Mortal Kombat 1 knows that some of us don't have friends
Someone once described me as the only person on Earth who enjoys playing fighting games alone. I'm sure that's not true. There are probably many of us...
Someone once described me as the only person on Earth who enjoys playing fighting games alone. I'm sure that's not true. There are probably many of us. The problem is that none of these people want to meet each other. Why should we? We enjoy playing fighting games alone, in the dark, while contemplating how much time we have left in life. Having another person around to hang out with or - God forbid - talk would only ruin the sweet boredom of existence.
And you know what? Mortal Kombat 1 understands that. The story mode in Mortal Kombat 1 isn't just a cheap tutorial to teach you the basics for multiplayer mode. It's an actual story that is genuinely enjoyable and showcases characters I actually want to see interacting with each other. Alongside modes like Invasions and Towers, Mortal Kombat 1 feels like a complete game without having to play against other people. I can simply have fun and still feel like I've had the full experience.
I'm not saying I hate playing against other people. Don't get me wrong. I've put my quarter just like any other person born between 1975 and 1990 on an arcade machine. Although once at Coral Square Mall, a kid cut in line, stole all the quarters people had put on Mortal Kombat 2 to play next, and ran out of the arcade. Sorry, South Florida; that arcade doesn't exist anymore. I think there's some kind of food court there now. No one knows for sure.
But I don't play fighting games to become skilled or to test my abilities against kids who would completely destroy me in an online match. I play fighting games because I enjoy seeing characters perform karate kicks and throw fireballs. Pew pew! The same goes for first-person shooters: I want to fight tough enemies and not spend three hours creating an equipment loadout only to be yelled at by strangers on my team. Actually, now that I think about it, this could apply to my whole life. My goodness, I'm lonely.
The story of Mortal Kombat 1 - and to be fair, the stories in the three previous Mortal Kombat games as well - is an action movie. Sure, it's a cheesy action movie. But that's because it's a story about martial arts. It's hard to experience the Earthrealm champions of the Fire God Liu Kang defeating Outworld and make it into a grand drama. Most of the words in that last sentence alone disqualify it from being taken seriously. On the other hand, some of the most popular stories in video games are "a guy stopping zombies from doing something," so who are we to judge?
If anything, NetherRealm Studios (yes, you have to capitalize the "M" in NetherRealm) has specialized in making their games entertaining for people who don't damn well want to wait in line for a match against someone named Tradscorpion69. The Injustice series and the newer Mortal Kombat games go beyond just the fighting aspect and give us all a narrative reason to be invested. Interestingly, the original Mortal Kombat had a pretty loose canon that was borrowed from thousands of sources. Now it's probably one of the more consistent and better-told stories in fighting games.
It may not be Citizen Kane, but it's fun. Also, an idea for a guest fighter: Charles Foster Kane. He gets mad at you for never completing a puzzle and then beats you to a pulp with a sled for a fatality. That's not much crazier than other things in Mortal Kombat 1. And honestly, does anyone do anything with the Citizen Kane brand? There wasn't even a go-kart game based on it. You know who did have a go-kart game? Mortal fucking Kombat. I'm not joking; it's included in Armageddon.
Fortunately, other fighting games are slowly realizing that I'll die at 65 if a stack of newspapers I've hoarded falls on me. It will be a terrible, long death. As I slowly die of dehydration, I'll be able to recall every mistake I've ever made. Every person I've ever disappointed. Every love I've ever wasted. That's why it's comforting to know that Street Fighter 6 also has a crazy single-player mode. Of course, it encourages you to use your individual character in multiplayer mode as well. But you don't have to! And at least it's an improvement over simply fighting some CPU opponents to get a short, silent picture-and-text ending. Although both Mortal Kombat 1 and Street Fighter 6 have that too.
I respect that it's not an easy task to develop a fighting game that can be successful on both multiplayer level (especially for professional players in tournaments) and provide a single-player experience. I'm sure balancing the characters for two people playing against each other is different from balancing the characters for one person against a computer. Probably. I don't know for sure. I missed Sakurai's video on this part.
But integrating a good story into a fighting game not only extends the gameplay time but also gives players like me a reason to keep coming back. It introduces us to characters we may not be as interested in and shows us why they could be entertaining new main characters. It gives lonely losers like me the opportunity to feel like masters of martial arts without being crushed to dust by people who have "practiced" and "know what they're doing." It's meaningful and not just an afterthought.
Sometimes I don't want to learn an entire system of frame rates, hitboxes, and counters. Sometimes I just want to let Johnny Cage punch Sub-Zero in the groin and then see them become allies in the next cutscene. And for that, I appreciate NetherRealm Studios.