Mortal Kombat II

Why did we ever think mocap sprites were a good idea?

Every Game Ever is, at the root of it, an investigation of nostalgia.  It’s a reaching-back towards those things that we, as gamers, are nostalgic about – a particular subset of all the things that captivated us and drew us in and filled our lives, for better or for worse.  The SNES was chosen precisely for that reason; it is a monolith of gamer nostalgia.

Maybe investigation isn’t the best word.  This post (so far) is investigative, sure, but for the most part the reviews are exploratory – going back and immersing oneself, if only for a short time, in the sensation and experience of that game.  One could propose that this is an attempt to recapture the object of nostalgia, by which I mean that experience as it was in the past, to relive it and satisfy the nostalgic longing.  I would say that, if that’s the case, it is an impossible task, one that is doomed to failure.  We are not the same people, physically, emotionally, mentally.  Gaming isn’t the same.  Life isn’t the same.  Western culture is preoccupied by a nostalgia for childhood and certain signposts thereof – innocence, freedom, energy, and so on – and it’s impossible to retrieve, and it’s no different for games.

But read the reviews on this site, and you won’t see much of that always-already doomed nostalgia.  In fact, the overwhelming majority of the posts are humorous, contemptuous or even discouraged.  Instead of reaching for the object of nostalgia, we are exploring nostalgia, probing at the sore tooth with our tongue, and discovering that it’s empty and hollow.  The SNES had some really solid games, but a lot of the stuff we remember enjoying – in fact, the majority of the library – is garbage.  Hilariously so, in fact.

Sometimes, a game is worthy of genuine nostalgia, something I explored in my Chrono Trigger review.  But it turns out that this is a rare and precious thing, and most SNES games show you a different thing: that nostalgia is often an illusion, that you long for a past utopia that didn’t exist, that the very narrative of our lives is inspired by Biblical tales of Eden and the Fall – that when you were a kid, you were pretty dumb, and you liked stupid shit.

Mortal Kombat II is the very incarnation of this principle.  It’s a terrible game based on terrible principles, driven by marketing and sensationalism, and worst of all its success legitimized its awfulness.  I liked Mortal Kombat when I was a kid, and I couldn’t even tell you why.  Actually, I can: I watched TV, read magazines, and talked to my friends, and I absorbed the idea that MK was a series worth playing.

I would have more respect for a game that required you to insert a quarter into the machine for every shot you had to fire.