MORTAL KOMBAT!!!

This is a post I've been meaning to write for some time now, it's not a review of the most recent game, or its new iteration having been released on the PS Vita, though since it's in the media at the time, at least it's a little relevant. I suppose you could say this is a review of my life and its definition, as defined through the lens of video game culture.

I've been playing video games really as long as I can remember, Donkey Kong and Pac-Man being some of my most highly remembered gaming experiences in laundromats, convenience stores, and restaurants. Back in the 80's, arcade cabinets were everywhere. Twenty-five or fifty cents a play, usually got you three "lives" and an attempt at a high score. No story, barely any differences between levels, just harder and faster challenges. I know I played a tabletop Mrs. Pac-Man at the Godfather's Pizza on 21st & Yale while we waited for our pizza to be delivered to the table. My mother would take me ice skating in downtown Tulsa and while the Zamboni smoothed the ice, I played Millipede with that cue ball controller and single button to fire. Back then, if there was a movie theater, there was an arcade within, or very nearby. I've probably got my Dad to thank for an early love of that digital entertainment. We'd either play in the arcade while waiting for our movie to start or after it let out.

The Southroads Shopping center used to be the Southroads Mall, and across the parking lot, where a Friday's and a strip mall with a Vintage Stock, sandwich shop, pizza joint, and an H&R Block are now, used to be a second small mall, called the Annex 7. There were two movie theaters, one at each end with a large arcade between them and a sporting goods store above. I played air hockey and ski ball with my Dad, or the supremely awesome After Burner (the game that taught me reversed y-axis controls), the expensive to play Space Harrier that was all but a simulator, and the first fighting game I ever played: Pit-Fighter.


It was like a photo-real Double Dragon, but just the fighting part, just kick your opponent's ass. I didn't play it much, but when Street Fighter II erupted on the scene, I could remember Pit-Fighter.

I of course got an NES for Christmas in 1985 and there were those games that I had played in the arcade, now available at home. Of course a few years later, the Super Nintendo came out and the Targets and Wal-Marts of the US had those demo consoles, one of the games I remember seeing (and playing) the most was Street Fighter II Turbo. I was hooked on fighting games. If I was at the arcade, I sought out Street Fighter whatever, and lost promptly, but fun did I have!

Living with my Dad in the early 90's, we went to the Billiard Palace that used to be between 11th & 15th on Harvard, it had arcade games of course, but one day, Mortal Kombat showed up.

I couldn't concentrate on my pool game with my Dad, I could hear it, see it, begging me at my peripheral vision. I got the opportunity to play it and was immediately addicted, it was easier than Street Fighter and as graphic as the old Pit-Fighter, the violence didn't phase me, it was a video game, and I had grown up watching Terminator and Predator, the sight of spines and hearts and blood weren't going to get me to go out and butcher my friends. But slaughter them at fighting games? Ooo yeah.

I eventually owned both SNES ports of Mortal Kombat and Super Street Fighter II, yes, blood and a couple of fatalities omitted from the SNES version of the game, but they were equally beaten the hell out of. Mortal Kombat is the simple speed fighting game, where Street Fighter takes serious control and finesse to really get. You can button mash your way through either, but button mashing your way through MK is just about as satisfying as a calculated nuanced fight in Street Fighter. MK is about just having a good ol' time...beating someone to death. It was the violent stress reliever before GTA hit the scene.

When MKII dropped, everyone was a fan, and when a movie was announced, people got excited...well, I did anyway. I went and saw the Mortal Kombat movie with my Dad, and even he enjoyed it, a very simple, dumbed down Enter the Dragon. And that soundtrack! To this day I listen to songs from that soundtrack almost daily. Industrial techno was my music of choice through the mid-late 90's. It introduced me to acts like KMFDM, Fear Factory, and Type O Negative. I read someone, somewhere on the internet say that that soundtrack shaped their taste in music. I think that's a pretty fair assessment. It was a wonderful blend of just loudness to pump your fist to. So was the game and the movie.

Of course, MK3 didn't live up to my hopes, it seemed too gimicky, something trying to rip off what had worked before, rather than building, expanding, or growing from it. The second movie...we won't speak about. More jampacking of ideas that should work, but without anyone actually working on them.

Mortal Kombat went through a slump, MK4 and the Sub-Zero games tried new things, but fell well below the radar. A cartoon was made. A cartoon? The market was over-saturated and I quit really paying attention to anything new in Mortal Kombat land. But I still deeply cherished the first and second games, the first movie, and that first soundtrack. The philosophy behind those entries of keeping it simple and fun, shaped what I look for in entertainment, simplicity. It's a philosophy I find that works in a lot of things, beyond video games, but in movies, books, music, and arts of a lot types.

Complexity is wonderful, my truly favorite and most valued games and movies are those that are very nuanced and deep, but they keep things coherent. When you take something that was simple and try and make it complex, you're adding things that may very well not be necessary. So when Mortal Kombat came back last year, I was worried it'd be another tired entry trying to recapture some old magic. What I least expected, though, was that recapturing the feel of the old games was exactly what they were going for, but bringing it up to today, was exactly what I and a lot of other people wanted without realizing it. I played the demo and grinned from ear to ear through the whole experience. They even took the interesting elements of the games that didn't work and spun them in a new fashion letting all the good ideas stew together in an amalgam of nostalgia that felt new.

There's nothing wrong with mindless entertainment, so long as you don't try to put too much thought into it. What's had me thinking about Mortal Kombat recently is that return to form. I've been reading and editing my old short stories in an effort to produce a collection on my own. It's best not to try and bring something forward out of something that was never there to begin with if the best elements of the story are already there. Broad strokes are just as enlightening as the tiny refined definitions. Also, buckets of blood. Being ridiculous in the face of the serious makes life so much lighter.

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