The Mortal Kombat franchise has a long, storied history in the fighting-game space (and for good reason). However, when it branches out to other genres, things tend to fall flat. Whether you’re talking Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero or Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, the series’ action-focused titles haven’t exactly been – how should I put this? – good. However, in 2005, as the mainline series was ramping up for its big (at the time) finale in the form of Armageddon, a team led by series co-creator Ed Boon tried to do what no one had been able to at that point: Release a good Mortal Kombat action game.
The result was Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, a title that puts you in the shoes of either Liu Kang or Kung Lao as you battle through an action-packed story starring the wide range of recognizable characters from the fighting games. While you certainly wipe out your fair share of faceless and nameless minions along the way, you also encounter the adversaries you had come to know over the last decade-plus of fighting games. In addition to working alongside the likes of Raiden and Johnny Cage, players also engage in over-the-top showdowns with Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Goro, Shang Tsung, and Shao Kahn. While the standard trappings of the beat-’em-up genre persist throughout the game, each boss battle is distinct, certain rooms contain puzzle-like elements, and an ever-building Fatality meter helps the action title feel distinctly Mortal Kombat. Shaolin Monks wasn’t the greatest game ever created, but it was a fun spin off and a unique way to experience the always-entertaining story of the franchise.
In the time since Shaolin Monks, the Mortal Kombat series has leaned even heavier into the narrative elements of the franchise; the climactic “conclusion” of Armageddon and the underwhelming crossover of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe set the stage for the series to go through a renaissance in 2011 with Mortal Kombat, a title that rebooted the series from both a narrative and gameplay perspective. Known as Mortal Kombat 9 to many, the game course corrected the series back to 2D fighting after a several 3D entries. The result was a resounding success and has spawned numerous sequels that have only upped the ante, including Mortal Kombat X, Mortal Kombat 11, and the expansion Mortal Kombat 11: Aftermath. This new trilogy of Mortal Kombat games has possessed an unmistakable quality beyond anything the series has seen before, and I continue to play and love every single entry. However, I can’t help but yearn for Ed Boon and the Mortal Kombat team to take another crack at the action genre.
While a sequel called Fire & Ice starring Scorpion and Sub-Zero was underway, the project was canceled in the early stages of development due to the studio not being able to do it in time or under budget. While the allure of ripping through levels as the two most well-known characters and their opposing suite of powers is undeniable and exciting, there are other directions a sequel could go; Mortal Kombat is full of rivalries, friendships, and enemies with complicated relationships.
We’ve seen Jax step into the spotlight with the much-maligned Special Forces, but what about a modern take on Jax and Sonya hunting down Kano and the Black Dragons? As we’ve seen, their quest to track the gang is never straightforward and always leads the dynamic duo to intersections with other iconic Mortal Kombat mainstays. Jax and Sonya would also play very different from one another, with Jax serving as more of a tank, while Sonya would be faster and nimbler in her approach to fights.
What about a three-player co-op adventure starring Kitana, Mileena, and Jade? The three have a long history of working together for nefarious Outworld purposes before Kitana and Jade defected to the Earthrealm side of the fight. An action-driven story centered around further exploring the backstories and relationships of these fan-favorite ninjas could be an awesome time for players who want to dig deeper.
You could even go the Deadly Alliance route and put us in the shoes of two of Mortal Kombat’s most evil sorcerers as Shang Tsung and Quan Chi team up to defeat Earthrealm once and for all. Out of all the other ideas pitched here, this one might be the most fun from a gameplay perspective, while also giving players the most opportunities for crossing over with the other major characters of the Mortal Kombat universe. Not only will several characters want to unite in stopping these two from methodically murdering the heroes of Earthrealm similar to what happened in Deadly Alliance and Deception, but the ambitions have far-reaching implications and consequences for fighters other than those fighting alongside Raiden. Marquee characters galore would litter the storyline, and with their combined powers, you could expect some truly exciting and over-the-top battles. Also, Shang Tsung’s ability to capture the souls of characters he defeats would allow him to continually expand his moveset, making him a unique character to play over the course of the campaign.
Of course, if all else fails, why not default back to the original idea? Scorpion and Sub-Zero continue to be the most recognizable characters in the Mortal Kombat franchise nearly 30 years later, and having an adventure starring the two mortal enemies could prove exciting. Imagine the co-op combos you could pull off with the fire and ice powers, and how the story would go knowing the tenuous truce that would exist between the two could (and probably would) fall apart at any minute.
While the Mortal Kombat fighting games have only gotten better in the time since Shaolin Monks, I’m ready to see what a rejuvenated approach the action genre could mean for the franchise. In the meantime, though, I guess it’s back to begging Warner Bros. to make Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks and Mortal Kombat 9 backwards compatible on modern systems.