Test your might.
Choose your destiny.
A long running
series of fighting games
, started and developed over a long time by Midway Games
, which has crept out into other media, defined almost solely by its uber-violence
and the odd spelling of its name
In its prime, for about three games, Mortal Kombat
was the very essence of cool. It had style that passed for maturity at the time
, a certain something
that more family-friendly games couldn't replicate. Packed with secrets, Easter Eggs
, and hidden characters (and largely predating the Internet), the first few games lent themselves well to an Urban Legend of Zelda
or two and it seemed like just about anything was possible.
What started as a fairly typical Street Fighter II
/Enter the Dragon global tournament
ripoff quickly transmogrified into a interdimensional war and the mass genocide of the human race, which still somehow managed to shake out in the form of a series of one-on-one matches. The series, once a heavy hitter in the video game world, struggled with the inability to transition smoothly to 3D
In its heyday, it was incredibly risqué. Especially when Nintendo practically owned the video game market, as most games did not
include overt, bloody violence. Pre-MK
, most designers kept some sort of plausible deniability in their games, claiming that nobody was really dead
, or it was only monsters
, or some other excuse. Mortal Kombat
was the first game to ditch that pretense, with copious amounts of high pressure blood
, screaming, impaling, and Finishing Moves
that delighted in how many body parts they could sever. The moral guardians
went through the roof, but the series was a smash hit anyway.
The designers, encouraged by their success, racked up the body count in subsequent installments, devising entirely new methods of dismemberment and decapitation. Eventually, the violence grew cartoonish in its excess, and the gameplay engine was not enough to sustain its popularity once other companies caught on to the idea that violence was nothing to be scared of. And while other series have made a successful leap to 3D, MK
was "hit and miss"
. Add that to the fact that virtually no one ever actually died in the story
, despite the ultraviolent nature of the games (a move that virtually guarantees stagnation), and you've got a series that seemed to be on its last legs...
... until Midway went bankrupt and Warner Bros.
promptly picked up the studio that produces the series (now known as NetherRealm Studios). The end result: a complete continuity reboot
(with an in-game explanation, no less) in 2.5D. Mortal Kombat 9
was not only a critical and commercial smash, but also earned a spot as one of the featured titles at the Evo Championship Series, a first for a Mortal Kombat
The series' main games are the following:
- Midway canon:
- WB Games canon:
There are also some spin-offs:
As well as adaptations to other media:
The general story is about a universe with several different dimensions (called "Realms") and how one of these, called Outworld, is on a mission to take over all realms
. They are bound by laws set up that they must challenge the greatest warriors of whatever realm they wish to invade to a tournament. If the Outworld warriors win, they have free rein, but if the realm's warriors win, Outworld cannot enter the realm. Outworld's next target is Earth, and it's up to a select few warriors to determine the fate of their realm.
Besides that, we have Loads and Loads of Characters
and their special moves and backstories. Character sheets can be found here
, and are separated according to the various games.
This series provides examples of:
- Advantage Ball: Originally used the simple "won the tournament and attained victory in all life goals" pretty much every fighter used. With the advent of the later games' storytelling roulette, characters that won fights they otherwise would likely not has become canon. Actually a plot point in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe as the balance of power goes back and forth between characters.
- All There in the Manual: If the info's not available in the game, it's mentioned in some hard to find strategy guide. For example, Kintaro's fate (death by Raiden's hands) was only revealed in the MK3 strategy guide.
- Almost Lethal Weapons: Getting shot in these games really doesn't hurt any more than getting punched.
- Animated Adaptation: Two; The Animated Series Defenders of the Realm and The Journey Begins, an animated short film about the first game.
- Another Dimension: Outworld, Edenia, Netherealm, and many others.
- Anti-Hero: In a universe like Mortal Kombat, sometimes it becomes necessary to kill. But the ridiculous gruesome and painful ways in which some characters do so does call their motives into question.
- Anyone Can Die: And will die.
- Artistic License – Biology: A staple of the franchise.
- A lot of the fatalities are not physically possible, but particularly in older games when the Ludicrous Gibs included bones... which often consisted of multiple full rib cages, dozens of femurs, and sometimes even multiple skulls.
- X-Ray attacks qualify as well. They show in graphic detail bones being snapped and organs being destroyed, yet characters keep fighting afterward like nothing happened.
- Ascended Meme: Nearly anything that could be listed under Urban Legend of Zelda eventually made it into the series (Ermac, Animalities, Skarlet, etc.). It'd be shorter to name what averted this, such as characters like Hornbuckle.
- Attract Mode
- Awesomeness Meter: In the killings at least.
- Badass Normal: Many of the good guys have no special upgrades to fight with.
- Bald of Evil: Coincidentally enough all of the main characters that are bald in this series are evil. While Kratos on the other hand is a non-canon guest character, he himself is a villan as well. Other examples include Quan Chi, Baraka, and Daegon, Shao Kahn is bald as well.
- Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Usually this is played as straight as any other fighting game, with the exception of Fatalities; the females are just as subject to brutal, gory deaths as anyone else. It was subverted completely in 9, however, where the characters were injured during the fight, and even the winner was usually badly wounded by the end. Kitana's lovely face was just as likely to be marred by bruises and black eyes here. It is, however, played completely straight in the Story Mode, where the blood and gore is taken out and Fatalities aren't allowed (in the Story Mode, a fighter can't actually die unless the plot requires it, so it can't happen during a match).
- Beat 'em Up Spin-Off: First came Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, which fleshed out the origin story of the original Sub-Zero and introduced Sareena, Quan Chi, and Shinnok. Next came Special Forces, which starred Special Forces agent Jax as he took on the Black Dragon. And most recently, Shaolin Monks, where players took control of Liu Kang and Kung Lao as they fight Shang Tsung's forces shortly following the first tournament.
- Bladder of Steel: The earliest installments had no pause mechanism whatsoever. The Start button was used for blocking.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to other games in the genre, which was its selling point.
- Big Bad: Shao Kahn in the first 3 games and MK9 , Shinnok and Onaga also served this role.
- Bigger Bad: The One Being.
- Button Mashing: The Test Your Might minigame, and later the "Dial-A-Kombo" in any game with the infamous "Run" button.
- Canon Foreigner: Since most of the games' appeal involve having the characters killing each other with their Fatalities that when the games were adapted into comics and films, the authors of these adaptations had to create several new characters in order to have the main characters display their Fatalities without killing off any of the canon characters.
- Casualty in the Ring: Pretty much every variation of this has been presented across of the installments. After all, it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Character Alignment: Downplayed; the Bio Cards shown in Deception and Armageddon merely label the characters as Good/Neutral/Evil, sans the Lawful/Neutral/Chaotic.
- Character Roster Global Warming: The series handles this very oddly: every Mighty Glacier in the series is a boss and is only playable (barring a few exceptions, such as Goro and Shao Kahn in the GameCube version of Deception and its PSP port Unchained) in the full cast games.
- Convection Schmonvection: Invoked with any lava level (and there are quite a few).
- Color-Coded Multiplayer
- Combos: While not a major mechanic, Combos were made especially easy in the third game with the Run Mechanic. The DA-D-A subscribed to a strict Dial-A-Combo system before later games loosened their power greatly.
- Comic-Book Time: Surprisingly averted (for a while, anyway). It would seem that the each title in the series is actually set in the year the final revision of each game is released, seeing as Deadly Alliance (2002) is stated to occur a full decade after the events of the first Mortal Kombat (1992). Deception and Armageddon, however, take place immediately after DA, whereas MK9 is a second timeline which returns to the time of the original trilogy.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: One of the reasons Mortal Kombat especially does not really stand up today is that the computer has godly reflexes and is able to block nearly everything you throw at it while throwing all the special moves at you before you can block. Mortal Kombat II at least is a little more broken in your favor.
- Crapsack World: Outworld, obviously as explained in Death World below, but really the entire multiverse counts. As presented in Mortal Kombat Deception... There's a Lawful Stupid realm that basically runs on perpetual tyranny. There's a Chaotic Stupid realm where people do whatever they feel like, which is usually "murder each other for fun". There's the Netherrealm which is basically Hell, but there's no Heaven. There are gods who are more or less benevolent, except that you can't count on them for anything. It really doesn't even matter if you're good or evil in the end anyway as it seems that once you die any demon, sorcerer, emperor, or god that wants can come along and just take your immortal soul and there's nothing you can do about it.
- Darker and Edgier: It seems like, with every installment series, (except for the crossover with DC) they go with this:
- MK4 removed Babalities and Friendships, and included armed combat and fatality cinematics.
- Deadly Alliance, with Shang Tsung & Quan Chi murdering Liu Kang in the opening cutscene.
- The Deadly Alliance/Deception/Armageddon trilogy added more and more graphic death scenes, (in Armageddon, the player must "build" the Fatality).
- Finally, Mortal Kombat 9 added the X-Ray Moves, and the Fatalities and Stage Fatalities are more graphic.
- Also, Rebirth, which is the director's way of pitching his idea for a new film to Warner Bros.
- Death by Cameo: The creators tended to do cameos in the games as severed heads on spikes. Their names also appeared on headstones.
- Death World: Outworld, and any realm that gets merged with it. The dominant biomes are Mordor, Shifting Sand Land, and Evil Forest, and every single one of them is perpetually littered with muilated corpses. Further, anyone not a part of the Emperor's inner circle can look forward only to a life of hardship and enslavement, and even those who are a part of Shao Kahn's cadre get punished harshly the first time they screw up (just ask Shang Tsung about that). Luckily Outworld does get a little better over the series, as the heroes beat back Kahn's forces.
- Debug Room: Nearly all games had one.
- Digitized Sprites: A distinguishing feature of the series for the first several games. It were among the first to make this successful, thanks to smooth animation and consistent hitbox detection, two things its imitators usually lacked.
- Don't Go in the Woods: Seriously, do not go for a walk in the forests of Outworld. Those trees have mouths for a reason.
- Dragons Up the Yin Yang: All over the place.
- Exposed to the Elements: Just look at all of the fantastic and bizarre locales the cast visits and try to tell us that the shirtless men and half-naked ladies are appropriately dressed.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Ninjas, shaolin monks, cyborgs, gods, aliens, U.S. Special Forces, cops, and actors all beating the ever-loving crap out of each other.
- Far East: The series loves this.
- Finishing Move: Multiple fatalities for each character, brutalities, animalities, and stage-specific fatalities. The friendships and babalities are the Lighter and Softer versions of this.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: The Netherrealm. UMK3 even called it "Hell".
- Fixed Floor Fighting: The first two games, as well as the reboot.
- Follow the Leader: Mortal Kombat was the first fighting game series to include gorn as a main attraction, popularized the Finishing Moves, and digitized sprites. A lot of games followed either the former, the second, the latter, or all three.
- Free Floor Fighting: Most of the games starting with the third one, corresponding to the switch into 3D.
- From Bad to Worse: Starting in Deadly Alliance.
- Gameplay Roulette: The endless minigame cycles in the 3D entries.
- Genre Shift: MK started out as another tournament fighter in Enter the Dragon fashion. Then came the second installment, which introduced the battle-for-souls plot that has driven the series since, and then the third installment, which took things in a post-apocalyptic direction.
- The Gods Must Be Lazy: Averted by younger gods like Fujin and Raiden, but the elder gods definitely play this trope straight. They are loathe to interfere in the events of the multiverse. Even when their hand is forced by a cataclysmic threat to the multiverse, they're more likely to institute some roundabout scheme like the Mortal Kombat tournament or Blaze's contest in Mortal Kombat Armageddon, to keep from having to deal with it themselves.
- Good Is Not Soft: The various heroes are very willing to kill if it'll protect their homeworlds from the Forces of Darkness. Most of them are shown to be otherwise morally upstanding, virtuous, and overall likable characters when the fate of the universe isn't at stake.
- Gorn: Being a series flooded with over-the-top violence, this was expected.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck!: Despite all the violence, MK has almost little to no swear words uttered at all. So far, Scorpion has indulged in it in Shaolin Monks, which sometimes he'll alter his iconic "Get Over here!" into more profane versions. It's subverted because they (mostly) avoid the phrases where the swears would go, obviating the need for narmy substitute words. Sonya also swears a few times in 9, with most of her profanities being somehow interrupted.
- Guide Dang It: Every Secret Character, and fatalities in the older games.
- Hammered into the Ground: Has been seen throughout the series, especially with Sheeva's Nail Driver fatality which involves her driving her defeated opponent to the ground with her four arms.
- Highly-Visible Ninja: In all the colors of the rainbow.
- High-Pressure Blood: Several entries definitely enjoyed seeing blood rocket out of the body.
- An Ice Suit: Sub-Zero and Frost's outfits.
- Iconic Logo: It's hard to imagine a Yin Yang Dragon without thinking of this series.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Anyone who gets knocked into The Pit.
- Inevitable Tournament: Even after the story progresses beyond the necessity of the tournament, the games still function as one-on-one battles. Also, in order to accomplish anything in the series, a character inevitably has to enter and win — there's no chance of just sniping the Big Bad from fifty feet away, or just fighting until you've killed the guy you're after then quitting while you're ahead, or whatever. Some characters actually do just that in the story.
- Instant Awesome, Just Add Ninja Plus Cybernetics.
- Interactive Narrator: In the early games, the announcer is Shao Kahn. Understandably, if he beats you, instead of "Shao Kahn wins", he just declares "I win."
- Invisible to Normals: With the exception of a few key individuals, towns, sects, and organizations scattered the world wide, most of Earthrealm did not know of Outworld's existence (and by proxy, the existence of the other realms) until Shao Kahn's invasion in 3. Even so, most Earthrealmers are probably considered Muggles on the overall scale.
- Jiggle Physics: Only present in the DA-D-A trilogy and 9 in any great measure.
- Joker Immunity: Every single character has it, apparently. Seriously, despite the fact that cruelly killing your opponent in the most brutal ways possible is encouraged in this series, it's almost impossible for a character to stay dead, at least plotwise. As far as Gameplay and Story Segregation goes, the two conflict so often that it almost makes the series a contradiction.
- Kill 'em All: As revealed at the start of MK9, roughly 99% of the established characters from MK1-Armageddon are killed in the Battle of Armageddon. The only ones left alive in the original timeline are Taven, Shinnok and Shao Kahn, who is the one that ultimately wins and dooms the original timeline.
- Kiss of Death: How some of the female combatants finish off opponents.
- Leotard of Power: Nearly every female character has this as a main or alternate costume.
- Loads and Loads of Characters: Armageddon may have placed all the characters together, but even that was only just main characters, with no trace of some more minor characters.
- Ludicrous Gibs
- Made of Plasticine
- Major Injury Underreaction: Characters rarely display more than minor annoyance towards such injuries as broken limbs and being impaled by their opponent's weapons.
- Mechanically Unusual Fighter: Shang Tsung is capable of turning into other characters. In some games, he can turn into any character at will. In others, he can only turn into his opponent (at least, when used by a human player). In later games, he can also heal himself by taking energy from his opponent.
- Merger of Souls:
- Shang Tsung's power is said to be derived from his having absorbed the souls of his vanquished opponents. He is dangerous because he is not one opponent, he is thousands.
- Ermac, who is made up of the thousands of souls whose shells died resisting Shao Kahn's rule.
- Monster Modesty: Goro and Kintaro both wear little black briefs and nothing else. Sheeva (depending on the game) either wears a leotard or a Chainmail Bikini. Other characters, like the Netherrealm oni Moloch and Drahmin, wear as little as loincloths.
- Moral Guardians: Hoo boy, did they go apewire over this one.
- Mordor: Outworld is often depicted like this under Shao Kahn's rule.
- Multiple Endings: For each character. Most of them contradicted each other, to the point where figuring out the official canon is a massive undertaking; to some fans, it's just easier to ignore the endings that contradict one another and see what's left. In the past, all you had to do was go by Liu Kang's ending. But well... he's kinda Killed Off for Real. Well, he's technically Back from the Dead, but he's a mindless zombie slave, so it doesn't really count.
- Negative Continuity
- Nice Hat: Some of the MK cast have some funky headwear, with Raiden's conical Chinese fisherman hat being most memorable. Kung Lao's is a special example as MK2 proved that it was an outright lethal weapon.
- Ninja: Nine males, seven females, four cyborgs at last count. Only one is literally a ninja, however. The rest just have the look/style.
- McNinja: At noted above, Scorpion is the only actual ninja, hailing from Japan. The Lin Kuei are not ninjas, since they come from China, and in Mortal Kombat Mythologies Sub Zero they even get offended at being referred to by that word. The other "ninjas" (Kitana, Mileena, Ermac, etc.) are all from other dimensions where ninjas aren't even a thing, they just happen to use similar stylings.
- The series might actually invert this, though, as backstory states that the one of the Lin Kuei stole the group's secrets and fled to Japan to start his own assassin clan, the Shirai Ryu. In other words, real Japanese ninjas actually ripped off the Chinese Lin Kuei!
- Nintendo Hard
- No Flow in CGI: At least in the first games.
- Non-Lethal K.O.: Averted by fighting game standards: This series beats the crap out of this with a scythe, then breathes fire on it for good measure.
- Off with His Head!: A lot of fatalities involve this. Johnny Cage's fatality in the first game can even take off three heads... somehow.
- Our Souls Are Different: If you lose your soul in Mortal Kombat, you're usually dead. Unless you are a fully converted cyborg.
- Palette Swap: The ninjas, at least initially. Something funny about this is when you use the term for the mirror matches: in Mortal Kombat, only Sonya had a completely different color set for her mirror match (red instead of the usual green). The other fighters were merely covered in a slightly darker shade, which sometimes makes the difference just that subtle (picture Liu Kang in a time he had neither the Martial Arts Headband, nor the highlights on his pants).
- Personality Powers: Not everyone per se, but there are standout cases, such as Scorpion (fire), Sub-Zero (ice), and Noob Saibot (shadow/darkness).
- Polygon Ceiling: Subverted. The transition was made much more successfully than most other 2D fighting game series. Of course, the MK fanbase isn't as known for hardcore meta-gaming as some. The game's combo system has changed with just about every 3D incarnation released. In Mortal Kombat 9, the game plays in 2D.
- Power Echoes
- Pun: About ninety percent of the Fatalities are puns. Every once in a while, though, you'll receive a few stealth puns.
- Purely Aesthetic Gender: In the early games, while all of the normal attacks looked/were performed the same, moves tended to have slightly different effects for each character. Also, the hitboxes were determined by the poses and body size of the actors who were greenscreened.
- Really 700 Years Old: Nearly everyone who isn't from Earthrealm is several centuries old, even if they don't look it. An extreme case are Edenians: Kitana, for instance, is around 10,000 years old. And there's her mother Sindel, too.
- Realms of Badass
- Realms of Buxom: Apparently, Pettankos don't exist in the MK universe. This is especially true as of Deadly Alliance.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Reptile and Khameleon subvert this, at least as far as lizard-humanoids are concerned: both are ultimately motivated simply to revive their extinct species, and Khameleon tries to convince Reptile to undergo a Heel-Face Turn in Trilogy. Reptilian traits are used more as a straight example, though; when Reptile especially goes nuts, he becomes more reptilian and less humanoid, and in Kano's Armageddon ending, when he defeats Blaze, the Red Dragon Clan's experiments on him seems to finally come to fruition, as he becomes a reptilian black dragon. On the snake side of things, Shang Tsung has a snake motif; he has snakes on his robes, he's turned into a snake multiple times, and he even uses Snake-style kung fu.
- Ret Canon: Many, from the first movie:
- Kano went from an American of Japanese descent to Australian by background.
- The requirement of winning 10 Mortal Kombats in order to invade another realm.
- The affection between Liu Kang and Kitana, which was inserted into the games after the success of the first film, starting with Mortal Kombat 4, where in Liu Kang's ending, Kitana offers him the chance to rule by her side in Edenia and presumably other rewards. He politely declines in lieu of continuing to be Earthrealm's champion. Then Liu Kang gets killed at the beginning of Deadly Alliance. Burn.
- Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade received quite a bit of Ship Tease in 9, mirroring their interactions in the first film. It turns out that, over the course Mortal Kombat X (which reportedly spans 25 years), the two eventually hooked up, settled down, and had a daughter named Cassie.
- Retcon: Some of the characters have had their backstories altered thorough the series:
- Robot Hair: The Lin Kuei robots had a set of cables on the back of their heads which resembled pony tails.
- Rule of Cool
- Scenery Gorn: The fighting stages.
- Sdrawkcab Name: Noob Saibot's name is the last names of the series' creators spelled backwards.
- Serial Escalation: The Fatalities get more outrageous with succeeding titles. Not satisfied with simply melting, decapitating and immolating your enemy? How about you scare their souls out of their bodies? Or blow up the earth? Or whack them to death with a bunny rabbit?
- Shifting Sand Land: The desert stage, complete with quicksand.
- Shout-Out: With its own page.
- Sigil Spam: The sigil of the Elder Gods — the stylized Asian dragon logo — is everywhere.
- Skyward Scream: The famous TV ad.
- Speaking Simlish: Most of the fighters tend to belt out odd, usually incomprehensible warcries during attacks, leading to hilarious misinterpretations on the player's part.
- Spontaneous Weapon Creation: The Kori Blade that Sub-Zero uses as his weapon style from Deadly Alliance onwards is created by Sub-Zero himself using his ice-based powers. Frost, being Sub-Zero's protege, uses the same technique to produce her own ice weapons, though her relative inexperience means that she can only create a pair of small daggers as opposed to Sub-Zero's entire sword.
- There Is No Kill Like Overkill: Some fatalities (like Hotaru's triple Neck Snap in Deception or Johnny Cage's fatality in 9 where he uppercuts his opponent's head off then rips off their torso too) go above and beyond what is required to end the opponent's life for pure showmanship.
- Thigh-High Boots: Kitana, Mileena, Jade, Khameleon, Skarlet, Sindel, Tanya, Sareena, Nitara, and Li Mei all wear them at some point.
- Title Drop: Several times.
- Unbreakable Weapons
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: Several games in the series contain the old arcade shooter Galaga as a hidden minigame, unlocked after an unfeasibly large number of versus matches.
- Victory Pose
- Video Game Cruelty: It was the whole purpose behind the Finishing Moves and the success of the series. You already won the match, but pulling off the finisher was likely the most stressful part of the game.
- World-Wrecking Wave
- Wrestler in All of Us: It's a good thing to know that if the forces of good and evil ever get bored, they can always go into showbiz and start their own wrestling federation.
- X Meets Y: The overall series design can best be summed up as Stargate (and later on SG1) meets the Wuxia genre with Science Fiction, and horror overtones, and a dusting of A Game of Thrones.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Consider the first letter in the second word of the title to be the first of thousands of instances. Some games in the series will replace every single usage of the hard "c" (except in names such as Johnny Cage, titles such as Conquest, or third party character names such as Captain Marvel) with "k". Most arcade machines have an eternally blinking "Insert Koin" for example.
- You Don't Look Like You: A common problem with the character designs for the games as they move from one to the next. Liu Kang and Jax in particular has this pretty bad as they never seem to maintain a consistent appearance.
- Your Size May Vary: If you've bothered to pay attention to official heights, you'll see that most of them are not accurately conveyed in-universe.
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