To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, 13 September 1993 was dubbed “Mortal Monday”. Mortal Kombat’s move to home consoles impacted not only the ongoing “Console War” between SEGA and Nintendo but also videogames forever thanks to its controversial violence. Fittingly, to commemorate this game-changing event, I’m dedicating every Monday of September to celebrating the Mortal Kombat franchise.
Released: 10 October 1996
Developer: Avalanche Software
Also Available For: Game.com, Nintendo 64, PC, R-Zone, SEGA Saturn
Cast your mind back, if you possibly can, to the 1990s when arcades were in full force. Competitive fighting games were suddenly all the rage thanks, largely, to the many iterations of Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991), a title that also saw great success on home consoles and had players queuing in droves to get a chance to play the arcade cabinet. Intending to compete with Capcom’s popular brawler, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias took inspiration from seminal fantasy and martial arts movies like Enter the Dragon (Clouse, 1973), Bloodsport (Arnold, 1988), and Big Trouble in Little China (Carpenter, 1986) and utilised unique, state of the art digitised graphics to bring their concept of an ultra-violent tournament fighter to life. Almost immediately, Mortal Kombat changed the genre with its simple fighting mechanics and over the top violence, which caused a great deal of controversy that led only to more extreme Mortal Kombat titles being produced.
By 1996, it’s fair to say that the Mortal Kombat franchise was on a high; the live-action movie had released to surprising success the previous year, an animated series was due to air soon and a live-action series was on the horizon, and the games had seen great success on home consoles and many different iterations in the arcades. Mortal Kombat Trilogy was the culmination of the franchise’s 2D success; essentially an expanded version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (Midway Games, 1995), Mortal Kombat Trilogy assembled the biggest roster of fighters the series had ever seen and mashed together all of the stages, finishing moves, and stories of the first three games. Released exclusively on home consoles, each version of the game contained a number of differences that affected gameplay and player options and was received differently depending on which platform it was played. Given that my favourite release from the classic Mortal Kombat titles is Mortal Kombat 3 (Midway, 1995), Mortal Kombat Trilogy was a must-buy when I started collecting PlayStation games thanks to its expansive roster and sheer amount of ridiculous finishing moves but it can’t be denied that it was released at a time when Mortal Kombat fatigue was beginning to set in so it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up today.
Unlike other “Trilogy” videogames, Mortal Kombat Trilogy is simply an expanded version of Mortal Kombat 3 and, thus, has very much the same plot. Having lost to Earthrealm in the ages-old tradition of Mortal Kombat, Outworld emperor Shao Kahn has his wife, Sindel, resurrected on Earthrealm, thus weakening the dimensional barriers and allowing him to embark on an all-out invasion campaign! In a desperate bid to oppose him, the Thunder God Raiden assembles a team of fighters to push back the Outworld forces and safeguard the realm.
Since I grew up mostly playing Mortal Kombat 3 on the Mega Drive and PC, Mortal Kombat Trilogy is about as classic as classic can be for me when it comes to the old school, 2D style of the original games. Mortal Kombat Trilogy brings together every stage, finishing move, and character from the three (well, four if you count Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 as a separate game) original games, transplanting their moves and appearance into Mortal Kombat 3’s game engine for the biggest and most expansive Mortal Kombat ever produced at that point. Players can pick from one of a whopping thirty-seven different fighters and battle their way through one-on-one arcade ladders in best of three-style bouts or form teams of two or eight to take on another player in team-based fights; if players want to fight one-on-one, though, a second player will have to press the start button when player one begins their journey up one of the game’s four different towers.
One of the things that I’ve always loved about Mortal Kombat is how much easier it is to pick up and play compared to Street Fighter II; you don’t need to worry about “frame cancels” or anything like that here. You simply pick a character and they all control exactly the same except for their special moves: Triangle and Circle allow you to kick, Square and X punch, you jump by pressing up on the directional pad (D-pad), block with L1 or R1, and can close the distance towards your opponent by holding down L2 or R2 to run (which is limited by a small stamina meter beneath your health bar). By pressing the D-pad in conjunction with these buttons, you can pull off combinations of attacks or send you opponent flying with a roundhouse kick or uppercut; you can also throw your opponent when you attack up close and can enable automatic combos from the game’s main menu to make combos even easier to pull off.
Unlike modern fighters, Mortal Kombat Trilogy is quite barebones in terms of offering any kind of move list, tutorial, or practice mode. Thankfully, you can generally get by simply by mashing buttons and performing jumping attacks and by experimenting with the D-pad and buttons to pull off each character’s special moves. The usual button inputs are your best bet (down, forward, X or back, down, Triangle) but, if you’re struggling or new to the games, you can always look up the character’s special moves online. As every character basically controls the same (the only ones that are actually slower and more powerful are the boss characters like Goro and Shao Kahn), your preference will come down to who looks the coolest and who has the most accessible special moves; personally, I’ve always been a Sub-Zero guy. Mortal Kombat Trilogy offers two versions of the ice ninja, with each featuring slightly different moves and animations to separate them, but you might prefer to play as Jax (who has more grapple and stun options) or Sheeva (who can crush her foes beneath her feet) or characters like Raiden and Kung Lao who have a teleport ability. No matter who you pick, you have access to a projectile attack and numerous ways to pummel your opponent so it all comes down to who you like best and who you are most comfortable with.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy is absolutely jam packed when it comes to finishing moves; every single character has two Fatalities, a non-lethal Friendship, an Animality, a Babality, can show Mercy to their opponent (thereby restoring a small slither of the opponent’s health), and can pull off a Brutality when the deciding round is over and you’re ordered to “Finish Him!” (or her, obviously). Some stages also allow you to pull off a “Stage Fatality” that will see the opponent sent plummeting to their death or thrown in front of an oncoming train but you’re only given a short window of time to enter the button combination for these moves and, if you miss it or are standing in the wrong place, you’ll be denied witnessing your opponent’s gruesome end. Sadly, there’s not a massive amount of variety on offer in Mortal Kombat Trilogy when it comes to gameplay. The first game broke up the mindless brutality with its “Test Your Might” challenges and Mortal Kombat 3 featured hidden mini games after you amassed a number of wins but neither of these features are present here. The “Endurance Round” makes an unwelcome return, however; when you play through the arcade ladder, you’ll have to endure at least one of these, which pits you against two opponents with two separate life bars while you only have one. You can experience this yourself in the game’s “2 on 2” mode, where you and another player pit teams of two against each other but, unfortunately, this mode can only be played with another player. Similarly, you can only play the “8 Player Kombat” mode (which is essentially a standard tournament bracket) against another human player, which is a bit of a shame as it would have been nice to take on both of these additional modes against computer-controlled opponents.
Graphics and Sound:
For me, it’s hard to beat Mortal Kombat Trilogy in terms of the classic, 2D, digitised look of the original games. Midway had really perfected the procedure by this point and the sprites are much more detailed and varied with some fun little touches (like Cyrax, Sektor, and Smoke’s throws all being this little mechanical arm that comes from their shoulders). Sure, there are a lot of palette-swapped ninjas and cybernetic characters but they all have different special moves and finishers and it never really felt that lazy to me (though, admittedly, that could be the nostalgia talking). As I mentioned, every character from the previous games features here but you’ll notice that Johnny Cage’s sprite has been completely redone from scratch and that he is missing his patented “nut punch” move due to legal issues with the original actor and the new characters lacking the appropriate reaction frames, respectively. Other characters, like Baraka, Rayden, and Stryker, actually gained additional moves to flesh out their moveset but, sadly, the developers didn’t go to the same amount of effort to animate some Fatalities, like Sub-Zero’s classic spine rip.
As you fight, character animations are still quite limited and you’ll notice that they often use the same types of punches, kicks, and postures for pulling off their moves or reaction to attacks. They become a lot more expressive when performing their finishing moves, however, with Kabal ripping off his face mask to reveal his disgusting visage, Sheeva stripping characters to the bone, and Liu Kang dropping a Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet on his opponent. Given that the game has such a large roster of characters, though, a lot of the Fatalities can be a bit lazy and boil down to a character being beheaded or exploding into a ridiculous amount of bones and skulls. Similarly, the Brutalities are just a long combo string that sees you pummel the opponent until they explode in gore and it definitely seems like the developers were beginning to run out of ideas for unique Fatalities for all the newer characters so I recommend sticking with characters who were in the original games as their finishers tend to have a bit more creativity involved.
The Animalities, though, are notably ridiculous; characters will transform into glowing, ethereal creatures to kill their opponent but the actual animal transformation is generally the best part of these finishers as most of the actual deaths again boil down to a decapitation or explosion. Additionally, characters added after Mortal Kombat 3 oddly transform into more realistic looking creatures and Scorpion’s absence from that game means he doesn’t even turn into a scorpion, which is pretty crazy and I’m sure it couldn’t have been that hard to swap the code around to allow this. Friendships tend to be a bit more visually interesting and entertaining, though, featuring the likes of Kid Thunder and Kung Lao using his hat to play fetch with a doggy. Babalities are easily the laziest of the finishers, though, as the baby sprites don’t move and just sit there crying but I appreciate all of the variety on offer and it’s pretty easy to just stick to the more impressive finishers.
Stages (actually referred to as “Kombat Zones”) are equally varied; you have to jump through a small hoop to actually pick which one you want to fight on but all the stages from the first there games are back, with a few minor changes (Shao Kahn replaces Shang Tsung in the background, for example). This is great for me as I always loved the stages in Mortal Kombat 3, which brought the series into more urban environments; many of these also feature stage transitions that allow you to uppercut your opponent up into another stage, which I always found massively satisfying. Otherwise, there’s not much you can interact with but there’s a fair amount of variety and interesting stuff in the stages to keep you occupied (the Soul Well, for example, or Cyrax being stuck in Jade’s Desert, the developer’s names appearing on tombstones, and the infamous fight between Hornbuckle and Blaze in the background of the Pit).
Mortal Kombat Trilogy is a little cheap when it comes to telling its story, however; the game’s plot is told through simple text at the start of the game interspersed with character biographies that you cannot freely view anywhere else in the game and, when you clear the arcade ladder, your character’s ending is conveyed through text and either a big character sprite that is simply their versus screen picture or a unique piece of artwork. The game makes up for this in the music and sound department, though; characters yell and grunt and scream, Shao Kahn narrates every fight and choice you make, and Dan Forden pops up to yell “Toasty!” from time to time as you land uppercuts. The music, which is all primarily from Mortal Kombat 3, is also some of my favourite; it’s very catchy and has a good beat and rhythm to it to help keep fights engaging and fun but I found that it cuts out if you pause the game for too long in mid-fight. There are also some noticeable load times between bouts, when performing finishers, and when Shang Tsung performs his morph ability (though you can toggle this in the options to reduce load times).
Enemies and Bosses:
Take another look at Mortal Kombat Trilogy’s large roster of character because you’ll be fighting every single one of them (with only three exceptions) at some point when playing through the arcade ladders. Similarly, you’ll have to learn the ropes for each of them if you want to see every character’s ending or try out a new fighter and you may find you favour some you wouldn’t expect (as a kid, I often played as the rather bland-looking Stryker simply because his Fatality was easy to pull off, for example). Every time you select one of the arcade ladders, you’ll face off against a number of random opponents one after another before being faced with at least one Endurance Round and the battle against the game’s two main boss characters. For the first two or three fights, you’ll probably find you can handle yourself pretty well, especially if playing on Very Easy (there’s no reason not to as you get to see the ending regardless), but the computer is no slouch and underestimating them can easily lead to your downfall.
Your first few opponents may not attack much but, as you progress up the ladder, they’ll start busting out all kinds of combos to knock you off balance and drain your health faster than you can think. Blocking is your only real defense here and it’s sometimes better to be for defensive than offensive; I often struggle against Sonya Blade and Kano, two characters perfectly capable of attacking from a distance and juggling you with their special moves. Then there are fighters like Noob Saibot, Ermac, and Mileena; characters like these seem much more aggressive and cheap and are able to chain together teleports, combos, and special moves faster than you can press buttons. Baraka and Kitana are also annoying opponents to face later on as they can catch you off guard at seemingly any time with their blade slices or fan twirl, respectively, while Shang Tsung can easily sap your health if you get caught in his rising or horizontal fireballs (which often come in threes). Reptile and Smoke offer unique challenges in their ability to turn invisible; Sub-Zero can freeze you in place with an ice blast or an ice clone of himself, and Kabal is not only able to spin you dizzy with a rush attack but he can also fire bolts from his eyes and send a bladed saw spinning your way. All of this means that you can’t always approach every fight in the same way, especially on higher difficulty levels or as you progress as the computer doesn’t hesitate to throw everything it has at you even on the easiest difficulty setting.
Unlike in other Mortal Kombat videogames, there are no secret fighters to battle in this game’s arcade modes, which is a bit of a shame. Instead, you’ll have to take on at least one Endurance Round; if you’re very unlucky, you’ll face two troublesome opponents here (like, say, Kitana and Sektor) and since you only have one life bar and the opponent has two, these can be quite the gruelling battles to get through. I will say, though, that on my last playthrough I was able to get past the one Endurance Round I had a lot faster and easier than the fight I had against Kano alone, so it could be that the computer’s aggression is tweaked a little in your favour for these bouts but, again, I wouldn’t rely on that.
Although you can freely choose to play as Goro, Kintaro, Motaro, and Shao Kahn in this game, only Motaro acts as the penultimate boss and this massive centaur who is capable of teleporting around the screen, blasting or tripping you with his tail, knocking you silly with a mule kick, or smashing you across the screen with a single punch. Motaro’s strength is equalled only by his resilience and ability to reflect your projectiles back at you seemingly at random (sometimes I could freeze him with Sub-Zero’s ice blast and others times it bounced back at me; I think it happens when you attack as he’s teleporting). However, Motaro’s biggest weakness is in his sheer size; far bigger than Goro or Kintaro, he’s not especially fast and makes for a much bigger target, meaning that it’s easier to dive in with jump kicks, maybe a quick combo, and uppercut him as he’s pouncing around. Again, though, underestimate him at your peril as it only takes a few shots from him to drain your life bar completely.
Finally, you’ll face off against the Outworld emperor, Shao Kahn, in the game’s toughest, cheapest, and most ridiculous battle by far. Any semblance of skill and strategy is rendered completely moot by Kahn’s awesome power and his annoying tendency to spam his moves over and over. Kahn can charge at you with a shoulder dash, smash into you with a knee attack, fire energy bolts from his eyes, and leave you stunned and staggered from a blow of his massive war hammer. He can also tank your attacks like a champ, blocks like a motherfucker, can send you flying with a single kick or punch, and doesn’t get staggered or stunned at all so you can jump in for a combo only to be defeated in a split second as he breaks through your attacks. The one saving grace is his arrogance; Kahn will stop to laugh or actively taunt you, which leaves him wide open for your attacks, but you can just as easily get your head caved in by his hammer as you move to take advantage of this brief window. It might just be me being paranoid but the computer’s aggression seems to dial up to eleven if you manage to win a round against Kahn; don’t be surprised if he suddenly spams his charge or eye blasts and drains your health in just a few hits and, honestly, every time I’ve managed to beat him as always felt more like luck than anything else.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Being a simple one-on-one fighter, there aren’t really any power-ups to be found as you play through the game. The only advantage you have is the inclusion of the “Aggressor” bar; as you attack your opponent, the word “Aggressor” spells out, fills up, and begins to glow at the bottom of the screen and, once it’s completely full, your speed and attack power are greatly improved. This can be the difference between victory and defeat but it doesn’t last long and your opponent can also build up their own Aggressor meter but you are able to toggle it on and off in the options.
Otherwise, you’ll be left relying on the game’s “Kombat Kodes” to spice up your battles; when you and a friend begin a fight, you’ll see little symbols at the bottom of the vs. screen that change as you press buttons. Input the right button presses and you can disable blocking, combos, throws, music and effects, health bars, and have the victor face certain boss fighters or other fighters. You can also enable special messages, mini games, explosive kombat, and unlimited run energy, all of which can make battles against friends a bit more fun and random.
There’s not much else on offer in Mortal Kombat Trilogy; if you have a friend, you can battle against them in one-on-one, two-on-two, or in a tournament and there are a variety of options available in the game’s settings. Here you can select a difficulty level or disable blood, the in-game timer, and the vs. screens if you feel like it. Although there are no locked or unlockable characters this time around, you can press “Select” to select Rayden, Jax, Kano, and Kung Lao to play as their Mortal Kombat II (ibid, 1993) counterparts, which is a nice touch.
From the options menu, you can also input a button code to access some special options. Sadly, these aren’t as extensive as those in Mortal Kombat 3 but they can help make battling through the arcade a little easier as you can reduce the attack power of the bosses and enable one-button finishers and regenerating health (oddly, this regenerates both your health and that of your opponent, which is really annoying when facing Shao Kahn). Finally, I said there are no unlockable characters but that’s not entirely true; by pressing and holding certain buttons when selecting a male ninja, you’ll play as Chameleon, a semi-translucent ninja who randomly cycles through the colour schemes and attacks of the male ninjas. Kombat Kodes also exist to showcase all of the game’s finishers and such, which is cool, and you’ll get to play as the female Khameleon if you’re playing the Nintendo 64 version.
If you’re looking for the quintessential classic Mortal Kombat experience, it’s tough to get much better than Mortal Kombat Trilogy; the game takes all the advances and advantages of the more up-to-date game engine and mechanics and fills it with every single character, special move, and Fatality you could ask for. All of the stages, music, and characters are present and accounted for, making this the biggest and most ambitious Mortal Kombat videogame of its time, and it’s a must-buy for any fan of the series. Sadly, though, it’s not perfect; the game’s difficulty curve is steep and drastic, the loading and musical glitches were a bit annoying, and the lack of extra modes and options was disappointing. I like that they mashed everything together into one game but I can’t help but think that the developers missed a trick by not at least adding arcade towers to represent Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 if not have the three games included as part of the package. Instead, what we have here is, essentially, ULTIMATE Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, a massive expansion of the third game rather than a true collection of the Mortal Kombat trilogy. Still, if you only want to buy one classic Mortal Kombat game, I would definitely recommend this one, especially if, like me, you’re a fan of Mortal Kombat 3. Those who prefer the first two games, though, may find it a little lacking and it’s a shame that there aren’t more options and variety on offer.
What are your thoughts on Mortal Kombat Trilogy? How do you feel it holds up today and when compared to the Mortal Kombat games that preceded it? Which of the three versions of Mortal Kombat 3 is your favourite? Perhaps you prefer a different Mortal Kombat game; if so, what is it? Which of the game’s roster and many finishing moves was your favourite? Would you like to see these classic Mortal Kombat games re-released and remastered for modern consoles? Whatever you think about Mortal Kombat, leave a comment below and check in again next Monday for more Mortal Kombat content.