Technology’s evolution has only served to accentuate Mortal Kombat’s already verbose violence. Holes can be made in faces now. Brains slip away from the protection of the skull — because there is no longer a skull.
The series is gleefully cruel fiction about ninjas, bio-mechanics, wizards, and multi-verses. A story for adults, somehow, concerning manipulative Netherrealm magicians zapping Earthrealm with their whiz-bang made up powers as a self-indulgent movie star, lightning god, and special forces team set out to stop them — high art, clearly. Such a tale is a rebranding of later sequels (Mortal Kombat 3 through Mortal Kombat IV) cut and pasted together for an easy sale.
In-between are splashes of kung-fu cinema, the type which would make Golden Harvest blush from the symphonic joy of rushing punches and collisions. Mortal Kombat X makes its own type of twisted music from the sounds of flesh-on-flesh contact.
It’s splendid. Sick, but splendid.
Combined — the blood, the fighting, the nastiness — Mortal Kombat is sickening dark lore. It has been around so long, those combatants who survived now have children. The kids fight too. Their strikes and combos take after mom or dad. So do their temperaments. This story arc methodology is ill-considered though. Sonya Blade uses lasers to slice off her daughter’s arms, and Jacqueline Briggs’ severed jaw is used as an ashtray for her father’s cigar. The scenario is bizarre. If the insinuation is that Mortal Kombat is an M-rated, not-one-for-family-night fighting game, MK shows us in its own way.
This is what has been made of Mortal Kombat’s children; maybe they’re used to being diced and electrocuted. They are an emblem of what opportunistic politicians once thought a generation would turn into if such randy artistic mayhem were allowed to exist. Maybe there was some indirect truth; look at how far the series has progressed into sadism.
At most, Mortal Kombat is a lewd abstract of a fighter with an inhuman heaviness and what has become a ubiquitous stiffness. The desire to slip into the core of professional tournaments has bound the series to button slapping combo strings and timing rhythms. Yet, the debauchery is still scalable down to a series of elevating uppercuts or well worn roundhouses. Mortal Kombat X is still very much Mortal Kombat. It’s merely gone into hiding underneath some gestures of complexity and production values which exceed anything reasonable for such content. Somehow, Mortal Kombat has become an A-lister.
Underneath the scorchings, mutilations, and wild lore remains the Mortal Kombat, as unapologetic as ever about exploiting simulated brutality. It’s not right, but Mortal Kombat is definitely proud of what it has accomplished. It should be. Nothing at this level of explicitness has gained such mainstream acceptance before. The few comparable contemporaries, say 1991's Catonese underground classic Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky, are video outcasts.
Mortal Kombat has become a more apparent product since leaving the bankrupt progenitor Midway. Corporate monetization slips in simulated billboards, horror movie stars Jason Vorhees and Predator specifically. They look great in trailers, and therein is the intent. Never mind if they intrude on any embedded mythos. It’s what corporate think tanks do with material they cannot understand, particularly video games. Super Mario fought Dennis Hopper in an amalgamation of Blade Runner. Van Damme punched Raul Julia. Now this acquisition is used as a commercial.
On this, the side of capitalism, Warner Bros. sees dollar signs such as making easy, two button Fatalities salable in bunches, so they did. Guaranteed over-the-top, implausible murder, sold in packs. The concept is distractingly perverse and continues industry-wide pressure to de-incentivize interactivity through pay. Multimedia publishers seem to (wrongly) think interactivity is a barrier to profit rather than the actual product.
So that’s where Mortal Kombat X is caught, between the cheaply amateurish (yet sickeningly pleasurable) blood-and-guts spectacle of its origins and the means of overbearing IP owners who wish it to be broadly inclusive entertainment. Mortal Kombat only works one way and it is not the way Warner thinks it does. To detach Mortal Kombat from such ancestry is defeatist. Of course it was born for profits, but it was by accident. Unexpected. Mortal Kombat X, by comparison, is too glossy. The blood is more real, the brains more bouncy. All of this happens because dollar signs command it to, not because a handful of developers spent their time pushing social acceptability. It now feels dishonest, pandering even.
What reaches the eye is guilty splendor for the fragmented section of the market who may wince but then guiltily cheer at an elderly woman being used as a weapon. The type who sneered at their representatives for threatening violent video games. Those who grew their hair out, listened to grunge, absorbed the “underground” culture, and road their skateboards where signs said not to — that nostalgic market. Anti-PC and anti-establishment it is… unless you’re Warner. Then Mortal Kombat exists only to fill in quarterlies.