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Mortal Kombat 1: Playing on the defense.

8:00 AM on 08.30.2009 // sheppy

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There are certain games and franchises that it's popular for gamers to despise. Final Fantasy VII, Tony Hawk, Guitar Hero, Madden, Dynasty Warriors, etc. On occasion someone will champion these games and a decent dialogue could open but there is one franchise that, no matter who attempts to champion it, continues to be shat on time after time. I speak, of course, Mortal Kombat. It's popular to hate it and hasn't been good since (insert last game this person actually PLAYED in the franchise) and it was always just about the fatalities anyway.

Yet despite this, Mortal Kombat was once shoulder to shoulder with other franchises and remains the ONLY western developed fighting game franchise to have actually become a franchise. How can something so popular be so bad? So I think it's time that I, like Sub-Zero's ending to MK vs DC, take up the mantle of justice. That's right, I'm going to take on both the criticisms as well as why Mortal Kombat is a franchise that deserves at least your begrudging respect in a two part C-blog. Why two parts? Because it's far too in depth of a topic to be limited to one blog.

While the criticisms are far too many to list here, I'll be taking on five of the most common complaints that I've noticed. 

"It hasn't been good since ________"

This is, by far, the most common. This statement relies on a certain level of respect for previous iterations in the franchise as high watermarks. The deception within this statement is 100% reliant upon retro goggles. I'm the first to admit MKII is among my favorite of the MK games, but I didn't get there instantly. In fact, unlike other fighting games like Soul Edge, I had to let MK warm up to me. Anyone who says they were instantly hooked by MK is more often lying. Hell, with the arcade machines being balls hard, getting past the third match was a huge hurdle. Most only heard stories of valiance in the face of Goro and Shang Tsung, never experienced them until it hit the home machines. So what, then, made the older ones special?

Simple, you gave them a chance. Every character in MK 1-3 had the same kick and punch range, because they all had the same attacks. This system forced a reliance solely on the special moves to change up your attack pattern. A few characters had additional range with Back+HP (Baraka, Kitana) but all in all, every character only had their super moves to differentiate them. So how, then, were these the better ones? I mean Capcom constantly tries to force new variants into the Shoto characters and with MK 1-3, everyone was more identical than Shoto characters. So the arguement goes than the best MK games were the ones that were the most generic and special move dependant? Okay ... and yet this exact same arguement is lobbied AGAINST every Japanese fighting game that does the same.

"I hate Dial-A-Combo systems"

This one is tricky to react directly against. Why? Because despite being a buzzword used directly against MK and other games, fuck all if anyone has a clear idea of what it is. To some, it's the ability to attack again immediately after the first attack connects. To others it's when the game does additional hits as part of the move, ala Hurrican Kick or Ike's Super Smash. To others still, it's a preset combo sequence planned out in a certain way. So we're going to attack the third mentioned issue.

I could almost see this arguement, if the people making these claims weren't familiar with move buffering or attack timing. Allow me to explain. Ever since Super Street Fighter II, it's been an eastern standard to allow players to start commands on the next attack while the animation of the first attack is going on. The largest offender is, of course, Killer Instinct but eastern examples like Soul Calibur II and Street Fighter IV exists as well. SUPPOSEDLY the difference is that these combos are not set out FOR you but rather happen naturally. Which is exactly why 10-hit combos are explained in detail in the Pause menu in Tekken, because they were natural and not planned in the game code at all ... idiots.

Hate to attack you there but quite honestly, I don't see a difference between Sub-Zero's Ice Sword juggle combo (2 hits) and Law's Rainbow Flip combo (2 hits). Yes, MK has predesigned combo sequences, but that's not all it has by a longshot. You can still get in with a weak attack and follow through with a special attack that can chain into a standard attack. Another example I've heard from a personal friend of mind is the "deception" attack in MK vs. DC like Joker or Lui Kang have. QCB+? did a variety of attacks meant to perplex and confuse your opponent. This move is an unforgivable sin for Mortal Kombat and yet he, favoring Soul Calibur, conveniently forgot this is the exact same command for the Angel Step "deception" attack for Cassandra. Basically the combo system of the 3D Mortal Kombats are rich and while they do have preset sequences, comboing other ways in MK games is fully supported.

"All it ever had was the gore."

This one annoys me the absolute most. It's like saying all Street Fighter has is the fireballs or all BlazBlue has is cat girl going for it. Yes, Mortal Kombat had gore and yes, that was a feature. Hell, it was so comically done, claiming that was the main reason it got popular is even funnier than watching three heads pop off your opponent. If Gore was all MK had going for it, where are the clones that tried the same route? Where is Way of the Warrior now? What about Kasumi Ninja? What of Eternal Champions (which, to be fair, is an awesome game ... especially on Sega CD)? Or how about the ultimate in Gore focused fighting games, Time Killers where players could chop off arms and legs and heads mid match. If gore was all MK needed to reach it's popularity, why didn't BioFreaks and Wargods, two much more violent franchises from Midway themseves, catch on at all? And why is the highest rated MK in a long time rated T?

Simple answer? Because MK was always more than the gore. The Fatalities were the treat for beating your opponent. Well done, here's a cookie ... on fire ... being thrown off a bridge and into a spiked pit. The blood splats and bones flying were, simply put, icing on a fairly in-depth fighting game system. That's why, of all the gorefighter clones, only Weaponlord (look it up) had any kind of depth. The clones, as well as gamers, mistook the gore as the secret ingredient instead of the icing. The evidence of this point is found even within the MK franchise itself. With MK II came Friendships and Babalities, which were more popular among my friends than the fatalities. Mainly because they were MUCH bigger accomplishments and as such, bigger bragging rights.

"All the Ninjas are the same and Palette Swaps suck."

Of the many, many complaints, this one has the most validity. I won't argue that using these palette swaps to boost a roster count seems lazy. So instead I'll pull a Republican tactic and divert attention away from the original target while calling Street Fighter a socialist. Let's turn back the clock to when MK first came out. Not only were fighting games fairly new, but beat'em ups were large and in charge. Even RPGs were coming into their own. But the hardware? Still a TON of storage limitations and creating all new characters were excessively labor intensive. So let's take a franchise like Street Fighter II, the Golden Child. Obviously Street Fighter would never do something as lame as a palette swap but a head swap is an entirely different thing. It wasn't even until Super Street Fighter II that Ken and Ryu finally started becoming different characters -- just in time to introduce yet another Shoto character. But this was happening in other genres as well.

Red Slime was obviously different from Blue Slime in Dragon Quest just as the Blue Octorock in Zelda was a tougher bastard than a Red Octorock could ever hope to be. But this was the 16-bit era, obviously we left this far behind. Not really. In brawlers like Final Fight, you KNEW Poison was a badass THING when she had pink hair. But later on? Green Hair made her tougher. Fact of the matter is hardware limitations forced the palette swap characters but it was the special moves that pushed MK characters away from each other. Sure, Sub-Zero and Scorpion looked the same, but only an idiot would argue that they played the same. While the franchises first foray into the 3D realm would be a disaster, once fighting styles were introduced into the franchise, none of the palette swap characters could ever be mistaken again.

"_________ mode sucks, thus MK _______ sucks."

Like Tekken and Soul Calibur, Mortal Kombat is one of the few series to put so much effort into modes in addition to Versus and Arcade. Which is why it's really frustrating that people have begun mistaking the secondary mode for the main mode. Mortal Kombat, to be fair, only started toying with this idea in their fifth iteration. Before that, the experiments were side stories (MK Mythologies, Special Forces). One was OKAY, the other was an unplayable mess.

Despite this, MK was constantly trying to figure out ways to make the single-player important too. One of their first attempts was Konquest Mode. This elaborate RPG style quest was simplistic and yet somehow convoluted, taking you through an entire lifespan of a new character. At the end of this quest, it's revealed that you are responsible for setting the grand evil free. This character would then join the main roster as an old man for use in Arcade and Versus mode. This, at the time, simply wasn't done. Fighting games had a story, yes, but rarely ever explained why X fought Z. While Konquest was contrived, it also set a tone for licensed fighting games. Dragonball did their story mode similar to Konquest, then so did Naruto games, so on and so forth. Konquest wasn't the best MK had to offer, but aside from unlocking characters, it wasn't forced on you either. Arcade mode was ALWAYS there.

Which brings up to the other modes. Puzzle, Kart Racing, Chess ... suddenly fun little side things were being compared to fully fleshed out competitors. This is 100% unique to Mortal Kombat. Their gem puzzle game was compared directly to Puzzle Fighter, Panel De Pon, and Puyo Pop. Kart Racing was being compared to Mario Kart, Jak Extreme Racing, and Crash Nitro Kart. Chess's AI was being compared to the AI in Chessmaster. To let you know how absurd of a scenario this was, nobody EVER docked Rival Schools points in a review just because their Home Run Derby mode wasn't as good as MLB 97 from EA Sports. The reason? It's a fucking retarded thing to do. Of COURSE MK Kart wasn't as good as Mario Kart. You know why? Because MK was a fighting game first, a Kart Racer sometime way down the road. There was more attention paid to the bruising system in MK than the entire Kart Racing mode. It was MEANT as a "haha" thing, not an entire game. Of course Midway couldn't compete with Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo Edition. But you know what? Midway didn't want $40 for that mode by itself. It was a bonus. It was something Midway threw in for fun while mocking the state of the game industry at the time. And if you were one of the people who said MK sucks because of these bonuses, just die in a fire.

Well, there it was, the top five complaints I've noticed and how all of them are beyond retarded. You may disagree. Go ahead, leave a comment. My next Blog post will be all about what MK has done to deserve it's place in the industry, and your hearts.

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