There’s nothing like a good rivalry, you know? Some rivalries are timeless: good and evil, cats and dogs, Ohio State and Michigan. In the ’90s we were introduced to a new rivalry as fighting games evolved in the arcades and in our homes with the introduction of the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and all of the 16-bit goodness that they brought with them. When your friends came over to brawl there was only one question: were you going to play Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter?
Now on one hand, Mortal Kombat was irresistible because it introduced a level of gore to gaming that was at that time unheard-of. As a kid, shutting the door and booting up something that was so taboo and obscene to the rest of the world felt as satisfying as cussing during recess. Mortal Kombat 3 evolved the series in a great way with combos, animalities, great new characters, and a dash button.
Street Fighter was always the safer bet, though, and the more technical fighter. Sure Mortal Kombat eventually got combos, but they were sequenced and set; you couldn’t innovate and develop your own style of play like you could in Street Fighter. When it comes down to it and you ask any gamer what the ultimate fighting game of the 16-bit and early 32-bit era was, the answer is unfailingly Super Street Fighter 2 Turbo.
Both of these franchises have changed, branched off, and recreated themselves over the decades. We’ve seen some crazy stuff. Ryu has gone toe-to-toe with Wolverine, Superman has shot frickin’ laser beams at Scorpion, but strangely, there’s never been a game where Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat characters fought one another. Perhaps the rivalry is just that bitter. But is there truly any competition anymore? While Street Fighter remains a tourney-tested staple in the realm of competitive fighters, it seems Mortal Kombat has become something of a freak show; a cheap thrill when you need a good, “I can’t believe they went there,” and then you’re off to something with more substance. It’s the video game equivalent of American Horror Story.
At this point I’d say it’s not really fair anymore to compare Mortal Kombat to Street Fighter in terms of gameplay and controls. If you’re looking for a deeper experience or to show off your dexterity there’s no question you’re going to choose Street Fighter, but there’s always still been a place in our hearts for Mortal Kombat. That may not be the case going forward, unfortunately. With Capcom on the verge of releasing its highly anticipated Street Fighter V , NetherRealm Studios has decided to answer with – wait for it – Mortal Kombat XL: a repackaged version of last year’s Mortal Kombat X that comes with some playable horror movie characters and improved netcode for online play.
Fans are understandably perplexed. Those who went all-in last April still haven’t seen Kombat Pack 2, and now it seems like they’re getting played like suckers; newcomers will be getting all of the content right out of the gate for a fraction of the cost. We might console ourselves that almost a year with the game was worth the extra money, but input lag was a frustrating issue for anyone wanting to play online competitively. Warner Bros. really is catering to those who will be buying its repackaged gore-fest from 2015.
Where does the series go from here? As Street Fighter continues to introduce new characters with new styles, wholly new gameplay mechanics, and an exhaustively tested multiplayer experience, Mortal Kombat fans are left wanting – especially those playing on PC who won’t even get the opportunity to buy XL. If Mortal Kombat is going to continue to grow and thrive alongside Street Fighter into the future, it’s going to have to do more than whore itself out to smartphones and play up being able to smash opponents’ balls as a feature. The franchise needs something new and innovative; an adventure mode that takes us by surprise, a party mode that makes multiplayer feel fresh again, new, original characters that excite us, anything .
Am I just missing the whole appeal here? Are basic arcade fighting controls and a new batch of increasingly brutal fatalities all we ask of NetherRealm? I’ve played Mortal Kombat since I was a kid, but I’m not sure I’ll be buying the next one unless I see some innovation. What are your thoughts? I’m curious to hear from those of you who bought the game back in April. Do you stand by your purchase?