To celebrate the simultaneous worldwide release of Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) on home consoles, today, 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: 28 February 2012
Originally Released: 19 April 2011
Developer: NetherRealm Studios
Also Available For: PC, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation Vita
Thanks, primarily, to its focus on gore and violence and unique digitised graphics, Mortal Kombat (Midway, 1992) was a phenomenal success for Midway and offered some real competition for Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (Capcom, 1991) in arcades and on home consoles. However, while the series seemed unstoppable during the 2D era of gaming, Mortal Kombat struggled to find a footing in the emerging 3D fighter arena and, thanks to the poor reception of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (Midway Games, 2008), was in serious jeopardy after Midway went bankrupt in 2010. Luckily, Warner Bros. Interactive stepped in and the team, now rebranded to NetherRealm Studios, immediately set about getting their violent franchise back on track.
Simply called Mortal Kombat, the ninth entry in the franchise sought to return the series to its mature, bloody roots and was developed with a very “back to basics” approach in mind. Some of the more ridiculous elements from the series were removed and the game was developed to be both accessible through its fighting mechanics and technically impressive with its physics and gore. Although this once again stirred controversy, the game was incredibly well-received and its sales were enough to cover the costs of Midway’s acquisition. So popular and critically lauded was Mortal Kombat (2009) that the team were able to offer a number of additional fighters and skins in the form of downloadable content (DLC) and re-release the game with all these extra inclusions and this Komplete Edition was equally well-received upon release, effectively bringing new life into what looked to be a dead franchise.
Faced with defeat and Shao Kahn’s ultimate victory after the malevolent emperor lays claim to a God-like power, Raiden sends a message back through time to his younger self warning him of the coming events. This leads to a divergent timeline in which Raiden desperately attempts to interpret this grim warning of death and destruction whilst also coaching the Earthrealm warriors through slightly altered versions of events from the first three videogames.
Like basically every single 3D Mortal Kombat title, Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition is a 2.5D fighting game in which players pick from one of thirty-two characters and battle through the game’s single-player story mode, fight either one-on-one or two-on-two against another player or computer-controlled opponent, battle their way though an arcade ladder, or take on a series of increasingly difficult challenges and mini games based on your ability to follow an eyeball or mash buttons. Fights are preset to take place in a best-of-three format and against a time limit but you can alter these settings (and many others, including the difficulty of the game) from the game’s main menu to speed up gameplay or make it more accessible.
Unlike the 3D Mortal Kombat fighters that preceeded it, which featured two different fighting styles and a weapon style for each character, Mortal Kombat goes back to its roots with simple, but surprisingly complex, fighting mechanics. You can attack your opponent with punches using X or Y, kicks with A or B, throw (more of a grapple, really) them with RB, and block incoming attacks by holding RT. You can also dash towards and away from your opponent, jump in or crouch down to attack or avoid projectiles, and string together combos by quickly pressing the attack buttons alongside directional inputs. The game includes a tutorial mode that teaches you all of the basics of the game’s combat, which is more complex depending on how skilled you are and which character you play as.
Each character comes loaded with their own unique special moves that you can perform using simple button and directional inputs (back, back, A, for example, or left, down, right, X); these can be stringed together with combos and enhanced with a well-timed press of RT when your “Super Meter” has reached the first tier. This will add a bit more impact and flair to your special move but, if you let the meter fill to the next tier (by landing special moves or taking damage), you’ll be able to pull off a “Breaker”, which will interrupt the opponent’s combo or attack if you manage to press RT and a direction at the right time. When the meter fills completely, you can blow the whole thing by pressing RT and LT at the same time to pull off a spectacularly gruesome “X-Ray” move that will see your character dealing massive damage with bone-breaking attacks. Be wary, though, as sometimes you need to be in a specific situation to pull these off; Cyber Sub-Zero’s X-Ray, for example, is performed in mid-air and Johnny Cage’s only works as a parry to incoming attacks.
As you might expect, X-Rays are only outdone by the series’ trademark Fatalities; at the end of the deciding round (usually round two), you’ll be ordered to finish your opponent and given a very brief window of opportunity to stand in a specific spot and enter another button combination to tear your opponent to pieces, usually resulting in them being dismembered or beheaded or blown to shreds. Every character has at least two Fatalities available to them (in addition to a “Stage Fatality” that sees you ending your opponent using the environment in specific stages) but some have a third based on their classic Fatalities from the first game. One of the benefits to owning the Komplete Edition is that every Fatality is available right from the start, though you can still purchase them using the Koins you earn from fights in the game’s Krypt and can practice them to your heart’s content in the Fatality Tutorial.
If you feel more like humiliating your opponent, though, you can choose to pull off a Babality instead, which will see you reduce your opponent to a crying infant. While these aren’t as horrific or entertaining as the gory Fatalities, you are awarded more Koins for pulling these off so there is an incentive to finishing your opponent as the more Koins you have, the more bonus content you can unlock in the Krypt. Noticeably, though, I found that combos, special moves, and especially finishing moves were actually harder to pull off here than I remember in the PlayStation 3 version and subsequent Mortal Kombat titles; often, my character would jump or dash when I pressed left or right and some of the button inputs are more difficult to pull off compared to later games because they require you to input more directional commands and even press up (which, to pull off, you need to hold down RB).
Unlike its subsequent titles, you don’t need to worry about amassing a bunch of different currency or unlocking a bunch of extraneous gear for your characters. Every time you perform certain combos, win fights, or complete challenges, you’ll earn Koins that can be spent in the Krypt to unlock concept art and such. When you complete the sole arcade ladder included in the game (which, despite having different difficulty settings, always has you fighting ten opponents), you’ll unlock your character’s ending and an alternate costume (though, again, these are all accessible right from the start in the Komplete Edition but still need to be unlocked/purchased to earn an Achievement). One thing that does separate Mortal Kombat from its successors is the inclusion of an optional tag mode; this allows you to tag between two fighters with a press of LB and even pull off tag team assist moves and have another player fight alongside you. You can even take on the arcade ladder in this mode, unlocking two endings for the price of one, and, while I usually dislike tag or team fighters, I give this one a pass as it’s an optional gameplay mode and not forced upon you.
Of course, one of the primary attractions of Mortal Kombat is its single player story mode that picks up right after the ending of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (Midway Games, 2006) and sees you playing through an altered version of the first three games as the series goes back to its roots and, for the first time, details these events in a coherent and decisive way. The story is split into chapters, with each chapter dedicated to one of the Earthrealm warriors as they battle against the forces of Outworld (and even their own teammates at times). This is a great way to allow you to familiarise yourself with the vast majority of the game’s fighters and their unique combos and special moves and a great way to make some headway towards the game’s Achievements, though you cannot perform Fatalities or Babalities when playing the story mode. At times, you’ll also be tasked with fighting two opponents by yourself, which can be a bit unfair since you’re only given a single character and life bar and the game’s difficulty can be frustratingly unreasonable as the computer-controlled characters love to block and jump-kick you out of the air or pull off a devastating combo or X-Ray attack when you least expect it.
Graphics and Sound:
When I first played Mortal Kombat, it was a very impressive title and the most graphically advanced of the series up to that point. looking back at it now, it’s obviously not going to look as good as, say, Mortal Kombat 11 (NetherRealm Studios, 2019) but it still holds up really well, I think. Some character models (like Liu Kang, especially) are a little off but there’s very little distinction between the in-game graphics and those featured in the story mode’s cutscenes and characters are full of life and little quirks, like Reptile being hunched over and slobbering, the females all having amusing jiggle physics, and Kabal adjusting his breathing apparatus between rounds. Sadly, the developers chose to forgo full motion CGI cutscenes for the characters’ endings and, instead, utilise a motion comic-like aesthetic and voice over, which is a bit of a letdown considering how good the cutscenes are in the game.
Still, Mortal Kombat more than makes up for this with the variety and detail of its stages; while you can’t interact with your environment like in later games or smash your opponent into new areas, the game features lovingly realised recreations of stages from the first three games. You’ll battle in Shang Tsung’s courtyard while monks cheer you on, above a spike-filled pit while fighters can be seen battling in the background, and in Shao Kahn’s arena and throne room as he launches jeers and praise your way. One of my favourite Mortal Kombat games is Mortal Kombat 3 (Midway, 1995) and I’m happy to say that a lot of that game’s stages feature here as well, meaning you’ll not only once again battle in the city streets and in the subway but also on a rooftop while the city is being attacked and destroyed by dragons and other monstrosities in the background.
There’s loads of little details in the backgrounds of stages to liven things up and catch your attention; you’ll see random fighters and captives going at it, traffic and trains flying past, trees roaring at you, sacrificial rituals being performed, and even spot a few Easter Eggs and cameos if you look hard enough. Many of these come to the forefront when you perform a Stage Fatality, which sees you leaving your opponent in the middle of the road to be decapitated by an oncoming car, splattered against a subway train, careening down to a spiked pit, dunked into acid, or having their face melted off by the molten lava of the NetherRealm. Equally welcome are the many remixes of classic Mortal Kombat tracks, which do a great job of setting the mood and ambience for each stage, and the quality of the voice acting in the story mode’s cutscenes (with Johnny Cage being a particularly highlight).
Such gruesome features are, obviously, a highlight of Mortal Kombat and only further emphasised through the game’s unique X-Ray mechanic. When you pull off your character’s X-Ray move, the game goes to great lengths to show the damage and brutality of your attacks on your opponent, meaning you’ll see ribs splinter, organs burst, and blood spew like a geyser. Even better, when characters take damage or are splattered by viscera this is reflected in their character models; as a result, at the end of a particularly gruelling fight, you’ll see that your character has bruises and cuts and that your clothes are torn and ripped (resulting in Scorpion’s exposed skull being visible, for example).
Things only escalate when you pull off your character’s Fatality moves; while not as elaborate or horrific as those seen in subsequent Mortal Kombat games, these were easily the most realistic and gruesome seen in the series at the time. Perhaps inevitably, given how big the roster is, some are better than others but it’s fantastic seeing Noob Saibot literally tear his opponent in two, Scorpion melt his foe with his classic “Toasty!” Fatality, or seeing your battered opponent dismembered in a shower of guts and gore. Skin is peeled and melted away from the bone, limbs and heads are torn off with reckless abandon, and bodies are mutilated with a simple effectiveness that is the perfect way to put the exclamation point on a particularly gruelling fight.
Enemies and Bosses:
Being that it’s a fighting game, every character will be your enemy at some point and you’ll inevitably be forced to do battle with (and against) all of them at least once when you play through the story mode or take on the arcade ladder and Challenge Tower. Naturally, every character controls and fights a little differently; some are better suited to projectile-based attacks, others can snatch opponents out of the air with mid-air grabs, while others can turn invisible, intangible, or teleport across the arena to avoid attacks and land blows from behind. Therefore, you’re better off playing through the story mode and getting an idea of how many of the game’s characters play to see who works best for you; some characters, for example, might have trickier combos or special moves, while others might have parry attacks to help you interrupt combos and incoming attacks, but generally I find that you can usually find some simple combos and special moves that you can easily master for every character (and, if you ever need help, you can easily view your character’s moves from the pause menu at any time).
Again, it’s perhaps inevitable that some characters are more capable (or broken) than others: Kabal, for example, boasts a rush move that leaves your opponent spinning on the spot and open for an attack alongside two really good ranged attacks; Sub-Zero can, as always, freeze his opponent in a variety of ways; Shang Tsung is able to restore a little bit of health with his Soul Steal ability and even briefly morph into other fighters, giving him access to their specials and X-Rays at the same time; Noob Saibot can use portals to teleport behind you; and characters like Quan Chi and Sheeva can leap off the screen and come crashing down on your head. Then you get a guy like Kano, who can perform really useful cannonball rolls and air grabs but these can be tricky to pull off; similarly, Jax has a lot of grapple moves at his command but they require you to get quite close to your opponent so there’s some risk involved there. Other characters like Sindel are afforded great range thanks to her versatile and hip-like hair, and Ermac and the aforementioned Quan Chi can use their telekinesis and hypnotism, respectively, to disorient their opponent.
When playing through the game’s story mode and the arcade ladder, you’ll also battle against a handful of unplayable boss characters. Two of the most prominent are Goro and Kintaro, massive four-armed half human dragons who can blast you with devastating fireballs, crush you from above, and deliver massive damage with just a few swings of their arms. These guys are made even more tank-like by their annoying ability to gain armour, rendering them largely immune to your attacks, shrugging off your offense, and being able to absorb a great deal of punishment. For these guys, I tend to favour leaping in with a jump-kick, landing a quick combo, and then hopping out of harm’s way; this is essential as it’ll help you to avoid the shockwaves of their ground attacks and gives you the chance to kick them out of the air and avoid their projectiles and X-Ray moves. Things get even more difficult, though, in the story mode and Challenge Tower missions that force you to battle both Shokan warriors in a one-on-two tag battle but, with clever use of your enhanced special moves and quick combos, they’re not too difficult to put down.
The shit really hits the fan when you face off against Shao Kahn, however. Like Goro and Kintaro, Shao Kahn can tank your attacks with armour, spams his devastating moves like a newbie, and is capable of absorbing a great deal of punishment even on the game’s easiest setting. Shao Kahn will toss a spear at you, charge at you with his spiked shoulder, and wallop you with his devastating hammer, which can leave you dizzy and vulnerable and mean your health bar will be drained to nothing in just a few hits (or, like with the Shokan, basically instantly drained if he lands his X-Ray attack). However, Shao Kahn is also an egotistical blowhard and will often stop to taunt or laugh at you, leaving him wide open for a combo, X-Ray, or enhanced special. By far the easiest solution to defeating Shao Kahn, though, is to keep your distance at the far side of the screen and just spam your projectile attack, hitting an enhanced special as and when they’re available, and just staying the hell away from him. It’s cheap, and not very satisfying, but no cheaper than Shao Kahn and it gets the job done.
When playing through the single-player arcade ladder with more than one round activated, and after fulfilling certain conditions, you’ll also get the chance to battle against four hidden fighters. These guys are palette swapped variants of Reptile, Noob Saibot, Smoke, and Jade that, like in the first two games, boast the special moves of characters like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Kitana, and Mileena and can only be fought against if you fight on specific stages and meet specific criteria (not blocking, winning rounds without taking damage, performing Fatalities, and so forth). The effort you have to go to, and the luck required, to even face these hidden fighters is matched only by their sheer difficulty; Noob Saibot and Smoke, especially, are lighting fast, love to block (even more so than your usual opponents), can tank your attacks even better than Shao Kahn, and will devastate you with their enhanced special moves. Sadly, even to this day, I’ve been unable to access the fight against Jade but I imagine she’s no walk in the park either after I was thoroughly trounced by Noob Saibot.
Power-Ups and Bonuses:
Since it lacks many of the features and customisation options of its successors, there’s not really a lot of in-game power-ups on offer in Mortal Kombat; some characters, like Noob Saibot and Quan Chi, can buff themselves and debuff their opponents with some of their special moves, which adds an extra wrinkle to the gameplay, but the main way that you’ll see power-ups granted to you is if you play the “Test Your Luck” mode or during the versus screen for a two-player fighter. Here, each player can press buttons on their controller to input a variety of “Kombat Codes” (which can be unlocked in the Krypt or found online) to change the parameters of the fight; this means you can disable blocking, power bars, throws, and specials or even fight without arms or heads!
Similarly, in Test Your Luck, you’ll randomly be forced to fight with a variety of different effects in play, many of which are similar to those activated by the Kombat Codes. This means you can end up fighting with reduced health, upside down, as zombies, without arms or heads, or in pitch black while flames burst from the floor. It’s honestly one of the most entertaining additional modes in the game and really helps to spice up two-player fights as you never know what sort of effects are going to be activated, meaning that even seasoned players can be thrown off their game by the mode’s many different effects.
As alluded to above, Mortal Kombat comes with fifty Achievements for you to earn; two of these are awarded just for playing through the story mode but you’ll get three more for beating the arcade mode once, with every fighter, and with a tag team. Other Achievements include performing every character’s X-Ray, Fatality, and forwards and backwards throw, unlocking every alternate costume, and spilling 10,000 pints of blood, all of which are pretty easy to do as you play through story mode and the arcade ladder. Some are tied to the game’s online modes, though, and are thus trickier to obtain now but by far the worse Achievements are ‘My Kung Fu is Strong’ and ‘My Kung Fu is Stronger’, which require to you gain mastery of first one and then every fighter in the game, which basically equates to many hundreds of hours of gameplay and is, frankly, pretty ridiculous.
Unlike NetherRealm Studios’ later efforts, Mortal Kombat is actually quite light on additional gameplay modes; you can battle against other players online in ‘King of the Hill’ matches and the like but, rather than taking on ever-changing arcade towers, Mortal Kombat offers only the one Challenge Tower. This is a series of fights that begins as an extended tutorial and soon evolves into a variety of unique and increasingly difficult tasks; although you can skip the challenges by spending some Koins, you’ll need to best them all to unlock a super sexy alternate skin for Mileena and obtain 100% completion but this is easier said than done. Challenges range from simply defeating an opponent, completing a mini game, or taking part in a more unique task such as using (or spamming) a character’s projectile attack to take out waves of enemies. You’ll face off against a number of opponents not seen in the playable roster, which adds a bit of variety to the proceedings, but things quickly become increasingly difficult, frustrating, and down-right insane as you’ll eventually be asked to battle incredibly powerful versions of the likes of Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn in a gauntlet and with only a single life bar, which frankly just isn’t worth the aggravation.
Outside of this mode, you can also take on classic Mortal Kombat mini games like “Test Your Might” as well as the very similar “Test Your Strike”. Both to these will see you mashing buttons until a bar fills up and then pressing LT or RT at just the right moment to smash a variety of materials. These start off easy enough but soon become incredible difficult and you’ll find yourself furiously mashing away only to fail at the last second when the bar dips too low. There’s also the “Test Your Sight” mini game, which sees you picking which cup hides a severed eyeball and is, comparatively, far less aggravating but, to complete all of these challenges and get 100% completion, you’ll need to play through the Challenge Tower. Then there’s the Krypt; unlike the elaborate, third-person quasi-adventure mode of later games, the Krypt here is a first-person jaunt through four nightmarish landscapes littered with gravestones, bodies, and tortured souls for you to free at the cost of some Koins. This will unlock concept art, renders, Fatality and Babality inputs, Kombat Codes, and alternate costumes, all of which you can view in the Gallery within the game’s Nekropolis. The Nekropolis also allows you to view the stats for each fighter (including total play time, blood spilt, Fatalities performed, and such), their endings, and their models. You can even apply various stages of battle damage to each model, which is kind of cool, and will gain a special item for each character when you complete the arcade ladder with them or unlock their alternate costume from the Krypt.
In the regular version of Mortal Kombat, you would unlock two additional fighters (Quan Chi and Cyber Sub-Zero) by completing the story mode but both of these are included right off the bat in the Komplete Edition. The inclusion of a cybernetic variant for Sub-Zero was interesting at the time but, sadly, was quickly undone in the very next game, as were many of the major ramifications of Mortal Kombat’s story. Finally, there’s the inclusion of every single downloadable fighter (apart from the PlayStation 3-exclusive Kratos); Mortal Kombat had some interesting DLC at the time, which included classic costumes (and Fatalities) for the likes of Sub-Zero and Scorpion, a brand new character based on a rumoured secret fighter, Skarlet, a surprise addition in the form of Kenshi, and one of my favourite ninja characters, Rain. It also set the trend for NetherRealm Studios’ later games by including a guest fighter from outside of the franchise, in this case Freddy Krueger from the Nightmare on Elm Street films (Various, 1984 to 2010). Sadly, however, none of the guest fighters speak (not even Freddy, despite the fact that Robert Englund provided the grunts and vocals for the character and his penchant for dark humour) or have alternate costumes and there are no additional Achievements tied to their inclusion; the Komplete Edition doesn’t even expand/update the player select screen to include them, which is a bit of a shame.
I have very fond memories of playing Mortal Kombat on the PlayStation 3; the fantastic retelling of the first three games was a great way to continue the franchise’s convoluted story while also streamlining it and making it cohesive for a change and the emphasis on unrepentant gore and violent combat was just the kick up the ass the series needed after getting sidetracked with all kinds of needless gimmicks. I remember the game being easy to pick up and play, with a surprising amount of depth to it, and offering a decent challenge the more you played and the more you tried to progress. Coming back to it with the Komplete Edition, much of my opinion remain the same; combat is fast and fluid, Fatalities and X-Rays are gruesome to behold and satisfying to watch, and the story does a great job of setting the stage for a new generation of fighters and new stories to be told.
Sadly, though, there were some things that soured the experience for me: it’s clear that NetherRealm Studios refined the engine and the mechanics in the next game as the button inputs can be really finicky and aggravating at times; stages are nice and detailed but also lack an interactive elements outside of Stage Fatalities (even Mortal Kombat 3 let you smash your opponent into new areas); bosses like Goro, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn are super cheap and ridiculously annoying at times; and the computer just blocks way too often even on the easiest difficulty. This wouldn’t be so bad but you’re at risk of being hit with a Goddamn Breaker if you attack while they’re blocking; add to that the frustrating parry mechanics of guys like Liu Kang and Cyber Sub-Zero, Mileena and Noob Saibot’s overpowered teleport attacks, and the game not properly registering my inputs and it was needlessly exasperating at times. There’s still a lot to like here and it’s definitely worth your time but it clearly set the groundwork for bigger and better things in the far superior sequel, in my opinion.
What are your thoughts on the Komplete Edition of Mortal Kombat? Did you hold out for this version of the game or did you just get the base version and buy the DLC later? Were you a fan of how the game went back to basics and explored the roots of the series in a coherent and decisive way or would you have preferred to see the game try something truly new? Which fighter in the game (or the franchise) is your favourite and why? What did you think to the DLC characters and the game’s X-Rays and Fatalities? What did you think to the online options and the different towers the game had to offer? Which Mortal Kombat game, movie, comic, or other piece of media is your favourite? How are you celebrating Mortal Monday today? Whatever your thoughts on Mortal Kombat, leave a comment down below and check back in next Monday for more Mortal Kombat content.