastards in the history of fighting game bosses and he is perfectly happy to let you know exactly how much you suck. IS THAT YOUR BEST? Kahn can throw green spears and shoulder charge you to death, and beating him is not going to be easy, especially since his charge goes through anything (unless you manage to hit him with a spear or freeze ball in the first couple of frames). YOU WILL DIE, MORTAL.

Much like Kintaro, he is vulnerable when he gloats, so get those special moves and combos ready. Or just spam Mileena’s teleport kick and kill him with chip damage, I did that one time. Once you beat Kahn, he turns into stone and explodes. Before that, though, you will most likely be seeing something like this quite often:

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ALL TOO EASY. FEEL THE POWER OF SHAO KAHN.

Just getting to Shao Kahn can be a huge pain in the ass, because the AI in Mortal Kombat II is incredibly cheap. You no longer need to fight through endurance rounds with more than one opponent, but this game gets so difficult after the first few opponents that it barely matters. The AI very blatantly cheats by reading your inputs, countering every single thing you try and having priority for all its moves.

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Sometimes when you try to uppercut, the computer manages to avoid it by ducking (which I’m pretty sure can’t be done by a human player, the input won’t come out that fast) and hitting an uppercut of its own, and it can throw you from sweep distance while you’re doing a sweep. It also doesn’t have to charge its charge-up moves, so Mileena can throw her sais and Liu Kang can do his bicycle kick all day if they feel like it. Or it might decide to walk up to you and kick your ass, and there is nothing you can do to stop it because all your attacks are dodged with 100% success. I don’t mind it when the AI punishes obviously unsafe moves like Mileena’s teleport kick, but there is definitely a reason why Mortal Kombat has a reputation for cheap AI.

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As a result of all this, even the easiest difficulty is far from the billed “very easy” and when you win, it just feels like the computer let you. Seriously, just last night I was fighting Shao Kahn on the Genesis version (on my Sega Nomad because that’s the raddest way to play MK), and the only reason I pulled off the win was that his AI became dumb as bricks in the final round and stopped blocking. I was happy I won, but it absolutely felt like he let me.

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Along with the usual fatalities, there are two new types of finishers that are mostly a way for Midway to poke fun at all the controversy over the violence. First off, there is the Friendship, where you do some kind of friendly and/or silly gesture at the end of the match instead of slaughtering your opponent. To list a few, Shang Tsung conjures a rainbow, Liu Kang disco-dances (complete with disco ball out of nowhere), the ninjas try to sell dolls in their likeness, Mileena gives the opponent flowers (she’s not so bad when she’s not trying to swallow you whole and spit out your bones), Raiden summons a kid version of himself (“Kidd Thunder!”) and Johnny Cage gives the opponent an autographed photo. The best part of Friendships is Shao Kahn’s reaction, where he goes “[Character] wins. Friendship. Friendship?!”

Cage

The other new finisher is the Babality, which turns the losing character into a baby version of themselves. I don’t know either. According to the History of Fatalities video that was included in the extras of the MK Armageddon collector’s edition, Dan Forden found some sound clips of babies in an SFX library and told Ed Boon that they should put in a finisher where you turn the other guy into a baby. Boon’s reaction was basically “Why the hell would we do that?” and Forden just said it might be funny, to which Boon replied “That’s good enough for me, let’s put it in.” The Babalities aren’t really all that amusing, except when one is performed on Raiden.

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The Pit fatality in the original Mortal Kombat was cool, so now there are three different stage fatalities. This time they require specific inputs, though, so no more dropping guys into spikes with a simple uppercut. The loser can get knocked into the acid at the Dead Pool, uppercutted into the spikes adorning the ceiling of the Kombat Tomb (the actual function of these spikes remains unknown), and fall off the Pit II bridge onto the rocky ground below. Okay, that last one doesn’t sound that spectacular, but there is a cool special animation for it so that’s something. When someone falls off the bridge, the game switches to a bird’s eye view partway through the drop (please ignore the fact the winner changes between the screenshots):

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the pit 2

The stages and the visuals in general looked amazing at the time and still hold up quite well, especially the intricately detailed hand-drawn backgrounds. While the original MK looked like a martial arts film in the vein of Enter the Dragon, MKII’s Outworld setting lends itself to more mystical locales that hammer home the point we’re not in our world any more. Some of these locales made it into the Outworld sections of the Mortal Kombat film mostly unaltered, most obviously the Wasteland stage that is supposed to be the ruins of Kitana’s home realm of Edenia.

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Possibly the most iconic stage in MKII is the Living Forest, which has a bunch of trees with faces (apparently Ed Boon’s face superimposed onto them) constantly roaring in the background and the occasional body of a fallen warrior stuck in some roots or vines next to them. There was a rumor back in the day that you could feed the opponent to the trees as yet another stage fatality, but that was untrue (it did become reality in later games, though). Occasionally, you could even see Smoke or Jade peeking from behind the trees.

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Another highlight is the Dead Pool, where the fighters stand on a narrow walkway over the acid pit I mentioned in the stage fatality section. It’s supposed to be some sort of a torture/execution chamber where prisoners are lowered into the acid, so there’s a bunch of chains dangling from the ceiling.

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These chains were also the subject of another stage fatality rumor, but that also didn’t become reality until much later. The Dead Pool is the first stage you see when you start the game, and due to its cool look and stage fatality (which everyone probably saw their first time playing the game and losing to the computer) it’s become just about as iconic as the Living Forest. The Dead Pool has shown up in a few of the later games as well.

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Just like its predecessor, Mortal Kombat II was ported to every system that mattered at the time (and also the Master System, Game Gear and 32X). The SNES version was developed by Sculptured Software, the same studio that was responsible for the port of the previous game, and this time Nintendo allowed them to include all the blood and guts. The controls were also improved to the point that it actually plays rather well and feels much closer to the arcade version than the port of MK1 ever did. Obviously, some concessions had to be made so the sprites are smaller than the arcade and some of the speech is missing, but for the most part the SNES version is a fantastic port of a great game (there’s even a secret team battle mode, accessible by inputting a code in the character select screen) and easily one of the best fighting games on the system.

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SNES

Probe Software handled the Sega ports (and the Amiga version, which I hear is decent but have never played) again, and this time the Genesis version is quite handily beaten by the SNES port despite another good effort from Matt Furniss on the soundtrack. It plays about as well as the SNES version, but the graphics are terrible and most of the voice clips are missing entirely, as are many frames of animation.

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Genesis

The 32X version improved dramatically on these areas and is actually supposed to be the best MKII console port of its day, but not many people played it because it’s on the 32X. The PC version is one of the better ports once again and should run fine in Dosbox, although the quality of the music leaves a lot to be desired. The Saturn and PlayStation also received MKII ports eventually, but those versions are plagued with frequent load times and don’t really seem to be worth hunting down unless you want to own every MK release ever.

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I’m not sure what’s going on in this screenshot I found, as Jade isn’t playable in MKII. I’m assuming a hack of some sort (the blank health bar on the left is Jade’s, but it has the win counter which implies someone is playing as her)

The Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is once again the most convenient way to play MKII, even if the sound isn’t quite arcade perfect and there are some other minor issues. The game also shows up on the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 compilation for PS2, Xbox and GameCube and as an unlockable in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, although both of these have minor emulation issues and a control mapping oversight that makes it impossible to fight Smoke (Start pauses the game on the Arcade Treasures 2 version — a nice feature in theory because none of the earlier console ports had any kind of pause function). MKII was released on PSN for the PS3 in 2007 as an arcade perfect port (or at least so arcade perfect that I couldn’t tell the difference), but that version has since been removed from the store so you’re stuck with the Arcade Kollection version these days. Of course, you can always go the emulation route if you feel like it. Nobody’s going to judge.

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Mortal Kombat II was even more popular than its predecessor, so much so that some of the arcade cabinets were locked with a special contraption to prevent people from ripping out the arcade board and taking it home. It is often considered to be the best game in the series, and justifiably so in my opinion. MKII takes everything that was good about the original and vastly improves on it while also fixing the major issues. The core gameplay mechanics and controls are still the same, though, so if you were a gigantic Capcom fanboy at the time or didn’t like MK for some other reason, this was not going to convert you.

Personally, though, I consider MKII one of my favorite games of all time, and I still return to it every so often to fatality some dudes or get my ass kicked by Shao Kahn and Kintaro. An absolute classic.

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Next: THERE IS NO KNOWLEDGE THAT IS NOT POWER

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