The Evolution of Mortal Kombat Part 2: 3D Diversion

After three games, the Mortal Kombat series was looking for a new direction. Technology had progressed to such a degree that many games had begun to leave the land of 2D and entered the 3D land. Super Mario 64 had shown the world what could be done with the switch to 3D,  first-person shooters had been rendering quasi 3D for years, and games like Virtua Fighter and Tekken had been the front line in the 3D Fighter front. Obviously, the reimagining that Mortal Kombat was looking for was in that extra dimension. Would it struggle for relevance? Or would this be the change that would bring the franchise to new heights?

 

Mortal Kombat 4
Can you believe that at one time this was state of the art graphics? Who rubbed Vaseline on your monitor?

Mortal Kombat 4

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1997 is the year a computer beat the world’s best chess player. The World mourned as Princess Diana was killed in a vicious car crash in France. Unstable weather rolled through the world’s oceans due to El Niño.

MK4 is a bookend in several ways. Not only was it the first 3D game, it was the last game to show up in arcades. It was a very transitional game. MK4 introduced some changes into the combo system, including a damage cap designed to stop infinite combos. Each character was also given a weapon that could be used as well as weapons littering the stage. The fatality system was also paired back leaving each character with two fatalities and several stages having stage fatalities that could be performed.

This would be the last breath before the Mortal Kombat series would lose its mind.

Deadly Alliance
That font is really ugly!

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance

MK:DA is the first game in the series to be released after Muslim extremists attacked the World Trade Center. Again, it’s a time when violence was not necessarily “in style.” Did Mortal Kombat decide to tone down their style? I think you already know the answer to that.

MK:DA almost completely reinvented the fighting systems. Each character now has two hand to hand fighting styles and a weapon fighting style. The characters are also given more maneuverability. Invisible walls line the arenas to keep the newly highly maneuverable fighters from leaving the map.

The Konquest mode makes its debut in MK:DA and while not as in-depth as future single-player modes, this marks the first single-player mode which wasn’t just an arcade ladder. The incentive to keep playing was another mode introduced called The Krypt where the player can use koins that have been earned by playing the various modes to unlock extras by opening krypts. This is also where replacing the letter “c” with “k” became an epidemic.

Mini-game Test Your Might makes a return as well as new game Test Your Sight. TYS is the Mortal Kombat version of cups, where the MK dragon is hidden in a cup and the player is tasked with finding the hidden dragon. The reward for these games is more coins.

MK:DA was a blueprint for where the series was headed for the next two games.

Mortal Kombat Deception
The graphics are starting to look better and better!

Mortal Kombat: Deception

2004 brought more fallout from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. American soldiers are seen abusing prisoners at Abu Garab prison when photos are published. President Ronald Regan is laid to rest after his death. Add to all that, America and her allies are fighting a more and more hopeless war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Things were looking gloomy in the world.

Mortal Kombat: Deception released to home consoles in October, 2004. The game had more of a focus on story than any of the previous games. Taking MK:DA’s Konquest Mode, MK:D expanded it into a full fledged action RPG focused on new character Shujinko and the quest to collect six Komidogu. This would be the first real meat on the bones of the Mortal Kombat lore. Within Konquest mode, players can find keys that unlocked Koffins in the Krypt that cannot be opened with simple Koins.

The normal fighting gameplay was expanded by introducing Kombo Breakers, allowing a player to interrupt an opponant’s kombo in the middle. The characters are also given a new option in the fatality mode.  Called Hari Kari, losing players could input a move to commit ritual suicide instead of allowing the opponent to commit a Fatality.

Two new mini games were also added to the game modes, Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat. Both modes showed cartoonish versions of the characters playing chess or a version of Tetris against either another human or the AI. Both of these were fairly well received and made an impression on those who played MK:D.

You want Mortal Kombat crazyness? I’ve got you.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon Character Select
Look at that character select screen! LOOK AT IT!

 

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon

2006 saw the push by President Bush to expand his wartime powers, along with the discussion of torture (or “enhanced interrogation”) after information came out about Guantanamo Bay detention center and various “black sites” and their treatment of prisoners in the search for intelligence. The New York Times released a story showing evidence that the President had authorized wiretapping of American citizens by the NSA. National and worldwide trust was rapidly approaching a new low.

Hoo boy, where to start on this one? How about every character introduced plus a couple new ones? Is that too few characters for you? How about a Kreate a Fighter Mode? Did you like the rpg Konquest mode? It’s there. Did you enjoy Puzzle Kombat? I’ve got good news for you. Any Mario Kart fans? You’re going to love Motor Kombat.

“Everything and the kitchen sink” must’ve been the motto during development. I feel most everything is half naked due to the sheer size of the features along with the aging engine that started use with MK:DA. This game is absolutely stuffed with features. Fatalities have again gotten an upgrade with both a Kreate a Fatality, a combo like system where the player makes a more and more brutal fatality the more moves they can pull of with a limited timer; and the introduction of mid match stage fatalities, pulled off by knocking your opponent into various death traps around the arenas. Characters have been reduced to a hand to hand style and a weapon one due to so many characters.

The story includes over 60 characters during the destruction of all realms. This places the game firmly at the end of the cannon (not counting the alternate universes – another ball of craziness that I’ll start exploring later) with the end or salvation of the universe depending on the character the player chooses. Konquest follows newcomer Taven battling his brother Daegon (can you guess the bad one?) to stop a cataclysmic event from the MK Fighters.

Since this is the end of the story, where was there for the series to go? Well, about that…

MK vs DC
Don’t ask why the basically human MK fighters are able to fight against Captain Marvel and Superman and Green Lantern. It’s for your sanity.

Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe

You read that right. Have you played Marvel vs Capcom and thought that it was weird, but the two universes meshed due to having a similar style and feel? The last universe I would think that it would be a good fit with the DC superheroes would be Mortal Kombat. One is a gory and over the top kung fu series full of realms and bloodthirsty fighters, the other is DC Comics. Sure, DC is a darker style than most Marvel series, but not Mortal Kombat dark.

So how well did the DC superheroes fare in a hard M rated game? Wait, hold on, the rating on this case says T. Surely a T rated MK game is a mistake, a printing error. No? That’s what the ESRB says? Hoo boy.

Gameplay had migrated to an entirely new engine which allowed for the new gameplay of Freefall Kombat, where the fighters are falling from the top of a stage and are jockeying for the advantage as they slam into the ground, and Klose Kombat, which pulls in close to the two fighters allowing the fighters to engage in some brutal close quarters combat. Since DC didn’t want their heroes to kill anyone, their fatalities have been rebranded as Heroic Brutalities, as well as the villains and Mortal Kombat characters have extremely toned down fatalities. It’s really semantics since the Heroic Brutalities should kill the opponent.

There is a two part story mode which has a part with the MK point of view and another with the DC. It was another step forward in single player storylines which was soon to become the developer’s calling card (NetherRealm Studios) and as strange as it is, MKDC could be considered the early testing of what would eventually become the Injustice series.

By this point it was obvious that the Mortal Kombat series had begun to run out of ideas. What happens to series that lose steam? Reboot of course! Join me as I cover the reboot in part 3 of The Evolution of Mortal Kombat.

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Jonathan Thornburg

Jonathan Thornburg has been playing games for almost 25 years, and in that time has developed a love for the Gaming Industry. He plays on the PS4 mostly, but can be found indulging in games from the past 25 years as well. He streams on twitch.tv/leftstick and uploads to youtube.com/c/leftstickgaming.

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