TBT - Mortal Kombat, It's Legacy, And Carnal Knowledge
With all the talk of Street Fighter II recently, I felt like it was about time that we touched on Mortal Kombat. In many ways, kids of the 90’s like me saw Mortal Kombat as the evolution of Street Fighter, but on reflection, I think the title is not so much the evolution as the cultural extension. Whereas Street Fighter carried a certain a cartoonish sensibility with a vibrant color palette and over-the-top characters, Mortal Kombat skewed towards the decade’s more intense and gritty mindset. With it's mostly grounded fighting styles and realistic looking characters, Mortal Kombat was something of a revelation, an arcade machine that showed how brutal and realistic gaming could feel, even with yellow ninjas and four-armed monsters. Further, it was a another game where players crowded to discover new strategies, specials, and of course fatalities. It was a game that further cemented the echo chambers of the SNES and Sega camps. It was a game some kids simply were not allowed to own, or play for that matter. At the time, it was to video games what punk, rap, and heavy metal were to music.
Looking back, I almost feel as though Mortal Kombat has had far more of an impact on gaming overall than Street Fighter has. It's an odd thing to say, but when I think of the modern console landscape, the dominance of the Xboxes and Playstations rely on titles featuring realistic warfare, bloodlust, and a penchant for death. I see much more of Mortal Kombat’s DNA than that of Street Fighter. Whereas the Capcom title left characters being defeated, Mortal Kombat actually commanded players to kill their opponents. Now Xbox gives you medals for headshot and countless games score you by kill counts.
Having witnessed the latest Mortal Kombat (XL, I believe) played a tournament style at the Thy Geekdom Con that Gaming With Swag covered in November, I see that the Mortal Kombat construct really hasn't changed all that much. The latest version reminded me a great deal of the original, only with a litany of bells and whistles. Like he original MK, XL had colorful but grounded characters, intense and gratuitous violence, and a gritty feel that might cause some observers to turn away. I know I did more than once, and I'm sure many spectator did back in the 90s. And the dudes playing it, LOVED IT.
I have no idea why the game connected to us so much over twenty years ago, and I'm still not sure why it continues to connect with gamers now. The mechanics are rudimentary by modern gaming standards; and from what I can tell, the mythology and loreof the series is so convoluted that most players have abandoned it completely (of course, this could be said for a multitude of gaming franchises).
But why bother with all of these thoughts? Well, I guess the point is this. For all my love of Street Fighter, I cannot shake Mortal Kombat. Even now, in its present form, I am intrigued by its visceral gameplay, dark tone, and unapologetic severity. I’m like a month drawn to a flame that way. But I’m not alone. Mortal Kombat touched a nerve with countless young men all those years ago at its debut, and it continues to be held in esteem by a subset of the gaming community of various ages. It speaks to something—something carnal—in us, and I for one cannot pinpoint what it is; i just know that it exists, and I’ll probably still have it in another 20 years. I wonder what Mortal Kombat they’ll be making then?