Mortal Kombat 1 PC DOS Version Comparison

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Background Music

The CD version complements the Arcade-perfect sound effects with an Arcade-perfect soundtrack, which uses digitized tracks for background music. There is actually no difference between the sound effects and the music in this version – they are all standard 11KHz .WAV files, and they sound pretty much identical to the Arcade, except maybe a little muffled due to a lower sampling rate.

The earlier versions had completely different, synthesized music. Some of the tunes sound similar to the Arcade, although with different instruments, and others are similar to some tunes from various console ports, but to the best of my knowledge, the full soundtrack is unique to the PC port, in the sense that there is no other version with these exact song combinations.

There are actually two soundtracks – the FM version which plays in Adlib and Sound Blaster modes, and the MIDI version which plays in Roland and Roland + Sound Blaster modes. The Roland soundtrack is designed to be played on an MT-32 or compatible device, such as CM-32/CM-64/LAPC-I, not on a General MIDI device like a Sound Canvas. If you play it via General MIDI, the instruments will most likely sound very weird. If you don’t have compatible hardware, you can use the DOSBox + Munt MT-32 emulator combination.

Tune-wise, the MIDI tracks are the same as FM, except much slower, which is inexplicable. The instruments, of course, sound better, but the slow beat really takes away from the experience (and most fights will be over before you get to hear a substantial part of the song). As a result, I actually prefer the FM soundtrack, but this is highly subjective.

The final Virgin release has one, most likely unintentional, side effect – the music tempo has also been affected by the general speed-up, and all tunes now play a little faster. This affects both FM and Roland soundtracks, but the latter is still so slow that it hardly matters. While it is not possible to be 100% sure, the facts that all earlier versions kept the same tempo, and that tempo seems to be close to the Arcade tempo (in comparable tunes such as the Storyline and the Warrior Shrine tunes) suggest that the old tempo is correct and the Virgin tempo is wrong. There is nothing that can be done about it, though, because the audio data is the same – the game just interprets it differently. You get slower gameplay with slower music or faster gameplay with faster music. Or you play the CD version.

Because the floppy and CD soundtracks are so different, it is hard to say that one is better than the other, and it will probably be a matter of personal preference forever. If you wish to compare them directly without playing the games – I recommend the following Youtube playlist (Tracks 1-8 are from the Arcade and CD versions, tracks 9-14 are from the DOS floppy versions):

Playlist. Mortal Kombat soundtracks for Arcade/CD and Floppy versions.

There are a couple of minor differences in the way the music behaves in the games. Only the final Virgin and CD versions have music during Test Your Might rounds in 1-player mode (earlier releases only have it in 2-player mode as it transitions directly from the Select screen).

In the CD version, the music continues playing if you pause the game, but in the floppy versions it is paused as well. Unpausing the game in the floppy versions seems to briefly reset the volume of the FM music, so it will be very loud for a second or two, until the next segment starts playing, at which point the volume will go back to normal. This affects only the Adlib, not the Roland music.

All versions have the same behavior as the Arcade – if you leave the game in attract (demo) mode, it will play music and sounds during the first 4 loops of the demo, and then turn both off, and continue showing the demos in silence. In the floppy versions, in Adlib mode, however, it appears that the music is not stopped, rather its volume is reduced to almost zero. If you pause and unpause the game at this point, the volume reset effect of the FM music will kick in and you will simply have the tune from the last battle looping forever (there will be no sound effects, though). In Roland mode, the volume reduction was not implemented at all, and the last song will just keep on playing without having to pause/unpause. None of this works in the CD version. However, in all versions, entering the F10 setup menu will leave the currently playing track looping until you exit the menu.


A major bug in the early releases (up to and including the Release Candidate) is a non-trivial chance of crash when Goro drops in at the end of Endurance Match #3. This has happened to me a number of times playing these versions, but has not happened with the official releases. If the bug is still there, its occurrence is greatly reduced.

Another bug that is present in all versions where DIP switches are available is that disabling the Fatalities via switch #0 does not affect Cage’s fatality, which can still be performed even with that switch off.

All versions, except Alpha/Beta, implement some form of copy protection, which was common for DOS games of the time. Floppy versions ask for a word from the manual when the game starts. The CD version does away with that, instead expecting the disk to be present in the drive. All versions have cracks available, but these are not to be discussed here. The CD version that comes with the GoG Mortal Kombat 1+2+3 collection is pre-cracked, per GoG’s policy of not including any DRM/copy-protection mechanisms with its games.

The Virgin Beta and Release Candidate versions require waiting for Acclaim/Virgin/Probe logos to finish showing before it’s possible to start a game (F1/F2 only start working once ‘Midway Presents’ appears). The official versions have no such limitations.

A minor annoyance present only in the final Virgin floppy version is that it screws up the keyboard repeat rate (the rate at which the keyboard will process a held down key as repeated keypresses). The game sets it to very slow, and “forgets” to set it back when exiting. The same problem exists in the floppy version of MK2. At some point the developers must have understood that it’s annoying, so the “feature” was removed from the CD versions of both MK1 and MK2. Fortunately, this can be easily reset,as described here.

Summary of differences
Version Alpha Beta (Virgin) Release Candidate Ultratech V1 Ultratech V2 Virgin Final CD
Configuration Mk –s Mk –s Setup.exe F10 in game F10 in game F10 in game F10 + Setsound
DIP Switches No No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
DIP Switch 6 for Pit shadows? n/a n/a n/a No No Yes Yes
Free play? Yes Yes No DIP Switch 5 DIP Switch 5 DIP Switch 5 DIP Switch 5
Keyboard configurable? No No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Simplified keyboard moves Sonya No Sonya + Sub-Zero Sonya  + Sub-Zero Sonya  + Sub-Zero Sonya  + Sub-Zero Sonya + Sub-Zero
Game speed Slow Slow Slow Slow Slow Fast Fast
Round duration 60sec 65sec 65sec 65sec 65sec 60sec 55sec
Standing block against sweep Yes Yes No No No No No
Collision boxes Normal Normal Large Large Normal Normal Normal
Frame rate Low Low Low Low High High Highest
Missing sound effects All Many Some Some Some Some None
Music No FM/MIDI FM/MIDI FM/MIDI FM/MIDI FM/MIDI (fast) Digital (Arcade)

Table 4. Summary of the key differences between MK1 DOS versions.


I hope that this lengthy article gave a good insight into the evolution of the PC DOS port of MK1. The question that remains is, naturally, ‘Which version is the best to play?’

It is not surprising that the final CD release, by every objective parameter, is superior to the floppy versions. In addition to providing a full Arcade-perfect soundtrack, it also fixed all of the audio hardware-related bugs. At the same time, it kept the nice touches of the PC port, like the simplified keyboard moves, and the DIP switches menu. It is so good, and so close to the Arcade original, that many players at the time were very disappointed that MK2 did not receive the same overhaul.

There is only one subjective parameter that prevents the CD version from being crowned the absolute best, and it is the background music. The FM and MIDI soundtracks that were written for the PC versions are quite nice in their own way, and give the game a somewhat unique atmosphere. Undoubtedly, some players will prefer them to the Arcade music, and it is a pity that the CD release did not preserve them, giving the ability to choose between FM, MIDI and digital music.

So, if you are a fan of the floppy soundtrack – which is the version for you? This gets a bit tricky. The Virgin release has a couple of nice enhancements over the Ultratech, but screws up the tempo of the FM a bit. However, the MIDI music, slow as it is, actually benefits from the speed-up, so I would say FM fans would prefer the Ultratech, and MIDI fans would prefer the Virgin. If for some reason you like slower combat in MK1, the Ultratech release may be preferred.

What about the old / unofficial versions – are they worth playing? In my opinion, not really. They don’t have any unique content to them, but they do have more bugs, lack some configurability, and run at a lower frame rate. They may be interesting to try to experience differences in game mechanics, such as the huge collision boxes in the RC / Ultratech V1, but that’s about it.

Have any remarks? Are there any differences I missed? Or perhaps you know of an entirely different version? Comments are welcome!


4 thoughts on “Mortal Kombat 1 PC DOS Version Comparison”

  1. If you look closely at the Scorpion and the skeleton, it is noticeable that the developers tried to remove the sprite border.

    1. Thank you for the translation, and for referencing this blog. If you don’t mind, please add a reference in the first part as well, since they are separate forum threads.

      You did a terrific job; I didn’t spot any mistakes and your style is good. 🙂 Great catch about the Arcade resolution. For some reason I assumed it was higher than it is. I will fix it in the write-up.

  2. It seems to me based on the file date that the first US release version was hurried out to get it in stores before Christmas (which they just barely did) only for a few bugs to remain. In Europe, where Virgin handled distribution, they didn’t rush so the bugs were addressed before release, as they were for the second shipment of the US distribution. At least they sent out a patch disk for those who bought the first shipment in the US.

    And although I agree that it would have been cool for the GOG release to allow for the Sound Blaster/Ad-Lib or MIDI versions to be played (Or even the PC speaker just for kicks), I’m just glad it’s readily available, since it’s still the best home port of the original.

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