It’s hard to believe but Mortal Kombat is twenty years old. Think on that for a second. Remember that arcade you first saw that featured all that blood and gruesome dismemberment? That happened two decades ago. Who else feels old right now?
Mortal Kombat changed the way we look at fighting games, as well as spell the word combat. We can only wonder where’d fighting games be without MK. Before it, can you remember fighting games having such detailed stories behind them? What about using blood and gore in the game? And of course the big one, who remembers finishing moves in video games before Ed Boone introduced fatalities? Trust me, they had quite the impact on fighting games. Just take a look:
But the hell with history and industry for all that, how much fun has the last 20 years been? Remember the first combo you mastered? The first time you beat your best friend after putting the time in to perfect a particular character? How awesome you felt you figured out how to pull off a fatality? If you’re having a little trouble, worry not. Join me as we look back on 20 years of Mortal Kombat through all nine games in the canon as well as some notable entries. Believe it or not, there are in fact that many ways to rip a guy’s spinal cord from his body.
Mortal Kombat (1992)
The one that started it all. Lesser known fact, the series we know as Mortal Kombat was supposed to be a fighting game starring Jean Claude Van Damme. Johnny Cage was to be the template for him; even having his signature groin punch from Bloodsport. For reasons unknown the deal fell through, but Ed Boon and company decided to continue with the project. We can only wonder what Mortal Kombat featuring Jean Claude Van Damme would have been like.
Mortal Kombat was the first time I can remember (in a fighting game) knowing of a story surrounding all the fighting. Evil sorcerer Shang Tsung, with the help of Shokan Prince Goro, has won the Mortal Kombat tournament nine times in a row. If he wins the tournament one more time, the Earth falls into the hands of Shang Tsung and Outworld. The 10th and final tourney is taking place on Shang’s personal island. You’re one of seven fighters who have been invited to the island (Liu Kang, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, Subzero, Kano, and Scorpion). Do you save the Earth or damn it?
To say the game was controversial is an understatement. The reaction from parents to all the blood gave the game national attention. Many felt that the fatalities would lead to children killing each other as they try to recreate the game (A concern that seems to pop up every so often). Companies didn’t know how to handle the port. Companies like Nintendo took it out the blood and replaced it with sweat (though it could be activated with a secret code). Others like Sega kept it and advertised the hell out of it to look hip. The concern from parents eventually lead Senators to hold a hearing about the future of video games. The end result was the creation of the ESRB rating system that we all know being created, with Mortal Kombat being the first game to get a mature rating.
As memorable as the first game was, it was the blood and fatalities that sold it. The story and characters were cool, yes, but let’s be honest, people wanted to behead people with uppercuts. But thanks to all that bloody craziness, a sequel was all but guaranteed.
Mortal Kombat II (1993)
With the success of Mortal Kombat, Ed Boon and company knew they had something. For the sequel they went all out, and effort made Mortal Kombat II one of the best games in the series.
Turns out Liu Kang won Mortal Kombat, thus saving the world. Shang Tsung returns to Outworld and meets with his master, Shao Kahn. Inbetween pleading for his life and groveling, he convinces Shao Kahn to throw another Mortal Kombat tournament, where he would challenge the winner personally. Shao Kahn would become a big part of the franchise here from then on. All the characters from the first game returned (Okay, Sonya and Kano were in the background of a couple of stages but they were there) along with some more characters like Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, Kung Lao, and many more. All became mainstays to the franchise from then on.
Everything that stood out from the first game was multiplied. Instead of one fatality per character, they all had two. There were also more stage-specific fatalities, like the Pit. The finishing moves took a turn for the goofy as the series introduced babalities and friendships, new ways to finish off your opponents. Developers would explains these inclusions as a way to counter the backlash from the fatalities. Sadly, it didn’t help, there was a lot of backlash against this one too. Fatalities were even more imaginative than before, which ranged from Kung Lao slicing a guy in two with a hat to Liu Kang morphing into a dragon and biting them in two. Half the fun of these finishing moves was the discovery. See back then we didn’t have the Internet to tell us how to do moves and explain secrets. You wanted to find something out, you had yourself or your friends to depend upon. People would spend months going to the arcade and studying these characters to find out how to do these moves.
The whole game just clicked. The environments were fantastic as the developers did an amazing job making Outworld come alive. Plus having Shao Kahn call the action did its job for making you want to kick his ass. I still know people who still have the cartridge and pop it in ever so often, saying that the series never surpassed this. While if they ever did is up for debate, that didn’t stop them from trying.
Mortal Kombat 3 (1995)
The Mortal Kombat franchise took a very dark turn in the third sequel. The mighty Shao Kahn lost to Liu Kang, who retained his title of MK champion. Shao Kahn didn’t take the loss that well. He leads an attack on earth using his Outworld army, and proceeds to start an Apocalypse on Earth. The Earthrealm warriors now fight to reach Shao Kahn and finally end this chaos. Most people liked the dark story, though some had a problem with the glaring issue it brings up. If Shao Kahn could just ignore the rules of Mortal Kombat and the protection granted to the winner, then what was the point of the Mortal Kombat tournament in the first place?
The third sequel added more stuff to MK. A lot is still famous to this day. The game introduced even more new characters that have become staples of the franchise. Kabal, Nightwolf, Cyrax, Sektor, Sindel, Sheeva, and Stryker all got there start in MK3. It also gave as a more modern look at the series, even making three of the fighters into cyborgs (Cyrax, Sektor, and Smoke).
The game also introduced combos to MK. You could now chain together moves, with unique animations. To help with this (especially with juggling) a run button and meter was added to allow you to get to your opponent quicker. Also introduced to series was the notion of having multiple levels to stage. A well timed uppercut could send your opponent through the ceiling of the stage and into another one and you’d continue the fight there. It brought a sense of epicness to the fight and its something done in a lot of fighting games do now. This was also the first MK to use difficulty settings in its gameplay.
MK3 was also where we got Kombat Kodes. You know what I mean, when you get to the loading screen and they’re ten little pics on the loading screen that change when you hit buttons? Doing so got you to unlock stuff, such as Smoke as a playable character. Kombat Kodes also gave you handicaps if you wanted a bigger challenge against a player.
In terms of finishing moves, we got fatalities, babalities, and friendships again. However, we got a new addition with animalities, which the character morphed to a totem animal to kill their opponent. Also, you could use brutalities which were essentially straight-up butt whoopings.
The controversy that had surrounded MK had started to die down at this point. Parents essentially got the point where they just accepted “This is Mortal Kombat, and it’s really, really bloody.” As a result, while still being a hit, it didn’t have quite the media attention of the previous games. But people still liked MK3, and for many fans, MK was at it’s best back with the original trilogy. The series would however try some new things with its latest title that changed the franchise from that point on.
Honorable Mention: Mortal Kombat the Movie (1995)
This movie was such a suprise. Let’s face it, Hollywood hasn’t quite figured out it can make money on a movie based on a video game quite yet. However, for a time in 1995, they got it right. Honestly the movie wasn’t exactly the Godfather. Yes, the story and acting was a little cheesy, but look at the source material here. The movie was everything it needed to be: It got the story right, there was plenty of well choreographed fights, and it was fun to watch. If you were a fan of MK, you left the theater happy. What more can you ask for? A sequel that wasn’t terrible? Oh well, yes, that would have been nice.
Mortal Kombat 4 (1997)
MK4 made history as the one that changed the look of the game forever. Up until this point the series had used digitized sprites, but MK4 was the first to use 3D computer graphics. The graphics didn’t exactly set the world on fire (to be fair, 3D graphics was a work in progress for everyone back then), but it was a step towards the MK of today.
MK4 introduced a new big bad in named Shinok, an Elder God from the Netherrealm. Shinok actually tried to take over all six realms in the MKverse centuries ago, but he was defeated and imprisoned by Raiden. A sorcerer named Quan Chi helps the God escape, and he sets out to finish his conquest. Raiden, along with the Earthrealm warriors, have to join forces once more to stop this menace. While this sequel introduced many characters, only Quan Chi managed to hang on and become as popular as the other fighters introduced in the first three.
Mortal Kombat 4 introduced weapons into the continuity. You could now take out a special weapon, and use it to dismember your opponent. You could also drop it if need be, but then your opponent could also pick up said weapon and use it on you. You could even pick up rocks, skulls, or anything else on the floor and bash your foe with it. This entry also introduced sidestepping, stepping into the background or foreground of the stage. While the ability to traverse the entire stage was cool, it had a big negative effect. Long range attacks (like fireballs and freeze blasts) were now useless, as they could be avoided entirely by sidestepping. Characters who would fire a barrage of projectiles now couldn’t due to fear of someone sidestepping and charging at them. Sadly, this would continue for many MKs after.
Other changes included a “maximum damage” cap to combos. This feature automatically ended a combo to prevent infinite combos. While in the first three you had all kinds of finishing moves, all fighters were only given two fatalities each. The game being a 3D animated movie gave the developers more options for the fatalities, since they didn’t need to depend on actors and motion capture tech.
The game got great reviews, and sold well. It was thanks to this one that the franchise got a TV show, an animated series, and a sequel to the awesome movie. All this unfortunately, turned out to be a bad idea.
Honorable Mention: Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Subzero (1997)
Let’s not beat around the bush; MKM: Subzero is terrible. Its a 2D side scrolling platformer with fighting game controls. Jumping over a hole has never been more tedious, and it was easy to die, especially when you need to press an extra button to face another direction.
That being said, this game is great as well. MKM: Subzero was the last Mortal Kombat to feature digitized sprites, and even featured live action cut scenes. These cut scenes are are so horrendous they’re hysterical. They even have Richard Moll (Bull from Night Court) as Raiden. Plus, it focused on Subzero, one of the favorites of series and gave him some much needed back story. All this being said, the game sold well at over a million copies, and has a small cult following. While you may want the experience, I suggest giving it a watch on Youtube.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (2002)
It would take us five years before we were we got another MK game. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance would be known for multiple reasons. First, this was officially the first time that a MK was made specifically for home consoles. It would also mark where the story started to take a dark turn.
After the defeat of Shinok, Quan Chi was almost killed by Scorpion who had just learned Quan Chi was the one who murdered his family. Upon escaping Scorpion, he stumbles upon an the remains of the undefeatable army of the Dragon King. So he joined forces with fellow sorcerer Shang Tsung, who was himself sick of serving his master, Shao Kahn. They launched an assault, first by killing Shao Kahn in a sneak attack. Then they focused on Mortal Kombat Champion Liu Kang, killing him with another two-on-one in a real shocker. Raiden and his allies once again join forces to defeat the Deadly Alliance. The series took a “Empire Strikes Back” tone from here as the bad guys either won, or the white hats had to pay a heavy price.
Many changes took place that would effect the franchise from here on. Starting here the fighting styles drastically changed. Up until this point, with the exception of special moves, all the characters fighting styles and animations were identical (except with combos and special moves). However, now the fighters had two specific and unique fighting styles, and mastered a weapon. For instance, Johnny Cage used Karate and Jeet Kune Do for styles and nunchaku as a weapon. Players would switch between these three styles during the fight, bringing a new depth to the characters. We could finally see what martial art each character used, and it allowed you to connect them just a little bit more. Speaking of characters, we got a few more that became popular, such as Kenshi (the blind swordsman), and Bo’ Rai Cho (the drunken master who mentored Liu Kang).
The graphics and physics became more realistic. Flesh would move or jiggle. There was even obstacles like pillars or statues, which caused extra damage to your opponent by knocking them through it. The option of fatalities was a little disappointing however, as everyone now only had one. We didn’t even get any stage specific ones. This game also saw the return of Test Your Might, a mini game from the first Mortal Kombat, and introduced a new on called Test Your Sight.
While lack of fatalities was disappointing, MK: Deadly Alliance was still packed with content and replay value. We got a mode called Konquest mode that gave us more of a background on the characters as you would play with them through multiple quests. These quests would range from defeating an opponent to preforming a combo. Players would earn koins during these quests, and then use them in Krypt. The Krypt was a room filled with 676 koffins each hiding some kind of prize. These extras included unlockable characters, arenas, behind the scenes videos, and even comic books.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance gave the series some much needed life. Many assumed this might have been the last game of the series. While MK4 was successful, people were starting to get sick of the franchise. There was a Sunday morning cartoon show (Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm), a TV show (Mortal Kombat: Konquest), and a terrible sequel to movie (Mortal Kombat: Annilation). So people were getting Mortal Kombat shoved down their throats which is why this sequel took as long as it did to get to us. But the game did great in reminding us what we loved about MK, and it allowed the series to continue.
Mortal Kombat: Deception (2004)
Mortal Kombat: Deception continued to perfect the formula that was started with Deadly Alliance.
Team Raiden had failed to defeated the Deadly Alliance, with Raiden being the last to fall. With this victory, the two villains do what any pair of villains would do in this situation- turn on each other. Quan Chi defeats Shang Tsung, but during the fight the previously mentioned Dragon King Onaga comes back to life. Despite a suicide blast from Raiden, Onaga remains unharmed and goes to find the Kamidogu (six artifacts that can destroy realms).
Deception also introduced Shujinko, who was the new central protagonist in Konquest mode. As Shujinko, you travel all over creation doing tasks or fighting whom ever completeing quests which sees him grow up from a young kid to the old man you control the tournament. He gathers the six pieces of the Kamidogu which you are told to gather by an emissary of the Elder Gods. This emissary turns out to Onaga in disguise who steals it, and Shinjuko now seeks to atone for his mistake by entering Mortal Kombat.
Deception had it’s share of innovations. These included “instant-death traps” which killed your fighter instantly if you stepped into them. Combo Breakers that could interrupt a combo and allow you to escape. You could only use these three times per match. The fighters once again had two fatalities each, as well as a Hara-Kiri. If you lose the fight and your opponent is going for his fatality, you can deny him the satisfaction by hitting your Hara-Kiri first and killing yourself. Deception also did something very different in giving us mini-games. We got Chess Kombat; chess using Kombatants as pieces who fight for a square. Some pieces had unique abilies like killing the other piece instantly or copying their opponent. We also got Puzzle Kombat, which was like Super Puzzle Fighter, except with a MK flair.
As for characters, the most noteworthy is a few of the returning characters: Liu Kang returned to the series as a zombie in one of the more interesting ways to reinvent the characters. Speaking of which, two of them formed a tag team. Noob Saibot and Smoke became Noob-Smoke, and would pull of double team moves together in rather interesting pairing, one that I assume had a lot to do with how Noob Saibot was done in the latest entry. Finally, if you had the Game Cube, you got Goro and Shao Kahn as playable characters.
Deception was a very big success, and was the fastest selling game in Midway’s history. After this, the franchise was very much back in form.
Honorable Mention: Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks (2005)
This was a fun treat. Normally the MK spin-offs have been less than awesome, but Shaolin Monks was very well made action/beat’em up. It followed Liu Kang and Kang Lao (though you could unlock other fighters such as Scorpion and Subzero) as they fought in a sort of retelling of the first two games.
It was a solid beat’em up, and you could even level up your fighter as you played. It also stayed true to the Mortal Kombat franchise. There was plenty of blood and gore during the fights, all the characters have their special moves intact and can use them, and you can even use fatalities. Its was very fun, and its highly recommended to all those with a PS2.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (2006)
Armageddon was supposed to be the final Mortal Kombat. The plot is that the MK warriors have grown to such a high volume and gotten so powerful, that Elder Gods essentially need to find a way for them to kill each other off without destroying the universe. So they gather all the fighters and take them to a crater in Edenia. A giant pyramid suddenly appears and from its top comes Blaze, a creature of flame created by the gods to essentially kill a lot of MK characters.
This was the biggest MK in history, though it had a lot in common with the previous two entries. There was a total of 63 characters characters from every single MK here, with only two new ones. It was also the first and only MK to feature a mode called Kreate-A-Fighter. Players could design a character, give them a unique look, and what three fighting styles they used. Clothes, looks, and moves needed to be purchased before they were unlocked. You could even create the ending that the characters saw when you beat the game with them. Armageddon also introduced a new mini-game called Motor Kombat, an MK meets Mario Kart type of game.
Another big change was the fatalities. In all previous games, you just had to insert a code, and a character specific animation would take place. With Armageddon, it became just a string of commands you did in real time. One command would punch the guy, then rip off his arm, then hit him with it, then take your sword and slice the other one, then stab him with it, and finally pull of his head. This could be done as long or as short as you want. It was a disappointing edition because the individual fatalities was another thing that made each fighter unique and stand out. Thankfully, this only lasted one game. There was also a Kreate-A-Fatality mode that you could create a chain for each fighter.
Armageddon lived up to it’s name as it was the last real Mortal Kombat we’d have for a long time. In fact it would be another five years before we got another real entry.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (2008)
I know what your thinking, especially if you’re just now hearing about this title. On paper, this is freaking awesome. Who wouldn’t want to see Batman mix it up with Subzero, or Green Lantern take on Shang Tsung? It’s hands down the coolest idea that ended up not quite working.
For one thing, due to the inclusion of DC characters, the trademark violence had to be toned down. No way DC was going to allow Batman to kill someone or Superman to melt someone with heat vision. The gore was toned down immensely, with two of the fatalities censored. Many of the classic ones had to be redone to eliminate the gore. For the first time ever, an MK title was released with a T for Teen rating. Superheroes didn’t do fatalities, but rather heroic brutalities since some of them would never kill someone.
MK vs. DC did introduce some cool innovations. When free falling, the characters would enter what was called “Falling Kombat” with the characters having to hit certain buttons to stay on top so the other took the damage from the fall. There was also times you could grab your opponent and drive them through multiple walls. During which, both players button mash to dominate a meter. The grabber for more damage, and the grabee for defense. There was also “Klose Kombat” where players locked up to start a close quarters combat fight. There was also a rage meter that filled as you took or gave damage. With a full meter, you became enraged and could break guards after the second hit, prevent being stunned or knocked into the air, and increase damage.
The title did well, but didn’t sit well with MK fans who really missed MK at this point. They wanted MK in all its gory glory, and they didn’t get it here. Unfortunately, it would be another three years before they got something that would wash the taste of DC out of their mouths.
Mortal Kombat (2011)
We were hesitant at first, the memory of the last title still was in our minds. Was Ed Boone going to give us what we wanted? Or was it going to be given a T rating again? Once more, this would definitely be a “new” Mortal Kombat. See at this point Midway, long time developer of the series, had filed for bankruptcy. Ed Boone and his team formed Netherrealm studios, and among other things, bought the rights to Mortal Kombat. This game would be their first game released. So was it a success?
Hell yeah it was a success! Mortal Kombat (technically MK9, but since this was a reboot, it went back to MK) was a real return to form for the series. Gone was all the 3D nonsense, they brought it back as a 2D fighter. While you could no longer sidestep, the environments were still 3D which gave it a nice look. They also got rid of the three styles and found a way to merge it with the old way. Everyone’s animation still looked different and some even used their weapon still; but everything was brought back to the old four button style. The fatalities were back in all its gory glory, they even brought back babalities too. This MK has also the most stage fatalities out of any MK ever as well. All characters from the first three games are here, as well as Kratos from God of War (who fits in really well) for PS3 users. In addition to single player, there was also a Tag Mode to try out. Finally, In addition to “Test Your Might”, we also got Test Your Sight (A fun find the MK logo game), Test Your Strike (destroying a specific brick in stack), and Test Your Luck (a match with random rules for added difficulty).
New to the series is the super meter, which fills into three thirds as you do actions like preform a combo or take damage. One third can be used to enhance a special attack, two thirds can be used break a combo, and if you use the whole bar, you can use an X-Ray move. An X-Ray move is a move that once you hit, launches a cinematic that shows your fighter hitting these insane moves that destroys your opponent for massive damage.
The game was a restart to the entire series, and starts at the end of Armageddon. Shao Kahn had finally won, and all the other kombatants had been slain, save Raiden. Before his demise, Raiden sends a telepathic message to himself back in past at the start of the very first MK. Mortal Kombat retells the story of MK through MK3, with Raiden trying to figure out what to do to prevent the dark future that was foretold. A lot of credit needs to be given to the writers of this story mode. If you ever saw something in Mortal Kombat, and thought that it didn’t make sense, this makes sense of it. Why Jax gets cyber arms, how and why the Shao Kahn was able to get away with throwing another Mortal Kombat Tournament, and so forth are all explained here. It’s wonderfully written, and makes the whole series make sense. Least as much as Mortal Kombat can.
We get a lot of new innovations. First of all, the Challenge Tower. The Challenge Tower gave you 300 challenges. These challenges were very unique, including using a characters long range attacks to defeat zombies, beating an opponent without your arms, defeating an enemy with Goro, and more. This was also the first Mortal Kombat with online multiplayer. Players got to enjoy this mode with one-on-one and a King of the Hill mode. In here, eight players gathered and lined up and watched as two players fought. The other six players could rate the fight taking place as they awaited there turn to fight the winner.
That’s all the MKs, and it’s safe to say there’s more to come.
Picking which Mortal Kombat is the best is difficult. I still know people to this day who say Mortal Kombat II was the best, others argue Mortal Kombat III gave you more options. Some people dug the conquest modes of the 3D era ones. However, I have to give this award to Mortal Kombat (2011).
This MK brought the best of every game and then some. You get all the most memorable characters, a fantastic story that ties them in all together, an ingenious Challenge Tower that challenges you in very unique ways, and it’s the only one with online multiplayer. It’s also the one that learns from all the mistakes of the previous entries, and focuses on all the good stuff. If a friend of mine was curious about what MK was and why it was good, this would be the game I showed him.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe should have never happened.
You don’t go to into Nintendo, and tell them to make a Super Mario without power ups, or a Zelda where Link can’t stab enemies with a sword. A Mortal Kombat with a T rating is just weird. Why would DC agree to this game if they didn’t want gore? Makes no sense. On a personal note, as much as a love Mortal Kombat, I still don’t quite buy them going toe to toe with DC characters like Superman.
Memories: Mortal Kombat Day
A personal memory of Mortal Kombat that I will always remember was “Mortal Kombat Day”. As I said, It had been three years since we had a Mortal Kombat, five for a decent one. When Mortal Kombat was announced I was cautious but I got more excited the more I heard about it. Finally, I pre-ordered it. I searched around Amazon and noticed how smart they were being with this latest entry. Not only was that game coming out, but also the movie on blu-ray as well. So it was around then that I made plans for what would become Mortal Kombat Day. I made sure to get the day off, and made the event announcement on Facebook.
The plan was simple. First we’d play the entire story mode in one day. Next, maybe play against each other for a bit or go up the challenge tower. If any of my “old school” buds got upset, I had a digital copy of Mortal Kombat II ready to go on my PS3. We’d end the day with a viewing of Mortal Kombat on Blu Ray. The day in question was two weeks from release. I actually did a fair amount of prep for it. Before it, I actually played and beat the arcade mode with every character so to unlock all the alternate costumes. Not to mention the time I spent getting codes for additional costumes. I also refrained from the Story and Challenge Tower, so I could see it for the first time with my friends.
It was was fun night. We were all impressed with the story mode, which explained everything. However, it almost ended early but one guy stayed with me to watch the movie. It was a great time, as I felt like a kid again. Like I was just walking into the arcade again and seeing this fantastic gory game for the first time.
I am looking forward to the future. The story mode does leave one expecting a sequel. I don’t know how, but they are. Once thing’s for sure, Ed Boone knows what he’s doing. Tell will tell what the future for Mortal Kombat is, but I am definitely looking forward to the next 20 years.