The world has come a long way since 1992’s Mortal Kombat was first released into arcades. Much to the chagrin of bored soccer moms, the hyper-violent 2D fighter became a huge success and spawned a massive crossover franchise consisting of videogames, movies, comic books, and everything in between. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t know Scorpion’s signature “GET OVER HERE” voice-line and even harder pressed to find somebody who doesn’t immediately start dancing when the insanely catchy techno theme song for the 1995 film begins to play.
But after almost 30 years of being in the public spotlight, what does Mortal Kombat 11 need to do to not only keep the franchise fresh, but to make itself the best entry in the fighting series to date? Here’s five things I think this game absolutely has to have if it wants to enter the ring with it’s predecessors.
1. A Good Story
Okay, okay. I know what you’re thinking. This is a fighting game where you can rip off somebody’s leg and beat them to death with it, why on Earth would anybody care about the story?
Well I’m here to tell you that Mortal Kombat has quietly had not only the best storyline of any fighting game franchise to date, it’s also one of the coolest stories in videogames period. I’m serious. The Mortal Kombat tournament was initially a safeguard put in place by the Elder Gods in order to ensure that none of the existing realms could invade the others without first winning 10 tournaments in a row against them. This ensured that every realm at least had a fighting chance to defend itself. Beyond this relatively simple premise is a story that includes as much lore as your average Elder Scrolls game as each of the series characters has their own clear motivations and purpose. There are smaller scale conflicts like the one between Scorpion and Sub-Zero, two ninjas from rival clans. Scorpion is a literal hellspawn who was resurrected after his entire family and clan was wiped out by Sub Zero’s, and his quest for vengeance is one of the most personal and compelling stories across the games. Then there are the large scale conflicts that make up the majority of the big story beats, like the invasion of Earthrealm by the forces of Outworld, or the Deadly Alliance forming to try and resurrect the ancient army of Onaga the Dragon King. Each of these large story moments is filled with smaller character arcs and interplay between the characters, so the whole thing comes across as Game of Thrones style intrigue where every character tries to manipulate events to their own advantage. If none of that makes any sense to you whatsoever, then that’s perfectly normal. But what I’m saying is that there’s an incredibly complex and captivating story just waiting to be uncovered, and the story trailer for Mortal Kombat 11 promises to deliver in a big way.
The official Mortal Kombat 11 story trailer.
2. Fun Fighting Mechanics
A fighting game is, at it’s core, only as good as it’s mechanics. When the first Mortal Kombat came out in 1992, it was mechanically very simple. Each character had the exact same basic attack moves and were only differentiated mechanically by their unique special moves. These were moves like Scorpion’s iconic spear, Sub Zero’s Ice Ball, or Johnny Cage’s punch to the groin.
In 2019, you can’t really get away with that kind of simplicity. Each fighter needs to feel fundamentally different from each other. A scummy criminal grappler like Kano shouldn’t fight the same way as a thunder god like Raiden. Every character needs to feel unique with every punch and the fighting itself needs to be simple enough for casual players but complicated enough to be played at a high level. Netherrealm Studios has excelled at finding this balance ever since the 2011 Mortal Kombat reboot saw the series going back to it’s 2D roots. You can still have fun button-mashing in the games they’ve produced since then, but there’s also a deep and intricate combat system for those who wish to dive in and explore further. I expect Mortal Kombat 11 to be no different.
3. A Great Kast
I know cast is spelled with a “C”, but it’s sort of tradition in the Mortal Kombat universe to use a “K” whenever possible. What’s also tradition is having a great and diverse cast of characters, something that Mortal Kombat has managed to do well for…most…of it’s games.
There was a bit of a dark age in Mortal Kombat history, and that dark age was almost entirely the Playstation 2 era Mortal Kombat games in the early and mid 2000’s, otherwise known as “The 3D Era” due to the series’ switch to 3D combat. These games had mostly uninspired rosters of bland characters that were just lazy amalgams of existing characters. Mavado was just a worse Kabal. Kira and Hsu Hao were boring ripoffs of Sonya and Kano. Kobra was almost literally just Ken from Street Fighter. And so on, and so forth.
Mortal Kombat 11 needs to have a great cast, full of fan favorites and new characters who can actually stand toe to toe with characters that have existed for 30 years. It’s no easy task, but I have complete faith in Netherrealm Studios after Mortal Kombat X had some of the coolest original characters yet. There was a badass Outworld Cowboy named Erron Black. A creepy bug lady named D’vorah. An Aztec God throwback named Kotal Kahn. These characters and others introduced in that game were the first new main story characters in the Mortal Kombat universe since 2007’s Mortal Kombat Armageddon and they are LEAPS AND BOUNDS ahead of most of the PS2 era characters. From the new characters revealed so far in Mortal Kombat 11, it seems that the cast is once again in good hands.
4. 3D Era Love
I know what I said up there. The 3D era was basically the dark ages of the Mortal Kombat series. But that doesn’t mean that Netherrealm Studios can just sweep it under the rug and act like it all never happened. Half the reason the timeline was rebooted in the first place was to get rid of most of these bad characters, but a lot of people like myself are fond of some of the characters from this time period and even are starting to miss some of the less outrageous ones. There are a few really cool character ideas and concepts that could and should be expanded upon in the new timeline. Havik is one of the most popular among fans from the 3D era because he’s a macabre body-horror character who’s sole purpose is to cause as much chaos as possible.
Mortal Kombat X had a comic tie-in that was actually outstanding, and it fleshed out Havik and a few other 3D era fighters that had otherwise been entirely forgotten by the main series games. This got a lot of fans excited for these fresh takes on what were once disappointing characters, and a lot of people would like to see what Netherrealm Studios can do with a second attempt now that they’ve hit their stride. I think if Mortal Kombat 11 is to be the best entry in the franchise, it needs to remember that the 3D era exists. They need to show fans that they are good enough to make even the most forgettable characters interesting, while paying homage to some of the more obscure characters from this time period.
If I’m being honest, if any of my five points will wind up being a disappointment, I expect it will be this one. I don’t think Netherrealm Studios is all too keen to revisit this era, preferring to invent new characters instead of reinvent older ones. Many characters from the 3D era have been confirmed as dead in the new timeline or just make passing cameos in the comics. Having said that, there was a roster leak for Mortal Kombat 11 that suggested at least one 3D era character might be coming back and the entire story seems to revolve around time-travel. So maybe there is hope after all.
Look, I know there’s a big stink about how playing violent video games causes violent behavior. But I’ve been playing Mortal Kombat since I was 3 years old and I have yet to violently pull somebody’s spine out through their neck. The point is: you can play violent video games and be a (mostly) well-adjusted human being like myself. The violence in the Mortal Kombat universe has always walked the line between gristly and comical, and it’s since taken on an almost artistic quality. There’s something sort of majestic about seeing the number of creative ways that Netherrealm Studios can come up with for one fighter to dispose of another.
The mix of revulsion and glee upon seeing the latest over-the-top Fatality is just so unabashedly Mortal Kombat that it would be a shame if Netherrealm Studios ever got rid of it. They tried it once in 2008’s Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe, which saw the likes of Batman and Superman going toe-to-toe with the Mortal Kombat cast. The violence was toned down in order to give the game a “Teen” rating instead of the usual “Mature” rating, and the game wasn’t successful enough for their publisher to avoid bankruptcy. It had other problems, but the lack of violence definitely contributed to the mediocre response it received. It didn’t really have that trademark Mortal Kombat feel and so they fixed that with the next game by being more violent than ever.
Mortal Kombat 11 will feature something Netherrealm Studios calls GoreTech, which is basically a new engine built entirely on creating gory bloodbaths and making them look fantastic. And having seen some of the new fatalities in gameplay streams, I have to say: they’re freaking disgusting. They’re also hilarious and absurd and miles above being over-the-top, but that’s always been part of the charm. It’s really no different than watching a slasher film.
I firmly believe that if Mortal Kombat 11 can manage to do these five things, it will be the best entry in the series yet. Even if it only manages to do three or four out of the five, I still think it will be a strong entry into the series and a fantastic game in its own right. If you’re interested in getting your hands on Mortal Kombat 11, there’s a stress test on March 12th-15th that you can sign up for here or you can get access to the Closed Beta on March 28th-31st by simply pre-ordering the game.