Tattoo Assassins
by: Dr. Boogie

Back in the early 90s, some developers thought they had stumbled upon the next step in graphics technology: digitizing. Rather than hiring artists to painstakingly create characters from scratch, and draw out every single frame in their animation, companies would use actors to dress as the characters and perform various actions that would be filmed and added to a game. It was quite innovative. It also looked like crap, and the practice was mercifully discontinued after a few years.

During that period, however, Mortal Kombat was the king. If you were a game developer, and you could make a game that beat MK, you could write your own check in the world. Here's the story of a game that couldn't beat MK at its own game. The story of a game called Tattoo Assassins.

The challenge for Data East was to get a chunk of the MK pie. To do that, they devised a plan to create and publish their own fighting game in a period of only eight months. The result: nonstop 12-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week shifts for the programmers, artists turning out the only kind of garbage they could make on the fly, and overall, just a real piece of shit. They even got Bob Gale, the guy who wrote Back to the Future, to write a story for the game, but even that couldn't save it. It also probably didn't help that this was all being undertaken by the pinball division of Data East.

Long story short, the game sucked like a hungry black hole, and it never went into production. They made two cabinets in total: one that still sits in the company office, and another in a private collection that was tragically lost in a flood. Luckily, someone had the presence of mind to upload the rom dump to the internet, and now you too can see what Data East was working on for all those months.

The story for the game goes down like this: Mullah Abba, a grown man in diapers, has discovered a magic ink that can come to life for brief periods of time. You could use it to tattoo people, too, but only certain people could receive the tattoos without coming to harm. One of those lucky few was a guy named Koldan, who then wanted to take over the world. Mullah Abba then sends his "color guard" to find nine people worthy of the ink in the hopes that at least one would be able to stop Koldan. Unfortunately, Koldan then possessed every last one of them, but Mullah Abba had one more trick up his sleeve: a woman named Lyla Blue, who will allow you, the player, to possess one Tattoo Assassin and take on Koldan and the rest... IF YOU DARE!!!

And it's all downhill from there. Don't believe me? Well then, let's take a look at your "champions":


By the way, you'll notice the "someone wants him/her dead" angle in most of these character backstories. Also, I'm sure you've noticed that the artists had to draw on some eyes because the model's eyes didn't turn out very well when they digitized this photo. That happens a lot, as well.

Billy Two Moons

Billy is not portrayed by David Duchovny. He's also not portrayed by an actual Native American either. To offset this noticeable problem, the designers made it a point to have Billy make a lot of the sorts of noises you'd expect to hear from old Cowboys and Indians movies. He even chants "hey-ya hey-ya hey-ya" when he wins a fight.

Truck Davis

Two things: First of all, he's a biker named "Truck". Secondly, that's one of the worst bald caps I've ever seen.

AC Current

He's wanted by Interpol and his former employers, but he still looks so happy! And look at the size of that head!! It must be from all the knowledge you need in order to be a "cyber-mercenary".

Tak Hata

If a Fu Manchu ‘stache doesn't convince the people that you're a Japanese man, I don't know what will.

Luke Cord

What a shame. The one actor whose eyes didn't need to be redrawn, and that's the best expression he could come up with. I guess having a torso-length octopus tattooed on you can be a bit disorienting.

Hannah Hart

She is built like a stripper, and she does have a convincing stripper name, but the actress portraying Hannah is actually a former cheerleader for the Dallas Cowboys. In a way, she's overqualified to be in this game.

Derek O'Toole

They got the "tool" part right, at least.

Karla Keller

Can anyone out there say that they saw something like this coming? A character in a fighting game based off of the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding incident at the '94 Winter Olympics? I had to pick her as my character, not because she had the creepiest stare and the oiliest chest, but because the designers really wanted to drive home the whole Nancy Kerrigan parody by making her wear her skates during the fights:

And who said subtlety was dead?

Anyway, I set out to try and beat the game with Karla. I was a little worried because, as longtime readers of the site are no doubt aware, I am awful at fighting games. For some reason, I just can't seem to perform the right moves and remember the right combos, no matter what I'm playing. Imagine my relief, then, when I discovered that you can beat the entire Tattoo Assassins game using only jumpkicks and uppercuts. Thank god this isn't like Mortal Kombat, or Street Fighter, or any other fighting game, where the computer eventually wises up when you use the same trick over and over again.

And so I fought. Here's the thing: all that I've told you up to this point is kind of funny, right? If it's not supposed to be, I'm sure some writer must've cried himself to slip every day for the rest of the 1990s. Anyway, as silly as the premise and character art are, the game itself is just plain terrible: the collision detection is awful, the background art would look bad even if you were playing this game on a Sega Genesis, and the sound effects are ridiculous. The soundbank for the game uses a lot of pre-recorded screams for big hits, and the designers didn't bother to separate the screams based on gender, so you've got buxom female fighters whose voices drop two octaves after they take a roundhouse kick. My favorite sound moment, however, came in the jungle stage, when the sounds of battle were temporarily sidelined to subject you to an unnecessarily loud monkey screech. Now that's how you create a tense atmosphere.

It's obvious that this game wasn't going to surpass MK in terms of gameplay, and it definitely wasn't going to do it with graphics either. How were the developers planning to compete with this turkey? One word: fatalities. The bulk of the controversy surrounding MK was because of its fatalities, and that game seemed to do pretty well in the market. To top MK, then, it was clear what the designers would have to do. They would have to create a game with hundreds and hundreds of different fatalities.

And that's exactly what they did.

Now I'm not about to document every single fatality from this game, partly because there are so many, but mostly because the majority of them are really lame and/or look like crap. Instead, I've gathered a handful of some of the more interesting kills:

A DeLorean comes and runs over your opponent. And yes, the animation is that bad. I almost went with just a still shot, but you all deserve to see the full crappiness in motion.

Tak's tattoo a two-headed beast tosses out an egg that hatches into a giant two-headed Barney the Dinosaur-like character, and your opponent dies for some reason. Someone call PBS!

If you do nothing but block repeatedly during the time for entering fatality codes, your opponent's head will pop off for no reason at all. I guess he was bored to death.

Your opponent turns into a hotdog and runs off the screen. Right?

Now this is a fatality I can get behind. Classic Burgetime reference? Check. Gameplay as fun as Burgertime? Working on it.

I saved the most bizarre fatality for last:

I think David Lynch helped create this fatality. You character bends over, and a turkey on a plate falls out of his/her ass. When the turkey hits the other player, it tosses your opponent back, and splits into several more turkeys that bounce around the room. If one hits you, you get tossed back just like your opponent. If this is just a bug, what the hell was this even supposed to be?

The game also featured "nude-alities". These were just a rumor in the MK series, but they actually made one for every character in this game. Basically, a puff of smoke, and your opponent would be shown nude, with hands and arms covering up the good stuff.

That was not a great day to be a digitized actor.

There's also supposed to be a fatality, or at least a move of some sort, that allows you to shoot diarrhea all over your opponent, but damned if I could figure out what it was. The closest I could get was this move:

Fire is hardly the same as diarrhea.

But wait, there's more!

During the game's attract mode, a screen pops up asking, "who are the mutants?" Permit me to answer that question by revealing that they are, in fact, the three boss characters you fight just prior to your big showdown with Koldan. They're kind of interesting as characters, but they don't really have much going for them as sub bosses in a fighting game. Fortunately, the programmers found a back door for this: rather than improving the AI for the sub bosses, they simply sped up all their animations. At first glance, it looks like they're merely moving a lot faster, but as soon as you uppercut one, you'll notice that they rise and fall much faster than any other opponent in the game. So fast, in fact, that your character doesn't even have time to come out of the uppercut animation. Luckily, the AI is still trash, and they can be beaten just as easily as any of the other fighters you've encountered up to this point in the game.

Still, let's take a look at them anyway:


A female bodybuilder with an enormous horn on her head. Is there anything I can really say about this character to make it more poignant? Well, she charges in a way you'd expect from someone with a horn on their forehead, and that can lead to some very cheap combo attacks.

Deke Cay

You see what they did there? Ingenious. An actual zombie is the second of your boss opponents. Unfortunately, the developers spent all their money on digitizing all the players, and so they had to put together a zombie costume using only what they could get on the cheap from a Halloween store. Of course, he'll be moving too fast for you to notice his shoddy costume, most of the time anyway.

Now, for example, is one of those times. Moving on...


Out of the three mutants, Prizm is probably the least ridiculous-looking. A skeleton encased in a humanoid-shaped crystal? Cool! There are a few tiny snags. The first is that no matter how hard you hit the guy, he won't fall down, which isn't surprising given how hard it would be for the actor to fall without wrecking the whole costume. That minor detail is kind of odd, but the real kicker is this: it only takes four blows to kill Prizm. That's right, a mere four hits will kill the final character standing between you and Koldan. Add to it the fact that Prizm is so large it's almost impossible NOT to hit him with a jump attack, and you've got yourself the worst possible henchman for an evil tattoo lover.

Speaking of which, how about that final boss:


The only thing that separates Koldan from any of the other male characters in the game is that he has some gloves that were clearly inspired by Freddy Krueger's trademark glove, only Koldan's gloves have hypodermic needles on the fingers instead of blades (which is still a rip-off of Elm Street 3). He is by far the fastest player in the game, but in the end, he's just as lame and stupid as every fighter before him, and he can be beaten using a mixture of jumpkicks and uppercuts. Or just jumpkicks, if you like. When you finally kill him, he melts down, and then blows up:

By the way, what you're seeing now is a result of me slowing down the animation a bit. You see, by speeding up the character, the programmers also sped up the spectacular way that he died. Well, whatever. It's not like there's any shortage of blood in the game.

Your reward for finally killing the evil Koldan and... freeing the magic tattoo ink for good, I guess, is that you get so see your character's ending...

... which was not programmed in by the time the project was canned. Bummer. I wonder why the programmers didn't get to it. It's not like they were too busy fixing the AI, or the collision, or the physics. Oh well. I'll just have to speculate on the meaning of that picture of Karla with the copyrighted ears on her head. Here's a guess:

Me: "Hey Karla! You just won the fight of your life! What are you going to do next?"

Karla: "I'm going to Disney World!!!"

I really don't know of what else to say about this game. I mean, everything about it is so bad as to seem comical. It's got dozens and dozens of gag fatalities, a Native American character that whoops and hollers like the Indians in spaghetti westerns, a Nancy Kerrigan-inspired fighter, and it was being made by the division of a company that specialized in pinball games! I honestly can't believe this was an actual game that someone wanted to make. At the same time, though, I'm glad they made it.

My hat's off to you, Tattoo Assassins. You are one in a million.

And thank god for that.

Have any questions or comments about this piece?
Email Dr. Boogie

For your viewing pleasure, here's footage of some fatalities from Tattoo Assassins:

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure to check out:

The 50 Greatest Arcade Cabinets In Video Game History!
The 50 Greatest Arcade Cabinets In Video Game History!

Reader Comments

Forum Virgin
Jan 24th, 2008, 06:31 AM
Wow, makes Pit Fighter look good. Never thought I'd say those words.
Retardedly Handsome
Jan 24th, 2008, 10:42 AM
Why did I waste all my time on an accounting degree...My guidance counselor never told me about the career path of the Cyber-Mercenary.

"the few, the pale, the cyber-mercenaries"
What Video Games?
Jan 24th, 2008, 01:40 PM
This is like the Action 52 of fighting games or something. Still the video with all the fatalities made me laugh.
Forum Virgin
Jan 24th, 2008, 02:41 PM
I got only one thing to say.

Jan 24th, 2008, 02:46 PM
i wish this game had been finished, it looks like a hoot

i don't suppose there's anyone with the resources AND interest to do it now, though
lots of experience
Jan 24th, 2008, 03:29 PM
I actually have an old issue of EGM² with an arcticle on this game where they show all the characters and their moves. I didn't know the game never came out, lol.
Funky Dynamite
Jan 24th, 2008, 03:32 PM
Originally Posted by executioneer View Post
i wish this game had been finished, it looks like a hoot

i don't suppose there's anyone with the resources AND interest to do it now, though
What's out there right now is more or less finished in terms of gameplay. They just needed another pass to add/fix the graphics, and introduce some AI to the game.
Fun haver
Jan 24th, 2008, 04:19 PM
There's a terrific (as in "creates terror") view inside the creation of Tattoo Assassins here, where if you scroll down the page you've got the story told from one of the programmers. It sounds pretty harsh, which means it's damn funny since it didn't happen to us. The idea that people not only created this game, but endured pain and suffering to do so is tragic.
Forum Chaos Lord
Jan 24th, 2008, 05:05 PM
AC Current causes one quote to come to mind:
Jan 24th, 2008, 05:09 PM
Originally Posted by Dr. Boogie View Post
What's out there right now is more or less finished in terms of gameplay. They just needed another pass to add/fix the graphics, and introduce some AI to the game.
well yeah, that was what i meant sort of
Jan 24th, 2008, 05:49 PM
I've seen write ups on this before, but I didn't realize how close they were to finishing. Good shit, Boogie.
Jan 24th, 2008, 06:04 PM
I admire your guts sir.

I couldn't possibly endure what you endured to make this article happen. I would have just cried at looking at the intro and thinking that I had to play it.
Suicidal Chipmunk
Jan 24th, 2008, 07:00 PM
In the fatality video, abbout five minutes in, does anybody have any idea what they were thinking when they made the bird tattoo take an acidic crap on the opponent?
Funky Dynamite
Jan 24th, 2008, 07:39 PM
Originally Posted by JJ the Jetplane View Post
In the fatality video, abbout five minutes in, does anybody have any idea what they were thinking when they made the bird tattoo take an acidic crap on the opponent?

"Ugh. It's 3am, I've been working for the past 11 hours, and I need to come up with some more fatalities. Okay... a bird. It eats a guy, it claws a guy, it craps on a guy, it pecks a guy... ok, that's four right there. 200 to go..."
Waiting for the worms.
Jan 24th, 2008, 07:52 PM
So...my guess would be that they spent most of thier time creating 2000+ half-assed fatalities, rather than pouring any talent into the rest of the development?
The Magnificent Bastard
Jan 24th, 2008, 10:13 PM

And, I thought War Gods had stupid character concepts.

And, the graphics are really horrible. I guess the MK games are the only decent games to use digitized actors.

Anyway, thank you Dr. Boogie for writing this article. It was hilarious and serves as a guide of how not to make a fighting game (which is useful since I am actually making one).
Serial Loiterer
Jan 24th, 2008, 11:04 PM
It's like Mortal Kombat and Pit Fighter had a bastard, crack baby, love child! Nothing smites a vanquished foe more than excreting a self-replicating bouncing turkey plater at them from one's backside.
Is a thin donkey
Jan 24th, 2008, 11:27 PM
This reminds me of another craptacular fighting game called Thrill Kill. If you're reading this Dr.Boogie, that game is in desperate need of an article(or at least a weekly review).
Forum Virgin
Jan 25th, 2008, 12:25 AM
If anyone actually cares newer versions of MAME fix the ending screen glitch this is what Karla ending is supposed to look like.

I don't think they would have had any copyright issues calling it DISNEYLAND TODAY do you?
Forum Virgin
Jan 25th, 2008, 01:47 AM
Originally Posted by Dr. Boogie
If it's not supposed to be, I'm sure some writer must've cried himself to slip every day for the rest of the 1990s.
He probably cried himself to sleep too.
Jan 25th, 2008, 11:18 AM
Oh man. I had to stop reading halfway through because I was laughing so hard and my mum was looking at me like I was mental.
Cartoonist extraordinaire
Jan 25th, 2008, 08:09 PM
okay, lemme try to categorize theses.
-There's the gory Fatalities;
-the animalities;
-the reversed animalities (turns the other player into an animal);
-The nudalities;
-the dressalities;
-and the whatthebloodyfuckisthisalities.
Jan 25th, 2008, 08:21 PM
I'd buy a copy of Disneyland Today to frame it but I don't think I can spare the 50 Koldaks.
Forum Virgin
Jan 26th, 2008, 11:41 AM
On the Tattoo Assassins website that Max Radical linked to, a game tester for the game mentions the diarrhea move:

I remember that there was a very damaging move: up, right, up, right, up, right, up, right while holding block, then press punch. Your character would then turn around and fire acidic diarrhea at your opponent. If you got hit by it, say good-bye to 25% of your health.

If you get that to work, throw up a screenshot for us!
<me|yourmom> = you
Jan 26th, 2008, 12:05 PM
I feel kind of sad that the first thing I thought of when I read AC Current's name was the fact that it is redundant. Gotta get outta the lab.
Itsa me!
Jan 26th, 2008, 06:08 PM
I can't believe they have all those fatalities. I bet thats most of the programming.
That damn kid
Jan 26th, 2008, 10:39 PM
Did I miss why in the charectar intros they all have grey circles on their hands?
Jan 26th, 2008, 11:13 PM
that's the "MORPH TATTOO" mentioned previous

you get to pick one of three specials after you pick a character
Funky Dynamite
Jan 27th, 2008, 01:29 AM
I don't know what that tester thinks he remembers, but that button combination didn't work, putting aside the fact that he said "right" instead of back or forward, and he didn't specify which punch.
Dr.Acula MD
Jan 28th, 2008, 12:02 AM
I like how one of Luke's fatalities is basically just shiv'ing a guy. No frills, just a prison-made "knife" to the gut...
The Magnificent Bastard
Jan 28th, 2008, 02:21 AM
I just realized that "Billy Two Moons" is probably a take-off of Billy Jack!
Funky Dynamite
Jan 28th, 2008, 12:12 PM
Because they both start with Billy?
Top Pale Force Assassin
Jan 28th, 2008, 12:22 PM
So you didn't like the digitized actors in Mortal Kombat? I always figured that waswhat made it so popular, aside from the fatality and blood.
Anyway, great article. Where can we find the rom?
Funky Dynamite
Jan 28th, 2008, 02:08 PM
The digitized actors were entertaining because they were so corny, and you knew that one guy played all the ninjas.

What made MK popular was the blood and the fatalities, and the fact that the game still played well for a fighter.
The Magnificent Bastard
Jan 28th, 2008, 08:25 PM
Originally Posted by Dr. Boogie
Because they both start with Billy?
Also, because they're both supposed to be Native American (but don't look the slightest bit Native American), and they both wear the same hat.

I think there's pics at the bottom of this review.
Unmedicated genius
Jan 29th, 2008, 12:12 PM
A friend of mine told me he played a game in Kansas city where you could slice someone's dick off with a lot of blood, and it had nude-alities. He even described the characters.

I thought he was full of shit. I need to find my 4rth grade yearbook cause I owe someone an apology. To be fair would anyone in my shoes have believed him?
Funky Dynamite
Jan 29th, 2008, 12:56 PM
You owe him part of an apology because there is no dick-slicing fatality.
MLE MLE is offline
Jan 29th, 2008, 01:44 PM
Are you suuuure?
Funky Dynamite
Jan 29th, 2008, 05:07 PM
As sure as I care to be, yes.
Jan 30th, 2008, 10:57 PM
Billy doing a nudality on himself and then dancing was the greatest thing created by man up to this point.
Jan 31st, 2008, 12:33 AM
Feb 1st, 2008, 09:32 PM
Say what you will about this game: that music is awesome.
Feb 2nd, 2008, 03:26 PM
WOw, that is some wack-ass crap right there...
SEE?! It's so crazy it forces me to use slang!
Forum Virgin
Feb 6th, 2008, 11:46 PM

Ow my lungs. I haven't laughed this hard in a long time.

I only wish Midway had hired the brilliant mind that dreamed up shitting cooked turkeys at someone as a fatality.
MMA for Life.
Feb 11th, 2008, 12:43 PM
This game looks awesome. Wish they would've released this.
Feb 20th, 2008, 08:56 PM
Can anyone explain the constant references to fine art...? It reminds me of when Ebert said video games were not art.

Let's check the checklist for this game.
1) Idiotic names? Check.
2) Stereotypes? Check.
3) Puns? ...Ugh, check.
4) Many, MANY "WTF" Moments? ...Check.

Am I missing anything?
Funky Dynamite
Feb 21st, 2008, 12:01 AM
I believe all the fine art crap was thrown in for reason #4 on your list.
Sexy Ham Beast.
Feb 28th, 2008, 04:37 PM
The tatoo graphics look like they were done in MS Paint...
Clean Shaven Nerf Herder
May 15th, 2008, 10:24 PM
Just a thought (and a very late one, at that), but if they were so ballsy as to call the newspaper in the game fucking "Disneyland", then why not go ahead and make the DeLoreon in the fatality into the "Back To The Future" time machine? It would have been a cool nod to Bob Gale's contribution to the game (not that I imagine he ever claims this piece of garbage).
Imperial Stormtrooper
Jun 25th, 2008, 06:08 AM
This game is a fucking epic failure! XD
But seriously, why join the service when i can be a "Tattoo Assasin" instead? Thanks alot, High School "Career Day"!!!
Sep 1st, 2008, 06:46 PM
Nothing says "hero" like a fighting game character whose victory pose is to crush a can on his head and belch.
We're but mere samples.
Oct 15th, 2008, 11:43 PM
Quoting Falco Lombardi's wise words:
Never seen anything so disturbingly trashy since Jax's MK3 fatalities.
Mar 29th, 2009, 06:24 PM
My brother didn't believe this was a real game when I showed him the pictures.
Shinobi Hero
Apr 1st, 2009, 12:00 AM
The thing that got me interested in getting the ROM of this game was a screenshot of the fatality that turns your opponent into a giant anthropomorphic Oscar Meyer wiener (with shoes!), because I just had to see it for myself. Also, the claim that the game has over 2,000 of them (the fatalities, that is. Not the wieners). And likely because of a site that talks about it.
Emu Emu is offline
Level 29 ♂
Apr 4th, 2009, 01:03 PM
I like the game's story
A little slice of wisdom
May 4th, 2009, 10:49 AM
This is a screwed up game, one of the fatalities is turning somebody into the painting
" Whistler's Mother?" WTF?!
Jun 19th, 2009, 09:54 PM
Late post (I'm surprised that I didn't post when this originally came out):

Fighting games were quite abundant back in the nineties, but I sucked so hard at them that I wasn't all that interested. At least until I started to get an edge for The King of Fighters series.

When I take a look at a huge pile of steaming shit like this I wonder how can some respectable videogame company can come with such abomination. Makes me think that they had an urge for some easy money.

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