I found myself replaying 2011’s Mortal Kombat the other day. Not because I wanted to relive some sort of crazy bloodlust, not because I wanted to hear Scorpion’s “Get Over Here!” one more time before the new game, not even because I wanted to get myself hyped for what I think is one of the smoothest and most intuitive fighting games of last generation. I started playing it again to refresh my memory on the lore of Mortal Kombat. Yes, you heard that right, the story of Mortal Kombat.
It’s hard to comprehend now, but when I was a young’n, I took the story of Mortal Kombat very seriously. Fighting games weren’t the highly competitive tournament headliners they are today, rather they were a great way to pissfart around with a couple of friends, while perversely enjoying the violence play out on screen. But for my pre-pubescent male tastes, it was the characters and the world of Mortal Kombat that captured me more than any other. Sure we liked Killer Instinct and Primal Rage – quite a bit in fact – but I can’t ever remember giving a flying you know what about where Glacier or Blizzard came from. They were cool looking characters that caused all sorts of grievous bodily harm, and for most of us, that’s all that mattered. And our childlike enthusiasm for Mortal Kombat’s characters and story was brought to front and centre every recess, every lunch, and every afternoon as we’d wait for our parents to file into the school gates and pick us up. We all had our favourites, and we’d argue to the death in favour of our favourite Lin Kuei ninja, and take each other to task on where we stood on whether Mileena or Kitana was the ‘best’ female ninja. It was trivial, sure, but it was also a defining part of our video gaming childhood.
Strangely, there really wasn’t much to go on in the way of story, apart from those character splash screens that briefly popped up on the off chance the arcade machine was in attract mode. But somehow, from those few sentences, we knew everything. We knew Kitana was a double-agent. We knew Sub Zero wasn’t really Sub Zero in Mortal Kombat 2 but his brother. And we had more theories about what exactly Noob Saibot was than you could poke a stick at. Perhaps it was our childlike enthusiasm, the very same enthusiasm that had us coming up with wild theories about the universe of Doom, but we knew seemingly more about these characters than one could gather from the scant few paragraphs. You know, on the rare occasion no one was on the machine
But the much anticipated home releases of the Mortal Kombat games were our chance to fully explore the lore at our own pace. I can vividly remember playing through the not completely awful Game Boy version of Mortal Kombat 3 through to the end with every character, only to painstakingly transcribe the endings with my horrendous 12 year old hand-writing, and share with friends at school the next day where we’d sneak into the teachers’ lounge to use the photocopier. These stories, the tales of Earthrealm’s continued struggle against Outworld, were something that as kids we bonded over. They were as relevant to our collective pop-culture conscious as Robotech or Spiderman, our cultural touchstone, our more than slightly less well-written Dickens.
Which is why I think Mortal Kombat (9, is it?) had such an impact, solidifying lore and hearsay people of my age have retained in our brains since our youth. It was great to see the automation of Lin Kuei ninjas Cyrax and Sektor, Kuai Ling assuming the name of his brother as he seeks vengeance against Scorpion, and the moment Kabal becomes, well, Kabal complete with Darth Vader like breathing apparatus. These were moments in the timelines of these characters that I’d held in my brain – hopefully not at the expense of more useful information – for close to two decades. The memories came flooding back, and old rivalries were reborn, and suddenly the storyline of Mortal Kombat that I’d held so dearly as a kid, mattered again.
Just the other night I found myself engaged in a rather serious but incredibly juvenile argument with a friend about, of all things, whether Kitana or Mileena was the better female fighter. It was an probably an almost straight up carbon copy of arguments we had as 12 year old kids, and one that still seemed as relevant as it did to our pre-pubescent minds. For that reason Mortal Kombat X, with all its offspring of Mortal Kombat characters shenanigans, is basically our extended universe. And I can’t wait.
And just for the record, it is, and always will be Kitana.