Off with his head, and other joys of Mortal Kombat II

THE FLIP SIDE

September 15, 1994|By Kevin Cowherd | Kevin Cowherd,Sun Staff Writer

If you are the parent of an adolescent or near-adolescent, you should know that the hot new video game is Mortal Kombat II. Then you should drop to your knees and say a prayer for our country.

MK II, which arrived nationally in toy stores a few days ago, follows on the heels of last year's hugely successful Mortal Kombat and has an equally tasteful premise: A group of unsavory characters competes in a mythical tournament in which the goal, near as I can tell, is to sever as many limbs and remove as many internal organs as possible.

Once upon a time, video games were more benign. They featured cute, smily creatures gobbling up little white dots (Pac Man) or affable fellows named Mario gently attempting to rescue maidens from love-crazed apes (Donkey Kong).

But that was long, long ago -- back during the Eisenhower administration, wasn't it? Now with a game like MK II, kids can hunker down for some good, clean punching, kicking, stabbing, maiming and much, much more.

And let's face it: Once you've sliced off your opponent's upper torso with a razor-sharp, blade-rimmed hat or spit an acid fireball in his face, it's hard to get worked up throwing apples at the palace guards in Aladdin.

In any event, in order to check out Mortal Kombat II, we slipped into a disguise (baggy jeans, No Fear T-shirt, shades, White Sox cap worn backward) and went to Toys 'R Us and plunked down $69.99, plus tax, for the Super Nintendo version.

Then, owing to a handicap that prevents us from operating any device more complicated than a shower curtain, we got a couple of kids to play the game so we could see what all the fuss is about.

The boys -- Steve Staniewski, 12, and Nick Carlson, 11, both of Cockeysville -- obtained permission to play from their parents. Both boys declined the offer to have a priest stand by, in case they became so troubled that an impromptu exorcism was called for.

"Awesome!" was Steve's initial reaction to MK II.

"Cool!" was how Nick described it.

In fact, over the next 45 minutes, the boys were to use the words "Awesome!" and "Cool!" approximately 200 times each, to the point where you wanted to seal their little mouths with duct tape, although that would have probably brought a visit from the cops.

First, a couple of observations: Obviously, Mortal Kombat II has a violent theme. But the violence -- including the fake-looking blood that accompanies each blow -- has an absurd, cartoon-like quality that somehow makes it more detached.

When one character, Shang Tsung, performs his patented "soul-sucker" move, magically sucking the soul from his opponent's body and leaving a withered corpse, it makes you laugh, not cringe.

Same thing when Reptile shoots out his tongue and sucks an opponent's head off his shoulders -- you want to stand and shout: "Yo, Reptile . . . that was all right!"

Secondly, a kid would need to drop out of school, move into the basement, and spend the next two years practicing Super Nintendo full time in order to figure out all the moves each MK II character makes.

For example, in order to have the evil Baraka execute his HTC patented Shredder stabbing move, a kid has to hit these buttons: away, away, away, low punch. This is why people of a certain age stick to checkers.

Nevertheless, the boys seemed highly impressed and reported that they would gladly cough up 70-some bucks for the game.

"It's fun, but it's hard, too," Steve said. "I like it 'cause it's gory."

"It's the best video game I ever played," Nick said. "The characters are real neat. It's real imaginative. But you know it's not real. If you punch someone, a gallon of blood isn't really gonna come out. And you can't really hit someone and knock their head off."

Yes, and we can all count our blessings for that.

It should be noted that the game comes with a warning that it may not be appropriate for players under the age of 17, which, of course, makes it even more attractive to your average 12-year-old. If warnings don't work on a pack of Marlboros, they won't work on video games.

Lee Anne McDermott is editor-in-chief of GamePro, a magazine that reviews video games and whose average reader is a 15-year-old boy. She said the reaction to MK II has been enthusiastic, her readers no doubt appreciating the step up in mayhem and bloodshed from Mortal Kombat.

A call to Acclaim Entertainment, the Long Island, N.Y., manufacturer of Mortal Kombat II, revealed a rosy sales picture. You could almost hear champagne corks popping in the background.

"They're selling as well, if not better, than Mortal Kombat did," spokesman Dan Harnett said over a loud roar, which was probably the Brinks trucks backing up to the place and dropping off huge bundles of money.

As we left Steve Staniewski and Nick Carlson, they had just learned how to have Liu Kang "morph" into a dragon and behead his opponent. They asked if we cared to see the move and, of course, we said yes. Hey, who wouldn't?

But it's a funny thing about dragon beheadings. You see one, you've seen them all.

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