So, Deadly battle took the fighting game (and video game world in general) by storm and made it a worthy opponent to Capcom’s Street Fighter II. The obvious question after that is: How do you follow up on that success? The obvious answer came in November 1993 with Mortal Kombat II. Was it more of the same? Not really. Building on the framework of the original game, MKII honed in on what made the original game so good, added more Kombatants, more Fatalities, more secrets, and generally just gave fans more of what they craved in pixelated gore.
Mortal Kombat II picks up after the events of the previous tournament, where Shaolin warrior Liu Kang had defeated both the reigning Mortal Kombat champion Goro and the shape-shifting sorcerer Shang Tsung. Shang is brought before his master, Shao Kahn, the supreme ruler of Outworld, and begs Kahn to spare his life. Shao Kahn gives up after hearing Shang Tsung’s new plan: host the next Mortal Kombat tournament in Outworld, where the Earthrealm warriors must travel to in order to compete. There they will encounter not only another member of Goro’s race in Kintaro, but also Shao Kahn himself.
Ideally development for MKII aimed to put in what the development team didn’t have time with the original Deadly battle. It pretty much included more of everything, from the characters, the scenes and of course the blood and deaths. The team once again filmed the actors and digitized them, but did so with upgraded equipment. The actors were also misted with water to add highlights and “sweat”, while the digitized sprites were given a boost in vibrancy and detail to reflect the greater color depth used by the game. Further improvements included more frames with animation, as well as the addition of parallax scrolling for the backgrounds.
The roster was expanded from seven Kombatants to twelve, with the development team using the first game’s palette swapping technique for Scorpion and Sub-Zero to add the original hidden character Reptile to the main roster, as well as for twins Mileena and Kitana. The team used it again to create hidden characters Jade, Smoke and Noob Saibot, with the latter’s name from co-creators Ed Boone and John Tobias. Despite the addition of more characters, the team had to cut the original fighters Kano and Sonya (chosen for their lack of popularity with players) due to memory limitations. And despite the team’s intentions, a female kickboxer inspired by Kathy Long was also cut due to lack of time.
Despite these omissions, the additional fighters added a lot of depth to the game. Now a playable character, Shang Tsung still had his morphing ability, although players still had to memorize the moves in order to transform into that particular fighter. Reptile had his own moveset now and could mix things up with his power balls and invisibility. Jax relies on power moves and grabs, which also led to his death. Baraka (whose head is actually a Nosferatu mask with fake nails for teeth) is by far the bloodiest character of the entire roster thanks to his blade making the red fly constantly. Kung Lao and his brimmed hat added a coolness factor and frustration thanks to his dive kick and shield. For ranged fighters, Kitana was your go-to, thanks to her fan lift that canceled any air attack that could be followed up with a punishing combo, while her twin sister Mileena also made a great aerial fighter with her teleportation.
And much like the first game, MKII also featured secret characters, this time in the form of Smoke, Noob Saibot (Ed Boon and John Tobias’ names spelled backwards) and Jade. All three received increased speed and shared movesets with playable characters. Despite being obvious palette changes, much like Reptile, all three would be made playable characters in subsequent games.
But new characters meant nothing if the controls and action weren’t top notch. MKIIs action is tighter and more responsive than the first game, allowing for faster action and more combo work. It also helped that the moveset retained the original directional swipes from the first game, rather than relying on quarter- or half-circle movements, keeping the fast pace of the fights. All fighters now had more moves available to add more depth to fights, as well as some characters having close-up moves that could be used to launch opponents into the air for punishing follow-ups.
Obviously the real award for Mortal Kombat II were again the deaths. All of the Kombatants now had two of them, which were by and large much scarier than many players had seen in the first game, or really anything up to that point. Liu Kang’s dragon morph was a highlight for many fans, which also led to the infamous beasts we would see in MK3. Baraka’s impaling was particularly nasty, as your opponent flinched before dying and sliding down the blades. Then you got into the over-the-top Fatalities, like King Lao’s halving or Kitana’s kiss that caused her opponent to swell up and explode. There was definitely no shortage of blood and guts this time. Even the word “Fatality” dripped blood onto the stage after you successfully performed a finisher.
Even Stage Fatalities got meaner. Pit II gave us an overhead tracking shot of the character falling to their doom before slamming into the ground, while Dead Pool allowed you to uppercut your opponent in the acid, with their skeletons bobbing to the surface. The Kombat pit added a bit of dark humor to the way you sink your opponent into the spiky ceiling. By holding down both joysticks, your opponent will slowly slide down the spikes and fall to the ground with an “oooh” groan.
The team realized how mean some of this was, and due to the backlash from the first game, they decided to implement Friendships, which added some humor to the game. It continued with Babalities, which came about as a result of Sound Programmer And “Toasty” Ford find a sound library of baby screams and pitch the idea of turning your opponent into a baby, which would be fun. Ed Boon agreed and put it in. Longtime fans know this wasn’t Ford’s only contribution to the game. In addition to the excellent music, which like the rest of the game received an upgrade thanks to Williams’ DCS sound system, Ford’s head appears in the lower right corner randomly when a player successfully performs an uppercut and says “Toasty!”. The “Toasty!” line came about from Ed Boon and Ford’s sessions with Super high power.
When Mortal Kombat II hit arcades, it quickly hit the blocks. The game went on to become the top-grossing arcade game of 1994 in the United States, and by 2002, Midway had sold 27,000 arcade cabinets, grossing approximately $600 million.
When it came to the home conversions, Acclaim once again handled the docks. Acclaim prepared a $10 million marketing campaign around its release MKII on the SNES, Genesis, Game Boy and Game Gear, called “Mortal Tuesday” on September 9, 1994. Although not as iconic as the original “Mortal Kombat!” advertising for the first game, Acclaim spent a chunk of that $10 million for a live-action TV commercial, which featured the original cast reprising their roles from the game, which was an amazing thing to see. And just like the first game, there were also several merchandising tie-ins, such as a comic book, an official fanzine, action figures and trading cards.
The end result generated $50 million for domestic ports in its first week of release and was the blockbuster of September 1994 for the SNES, Genesis and Game Gear. In fact, with more than 2.5 million copies shipped, Mortal Kombat II at the time, it had the best opening week sales in video game history.
As for the ports themselves, Nintendo learned their lesson from the first time and left the bloody goods in the SNES version of Mortal Kombat II. Compared to the original releases, the SNES was the most complete. The Genesis version has an additional Fatality for Raiden which is actually an easter egg from developer Probe Software called “Fergality” (named after the studio head Fergus McGovern). The later 32X version improved the Genesis version’s sound and graphics. The Saturn and PlayStation got their own versions, but they came with loading times and a changed soundtrack.
Even after 30 years, Mortal Kombat II is still considered the best of the original trilogy by many fans, and with good reason. Like all good sequels, Midway gave fans more of what they wanted, while keeping what worked and refining it. Several aspects of Mortal Kombat IIfrom its characters to its stages to its traits, all have been carried forward in one form or another in subsequent entries, including the most recent Mortal Kombat 1. If you’re in the mood for nostalgia, you can play the game today via Mortal Kombat Arcade Collection. Or if you want to experience the game closer to an arcade feel, you can always set up the Arcade1Up mini arcade cabinet.
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