Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
Being one of my favorite franchises of all time, it’s often hard for me to find too much fault in a Mortal Kombat title—unless we’re discussing Special Forces of course—but hindsight is always twenty-twenty, especially when discussing video games. Mortal Kombat 4 is often referred to as the weakest game in this main series, but the 1998 console editions received decent scores and even a few glowing recommendations upon release, which is why I wanted to go back and experience it again.
The sticking point is of course: the change from 2D to 3D for the fighter. It was a change that most, like myself, felt was inevitable and would in time become a comfortable norm. It was unnatural at first though, whereas the 3D movements feel small and barely noticeable in comparison to the later titles in the series that came during the seventh generation of consoles. Many claimed it was not ‘real 3D,’ but at the time, the differences were a bit staggering for most players. Add to it that this was the first in the series not to use the digitized actors, but rather animated models. I remember the opening cutscene looking amazing on the arcade version, but now the fighters look a bit hollow and jagged. The colors and backgrounds on certain stages also look bland in comparison, causing the previous to stand out even more. Overall the look was not bad, but like many games in the early stages of experimenting with three dimensions, it simply did not hold up well.
For me personally though the big issues were with the gameplay, and I guess I should start with the point everyone seemed to focus on—weapons. Mortal Kombat 4 gave each combatant their own specialized armament to pull out of nowhere awkwardly and use ineffectively. The weapons are dropped after one hit is taken and are best for throwing, but opponents may use them against the player as well. The whole thing feels clunky and is a gimmick whose freshness fades quickly. I rarely use the weapons, which is odd, because the commercials for the game put its focus on the new arsenal.
There were other changes in the mechanics, like adding a single button for grappling making combos slightly easier, but all of this came with a damage cap to stop people from being destroyed too bad against better players. Some were not happy with that, but for me the game kept a lot of what made it fun in the combat and felt like the fighting was fluid and perhaps even more entertaining than MK3.
MK4 scaled back to a smaller but tighter roster, which worked for them. A new wave of characters was introduced as well, bringing in different gods and the Netherrealm. Fujin, Kai, Reiko, Tanya, Jarek, all rush into the fight with Quan Chi and Shinnok taking the reigns as the new menace in Shao Khan’s absence. I’m a fan of the fallen elder god, who was the new final boss, but having him as a playable character from the beginning took away some of his mystique and made this reign feel less imposing. To help with this, Goro was added in to the console versions, but Shinnock’s legacy would be tarnished in many fans eyes until Mortal Kombat X.
“Wrong Jarek, this is not a brutality. This is a fatality.”
The story picks up after Mortal Kombat 3, while taking a lot of its new elements from Mythologies: Sub-Zero, in an effort to add to the lore, progress the timeline, and take away some of the norms that players had perhaps become bored with. It’s a shame they did not take advantage of this though, as the endings, where the majority of the story is contained, are overall simple and weak. Many of them attempt to link together for a framework of a somewhat cohesive narrative, but it is still varied depending on who the player chooses and leaves gaps. They suffer further from the type of horrible dialogue one might expect and some even worse voice acting. Just look…
Seeing that may make my next statement a bit harder to swallow, but Boon and his team initially did want this installment, having its new story and visual changes with a fresh feeling, to be a return to seriousness in mood, themes, and mechanics. The last game had introduced elements like brutalities, babalities, animalities, and even friendships, in what would be mostly viewed as cheap unneeded filler. Many were disappointed with MK3’s unrealistic and sometimes goofy finishing moves, so they were stripped down here, with each combatant only receiving two. They are still overall a bit boring with only a few exceptions—showing no real innovation—but shout out to Quan-Chi’s leg fatality though.
A lot of the troubles Mortal Kombat 4 has were from issues behind the scenes. This is around the time when the team had split, in an attempt to get multiple games out, capitalizing on the franchises popularity. These other games had linked characters and story elements to help amplify the lore and explore a growing universe, but pushed the developers. The team had trouble with the 3D graphics and learning how to manipulate them in the engine. This was after scrapping a lot of original work in favor of designing their own hardware, putting them further behind. In a way it makes me admire the finished product even more, seeing the work put into it.
Eurocom’s ports of the game to each console are quite good. I was lucky to have some new additions to the Wilds’ Collection, allowing me to try it out on multiple consoles in my recent play sessions. The N64 controller makes that version a little more difficult in my opinion, but it looks and runs smoothly, giving the console a much needed fighting game at the time. The PlayStation version is where I spent most of my time, as I liked the controller for fighting games best, and the endings kind of looked better I guess. The Dreamcast version, Mortal Kombat Gold, may be the best, with additional characters and some other tweaks, but even it had to have two versions. I had no clue this came out on the Gameboy—I’ll save that for later. All things considered though, no matter how much fun I had revisiting the title, this may still be the weakest main entry in the franchise to date—even if there are a few fierce contenders—and only diehard fans of the series should concern themselves with it.