Mortal Kombat has been a prominent pawn on the fighting board since '92, spanning eleven chapters plus spin-offs on almost every gaming platform on the market. Although struggling to find ground during the late 2000s after Midway closed its doors due to bankruptcy, NetherRealm‘s takeover swiftly managed to resurrect the franchise and, as a result, paved the way to a long and fruitful timeline of blood-soaked chapters choc-full of brutality.
Looking back, Mortal Kombat has made such an influence on the fighting genre, with most newcomers still drawing blood from the same vein. And that's something that'll never change, so long as NetherRealm continue to flush out instalments to their acclaimed series and stay true to their award-winning recipe for success. But having said all that, there are five games in the timeline that tend to stand out more so than others. Five that, even when extracted from the same vein, still outshine the majority of the sibling juggernauts. But then, as always, you're free to decide whether or not we've hit the nail on the head — or missed the ballpark entirely.
5. Mortal Kombat 2
Although the 1992 Mortal Kombat debut did lay the foundations for brutal fighting styles and next-level environments, there was still a lot that needed to be polished in order for the series to truly snag a foothold in the industry. And luckily, that's where the second chapter rolled in, with almost every detail being tweaked to near-perfection for the arcade platform.
Mortal Kombat 2 was a major leap in the right direction for Midway, and, to be honest, a lunge that would practically carve the likes of Johnny Cage and friends in stone for the foreseeable future. Midway had finally found its centre, and the only way forward was through the formula they had cooked to perfection. Following on from that, an entire pipeline of ambitious works would unravel, with Midway ultimately fighting tooth and nail in order to keep their beloved flagship series soaring for decades.
4. Mortal Kombat: Deception
Two years after Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance took the world by storm with its pristine innovations, Midway finally followed up with another groundbreaking console release. Mortal Kombat: Deception, just like the previous entry, introduced a whole bunch of new characters and finger-licking fighting styles, along with a fresh take on the narrative and its twisted story arcs. And that's pretty much just the icing on the cake, to be fair. A four-tier wedding cake drizzled in blood, at that.
Midway had taken Mortal Kombat and trialled multiple things over the first decade on the road, with only half of the innovations going on to make a lasting impression. However, when it came to crafting the Deadly Alliance sequel, the team just knew what to gloss over and what to build upon. And it's because of that keen eye for detail and genuine connection the team had with Mortal Kombat's beating heart, that Deception went on to become the new benchmark for the franchise, eventually dethroning the earlier entries altogether.
3. Mortal Kombat (2011)
After running the course right down to the wire, Mortal Kombat had to make a change — especially if it was ever going to capture a new audience and evolve as a fighting platform. Of course, we won't pretend that the previous releases were anything short of phenomenal in their own way. It's just that, well — something needed to change, and with NetherRealm sliding in to hog the reigns, then was the time to draw new blood from another chunky vein.
After dipping into the likes of DC Comics and other formidable pools, Mortal Kombat needed to wipe the slate clean and start over, with a shrine that would ultimately bring back the original 1992 charm. And thankfully, that's the exact vision NetherRealm had in mind after plotting roots in 2011. Rather than dabbling in cross-overs and rehashed worlds, the team instead chose to build from the ground up, launching Mortal Kombat as a soft reboot. And let's just say that was probably the smartest move the franchise ever made. So, thanks for that, NetherRealm.
2. Mortal Kombat X
NetherRealm's tenth spin on Mortal Kombat was a prime example of what a fighting game should thrive to become. From the brutal finishers to the fast-paced narrative, Mortal Kombat X proved to its contenders that, even with a worn roster of characters, the series still had all the best-selling ingredients to concoct a masterpiece. And then some.
Being the tenth chapter in the timeline, NetherRealm had the lofty goal of completely raising the stakes without resorting to rehashed material and recycled move sets. Without rounding back to frailed mechanics, the team knew they had to establish new roots in order to stay relevant. And to that degree, Mortal Kombat X paid off flawlessly, becoming one of the freshest and most energetic titles in the series to date.
1. Mortal Kombat 11
Following on from the global success of Mortal Kombat X, NetherRealm were quick to serve up the XL edition, effectively biding their time while the next major chapter went under the hammer. And to be fair, the four-year development phase was well worth the wait, seeing as Mortal Kombat 11 was, in fact, the best game the studio ever put out, leaving a rather short space for future manoeuvres.
Bringing back the well-loved brutality that forged the very brand, Mortal Kombat 11 enveloped practically everything that players could ever need and want from the series. Throwing in another epic tale packed full of blood, sweat and tears, the eleventh chapter lit the way for a brand new story arc, which players all over the world were, and still very much are desperate to watch unravel. Speaking of which, Mortal Kombat 12 should be coming our way in April 2023. Until then, we'll just have to bite our tongues and settle for the earlier chapters in the series. But then — it's not as though we're short on pages or anything.