The history of Mortal Kombat

The second MK arrived in 1993, just about a year after the original. As you’d expect, the character roster increased, the graphics and animation were improved, the story was ramped up and, most importantly, the blood and gore were taken to a new level.

Each fighter now had two fatalities to choose from, as well as three different Pit-like stages to hurl your opponent into. With more moves and more playable characters came deeper battles and slightly more robust combo opportunities than the original. To this day, this is arguably the best MK game to date when it comes to high-level play, a scene usually dominated by Street Fighter (and later Tekken, BlazBlue etc).

Above: MKII directly continued the loose story from the first game, creating an ongoing canon that would help power movies, cartoons and sorts of cash-in goodies 

Above: The roster grew from 7 to 12, including the previously unplayable Reptile and Shang Tsung, as well as palette-swapped ladies Kitana and Mileena 

Above: Lovely new versus screens showed off new costumes for the digitized actors 

Above: MKII was the first game to print “FATALITY” in bloody letters; the first game merely listed the word amongst other post-match details 

Above: MKII also introduced Babalities and Friendships as alternate finishing moves. Fun asides, but they set a precedent the series would eventually take too far 

When MKII arrived on consoles in October 1994, the Nintendo version remained faithful to the arcade original, including every fatality and drop of blood that made the game a hit. However, the SNES version arrived mere weeks before the ESRB ratings finally appeared on games, so we got a 17-only warning on the box. It’s the only SNES game to feature this image.

Above: Neither Sega’s rating system nor ESRB. Merely a “May not be appropriate for players under 17” statement 

Above: The commercial was suitably epic. See, MK was a big damn deal!

The multi-fatality options that began here reappear in this year’s game, as does the entire cast. Near as we can tell, the new game doesn’t contain any Babality silliness, so it’s leaning more towards outlandish violence than dark humor. As far as gameplay enhancements go, MKII did offer a smoother, more playable experience than the first game, but it didn’t really introduce any new mechanics. That honor goes to the next game in the list…

Jumping ahead to 1995 we see Mortal Kombat 3, which arrived just in time for the first film. Expectations were astronomically high, as not only was MKII a big hit, but the fighting scene in general was now full of numerous high-quality options. Could MK still compete after taking a year off? Could they improve on II as much as it improved on MK1?

Our opinion lies somewhere in the middle; MK3 added new gameplay features like the dial-a-combo system (every character had pre-set combos you could pull off by pushing buttons in a certain order) and the Run button designed to make combat more aggressive, but both of these additions made MK3 feel and play almost completely different from MKII. On one hand, it’s admirable that Midway would mix things up so thoroughly; on the other, most of us kinda just wanted a freshened up MKII.

Above: The Ultimate MK3 roster, which added cyber ninjas, a lady-Goro and the pitiful Stryker 

Above: Sheeva and Sektor square off on the new Vs screen. New “Kombat Kode” symbols appear on the bottom; mashing buttons would shift the symbols around and occasionally combine to produce a game-altering effect 

Above: Oddly, MK3 did not contain Scorpion. Shortly thereafter, UMK3 brought him back. Probably shouldn’t leave out your most popular characters, Midway! 

Above: MK3 took the silliness too far at times, ruining the otherwise dead-serious storyline. Here Liu Kang drops the MK1 arcade unit on Scorpion. Funny, we guess? 

In just three years Mortal Kombat had gone from concept to arcade mainstay. However, in that same time, MK had to keep evolving its gameplay and story while Capcom was content to re-release tweaked versions of SFII. This fact alone strongly proves SFII’s staying power compared to any MK; one needed minor touch ups to survive for five years, while the other had to change things up every single time. Then again, the MK team pushed the boundaries and played with the format, whereas SF stuck to its guns, pushing off Street Fighter III for so long that the mass audience loss interest. This coincided with consoles that could produce arcade-quality games for a fraction of the price, ultimately leading to the general decline of arcades. Sad times for sure.

But for those few years, MK captured the hearts and minds of a generation and became one of the best-selling, most popular series of all time. And it’s these three titles that this years’ MK reboot pulls from so thoroughly. Every character in the new game (save Quan Chi) is from the original trilogy, and the story is actually a thorough retelling of the first three games. In other words, developer NetherRealm is fully banking on nostalgia and familiarity of these three to drive interest in the new game. Not a bad tactic at all, as Street Fighter IV clearly preyed on our memories of SFII to lure us back in. Worked then, probably will work now.

We’ll have a full review of the MK next week. Until then, why not watch this video, which should help explain why the new game pays no attention to Mortal Kombat 4…

Apr 13, 2011

The Top 7… Most absurd Mortal Kombat offshoots
MK’s gone in some strange directions once finishing the fight


Street Fighter Week: The evolution of Ken and Ryu
Two of gaming's most iconic fighters are dissected, game by game


Marvel vs Capcom: a history of the Vs fighting series
VIDEO: Seth Killian walks us through 16 years of fighting history



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  • moan4stalone - April 15, 2011 2:41 p.m.

    Something beter to report on? FINISH HIM JK
  • taterboob - April 14, 2011 10:11 p.m.

    No, no, no. You guys are crazy. Everybody knows that Raiden REALLY says "TIDY BUBBA GAAAAY!!!". I'm glad I could clear that up.
  • sternparez - April 14, 2011 8:37 p.m.

    I'm totally on a nostalgia trip and am definitely going to pick up MK9 but does anyone else wish they'd gone for a more realistic look staying faithful to the originals?
  • Camo335 - April 14, 2011 5:39 p.m.

    Am I the only one who LOVED the PS2 games?! Deadly Alliance, Deception, Armageddon and Shaolin Monks were a LOT of FUN! VS DC did suck, though.
  • TheMonarch - April 14, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    Totally enjoying the recent MK love on Games Radar. I had the fortunate ability to play UMK3 free. My cousin won the actual cabinet from an EGM (I think) contest. He still has the game, it still works and is still fun to play every once and awhile.
  • jmcgrotty - April 14, 2011 3:24 p.m.

    (Only mentioned because someone in another comment asked about it. Not trying to post off-topic with it) Here is the complete history of Zelda: In 1986-87 (Depending on country), Nintendo released The Legend Of Zelda. Following that release, the series went downhill quick, with no other game released being worth playing.
  • mothbanquet - April 14, 2011 3 p.m.

    You know, I never really gave much thought to the new MK but these excellent features have really whipped up my nostalgia real good. I now remember the insane amount of time I used to play MKII with mates after school and the trailers for the new one look pretty sweet. So, as with DNF, you lot are single handedly responsible for selling these games to me...
  • ultimatepunchrod - April 14, 2011 2:11 p.m.

    maybe its just me but the writer seems like a hardcore SF fan. im not saying thats a bad thing, but if youre doing a tribute article for MK maybe you shouldnt bash it continually saying SF was a better game. i know you cant talk about MK's history without talking about SF but still. other than that, good read.
  • philipshaw - April 14, 2011 1:55 p.m.

    I love it when you do these sort of articles, also having the characters music from the MK album was a nice touch
  • JetpackJesus - April 14, 2011 1:45 p.m.

    @NinjaJamez Yeah, Kano and Sonya were both captured in MK2. The true reason Johnny Cage didn't appear was because his MK1 and 2 actor - Daniel Pasina - appeared in an advert for MK rival video game "Bloodstorm" dressed as Johnny Cage and making fun of Mortal Kombat. After he was fired, they decided to write Johnny Cage as dead in the canon storyline before he was revived. As for Scorpion, Daniel Pasina also played all of the ninja's in the first 2 MK's, hence none of the ninja's appeared in MK3, bar Sub-Zero who was replaced by a different actor. As for the storyline, well, I can't remember what it said for Scorpion not appearing in it, but yeah, they were all brought back by Mortal Kombat Trilogy.
  • NightCrawler_358 - April 14, 2011 12:17 p.m.

    this article was... kool. I'm still trying to decide between MK9 or Portal 2 on day one, I'm not sure which one will have more content. At first I was really excited fro P2, but now I'm kinda leaning on the MK side. guess I better "kollect some kash."
  • cyclone306 - April 14, 2011 12:03 p.m.

    P.S. I guess that means these are kickass articles though...what I'd REALLY like to see is more character spotlights...*nudge nudge*
  • cyclone306 - April 14, 2011 noon

    GODDAMN "KOMBAT WEEK". All week of this mortal kombat bullshit. How much is WB or whoever the fuck owns the rights paying you? Now I'm going to go buy this game EVEN THOUGH I DON'T EVEN LIKE FIGHTING GAMES, because I'm extremely susceptible to corporate properganda. This is exactly what happened to me with UMK3 on XBL I was like "oh shit I did have a lot of fun with MK 1 & 2 I should totally buy this." Play it for 10 minutes, lose to the easy computer and haven't played it since.
  • TheElephantManchurianCandidate - April 14, 2011 11:39 a.m.

    Loving MK week don't listen to the haters aka. Portal 2 fanboys
  • CitizenWolfie - April 14, 2011 11:18 a.m.

    It's amazing how popular the series became konsidering it was a bit of a SF ripoff. I loved it as a kid though, even the krappy films and kartoon. There weren't many arkades where I lived but going to a mate's house and playing VS mode for hours was a bit part of my khildhood. I think on the day of release, it should be a National Mortal Kombat Day. The world over should kelebrate by replaking all Cs with a K and shouting gibberish while lunging wildly at eakh other. As you kan see, I'm getting the praktike in for the K thing already...
  • JohnnyBlackburn - April 14, 2011 10:59 a.m.

    Kano- 'A fallen angle' Really???
  • Synchronatic - April 14, 2011 7:19 a.m.

    Fucking fantastic read. Loved every bit of it. I agree with Romination though, a more in depth article on MK II and III would kick ass.
  • Romination - April 14, 2011 6:32 a.m.

    I'd actually hoped for a longer, more in-depth thing on MK II and III. With character bios and whatnot, that was actually really interesting.
  • Spacem0nkey77 - April 14, 2011 6:04 a.m.

    My buddies and I finally agreed that Raiden actually says "Raging balls of hay"...I never heard "your mommas in LA" which is also pretty funny. "I smoke weed all day" was a close second to Raging balls of hay.
  • funkymonk - April 14, 2011 5:36 a.m.

    @ usedforglue YOU READ MY MIND... Please GR, stop with all this Mortal Kombat material. I love MK as much as the next person but damn. Maybe a Good Top 7 or a Music of the day? What happened to those?!

Showing 1-20 of 34 comments

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