Mortal Kombat 3 was not a bad game at all and was very successful, but it did feel like the game was rushed to the market. Several fan favorite characters (including Ed Boon’s favorite, Scorpion) were missing, and some of the characters that were there had combos and special moves that were simply broken. To fix these issues and appease the arcade owners that might have been burned by the quick home console release of MK3 only a few months after the initial launch, Midway rolled out an upgraded version. Enter Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.
As the name suggests, Ultimate MK3 is not a new game but a Super Street Fighter II style update, the first time Midway would release an upgraded version of an existing Mortal Kombat game instead of making a new one. The storyline is exactly the same and still centers around Shao Kahn’s invasion of Earthrealm, all the MK3 characters are still there, all their special moves and fatalities are there, nearly all of the stages are there, the somewhat inconsistent tone is still there, but there is now more of everything. More characters, more stages, more modes, more specials.
As you might imagine, this game essentially makes MK3 obsolete, although some of the presentation has taken a hit. The old intro is gone and none of the MK3 characters have their bios, and everyone’s bio and ending now consist of their VS screen picture and some text. This is only a minor gripe, really, but I really did like the old attract mode and the ending slides for each character.
Speaking of characters, Ultimate MK3 increases the playable roster to 22 kombatants, 23 if you include Human Smoke who doesn’t show up on the select screen but can be played by inputting a code. The 16-bit console versions have a slightly different roster with a total of 26 playable fighters (including Shao Kahn and Motaro, who can be unlocked with codes). Sheeva is missing from these ports, most likely because her sprites wouldn’t fit on the cartridge.
NEW UMK3 KOMBATANTS:
Scorpion (John Turk):
Everyone’s favorite ninja spectre returns after Shao Kahn tries and fails to steal the souls from Earth’s hell. Kahn enlists his help in the Earthrealm invasion, but Scorpion turns on him upon finding out that Sub-Zero is one of the chosen Earthrealm warriors. He joins Sub-Zero and the rest of the good guys in the final battle against Shao Kahn. In-game, Scorpion’s moveset is mostly unaltered from MKII, although he no longer has his leg grab. He also uses a pair of battle axes in his chain combos. For his animality, he turns into a penguin that lays an exploding egg. Not making that up, by the way.
Sheeva already had the scorpion morph in MK3, so they had to come up with something else. I still think they could’ve come up with something more dignified, not that animalities were ever that popular in the first place.
Kitana (Becky Gable):
Princess Kitana of Edenia is on the run from Shao Kahn’s warriors after being accused of treason by the High Courts of Outworld. The reason for such accusations? Well, she found out her twin sister Mileena was actually a horrible evil clone created by Shang Tsung, the two fought and Kitana killed her clone. Just like Scorpion, she also keeps most of her MKII moveset and still attacks with her steel fans.
Jade (Becky Gable):
Jade appears as a playable character for the first time, gaining a moveset of her own. She can throw razor boomerang projectiles and use a shadow kick, and can also activate temporary invulnerability to projectiles. While you see her wielding a long metal staff in her win pose, she doesn’t actually use it outside her fatalities and chain combo animations. In the storyline, Shao Kahn tasks her with hunting down her fellow Edenian Kitana, but Jade can’t bring herself to harm her longtime friend and ends up fighting alongside Kitana and the Earthrealm warriors.
Reptile (John Turk):
Reptile was also tasked with hunting down Kitana, but unlike Jade, his loyalty to Shao Kahn is unwavering (despite Kahn treating him like shit) and he tries to assassinate the princess. Jade foils this attempt and Reptile is captured, taken to Edenia as a prisoner, and banished to the Netherrealm after Kahn’s defeat. As is the case with the other returning characters, he generally retains his moveset from the previous game, although he does also get a new elbow dash move. His animality is, naturally, a chimpanzee that chases the opponent off the screen. What? That’s perfectly sensible! He’s already a lizard man, so why would he turn into a lizard for his animality?
Mileena (Becky Gable):
As mentioned before, Mileena was killed in her fight with Kitana. However, she finds herself brought back to life and fighting for Shao Kahn, who could really use her vicious fighting skills and ability to read Kitana’s thoughts (which the writers totally didn’t pull out of their asses). Her moves are exactly the same as before, which isn’t really a problem because she was one of the better characters in MKII in the first place. Her fatalities still suck, though. Literally.
Mileena is the first of the secret playable fighters that have to be unlocked with an “Ultimate Kombat Kode”, a horrendously long and complicated code you input at the game over screen. She is playable from the start in the SNES and Genesis versions, though.
Classic Sub-Zero (John Turk):
Ooooooh, Chinese Ninja Warr… ah damn it, we’re not doing this again. Since this game didn’t have enough palette swapped ninjas, the original Sub-Zero shows up as the second secret character (unlocked with another Ultimate Kombat Kode, of course, and playable from the start in the 16-bit versions). Surprisingly enough, he plays like Sub-Zero, and has the classic spine rip fatality from MK1. Except not really, because the screen blacks out when he grabs the opponent’s head. The MK wiki says this was done to “parody the controversy surrounding the move”, but all I see is a really terrible fatality. His other one, where he creates a huge icicle on the floor and impales his opponent on it, is quite good.
According to his ending, Classic Sub-Zero might not be the old Bi-Han at all — it’s assumed that he is, but when he takes off his mask, everyone is shocked to see “a warrior who has long been missing from a previous Mortal Kombat, and one who will return in the fourth tournament.” Yeah, sure he is. The glorious return of Nimbus Terrafaux, Hornbuckle, or Ermac is upon us.
Ermac (John Turk):
Oh. Well then.
Ermac was originally a rumored secret character in the first Mortal Kombat game, supposedly a red palette swap/glitch version of Scorpion. The source for this rumor was the audits screen of the original arcade cabinet, which had an entry for “ERMACS” right beneath “Reptile Battles”. Because this was the early 90s, this obviously had to mean there was a secret fighter named Ermac.
Actually, “ermacs” was short for error macros, basically a log for instances of the game crashing. While this was meant to be a diagnostics tool for the developers, the actual counter ended up not functioning in the final version of the game. There was never a red ninja, and even if there were, he wouldn’t have been Ermac. As one of the messages you get when you beat Mortal Kombat II tells you, Ermac does not exist. Well, not until this game, anyway. He’s the third and final Ultimate Kombat Kode character and, just like the others, is playable from the start in the 16-bit ports.
While his storyline is some of the most low-effort nonsense in an MK game thus far (basically “uh, he exists now and… we don’t know, play the next game or something”) and he is yet another ninja palette swap, Ermac actually is pretty interesting from a gameplay standpoint as he has some extremely cool telekinesis-based moves and fatalities.
Human Smoke (John Turk):
Smoke’s human form is playable by inputting a code after selecting Robot Smoke as your character. He has Scorpion’s special moves, and his only fatality is the old decapitation uppercut. Not very interesting, really, and isn’t even a canon character in the storyline, but his combos can wreck everything.
Noob Saibot (John Turk):
Jesus christ how many goddamn ninjas… Noob Saibot is not a playable character in the arcade version, but the 16-bit versions have him selectable right from the start and give him his own moveset for the first time. He can throw a shadow ball that disables the opponent’s moves and blocking, perform a teleport grab, and send his shadow clone to attack the opponent. The story introduces him as a creature of the Netherrealm and member of the mysterious Brotherhood of Shadow, serving the fallen Elder God known as Shinnok.
Noob was also playable in the online-enabled Wavenet version of the arcade machine, but only the 16-bit ports had his moveset.
Rain (John Turk):
Oh boy, another one! Rain wasn’t an actual character in the arcade version of UMK3, only appearing briefly in the intro video where he fought Shao Kahn. Ed Boon put him there to create speculation and, of course, to make a silly Prince reference. You know, his name is Rain and he’s purple. His name in the energy bar doesn’t even use the same font as the others so you’d think people would realize he’s not an actual character, but… well, it’s Mortal Kombat, so they looked for him anyway and shoved more quarters into the machines to do so.
Rain was included as a playable character in the 16-bit ports, with his own moveset. He can fire mind control orbs, shoot opponents with lightning, or roundhouse kick them so hard they come out of the other side of the screen. At this point, he has no storyline, but later games would establish him as… well, a prince from Edenia.
Along with the usual arcade ladder, Ultimate MK3 has a team battle mode (basically endurance rounds with a human player on both sides) and an 8-player tournament. If you finish the arcade mode (which isn’t easy because the AI has been cranked up and endurance rounds are back) or the 8-player tournament mode, you get to access “Shao Kahn’s lost treasures”. These treasures can be demonstrations of the game’s fatalities, fights with the secret characters, and things like that.
The 16-bit ports have fewer boxes to choose from, but the skull icon all the way to the right is always the “Supreme Demonstration” which shows every fatality, friendship and babality in the game. That was pretty neat back in the day, because we had no internet and had no idea how to perform any finishers whatsoever.
The gameplay stays mostly intact from MK3, although it has been rebalanced and characters no longer have as many cheap moves and combos. Some characters also get new moves, Stryker for example can finally shoot his gun during fights. He’s still Stryker so your mileage may vary on whether you actually want to play as him, but he’s definitely even better now when it comes to the gameplay.
Ultimate MK3 was initially ported to the Sega Saturn, Genesis and SNES in 1996, with Williams doing the publishing. The Saturn version, developed by Eurocom, is obviously the best-looking of the bunch and plays well aside from the usual load time issues. This version is in fact more like an MK3 port with the UMK3 content added in, rather than a straight port from the arcade. It actually has the Bank stage as well, which is missing from the arcade version of UMK3.
Avalanche Software (not to be confused with the Just Cause developers, these guys were the successor to Sculptured Software) handled the 16-bit ports. The SNES and Genesis weren’t exactly equipped to handle an arcade game as advanced as Ultimate MK3, so a lot of concessions had to be made to fit the game on the cramped 16-bit cartridges. The graphics were severely downgraded, most of the voices were removed, Sheeva was taken out altogether and replaced with Noob and Rain, animalities were replaced with Brutalities (basically MK’s version of Killer Instinct’s Ultra combos), and nearly all MK3 stages had to be removed.
The 16-bit ports don’t play too badly despite the cutbacks, and all the game modes including 8-player kombat are there, so that’s something. Another character called Chameleon was planned for these ports, but didn’t make the cut.
In 2001, UMK3 was ported to the Game Boy Advance as Mortal Kombat Advance. This version is a barely functional trainwreck and we don’t talk about it. The Nintendo DS version a few years later, Ultimate Mortal Kombat, fared much better and is about as arcade perfect as you could get on a handheld at that point. A roughly arcade perfect version was released on Xbox Live Arcade for the Xbox 360 in 2007, but has been delisted from the service since then and can only be played if you bought it before its removal.
The Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection has Ultimate MK3, and once again it’s probably your best bet unless you decide to emulate the arcade game. The Kollection does still suffer from some issues as we’ve established, but at least the initially shoddy online has been fixed long ago. There is also an iOS version with 3D graphics, but you really don’t want to play fighting games on a touch screen.
When you ask a Mortal Kombat fan what their favorite classic MK is, they will most likely answer either MKII or Ultimate MK3. While UMK3 still suffers somewhat from being Mortal Kombat 3 at its core, it is the most well-rounded and balanced game in the classic series and also the only one that has any kind of a competitive community. If I had to choose between MKII and UMK3 with someone holding a gun or hooksword to my head, I’d pick the former but it’s really quite a close decision.
Ultimate MK3 was a massive upgrade over vanilla MK3, so you’d think that would be it for the MK3 engine and the next game would be the all-singing, all-dancing, all-new Mortal Kombat 4. Unfortunately, Midway had other ideas.
Next: LET’S RUN THIS SHIT INTO THE GROUND