With Mortal Kombat 11 only a few months away, it’s time to reminisce about the rise and fall of the notorious fighter. While it’s hard to imagine now, the franchise has had plenty of ups and downs throughout its bloody history. For 27 years, the Mortal Kombat series has remained relevant within pop culture and beloved by multiple generations of gamers. Series veterans such as Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Liu Kang are some of gaming’s most iconic characters. While the franchise may have been written off as a pointless gorefest, the lore, characters, and overall impact have stood the test of time. It’s no wonder why the entire gaming community goes insane each time a new entry is revealed. The hype train surrounding Mortal Kombat 11 proves that no matter how old the franchise gets, gamers will be drawn to Kombat like moths to a flame.
Legacy Of Brutality
Do you know about that little company known as the ESRB? Does the name ring a bell? They’re the company that’s responsible for rating (classification) every single game on the market. By classification, I mean that they determine what games are appropriate for what age groups. So the classic ratings of “E” for everyone, “T” for teen, and “M” for mature are a product of the ESRB. For most gamers, these labels have always been on their game covers. Players of the last few generations have probably resented the ESRB at one time or another. I’m sure there was a time in your childhood where you wanted to buy the latest Grand Theft Auto game, but the ESRB rating stopped your mom from buying it. Well, send your thanks to the ESRB for restricting your access to graphic content at a young age!
So…what was the point of that brief history lesson? You’ll never guess what game essentially gave birth to this marvelous rating system! Yes…it was the original Mortal Kombat! MK (Mortal Kombat) featured a colorful cast of badass ninjas, Shaolin monks, cyborgs, and other…freaks. The digitized graphics of the original games made the game stand out from other fighters such as Street Fighter. Whether it was Scorpion’s iconic “Get over here!”, Or Sub-Zero’s amazing ice powers, the game was a blast to play. The game was also shrouded in mystery as well. Knowledgeable players could finish their matches in style by mastering specific character inputs. If you knew these secret inputs, then your character could rip out the spine of their opponent!
While blood wasn’t necessarily anything new to gaming, the level of detail and the spectacle made MK an instant classic. The game became an overnight phenom and MK was a legitimate competitor of the Street Fighter series. Within a span of a few years, MK2 and MK3 were released which added more characters, stages, and lore. Each entry grew the fanbase even more, and the game seemed untouchable. However, in between that time, government officials were concerned about the game’s impact on the “morality” of the youth and demanded that regulations be placed on who can play these types. So the game industry responded with the creation of the ESRB. And while other games at the time played a role in this reaction from the government, MK was one of the driving factors in shaping the ratings of games as we know them today.
So as the ’90s came to a close, MK was still maintaining its popularity. The series had a few side-scrolling missteps starring members of the rooster, but overall, the gaming world was still fiending for more MK. When the PS2, Xbox, and GameCube were beginning their lifecycles, MK wasn’t far behind. During this era, we received three entries into the MK series. With increased power to work with on the 6th generation consoles, the MK team decided to place more emphasis on 3D Kombat. MK4 was technically the first game in series to have 3D Kombat but starting with MK: DA, the developers smoothed out the roughness found on the previous generation.
So how did the 6th generation entries fair? For the most part, gamers were pleased with MK transition into the 6th generation. The games featured stunning graphics for the time and many bonus modes for gamers to waste time in. I distinctly remember being impressed by the adventure modes and the unique Krypt which allowed the player to unlock countless characters, costumes, and concept art. MK:DA & MK:D were fun experiences.
However by Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, the series started to feel bloated. This game was released towards the end of the 6th generation and decided to have the largest roaster of MK history. At an astounding 62 characters, the game sounded terrific on paper. Until you realize that most of the characters just reused assets from previous games or were copy & paste jobs. The game reeked of being made on a tight budget and even lacked traditional fatalities. The game had a “create a fatality” system, but it just boiled down to all of the character performing the same finisher in different ways. Overall, the game marked a downward trend for the series.
So after the mediocre reception of MK: AM, the series excited fans up once again by announcing MKvsDC. Players were promised to have unlikely matches between Batman and Sub-Zero! The game would be the series’ first appearance on the 7th gen systems and fans were beyond ecstatic. That is until….the game was rated “T” for the teen. Yes…the game that created the “M” rating was given a “T” for the teen. Gamers were of course…taken aback by this announcement but the game still retained a massive wave of hype. The most logical reasoning behind this rating change was that DC didn’t want any of their precious characters getting their heads chopped off.
MKvsDC was for the most part….terrible. Not to say that no fun couldn’t be had button mashing, but removing the gore from an MK game makes the entire experience feel pointless. The game was still using the tired 3D gameplay from the PS2 era and featured a generic story about the MK & DC worlds merging. I remember finishing the lackluster story mode, but I honestly couldn’t tell you what the hell happened. Anyway…to sum up, this dark time in the MK timeline, the game had dull “fatalities” that had zero blood or gore and the fighting mechanics were….well bad.
Now we get to talk about the redemption arc of this tale! So, I have a theory about the rebirth of the MK series. Around 2008, the world saw the return of the Street Fighter series. SF4 revitalized fighting games for the 7th generation consoles. This is an MK focus article, so I’m not going to go into detail but know that SF4 made 2D fighting games famous again. After NetherRealm Studios (NRS) saw the renewed interest in 2D traditional style fighting games, they were inspired to bless the world with the glorious Mortal Kombat (MK9,2011). MK9 was the adrenaline shot that made the world respect MK as an actual competitive fighter!
MK9 was essentially a reboot that still acknowledged the previous lore of the series. The premise allowed players to relive classic moments from MK1 to MK3. For the first time perhaps in fighting game history, the game had a full-fledged story mode that had actual cutscenes spliced together with gameplay. Sure other fighting games had story modes up to that point, but the production level and attention to detail was something truly revolutionary to the genre. Not only that but fighting mechanics were fine-tuned like never before! Every character felt like they filled an essential role in the roaster and the art style made every bone-crushing blow pop!
Fatalities were just as gruesome as ever, but the game also implemented “X-Rays” for the first time. By using up their entire meter, players could unleash a devastating blow that would show an x-ray of the opponent’s body as they took damage. These visceral attacks were sometimes more shocking than some of the fatalities! Gone was the bloat of the previous games and instead gamers were treated to bloody competitive Kombat that encouraged players to improve.
In 2015 NRS released MKX! Honestly, this game enhanced everything that was amazing about MK9. Besides the graphics were even more astounding, the game implemented the variation system. This system gave every fighter three unique styles to choose from and further expanded on the gameplay potential of the entire roster. The story of MK9 was further expanded upon, and the roaster featured new and old faces that fans were pleased with. Some fans may prefer certain aspects of MK9 over MKX, but there’s no denying that both of these entries were worthy additions to the legendary legacy of the MK series! With MK11 fast approaching…only time will tell if the game will continue the series’ Kampaign of Karnage!