Recently, Mortal Kombat has been making another push into the consciousness of gamers everywhere. Two weeks ago, a video was released based on the treatment for a movie revamp that would reimagine the series’ story as more urban and somewhat more down-to-Earth. Then a few days later, a new trailer was shown for the new game, simply entitled Mortal Kombat. Much like Street Fighter IV, it’s an attempt at a nostalgic return to glory by emphasizing the franchise’s best game.
While the footage has a definite Mortal Kombat II feel, it’s actually a skewed retelling of the first three games thanks to divine time travel. You see, sometime after Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, Shao Kahn curbstomps Raiden so hard that Raiden realizes how screwed the entire series has gotten. I mean, before the DC crossover, the game’s story was about an over-inflated cast having to climb the Aggro Crag. So he sends a message back to his younger self to cause a massive butterfly effect (butterfly effekt?) and redo history right this time. It’s like the last episode of Mighty Max but without Bull from Night Court being eaten by a giant spider. Or maybe it does have that. I don’t know. The game won’t be out for a year.
I’ve always been a fan of the series. It’s cheesy, violent fun and – as stupid as it sounds – I’ve always loved the mythology that comes with it all. From the beginning, it’s been Enter the Dragon mixed with Big Trouble in Little China mixed with Iron Fist with a dash of Godfrey Ho. I’ve been following the series far longer than I have comics and I’ve experienced many of the nuances of its excessive success. I remember when digitized actor Daniel Pesina rebelled against Midway by appearing in a magazine ad in support for the game Bloodstorm while wearing full Johnny Cage gear. I remember the Mortal Kombat GI Joe figures. I remember the awful knockoff videogames like Way of the Warrior, War Gods and the never-released Tattoo Assassins. I remember how the ARCADE version of Mortal Kombat 3 got its own nationally televised commercial. I remember the Mortal Kombat 3 Kombat Kodes that weren’t even worth the effort. I even read that mediocre prequel novel where Scorpion was revealed to be the ghost of a murdered ninja merged with his son’s body.
That said, I’ve seen the weird stuff come out of the trademark that still causes me to scratch my head. I figured a trip through the stranger and more unfortunate pieces of output from the Mortal Kombat series might be worth the time. Though first thing’s first, I’m not going to go the gameplay route with this list. I don’t care about how it lacks the refined tournament play of Virtua Fighter 5 or how the Run button is the Holocaust in videogame form or how Human Smoke has an infinite. I really just do not care.
Let’s start off the list by getting the most obvious one out of the way.
10) MORTAL KOMBAT: ANNIHILATION
I like the first Mortal Kombat movie. There. I said it. It’s one of my guilty pleasure movies, up there with Suburban Commando. I understand why people hate it, but at the same time, I think those people don’t remember what things were like when it came out. In the mid-90’s, there was this maybe six month window where mixing CGI with live action was a new and exciting novelty. Even if the effects hadn’t aged well, it was the new technology and it distracted from how utterly fake everything looked. That’s where my problem lies with Paul W.S. Anderson. Mortal Kombat was a product of the time, but he kept using the same budget and effects in all his following movies without any excuse.
Now Mortal Kombat: Annihilation? That is a piece of crap. The special effects look worse. The more likeable characters from the first movie are recast and, in one case, killed off in mere moments. While the first one actually introduced characters, gave us backstory and even let them develop, the second one makes sure to fit in as many Mortal Kombat characters as possible, even if they appear for only a scene and are never mentioned by name. Those who do give you the impression of importance are never followed up upon and vanish from the movie completely. Hell, there are even characters like Kabal, Stryker and Quan Chi who they tried to shove into the movie but they got dropped to the cutting room floor!
The story has lost its unity to the ground here and I can’t even describe much of it other than that the good guys have to go find Shao Kahn and kill him to save Earth. There’s something in there about Raiden giving up his godhood by getting a bad haircut, Liu Kang turns into a really awful looking dragon and we get some pointless reveals about certain characters being blood relatives. The plot is nearly incomprehensible, the fights have more flipping than punches, the dialogue is atrocious and Motaro looks like Scott Hall.
Then again, you already know all this.
9) THE MALIBU COMICS
Back in the early 90’s, Malibu Comics took on the Street Fighter franchise and failed hard. So hard that Capcom told them to stop because it was so bad. A couple years later, Malibu would do a somewhat better job with their take on Mortal Kombat.
Rather than being a regular on-going series that anyone could follow, it was a big pile of miniseries and one-shots that told stories loosely based on the first and second games. When it was good, it was surprisingly good. This tended to happen towards the end of its run in the Mortal Kombat: Baraka one-shot, the Mortal Kombat: Raiden and Kano miniseries and the Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition II finale. The best touch of it all was taking the classic Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion revenge story and turning it on its ear to make Sub-Zero the hero and Scorpion the villain in their scenario. The comic’s big climax is a scene where Sub-Zero heroically saves the world while covered from head-to-toe in hellfire because he’d rather defend his homeworld than give Scorpion the time of day. It’s pretty rad.
But when it was bad? It was very, very bad. Several issues were plagued with some of the worst comic art imaginable. Despite being based on a tournament, the entire series has two one-sided tournament fights before falling apart on that front. Then there’s the Goro: Prince of Pain miniseries, where Goro is used as a pawn in the war between order and chaos. A robot clone is created that merges all the characters from the first game together and the only way to stop it is… *sigh* …this.
Quick addendum in regards to those articles that fit in with this list: I used to be able to see the specific Google search terms that brought people to this site. There were a lot of people who stumbled onto these articles while looking for pictures of Kitana, which is understandable. What isn’t understandable is how even more people stumbled onto these articles while looking for pictures of Mileena! The hell is wrong with some people?
8) MORTAL KOMBAT 4’S ENDINGS
These days, videogames are all about the animated cutscenes and that’s fine, but back in my day, the endings in the original Mortal Kombat games were tops. A couple pages of text may not seem that great, but they were usually accompanied by some kickass stills that really added to the epic feel of finally beating Shang Tsung or Shao Kahn. Take a look at these.
When Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy came out, the effort died down and the endings were simply text accompanied by the vs. screen images of the character in question. With Mortal Kombat 4 taking the step into 3D, they decided to jump into the wave of the future by having actual cinematic endings!
What followed were some of the most hilarious and awful scenes with the worst voice acting and jerky animations. Characters would whisper “Arright!” at random times. About half of the endings were based on someone gratuitously exploding. Sonya’s ending would be elongated into Jarek’s ending, which would be elongated into Jax’s ending, thereby making the first two redundant.
Liu Kang’s ending featured Kitana showing up, but since Kitana wasn’t in the first iteration of the game, they just took Tanya’s character model and changed the color scheme. Hm. Well, this is Mortal Kombat.
Also, there’s the Reiko ending. In the arcade and Nintendo 64 versions, it would merely show him standing silently in a room until running into a portal. THAT’S IT! Then in the Playstation and Dreamcast versions, it would go further to reveal that he’s actually Shao Kahn! Whoa! What a twist! Except later on they decided that was stupid and retconned away that connection.
I just love that they went from pages of text that would explain why a character would decide to go after Shao Kahn, how they win and what they do from then on… to an ending that’s basically, “Reiko runs into a portal. The end.”
7) MORTAL KOMBAT: DEFENDERS OF THE REALM
The property that makes its name from pissing off parents due to its ultra violence gets its own Saturday morning cartoon show. Then again, if Rambo, The Mask, Robocop and the Toxic Avenger can do it, I suppose Mortal Kombat can too.
The show’s concept is that after the events of the first movie, Raiden, Liu Kang, Kitana, Jax, Sonya, Nightwolf, Stryker and new guy Sub-Zero live in their own little Bat-Kave with extremely advanced jets and other equipment, making me wonder who’s paying for this. Maybe Stryker won the lottery ten times over and that’s the only reason they let him on the team.
Another thing about Stryker is that he’s voiced by Ron Perlman. I know he wasn’t such a big name back in the mid-90’s, but looking back, it raises some eyebrows. Like, you have Perlman on tap, but you don’t give him to someone like Shao Kahn or Raiden? You waste him on Stryker? Okay, if that’s how you’re going to do it. At the same time, Sub-Zero is voiced by Luke Perry. That’s kind of neat casting.
As they hide out in their little cave, they spend every day waiting for portals to open up in random spots around the world. There, the Mortal Kombat villain of the week would come out as an end boss figure with weaker versions of his or herself acting like cannon fodder. Sektor has crappy gray robots, Scorpion has a skeleton army, Reptile has lizard dudes and so on. Fights would usually just be panning shots of the heroes and the cannon fodder kicking and blocking in a repeated five frames while everyone yells, “YA! YA! YA!” Oh, and before all that, you can’t forget about Sonya’s catchphrase of, “IT’S KOMBAT TIME!”
Other odd touches include Nightwolf getting his powers from merging with his pet wolf, most palette swap ninjas being unmasked for the sake of fixing the eventual confusion and the war against cleavage. The lack of blood is expected, but what I find funny looking back is how they had no choice but to nerf the female characters’ attire. Kitana has a boob window on her one-piece, but all that’s there is a diamond colored pale white. Sheeva has one of the trampiest outfits in videogames, but the area between her bikini suspenders is just a big, green plain that goes out of its way to lack any detail.
I’m not saying I feel robbed. Just think it’s kind of funny.
The show wasn’t all bad and I’d at least put it over the first season of the Street Fighter cartoon. It was the very first appearance of Quan Chi prior to any game in an episode where one of the main subplots is about Jax being deeply hurt to near suicide levels whenever Sonya calls him “blubber butt”. I recall an episode about Shao Kahn resurrecting Shang Tsung that was rather good, which included Shang describing the horrors of Hell rather explicitly for a cartoon.
6) MORTAL KOMBAT: CONQUEST
And here’s the other side of the television coin. Mortal Kombat: Conquest was a live action show from the late-90’s that acted as a prequel to the movies, taking 500 years earlier. While Defenders of the Realm took the eraser to boobs, Conquest reveled in it. Like, there would be a scene of Quan Chi and a sorceress plotting for a couple minutes. Quan Chi would take off and we’d be given a couple minutes of that sorceress wearing a tiny towel and being given a hot oil massage by two female slaves. Par for the course for such a Xena knockoff.
The show takes place 500 years ago, shortly after the original Kung Lao has defeated Shang Tsung to become Mortal Kombat champion. He and his companions Siro and Taja get into adventures and fulfill the same basic roles as the guys from the first movie: generic Asian hero, cocky white guy and head-strong woman. Aspects from the mythos would appear either because the characters are really old/immortal or because of legacies, such as members of the Black Dragon showing up or the Lin Kuei having yet another ninja named Sub-Zero on the team.
I only remember random things from the show, like this time they cornered a ninja after a failed assassination attempt. The ninja knows he has nowhere to go, so he puts his hands over his head, snaps his own neck and spins around in the air like a top before falling on his back. I recall sitting there and wondering… how exactly does one practice that?
I lost interest pretty quickly and only remembered it existed because WCW Nitro would advertise the guest appearances by Wrath and Meng in select episodes. The show was canceled as of the 22nd episode, which involved Shao Kahn and his forces killing pretty much every good guy on the show. It was meant to be a cliffhanger, but, oops, wasn’t picked up for another go. It’s not the biggest loss, really. Kung Lao’s entire existence is based on the fact that he’s supposed to get his ass killed by Goro. He was on borrowed time anyway.
Also, would it have killed them to have him use the modern day Kung Lao’s razor hat?
5) MORTAL KOMBAT: SPECIAL FORCES
The side-scroller spinoff Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero didn’t exactly set the world on fire but I liked it enough anyway. The game was enough of a success that John Tobias went for a follow-up by giving Jax and Sonya their own prequel game. Complications arose and Tobias left Midway. The company looked at the half-finished hunk of game at their feet and didn’t want to put it to waste, so they cut Sonya out completely, had it rushed and put it in stores.
I’ll admit right here that I have never played this game, but by all accounts, it’s absolutely horrid. I’ve watched enough in-game footage to know that everybody probably knows what they’re talking about. So how could I bring myself to rank this game so high if I’ve never actually played it? Easy. I’ve watched the intro movie.
You know how ever since Deadly Alliance, all the Mortal Kombat games have had fucking amazing intro movies to set the tone? Check this one out.
4) MORTAL KOMBAT: THE ALBUM
At the Barnes and Noble where I work, our music department has been slowly being eaten alive by DVDs and blu-rays. The music CDs themselves have been shrunk down more and more by the year to the point of being a condensed grouping hidden in the back of the department. Even then, for some reason, we STILL keep a copy of the Mortal Kombat album and I can’t come to terms with it.
Mortal Kombat: The Album came out in response to the first game’s popularity and I’m sure was mostly purchased by those who believed it to be the movie soundtrack. Guilty. By a group called the Immortals, it’s ten tracks of techno cheese with voice samples from the game. Most notably, this album gave us the series’ ever-popular theme song. The other songs will likely make you die a little inside. Here are some choice lyrics:
“Oh, Chinese ninja warrior,
With your heart so cold,
Oh, your life is a mystery.
Warrior with a mask,
Or how about…
“The Kombat king, the best of the best,
Just look at Raiden, he cannot rest!
Our champ, solid as a rock.
He gives his opponent a state of shock.
With power, electricity,
He disappears, no you cannot see,
him MOVE, ’cause Rayden flies!
The Superman with eternal life!
Plug in and power up! Plug in and power up!
Forces of lightning, power in the sky,
The thunder warrior, he’s got no eyes,
He fights with intensive lust,
He turns his foe into a pile of dust!”
And one more…
“(Prepare yourself) Mortal Kombat’s on today!
(Prepare yourself) Mortal Kombat all the way!
(Prepare yourself) Mortal Kombat’s here to stay!
Ooh, Johnny Cage is not afraid to die!”
The Johnny Cage one is also gleefully dumb for having an announcer yell out random facts about him during the song.
“Please welcome, Mr. John Carlton!
The blue-eyed actor from Venice, California!
He’s cool, he’s hot, he’s crazy! Here’s Johnny Cage!
From the United States of America!
The movie star with the iron fist!
He’s 29, he’s mean, he’s in great shape!
The one and only Johnny Cage!”
I want the extended remix where they go into his blood type, cooking specialty and favorite episode of MASH.
3) MORTAL KOMBAT: THE JOURNEY BEGINS
I can never hate on Defenders of the Realm because at the end of the day, it’ll always be head and shoulders better than everything involved in The Journey Begins. Holy shit, where do I even start?
The animated story was released in conjunction with the first movie and acted like a half hour cartoon retelling of the first act. A free rental at most video stores, the video split between two kinds of animated sequences. For the most part, it would show the 2D adventures of Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya on Shang Tsung’s boat as they fight the ninjas, reach the island and get in a never-ending fight with an army of Barakas. The designs used are based on how they look in-game, so Liu and Johnny are completely shirtless for no reason throughout the entire thing.
The other sequences would be whenever Raiden needs to go into someone’s backstory. Four sequences of CGI fight scenes plague the video when this is too early in the decade for CGI to be done properly. Everything looks crummy and primitive, taking away from the desired effect of using this cutting edge animation style. These fight scenes portray Sub-Zero murdering Scorpion, Goro killing his brother, Shang Tsung eating some guy’s soul and Goro killing the original Kung Lao. So pretty much, they’re all a bunch of downers.
Back to the main story, the animation is pretty atrocious and becomes completely overused, especially when they get to the Baraka army fight. They use the same shots so many times that they have to start showing them in slow motion just to make it seem different. All this and Shang Tsung talks like a pirate.
2) MORTAL KOMBAT: THE LIVE TOUR
This is another one that I’m not entirely qualified to mention because I never saw it firsthand, but I remember the commercials and my own bewilderment at them from my childhood. Around the release of Mortal Kombat 3, they started doing a traveling stage show. Martial artists would dress up like the game’s characters and do a play for children with the use of a million fight sequences and laser light shows. It’s a nomadic videogame version of Medieval Times Dinner and Tournament, basically.
The whole live tour concept is ridiculous enough to make the list even without my own personal experience with it. I mean, it’s Mortal Kombat and it’s being packaged towards children is a very wacky way. At the same time, I was thinking that I couldn’t possibly rate it so highly without knowing anything past the concept. Then I snooped around YouTube and found this televised segment as Shang Tsung discusses the show to a local news anchor. Enjoy the douche chills, ladies and gentlemen!
Mortal Kombat: it’s all about making a difference. Stay in school OR I’LL EAT YOUR SOUL!
I notice that Kerri Hoskins, the woman who played Sonya in the third game, reprised her role for the tour. Also of note is that Hakim “The Machine” Alston played Jax at times. He’s no stranger to Kombat lore, as not only did he get taken out by Liu Kang in the first movie, but he got his revenge by messing up Ho Sung Pak (the original Liu Kang) on WMAC Masters to steal his Dragon Star Championship! Why the hell do I remember such things?
1) MORTAL KOMBAT VS. DC UNIVERSE’S TEEN RATING
I enjoyed Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. I did. The gameplay didn’t bother me, it has Deathstroke the Terminator and the story mode was rather well-written. Well-written for an assignment that says you have to do a story about 20 or so characters – most of them good guys – and find a way to make them get into specific fights using only a handful of backdrops. The endings, which act like epilogues for the story mode, are okay for the most part, even though most of them are based on the character from one side becoming just like a character from the other. Sub-Zero becomes Batman, Kano becomes the Joker, Joker becomes Shang Tsung, Kitana becomes Wonder Woman, the Sinestro Corps War becomes the plot to Mortal Kombat Armageddon, Jax becomes Cyborg, Liu Kang becomes Captain Marvel, etc.
I do say the entire crossover aspect of it was worth it just for Shao Kahn’s role in the end of the DC side’s story mode. He ends up stranded in their dimension and prepares to fight them all, but his powers have fizzled out and the Justice League stares him down. Next thing you see is a shot of a Phantom Zone prison square flipping through space with Kahn desperately trying to pound his way out. That seems like a cool way to end that threat. Then you see his arcade mode ending, a follow-up to his story mode fate, which shows the image of him shattering the Phantom Zone prison and running forward while being backed up by a hundred loyal and pissed off Kryptonian criminals. I recall immediately responding, “Oh shit!” at this picture before the text and narration could spell it out.
If anything, I thought the colorful science fiction style of the DC characters meshed surprisingly well with the gritty-yet-otherworldly fantasy aspects of the Mortal Kombat universe. It’s just a complete shame that they had to neuter the game for really no reason at all. The game garnered a Teen rating, which meant that the Fatalities became very tame, especially from the DC side of things.
Now, some of that I can certainly understand. I get that Superman, Batman and a lot of the others wouldn’t kill, even if taken over by THE RAGE! but they went even further. Joker and Deathstroke each had Fatalities that involved shooting the enemy in the head, but they had to zoom the camera in and crop the shot so you can’t see the victim getting blasted. The Mortal Kombat characters weren’t allowed any sort of dismemberment. It’s just a bunch of underwhelming cartoony shit, like Jax crushing the opponent’s head flat like a penny without a hint of gore. The worst they’re allowed to do is turn their victim into a bloodless skeleton.
At first glance, it makes sense. These Mortal Kombat guys are messing with the DC Universe, dude! You can’t have heads being torn off when Superman’s around! You can’t have R-rated violence in a Green Lantern story! These are children’s characters and DC comics are ultimately for kids.
…I mean, that’s what someone who doesn’t read many comics might believe. But let’s see what the last few years of mainstream, high-profile DC Comics has given us.
And that’s not even counting the rape scenes!
How sad is it that the Mortal Kombat side has to water itself down to accommodate a party of characters more violent than them? Now that is ridiculous.
Between that treatment and the generic “Create-a-Fatality” from Armageddon, it only makes the overly-violent Fatality clips from the new game look strangely cathartic. You take away the flash because it isn’t gameplay-based and you realize how much you’ve taken it for granted.
Now that we’ve gotten through the list, I thought I would reward with you with the most kickass awesome thing related to the Mortal Kombat franchise.