By the end of 1996, Mortal Kombat and 2D fighters in general were starting to get overshadowed by 3D fighting games, although MK was still going strong and remained a popular franchise despite the failure of the Defenders of the Realm cartoon (Yes, of course they made a Saturday morning cartoon about Mortal Kombat. That wasn’t such a bad idea on paper since Mortal Kombat was extremely popular with kids who weren’t supposed to play the games but did anyway, but the show was all kinds of terrible and was cancelled after the first 13 episodes) and the ludicrous Mortal Kombat live tour, which featured people in bad MK cosplay outfits doing goofy martial arts shows for kid audiences. Yes, Mortal Kombat was still considered kind of cool after all that nonsense. A new movie and live action TV show were in the works, so it didn’t seem like MK was going to become old news anytime soon.
Midway was considering an Ultimate MK3 port for the PlayStation, but the team figured that since there was so much space on the CD, they might as well throw in all of the MK and MKII assets and let Avalanche Software (the guys behind the UMK3 ports for SNES and Genesis) do whatever they wanted with them while Boon and co. were busy making Mortal Kombat 4. The UMK3 port became Mortal Kombat Trilogy, and by this point the MK3 engine was starting to get rather creaky. The plot is still the same with Shao Kahn being a jerk and invading Earthrealm, blah blah, we’ve heard that before.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the PlayStation, PC and Saturn has every single character that had appeared in the 2D Mortal Kombat games, including the bosses, on the playable roster right from the start. Some characters even have separate MK1 or MKII versions, using their sprites and attacks from those games. There is a new secret character called Chameleon, who is yet another palette swapped ninja who alternates between the looks and movesets of the other ninjas. Hooray? At least Johnny Cage, Raiden and Baraka are back, which is nice. Everyone except the bosses gets proper ending slides as well, so that’s something.
Meanwhile, the N64 version by Midway runs into some trouble due to the lack of storage space on the cartridge (the game came out around the N64’s launch, so there were no 256-megabit cartridges or anything like that to help squeeze the game into an N64 cart). This version omits Goro and Kintaro from the playable roster, removes the alternate MK1/2 versions of characters, condenses the two Sub-Zeros into one, and requires a code to unlock Shao Kahn and Motaro as playable characters. Chameleon doesn’t show up and in his place is Khameleon, a female version of the character. She at least has a storyline, so she isn’t a total waste of a character.
Johnny Cage (Chris Alexander):
Killed by Motaro when the Outworld invasion began, Johnny Cage eventually finds his soul restored and ends up fighting alongside the Earthrealm warriors once more before moving on into the afterlife. Cage has new sprites, but plays the same as always. Nice to see him back, anyway.
Raiden (Carlos Pesina, VS screen pose by Sal Divita):
Raiden gives up his immortality to help the Earthrealm’s chosen warriors fight against Shao Kahn. That’s really all there is to be said about his storyline here. (As you may have noticed, the characters’ storylines are getting less and less interesting and are mainly just an excuse to bring them back). MK1 Raiden doesn’t actually have running sprites, so he just walks really fast when you press the button, and his chain combos are just the regular attack animations chained together and sped up.
Baraka (Richard Divizio):
Baraka is back and working with Shao Kahn to help him take over Earthrealm. That’s about it. He has a new spinning blade attack, which was supposed to be in MKII but the sprites went unused until this game.
Chameleon (John Turk):
As I said before, he’s a ninja who constantly cycles between the palettes and movesets of the other ninjas. May or may not be a member of Reptile’s Saurian race, but since they didn’t bother writing a bio for him, who knows. More to the point, who cares. We’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. Only appears in the CD versions.
Khameleon (Becky Gable):
The N64 exclusive character at least is, well, a character. She is the last female survivor of the Saurian race and wants to restore them, but that doesn’t quite work out because she sides with the Earth warriors whereas Reptile is loyal to Shao Kahn. Instead of her palette, it’s the name in her life bar that changes color while she stays mostly invisible, which makes her very difficult to play.
The gameplay is still the same MK3 engine, but everything has been sped up even further and the entire game seems to be running in fast motion. Even the round timer ticks down at what appears to be double speed. The only real addition to the fighting engine is the Aggressor bar that fills up as you fight, but all it does once filled is make you slightly faster and stronger. Oh boy. Thankfully, the Aggressor meter can be disabled, so you don’t need to bother with it at all if you don’t want to.
All the fatalities, friendships and animalities are here, and the returning characters get new ones. The brutality returns from the 16-bit versions of UMK3 and scatters an utterly ridiculous pile of bones and limbs all over the stage. It’s still quite underwhelming and not really worth memorizing those 11-hit combo strings. Speaking of which, the inputs for certain moves seem to be different between the CD and cartridge versions, which is kind of strange.
It’s really kind of difficult to pick the definitive version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy. While the CD versions have more characters and frames of animation, as well as better sound quality, there are once again those frequent loading times that bog down the experience quite a bit. The PC version doesn’t have loading issues, but getting it to work on modern computers and operating systems might qualify as a round of Mortal Kombat in itself.
The N64 version has a laundry list of bugs on top of the other issues, so if you have to choose you should probably go for one of the CD versions even though they’re far from perfect. Unfortunately, every version is just as broken when it comes to gameplay balance, so no matter what version you pick you should probably just cut your losses and play UMK3 instead.
That is really the problem with Mortal Kombat Trilogy; it appears the developers were more concerned with having EVERY CHARACTER EVER than actually providing a good fighting game experience. Balance was thrown right out of the window and there’s glitches and infinites up the ass, but who cares, you can play as Kintaro! Trilogy has some value as a silly party game for MK fans who just want to see all the goofy fatalities (there is a Supreme Demonstration mode for that, just like in 16-bit UMK3) and all the crazy matchups, but as a fighting game it’s quite frankly a barely playable trainwreck.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy got a mixed reception at the time of release, with the N64 version catching most of the flak. Some reviewers and players weren’t bothered with the gameplay shortcomings and did enjoy the dream match aspect and the inclusion of all the old MK/MKII assets, and some people still think this is the best MK game (and are horribly wrong), but others just saw the release as completely unnecessary as UMK3 had already done the whole “upgraded MK3 with your favorite old characters” thing much better.
Trilogy ended up being the last 2D fighting game in the Mortal Kombat series, not counting later ports. While I’ve established that I don’t think it’s a good game by any stretch of the imagination, it kind of works as a completely ridiculous last hurrah for the sprite-based MK games. Mortal Kombat 4 would be released into the arcades the following year, and MK fans at the time expected that the move to 3D would revolutionize everything and bring the series right back into the limelight. At the very least, the old MK3 mechanics would finally get put to rest and we would see something completely different.
Next: Your life is a mystery, warrior with a mask. Sub-Zerooo-oooo