Top 10 Biggest Mistakes in Mortal Kombat History
Mortal Kombat has given us a ton of great moments since it hit the arcades over 20 years ago, and the franchise is arguably at its peak with the recent release of Mortal Kombat X. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been a rocky road for the series at times. Midway and its successors have made some blunders along the way, some more serious than others. As much as I love the franchise, there are some stumbles that are hard to ignore, but I’d like to think that these mistakes ultimately helped the team improve.
I’ve called this the “top 10 biggest mistakes,” but not all of them boil down to specific incidents; some of them are more akin to “practices” or “patterns” with regards to the approach towards the series. So let’s take a lighthearted look at some of MK’s biggest flubs throughout the years!
10. The Many Faces of Reptile
One of the things that has continually bothered me from release to release has been the ever-changing visage of our favorite Zaterran. Early on he’s established as a lizard-like creature under a human mask, but even this aspect undergoes drastic changes over time. The first picture in the above series reflects his appearance in the original trilogy. Next up is his MK4/MKG render, which I suppose is pretty close to what we’d expect underneath the ninja outfit.
Then, by the time Deadly Alliance rolled around, we had a much more primal form, explained by Reptile’s absence of a master. I think this is kind of a flimsy explanation though…I think the guys just wanted to put this weird dinosaur-ish thing in the game and used Reptile as an excuse. If nothing else, we need some solid mythology about Zaterra laid out once and for all to try to explain all of this.
For his Armageddon/Shaolin Monks era appearance, Reptile’s uniform takes on an old familiarity, but now he has a bunch of bandages wrapped around his face and hitherto unseen cartoonishness to his face. Could we get a little closer to either MK4 or MK:DA? I think the weird bandages bother me the most; I don’t have a problem with the lizard look (though it does feel a bit exaggerated), I just wish it wouldn’t change so haphazardly.
Again his appearance is revamped for the 2011 reboot, with a beak-like mask that gives him a bird-like look. It isn’t my favorite look for Reptile, but I can forgive the redesign for the sake of a new continuity. Surprisingly, this version carries over to MKX for the most part, with a better mask/uniform that does away with the bird-ish features. His alternate “Kraken” outfit looks a bit like a mermaid meets Creature from the Black Lagoon, but I suppose it stays in line with his appearance otherwise.
I don’t mind character redesigns – in fact, most of them are for the best. But never before has anyone been changed so overtly. Reptile’s constantly changing physiology feels like a case where the developers want to play with these reptilian designs without worrying too much about continuity. Oh well. At least he’s retained his most recent appearance for a couple of games now.
9. Deadly Alliance Bosses
Now don’t get me wrong, Deadly Alliance did a lot for the franchise, but Midway didn’t come out of its slump all at once. Deadly Alliance had a great story that really attempted to push things forward (even if it felt more like a lukewarm lead-in to the main event that was Deception) with developments such as the deaths of Liu Kang and Shao Kahn. And indeed the teaming up of 2 powerful lackeys – Shang Tsung and Quan Chi – seemed like a reasonable course of events.
Unfortunately, they never really came up with a clever way to pull it off in the context of a fighting game. It was Quan Chi and Shang Tsung as usual, only one was at the top of the tower and the other took the penultimate spot. It seems like we could’ve gotten something like amped up versions of the 2 sorcerers, or maybe even some kind of awesome construct based on both of their powers. Deadly Alliance had a great story, but as far as video game conventions go, the “boss” felt pretty uninspired.
8. Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe
MK vs DC isn’t really a bad video game, but it isn’t a very good representation of Mortal Kombat. There’s something about the dark fantasy of MK that doesn’t mesh with the heroism inherent to DC’s comic book universe. There’s a fun story at work, but it’s more at home in the world of comics and a little less in line with the oriental flair and mysticism of MK.
It’s also a bummer that the violence is watered down for the sake of our DCU inhabitants. Besides, super heroes and “warriors” aren’t exactly the same class of fighter. Superheroes use their powers and construct flashy fighting styles around these arbitrary abilities. The characters of Mortal Kombat have their special moves, but storywise, these folks were also trained warriors (most of them, anyway) who relish in the fight itself.
Lastly, MK vs DC just plain hit at a bad time in MK history. We’d been left reeling from the massiveness of Armageddon, eager for the next chapter, and what happens instead? A solid but forgettable crossover with a generic slew of characters on both sides. I’m sure this started out as a good idea, and I might even be inclined to like this as a fighting game if it didn’t have the MK label woven through it, but it’s everything that a Mortal Kombat game shouldn’t be, and I can’t look past that.
7. Konquest Mode of Deadly Alliance
Yeah ok, I know I’m picking on Deadly Alliance again, but that’s not to undermine all the good things it did for the series at that point. I guess MK had to go through some growing pains…and this was one of them.
Konquest Mode has thus far taken 3 iterations over the course of 3 games, and MK:DA’s is easily the weakest. It consists of over 100 “missions” that act as training sessions for all of the game’s characters. To be fair, DA introduced a lot of new stuff, namely that of fighting styles. These training sessions weren’t a total wash as they did impart some valuable info, but they took forever to go through and some of these missions were extremely difficult, including some of the insane style-branching combos.
Even worse, one has to complete this entire mode to finish unlocking the game’s secret characters. The one bright spot is that there’s actually a ton of interesting story info tucked away in DA’s Konquest; unfortunately you’ll be rapidly skipping past these before too long just to get through the damn thing a little quicker. And there ain’t no way to go back and access the information either.
The good news is that most of the mistakes made in Deadly Alliance weren’t repeated in Deception (it had its own slew of problems, but was also quite brilliant) so we’re only forced to suffer through them once.
6. The Dynamic Duo (Noob / Smoke)
What the hell was Boon and Co. thinking when they dreamt up this bizarre concept? I get that they wanted to have to have a tag-team member in order to try something new, but couldn’t they create a new character for the occasion instead of stuffing two existing characters together? Putting the two together diminishes each one as a fighter and makes them feel less than whole. Besides, I’m not sure what they could do with two separate characters that they couldn’t do with their existing arrangement of fighting styles… They get to squeeze in a few extra moves, but that’s about it.
The Noob/Smoke pairing may have had some potential at some point, but the problem is that even though we have two characters, they’re treated as one. The whole thing was nothing more than a pointless move that did little more than make Smoke look like….a little bitch.
5. Mortal Kombat 4
Some fans might put MK4 lower on the list, yet I think it gets some unjust criticism. It’s definitely earned some of its reputation, but it’s not a terrible game by any means.
MK4 was the first real reinvention that the series had seen at that point. Digitized sprites were traded in for 3D models, and Midway was attempting to bring the franchise up to modern standards. What went wrong? Well, more than any one big thing, it was a lot of small things. MK4 got us back to the dark and gloomy atmosphere that the series had once been known for and put a whole new story in motion, but it tried to move a little too far a little too quickly. Let’s run down the major points:
- Weapons: MK4 introduced a 100% broken weapons system. The player had to learn a separate button sequence for each character to even draw the weapon. Then, it was a total chore to hold onto the weapon. In fact, with how easy it was to drop it and the latency required to draw it, the opponent has probably already knocked it out of your hand before you have the chance to take a single swing with it. The best use of the weapon was probably as a single, maybe double-use projectile, but throwing it required another input of that special sequence. By the time all was said and done, weapons were pointless.
- Fujin’s Crossbow: There is one weapon that deserves special mention. Fujin’s crossbow shot a small projectile, which could pretty much dominate the match if one was at least jump distance away from the opponent.
- Graphics: The graphics had a dated look from Day One, and it was a sharp contrast to the realism of previous games. The 3D animations were blocky and rough, fine detail was almost nonexistent, and the colors came across as both drab and cartoon-y at the same time.
- The Boss: Our first big bad since Shao Kahn was the Luciferian ruler of hell, Shinnok. Plotwise it was a sound development, but within the game itself, Shinnok was a pretty wimpy boss.
- Meat: Secret characters in Mortal Kombat have a long history of being derivative as hell, but Meat is/was the worst, and in all honesty wasn’t even worth the trouble of unlocking. (Though I’m glad they tried to make something out of in by the time of MKA.)
- Really Bad New Characters: MK4 introduced us to some of the most forgettable characters in the MK canon, namely Kai, Jarek, Tanya, and Reiko. Tanya has experienced a sort of renaissance in my mind due to her appearance in MKX, and at the time I actually thought Reiko was pretty cool; subsequent storyline developments just ruined his character. Not only were the developers lazy with these new choices, but they abandoned most of them after MK4 with many not resurfacing until MKA. Of the 8 new characters introduced, only 2 made it to the next two games; the other 6 were ignored until MKA. MK4 was supposed to build off of the story from Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, so why didn’t we see the likes of the other 2 elemental gods, or Sareena, Jataaka, and/or Kia? Why didn’t the elder Sub-Zero as Noob Saibot play a bigger role?
So yeah, Mortal Kombat 4 had a lot working against it, and I guess the developers thought it better to cut their losses and move on when it came time for Deadly Alliance. Thankfully, since then, we haven’t seen a game with nearly as many systemic weaknesses as those of MK4.
With the 2011 reboot and the brilliant followup that is Mortal Kombat X, I’d like to believe that the trend of throwing characters into the mix left and right has been left behind. MKX has definitely emphasized quality over quantity and has moved on substantially in terms of the story. So far, some characters have stayed dead, which is a really good thing.
Previously, the storyline was undergoing constant retcons because somewhere along the way someone couldn’t bear to get rid of one character or another. For a game with the word mortal in the title, and for a game that gained notoriety due to its depictions of murder and mayhem, death was surprisingly impermanent. At first it was kind of fun to see an old face pop up a couple of games later, but by the time we were dealing with the massive roster of MKA, even die-hards were starting to see how ridiculous it had gotten.
The series tried again and again to introduce new characters over the years, with the most prominent examples being MK3, MK4, and MK: Deception. Unfortunately, most of these didn’t stick. We had countless casualties from Nightwolf to Stryker to Sheeva to Rain to Nitara to Hsu Hao to Li Mei to Ashrah to Darrius to Dairou to Kira to Kobra…and why did these fail? Well, it’s true that many of them weren’t really that original. But what Midway never seemed to grasp is that these new characters were never going to catch on if players continually had the chance to play as their old favorites. But no, fan favorites like Scorpion, Liu Kang, Baraka, Kitana, etc. kept popping up and all of the newbies remained on the outskirts.
Utterly superfluous characters didn’t help either. Some kombatants came from rumor (Ermac and the more recent Skarlet), some from spirited speculation (Blaze), and some from outright silliness (Rain, Mokap, Meat, and perhaps Chameleon and Khameleon). Granted some of them have gotten respectable stories over the years (particularly Rain and Ermac), but it would make more sense to me to form a story first instead of haphazardly throwing around meaningless characters and trying to fill in the gaps here and there.
For god sakes, do we really need a game where any kombatant can fight any other kombatant? Is it worth all the shortcuts and useless fodder that we must endure to have such a game? Wouldn’t a more dynamic cast be fun? Having the same roster over and over also dampens that “new” feeling when the next game comes out, and if you ask me, MKX did us a favor by doing away with so many characters.
We saw a number of main characters unquestionably die during the events of MKX’s Story Mode; we can only hope that they stay dead once the next installment rolls around, no matter how attached we may have grown to them. I remember thinking how awesome Trilogy and Armageddon sounded when I first heard about them…but when it comes down to it, after a few fights, it’s all the same shit that fans have done before, and once those half-dozen fights you’ve always wanted to have are out of the way, there’s just nothing new to experience.
3. Orderrealm vs. Chaosrealm
Mortal Kombat: Deception expanded the known MK cosmos by leaps and bounds. We got to visit whole new worlds, we got a major retcon in the Outworld/Edenia department, and we got a story of greater scope than anything prior. Overall, it was pretty damn cool. However, it seemed the writers got a little lazy when it got to this conflict of order vs. chaos. The idea itself isn’t a bad one, but why was it manifested in such overly simplistic ways? Orderrealm? Chaosrealm? All that bunk about water = chaos? It’s too much. Too hokey. Too cheesy. Interesting idea, nigh pathetic execution. (And christ, if you’ve retained any basic knowledge of chemistry you’d know just how non-chaotic it is; wouldn’t lightning be better? Or better yet, build up some made-up physics based around actual quantum fluctuations.)
One of the reasons the conflict between Orderrealm and Chaosrealm never caught on was because it never really made any sense beyond the fact that the Orderrealmers were stealing water from the Chaosrealmers. It also didn’t seem to have much to do with the rise of Onaga or Shujinko’s Kamidogu quest. Basically, these two realms were plucked out of thin air to serve as storyline filler. All that talk about the “Chaos God (Kochal)” and “The Tempest” and how the Chaosrealm came to be would’ve been a way cooler story.
As if the concepts themselves weren’t pedantic enough (I mean seriously, how do you worship chaos? The very laws of chemistry and physics that hold particles together in a way conducive to life already implies an enormous degree of order! And how is the totalitarian Orderrealm that much different than Outworld?), the characters hailing from these new realms are among some of the blandest inclusions the franchise has ever seen. Darrius and Dairou are complete throwaways. Hotaru has a cool look to him, but not much else (except some very questionable special moves utilizing lava), and Havik, while full of potential, becomes MK’s very own Looney Toon. It’s not all the characters’ fault though; see my point about how new characters are treated in the prior point regarding Too…Many…Characters…
I don’t know if anything could’ve or would’ve ever come of the conflict or not. It was a huge bombshell back in Deception, yet it never really took center stage, nor was it much mentioned Armageddon. Again, much of the problem was too many damn characters, meaning that, inevitably, someone would be left behind and certain plot points were doomed. Maybe we’ll see a revamped version of this down the line. I’d love to see an MKX-style take on Havik!
2. Mortal Kombat: Special
Well, here it is. You knew it had to make the list at the some point. Special Forces has, so far, probably marked the worst MK-branded product. The game itself is playable and even entertaining in parts, but it’s also evident that development was sloppy and rushed and that we’re dealing with an unrealized vision.
During a period where Midway wanted to expand the MK brand into action and adventure games, several ideas were thrown around. Sadly, Special Forces hit at a turbulent time during Midway’s history. The company was running out of money, and one of MK’s founding fathers, John Tobias, was in the process of leaving his creation behind forever. All of this confusion and restructuring fell straight into Special Forces, and we got a game that was very different than what it was supposed to be.
We were supposed to get an adventure where the player could choose between Jax and Sonya; unfortunately, only Jax made the final cut. The final product is fully functional, but the graphics are dark and murky and the gameplay is on par with your average forgettable action game. It has very little of the “Mortal Kombat feel” and almost nothing in Special Forces relates back to anything in the games.
The plot involves Jax hunting down escaped members of the Black Dragon clan; this is where we get our first glimpse of Tremor, one of the main members who uses earth-based attacks and appears similar to a palette swapped ninja with the color brown. The final level takes place as Jax chases down Kano through Outworld, and to be honest, it’s kind of an awesome, minimalist interpretation of Outworld. I’m sure the design for this other dimension was rushed along with everything else, but I can sort of appreciate the bleak, void-like aesthetic. Still, nothing really sets this game apart from scores of other mediocre titles, and worst of all, it doesn’t look or feel anything like Mortal Kombat (in contrast to MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero which was very much imbued with the MK spirit).
1. Ports, Revisions, Updates, Expansions, Exclusives….Oh My….
Admittedly, this aspect of Mortal Kombat can be sort of fun as a retroactive collector. However, at the time, it is crazy frustrating trying to keep up with it all. And it affects multiple aspects – the story, the playable characters, the secrets, the game modes, and at times even the graphics. Now I understand that ports of these games for early handhelds such as the Game Boy and Game Gear had to be scaled back due to technical limitations, but that really doesn’t excuse the vast array of differences from console to console, not to mention all the “updates” continually released as well.
You can go all the way back to the earliest games to find differences, such as the first Mortal Kombat’s blood code and the censorship differences between Nintendo and Sega. Mortal Kombat II, the series’ flagship game for quite some time, made it to an insane number of platforms from the 8, 16, and even 32-bit eras. Minor differences abound, especially in terms of technical aspects, but even some of these have slight derivations of content (including an interesting “Dad’s Army” Code for the Sega CD version). However, the real “fun” starts with Mortal Kombat 3…
MK3 made it to a plethora of home consoles as well, but I’m just going to touch quickly on the Genesis versus SNES versions. There are a vast number of cheats available in both games, and it’s amazing how wildly these cheats vary from console to console. Many of the options are totally different and some of the cheats available in one version are absent from the other.
I won’t go on too much more about these differences, but the list goes on: Trilogy was noticeably different on the PS1 and N64, and yes, some of this was due to technical limitations, but even still, each version got their own secret character (Chameleon and Khameleon respectively) so it wasn’t entirely possible to experience “everything” without owning more than one copy. The scaled back Deadly Alliance for the GBA known as Tournament Edition actually included an all new playable character: Sareena. And then there was the GameCube port of Deception which, to make up for a lack of online multiplayer, included Shao Kahn and Goro as playable characters. This was problematic because Shao Kahn was supposed to be dead as per the events of MK:DA, so we actually have to deal with an entire story change! The PSP version of MKD, known as Mortal Kombat: Unchained, also included Kahn and Goro, as well as another 4 characters straight from MK:DA for even more retcons!
One of the biggest groan-worthy moments revolves around Armageddon, slated to include every single playable character up to that point. The problem? It didn’t. The male Chameleon made the cut, but not the female Khameleon. Not long afterwards, it was made known that the upcoming Wii release of MKA would in fact include Khameleon, though this was still several months away. It doesn’t stop there. The 2011 reboot contained a Sony-exclusive Kratos as DLC (I get it, he’s a Sony character), and then the PSV version of MK (2011) was blessed with a very cool Challenge Tower mode that allowed the player to play as some interesting characters from within the MK universe.
Frankly, it’s hugely irritating to have all these little chunks scattered hither and thither, with little rhyme or reason.
And then there are the updates. Noble enough in intention, they create problems similar to the console specific versions, at times even overlapping. For instance, we got the Dreamcast exclusive Mortal Kombat Gold, adding a nice touch of familiarity to the somewhat alien cast of MK4. We also had MK (2011) which had reams of available DLC. And so, people paid for the game when it came out, paid for the DLC as it was released (and let’s be honest, with the amount of DLC offered, it almost feels incomplete not to have it), and what are they rewarded with? A neat and clean Komplete Edition less than a year later with all DLC and then some for $10 less.
The worst of it though came with the home versions of Ultimate MK3. When it hit arcades, fans were thrilled. They’d gotten attached to certain characters and were less than thrilled when MK3 was released without the likes of Scorpion, Mileena, Kitana, etc. Not the worst idea in the world, but it kept snowballing. The home versions rolled out which barely resembled the arcade version; worse still, they were inferior to MK3 in many ways, including the lack of certain audio clips. And these home versions brought back more old characters. And more new characters. Finally Mortal Kombat Trilogy came out, which is what the home version of UMK3 should’ve been in the first place.
All of these updates, which were basically excuses to fold in characters that had been previously cut, caused many story changes, such as Johnny Cage being brought back to life, and the fact that basically no one has died aside from the elder Sub-Zero (Bi-Han) who’s now back as Noob Saibot. It’s annoying. I really wish the developers, creators, and whoever the hell else was involved could’ve made things a little bit easier to follow. We’re off to a good start with the new MKX, but who knows what the future will bring…
There you have it – the 10 biggest mistakes in the history of Mortal Kombat…according to me anyway. But like many of my Top 10s, I do have a few honorable mentions to tack on to the end!
By the time Deception came out, many of our beloved characters were dead. But then Armageddon had to happen, which meant the return of, well, everyone. Ever. Ok, no problem, we just need a few words thrown at us here and there to explain how all 63 kombatants ended up at this crater in Edenia. Well, it turns out that no bios were included in the actual game. Instead, Boon promised to release them periodically over the internet. These were terribly slow to come out, and then they magically quit coming after 17. But as much as I wanted those bios, I’m not sure if MKA could’ve ever been tied together satisfactorily – after all, things were beginning to unravel in a big way at the time.
This one came closest to making it on the list proper, but I guess maybe I don’t hate all the weird finishing moves as much as some critics. Sure, it got ridiculous and out of control, but these finishers could easily be avoided. It wasn’t like you had to perform them. Most of them were pretty pointless though, and many were also difficult to pull off. First were the standard Fatalities and Stage Fatalities, followed by Babalities and Friendships (MKII required winning the round with only High or Low Kick; MK3/UMK3/MKT stipulated that Block couldn’t be used in the final round), the one-off “Fergality,” then Mercies, and Animalities (only available at the end of a third round after a Mercy), followed by Brutalities (version 1.0), then Hara-Kiris, then the abysmal Kreate-a-Fatality, and finally, the latest iteration that includes Brutalities (version 2.0), Stage Brutalities (an updated Stage Fatality), and Faction Kills.
In addition to the wayward Orderrealm versus Chaosrealm conflict, we had another abandoned story in the form of Nitara, the vampires, Vaeternus, etc. It seems unlikely that we’ll get any resolution to the story of the Moroi people at this point, but it was one of the more interesting subplots introduced throughout the MK:DA and MKD eras. Concepts like these would’ve been a fantastic springboard for new adventures involving the many peripheral characers who were continually overshadowed. I think Vaeternus would’ve been a great place to start; we have the connection to Ashrah as well as Zaterra, a great way to get Khameleon and Chameleon in on a little more of the action.
Cliche? Eh, maybe. But this guy has been figuratively lurking in the shadows since the days of the home versions of UMK3. Tremor was slated to appear, but a decision was made to insert Rain instead, who wasn’t even a real character apart from his random appearance in UMK3’s arcade attract mode.
Why is Tremor such a big deal? Who knows. Maybe it’s because he’s another palette swapped ninja. Maybe it’s because he’s been talked about in hushed whispers for so long similar to Ermac and, to a lesser extent, Skarlet. Maybe it even has a little to do with his brief appearance in the PS Vita version of MK 2011 on the exclusive challenge tower. So where’s the mistake? The mistake is that Midway/NetherRealm Studios has let this actual character (he’s a boss in Special Forces) bubble under the surface far too long while throwing loads of unwanted characters at us. And it’s not even just that, it’s the handful of totally ridiculous characters we’ve gotten as well.
At any rate, Tremor will become a reality…at some point…he’ll be the last of MKX’s DLC characters (for the time being). It’ll be great to finally mix it up with “the brown ninja,” but it would’ve been even more fun if we’d had him around back during the MKT days. I suspect he won’t have much of a role in the story (technically, so far he has no role in the story, but I’m sure ending will make some kind of connection), but maybe he’ll get the proper treatment in “Mortal Kombat Eleven.” Oh well, I still would’ve loved to see Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Reptile, Ermac, Rain, Noob, and Chameleon all lined up next to Tremor back in the digitized pre-MK4 era. Hell, Reiko would’ve made a fine ninja with the addition of a mask too!
Well, that’s all for now, but I’m sure we’ll have another stumble or two before too long. Hell, we may even look back at the more recent games and find some faults. (I almost felt inclined to include MK2011 and MKX’s lack of a Konquest or otherwise similar one player mode as a mistake, though I don’t think it’s fair to call it one of the franchise’s biggest.) But the great thing is that even with these mistakes, mishaps, and missteps we still have an indubitably great franchise that’s persisted through the years. I can still pick up almost any MK game and have some fun with it to this day!
So what do you think the biggest mistakes have been when it comes to Mortal Kombat? Let us know below!
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