MORTAL KOMBAT / Midway / Arcade
Man, I remember discovering this game as a little kid in the arcade and thinking it was a technological wonder. Now it's a clunky antiquated grandpa game, but I'll always have a soft spot for its darker and more violent take on Enter the Dragon.

While it's still probably one of the relative weakest entries in the Mortal Kombat series, and was totally outstripped by its immediate sequel, I actually think it's held up surprisingly decently for something that relied on so much gimmickery when it came out. The digitized fighters and the over-the-top gore, namely. While those just look kind of silly now, as a whole the game has a surprisingly crisp and pleasant look and the sound work is on the minimalist side but solid, particularly the meaty hits and the perfectly-cast narrator voice.

The single-player experience is all kinds of uneven and lacking, but that was always true of the 2D entries of the series. Mortal Kombat in popular culture was all about the fatalities, but in actual arcades it was always all about the 2-player Kombat. Without that, you don't have much to entertain you here. The AI is surprisingly derpy for a major release, so they seemingly tried to make up for it with the series of "endurance matches" where you have to beat two characters on one life bar, and then bosses Goro and Shang Tsung just being cheap as all shit with their special move priority and damage.

The other big limitation is the roster here; just seven playable, with no hidden characters that you can control. It seems ridiculously tiny compared to how the roster would sprawl out just by Mortal Kombat 3, let alone the rest of the series. At least they made iconic choices here, though -- every roster character went on to be memorable except Sonya, who looks like a militant '80s aerobics instructor in this one. I mean, they did keep her around for the rest of the series, but ask random people on the street to name Mortal Kombat series characters off the top of their head and she probably comes in around #10 at best.

One other aspect of the game that hasn't aged well is that every character has pretty much the same basic move set outside of their specials. So MK1 Is a terrible choice for tournament play, but it actually makes it better suited for casual 2-player matches, because nobody has to master any Arcane Arts to jump in and be basically competent and it puts the emphasis on memorizing fatality sequences rather than a whole new play style for each character. Yeah, it's dumbed down, but not everyone wants SNK complexity all the time. There's also just enough variation in characters' special moves to keep things interesting; Scorpion's instant classic "GET OVER HERE", Sub-Zero's cheesy slide kick and ice hadokens, Liu Kang's crazy bicycle kick that you could ambush people with at the start of the match, Raiden's "JOHNNYBOUGHTACAR", etc.

MK II would quickly follow this one and leave its little brother in the dust, but unlike many arcade hits that pushed boundaries, the original MK was successful for more than just technological novelty and upping the violence ante. There's actually a pretty decent game in there.
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