Run The Series: Mortal Kombat
Updated: Mar 27
Since making its 1992 debut in arcades, Mortal Kombat has forged a deserved reputation as a legendary beat-‘em-up franchise and a very real cultural phenomenon. With the latest edition, Mortal Kombat 11, released last month, Antstream Arcade takes a look back at the games that make up this fearsome series.
Mortal Kombat – Arcade, 1992
While a palpable hit in arcades, it was with the home releases of the original Mortal Kombat, notably on the Sega Mega Drive and Super Nintendo where the game really broke out thanks to an effective advertising campaign by publisher Acclaim. Brutal and realistic thanks to its photographic style sprites and ridiculously violent, it helped instigate a congressional debate on video games, resulting in the industry’s self-regulatory ESRB code. The Sega version proved the biggest winner thanks to its cheat code that revealed all the blood of the arcade game, yet it was the selection of fatality moves and fantastic characters that sold the game, regardless of any censorship. Mortal Monday!
Mortal Kombat II – Arcade, 1993
One year later the unprecedented success of Mortal Kombat led to a sequel. More standard and special moves, new characters and the parent-appeasing Babalaties (where the opponent is transformed into a baby), combos and Friendships, where the winning character can perform a jovial dance, evoking the spirit of Fortnite almost 25 years before the Epic shooter saw the light of day. It was clear that publisher Midway, rather than cowed by the constant controversies, revelled in them, as did Acclaim with its subsequent home versions.
Mortal Kombat 3 – Arcade, 1995
Two years later, Midway released this third game, once more from designers Ed Boon and John Tobias. The most notable change was its interactive environments with players able to smash opponents through ceilings and then jump up to the floor above to continue the fight. Some characters who had been omitted were re-introduced for the update Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, released later the same year, and a run button was included for the first time.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy – PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Saturn, PC, 1996
Another update to Mortal Kombat 3, this home console game from 1996 most pointedly includes popular characters such as Raiden and Johnny Cage while also including the Brutality special move from the 16-bit ports of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.
Mortal Kombat 4 – Arcade, 1997
With arcade beat-‘em-ups such as Virtua Fighter leading the move away from traditional 2D fighting games, it was time for Mortal Kombat to move into the third dimension. Despite the change of view, the gameplay remained familiar, except for the introduction of dodging and weapons, and the range of home ports followed, with the game admirably squeezed onto the Nintendo 64.
Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero – PlayStation, Nintendo 64, 1997
The first Mortal Kombat game to include horizontal scrolling, this spin-off received a mixed reception. Playing the titular character, the player must explore a magical realm, picking up and using items in a broadening of the MK concept into an action adventure game. A decent idea in theory, but one that failed to realise its potential.
Mortal Kombat Gold – Dreamcast, 1999
Remarkable chiefly for being a launch title for the Sega console, this update of Mortal Kombat 4 adds characters and stages, but features disappointing graphics, especially when compared to fellow fighting games such as Soul Calibur.
Mortal Kombat: Special Forces – PlayStation, 2000
Having tested the waters with its Sub-Zero spin-off, Midway tried again with this third-person action adventure.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance – GameCube, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Game Boy Advance, 2002
With videogame arcades on the wane, Deadly Alliance was the first main Mortal Kombat game to debut on consoles and marks a return to the series’ roots following Special Forces and Sub-Zero. Weapons and bespoke fighting styles come to the fore, along with a new plot, Konquest mode and fresh back stories for each character. The result was well-received and Mortal Kombat was back on track.
Mortal Kombat: Deception – PlayStation 2, Xbox, 2004
Deception continues the story of Deadly Alliance, building on the good work of its predecessor. There’s now a combo-breaker move, extra fatalities and mini-games, plus nine new playable characters. The Konquest mode also returns, combining a third-person action adventure with the standard fighting mode. The PSP got a slightly modified version entitled Mortal Kombat: Unchained.
Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks – PlayStation 2, Xbox, 2005
Finally, at the third attempt, Midway got the action-adventure and fighting crossover right. Drawing on its experience with the previous games’ Konquest mode, there’s even a co-op option as the two Shaolin monks, Liu Kang and Kung Lao travel across time to defeat the evil Shang Tsung. All the best bits from the main series are included along with a number of RPG-lite elements. Midway’s TV spot, Blood On The Carpet, in which a suited executive rips another man’s heart out – caused an expected furore, and helped promote the game.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon – PlayStation 2, Xbox, Wii, 2006
Number seven in the main series, Armageddon straddled two generations of consoles as it debuted on the sixth-generation PlayStation 2 and Xbox, while also seeing action on the Nintendo Wii. Throwing even more characters onto the screen (62, plus the ability to create two user characters), there’s also a return of the Konquest mode and a fun Mario Kart spoof called Motor Kombat. With its standard tournament-based plot, Armageddon was well-received, although it was clear the series was beginning to stale and bloated.
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, 2008
No doubt enviously eyeing the successful Marvel vs. Capcom franchise, this was an obvious if watered-down alternative clash of rival properties. The first Mortal Kombat game to fully debut on the seventh generation of consoles, it’s a bizarre mash-up that somehow works as Raiden’s disposal of Shao Khan and the besting of Darkseid by Superman causes the two realms to clash. Fun, but with its insipid finish moves and lack of unlockables, not one for true Mortal Kombat fans.
Mortal Kombat – PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PlayStation Vita, PC, 2011
With Midway going under a year after the release Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, the responsibility for the series was taken on by its new owners Warner Bros Interactive and developer NetherRealm Studios. This ninth game (although actually a reboot) returns to the earliest point of MK history as the legendary Raiden attempts to change the course of history following the events of Armageddon. Using a 2.5D display, the mature rating reflected a violent return to the series’ origins, and the first Mortal Kombat game to be banned in several regions, including Australia.
Mortal Kombat X – PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, iOS, Android, 2015
In a notably more detailed storyline, Earthrealm is attacked by disgraced God Shinnock, facing off against a powered-up Johnny Cage, wife Sonya and daughter Cassie. Continuing the good work of 2011’s reboot, there are plenty of environmental interactions available, as well as new finishing moves (in X-ray!) and a host of gameplay modes.
Mortal Kombat 11 – PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, Switch, 2019
The recent release of Mortal Kombat 11 saw NetherRealm’s highly praised reboot of the franchise continue as Shinnok’s mum, and keeper of time, Kronika, arrives to try and alter time and counteract Raiden’s interference. Recognising the constant appeal of the series’ finish moves, Fatal and Krushing Blows widen the methods with which the player can despatch enemies although the inevitable appearance of microtransactions diluted the experience for some.
From 1992 to the present day, Mortal Kombat is still thrilling gamers worldwide with its eternal battle of good versus evil. Now, get over here and follow us on Facebook and sign up to our mailing list for more retro gaming goodness.