Mortal Kombat II – 32X
Platform: Sega 32X
Release Date (NA): 1994
Developer: Probe Entertainment
Nerd Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Note: It was difficult to find actual 32X images of the game, so please excuse the lack of visuals! The easiest way to tell for sure is to look at the lifebars. The 32X version has the fighters’ name written inside the lifebars with an orange/yellow gradient.
The first Mortal Kombat is often remembered for its introduction of finishing moves and causing old white senators everywhere to start fearing pre-pubescent gamers, but the series didn’t really explode until Mortal Kombat II came onto the scene. With more refined gameplay, more distinct characters, a deeper storyline, and a darker feel, MKII really put the series on the map and cemented MK as a serious contender in the fighting game world. It broke all sorts of records, and due to its popularity, was ported to almost every home console in existence at the time and has enjoyed a second life in the form of re-releases and digital DLC.
Most comparisons will boil down to the Genesis version versus the SNES version and how they measure up against the arcade original. Occasionally one will bring up the loading-ridden Saturn port, or maybe the PS1 version exclusive to only Japan, or just maybe how impressive the Game Boy and Game Gear ports were for the time. Much like the 32X itself, Mortal Kombat II on the 32X is often glossed over; some laud it as a vast improvement over the Genesis while others opined that it wasn’t nearly as close to the arcade as it should be. For what it’s worth, I think it stands as an excellent port.
MKII is still a fun game to play, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that it was starting to show its age a little. However, it has aged a bit more gracefully on the 32X compared to its 16-bit counterparts. Immediately noticeable are the sharp, crisp colors and well-defined lines. Even the backgrounds are vibrant and lively. The SNES port certainly maintained a sharper image over the Genesis version; the 32X not only reproduces the clarity from the SNES, but also adds a degree of depth you won’t see in either 16-bit port. Mortal Kombat II has a bright color palette in general, but the 32X is able to display subtleties that de-emphasize hard outlines and bring softer gradients into focus: the purples in the Wasteland background, browns/oranges/yellows/flesh tones throughout the game, and even minutiae like the shadowing on the digitized sprites.
We also have a nearly arcade-perfect translation of the game’s sound. The increase in quality is slight but noticeable, especially for those used to the somewhat murky and tinny voices of the Genesis port. The 32X version also features additional sounds not found in the SNES or Genesis versions due to memory constraints. These sounds are mostly just alternate grunts and screams for reactions to different attacks – for instance when a fighter is attacked with a footsweep, they get their very own yell for the occasion. It isn’t a big change and it really doesn’t affect the overall enjoyment, but it does push this home version just a little closer to the original arcade experience.
I don’t hear any major differences in the actual background music, but the quality has certainly improved. It’s undoubtedly clearer and sampled at a higher bitrate for inclusion on the 32X cartridge.
I do wish that the developers would’ve crammed a bit of extra content on here. The cheats largely follow those found in the Genesis version (“Test Modes”) though the “Ooooh Nasty”/Fergality options are omitted. I wish there was more of a draw – maybe some extras like the original comics or some old TV ads or something.
I’m not sure if any difference in control are supposed to exist between the 32X and other versions of Mortal Kombat II, but for what it’s worth, I didn’t notice any differences, nor did I ever have any real complaints against the controls in other ports. I will say that although the SNES may have had the edge when it came to both graphics and sound, the Genesis port always won me over with its controls, mostly because I felt that the Genesis 6-Button Controller was just a little more adept at handling the demands of MKII (and others of the series). We owe the design of modern controllers directly to the SNES controller, and as nice of a controller as it is, the Genesis layout always made the most sense to me when dealing with MK. On a more objective note, the 6-Button Controller has a looser and more fluid D-pad, which was especially useful back in the days where it was less about pressing, say, Down then Forward and more about rolling one’s thumb in a continuous, quarter-circle motion from Down to Forward.
Both before and after spending some time with MKII on the 32X I was interested in reading through any comprehensive list(s) of differences/improvements, but I found little more than anecdotal information. Does it run faster? Was the code optimized? Were all 32-bits of the 32X utilized? I didn’t find the answers to these questions and as such there’s a level of technical comparison that I just don’t have the knowledge to dig into. However, I’ve spent countless hours with MKII on the Genesis, a good bit of time with it on the Super NES, and the enhanced sound and visuals were immediately apparent. You can certainly get the complete MKII experience no matter what platform you turn to (barring the Game Boy and Game Gear ports), but the 32X version has just enough refinement to edge out its competitors for “best home version of Mortal Kombat II.” Yes, there are the Saturn and Japanese-only PS1 ports, but neither sound very appealing (loading times, poor coding) when the costs are weighed against the benefits.
Of course in the years since Mortal Kombat II was an arcade staple we’ve seen lots of changes, and I’m sure any number of compilations or digital downloads are able to boast “arcade perfect translations” without even batting an eye. But if you enjoy kicking it old school, Mortal Kombat II just may be one of the better uses of your 32X.
Reviewed by The Cubist
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