Friday, April 17, 2009

AdVantage Point: Mortal Kombat II (1994)

Give an idiot a scanner and a comic book, and let him to pick out all the advertisements for video games. This is AdVantage Point -- a chance to document the winding timeline of comics/gaming history as it was canonized by the adverts. Musings, rantings, observations.

You know you're in trouble when suddenly you have to actually mention your games by name in order to promote them. My, how the mighty have fallen.

Midway's financial woes have become a very public battle, but in today's ad feature, we look back to an era of decadence when both the troubled gaming publisher, and the comic book industry as a whole, were at their financial heights.

I equate being a Mortal Kombat fan to very similar to supporting the local team while they're at the bottom of the ladder. As a fan, I know their strengths and potential better than anyone, but as we suffer the indignity of each defeat, I gradually become one their greatest critics.

Unsophisticated fighting techniques and the recurring naff of simplistic designs has earned the Mortal Kombat series it's fair share of dismissal by critics, but if it comes down to it, I hope Midway can negotiate the sale of the IP to a company that will nurture and accept the established canon of this misunderstood 1990's dinosaur.

Behind the sound and fury of idiots throwing spears and fireballs at each other, is a beat 'em up with a soul worth stealing. As Tekken and Street Fighter roll out their latest instalments in the saga of sunsets and proposing sumo wrestlers, Mortal Kombat waits eagerly to follow up on the apocalyptic cliff-hanger of it's last game in the core series, Armageddon.
While fans close to the series have been critical of Armageddon's inconclusive ending(s), it's fair to say most complaints stem from the sheer volume of possibilities that are left open following the game's narratively driven action-adventure mode ("Konquest").

As a small time comics writer, I often regard MK with envious eyes, salivating at the prospect of getting the opportunity to tell a streamlined sequential interpretation of their saga. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, despite having an endless supply of nuggets of story, the games do continuously fail to live up to themes of characterization, concept, and design.
Sharing much in common with the sequential nature of their comic book counterparts (who they tackled in Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe), the MK characters are established enough to make most blunders forgiveable, but the untapped potential of the brand's long running universe is one of the most concerning aspects of their repeat filrtations with mediocrity.

The heady days of Mortal Kombat II -- the game actually being advertised in the feature page -- are long gone. The step up from the digitized 1992 arcade beat' em up, to it's 1993 sequel, was significant. The MK style was arguably defined in this sequel, taking it away from it's Enter the Dragon-inspired Hong Kong aesthetic, to develop something much more garrish and harmful. Ever more elaborate ways to impale and compress enemies against nearby furnishings emerged from the sequel as everything started getting very purple and alien. The first game's popular martial arts archetypes were quickly joined by bizarre newbies like; Mileena, Baraka, Kintaro, and Shao Kahn, while the originals enjoyed feature tweaks that played up their sinister characters and backstory.

For many, the excitement of the atmospheric fantasy makeover for the franchise remains it's most glorious moment. Alongside 2002's reintroduction of the series, Deadly Alliance, it is arguably the most significant inclusion from a developing conceptual concern.

The popularity of the series and excitement of it's iconic evolution no doubt made it's transition to consoles all the easier to promote. With a year behind them, and the establishment of MKII's attract title screen in arcades, the use of little more than lightning, was probably enough to whip bloodlusting youngsters into an absolute frenzy. I know I was there, mashing buttons on the Genesis as I bought into a fiction ready to rival my favourite superheroes (who themselves were going through a violently stupid stage, at the time).

New rumors of the MK team breaking away from Midway to resume activity elsewhere, makes for a compelling case for a Mortal Kombat sale. It's hard to imagine talking about the series without expecting the same in-game approach and laboured promotion by series co-creator, Ed Boon.

At the first sign of trouble, I have to admit, I felt a little bit excited about the prospect of change.
With Itagaki floating formless in the ether, I can't help but imagine the possibilities as I reference various famous comic book reinventions perpetrated by similarly notorious figures who got a hold of franchise icons (see; Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, etc). What might a Japanese developer, particularly one of Itagaki's style, do with the relatively conventional series? For that matter, what about a buy-out by Tecmo? As a barely discussed implausibility, I kinda like imagining a Ninja Gaiden co-op starring Ryu Hayabusa and Scorpion against the invading forces of Outworld. Or how about an MK with decent fighting styles that seem relevant to their characters? One can dream!

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