It uses palette-swap characters
and repeated sprites to save on work
Like many early ‘90s games, Mortal Kombat made flagrant use
of palette-swap sprites to save on work and cost. The technique has been a staple game design trope since the ‘80s, of course. Need to quickly create a second protagonist for a
two-player mode? Just change your hero’s blue bits for red bits and away you
go. Need seven different types of goon for your scolling beat ‘em up, but
don’t have the time or the inclination to make seven different sprites? Change
the first one’s hat colour six times, put a different name on each ‘new’
character’s energy bar, and pat yourself on the back son, because you’ve just made
And as for background crowds, that’s easy. Just make
everyone related. Really, really closely related.
Above: Mortal Kombat background monks. A brotherhood in more ways than one
The MK movie understood this tradition. It respected this
tradition. And so it continued it in live-action form. Obviously the plot centres
heavily around fan-favourites Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Reptile (arguably the
absolute zenith of the palette-swap tradition themselves), but check out these omnipresent oily red-hood
They make up the numbers in every single large scale fight
in the film, fill out the background of every big set, and if their identikit costumes and interchangeable masked faces
don’t make them the living, breathing embodiment of the repeated sprite
shortcut, then frankly, I’m actually going bother coming
up with a suitable ending for this sentence.
It’s possible to almost win
a fight just by using the cheap sweep trick
Seriously people, this
is attention to detail. You might remember that one of the most
brilliant/despicable things about the first couple of Mortal Kombat games was
the way in which it was almost entirely possible to win a match simply by sweeping
your opponent to the ground and using repeated low kicks into order to keep
them down. There is no more quintessential element of the early Mortal Kombat
games that this cheap-ass broken bit of design. Ask anyone. Even Ed Boon will
tell you. Probably.
And given that the Mortal Kombat film is - as should now be
agonisingly clear - the utter pinnacle of granular adaptational accuracy, it
makes sure that this element is right at the centre of proceedings. Check out
the big fight between Johnny Cage and Scorpion. Check out the bit at 2:38 when
Scorpion turns around a prolonged beat-down by dropping Johnny with a sweep.
Check out the bit immediately afterwards when he uses a load of
low kicks to stop him getting back up.
Yes, it’s a subtle tribute. Some might even claim coincidence. But
“Nay!”, says I. It’s clearly an allusion to Mortal Kombat’s greatest and most iconically
crap tactic. If it wasn’t a gushing and highly deliberate cinematic tribute to
the early games’ most fundamental strand of DNA, then why would it appear in
this most important of the film’s fights, being as it is the turning point
which allows Johnny Cage to move on to take down Goro, leaving the path clear
for Liu Kang to have a crack at Shang Tsung?
Some might even argue that Cage’s
triumph over the iconically cheap sweep-kick combo is the defining philosophical moment
of the film, being the subtextual point at which determination and human nobility metaphorically
rise to defeat the forces of darkness, deceit and cynical dishonour. That’s probably going too far though. Let’s not get crazy about over-analysing this now.
But such talk of boss encounters does lead me onto my
next couple of none-more-juicy points…
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