If you thought "mortal madness" came and went with last year's release of the home version of the violent martial arts arcade game "Mortal Kombat," think again.
The madness is back: The home version of "Mortal Kombat II," the much more violent descendant of "Mortal Kombat I," has hit stores. Boosted by a $10 million marketing blitz - which includes television and movie theater commercials - 2 million copies of the home game - for both Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo systems - were sent out worldwide."Mortal Kombat I" became a center of controversy when it was released last year; at the time, it was the most violent game to ever be released on a home game system. In one option, a player could decapitate an opponent.
"Mortal Kombat II" has even more creatively violent options. The game has been rated by its manufacturer, Acclaim Entertainment, as inappropriate for kids under 17 - meaning anyone under 17 should be under adult supervision while playing it. The Sega Genesis version of "Mortal Kom-bat II" comes with an "MA-17" rating; Nintendo used a similar advi-sory sticker.
"These stickers are just advising parents and kids that the stuff in `Mortal Kombat' may not be appropriate for kids under 17," said Allyne Mills, director of public relations for Acclaim Entertainment. "In no way do these ratings affect who can and can't buy this at retail stores."
In the same vein, "Mortal Kom-bat I" attempted to regulate who could play it by offering a toned-down version of the game for Super Nintendo. Players could tap into the violent version of the game only by entering a special "blood code."
Since "Mortal Kombat II" has been rated inappropriate for kids under 17, there's not a bloodless version of the game, or a blood code. "It just made things a lot easier," said Mills. "No one needs a code now."
That bloody action, along with crisp, lifelike graphics - created by videotaping live actors and storing their digital images - is the key to "Mortal Kombat's" appeal.
"That's what's so great about it," said 15-year-old Ryan Gillskie of Burleson, Texas, who said he has played MK ever since it was released three years ago. "Before `Mortal Kombat,' video game graphics were terrible looking, completely unrealistic. Then you have this game that comes out that has these great graphics. Plus, you can rip off someone's head and see all this blood - and it looks real!"
This is what worried some parents and government officials. Especially disturbing to them are the bloody "finishing moves" or "Fa-tali-ties."
When one fighter beats another, the words "Finish Him" flash on the screen. "Mortal Kombat I" winners could pick and choose among ripping off the loser's head, burning him into a pile of ash or electrocuting him. With "MKII," winners have more options, including ripping off various limbs, eating the losers or draining them of their souls.
For the past year, kids have flocked around the arcade version of "Mortal Kombat II," which has crisper graphics, more moves and faster characters than the first installment. Players pass along notes describing how to perform each of the "Fatalities," in addition to finding hidden characters and performing other special moves, like "Babalities" and "Friendship" maneuvers, the two bloodless finishing moves. (Use a "Babality," and your opponent turns into a baby. "Friendship" maneuvers include giving opponents a present or a bouquet of flowers, instead of killing them.)
Most of these features are included in the home versions of "MKII" for Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. The hand-held versions, for Nintendo's portable Game Boy and Sega's Game Gear players, contain most of the moves but not all 12 characters.
More than 5 million copies of Acclaim's home version of MKI have been sold, making it the largest-selling home video game of all time. But the arcade version's popularity has taken a drastic dive.
At the Tilt game room at Fort Worth's Hulen Mall, the game is barely used.
"Kids just don't play it that much anymore," said assistant manager Brandon Theum. "The graphics aren't as good and the characters are too slow."
Robert Ross, manager of Putt-Putt Golf and Games in nearby Arlington, disagrees. "Some kids still play it," he said. "When their parents let 'em."
So will "Mortal Kombat II's" buzz die, now that it's available for home kombatters?
"Doubt it," said Sean Harms, 21, of Fort Worth. "Sure, I'm going to buy the home version of it, but it's impossible to completely reproduce every little thing. And those little things are what make the arcade game so special."
If the buzz does die, chances are it will be revitalized next year, when New Line Cinema plans to release "Mortal Kombat - The Movie," a full-length feature film based on the two games and characters. The movie is being filmed in Thailand and is set for release in mid-1995.
The big question: Will there be a "Mortal Kombat III"?
"It's very much like the movie industry. We like to keep people guessing," said Mills.