If I want to win this arguement, I have to go on the offensive. And I'll show you many reasons why the
franchise deserves your respect.
When MK hit the scene, it was an instant phenominon. The arcades erupted with activity and everyone wanted to face down old man Shang Tsung. Of course this game hit just as old Kung Fu movies started rising back into popularity thanks to hip hop artists Wu Tang Clan and cult movie status of Big Trouble in Little China. The former was obviously a MAJOR influence on MK. We all knew MK would have to hit the home consoles eventually and all waited with baited breath. But Midway/Acclaim didn't want to make the wait a mystery, they wanted it to be an event.
The comic ads were the first to hit, four months in advance. We were given the name Mortal Monday and a date but no details. Soon after, stores started getting their promotional material. Posters of the MK logo started going up. I remember the first such poster I saw was in front of Suncoast Records. Soon after, Blockbuster. We all had dates and saw the prices for the first time. As per usual, SNES screenshots were used as promotional during the time. All of this was very strange to the gaming community. And then came the preorder bonuses. You could get a box of swag, or a poster, or even a CD based on where you preordered. And finally, the day came. For the first time ever, I saw a line for a game release when I went to my local Blockbuster to get my copy.
Why was this a big deal? Simple. Before Mortal Monday, the closest to a release date we EVER received in the states was "Coming this Winter." Books, Music, Movies, all of them proudly declared their release dates. Games? Not so much. But here Acclaim not only advertised a release date for a game, but turned it into a national event. They made retail partner programs to allow preordering for the game, they made trinkets and doodads to give away to early supporters, they made DAMN sure the date they advertised had copies on retail shelves. In essence, before Mortal Monday, the concept of a game launch as an event was something we only heard about in Nintendo Power or Gamepro (with incredibly exaggerated stories). It's hard to imagine a game industry where Emergence Day didn't happen or 9-9-99 wasn't plastered all over gaming mags, but without Mortal Monday, that's what we would have.
While Nintendo was trying to push even more trading cards with "Power Play" tips and Captain N comic books, Sega was making a push towards the aging gamer. Much like Looney Tunes, gaming had it's roots in adult consumers first, then somewhere along the lines, was considered a kids thing. While Nintendo had rules like "No gore, no God, no sex," Sega was pushing that line daily. By partnering with EA, Sega further focused on the adult consumer. The industry was facing a harsh truth. While Arcades provided overly violent games to those who desired them, Nintendo helming the home market would make sure titles like Splatterhouse stayed far from many peoples hands. Worse yet, if you've never played a Final Fight with Poison, you're deprived.
Mortal Kombat dropped in the middle of this atmosphere, old guard versus the new. While Sega was playing hosts to many objectionable games, Nintendo would later tell congress titles like Night Trap have no place in society. Whether as a well timed hit or a calculated move, Mortal Kombat found itself at the forefront of the culture police wars that would eventually birth the ERSB. For the first time ever, the concept that a videogame may not be appropriate for your child entered the nations lexicon. Initially, the blood in MK would be locked away on home consoles. Well, at least half. You see, Nintendo did their culture police thing and forced Midway to make the blood, only accessable with a code, grey, leading to the "Sweat" mythology.
Obviously ethics and morals are for sale. Did Nintendo really care that your child could play a bloody MK game? Fuck no. Their image as family friendly was more important than the reality. Take, as the counter point, Contra 3: Alien Wars. Giant pulsing oozing bleeding monsters were the norm, not the exception. Nintendo didn't care that violent games could be purchased on their consoles. Nintendo only cared that people THOUGHT they couldn't be. But any companies moral stances fall in the face of one truth, money. When MK on Genesis was regarded as the version to own and Nintendo became the "kiddy konsole" as a result of the sweat mode, their ethics and morals bent over for Mortal Kombat II quicker than a prom queen for Johnny Footballhero. While the stigma of MK stuck to Nintendo, even to this day (even when they refused to censor Cube's version of BMX XXX), Nintendo has since played host to a whole lot of games that would have been censored to hell and back before MK.
Meanwhile the industry as a whole, seeing what MK could get away with, was revitalized in the concept of providing entertainment for the kind of people who enjoy films like Nightmare on Elms Street. Over the top violence and gore and even nudity were finding their way back into the games industry. Why? Because MK had proven that games weren't just for kids. While the maturity of Mature games content can be argued, it had a right to exist. A right Mortal Kombat helped fight for and won.
When you watch a movie like Karate Kid, Bloodsport, or even Big Trouble in Little China, there is a uniquely Western feel to the film. It goes beyond the actors or location. It's essentially a mirror held up to Eastern culture with a caption, "This is what we think of you." It's not racist or xenophobic, it's just an opinion based upon the popular culture that finds it's way to us. Eastern cultures do the exact same thing. Take a look at christian myth (Eva) or the rock industry (Beck) as viewed through anime eyes. Hell, even look at Street Fighter with T. Hawk and Deejay or Ken. So you have a Western Developer looking at classic kung fu movies, contemporary action flicks, and trying to fit Eastern mythology into a digital Kumate. The idea of dark magics guiding the hands of myths and legends into a knock down, drag out battle for the fate of the earth (realm).
As time marched on, the frachise grew, but still retained it's Western flavor. It drew heavily from Eastern myths, fair enough, but kept it's voice as a Western deved game. In a genre that was rapidly exploding onto the scene, most Western companies were saying "What are the Japanese doing here?" As MK II exploded into popular culture, other developers, including Naughty Dog, started following the Western approach to fighting games but not quite "getting it." In a way, this leaves Mortal Kombat as the only uniquely western fighting game franchise and among the few who actually got it right.
"Brutal in a way most are afraid to go."
This is a uniquely East vs. West concept in game design. This is also where I expect the most "Stupid Noob" comments. Take a look for a moment at Japanese games. How much time is dedicated to the "knock backs" or "damage sequences." Even within other fighting games like BlazBlue and Tekken. Taking damage is almost a very floaty affair. The emphasis is not really taking a hit, but recovering from that hit. Rolls, getting up, recoveries, etc. Mortal Kombat did very little to get your ass out of the fire. You'll watch someone get punched in the face and just take it as blood sprays out. This is without the fatalities. Let's ignore them for the time being.
This was the 2D games, now look at the 3D ones. People get slammed through pillars, dropped with an overhead kick, doublefist uppercuted, and worse. While the second 3D MK game added things like bruising or cut clothing, it wasn't as readily apparent as in the most recent release, Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe. You might win a fight, but Sonya's pretty face would have huge welts and bruises, her eye would be cut, clothes torn. Scorpion could take it much worse with literally chunks having fallen off of him a while ago, a gaping hole in his chest, portions of his skull exposed. And then watch the hits these people take. Mortal Kombat shows a brutality shown in only a few other fighting games, one of which being UFC. Despite being T, the last Mortal Kombat is more brutal than the last M rated Japanese fighting game. It's a brutality that, even if you don't enjoy it, you should at least respect it.
Before Mortal Kombat, winning was enough. The only thing that was counted was your health and your time. What Mortal Kombat, with it's fatalities, introduced to fighting game culture was an element of humiliating your opponent. This was further pushed with the addition of Friendships and Babalities which were tougher to pull off. Of course this was followed by Brutalities, Animalities, etc, but still, ending a round spectacularly became a HUGE addition to fighting game culture.
This has, in turn, effected not only fighting games at the time, but fighting games in the current day. Soul Calibur IV recently introduced elaborate finishers that end the round instantly. Street Fighter IV put a HUGE emphasis on ending rounds with super moves. BlazBlue's uberpowerful Astral Heat attacks are essentially just there to humiliate your opponent. So on and so forth. This all stems from those two magical words. Finish Him. Without that, would we even see the overkills and ultimate combos and even deathblows so common in todays fighting games?
"Kombat has changed."
Why do people love SF IV? Most people thing of it as a "what if Street Fighter II was made in 2008?" That works. For a lot of fighting game engines, the switch to 3D, or even the enhancement of said engines, is a fairly easy thing to do. Street Fighters solution was "3D just doesn't work." Of course it took them three EX games to figure this out and the regretable ommission of Skullmania from future games, but they figured it out. Now step back and let this thought cross your mind: what if Capcom DIDN'T give up on 3D? After all, look at Dreamcast. Capcom was all about trying to find a way to make that shit work. They gave up. Decided their fighting systems couldn't work and rather than trying to reinvent themselves, they tossed in the towel and walked away.
Now look at Midway's reaction to the 3D failures. Wargods was deemed a disaster and lessons were learned in time for MK4. MK4 dropped and the old face of Mortal Kombat simply didn't work in 3D. People hated the weapons and the old style of kombat trying to force it's way into 3D. MK5 came along and fixed the issues of 4 by creating fighting styles with characters. The ability to combo and adapt was greatly increased but it still felt too stiff. Taking these criticisms to heart, the gameplay was further balanced and expanded upon for MK6. MAJOR changes to their system were put in place here. Then people demanded another MK Trilogy style release and Midway decided to finalize it's current storyline. But the complaints of only so many fatalities weighed heavily on the team and so they made even the fatalities combo mechanic. MK7 shipped and felt worlds apart from the first 3D MK. But something was missing. It lost some of the old flavor of MK 1-3. So when the opportunity arrived to do MK vs DC, it felt like coming home but offered a huge variety of 3D aspects to the core gameplay.
Every step of the way, Midway took the advice of what was going wrong and made changes. Rarely will you see a game company make so drastic of changes to their core gameplay on account of the fanbase. The MK of today is an entirely different beast from when it hit the scene oh so many years ago. And looking on the horizon, it looks like drastic changes are indeed in the cards, once again, for Mortal Kombat.
"Shaolin Monks, you should HAVE this game."
There was a period where bringing back beat'em ups wasn't the "in" thing to do. They were archiac and many had subscribed to the idea that the only place this genre could go was where Devil May Cry, Ninja Gaiden, Shinobi, and God of War was going. Nowadays, people have given up on this thought process but it was once believed that Onimusha was where Final Fight had gone. Thankfully, nobody bothered to convince Midway and they created Shaolin Monks.
To describe this greatness, imagine the following: Streets of Rage + Mortal Kombat Universe + High Production Values. That's what Shaolin Monks was. A very slickly produced brawler that delivered everything an MK Universe fan could ever hope for. While Castle Crashers was deadset on recreating the genre, Shaolin Monks actually evolved it. Got a second controller and a friend nearby? By christ, PLAY THIS GAME.
Those are the cases for MK's right to exist, even today. You may even get an urge to go back and play some of the earlier games. If this has helped change your opinion of MK, in the slightest, don't worry. The chance to delve back in has been better than ever. In fact, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe is one of the best MK games in years. At least give it a rental.