Mortal Kombat is a video game series that I’ve loved since I discovered it and the reasons have changed quite a bit over the years. My first exposure to the game was an arcade machine at a local Wal-Mart. It sat right there in the lobby on the way in, and I’m almost positive it was sitting there for a while before I actually paid attention to it. I’m not sure why I wasn’t initially curious about it. Perhaps I believed it to be a particular type of game that I had no interest in.
Eventually my best friend at the time came up to me in school and asked if I had played this game called Mortal Kombat. When I said “no,” he proceeded to describe a game that I was suddenly intrigued by. Blood in a video game? It was a concept that felt foreign to me.
A little history for those of you who might not know, there was a time where certain imagery and language was unacceptable in video games. In fact, if you were looking to see some form of depravity, you had to live in the dark realms of the PC space. A place that was much rarer back then since having a personal computer wasn’t commonplace. And even there it wasn’t as bad as I made it sound.
In 1992, Mortal Kombat along with two other controversial games, Night Trap and Lethal Enforcers, had decided to push the boundaries of what could be done in video games. And when those titles became known for their excessive violence, various parent and religious groups came after them calling for them to be banned which then led to government interference. Video game companies didn’t want the government messing in their business so they united and formed the ESRB, which like the MPAA, works to regulate and rate their products to clearly indicate what age group it’s suitable for.
Obviously, what twelve-year-old boy wouldn’t be intrigued by a video game with blood? But what makes it more intriguing than parents not wanting you to have it? I became obsessed with the first game even though I only owned the bloodless SNES version. Eventually, MKII came out and the SNES version had all the blood and guts. So it became my new favorite thing. So much so that I had every finishing move for every character committed to memory. I did have a game magazine that had them all listed, so it was just a matter of remembering what I read. If only I had been that focused in high school…
The obsession continued to MK3 and the introduction of Animalities just made it so much cooler for some reason. One of my first and favorite games on the N64 was Mortal Kombat Trilogy that featured every character from all 3 games into one package. It was a bit much and things were getting super ridiculous at this point. Friendships, babalities, “Toasty” but I was still enamored with it.
Now, I know many people hate on Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero but I kinda like it. Like I owned a copy of the N64 version and played through it several times, despite getting frustrated by the piss poor control scheme on numerous occasions. I think what intrigued me the most was the story. In fact, I actually went out and rented a PS1 version of the game so I could watch the live-action cut scenes. It was new for me at the time. Video games didn’t often have these back then. Yeah the acting is B-movie grade but I love it all the same.
When Mortal Kombat 4 came out, it seemed like something I’d never get to play since the magazine I was reading about it made it seem like the tech it used was beyond anything in the home market. Eventually it did release on N64 and of course I played the hell out of it. First time the series had voice acted cutscenes and it was as bad as you can imagine. This was typical of the time anyway. Just look at the original Resident Evil. While I could point to numerous moments in the game that are ludicrous. In fact, if you’ve ever heard some of the raw voice recordings for this game, you’ll hear some wild shit. However, there is only one that stands above it all: the Jarek scream.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance felt like it was trying to right the ship a little bit. Gone were all the ridiculous bits and the series was trying to shift to a more serious tone. And damn if it didn’t kick the game off showing it wasn’t messing around by not only having Shang Tsung and Quan Chi team up to kill Shao Kahn but also Liu Kang. This game also introduced the Krypt which added a bit of replay value. That is until you’ve found all the cool videos and stuff and all that remains are concept art. Plus, I also remember liking the song that was attached to this game called Immortal by Aedema or some shit. A very alternative metal band of the 2000s. The song is alright I guess.
There was a stretch of games here and after this that I barely remember or never played. Special Forces was a game I never played and heard sucked so I’m glad. I hate that I missed Shaolin Monks because I’ve heard great things about that. The next entries of the main series, Deception and Armageddon, must have fairly forgettable plots because I don’t remember what happens. Mortal Kombat vs. the DC Universe was a cool concept but it was never going to fly being neutered the way it was. The plot was… interesting to a point and I’ll leave it at that. The voice acting was way off though. Many of the characters were completely miscast.
The last three games released in the main series have been my absolute favorites: Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat X and Mortal Kombat 11. The writers for the reboot found a way to maintain the canon of the games while successfully rebooting the series in a new direction. Essentially the story in the game retells the events of the first three games, however certain events happen differently which changes everything for the long haul. You think that since we’re rebooting the series that Liu Kang would be back in form. But he’s dead by the end of this game. Furthermore, he’s killed by Raiden! Mind blown.
The cinematic nature of X and 11 makes them even better. In X, Raiden becomes corrupted by the power of Shinnok’s amulet then beheads Shinnok to keep him from being a threat since you can’t kill an elder god I guess. Plus, we get to see our characters evolve and even have kids. Then in 11, we’re introduced to the titan Kronika who is looking to reset the timeline completely and time travel allows us to see older versions of classic characters again. The banter between old Cage and new Cage was great. Then the Aftermath DLC added more story and gave Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa time to shine again as Shang Tsung and be a formidable villain. Plus, the ending gives way for a fresh start for the next entry in the series.
While on the subject of those games, the last two have really upped the ante in regards to fatalities. While some games in the series were limited to their capabilities, some games down the line just got straight lazy. The reboot attempted to step it up. The last two crushed it in every way imaginable with some fatalities that are straight up nasty. Trying to think of a favorite is difficult.
I also loved the inclusion of DLC characters that didn’t belong in the franchise. The reboot dabbled with the idea by adding Kratos from God of War and Freddy Krueger. X stepped it up by adding a bevy of amazing fighters like Leatherface, Alien, Predator and my all-time favorite Jason Voorhees. I got pretty good with him. 11 seemed to lean into 80s nostalgia with Rambo, Robocop and the Terminator. Cool additions but the horror icons feel more appropriate. That said, the fact they got Stallone and Peter Weller to voice Rambo and Robocop respectively was amazing. However, I still don’t know how the hell they got Schwarzenegger’s face but not his voice. What kind of shit is that?
While I’ve praised the series for the most part, I will say something I dislike comes from those behind the games. Netherrealm Studios has pulled some shady practices with the last game’s release. Now, follow me here: Mortal Kombat 11 released at the price of $59.99. The first Kombat pack costs $29.99 which gives you several DLC characters and skins.. Then the Aftermath DLC was an additional $39.99 which gives you an additional story mode and three new characters, one being Robocop. Finally a second Kombat pack for $14.99 that nets you three more characters, one being Rambo. All of this rounding out to close to $150 for one game. However, if you’re just now buying the game and get the Ultimate edition, you can have ALL of the aforementioned stuff for just $59.99. Tell me that’s not shady.
Additionally Netherrealm has been under fire for overworking their employees. Would you wanna work 80 hours a week? Plus, there have been reports of employees having various forms of PTSD after having to study graphic images of the human anatomy to accurately portray the fatalities. Doesn’t sound like fun to me. Something like this gives the series a black eye and makes it difficult to support. The programmers and writers (you know the creators) are the ones that make the game fantastic. The corporate heads are the ones that make it shit.
I’ve been trying to keep my thoughts condensed because I could go on about numerous little details I love about the series. But overall, I’ve been a fan from the beginning and if the series ended at 11, I would be equally disappointed and satisfied.