Mortal Kombat Trilogy is a fighting game released by Midway in 1996 as the second update to Mortal Kombat 3 (the first being Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3) for the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn and PCs. Further versions were also released for the Game.com and R-Zone. It features a similar basic gameplay system and the same story as Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, but adds characters and stages restored from Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II. New additions to the game included the “Aggressor” bar, and a new finishing move called Brutality, a long combination of attacks that ends with the opponent exploding. The game was met with mixed reviews upon release.
Mortal Kombat Trilogy introduces the Aggressor bar, which fills as the combatants fight (twice as much if the opponent is blocking). Once the bar is filled, it grants the character fast movement and greater attack damage for a short period of time.
Many characters gained additional special moves. Some were simple edits of existing moves (such as Stryker throwing two grenades instead of one), while others were unused animations never implemented in their intended previous games. These special moves included MK Kano’s Knife Spin move, MKII Kung Lao’s Air Torpedo, Goro’s Spinning Punch move, Raiden’s Lightning that shoots from behind the opponent, and Baraka’s Blade Spin move. Additionally, Shao Kahn gained a throw and grab-and-punch move, and Motaro gained a proper throw move. Sub-Zero’s famous “Spine Rip” Fatality reappears in the game but is completely censored, as the screen blacks out with only the “Fatality” text visible. This was due to avoid having to re-animate the fatality for this game.
Trilogy adds the “Brutality” finishing move, which requires the player to perform an 11-button combo in order to rapidly beat on their opponent until they explode. (Brutalities have been previously featured in the Mega Drive/Genesis and SNES ports of UMK3.) All of the arenas that featured a Stage Fatality are featured in this game, except the Pit II.
All of the battle arenas that were featured in MKII, MK3, and UMK3 are available in MKT, but only four backgrounds from the original Mortal Kombat were featured (Courtyard, Goro’s Lair, the Pit, and the Pit Bottom). The PC, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn versions lack The Hidden Portal and Noob’s Dorfen stages from MK3, while the Nintendo 64 version lacks Kahn’s Arena and the Bank from MKII and MK3, respectively.
Along with the Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 roster, Trilogy adds Raiden and Baraka exactly as they appeared in Mortal Kombat II, with added running animations especially created for MK Trilogy. Johnny Cage was also added to the roster, this time portrayed by Chris Alexander (replacing Daniel Pesina, who was legally at odds with Midway). He kept his moves from MKII except for the Split Punch, which was excluded since none of the characters from MK3/UMK3 had graphics for getting hit in the groin. Bosses Goro, Kintaro, Motaro and Shao Kahn are also playable characters from the start (except for the Nintendo 64 version where only Motaro and Shao Kahn are included and must be unlocked via a cheat menu). The PC, PlayStation and Saturn versions also contain alternate versions of Jax, Kung Lao, Kano and Raiden as they appeared in the first two titles. Contrarily to MKII Raiden and Baraka, these versions of the characters did not get proper running animations and just feature a sped-up version of their walk animation when they try to run.
Two new secret characters appear as well, depending on the version of the game. Most versions have Chameleon, a semi-transparent ninja who rapidly switches between all the other male ninjas (Classic Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Noob Saibot, Human Smoke, Rain, Reptile, and Ermac) during combat. This character is playable by performing a special button combination. The Nintendo 64 version replaced him with a female character named Khameleon, who switches between the other female ninjas instead (Kitana, Mileena, and Jade).
Actors Ho Sung Pak (Liu Kang), Philip Ahn (Shang Tsung), Elizabeth Malecki (Sonya Blade), Katalin Zamiar (Kitana/Mileena/Jade) and Dan Pesina (Johnny Cage and Scorpion/Sub-Zero/Reptile/Smoke) all left Midway prior to the production of the game due to royalty disputes, and so their respective roles were played by new actors. Initially publisher Williams Entertainment stated that Johnny Cage would not be included in the game at all due to the dispute with Pesina. Carlos Pesina’s original sprites were used for Raiden’s gameplay, but Sal Divita’s image was used for his versus screen picture.
Most of the background music tracks from MKII and MK3 remained intact, especially for the CD-ROM versions of the game. In all versions of the game, many of the tracks do not match their respective arenas when compared to their original arcade counterparts. In all versions of MKT, none of the music from the original Mortal Kombat game is used. All of the CD-ROM games read the background music directly from the CD, providing high-quality CD sound, but all of the music loops are used when “Finish Him/Her” appears. All of the music taken from MK3 on the CD-ROM MKT games is noticeably slowed down in both speed and pitch. When these particular songs were converted to MKT’ Red Book CD-DA quality, they were downsampled without resampling them to maintain the original tempo and pitch in the PC, PlayStation, and Saturn versions.
The Sega Saturn version, converted by Point of View and released almost a year after the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 versions, is a straight conversion of the PlayStation version without any substantial changes in content. Due to hardware differences and inadequate code adapting, the porting process from the PlayStation had some technical changes, which included the replacement of almost all transparency effects with mesh patterns and the loss of certain voice samples, like most fighters’ running yells and some alternative phrases used by characters like Raiden and Scorpion in their attacks.
The game’s critical reception has varied considerably, depending on the platform and publication. French magazine Super Power gave the Nintendo 64 version 91%, favoring it over the PlayStation version. The four reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly all gave the Nintendo 64 version their recommendation, citing the impressive amount of content and absence of load times, though Dan Hsu and Crispin Boyer found the graphics disappointing given the capabilities of the console. Both Boyer and Shawn Smith said the game had converted them to the Mortal Kombat fandom. GamePro‘s Major Mike likewise praised the amount of content, as well as the accurate recreation of the arcade games’ graphics, the addition of the Aggressor meter, and the application of new mechanics to characters from older games in the series. He complained that the game suffers from some slowdown and muted music, but concluded it “delivers with all the fighters, secrets, and carnage that made the series the phenomenon it is today.” Jeff Gerstmann of GameSpot contradicted Major Mike, saying that the music is normal for a non-CD game and it is the sound effects (which Major Mike described as “arcade-perfect”) that sound muffled. And while he complimented the Nintendo 64 version’s large selection of play modes, he said it is conspicuously missing frames of animation from the arcade games, and that the characters left out of this version are “favorites”. Peer Schneider of IGN contended that all of the audio aspects sound muffled. He said the Nintendo 64 version is a faithful conversion of the arcade games, though he compared it unfavorably to the PlayStation version. However, he held that the arcade games themselves are too aged to merit an appearance on the Nintendo 64, referring to them as five years old (in actuality, Mortal Kombat 3 was barely a year old at the time, and even the oldest in the series was four years old). Mortal Kombat Trilogy was said to be a “particularly horrible game” among the Nintendo 64 library by Forbes,but was honored in Nintendo Power Awards ’96, coming second in the category “Best Tournament Fighting Game”.
Reviewing the PlayStation version, Major Mike criticized the overly difficult opponent AI and the unbalanced nature of the playable boss characters, and said the music tracks “sound like a 45 record played at 33 RPM.” He nonetheless concluded it to be “a must for any fighting gamer’s library”, due to the responsive controls and large amount of content. Though Electronic Gaming Monthly never reviewed the PlayStation version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, they ran a four-page feature comparing it to the Nintendo 64 version. Shawn Smith picked the Nintendo 64 version as the one to buy, saying that the major bugs in the PlayStation version outweigh the Nintendo 64 version’s various shortcomings. The other three members of the review team all voted for the PlayStation version, particularly citing the additional characters and the lower price ($49.99 as compared to $69.99 for the Nintendo 64 version). They later named both versions runner-up for Fighting Game of the Year, behind Tekken 2.
The Saturn version arrived nearly a year (over a year in some countries) after the PlayStation and Nintendo 64 versions and received comparatively little attention. Sega Saturn Magazine said the long wait for the conversion was baffling, since the game’s 2D visuals fall within the Saturn’s specialty and no new content had been created for the Saturn version, and damaging, since superior 2D Saturn fighters had since come out and home versions of Mortal Kombat 4 were on the horizon, making Mortal Kombat Trilogy both graphically and stylistically outdated. Sega Saturn Magazine, Game Informer, and GamePro all concluded it to be a must-have for Mortal Kombat fans due to its comprehensive content and features, but advised non-fans to look to other fighting games on the Saturn, and described it as virtually identical to the PlayStation version.
Released at a time when the Nintendo 64’s popularity was burgeoning and there were few competing games for the system, the Nintendo 64 version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy saw impressive sales figures. According to a later IGN retrospective, Mortal Kombat Trilogy “offered something no fan could ignore: It brought every character from the series into the fold, along with most of the levels, making for one massive game that had enough to please everyone. Sure, some of the balance went out the window with the massive cast, but it was a small price to pay to make the Mortal Kombat family whole again, and it gave fans the closure they needed for Midway to move on to Mortal Kombat 4.”