Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mortal Kombat 2011

By Eric Adamson

Mortal Kombat, originally released in the arcade in 1992, is one of the fighting games responsible for defining the 2-D fighting game genre.  The game, of course, probably most known for its fatalities (which I spent hours trying to perform and failed Kontinuously) is deliciously gory and perfectly difficult.  The first game began with the simple selection of seven characters (or Kombatants) and each character had the same basic move set, with a few special moves each – including a unique fatality for each character.  Maybe two but I can’t quite remember.  For us children of the 90s, the game remains an iconic symbol.

The game evolved through many reincarnations and modules, including many game versions, a comic book series, television shows, actions figures, adventure RPG games, and, maybe best of all, several live action movies.  The movies were just as terrible as anyone who hasn’t seen them imagines they would be, but were enjoyable nevertheless.  Perhaps I enjoyed them for the same reason that I enjoyed the X-Men movies, not because the movies were great but because I liked the characters and I liked seeing each character in live action and feeling as though I knew more about them than the movie gave me.  The viewers stick around just to hear Scorpion scream, “Get over here!” when he throws his spears from his hands.  Besides, to an amateur martial arts moviegoer, the fighting looks pretty good.

As the game went through these evolutions, the characters and the world and the storyline became increasingly more Komplicated.  For the standard fan of the game, there is by now, I’m sure, far too much to keep up with, although some of them introduced things that would become iconic for fighting games (remember the guy who pops up in the bottom of the screen sometimes, saying something like, “Woop-Ding!”)  Perhaps this over Komplication was what caused several of the latest Mortal Kombat games that have been released to be flops.  But the most recently released, simply titled Mortal Kombat, takes the game back to its roots.  The fighting platform is back to a 2-D fighting setting, there are far fewer characters, and the story is cut loose from all of the Komplicated and often poorly thought out plot lines of most of the series.  The Mortal Kombat franchise has begun to retell its own story.  Back to the basics, I guess.  Except this return to basics comes with incredible graphics and a host of new moves and combos that you haven’t seen before, as well as many of the old ones.
When does a franchise like this reach the point where things need to be reset?  During its nearly fifty year run, X-Men has done it twice, once unofficially, and once officially (not to mention that about every ten years a set of new characters are introduced in order to allow for a new focus.)  But for a video game franchise with a simple story (the seven greatest warriors of Earth must battle for Earth’s survival!) that grew to be incredibly Komplicated (and not very interesting at that) why restart now?  I suppose much of it is a marketing scheme – X-Men writers say they restarted the storyline because it had grown so Komplicated that a new reader would likely be easily overwhelmed.  For Mortal Kombat, it happens because the developers probably realized that their game’s mechanics were lackluster to other games being released, there isn’t anything interesting in the game play anymore.  Therefore, they must appeal to their original fan base, when newer and younger gamers might as well choose a better game since they have no interest or nostalgic tie to the franchise’s title.  It seems to be working, as this new Mortal Kombat is selling tons of copies and receiving great reviews.  (The best reviews since Mortal Kombat III.)

But I ask the question again from an artistic perspective – why restart?  Are large franchises like this with tons and tons of Kollaborators showing that there can be too many minds at work on one idea?  With the creation of these universes, many artists and writers and programmers come together to put in their own ideas, and once an idea is in, everyone else has to deal with it because it is there.  This insertion now exists in the universe that artist is working in.  And even less so than in the real world, you cannot ignore it, because the very medium being worked with has been shifted by someone else.  Of course, the art direction and story writing for Mortal Kombat has been pretty awful during the entire run, leaving its rise to popularity to be based heavily on the gore which wasn’t present in many games in 1992 – especially with games like Street Fighter providing a much more solid story with interesting art direction and hand drawn characters.

I know that it is a little bit of a stretch to consider Mortal Kombat an artistic endeavor for many reasons – the most obvious being that it really is just a Kash Kow for the developing Kompanies.  What makes it fascinating is that despite all of the flaws in story and art direction, despite the terrible flops of the previous games, this new Mortal Kombat is exceptionally fun and the enjoyment of playing certainly redeems the game of its lack of lore.  Did anyone else just overly enjoy the first time you got to watch you opponents bones being Krushed by your kick to the neck?  Or just me?  Also, I don’t know if I will ever get tired of watching various characters mutilate Johnny Cage with their fatalities. And the best part is yet to come:  Supposedly there is a new Mortal Kombat movie being made (it is unclear from my research whether it is a real movie, a web series, or a web series being turned into a movie) but it looks like something I will be going to see.  Check out this trailer:

It looks like someone with a very nice camera has decided to take an interest in Mortal Kombat.  Hopefully it will not disappoint.
-Eric Adamson