Do Over: Mortal Kombat 3
For as long as there have been violent video games, there have been hand-wringing numpties complaining about them. From the days of running down
pixels pedestrians in Death Race, our moral guardians have been foretelling the end of childhood as we know it, predicting that reverence for one’s elders will be replaced by a lawless dystopia where teenagers roam in vampiric gangs, hacking the heads off clergymen and razing libraries to the ground. There have been a lot of video games that shocked and upset conservative non-gamers, but not many as successful as the Mortal Kombat franchise.
I was far too young to play Mortal Kombat and its sequel. I was still too young to play Mortal Kombat 3, which was plastered with warnings about its fantastical gore and vicious objectives , but this time, I was old enough to want it. And once I got my mitts on it, I played the absolute shit out of it. Mortal Kombat 3 was my first all-nighter; you fellow gamers can throw me that murmur of wry recognition now.
I don’t believe that violent video games negatively affect anyone who’s not already prone to violence. The Sims didn’t inspire me to take the bin out when it was full; I was already predisposed to rubbish disposal. Not being the kind of person who recklessly springs into open pipes, playing hours upon hours of Mario hasn’t succeeded in persuading me otherwise. But I’m not going to tell you that Mortal Kombat 3 wasn’t very, very feckin’ violent. Its lore was impressive (impressively bonkers, for the most part), its characters interesting, and all of this padding riotously full-on gameplay. Mortal Kombat 3 was pick-up-and-play, in-your-face, joypad-breaking lunacy. It was as violent as the hasty retreat of a turned vindaloo.
In-game, Mortal Kombat is the name of a fighting tournament held between, erm, various realms of existence, chiefly the Earthrealm, home to heroes like Sonya Blade, Liu Kang, and Barack Obama, and Outworld, presided over by your typical megalomaniac arsehole, the Emperor Shao Kahn. One realm can only conquer another with ten consecutive wins at Mortal Kombat, which seems rather long-drawn-out and bureaucratic for the likes of Shao Kahn, but there you go. The player chooses a warrior, and kicks the shit out of an assortment of other warriors with such ridiculous tactics as shape-shifting, flash freezing, or using one’s 80s power hair as an weapon of awesome destruction (and not just sartorially). There are a dizzying array of über-violent finishing moves, called Fatalities, each more deliriously stupid than the last. There are blood, skulls, spines and ice sculptures everywhere. Opponents dispatched, your warrior reaches Shao Kahn and kicks the shit out of him, too. Hooray! You’ve saved the earth!
To recreate the MK3 experience more effectively, I enlisted my cousin, with whom I used to play back in the day. Eight times out of ten I would pick Shang Tsung, because I knew that move he had where he’d shoot green soul slime out of his hands and, also, he was fucking cool. The ninth time I’d pick Sektor; I knew more of his moves, but he was a bit faceless and drab. The tenth time I’d pick Kano, because he could turn himself into a football dervish and because he was nemesis to the squeaky-clean and thus irritating Sonya Blade. The cousin always picked Sindel, because she levitated pompously when she won. We naturally gravitated towards the same characters this time ‘round; MK is all about character and back story, after all, and even sixteen years on, it would feel like betrayal to lump for a different warrior. Games have moved on; our loyalties remained steadfast as a sloth who’s been marinated in a tub of No More Nails.
As has the quality of the graphics, oddly enough. Games have moved on sixteen years, but the photo-realistic 2D graphics of MK3 still do the trick today. That’s not to say that they’re as opulent as anything Bethesda has ever done, of course, but for minute-long bursts of battering, they’re absolutely fine. Of course, this is tied in with the simplicity of the gameplay; there are pre-defined moves that your character isn’t going to stray from, and backdrops which are not interactive, save the odd pre-defined uppercut through a pre-defined spot on the ceiling. Anyway, neither myself or the cousin tried to claw our eyes out with the shock, a massive boon when it comes to retro gaming, especially when you consider that this gamer can’t even return to 2002’s Morrowind because time has rendered it hideous (ha! Rendered! See what I did there!)
As for the controversial violence that made MK3 so thrilling? Boy, does that look quaint now, cartoonish and exaggerated silliness that it would largely have been impossible to replicate in real life, even if one’s children were moronic enough to want to. In the same way that playing Cowboys and Indians didn’t inspire young ‘uns to try their hand at ethnic cleansing, playing MK3 is not going to make you capable of spinning your opponent around so fast their bones fly out; the Fatalities are utterly ridiculous, violence beautifully in sync with the kind of gleefully sadistic superpowers most kids will dream up all on their own. “And then I took my mask off! And he was so frightened by my deformed face … his soul ran away and he dropped. Dead.” Besides, the Fatalities weren’t so easy to pull off in the first place.
Which is the problem we had with our return to MK3. Back in 1995, one had little choice but to develop the patience necessary to master the game. There were no more tasks you could be getting on with, in-game; all you could do was fight. The more complicated games we’re spoiled with today are rarely as linear, thus, we found we were bored by MK3 long before our childish selves would have thought possible. There was a brief buzz when we pulled off a move we thought we’d forgotten, but having cycled through our favourite characters once, we realised we were sorely bored, and wandered off to get drunk instead. This is not a fault of the game’s, mind you; this is a symptom of how gameplay as changed in the last sixteen years. Today’s games are that bit more sophisticated, their challenges often multi-faceted with many possibilities for conclusion. MK3 has but one objective – batter the other guy. This can work beautifully if both players knows the moves of their chosen warriors and have instinctive joypad skill, but if you get a pair of button-bashers who can’t remember what sequence you’ve got to hammer in so that Sheeva will pound her opposition into the floor, MK3′s dance of death becomes more a shuffle towards the retirement village.
I played the solo game as well, and found the same applied. The single-player objective was simply to get through a scheduled string of opponents before conquering the top two bosses: Motaro and Shao Kahn. The first two or three matches would be easy, with your character pitted against the likes of Cyrax and Kano. Then the difficulty was ramped up, and you found yourself walloped stupid by the MK universe’s “good guys”: Sonya, Liu Kang, Jax, Kung Lao. It was as tough as it was tedious, and the typical modern gamer is far too spoiled to knuckle down and get through it. Besides, the payoff isn’t worth it. We’re now used to twenty-minutes long ending sequences so beautiful they’d make butterflies ejaculate. Finish MK3, and all you get is a speedy round-up of why your character bothered. Yay, you beat Shao Kahn. Earth is saved. Oh, your character dies in the desert on the way home. Such is life. Put the kettle on.
As fodder for a nostalgic afternoon’s armchair antagonism, though, MK3 is still very much worth it, so long as you can resurrect the single-mindedness of the 90s gamer and learn how to pull off a few Fatalities. MK3 wouldn’t be MK3 without a bit of blood-splattered hilarity merriment, because without it, it’s just tedious.
I played Mortal Kombat 3 on Midway Arcade Treasures II for PS2.