Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Master System, Game Gear, SNES, GameBoy, PC, Amiga
Later Releases: PS2, Xbox
This is where it all began. This was the first video game I ever played and got me hooked at 2 years old. When I saw my cousin do Scorpion’s Fatality for the first time I sat there awe-stricken wondering how he just did that. He handed me the controller and I took to the game naturally even at such a young age where my motor skills weren’t fully developed yet. Of course, that’s what lead me to where I am now, but this kick-started the violent video game trend. The ESRB exists singlehandedly from Mortal Kombat, and that’s quite an accomplishment. It was also the only fighting game to use digitized graphics which were stop motion animations of real people. It made the game seem “realistic” and this stayed through the first three games.
The Arcade version was released to critical acclaim and made billions before it even hit home consoles. While only four guys and 10 months created one of the best games ever made, it paid off in full. Despite having such a small character roster compared to other fighters they were unique, and each had gruesome special moves (mainly Scorpion’s spear and that “Get over here!”). The Fatalities are what caused such controversy and the main one was Sub-Zero’s with his just popping off someone’s head with their spine hanging out, and holding it up for everyone to see.
Later that year Midway created “Mortal Monday” which was to hype up the console release with ads screaming “MOOORTAAAAL KOOOMMBBAATTT!!!!” It sold millions within its first year and was ported to every console available at the time by the end of 1994. Most people nitpicked at which console had the closest arcade port, and while the Super Nintendo did it lacked the Fatalities, blood, and some combo moves for the arcade so the Sega Genesis version remained the best. Voices were added to the game such as the announcer saying “Fight!”, “Finish Him/Her!” and “Fatality!”, and saying the character’s name during the select screen. The voice was pretty basic and not as sinister as the recent announcers, but it started this all off. While the gore was disabled in the Genesis version a code could be entered to enable it. The SNES version had gray sweat instead of blood and Fatalities were disabled. While you could do The Pit stage Fatality you were awarded no points. This was due to Nintendo’s policy of having no violence on their console. There were plenty of secrets thrown in such as the hidden Reptile fight at the bottom of the pit, and a few glitches.
While the handheld versions were piss poor due to their inferior technology the game never did better until it was released in compilations and other games in the series (Mortal Kombat: Deception had it in the Kollector’s Editions). While this version has held dear to every fan it evolved incredibly and will never be forgotten.
Mortal Kombat II
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, SNES, Sega 32x, Amiga, GameBoy, Game Gear, Sega Saturn, PC
Later Releases: PS2, PSP, PS3, Xbox, NGC
This version was considered the best Mortal Kombat ever made. It’s revered by fans and non-fans alike and has never really been recreated. It contained a new art style, more detailed visuals, more characters, and new “-alities”. Surprisingly Kano and Sonya were the only characters missing from the first game, and this really made some fans angry. New characters introduced were Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, Jax, and Kung Lao which later became the series staple “classic” characters. Also, Shang Tsung was playable for the first time, as well as Shao Kahn and Kintaro being new bosses. Reptile was finally a playable character since his hidden version in the last game was so popular. He instantly became a fan favorite.
While the game looked better and had a different art style, the controls were tighter, more combos were added, and it was a lot faster. Each character had TWO fatalities this time and Babalities and Friendships were added to the game. If you entered a code like a Fatality it would turn your opponent into a baby, so this was more of a humiliation thing. Friendships were comic relief and the characters did something goofy. The Fatalities this time were gorier, more gruesome, and brutal. There were new stage Fatalities added such as The Living Forest, Acid Pool, Kombat Tomb, and The Pit II.
Console ports game a lot faster and the SNES became the superior version this time around not only in terms of graphics and sound but Nintendo allowed them to keep the gore in due to low sales of the last game. The most superior version was for the Sega 32x, but due to the low drive of the device, it didn’t sell many copies. Other versions had things missing such as voices, animations, and the Genesis version only had scrolling text for endings. Once again they couldn’t get a quality Arcade port out for this version until it was released for consoles later on (Midway Arcade Treasures, and Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks).
My favorite part about the game was the deeper combo system, aerial combat, new “-alities”, and the new character roster. I mostly played Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Baraka, and Liu Kang. I was younger so I mainly used special moves, but Liu Kang was easy to use as just a regular fighter. However, I didn’t really like the outfits for Scorpion and Sub-Zero because they featured a “snow jacket” type pattern and seemed flat. I also felt the proportions of the females were off a little. Despite all this, it was an amazing game, but I just wanted the art style to go in a different direction.
Mortal Kombat 3
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, SNES, Sega Saturn, GameBoy, Game Gear, PlayStation, PC
Later Releases: PS2, PSP, PS2, NGC, Xbox, PC
This was the turning point for the series for the 16-bit era and was the last 16-bit game released in the numbered series. It was also considered the worst out of the 3 mainly because of the hard-to-pull off, and new, “chain combos”. While the graphics were even sharper and more realistic looking than ever. Newer consoles and more memory allowed more details, more animations, and more characters. This was probably the darkest of the three games and took a very serious turn, and even the new voice announcer sounded serious. I liked this version a lot due to the chain combos and even faster gameplay, plus it featured some of the best characters to date. All the “-alities” are intact here but a new Animality was added, but also never seen again in future releases. This had fighters turn into animals and devour or tear apart their opponents and got mixed reactions. At this point, everyone thought the “-alities” were getting ridiculous and wondered if they would be overkill in later releases. The Fatalities were even more gruesome than before and took a more raw approach due to the more realistic look and theme.
The game also featured 3D rendered backgrounds for the first time, and music took a more techno-modern theme instead of the heavy Asian themes of the past. Multi-tiered stages were introduced where you could uppercut an enemy into the ceiling and they would go up into a new stage. Two new stage Fatalities were introduced as the Bell Tower, The Pit III, and The Subway. New characters included were Cyrax, Sektor, Sheeva, Nightworlf, Stryker, Sindel, Smoke, and Kabal. These two were considered classic characters, but Stryker took the most criticism for his ridiculous “cop” style of fighting. Smoke was a hidden character behind the dragon symbol in the middle of the select screen and was unlocked via a cheat code. Each new character was wonderfully created with each having distinct special moves that still hold grounds today. MK3 was also the hardest game with Shao Kahn being extremely difficult and the new mini-boss Motaro being relentless and also being the biggest character created so far. Kombat Kodes was introduced which had three numbers for each player during loading screens, and these codes modified the game such as no blocking, no blood, fatalities disabled, special moves disabled, etc. These never saw the light of day until the recent Mortal Kombat (2011).
I loved the game a lot because I mainly didn’t know any better, and I loved Cyrax more than anyone. Sure the other guys returned (Kano and Sonya came back due to the criticism from the past game). Johnny Cage and Raiden took a hit this time and weren’t seen until years later, by this point everyone thought he’d show up again in Mortal Kombat 4. Noob Saibot was a playable character through the Kombat Kodes and was liked by many. The game was ported to every console again, but due to the aging 16-bit hardware, the superior version was for those lucky enough to win a Sony PlayStation. The SNES was good enough for people who couldn’t afford one, but the handhelds were horrible (once again), and the Sega Saturn version was also a good port.
Mortal Kombat 3 stands as the official turning point for the series, hated by many, loved by some, but there’s no doubt Mortal Kombat would stop here. While this marked the end of the 16-bit era for the series forever, MK3 was fantastic.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
Original Releases: Arcade, Sega Genesis, Sega Saturn, SNES
Later Releases: iPhone, DS, PS2, X360, GBA
While this was loved as a cult classic by fans it wasn’t very successful sales-wise. This was considered the “real MK3” with bug fixes, chain combo fixes, a few new characters, stages, and weapons were introduced. These weapons came out during long combos, and another “-ality” was introduced as Brutality. These were extremely hard to pull off since the button combos were sometimes 20+ and you needed to be super fast. The characters would beat the opponent up faster and faster until they exploded into a bony and bloody mess. A new stage Fatality was added as Scorpion’s Lair. UMK3 also had the hardest time with porting since this was the transition from 2D to 3D. Surprisingly, UMK3 was never released on the PlayStation so it suffered from terrible ports on 16-bit consoles. If you had to get one the SNES version was the best while the Genesis version had problems such as Animalities removed, and the announcer no longer said the character’s names. Mercies were introduced which let you put a code in at the end of the match during “Finish Him/Her!” which gave back a bit of health for your opponent. This was never seen again, but also most people didn’t know about it. The Sega Saturn was the worst port with just UMK3 code dumped into MK3 so it was unbalanced and buggy as ever.
The Arcade version only featured three new playable characters and these were Ermac, Human Smoke (palette swap of Scorpion), and Classic Sub-Zero via a code. Both versions saw a return of Mileena and Kitana as palette swaps of Jade, and the console versions got the sweeter deal with more characters. Noob Saibot was a fully playable character, and not just an unlockable while Rain was brand new for console owners. UMK3 was a great addition to MK3 and is widely loved by fans and preferred over MK3. UMK3 never saw handheld releases until over a decade later, but the troubled porting and sales sparked some debate as to if the series was over.
Overall the 16-bit era of Mortal Kombat games was the best, and will always be remembered as some of the best games ever made. While the series took a bit of a dive towards the end Mortal Kombat II was the best of that period but by now people were wondering what they had in mind for 3D. The PlayStation and Nintendo 64 were already hot and Midway had to figure out how they were going to implement the classic 2D fighting style into a fully 3D environment! It was only three short years that the 16-bit era lasted for the series, but it seemed like a lift time for me.