In our Final Round series, we take a look an in-depth look at as many fighting games as we possibly can. This week, Shaun Eddleston takes a look at 1994’s unreleased Tattoo Assassins…
Year of Release – 1994 (prototype)
Developer – Data East Pinball
Publisher – Data East
Platforms – Arcade
After its release in 1993, Mortal Kombat was wildly successful. the game’s brand of digitized graphics, ultra violent gameplay and mystical theme were a breath of fresh air for many people who wanted an alternative to the more cartoonish action found in the wave of Capcom titles at the time. With this success, it was only natural that it spawned a seemingly endless number of clones, with each title trying to outdo the last with more blood, more guts and more controversial content in a bid to be more “Mortal Kombat“-like than everyone else.
While we will get into the vast majority of these clones later on in the Final Round series, but for part 11, we’ll take a look at the most notorious of these copycat games; the infamous, unreleased disaster that is Tattoo Assassins.
Developed by the pinball division of Data East and intended for a 1994 release in arcades to directly compete with Mortal Kombat, Tattoo Assassins features life-like digitized characters fighting against each other in one-on-one combat, complete with gory (and silly) fatalities that the MK games were famous for. The developers boasted that there were 2196 fatalities to pull off in the game, but this was a total lie, as there is only around 60 at most.
The game was led by Bob Gale (best known as the screenwriter for the first Back To The Future movie) and Joe Kaminkow (former head of Data East pinball), and the majority of the attacks in the game were based on the theme of magical tattoos that each character had inked on them.
There are a few pop culture references sprinkled around in the game’s fatalities, such as a DeLorean running over opponents (calling back to Gale’s involvement in Back To The Future). It’s not a massively redeeming quality of the game, but it’s a fun one nonetheless.
The game’s production was plagued with issues that resulted in the game being cancelled outright, including internal squabbling with the developers, management problems, several missed deadlines and overwhelmingly negative feedback from game testers. The game’s competition was also a major factor in the decision to bin Tattoo Assassins too, as games like Primal Rage included much better fatalities (acidic piss was always going to win that one) and Killer Instinct being much more fun to play.
There’s some really terrible fighting games that did see a full release, but the fact that this was so crappy that it was abandoned so far into development makes it all the more intriguing. So the question remains, is Tattoo Assassins as bad as its reputation tells us? Thanks to the game’s ROM file being made available online in recent years, we can now see for ourselves…
As far as promotional material for the game goes, there’s not much out there. The game’s cancellation pretty much eliminated any need for any heavy marketing, but we did get some flyers and magazine features that highlighted the game’s story, the characters and some screens of in-game action.
There were also posters given out at a handful of gaming expos, featuring three of the game’s characters in a pinup-esque pose.
The game’s story revolves around the evil Koldan stealing some magic ink, the “ink of Ghize”, intending to use its power to create an army of mutants and enslave mankind. Only nine people are also compatible with the ink, eight of which are possessed by Koldan’s power. The remaining person is the player, who must defeat the other 8 assassins to eventually reach, and kill, Koldan.
In one of the more unique character select screens for an arcade fighting game, players can choose from a range of 9 unique characters. Each has a number of colour variations to select using the player start button, and a choice of special attack to use during a fight.
Maya’s father was a tribal chief that was killed by greedy foreign land developers that were intent on taking the native land for their own. Since her father’s death, Maya has now taught the tribe to fight back using guerilla tactics, and as a result, the developers now want her dead too.
Her attacks are heavily based on stereotypes of tribespeople, such as blowdarts, and her tattoo is a tiger head inked onto her stomach, which shows up prominently in her fatalities; generating a large paw that slices an opponent into bloody strips or morphing fully into a tiger that rips the opponent’s head clean off, then plays with the body.
Karla Reller was cheated out of her chance to win in the olympics when her rival, Eva Gunther, ambushed her late one night in an attempt to cripple her. Swearing revenge, Karla practices martial arts every day.
Based on the image of figure skater Nancy Kerrigan (even taking inspiration from her real life assault), Karla uses a number of ice skating-themed attacks in her moveset. The tattoo of a thorny rose that goes up her leg and onto her stomach can spawn a Little Shop Of Horrors style plant that consumes her opponent, or a rather painful-looking sharp rose bust to impale them on.
Truck Davis is the last remaining survivor of the Holy Terrors biker gang, after a rival gang (“The Sore Losers”) ambushed their headquarters and slaughtered them after losing a drinking contest. Truck now has a score to settle, while The Sore Losers look to finish what they started.
As the bruiser of the game, Truck has some pretty ugly moves that you’d undoubtedly come to expect from a drunken brawler. The poorly drawn snake tattoo on his chest can spawn a huge snake that chomps on a dizzy foe, or he can pull out a shotgun and unload several rounds into his opponent. Lazy design work? yes. Entertaining? Also yes.
A former “world-class” strip club dancer, who is now on the hunt for a deranged killer that started stalking the other dancers and killed her best friend. Her only desire in life is to exact revenge.
Played by former model, actress and former girlfriend of OJ Simpson, Gretchen Stockdale, Hannah Hart utilises attacks such as acidic spit, and her black widow back tattoo offers up some pretty standard spider-themed fatalities. She, like the other female characters in the game, can also perform a devastating fart move, which has since become one of the most widely talked-about elements of the entire game.
A former yakuza assassin who is framed for the murder of the governor’s daughter by the son of a powerful crime lord. This injustice means that Tak is now wanted by both the yakuza and the Japanese police.
Taking the role as Tattoo Assassin’s mystical martial artist, Tak’s attacks (ha!) are pretty much a mix of MK staples Liu Kang and Shang Tsung, but with the added ability of throwing some pretty cartoonish knives around. His tattoo of a double-headed dragon ranges from an obligatory dragon attack, to transforming the opponent into a cutesy purple dragon that resembles a certain dinosaur from the 1990s.
Derek O’Toole is an aspiring rock star from Ireland who is falsely accused of being involved in terrorist activities (hey, remember the IRA?) in his home town of Belfast. As a result of this, he was forced to develop fighting skills to defend himself, and is now a regular of the underground club scene.
As Derek is a stereotypical rock star, expect to see a lot of heavy metal-esque moves involving guitars and fire-breathing. The bandana-clad skull tattooed onto his chest can be summoned in fatalities to throw up acidic vomit all over his opponents or an entire guitar-wielding skeleton that plays a riff that’s so heavy that the entire upper half of his foe just explodes.
After taking up arms as a stand against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management ignoring the preservation of his ancestors’ ancient burial lands, Billy Two-Moons is branded a renegade, and lives life as a fugitive, killing many bounty hunters along the way.
The game’s resident native American stereotype uses just what you’d expect for his attacks; expect to see tomahawks flying about, some arrows being fired and a whole lot of raindancing to celebrate wins. His tattoo is of an Eagle that can carry opponents off to their death, or simply take a deadly acidic dump on them instead. Oh, and he can scalp his opponents too, because of course he can.
A.C. Current is a “cyber-mercenary” that travels the internet and hacking into computer systems for the highest bidder. After being set up in an industrial espionage double-cross, A.C. is now wanted by INTERPOL and his former employers.
Like a shoddy mix of Mortal Kombat‘s Raiden and Johnny Cage, A.C. has a number of electricity-based attacks at his disposal. The lightning bolt tattoo on his chest allows him to create a robotic arm that can electrocute opponents, or just set them on fire.
As a side note, A.C. is a hilariously outdated look at what people thought that the internet would be like in the future at the time of its infancy. Instead of the dangerous, outlaw-filled digital wild west that only
hackers “cyber-mercenaries” could navigate, we got an infinite void of memes, trolls and online shopping (although it could be argued that sketchy data collection and constant surveillance is far more sinister, but hey, let’s get back to Tattoo Assassins…)
A former Navy seal who was left stranded in Alaska after a secret mission against the soviets was compromised by a bureaucrat. While the U.S. Navy has officially declared him dead, he is still wanted dead by the CIA due to his knowledge of the botched operation.
Luke plays in a similar fashion to – yep, you guessed it! – Jax from MK2, and draws power from a terribly painted octopus tattoo that adorns his chest; allowing him to spawn an eight tentacled friend to totally constrict his opponents, or just making them vanish as he celebrates by doing push ups. It’s clear at this point that the developers had just stopped caring after a certain point, so they just lazily shoehorned in anything to fill space.
Before you reach the final boss, you have to face off against three sub-bosses;
- Rhina – a half rhino/half human creature.
- Deke Cay – a fighting zombie.
- Prizm – a light-based crystal monster.
While Prizm looks pretty cool (in comparison to the rest of the cast), Deke Cay looks like a cheap Halloween costume and Rhina is a total misstep. These characters are supposed to be imposing and threatening, but end up being laughable and stupid.
As for the final boss? Koldan The Conquerer falls into the same trap as the sub-bosses. Although he boasts some very A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors-like syringes on his fingers, Koldan is one of the most forgettable final bosses I’ve ever encountered in a game. Not only is he easy to defeat, but he feels like a no-face goon from a side-scrolling beat-’em-up.
Upon completing the game, each character gets their own front page news story. These range from the understandable (e.g. Maya stopping the murderous land developers and Derek living the rock star lifestyle) to the funny (e.g. A.C. making sure there’s no censorship in games ever again) to the plain weird (e.g. Karla – “I’m Going To Disneyland!”).
No matter who you play as, it’s an incredibly disappointing end to an incredibly disappointing game.
Tattoo Assassins is one of the worst Mortal Kombat clones ever made, with some terrible controls, crappy story and generally broken gameplay. The decreased framerate of each character is painful to look at and the fatalities range from the absurd, to the painfully uninspired.
That being said, the game’s vain attempts at being as deliberately controversial as it possibly can are hilariously dumb fun. Some of the fatalities did force a chuckle from me at times, and the blatant use of the most basic stereotypes of people is so over the top that you can’t help but laugh.
It’s pretty obvious why Tattoo Assassins never officially saw the light of day, and it seemed to be doomed right from the beginning; a Mortal Kombat copycat made by a screenwriter of an 80s adventure movie and a pinball development team… What could possibly go wrong?.
Instead of playing the game, you should just watch compilations of the finishing moves to get the maximum enjoyment (if there is any) out of this one.
Have you played Tattoo Assassins? What’s your favourite fatality from the game? Let us know in the comments below, or send a tweet our way!