And then there was blood['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles some not-so-great fighting games]

Mortal Kombat

You can lie to yourself all you want, but it’s a fact that many of the fighting games for the Genesis and Super Nintendo were terrible and, at best, gimmicky. Others were only poor ports of good arcade games. For the sake of simplicity I am just going to focus on the Genesis and try stay away from honestly good fighting games. Looking back on the 90’s and it’s fighting game line up compared to now, we are really only slightly better off with girls that kick high.

It is probably best to begin with what started a trend of mediocre fighting games with style over substance: Mortal Kombat. The release of this game on home consoles was probably one of the largest videogame-related media events since The Wizard was released. Videogame critics were quick to speak up about how this trash would ruin our children. Because of the "realistic" violence Joe Lieberman was brought into the forefront as an upholder of public morality. I’m pretty sure that all it did was sell more games.

Using digitized people and borrowing many elements from the seminal Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat won its way into many people’s hearts with excessive and unrealistic gore. Blood would glob out of the characters with as little as a slap to the face. Heads could be rent from their torso, spinal column included. It was fantastic. The Genesis port was fairly competent and faithful to the original: I played it to death. Though the controversy over the game caused the game to be released without blood there was a code for the Genesis version which would unlock it, a code almost as infamous as the Konami Code.

For the record I turned out to be fairly balanced person and have never once tried to reproduce an act in the game other than for comedic effect.

prage.gifPrimal Rage

Atari followed suit shortly thereafter with Primal Rage. The game pitted Draconian gods against each other for the control of Urth. Rather than use live-action digitized humans this game went with clay figures. PR feels just as cheesy as MK does and goes even further for an attempt to gross out - or play up to - immature audiences. You fight to a gory death while occasionally gobbling up or tossing human worshipers at your feet. The brutality ranged from stabbings to crushing, and one of the gods could even melt the flesh off enemies with acidic urine in his "golden shower" fatality.

On the Genesis the game lost little of its “charm.” As to be expected from a port to an under-powered system the game doesn’t look or sound as nice as the original. But aside from a few missing combos (for no apparent reason) the rest of the game is pretty much intact: even all the censored items which were removed from the SNES version. Yet Primal Rage is not the end of these inadequate games.

Eternal Champions

Eternal Champions was the first game for the Genesis where I finally thought I had an excuse to buy a 6-button controller. I spent a good amount of my time playing vs. fighting games in the arcades, so I didn’t need a 6-button controller for Street Fighter II (nor a copy of the game itself really), but Eternal Champions was something new, and ultimately even more of the same.

echamptions.gifBuying into the hype I got the game and the controller but shortly thereafter gave up on fighting games in general for a while. While EC was a decent game and controlled well it was just jumping on the bandwagon of overly violent games. The only unique quality of the game is the “overkills” (stage specific fatalities), but even that had been in other games, just not to the same extent. Seeing these overkills usually involved trying to find them with your friends. You have to have an opponent land on the ground in a very specific spot when they die. Sometimes it was fairly obvious where this was to happen, where others it was nearly impossible to land right. The overkills ranged from drive-by shootings to chest explosions resulting in the outpouring of bowels.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed these games a lot when they came out. I would spend many summer days and weekend hours playing the games with friends. Many times my friends would come over and I would end up playing while they went off to go fishing, or what ever it was that normal kids ended up doing. But they just don’t hold up well at all.

When I started to collect arcade cabinets for my game room a few years back I managed to get a Primal Rage cabinet exceptionally cheap. I tried to rekindle the love for these b-movie games with some friends. We made a party of sorts out of it: pizza, beer, and women (well, my wife at the least). After a good hour (or less) of laughs and drunken hilarity the thrill wore off, the games showed just what they were: bad. In a half-hearted attempt to see if the console ports were somehow better than the arcade originals I revisited many of my favorites (with other baddies not mentioned such as TMNT:Tournament Fighter and Cyborg Justice). The experiment was a failure and, in retrospect, I find it hard to believe that we thought of these as looking real or even close at one point. The memories remain and the fight goes on. 2D fighters are all but extinct now and many of these games are the reason why. Strangely enough Mortal Kombat is coming up on its possible "final game," I can only hope that really is true.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]