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Test your might.
Choose your destiny.
A long running series of fighting games, started and developed over a long time by Midway Games, which has crept out into other media, defined almost solely by its uber-violence and the odd spelling of its name.
In its prime, Mortal Kombat was the very essence of cool. It had style, that passed for maturity at the time, a certain something that more family-friendly games couldn't replicate. Packed with secrets, Easter Eggs, and hidden characters (and largely predating the Internet), the first few games lent themselves well to an Urban Legend of Zelda or two and it seemed like just about anything was possible.
What started as a fairly typical Street Fighter II/Enter the Dragon global tournament ripoff quickly transmogrified into a interdimensional war and the mass genocide of the human race, which still somehow managed to shake out in the form of a series of one-on-one matches. The series, once a heavy hitter in the video game world, struggled with the inability to transition smoothly to 3-D.
Mortal Kombat is nothing special today in the age of Tekken and Virtua Fighter, but in its heyday it was incredibly risqué. Especially when Nintendo practically owned the video game franchise, most games did not include overt, bloody violence. Pre-MK, most designers kept some sort of plausible deniability in their games, claiming that nobody was really dead, or it was only monsters, or some other excuse. Mortal Kombat was the first game to ditch that pretense, with copious amounts of High-Pressure Blood, screaming, impaling, and Finishing Moves that delighted in how many body parts they could sever. The Moral Guardians went through the roof, but the series was a smash hit anyway.
The designers, encouraged by their success, racked up the body count in subsequent installments, devising entirely new methods of dismemberment and decapitation. Eventually, the violence grew cartoonish in its excess, and the gameplay engine was not enough to sustain its popularity once other companies caught on to the idea that violence was nothing to be scared of. And while other series have made a successful leap to 3-D, MK had "hit and miss" luck there. Add that to the fact that virtually no one ever actually died in the story despite the ultraviolent nature of the games -- a move that virtually guarantees stagnation -- and you've got a series that has seen better days...
... Then Midway goes bankrupt and Warner Bros promptly picks up the studio that produces the series (now known as Netherrealm Studios). The end result: a complete Continuity Reboot (with an in-game explanation, no less!) in 2.5d with the Executive Meddling that caused the Sequelitis done away with. This generated significant buzz for the reboot in itself, and after the MASSIVE success (and polemics) of the game, it led to an even Darker and Edgier sequel (Mortal Kombat X) in 2015, and to another game (Mortal Kombat 11) released in 2019.
The series' main games are the following:
- Midway Canon
- WB Games Canon:
- Mortal Kombat, released in 2011. A Continuity Reboot whose first scene takes place during the climax of Armageddon, then resets the storyline via re-telling the first three games with some... important changes.
- Mortal Kombat X, released in 2015. Set around 25 years into the future, it deals with the massive consequences coming from MK 2011. It features old characters and new ones, with four of them counting as a Second Generation: Johnny and Sonya's daughter Cassandra aka Cassie, Jax's daughter Jacqueline aka Jacqui, Kenshi's son Takeda and Kung Lao's younger cousin Kung Jin.
- Mortal Kombat 11, released in 2019. The story deals with Time Travel (as implied in X), as the Big Bad Kronika plus her daughter Cetrion and her right-hand Geras mess around with the current time line...
There are also some spinoffs:
As well as adaptations to other media:
- Mortal Kombat
- Mortal Kombat Conquest
- Mortal Kombat Defenders of the Realm
- Mortal Kombat Legacy, a web series
- Mortal Kombat Rebirth, the pitch video that inspired Legacy
The general story is about a universe with several different dimensions (called "Realms") and how one of these, called Outworld, is on a mission to take over all realms. They are bound by laws set up that they must challenge the greatest warriors of whatever realm they wish to invade to a tournament. If the Outworld warriors win, they have free rein, but if the realm's warriors win, Outworld cannot enter the realm.
Outworld's next target is Earth, known as Earthrealm, and it's up to a select few warriors to determine the fate of their realm. So Earthrealm, udner the guidance of its divine protector (Raiden, the God of Thunder) organizes its team to protect their lands from the prospect invasions. However, Outworld's ruler Shao Kahn and his right-hand Shang Tsung are no fools at all, and they have back-up plans under their sleeves. And in the meantime, people from other realm (like the equivalent of Earth's Hell, Netherrealm) also have their own plans and intentions, and last but not least the Earthrealm warriors have their own issues and thoughts...
Besides that, we have Loads and Loads of Characters and their special moves and backstories. Character sheets can be found here, and are currently in need of some love. Especially those of later games.
- Finish Him!
- Flawless Victory
- I Know Mortal Kombat
- Mirror Match - MK wasn't the first to do it, but they were probably the first game to call it this way.
- MK Walker, former Trope Namer.
- Passive-Aggressive Kombat
- Your Soul Is Mine - Thanks to Shang Tsung in the first movie.
- All There in the Manual: If the info's not available in the game, it's mentioned in some hard to find strategy guide. For example, Kintaro's fate (death at Raiden's hands) was only known in the MK3 strategy guide. It's taken Up to Eleven in X, where there are whole comics explaining what happened between 9 and X.
- Almost-Lethal Weapons: Getting shot in these games really doesn't hurt any more than getting punched.
- Animated Adaptation: Two; The Animated Series Mortal Kombat Defenders of the Realm and Mortal Kombat the Journey Begins.
- Another Dimension: Outworld, Edenia, Netherealm, and many others.
- Anti-Hero: In a universe like Mortal Kombat, sometimes it becomes necessary to kill. But the ridiculous gruesome and painful ways in which some characters do so does call their motives into question...
- Anyone Can Die: And will die.
- Ascended Meme: Nearly anything that could be listed under Urban Legend of Zelda eventually made it into the series (Ermac, Animalities, Skarlet, etc.). It'd be shorter to name what averted this, such as characters like Hornbuckle.
- Attract Mode
- Awesomeness Meter: In the killings at least.
- Badass Normal: Many of the good guys have no special upgrades to fight with. Sometimes overlaps with Badass Abnormal.
- Beat'Em Up Spin-Off: First came Mortal Kombat Mythologies Sub Zero, which fleshed out the origin story of the original Sub-Zero and introduced Sareena. Next came Mortal Kombat Special Forces, which starred Special Forces agent Jax as he takes on the Black Dragon. And most recently, Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks, where players took control of Liu Kang and Kung Lao as they fight Shang Tsung's forces shortly following the tournament of Mortal Kombat.
- Bladder of Steel: The earliest installments had no pause mechanism whatsoever. The Start button was used for blocking.
- Bloodier and Gorier: Compared to other games in the genre, which was its selling point.
- Body Horror: Expected in a series of this nature. Some fatalities go farther than others.
- Button Mashing: The Test Your Might minigame, and later the "Dial-A-Kombo" in any game with the infamous "Run" button.
- Canon Foreigner: Since most of the games' appeal involve having the characters killing each other with their Fatalities that when the games were adapted into comics and films, the authors of these adaptations had to create several new characters in order to have the main characters display their Fatalities without killing off any of the canon characters.
- Casualty in the Ring: Pretty much every variation of this trope has been presented across of the installments. After all, it's Exactly What It Says on the Tin.
- Character Roster Global Warming: The series handles this very oddly: every Mighty Glacier in the series is a boss and is only playable (barring a few exceptions, such as Goro and Shao Kahn in the Gamecube version of Deception and its PSP port Unchained) in the full cast games.
- Convection, Schmonvection: Invoked with any lava level (and there are quite a few).
- Color-Coded Multiplayer
- Comic Book Time: Surprisingly averted (for a while, anyway). It would seem that the each title in the series is actually set in the year the final revision of each game is released, seeing as Deadly Alliance (2002) is stated to occur a full decade after the events of the first Mortal Kombat (1992). Deception and Armageddon, however, take place immediately after DA, whereas MK9 is a second timeline which returns to the time of the original trilogy.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: One of the reasons Mortal Kombat especially does not really stand up today is that the computer has godly reflexes and is able to block nearly everything you throw at it while throwing all the special moves at you before you can block. Mortal Kombat 2 at least is a little more broken in your favour.
- Darker and Edgier: It seems like, with every installment series, (except for the crossover with DC) they go with this:
- MK4 removed Babalities and Friendships, and included armed combat and fatality cinematics.
- Deadly Alliance, with Shang Tsung & Quan Chi murdering Liu Kang.
- The Deadly Alliance/Deception/Armageddon trilogy added more and more graphic death scenes, (in Armageddon the player must "build" the Fatality)
- Mortal Kombat 9 added the X-Ray moves, and the Fatalities and Stage Fatalities are more graphic. Mortal Kombat X takes this and amps it Up to Eleven.
- Also, Mortal Kombat Rebirth, which is the director's way of pitching his idea for a new film to Warner Brothers.
- Death by Cameo: The creators tended to do cameos in the games as severed heads on spikes. Their names also appeared on headstones.
- Death World: Outworld.
- Debug Room: Nearly all games had one.
- Digitized Sprites: A distinguishing feature of the series for the first several games.
- Dragons Up the Yin-Yang: All over the place.
- Exposed to the Elements: Just look at all of the fantastic and bizarre locales the cast visits and try to tell us that the shirtless men and half-naked ladies are appropriately dressed.
- Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Ninjas, shaolin monks, cyborgs, gods, aliens, U.S. Special Forces, cops, and actors all beating the ever-loving crap out of each other.
- Finishing Move: Multiple fatalities for each character, brutalities, animalities, and stage-specific fatalies. The friendships and babalities are the Lighter and Softer versions of this.
- Fire and Brimstone Hell: The Netherrealm. UMK3 even called it "Hell".
- Fixed-Floor Fighting: The first two games.
- Follow the Leader: Mortal Kombat was the first Fighting Game series to include Gorn as a main attraction, popularized the Finishing Moves, and the idea of using photos as sprites. A lot of games followed either the former, the second or the latter, or both. Unfortunately...
- Mortal Kombat Is Nonviolent: ... it's hard to believe this was violent back in the day, or that the sprites were actually cool - nowadays they look unbelievably stiff and the first fatalities are laughable.
- Free-Floor Fighting: Most of the games starting with the third one, corresponding to the switch into 3D.
- Gameplay Roulette: The endless minigame cycles in the 3D entries.
- Genre Shift: MK started out as another tournament fighter in Enter The Dragon fashion. Then came the second installment, which introduced the battle-for-souls plot that has driven the series since, and then the third installment, which took things in a post-apocalyptic direction...
- Gorn: Being a series flooded with over-the-top violence, this was expected.
- Gosh Dang It to Heck: Despite all the violence, MK has almost little to no swear words uttered at all. So far, Scorpion has indulged in it in Shaolin Monks, which sometimes he'll alter his iconic "Get Over here!" into more profane versions. It's subverted because they (mostly) avoid the phrases where the swears would go, obviating the need for narmy substitute words. Sonya also swears a few times in 9, with most of her profanities being somehow interrupted.
- Guide Dang It: Every Secret Character, and fatalities in the older games.
- Highly-Visible Ninja: In all the colors of the rainbow.
- High-Pressure Blood
- An Ice Suit: Sub-Zero and Frost's outfits.
- Iconic Logo: It's hard to imagine a Yin Yang Dragon without thinking in this series.
- Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: Anyone who gets knocked into The Pit.
- Inevitable Tournament: Even after the story progresses beyond the necessity of the tournament, the games still function as one-on-one battles. Also, in order to accomplish anything in the series, a character inevitably has to enter and win -- there's no chance of just sniping the Big Bad from fifty feet away, or just fighting until you've killed the guy you're after then quitting while you're ahead, or whatever. Some characters actually do just that in the story.
- Interactive Narrator: In the early games, the announcer is Shao Kahn. Understandably, if he beats you, instead of "Shao Kahn wins", he just declares "I win."
- Invisible to Normals: With the exception of a few key individuals, towns, sects, and organizations scattered the world wide, most of Earthrealm did not know of Outworld's existence (and by proxy, the existence of the other realms) until Shao Kahn's invasion in 3. Even so, most Earthrealmers are probably considered Muggles on the overall scale.
- It Got Worse: Starting from Deadly Alliance. Also in the reboot.
- Jiggle Physics
- Kiss of Death: How some of the female combatants finish off opponents.
- Leotard of Power: Nearly every female character has this as a main or alternate costume.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- Ludicrous Gibs
- Made of Plasticine
- Major Injury Underreaction: Characters rarely display more than minor annoyance towards such injuries as broken limbs and being impaled by their opponent's weapons.
- Monster Modesty: Goro and Kintaro both wear little black briefs and nothing else. Sheeva (depending on the game) either wears a leotard or a Chainmail Bikini. Other characters, like the Netherrealm oni Moloch and Drahmin, wear as little as loincloths.
- Moral Guardians: Hoo boy, did they go apewire over this one...
- Mordor: Outworld is often depicted like this under Shao Kahn's rule.
- Multiple Endings: For each character. Most of them contradicted each other, to the point where figuring out the official canon is a massive undertaking; to some fans, it's just easier to ignore the endings that contradict one another and see what's left. In the past, all you had to do was go by Liu Kang's ending. But well... he's kinda Killed Off for Real. Well, he's TECHNICALLY Back From the Dead, but he's a mindless zombie slave, so it doesn't really count.
- Negative Continuity
- Nice Hat: Some of the MK cast have some funky headwear, with Raiden's conical Chinese fisherman hat being most memorable. Kung Lao's is a special example as MK2 proved that it was an outright lethal weapon.
- Ninja: Nine males, seven females, four cyborgs at last count. Only one is literally a ninja, however. The rest just have the look/style.
- McNinja: At noted above, Scorpion is the only actual ninja, hailing from Japan. However, the series might actually invert this, as backstory states that the one of the Lin Kuei stole the group's secrets and fled to Japan, meaning that ninjas ripped off of the Lin Kuei.
- Nintendo Hard
- No Export for You: In Japan, only the first three games and Trilogy were released there on home consoles (since the series is American-made).
- No Flow in CGI: At least in the first games.
- Non-Lethal KO: Averted by Fighting Game standards: This series beats the crap out of this trope with a scythe, then breathes fire on it for good measure.
- Off with His Head: A lot of fatalities involve this.
- Our Souls Are Different: If you lose your soul in Mortal Kombat, you're usually dead. Unless you are a fully converted cyborg.
- Palette Swap: The ninjas... at least initially. Something funny about this is when you use the term for the Mirror Matches: in Mortal Kombat, only Sonya had a completely different color set for her Mirror Match (red instead of the usual green). The other fighters were merely covered in a slightly darker shade, which sometimes makes the difference just that subtle (picture Liu Kang in a time he had neither the Martial Arts Headband, nor the highlights on his pants).
- Personality Powers: Not everyone per se, but there are standout cases, such as Scorpion (fire), Sub-Zero (ice), and Noob Saibot (shadow/darkness).
- Polygon Ceiling: Subverted: the transition was made much more successfully than most other 2D fighting game series. Of course, the MK fanbase isn't as known for hardcore meta-gaming as some. The game's combo system has changed with just about every 3D incarnation released. They got the hint by Mortal Kombat 9, which plays in 2D.
- Power Echoes
- Purely Aesthetic Gender: In the early games, while all of the normal attacks looked/were performed the same, moves tended to have slightly different effects for each character. Also, the hitboxes were determined by the poses and body size of the actors who were greenscreened.
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Nearly everyone who isn't from Earthrealm is several centuries old, even if they don't look it. An extreme case are Edenians: Kitana, for instance, is around 10,000 years old. And there's her mother Sindel, too!
- Realms Of Badass
- Realms Of Buxom: Apparently, Pettankos don't exist in the MK universe. This is especially true as of Deadly Alliance.
- Reptiles Are Abhorrent: Reptile and Khameleon subvert the trope's expectations, at least as far as lizard-humanoids are concerned: both are ultimately motivated simply to revive their extinct species, and Khameleon tries to convince Reptile to undergo a Heel Face Turn in Trilogy. Reptilian traits are used more as a straight example, though; when Reptile especially goes nuts, he becomes more reptilian and less humanoid, and in Kano's Armageddon ending, when he defeats Blaze, the Red Dragon Clan's experiments on him seems to finally come to fruition, as he becomes a reptilian black dragon. On the snake side of things, Shang Tsung has a snake motif; he has snakes on his robes, he's turned into a snake multiple times, and he even uses Snake-style kung fu.
- Ret Canon: Many, from the first movie:
- Kano went from Japanese to Australian by background.
- The requirement of winning 10 Mortal Kombats in order to invade another realm.
- The affection between Liu Kang and Kitana, which was inserted into the games after the success of the first film, starting with Mortal Kombat 4, where in Liu Kang's ending, Kitana offers him the chance to rule by her side in Edenia and presumably other rewards. He politely declines in lieu of continuing to be Earthrealm's champion. Then Liu Kang gets killed at the beginning of Deadly Alliance. Burn.. In the reboot, they have quite a bit of Ship Tease from the start, but this time Kitana dies first, and then Liu Kang perishes as well.
- Raiden, a Physical God sympathetic to Earthrealm, rarely if ever directly participates in the tournament. Instead, he takes up the Big Good mantle and guides the heroes through their ordeals.
- Retcon: Some of the characters have had their backstories altered thorough the series:
- Rule of Cool
- Scenery Gorn: The fighting stages.
- Sdrawkcab Name: Noob Saibot's name is the last names of the series' creators spelled backwards.
- Serial Escalation: The Fatalities get more outrageous with succeeding titles. Not satisfied with simply melting, decapitating and immolating your enemy? How about you scare their souls out of their bodies? Or blow up the earth? Or whack them to death with a bunny rabbit?
- Shout-Out: With its own page.
- Sigil Spam: The sigil of the Elder Gods -- the stylised Asian dragon logo -- is everywhere.
- Sleeper Hit: Mortal Kombat was not intended to be the tentpole franchise for Midway, but only to fill a gap in their arcade schedule. The game was developed by a team of only four members (programmer Ed Boon, artists John Tobias and John Vogel, and sound guy Dan "Toasty" Forden) in a 10-month dev cycle. Due to not being an overly important project, the team had green light to do what they wanted, which meant they had a lot of freedom to make the game stand out via Rule of Cool. The rest is history.
- Skyward Scream: The famous TV ad.
- Spontaneous Weapon Creation: The Kori Blade that Sub-Zero uses as his weapon style from Deadly Alliance onwards is created by Sub-Zero himself using his ice-based powers. Frost, being Sub-Zero's protege, uses the same technique to produce her own ice weapons, though her relative inexperience means that she can only create a pair of small daggers as opposed to Sub-Zero's entire sword.
- Strong Flesh Weak Steel: Attacks do the same amount of damage to everyone, be they cyborgs, monsters, Physical Gods, or regular ol' humans.
- Teasing Creator: Ed Boon. Let out a hefty laugh worthy of Shao Kahn's wrath.
- Thigh-High Boots: Kitana, Mileena, Jade, Khameleon, Skarlet, Sindel, Tanya, Sareena, Nitara, and Li Mei all wear them at some point.
- Title Drop: Several times!
- Unbreakable Weapons
- Unexpected Gameplay Change: Several games in the series contain the old arcade shooter Galaga as a hidden minigame, unlocked after an unfeasibly large number of versus matches.
- The Unintelligible/Speaking Simlish: Most of the fighters tend to belt out odd, usually incomprehensible warcries during attacks, leading to hilarious misinterpretations on the player's part.
- Urban Legend of Zelda
- Victory Pose
- Video Game Cruelty Potential: Really it was the whole purpose behind the Finishing Moves and the success of the series. You already won the match, but pulling off the finisher was likely the most stressful part of the game.
- A Worldwide Punomenon: About ninety percent of the Fatalities are corny puns. Every once in a while, though, you'll receive a few good Stealth Puns.
- World-Wrecking Wave
- Wrestler in All of Us: It's a good thing to know that if the forces of good and evil ever get bored, they can always go into showbiz and start their own wrestling federation.
- Xtreme Kool Letterz: Consider the first letter in the second word of the title to be the first of thousands of instances. Some games in the series will replace every single usage of the hard "c" (except in names such as Johnny Cage, titles such as Conquest, or third party character names such as Captain Marvel) with "k". Most arcade machines have an eternally blinking "Insert Koin" for example.
- Your Size May Vary: If you've bothered to pay attention to official heights, you'll see that most of them are not accurately conveyed in-universe.