Nintendo Magazine System
Starting off with a pretty straightforward cover in an art style that’s perfectly good and does a fine job of representing these famous Mortal Kombat… you know, for a second I nearly wrote it as “kharacters” but forget that. I refuse to replace hard Cs with Ks until the games’ developers realise their mistake and rename Scorpion to Skorpion. Consistency is all I ask for.
But yeah, this is a solid cover, even if I question the decision to put Goro’s crotch directly in the centre of the image. It certainly does draw the eye towards it. Oh, and Kano’s knives look way too much like those plastic glow in the dark “haunted murderer” knives you get at Halloween to be threatening. Or perhaps that’s the point. If Kano can kill you with toy knifes that come in a set with a Ghostface mask and a bottle of fake blood, imagine the damage he could do with the real thing!
Nintendo Magazine System
Speaking of Kano, here he is again, sporting a forehead so vast I’m amazed a Texan land baron hasn’t tried to purchase it for cattle grazing space. Guile doesn’t look impressed. Mike Haggar looks like he always looks – absolutely furious all the time, which is great for fighting street punks but probably less helpful when he has to cut the ribbon at Metro City Hospital’s new maternity ward.
Electronic Gaming Monthly
Guile and Kano – I didn’t intend for this article to be so Kano-centric thus far, I swear – are paired up again, this time as djinn who have swapped the magical lamp for a Sega Saturn and a PlayStation respectively. You rub the consoles and out they pop, ready to grant a wish as long as that wish is “I’d like to see some scowling, please.”
At this point you’d be forgiven for thinking that Kano is Mortal Kombat’s main character. He really isn’t, although the decision to have a heart-removing criminal with a cybernetic face as the star would have been a refreshingly bold move. But who is Mortal Kombat’s main character? I always assumed it was Liu Kang, based on the usual fighting game hero metric of him being a boring kung fu man, but Liu Kang seems to get much less focus than Raiden the thunder god or the palette-swap ninjas, especially Sub Zero and Scorpion. I suppose it’s simply that Mortal Kombat doesn’t have a focal character in the vein of Street Fighter’s Ryu or Fatal Fury’s Terry Bogard.
As for this cover, it’s another perfectly acceptable comic-book illustration, and yet again Kano’s forehead has grown like the mighty oak. Sonya Blade’s spine is having a rough time at the (four) hands of Goro, and it’s those hands that interest me most about this image: are his nails black because he managed to accidentally slam all of them in a car door, or did he take the time to paint them before stepping onto the field of battle? Actually, painting your nails would be pretty great with four hands, you’d always have a pair free to use while you wait for the other pair to dry.
Sega Master Force
What do we think? Was the decision to have Goro cupping the “pull-out poster” blurb in a manner very reminiscent of a Street Fighter throwing a hadoken an intentional reference to Capcom’s fighting franchise, or was it merely a coincidence that I picked up on because I’ve wasted years of my life playing videogames and absorbing their ephemera? You decide!
I would very much like someone to attempt to draw a picture of Ryu’s skull based on the physiology presented in this image. I was also interested to learn that Raiden’s lighting powers are the celestial equivalent of a joy buzzer. Neither of these two videogame titans really look like they’re into it, do they? It all seems a bit half-hearted, which is a good metaphor for the “Street Fighter versus Mortal Kombat!” rivalry – or the rivalry between any two similar videogames franchises or competing consoles. These things were endlessly talked up in the games media of the time, especially Sega versus Nintendo, and while I remember the occasional argument it’s my recollection that most people I knew back then were aware you could like both things. All the kids I knew would have killed to have a SNES and a MegaDrive and only didn’t because of the cost. Of course, in the case of Street Fighter II versus Mortal Kombat it’s absolutely no contest and Street Fighter blows Mortal Kombat out of the water.
In which Kano is extremely amused to see Sub-Zero skanking towards him like an over-excited teenager at their first Reel Big Fish gig. I can hear the trumpets while looking at this picture.
Moving on to Mortal Kombat II, and this cover is almost arranged in the formation that Warhammer 40,000 fans would call a “battle pile” - everyone clumped together in a large mound of furious rage and dangerously impractical bladed weapons. I’m mostly thinking of Kung Lao and his razor-brimmed hat. All the Shaolin monks sitting around, watching Goldfinger and saying “you know, I think that Oddjob chap was on to something.” Now that’s an origin story.
Most of the covers so far have been goofy comic book fun, but then Nintendo Power comes out with a genuinely disturbing take on Scorpion. For once the undead assassin looks like a creature raised up from hell rather than a Halloween costume with another Halloween mask under the ninja costume. It’s the eyes that do it, clouded and blank. It’s such an effective look, in fact, that it took me a long time to notice the very ugly dragon at the top of the cover. The dragon is probably upset that Milky-Eyed Corpse Scorpion is hogging all the attention that dragons usually get.
Electronic Gaming Monthly
This is definitely my favourite cover of the lot. Three serious-looking warriors, plus the sword-armed wasteland mutant Baraka, who is throwing said sword-arms around his pals as they have a their photo taken in a gesture of camaraderie so pure and wholesome it makes you overlook Baraka being a sword-armed wasteland mutant. “Man, this vacation has been the best,” says Baraka, “I love you guys. I can’t wait until next year’s trip!”
A wide variety of Mortal Kombat characters (plus Sonic the Hedgehog) appear on this cover, from familiar faces like Johnny Cage to… a buff tiger man? I don’t remember there being any buff tiger men in Mortal Kombat, although to be fair I haven’t played a Mortal Kombat game since MK Trilogy so there’s probably at least a couple of buff animal men in the roster by now. Intrigued, I looked up this issue of the magazine and found that the tiger-man was originally intended to be a playable character called Kintaro who was later cut. According to the magazine feature, the reason he was cut was that “a costume of this magnitude simply wasn’t feasible,” which seems odd when you consider Mortal Kombat II did have a character called Kintaro and they’re another hulking brute with four arms.
See? There’s Kintaro now, looking extremely unimpressed by M. Bison’s punches. I’d have thought “extra limbs” would make a costume much more infeasible that slapping a tiger mask and some body paint on an actor wearing a robe, but then I don’t know anything about the complicated process of creating videogames.
Tips and Tricks
I saw at least four magazine covers that were nothing but this image of Raiden, which definitely wouldn’t be enough to get me interested in Mortal Kombat II. On the whole I find MK’s characters to be a fairly bland bunch (although, again, I haven’t played the modern games so they might be more interesting) and Raiden is one of those that never really did anything for me. I’m not saying all Mortal Kombat characters are boring – obviously I can appreciate a skull-headed assassin from hell as much as the next kid who grew up watching eighties horror movies – but I think part of the problem is the digitised graphics. When I look at a Street Fighter or Tekken character I see the character, but when I look at a Mortal Kombat fighter I see person in a “mid-budget television show” costume and that doesn’t do much to create mystique.
I will say this for MK’s cast, though: they do their own thing. How many fighting games of the time did you see with karate-gi-wearing Ryu lookalikes or Brazilian beastmen? Mortal Kombat’s fighters are a unique bunch, at least, and that’s to be commended. On this cover we can see a few of them in a hand-drawn style that’s much more appealing to me than any number of publicity photos of Raiden. It took me a while to realise what Shang Tsung was reminding me of, but eventually it clicked that I’m sure I saw a very similar design on some of the graffiti / “hip-hop” t-shirt of the kind a lot of kids used to wear when I was growing up in the early nineties. Except on the t-shirt that character would be holding a spray-can and wearing a baggy t-shirt rather than a vest, of course.
Russian mag “Great Dragon” now, and stark, abstract weirdness is the name of the game. I’m sure the Mortal Kombat dragon logo is familiar even to videogame fans who haven’t played the games, and here it is floating near two orbs that might be… planets? Moons? Is this because the magazine also covers Dune 2 and this was the artist’s way of combining the disparate elements of grand interstellar saga and gore-drenched punchathon? Mortal Kombat X Dune, now there’s one hell of a crossover event for you to ponder. “My name is a killing word, but if that doesn’t work then Jax here has powerful cybernetic arms, they should get the job done.”
“First look at the new Sub-Zero” is the big draw here, and I assume it’s like the cliche about a dowdy woman taking off her glasses and letting her hair down. Why Sub-Zero, you’re beautiful!
Super Game Power
Here’s Mortal Kombat antagonist Shao Kahn. He’s a brutal warlord who crushes his enemies – that is, pretty much anyone who’s not Shao Kahn – with his incredible strength and a bloody great hammer. He has a vague samurai feel to his design, a Darth Vader-style helmet made of bones and yes, okay, I’m skirting around the obvious problem here. His skull-mask’s lack of a lower jaw means I can’t help seeing Shao Kahn as having a severely pronounced overbite. Once I’d seen this image I was unable to stop imagining Shao Kahn shouting “Hyuk hyuk!” like sodding Goofy. Like, there’s nothing wrong with the technical execution of this artwork but it’s hard to take a character seriously when they’ve got the maxillary structure of a lost Beavis and Butt-Head character.
Back to some less giggle-inducing artwork, with Scorpion and Mileena (I think?) engaged in a gruesome battle to the death. A death that’ll involve one of the fighters swaying around on the spot for a while before collapsing into a heap because I couldn’t remember the button input for a Fatality, if my MK-playing experiences are anything to go by.
The artwork’s good, even if Scorpion’s weapon looks less like a harpoon and more like the world’s most useless shovel, but it did send me on a little quest. I thought the art style looked familiar, which is weird because I am terrible at picking out a particular artist’s look. So, I looked up this issue of GamePro, found out that the cover artist is called John Estes and then spend a wasted half an hour looking for my Hellraiser comics because I was sure Estes had done some work on them. That’s just the kind of exciting, fast-paced life I lead, folks. Anyway, it turns out it was actually the much more famous Alex Ross in the Hellraiser comics, and also I can’t find my Hellraiser comics. You should check them out some time if you like the Hellraiser movies, some of them are rather good and definitely a lot more fun than watching the later Hellraiser movies. Then again, so is rolling around in a bottle bank with live centipedes in your underwear.
Another cover with artwork that I’d describe as – and I mean this completely without negative connotations - “charmingly amateurish,” this time from Brazilian mag Gamers. I’m sure I’ve seen Sonya’s kicking pose somewhere before, and my brain’s screaming “Cynthia Rothrock movie” at me so maybe that’s it but as we’ve established I’m really bad at picking these things out. The evil queen Sindel is also here, with an outfit that looks like it’s be very uncomfortable on the ol’ bosoms and a hairdo that seems almost toned down from the games, where she sports a barnet that you could confidently slap on a character that was a parody of either Elvira or a washed-up country-and-western singer. Reptile is here too, but based on his expression he hasn’t got a clue why he’s here.
Finally for today, I’d like to close out with a lame joke that I’m always happy to reuse. Ready? Ahem…
“He’s behind me, isn’t he?”
Thank you, thank you. I’ll be here all week.