Mortal Kombat Retrospektive #3: Mortal Kombat 3 (1995)

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1995 was the year of Mortal Kombat. After the second game was a massive hit and the ports raked in the cash, MK became the hottest video game property in the world and spawned merchandise of varying quality, including toys and comic books. A big-budget feature film would premiere in the summer and make even more money. However, the most anticipated Mortal Kombat product of the year was the new game. Mortal Kombat 3 was released to the arcades in April of 1995 and was another huge hit for Midway.

Mortal Kombat 3 is also considered by some fans and critics to mark the beginning of MK’s decline, which would eventually get so bad that the series would be practically dead for years and seen mainly as an amusing relic from the 90s. Before we get into that, though, let’s look at the storyline and the new additions to the gameplay.

Liu Kang defeated Shao Kahn in the Outworld tournament, but Kahn didn’t die and sets his 10,000-year-old contingency plan in motion. Thousands of years ago, Shao Kahn conquered the realm of Edenia, killed King Jerrod and took Queen Sindel as his bride, raising Princess Kitana as his own daughter. Understandably, Sindel was not thrilled by this arrangement and ended up taking her own life. Now, Shao Kahn has Shang Tsung and his shadow priests resurrect Sindel in Earthrealm, which somehow creates a loophole that allows Kahn to bypass the Mortal Kombat tournament and simply walk into Earthrealm to reclaim his queen.

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Which he does. Outworld and Earthrealm merge, and millions of people are killed instantly while others are hunted down by Outworld’s extermination squads. Raiden can’t interfere any longer because Earth is now ruled by the Outworld gods, but he manages to protect the souls of a few chosen warriors. It’s up to these warriors to once again defeat Shao Kahn and save what’s left of Earthrealm.

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The gameplay has changed quite a bit. The kombat is now faster-paced than it was before, thanks in part to the newly introduced run button, added to address the complaints that MK favored defensive play. Every character now also has chain combos, done by entering pre-defined combo strings. Fatalities, Friendships and Babalities return, and now there is also Mercy (gives the beaten opponent a sliver of health back) and the long-rumored Animality. More on these later. There are three different stage fatalities again, and some stages also let you uppercut the opponent through the ceiling to continue the fight in another stage. The arcade ladder now has selectable difficulties (“Choose your destiny”), with the higher difficulty ladders having more opponents with stronger AI.

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“Kombat Kodes” were touted as a major addition to MK3. Basically, most of these are gameplay modifiers (blocking/throwing disabled, one player starts at 30% health, fighters morph into other characters, etc.) activated by doing certain inputs on both players’ buttons in the VS screen and end up being rather inconsequential in the long run, even though they would show up in some of the later MK games as well.

UMK3Vs--article_imageWhile all of this sounds well and good, not everything was going perfectly behind the scenes at Midway.

Some time after Mortal Kombat II, several of the actors who played the MK characters left Midway over royalty disputes, and a few of them even pursued legal action against the company. The departing cast members were Ho Sung Pak (Liu Kang), his then-girlfriend Katalin Zamiar (Kitana, Mileena, Jade), Elizabeth Malecki (Sonya), Philip Ahn M.D. (Shang Tsung) and Daniel Pesina (Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Reptile, Smoke, Noob Saibot, Johnny Cage), which pretty much meant most of the cast had to be replaced for MK3 or removed, which is what happened to all the ninjas except Sub-Zero who got a new actor and appears unmasked. Johnny Cage, on the other hand, is killed by Shao Kahn’s extermination squads. At least he wasn’t afraid to die.

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After leaving Midway, Daniel Pesina appeared in an ad for an MK clone called Bloodstorm dressed up as Johnny Cage, leading to a long-standing misconception that he was fired for doing the ad. He and his brother Carlos (who played Raiden) apparently also did some work on Data East’s infamous Tattoo Assassins, another MK clone that would never see official release, and this may have contributed to Raiden’s omission (aside from brief cameos) from MK3.

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To replace the old characters that didn’t make it, several new kombatants show up and bring the playable cast up to 15. Some of the MK3 newcomers were quite popular, others… less so.

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THE KOMBATANTS:

Liu Kang (Eddie Wong):

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Liu Kang is still the chosen hero and Grand Champion of Mortal Kombat. His actor may be new, but aside from that and the new chain combos he is still the Liu Kang we know from MKII. Same special moves, same ridiculous voice samples. One of his fatalities involves dropping a Mortal Kombat 1 arcade cabinet (sans Daniel Pesina’s likeness on the side) on the opponent.

Kung Lao (Anthony Marquez):

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Kung Lao tries to reform the White Lotus Society after the events of the previous game, but this plan gets put on hold when Outworld merges with Earthrealm and he needs to join the fight against Shao Kahn as one of Earth’s chosen warriors. In the storyline, he apparently dies while fighting Shao Kahn, and this pisses off Liu Kang enough for him to defeat Kahn and end the invasion. His moveset remains mostly the same as his MKII incarnation, only with the addition with the chain combos and a new double teleport.

Sonya Blade (Kerri Hoskins):

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Sonya sat out the previous game, but now she returns as a playable character with a new actress. Gameplay-wise, her moveset is mostly the same as it was in the first Mortal Kombat, although she now has a bicycle kick move that angles upwards. According to the story, Jax rescued her from Outworld and they attempted to warn the US government of the looming invasion, only to basically get laughed out since they had no proof.

Jax Briggs (John Parrish):

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Jax prepares for the Outworld invasion by outfitting both of his arms with bionic implants that increase his strength and are basically indestructible. He still has all the grab moves from MKII and the energy wave has been replaced with missiles, and he also has a new dash punch.

Nightwolf (Sal Divita):

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A historian and preserver of his people’s culture, Nightwolf uses the powers of his shaman to protect his tribe’s lands from Shao Kahn. His design isn’t necessarily the most interesting, but he has some cool special moves — he can reflect projectiles, shoot energy arrows, and use what is basically Shao Kahn’s shoulder charge from MKII. His charge is almost as annoying to deal with, because it comes out fast.

Kabal (Richard Divizio):

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Kabal is a survivor of an attack from Shao Kahn’s extermination squads, which left him horribly scarred and forced to use a respirator to survive. His identity is a mystery until his ending, where it turns out he used to be a member of the Black Dragon organization. He decides to leave that life behind and become a good guy, but (spoilers) that’s not going to last very long. Kabal fights with hook swords and has some of the most ridiculous combos in MK3.

Kurtis Stryker (Michael O’Brien):

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Well then, here’s one of the less popular new characters. Stryker (whose name is reused from Jax’s original concept) is a pudgy riot control cop with a mullet and backwards cap, a look which didn’t exactly endear him to Mortal Kombat fans. In gameplay he’s actually not bad at all, as he can use his nightstick to trip up opponents from a long distance and spam grenades at an alarmingly quick rate. He also has a gun, but can’t actually fire it in kombat in this game. But seriously, he’s Stryker. Nobody likes Stryker.

Sub-Zero (John Turk):

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The Lin Kuei decided that the best way to make their warriors more efficient was to turn them into soulless cyborgs. Sub-Zero, while quite willing to embrace new technology in general, wasn’t too impressed with this idea and left the clan behind. This, of course, means he’s now marked for death and on the run from a group of cybernetic assassins. Sub-Zero has a couple of new special moves; he can make an ice clone of himself that freezes the opponent if they run into it, and he can also drop an ice blast from above.

Sektor (Sal Divita):

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Also known as Unit LK-9T9, Sektor is one of the Lin Kuei’s new cyborg assassins tasked with hunting down Sub-Zero. He actually volunteered for the cyborgization procedure out of loyalty to the clan, and not having those pesky emotions or soul makes him even more efficient as a warrior. Sektor is armed with missiles of the regular and homing varieties, and his teleport punch is an effective launcher for juggle combos.

Cyrax (Sal Divita):

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Unit LK-4D4 is another Lin Kuei cyborg programmed to find and kill Sub-Zero. However, he fails and ends up getting reprogrammed by Sub-Zero with new orders: Destroy Shao Kahn. Unfortunately for Cyrax, Shao Kahn is destroyed by the other Earthrealm warriors, so he awaits new orders that never come. Blindly heading towards base, Cyrax malfunctions and gets stranded in a desert. In gameplay, he can drop bombs, teleport, and throw a green net that works similarly to Scorpion’s spear.

Kano (Richard Divizio):

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When Jax rescues Sonya from Outworld, Kano also escapes. When he learns of Shao Kahn’s plans to invade Earthrealm, he offers to help the emperor. Kahn keeps him around because someone has to teach the Outworld forces how to use Earthrealm weapons. Kano has a couple of new moves in his arsenal: a diagonal Kanoball, a chokehold, and an upward knife slash. One of his fatalities has him finally using that cybernetic eye for something, in this case shooting a laser out of it.

Shang Tsung (John Turk):

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Shao Kahn’s top sorcerer is back and more powerful than ever, resurrecting Sindel in Earthrealm to set the invasion in motion. He’s still capable of morphing into any other playable character, and can now fire his skull fireballs upwards from the ground.

Sheeva (stop-motion):

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MK3 marks the first time Mortal Kombat has a playable Shokan character. Sheeva was hand-picked as Sindel’s bodyguard by Shao Kahn, although she’s not entirely sure of Kahn’s loyalty to the Shokan especially when Kahn picks the centaur Motaro to lead the Outworld armies. Apparently, Shokan and the Centaurians are natural enemies. Sheeva honestly is kind of boring and one of the less popular MK characters (unless you have a thing for four-armed amazons in skimpy outfits, I guess), although her fatality where she rips off the opponent’s skin is one of the better ones in MK3.

Sindel (Lia Montelongo):

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The most important character in the plot, considering Shao Kahn’s entire invasion revolves around resurrecting her. Sindel looks like a long-lost goth member of Jem and the Holograms, and uses her freakishly long hair for various attacks. She can also stun opponents by screaming at them, or levitate and shoot fireballs from the air. In her ending, Sindel remembers who she is, reunites with her daughter Kitana and helps her liberate their home realm of Edenia after Shao Kahn’s defeat.

BOSSES:

Motaro (stop-motion):

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Well, we’ve had two four-armed sub-bosses and now there’s one on the regular roster, so obviously the next logical step was to include a four-legged sub-boss. As expected, Motaro is a tremendous pain in the ass to fight; he can teleport constantly, his attacks and fireballs do comical amounts of damage and, worst of all, he reflects all projectiles. The most effective strategy seems to be to jump kick as much as possible and hope he dies before you do.

Shao Kahn (Brian Glynn, voiced by Steve Ritchie):

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Here we go again. Shao Kahn has lost his shoulder charge (correction: nope, he definitely still has that, not sure what I was thinking earlier) and green spears, but this time he can do a flying knee attack, shoot fireballs out of his mouth, and clobber you with a giant sledgehammer he pulls out of god knows where. IT’S OFFICIAL. YOU SUCK. At least he still takes the time to gloat and laugh at you, so you can get in some free hits. When you beat Kahn, he explodes once more and the Outworld portal disappears, returning Earth to normal.

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HIDDEN CHARACTERS:

Smoke (Sal Divita):

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Appears as a secret boss, can be unlocked as a playable character with a code. Smoke used to be Sub-Zero’s friend and tried to escape the automation procedure with him, but got captured and turned into Unit LK-7T2, the third of the prototype cyber assassins. However, Smoke retains his soul and turns against his programmed orders, fighting Cyrax and Sektor alongside Sub-Zero. Unfortunately, he later gets captured and deactivated by Shao Kahn’s forces and taken to Outworld, where he remains in the basement of Shao Kahn’s fortress for the next decade or so. In gameplay, he has Sektor’s teleport punch, an invisibility move, and Scorpion’s spear (in this case, a three-pronged harpoon coming out of his stomach) and air throw. One of his fatalities is so ridiculously stupid it’s amazing.

Noob Saibot (Richard Divizio):

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Since there are no ninjas in MK3, Noob Saibot is a black palette swap of Kano with no special moves. In this appearance, Noob is a secret boss you can fight with a code and can’t be unlocked as a playable kombatant.

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Mortal Kombat 3 has a completely new graphics engine, with even more detailed character sprites and prerendered 3D backgrounds in some stages. The setting has changed from the mystical locales of Outworld to what is more or less post-apocalyptic Earth, more specifically a “major North American city” where everyone except the fighters has been killed and there isn’t a single person around (Subway trains still seem to run on time, though). Once again, this means the game looks completely different from the previous MKs and has a unique visual identity, which is quite nice even if some of the character designs are a bit suspect. Even though the realms have been merged, the only real Outworld-y stage is the Soul Chamber that has the big green “Soulnado” (I love that word) in the mouth of a giant monster tree. For the most part, you just see random MK dragon logos and Shao Kahn’s palace in the background.

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The real problems with the visuals begin to surface when you start doing fatalities. Dismemberment in MK3 looks incredibly cheap — seriously, it’s like slicing up a cardboard cutout of a person, complete with the hands still hovering next to the torso when someone gets cut in half. Many, many fatalities end with the victim exploding into a pile of skulls, ribcages and way too many limbs.

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NightwolfAnimality

The aforementioned Animalities just have the character morph into a cheap-looking sprite of an animal and attack the opponent, maybe ending in one of the bone explosions if you’re lucky. At least the Friendships are still quite amusing (my favorite is Shang Tsung morphing into the bird from Joust and bouncing across the screen, and Cyrax’s Charleston dance isn’t too bad either), especially with Shao Kahn going “Friendship. Friendship?! AGAIN?”

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The fatalities in general are quite silly compared to the previous games. Smoke dropping so many bombs he blows up the entire planet is so ridiculous it’s good, but Jax growing into a giant for no reason and stomping on the opponent is just dumb.

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Kabal reveals his horrible face and turns to scream at the camera in almost exactly the same manner as Large Marge in Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, then screams at the opponent who is so frightened that their soul literally runs away from their body. Uh, okay then. Cyrax blows himself up along with his opponent, which is a bit counterproductive in my opinion.

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The music is almost completely forgettable this time around. The sound effects fare better, with the wind howling through the city and the punches and kicks being as satisfying as ever, although some of the grunts and screams are beginning to sound a bit too silly.

The introduction of the chain combos, or dial-a-combos as they’re often called, received a mixed reception from players. Some liked doing big damage by memorizing the combo strings, others hated it or simply preferred the old manual juggle combos from MKII. You can still do custom combos in MK3, but since the damage scaling is completely out of whack you can do more damage with a short combo string than you’d do with a much more involved custom combo. Of course, you could combine the two to an extent, but you can’t cancel a combo string into a special move or anything like that. The run button and the changes it brought to the gameplay weren’t universally beloved either.

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Mortal Kombat 3 was, once again, ported to several platforms. Both of the 16-bit versions were developed by Sculptured Software, who were responsible for the SNES ports of MK and MKII. While they don’t look anywhere near as good as the arcade version, they do play quite well and neither version has a huge advantage over the other. The Genesis version doesn’t even have Matt Furniss‘ soundtrack this time, since Probe was no longer involved. The AI in both versions is also insanely brutal and reads your inputs like a champ.

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SNES

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Genesis

The PC version was decent once more, but the PlayStation port was probably the most arcade perfect despite the slightly lowered resolution and the usual loading times. For a while, it was even rumored that the PlayStation would get the only MK3 home port, but obviously that didn’t happen. Before that, there were plans to release the game on the Jaguar CD, but that version never materialized. Years later, Mortal Kombat 3 was released alongside MKII on the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 collection for PS2, Xbox and GameCube, and if you want to play MK3 today that is probably the version to go for. But really, why would you play MK3 today in the first place?

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Only a few months after MK3’s initial launch, around the time the console ports were coming out, Midway released Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in the arcades. This updated version was an all-around improvement; it had refined gameplay, more modes, and several returning characters including fan favorite Scorpion. MK3 was immediately obsolete.

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Next: Encounter the Ultimate

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