Last year, NetherRealm Studios’ new vision of Mortal Kombat was released to the salivating masses, eager to see what Ed Boon had been cooking up ever since the crossover with DC Universe left a bad taste in the mouth of a loyal and bloodthirsty fan base.
What we received was nothing short of amazing: a return to form for the franchise, complete with gallons of blood spilled in seconds, fatalities that took incredible and outrageous liberties with human anatomy, and Mileena’s Flesh Pit costume. I sacrificed a hell of a lot of sleep myself acquiring that last one.
While I would have been perfectly fine with the Arcade Mode and the Challenge Tower to pour many sleepless nights into my quest of unlocking secrets, MK9 – as it has come to be known – gave us something I doubt any of us could have expected: a story mode that was not only fun to play, but actually included a damn fine story. We learned about the fate of the universe after the fallout of Mortal Kombat Armageddon, and got a chance to peer into the minds of every hero who fought for the side of the Earth Realm in a newly altered timeline. You could say in hindsight that it would have been great to have a chance to play as the evil forces under the command of Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn, but let’s be honest here as gamers: when is the last time you were this entertained by the narrative of a fighting game?
I’m not trying to nitpick or become one of those internet douche bags who loves nothing more than to write about what’s wrong with the industry and how I’m the mad genius who could improve it if only given the chance. Since I first put a quarter into a Street Fighter II cabinet, I have never questioned why Ryu needs to continuously prove himself to be the best in the world. The same goes with Iori Yagami, Kage-maru, Tina Armstrong, Paul Phoenix and all of my other favorite characters from my favorite fighting games – whatever ridiculous premise there is for these people to beat the hell out of each other, I haven’t cared. I enjoy breaking out in a sweat, chaining together combos and wiping my brow each time I see “You Win!” displayed on my screen, only to take a swig of whatever my drink of choice is and meet my next challenger. The dawn of online multiplayer only increased my love of the genre; the day Capcom vs. SNK 2 was released for the original Xbox, I didn’t stop playing until I had racked up more than 90 matches fought, at least 10 of which resulted in rage quits from my opponent.
Regardless of my biased love affair for the fighting genre, Mortal Kombat has set a new standard and it is time for other developers to take notice of what they accomplished. It wasn’t just an average of 85 on Metacritic* for the PS3 and Xbox 360 versions of the game – USA Today reported in September of 2011 that the game had sold over three million copies. People are now well aware of what a great story a fighting game can tell, and MK should be the new standard against which future iterations of Street Fighter, Tekken, Dead or Alive and any new franchises that come out should be weighed. How should we judge? That’s why I’m here.
First off, the simple “let’s throw a bunch of characters into a tournament” backdrop isn’t going to cut it anymore. This was fine for dropping a few bucks’ worth of quarters into an arcade cabinet, but it’s now 2012 and we’re expected to pay sixty dollars for a shrink-wrapped copy of a new video game. Unless it’s a crossover of two enormous franchises (Marvel and Capcom, Street Fighter and Tekken, Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright…whoops, sorry, wrong article), we should get much more of a detailed exposition as to why we’re taking control of a fighter. Is there an apocalypse, or does a fighter simply need money to feed his or her family? How big of a score do they need to settle with their rival in the tournament or league?
I like learning about the motivations of characters in fighting games. The past few years in movies have been very kind to the world of organized fighting – we’ve seen The Wrestler, The Fighter and Warrior. All tell stories of flawed characters who still seek the glory of whichever arena in which they compete. Companies should take this concept, run with it, and not be afraid to embrace that M rating, which is not as damning as an R rating in films. One month prior to MK’s release, Fight Night Champion took the EA boxing franchise in a dark and bold new direction, telling the story of a man who falls victim to the seedy world of crooked cops and shady boxing promoters but ultimately rises up and becomes the world heavyweight champion. Despite this being the only EA Sports game ever to embrace an M rating, it was also universally recognized as the best entry in the series with specific regard given to its new direction and Champion Mode.
I stated before that I don’t care why Ryu wants to be the best in the world, but if Capcom decided to create a story about it, I would love to experience it. How did he learn to throw fireballs? What drives him and makes him different from Ken? When exactly did he scar Sagat? How did he survive an encounter with Akuma? This would make for a great continuing downloadable series, something like Street Fighter Chronicles. Every few months, another story is published for a character in the SF universe; considering Capcom’s habit of milking the shit out of a franchise, I can’t believe they haven’t thought of this themselves. They can use an existing fighting engine – SFIV would do just fine – and charge ten bucks for every chapter. If you aren’t a fan of any particular character (I have never once chosen Dhalsim in the tens of thousands of matches I’ve played), you don’t have to pay for him. Ed Wood himself would say this idea is “perfect!”
Other new entries in established franchises can either expand or reduce the scope of their visions depending on what has been told. I like the concept behind the Dead or Alive tournament and DOATEC, the evil corporation trying to create a clone of the first tournament winner, but the absurdity of the story isn’t working. Reduce the scope and Team Ninja has potential for a good narrative; at least, I would have said that before Ninja Gaiden 3 happened. Come to think of it, I wouldn’t mind a big reset for just about major fighting game franchise out there. Dueling corporations and genetic manipulation should be given direct focus and some good lines of dialogue, not tossed in as an effort to be taken more (or less) seriously by players.
I think you get the gist of my suggestion: it’s not a hard concept, nor is it that radical. I want to know more about what my favorite characters in fighting games do with themselves and what has happened in their lives. I also would like to be introduced to brand new fighting games, something we haven’t seen in what feels like a lifetime. I understand it isn’t a smart business venture, but a risk is something a giant company like Capcom or Namco should take every once in a while. I’ve tried to shy away from the armchair developing I warned of at the beginning of this article, and I shall do my best to stick to that policy by leaving you with a gratuitous shot of Christie from Dead or Alive, a British assassin who keeps a puma as a pet. That, my readers, is an origin story waiting to be written.
* Metacritic Score is a summary of the average 86 score on Xbox 360 and 84 on Playstation 3 as of April 10, 2012.