Now & Then: Mortal Kombat 3
Switching It Up
A lot happened both in the talent pool of Mortal Kombat players and in the game design overall between the release of Mortal Kombat II and Mortal Kombat 3 (MK3). For starters there was a mass exodus of on screen talent due to royalty disputes, so almost no one from the original two games returned for the third release. In addition, Boon and his team were trying to turn Mortal Kombat into a viable fighting game with things no one had ever seen before and mechanics that could compete with the massive rush of fighters in arcades. The game was completely Americanized, with all hints of Eastern influence including symbols, locales, and the soundtrack completely absent without a trace and instead replaced by urban stages, 90s hip-hop soundtracks, and cyborgs replaced the signature ninjas. These locations were now composed of pre-rendered 3D backgrounds and the character sprites were almost totally digitized as opposed to the digitized/hand drawn hybrid of the previous games. Along with it came an overhaul of the controls, including combos and a “run” button to address rightful claims that defensive players ruled the previous title. It’s all one giant 90s metaphor but that doesn’t change the fact that MK3 (and it’s update Ultimate MK3 or UMK3) stands as the moment I felt the series went into the mainstream fighter territory. Couple this with the fact that it was on just about every console that existed at the time, still dominated arcades, and had more content than rival Street Fighter II could ever dream to do with its iterations and I see why it’s creator Ed Boon’s favorite. Mortal Kombat 3 definitely upped the ante.
To keep up with the whole plot would be ridiculous for this particular article – although I will be writing the series plot post tomorrow – but the basic premise is that Shao Kahn, antagonist of the last game and ruler of Outworld, has unleashed his minions on Earth and apparently started with the US. Eight of the twelve fighters from the last game return – Jax, Kano, Sonya, Kung Lao, Liu Kang, Shang Tsung, Smoke (in new cyborg form), and Sub-Zero (in a new unmasked form) – and seven new fighters enter – cyborgs Sektor and Cyrax, riot cop Stryker, native american Nightwolf, Black Dragon warrior Kabal, a female Shokan (Goro’s race) named Sheeva, and finally Sindel (under Shao Kahn’s control) the queen of Outworld. It was a risky move as series favorites Scorpion and Reptile were absent along with the fact that Sub-Zero no longer looked the part and all of the female ninjas were also removed. To me it’s a weird choice because the removal of every hint of the ninjas is a clear attempt to get away from the original formula of palette-swapping sprites to allow for more characters, but all of the new cyborgs do basically the same thing and revolve around the plot of the Lin Kuei clan that Sub-Zero was a part of. It is well known that in development the back story and even names of the characters were put in nearly at the end of development – Cyrax was known as Mustard, Sektor as Ketchup, Sindel as The Bride, and Kabal as Sandman (based on Tusken Raiders from Star Wars) for most of the game’s programming. None of that mattered when the game hit, though, because it was faster, more aggressive, more blood, more fatalities, more finishing moves (animalities), and better AI.
It had been almost two years since Mortal Kombat II’s release, but we were still hammering away with more than 3 revisions in the arcade and plenty of time spent playing at home, now with all ports supplying endless gore. It was all forgotten yet again when Mortal Kombat 3 dropped at my local comic shop and we set out to learn all of these new characters and the many moves and secrets the team at Midway packed into it. Those that were consistently on newsgroups thanks to the likes of mainstream Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like America Online (AOL) were swapping secrets and moves like crazy, not to mention the distribution of move lists at convenience stores with copy machines. It wasn’t long before we were pulling off that crazy 7 hit combo of Liu Kang’s or Kabal’s nearly 100 percent instant kill combos. It was also great to see the slew of new fatalities including hilarious senseless ones like the Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet drop, Jax growing to a massive size and stomping on you, Stryker ushering the entire cast across the street as a crossing guard, the funny baby sprites for each character, and the super odd looking animalities with terrible animation. Of these, probably the most interesting were the animalities due only to the fact that they required you to do a “mercy” before being able to pull them off, which allowed your enemy a sliver of life to get a second chance at taking you down. For close competition and even some of the better hustlers out there, these mercy moments created a new tense few seconds not ever seen in a Mortal Kombat title. It was safe to say that for fans, MK3 was a success and we all eagerly awaited it coming home, especially with the Playstation and Saturn on the market. At the same time, Boon and the team had to come up with a way to keep fans in the arcade – especially with the Playstation port being arcade perfect save for load times – and also respond to the only hinted at pile of complaints about missing favorites from the past. On the other hand, the critics and those that look back on this title with a more objective eye will
The usual suspects from before received ports (SNES, Genesis, Gameboy, Game Gear) but with the new 32-bit CD consoles hitting it large in the fall of 1995 when Mortal Kombat 3 released to consoles, additional and more authentic ports were also developed. Originally the Jaguar, 3DO, and Saturn were to receive ports in 1996, the latter two were apparently even completed, but never did release. This is most likely due to the fact that Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (UMK3) was already on the way to home consoles in summer 1996 and that released Saturn port is nearly identical (aside from content) to the Playstation port and by then the Jaguar and 3DO were basically extinct. Two PC ports also saw the light of day, the first one for MS-DOS had more grainy graphics and while the music was spot on the sound effects were missing in many regards. The Windows port was a direct copy of the Playstation port, which despite its mild music flaws was nearly arcade perfect. Sony made a huge deal out of the “arcade perfect” port in all its advertising, but the truth is it lacks in some areas, but it was quite impressive for the time so provided you had the $300 Playstation it was a no-brainer for fighter fans. That said, critics and Street Fighter fans both claimed that Capcom’s franchise was a better launch decision for Sony’s console.
Most of us picked the game up either on the SNES or the Genesis, of which there’s less difference between the two systems than the previous titles due to one development studio handling everything. There’s not much to say about these ports because they are pretty much spot on and feature complete with some degradation of graphics due to the aging 16-bit consoles, however I will commend the Genesis port for being much closer to the SNES counterpart than the previous ones. The Game Boy and Game Gear ports are identical except that the Gameboy version lacks most of the violence whereas the Game Gear has it intact, and both versions only feature nine of the original fifteen fighters.
Some consider the third installment to be the end of an era, and clearly Midway decided to milk this title to death with the spin-off games Sub-Zero Mythologies and Special Forces in addition to the updates to the third game Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but as for the dedicated fans like myself it was a great title. In a future post I will tackle the feature-heavy updates mentioned above but MK3 was the original form of the 2D fighters we play and enjoy today. It may have screamed 90s and immaturity, but it was a hell of a good fighter if you weren’t a Street Fighter II player.