A Brief History of Mortal Kombat
After Street Fighter laid the groundwork for the genre of fighting games, Mortal Kombat hit the scene, setting a high-water mark for graphics while pushing boundaries with its high levels of bloody violence, including, most notably, its Fatalities. No fighting game since has left such a legacy as much as the Mortal Kombat series. It sparked so much controversy for its depiction of extreme violence and gore that it led to the creation of the ESRB. The release of Mortal Kombat for home consoles by Acclaim Entertainment was one of the largest video game launches of all time, with a $10 million marketing campaign that dubbed the date “Mortal Monday.” By 1995, the Mortal Kombat franchise had become one of the biggest video game properties of all time with three hugely successful titles spread across arcade cabinets and home consoles along with a blockbuster movie.
After eight installments, Midway Games filed for bankruptcy in 2009 leaving Ed Boon and the MK series without a home. Luckily for Boon, Warner Bros. stepped in and purchased most of Midway’s assets (including Mortal Kombat), and the series was rebooted in 2011 with the ninth entry in the franchise simply titled, Mortal Kombat. Somehow, Midway’s bankruptcy turned out to be a blessing for the series. It gave Ed Boon a clean slate and allowed him to reset the MK timeline with a story that involves Raiden, attempting to change the aftermath of the events of Armageddon. As Ed Boon, described it, the story revolved around an altered re-telling of the events of the first three Mortal Kombat games and despite some pushback from longtime fans not happy with the change, Mortal Kombat (2011) became the most successful title in the franchise’s history to date.
Fighting games are not typically known for telling good stories, but Mortal Kombat is an exception to the norm. The Mortal Kombat story has been told in many different forms spanning twelve mainline games and three spin-offs (Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, Injustice: Gods Among Us, and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks) and needless to say, there’s a lot going on under the surface. The series is steeped in lore, and the story has become pretty convoluted over the years with various realms, different gods, and a huge roster that features well over 80 characters and counting. I’m not going to even attempt to rehash the Mortal Kombat timeline. There’s simply too much to discuss and I’d be a fool to try and make sense of it all, but I can say that the secret ingredient to Mortal Kombat’s success year after year, is its rich story – and thankfully with Mortal Kombat (2011), Ed Boon was able to reboot the series and start fresh. More importantly, he and his team were not afraid to change up the formula.
Mortal Kombat 11 makes Avengers: Endgame look like child’s play.
Mortal Kombat 11 is the final chapter of the ongoing story brought about by 2011’s Mortal Kombat and takes place directly after Mortal Kombat X ended just after Cassie Cage defeated the evil and mysterious Elder God Shinnok. Raiden, in a surprising twist, turns from peaceful mentor to a now-corrupted God of thunder and alters the timeline which sends ripple effects throughout the MK universe. Now, years later, a new character named Kronika, Shinnok’s mother and the keeper of time, has decided to step in and correct things with one simple change. Her plan is simple: rewrite all of history by first getting rid of the existence of Raiden. The past and present collide when Kronika decides to create a timequake that sends the heroes and villains of the past into the present where they must now form new alliances and battle past versions of themselves while trying to either save or destroy the realms as we know it.
Hollywood, Take Notes
Told through twelve chapters, Mortal Kombat 11 delivers a balls-to-the-wall cinematic experience with roughly five hours of intense action set pieces that make Avengers: Endgame look like child’s play. It’s easily the best tale the series has ever told and delivers a hugely entertaining ride worthy of its monumental buildup while leaving the future of the franchise open to endless possibilities. NetherRealm has a knack for superb story modes yet despite the studio’s reputation of crafting great narratives, I never expected Mortal Kombat 11 to be this good. As the story unfolds, you feel like you are taking part in the creation of a schlocky, nostalgia-fuelled Hollywood summer blockbuster with each chapter featuring four or five playable fights and featuring an all-star cast of characters from different eras.
And even though you spend more time watching the action unfold rather than participating, it helps that the fight sequences are gorgeously choreographed and downright ferocious. And as gorgeously choreographed action scenes go, the work here is that of high art with confident direction, stylish camera placement, and impressive effects to boot. From the explosive opening to the epic finale, Mortal Kombat 11 is an adrenaline-charged assault to the senses – a cacophony of martial arts, broken bones and guns blazing!
Longtime fans will be pleased to see that Mortal Kombat 11’s eclectic roster includes an almost perfect selection of the series’ most iconic fighters. Scorpion, Raiden, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade, and Liu Kang are all present and accounted for as well as their revenant versions from Mortal Kombat X. In total there are 25 playable characters including three new warriors Gera, Cetrion and the Kollector. With such a large cast (times two), it’s impressive that NetherRealm was able to find the time to give each character a chance in the spotlight— but they did. And in terms of cinematic cutscenes and voice acting, Mortal Kombat 11 raises the bar for fighting games. The facial animations look great and the performances rise to the occasion, with the one exception of the somewhat flat Ronda Rousey who voices the legendary Sonya Blade. Best of all, the writing adds depth to these characters and nowhere is this better exemplified than in the scenarios where our heroes and villains come face to face with versions of themselves. Not only are the character interactions between young and old selves a highlight, but they help flesh out these characters who have been mostly two-dimensional for over twenty years. Mortal Kombat 11 features plenty of clever gags and inside jokes as well, such as an older and wiser version of Johnny Cage trading blows with his younger and more arrogant self. Meanwhile, there are plenty of heartfelt moments including a few deaths and a complex relationship between a grieving Jax, his younger self and his daughter Jacqui Briggs, voiced wonderfully by Megalyn Echikunwoke.
Of course, this is a fighting game so don’t expect Oscar winning performances but Mortal Kombat 11 puts many Hollywood blockbusters to shame when it comes to telling a story on such an epic scale with so many beloved characters to follow. And whatever it lacks in narrative intelligence it makes up abundantly in visual moxie and compelling character interactions. The result is at times ridiculous but always entertaining especially in the climax which features almost every hero (and their doppelganger) charge into battle. Meanwhile series veteran, Liu Kang gets his ultimate shot at heroism in what is hands down one of the biggest moments in the franchise thus far. Seriously though, the climax features a jaw-dropping twist that extends the world-building beautifully, while assigning meaningful resonance to two of the most beloved characters (Raiden and Liu Kang) whom we followed for well over two decades.
Netherrealm Studios have once again proven they are the best storytellers in the genre. With Mortal Kombat 11, they created a virtual nesting doll of homages which will be appreciated by the most hardcore of fans, but still hold value for newcomers. More than anything, Mortal Kombat 11’s story campaign feels fresh and sets a blueprint for future games in the series to follow. There’s a lot of fun to be had with this latest entry, especially for those who have avidly followed the franchise since the beginning.
– Ricky D