The Mortal Kombat tournaments have been going on a long time, even within the story of the games. The first fans saw of the series was in the ’90s when fighting games were still a new genre, and violence of any kind in games was shocking. Even the pixelated blood splatters of the original Mortal Kombat had many feeling appalled, and helped spur the game industry to create the ESRB rating system to warn people of mature content in games.
The influence of the series is pretty well known, and its popularity is still going strong today. But with so many games in the series, some will inevitably be better than others. Each tournament has different characters who have had varying levels of success appealing to fans, and some characters have starred in games that weren’t tournaments at all, leading to some unusual results. So we’ve sorted through all the blood and the dozens of ninjas to look at Every Mortal Kombat Game, Ranked Worst To Best.
15. MORTAL KOMBAT: SPECIAL FORCES (2000)
It turns out that the worst Mortal Kombat game isn’t even a fighting game at all. The series’ attempt to veer into action games always had the potential to be terrible, as it already had been before Special Forces even hit shelves. Mortal Kombat Mythologies was pretty awful years earlier, but we’ll get to that in a moment. Special Forces was supposed to focus on Jax and Sonya trying to capture Kano, but a rushed development led to Sonya being cut and Jax being the star. We’re not off to a hot start here.
What’s worse is that Special Forces is chronologically the first game in the series, meant to take place before even the first Mortal Kombat. Which is also kind of bizarre, since Jax has his metal arms here despite not getting them until after Mortal Kombat II. But Special Forces isn’t a game you want to play for the story, since there isn’t much of one. The problem is, the other aspects of the game aren’t much better. The graphics are ugly, Jax is given obnoxious one-liners, and you’re left with a boring action game that feels like a Metal Gear Solid title that had every ounce of fun surgically removed. The critics panned the game, and the original creators of Mortal Kombat had so little involvement with Special Forces that they’ve washed their hands of the final result.
14. MORTAL KOMBAT MYTHOLOGIES: SUB-ZERO (1997)
This was a dark period for the series, with the transition being made into new stories after Mortal Kombat 3 didn’t go over all that well. In theory, Mythologies seemed like a good idea, though. It took one of the most interesting characters from the franchise, expanded on his story, and was going to allow players to use Sub-Zero‘s ice powers in an action game. That all sounds pretty good. But the execution left us with a terrible experience.
Despite being an action game, Mythologies still played like a fighting game, mostly pitting the player in one-on-one encounters full of punches, kicks, and Sub-Zero’s usual move arsenal. While that system worked for a fighting game, it was tedious in an action title, and everything was further hampered by bad controls that made it a chore just to change directions. Throw in poor platforming and puzzles that utilize those bad controls, and you get a game that’s simply not a fun time. It was okay for expanding on the story of Quan Chi, Shinnok, and Sub-Zero, but that’s nothing you can’t learn from just reading Wikipedia’s plot summary.
13. MORTAL KOMBAT 4 / GOLD (1997)
The only reason Mortal Kombat 4 isn’t dead last on this list is because of the franchise’s misguided foray into action titles. But as far as the worst fighting game in the franchise, MK4 still takes the crown. The new roster of characters was very forgettable, and in some cases, the additions just felt like inferior ripoffs of preexisting characters (like Reiko being a worse version of Shao Kahn). It’s no coincidence that Quan Chi is pretty much the only new character from this game to have been consistently brought back for additional entries.
To be fair, this was the first 3-D game in the franchise, and every game series had a tough time figuring out how to adapt their brand to a third dimension. The game’s ugly graphics and infamously laughable voice acting could be forgiven, but the fact that it’s an outright chore to get through can’t be. Every 3-D game in the series flows better than this one, so this is pretty much just a game to check out if you want to see the developers’ first draft of far better 3-D titles.
12. MORTAL KOMBAT: ARMAGEDDON (2006)
Poor Armageddon. In terms of content, it looked like it should be a good game. It not only had every single playable character in the franchise, but it even let you create your own characters. How could that go wrong?
The answer was that with so many characters, there wasn’t time to make them all unique, so many of the fighters wound up playing the same. The fighting system was overly simplified from the nuance that the previous 3-D games had been building upon, so every character featured fewer moves as well. Even the fatality system was short-changed, as it tried to mask the lack of character-specific finishing moves by having you create your own fatality system for every character. In the end, gamers were left bashing their opponents around in the same generic way, regardless of who was on the screen.
Armageddon is playable, but it may be the most bland title in the whole series, as it found itself lacking the personality of prior entries. This game did serious damage to the Mortal Kombat brand, and the whole franchise ended up needing a reboot to set everything back on track.
11. MORTAL KOMBAT VS. DC UNIVERSE (2008)
Believe it or not, this game actually is (officially) considered to be Mortal Kombat 8. It’s weird to think as much, since half of the cast aren’t even MK characters, but this mixing of worlds actually isn’t all that bad. A lot of the series’ best characters are basically like superheroes, so it makes sense that they’d find competition in the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman.
Of course, this game isn’t ranked too high for a reason. It’s not terrible, but it’s also obviously not a full-on Mortal Kombat game, either. One aspect that everyone was critical of was that this was the first MK game rated T for teen, instead of being given its usual mature rating. That meant none of the series’ signature blood and gore (a downgrade that can likely be chalked up to the DC characters’ presence). The game was a fun diversion, but the Mortal Kombat universe would have more tie-ins with DC as the years went on, and those later crossovers would wind up being a hell of a lot more exciting than this one.
10. MORTAL KOMBAT (1992)
A lot of you are not going to be thrilled to see this game’s relatively low placement on this list. This is the game that started the franchise, what the hell?! Yes, and in terms of originality and influence, the first Mortal Kombat is spectacular. But this isn’t about which games had the biggest impact on the video game industry. This is simply about which of these games are the most enjoyable to play. Are you seriously going to come back to the first Mortal Kombat over a lot of the newer entries in the franchise? For a nostalgia kick, maybe. Other than that, pretty much every good game in the franchise improves on this one and makes it superfluous.
Mortal Kombat was fine for its time, and a game-changer in every sense, but its character roster was small, its combos were nearly nonexistent, and the real-life actors used in the game looked like people from around the office dressed in Halloween costumes. If you were a gamer when this came out, you were intrigued by the title’s unprecedented violence, you traded secrets with friends over how to fight Reptile, and you had a blast losing all your quarters trying to take down Goro. It was a good time. But facts are facts, and if you put this on for any teenager nowadays, they’ll laugh that this was ever considered edgy and ask to play one of the later titles that has four times as many fighters to choose from.
9. MORTAL KOMBAT 3 (1995)
Mortal Kombat 3 threw a lot of new things at the wall to see what would stick, so the game is understandably a mixed bag. It introduced a much-needed combo system to the franchise, but also threw in a new ability to run that totally changed the pace of the game. If you weren’t an aggressive player, you probably weren’t going to have a great time constantly being rushed by your opponent. Fighting game enthusiasts got more enjoyment out of the new style, but this became a bit off-putting for casual players.
Another big drawback was the fact that this was the first Mortal Kombat that started introducing characters that fans were really not enjoying. We already had a Goro clone with Kintaro, but now we had another in Sheeva. And the game also introduced Stryker, who is still one of the worst characters to appear in the franchise, since he looks more like a pizza boy than the cop he’s supposed to be.
And of course, the biggest faux pas of the game was the removal of some of the franchise’s most popular characters, which didn’t sit well with a lot of fans. Kitana was gone, Sub-Zero wasn’t wearing his iconic mask, and series mascot Scorpion was totally absent. MK3 had the groundwork for a good game, but it wasn’t until some revisions came along and made it feel like a brand new title that players got the “ultimate” experience.
8. MORTAL KOMBAT: DEADLY ALLIANCE (2002)
After the disaster that was Mortal Kombat 4, the series was in desperate need of a game to get things back on track. Other fighting game franchises like Tekken and Soul Calibur had made the jump to 3-D, so Mortal Kombat needed to prove it could hang in the new era. Deadly Alliance set out to prove it was making big changes right off the bat, having longtime series protagonist Liu Kang get killed off in the game’s opening cut scene. Shao Kahn was also killed off, making a clear indication that the story was setting the stage for a new generation. And it…sort of worked.
The game plays fine, and was certainly better than MK4. But that whole new generation thing? It didn’t really pan out so well, as Deadly Alliance actually introduced almost as many unpopular new faces as MK4 did. There was the random vampire character (Nitara), there was the game’s discount Kano (Hsu Hao), and of course, the worst character in the entire franchise (Mokap). And that’s not even mentioning the game’s questionable fighting choices, like the super cheap ability to impale your opponent with a sword and have their health slowly drain for the remainder of the round.
Deadly Alliance showed that there was still life in the Mortal Kombat franchise, but other than a decent combat foundation and a handful of memorable new characters, there isn’t much here that has stood the test of time.
7. MORTAL KOMBAT: SHAOLIN MONKS (2005)
Hey, look, a Mortal Kombat spinoff that didn’t turn out to be terrible! This was the type of game that Mythologies should have been, playing like a 3-D beat ‘em up akin to God of War rather than trying to keep the same formula as the fighting games. And it’s not like the story to Shaolin Monks was Earth-shattering or anything, as it was basically just retreading the story of the first two MK titles. But with all the supernatural elements of the series, it just transitioned very well to being a fast-paced actioner.
Even with the different play style, Shaolin Monks still retained all the things people look forward to in a Mortal Kombat game. Bosses could be defeated with fatalities, there were a ton of secrets and Easter eggs to find, and there were even a variety of ways to play. It worked fine as a single player experience, you could team up with a friend for co-op, or you could even play it as a versus game. And in addition to playing as Liu Kang and Kung Lao, Sub-Zero and Scorpion were also unlockable characters. This is far and away the best spinoff game of the series.
6. INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US (2013)
We know, we know, this one’s not under the Mortal Kombat brand. But Scorpion is in the game, and Netherrealm Studios, who had made Mortal Kombat 9, brought their battle system over to Injustice. So even though this only had one MK character in the entire game, it still had the same vibe as MK9. If you were hankering for a similar game while waiting for Mortal Kombat X, Injustice turned out to be a pretty solid surrogate.
In terms of Mortal Kombat’s crossovers with DC, this game blows MK vs DCU out of the water. The fighting system is more refined, the roster is far more expansive, and the characters are so much more brutal that Scorpion doesn’t even feel out of place among them. Given how fun this mini-crossover was, we certainly have high hopes for the sequel, Injustice 2, which is set to drop this May. But obviously, a surrogate game can only tide you over for so long, and if you want the true experience of the Mortal Kombat franchise, you have to go for the real thing.
5. MORTAL KOMBAT: DECEPTION (2004)
This was when the series’ titles finally hit their stride. It took the fighting system that worked well in Deadly Alliance and fleshed it out by adding in new elements, like destructible stage environments and instant death traps in the levels. The characters also got an upgrade, since Deadly Alliance just featured Shang Tsung and Quan Chi — both of whom were playable characters — as the last bosses. Deception gave us back the cheap, powerful bosses Mortal Kombat fans have grown accustomed to, introducing newcomer Onaga along the way.
Unfortunately, like Deadly Alliance, Deception’s new generation characters weren’t all that spectacular. While there was no one infamously bad, most of the new cast was just plain generic. But the returning characters were all good, including the Gamecube’s exclusive access to playable versions of Goro and Shao Kahn. Plus, Deception included lots of extras to keep you busy, including the series’ first serious story mode, Mortal Kombat Chess, and even Mortal Kombat Puzzle Fighter.
4. MORTAL KOMBAT II (1993)
Mortal Kombat II did exactly what people have come to expect of fighting games, taking everything that was good about the original and building upon it to make an even bigger game. The only sacrifices were Kano and Sonya no longer being playable characters — since they had been the least popular in the original — but we gained a lot in exchange. This is the only sequel in the series where every single character proved to be a hit and would become recurring favorites.
Even beyond the originality that MKII brought to the table, it’s also a very easy game to come back to today. The character moves are easy to learn, but creative players also found depth in the fighting system by finding ways to create their own combos before the series officially had a combo system. Some still view this as the pinnacle of the series to this day, because everything it introduced was a marked improvement over what came before.
3. MORTAL KOMBAT 9 (2011)
This almost reboot of the series gave the Mortal Kombat franchise life again. After the damage that had been done by Armageddon (both story-wise and by the weakening fanbase), the narrative went all the way back to the first tournament. Rather than introducing any new characters, the game was a combination of the rosters of the first three Mortal Kombats (including Stryker, unfortunately). This game wasn’t about doing something new, but returning to what worked and updating it for the modern era.
Some fans call this their favorite game in the franchise, and that’s totally understandable. MK9 does a lot of things right, making the series accessible to both newcomers and old fans alike. Even the story mode is enjoyable, which is a rare thing for fighting games. But the game is also very safe, and it wasn’t clear at this point whether this was a revitalization for the series, or just a nostalgic reunion. Still, it’s a great game to come back to, and it takes the shocking violence that put the series on the map to new heights.
2. ULTIMATE MORTAL KOMBAT 3 / MORTAL KOMBAT TRILOGY (1995)
Back before DLC was a thing, companies actually had to release an entirely new game to add content to their title. So this might just be the decidedly mediocre Mortal Kombat 3 with more stuff, but those additions were much needed, and they turned this new iteration of the game into the definitive version. If you ever put on MK3, your friends will just ask why you don’t have Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 or Trilogy instead.
UMK3 remedies the problems of its original version by not only adding Scorpion and Kitana back in, but throwing in new ninjas for every color of the rainbow. So the roster was immediately better, but the game also introduced new mechanics and levels, further fleshing out the gameplay.
Trilogy is basically just the same game with a few more characters, like the opportunity to play as Goro, so it’s really up to personal choice which version you like more. If the extra handful of characters and some classic stages are worth it, you play Trilogy. But some fans also find the graphics to be a bit worse and the gameplay to be more unbalanced, so they prefer UMK3. Either way, you’re getting one of the best games of the franchise.
1. MORTAL KOMBAT X (2015)
Let’s face it: no matter what game we picked for the top slot, our choice would have had its share of detractors. Frankly, you could make a case for any of the top four games on our list being the best, but MKX marks the first time in a long time that the series has felt like a return to its prime. MKX not only refines the combat system of MK9, but it continues the story and takes it in a fresh, original direction. This isn’t depending on nostalgia to be well-received, it’s just introducing intriguing new elements that work well. It boasts a huge roster of characters, and in a Mortal Kombat rarity, the majority of the new characters are actually pretty great. From the gunslinger Erron Black, to the creepy D’Vorah, and the cocky Cassie Cage, the newcomers are packed with personality.
The PC version was a mess for a while, which hurt reception of the game a bit, but it appears to finally be on par with the consoles now. And, as is the trend for fighting games nowadays, MKX has only gotten better with time. New costumes have come out, characters have been balanced, and there are plenty of great DLC characters to choose from, ranging from Goro to the Predator from the 1987 sci-fi classic. MK9 was solid, but MKX brings all the best elements of its predecessors back to the table while tacking on enough new components to make the series feel like it’s back to its glory days again.
Which Mortal Kombat game do you come back to the most? Should the original have gotten more love? Tell us which game is your favorite and why in the comments!
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