Best Games - Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat is a bait and switch.
I have talked about Mortal Kombat here a lot. I bring it up when referencing other fighting games. I mention it in passing when talking about controls or graphics or violence. Mortal Kombat is probably my second favourite fighting game series, second to Street Fighter. I love a round or three of Tekken or Samurai Shodown or Fatal Fury or Soulcalibur or Dark Stalkers or… you get it. I like fighting games. Mortal Kombat sits near the top of that list. I think I got into it for the same reasons that most people did, for the same reasons that most people think you would get into Mortal Kombat, but I keep playing games in the series for the same reasons that other fighting game fans do.
Mortal Kombat is the absolute picture perfect example of the bait and switch done right.
Digitized photos and animation of actual humans in costumes was the first dangling of bait. When MK1 came out in arcades, seeing realistic images of people on video game screens had only been done a few times and it never made for good games. It was, undoubtedly, a gimmick, but a rare enough one that the game could draw a crowd.
The characters could bleed. Not super uncommon in arcades at the time, but rare enough to be bait. Watching blood fly off of digital characters was novel enough that it caused a buzz.
If you won, you could kill your opponent in flashy and gory ways. The last piece of bait. The cherry on top. Any fighting game player, hell any arcade goer at the time had to at least see what Mortal Kombat was all about.
All gimmicks. All flash. Not the sort of thing that would land you on the Best Games list.
When that wears off, what are you left with. As it turns out, an extremely solid fighting game.
Mortal Kombat is a slower, harder hitting fighting game. Where Street Fighter 2 is a sort of high speed dance of feints and counters, Mortal Kombat is all marching forward and trading blows. Mortal Kombat is meatier. Heavier. When hits land, you feel them. If Street Fighter is like a kung fu movie, Mortal Kombat is like Rocky. Jumping in is not something you do without significant risk.
There is something about the pace of a Mortal Kombat fight that I really like. It can be over in an instant, but you will be aware of all of the times you messed up. Mashing buttons won’t help you. Range and timing matter more than speed. Special moves aren’t difficult to execute but they follow a slightly more aggressive pattern than most fighting games. Lots of double taps and quick back and forth movements of the stick versus Street Fighters lean toward smooth half and quarter circles and charge moves.
It would be pretty easy to argue, and I would probably agree, that the series didn’t really get going until Mortal Kombat II. The second game was more fluid, faster, more dynamic, but it still hit as hard and still felt stiff in a very good way. A drop kick to the face has weight and impact and stops the fight for a second while both combatants (Kombatants?) recover. It makes space for the players to respond with a block, counter, or follow up. It’s not uncommon to see a moment in a game of Mortal Kombat where both players just stop and stand perfectly still for a few frames. This hold or rest or break in the action is exactly what the game needs. It makes the next punch feel that much heavier, that much more damaging.
When you take away the bait, the digitized actors, the blood, the finishing moves, you are left with a fighting game with a slightly different rhythm. Something that feels like the more vicious martial arts movies the developers were trying to emulate. Something with some heft.
Both the Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat series are still going. They are both very good. They feel incredibly different to play.
Mortal Kombat is one of the best games.