I’ve been playing Mortal Kombat since it first came out back in in 1992. I remember talking to my friends about whether the rumored “babalities” were real. I saved up quarters for the arcade machines when I really should have been using them to do my laundry. (It was college though, so it wasn’t that big a sacrifice.) I sat in a bar (they let under 21s in back then if you drank soda – which was totally what I was drinking) when Mortal Kombat II came out and watched the screen. Back then, there was no Wikipedia, and the only way to learn a character’s backstory was to make sure no one played while the game scrolled through gameplay clips. If you were lucky, a character bio would come up, though you’d have to read it fast or you’d miss it. It could be hours before it came up again. People knew not to play while I was sitting in front of it. I had a reputation. I waited until Jade popped up in the background of the cemetery, and I would randomly say “toasty” to friends who knew exactly what I was talking about. I knew what Noob Saibot meant and that I might be able to find a hidden game of Pong. I spent hours trying to pull off Fatalities, and sometimes, it worked.
There was just something so satisfying about the over-the-top violence. It was so nuts that even most parents weren’t freaking out about it. No one was going to rip your spine out with one hand on the street. There were characters that had a history, which was a newer concept. There were Easter eggs. It was immersive. Every time a new Mortal Kombat game came out, I was ready to buy it on day one.
Things have changed in video games over the years. We have a zillion characters with great backstories, Easter eggs all over the place and everyone knows everything about the game before it even comes out, but back then, there was a sense of being part of the in-crowd. Fans like me loved these characters. We loved watching Scorpion go from a crazy skeleton who screams, “Get over here!” to a man with a past, and a redemption arc. We’ve watched the character of Sub-Zero go from an ice-wielding maniac to a deep man who cares about the world. Sonya Blade has gone from a woman in a green aerobics outfit to a powerful commander, a mother and an older woman, something we never see in games.
NetherRealm Studios‘ Mortal Kombat 11 was a blast to play when the beta came out, but getting to play story mode has been pretty powerful for that girl who used to annoy gamers in that bar. (I once heard people behind me warn someone to just give up and go play in the dorm because, “Jenna might yell at you.”) I spent last night immersed in Raiden’s journey. This character who I watched in the films (oh god, don’t watch them for the love of all that is good and pure, unless you’re prepared for buckets of cheese) and on the small screen has the best journey of them all.
Look, Mortal Kombat 11 story mode is like a crazy action movie from the 1990s. It’s all over the place. The story is designed to allow you moments to battle everyone, as everyone, from a Goddess to a former friend in cyber form to yourself at a different period in time. It’s silly. It doesn’t matter. It’s like one of those stories that you start in a group, and everyone adds a sentence. They’re some of the most satisfying stories you’ll ever hear, despite the rambling nature of them.
Even better is the time travel. We’re seeing a younger, more obnoxious Johnny Cage in his 1990s colorful getup getting knocked down a peg for making crude comments about his future wife Sonya Blade. We see an older Jax dealing with mental trauma from what he went through in the last game meet a younger, more spry version of himself. We remember who he was. We remember who they all were. Some have changed like Johnny, now a great dad and loving husband. Some haven’t like Kano, who is just super psyched to see that he’s still jacked in his 50s.
Everything makes sense for the characters, and what we’ve seen them go through since they were first introduced. We watched Johnny and Sonya’s love story develop while they both kicked all the ass. We saw what Liu Kang has been through with Kitana. We watched the friendship between Scorpion (Hanzo Hasashi) and Sub-Zero (the Kuai Liang version, not Bi-Han) develop. We learn about the relationship between Kotal Kahn and Jade in the story, and it changes a character who was just a really cool design, to a man with a past. Hey, even Jade, a character that we’ve loved for a long time — even when she was just a palette-swapped Kitana — has a younger version and a zombie version. (Okay, revenant, but still, zombie Jade!) It is so satisfying to watch the characters we’ve loved for decades and see how they’ve evolved. It’s wonderful to see the new ones we’ve come to love.
Look, if you’ve got the game, and you’re just having battles, take some time for Mortal Kombat 11 story mode. Every single time you try to beat the person you’re playing with and throwing the table in triumph when you do (Um, not that I do that because, well… alright, fine. I did do that once. Once!), you can really appreciate what it means to have a history like this. Also, thank Wikipedia for the fact that if you do find me in a bar, I’m probably not going to yell at you.