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History of Mortal Kombat Part 2

VO: Adrian Sousa WRITTEN BY: Jarett Burke
In preparation for Mortal Kombat 11, let's take a trip down Mortal Kombat memory lane. In Part 2, we're visiting the beginning of some big changes in the series and the start of home console exclusivity with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, continuing through Deception, Armageddon, everyone's favorite "reboot" Mortal Kombat 9, Mortal Kombat X, to this year's highly anticipated Mortal Kombat 11. Enjoy Part 2 of the History of the Mortal Kombat franchise!
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History of Mortal Kombat - Part 2

When examining the history of a long-running franchise like “Mortal Kombat,” it’s probably best to do so by looking at it in chunks. So, in our last video, we looked at the birth of the MK Phenomenon up to the fourth game and mentioned how the brand was growing stale especially as it ventured into action/adventure territory.

In the second part of our History of Mortal Kombat series, we pick up in the Early 2000s, amidst a new console generation, and finds the “Mortal Kombat” series trying to regain its significance.

Luckily, with the fifth game in the series “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance,” Midway restored faith in the brand once more. Knowing that arcades were in the past, the company looked to home consoles exclusively in 2002 and knew they had to add more staff to get the most out of the new console generation. It was built on an entirely new engine and came with some major changes to keep it competitive in the world of 3D fighters, like adding fighting styles, removing the run function and including interactive environments. Also, a new single-player mode called Konquest was added and the game’s story was highlighted more so than in any previous game. Amongst these changes, Midway wanted to make it crystal clear that this was not the same old “Mortal Kombat,” and so they killed off Liu Kang in the game’s opening, which symbolized the death of the old MK games. And, by and large, fans and critics alike bought into the new “Mortal Kombat,” as it became the second best selling MK game (after part 2) and went on to sell over 3.5 million units by 2011.

Midway’s success continued with the sixth game, “Mortal Kombat: Deception” two years later and proved that “Deadly Alliance” was no fluke. In fact, “Deception” improved on the previous game in almost every way, beefing up Konquest mode, adding lots of content (including puzzles and mini-games), and including online play for the first time in the franchise’s history. Ed Boon and his team wanted to make a tighter fighting game overall, something that could enter competitive circles, and they succeeded by rebalancing the combat, removing cheap hits and adding combo breakers. Two fatalities per character returned, as well as a new hara-kiri finisher that could be performed by the loser. “Deception” was released to critical praise (along with a few “Fighting Game of the Year” awards), and became Midway’s fastest selling game at the time, moving just fewer than two million copies in its first year on the market. The company was on such a run of good luck during this period that even their third attempt at the difficult action/adventure genre in 2005’s “Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks” was a resounding success as well.

By the time the seventh game hit store shelves in 2006, the buzz surrounding the game had lessened a bit, seeing as it ran on the same engine as the previous two games and once again delivered much the same experience as before only with rebalanced combat. “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon” wasn’t without its innovations, however, as it included a Create a Fatality feature for the first time in the series’ history and added a Create a Character mode as well. Also, it included perhaps the finest mini-game in the franchise: “Motor Kombat” – a comedic riff on “Mario Kart” with big-headed MK characters. The game also featured an impressive roster of over 60 characters (nearly every selectable character from the past six games) and improved the storytelling of its Konquest mode by focusing on the plight of two brothers, Tavan and Daegon, and making it more cinematic overall. But, the game just didn’t sell as well as the previous two, and the reviews were slightly less upbeat, mainly because it was just more of the same.

Knowing that a new console generation was on the horizon once again in the PS3/ Xbox 360 Era, Midway knew it had to make another significant change, but the shift in the eighth game in 2008 left just about everyone scratching their heads. “Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe” looked great and ran on the Unreal 3 engine, and offered some fun fighting mechanics, but the Teen rating and lack of the series’ heightened violence and gore disappointed most long-time “Mortal Kombat” fans. Critics weren’t that excited about the toned-down violence due to licensing agreements either, and reviews of the game tended to be average. It still sold well, however, with numbers approaching two million in total. But, after the release of the eighth game, Midway filed for bankruptcy and sold the rights for “Mortal Kombat” to Warner Bros. Interactive in 2009. Luckily for fans of the series, however, Ed Boon and his team were acquired by Warner, formed NetherRealm Studios and began work on the next MK game almost immediately. And what a game it would be!

2011’s reboot of “Mortal Kombat” (aka Mortal Kombat 9) was the direction Boon and Company first wanted to take the series in the early stages of the eighth game before pursuing comic book licenses. It was a pure reboot, back to the early days of the arcade “Mortal Kombat” games, and was revealed at E3 2010 to much fanfare. Characters for the new game were taken from the first three games, but each character was given an attention to detail not seen in the series before, including unique stances and victory poses along with totally unique animations. While the characters and environments were 3D, the gameplay took place on a 2D plane in order to provide the best combat experience of any MK game to date, while not letting cumbersome 3D mechanics and gimmicks get in the way. With the renewed focus on providing the sharpest fighter possible, it’s no surprise that the rebooted “MK” was developed with online/competitive play in mind. Like “MK vs DC Universe,” it ran on the Unreal 3 engine, but this time around, the look was enhanced by a realistic blood physics to provide more gruesome depictions of carnage than ever before. And, calling it “carnage” is underscoring how violent MK9 was, what with its x-ray moves and perhaps the nastiest fatalities yet. It’s no shock that it was a huge critical and commercial success, garnering praise from fans and critics alike on route to selling 3.5 million copies by the year’s end.

But, “MK9” wouldn’t hold the title of “nastiest fatalities” for long, seeing as its “Big Brother” in “Mortal Kombat X’ was constructed to be the most gruesome game yet; and, if you’ve played it, you’ll know it’s downright shocking at times, delivering on its promise. Development started on the tenth game sometime in 2012 and was teased by Boon a year later before a trailer finally dropped at E3 2014. It played similar to “MK9” in terms of fighting styles and tight gameplay, and it also continued the storyline found in the reboot as well. But, “MKX” wasn’t just an update of the previous game, as it ran on a highly enhanced version of the Unreal 3 engine to highlight the power of the PS4 and Xbox One consoles; and it pushed the limits in terms of ways to finish opponents, what with Quit-alities and stage brutalities. Also, the tenth game saw incredibly popular DLC packs that highlighted famous movie characters like the Xenomorph from “Aliens,” Jason Voorhees from “Friday the 13th” and Leatherface from “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” – all of which would be bundled together for its updated release in “Mortal Kombat XL.” As expected, the tenth “Mortal Kombat” game received great reviews and became the new fastest selling “Mortal Kombat” game yet, reaching five million in sales before the end of 2015.

Seeing as the history of “Mortal Kombat” is a series of highs followed by brief lows – and considering that the last two titles in the series were high points – does “MK 11” have what it takes to keep the forward momentum going or will the eleventh game be the beginning of another lull in MK’s history? While it’s too early to tell yet, we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.
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