Mortal Kombat 4 (1997) is the fourth game in the Mortal Kombat series and the last game in the series to be available in the arcades. It was updated into Mortal Kombat Gold. MK Gold‘s story overrides MK4. It is one of the few 3D fighting games to have been described as having “2D gameplay”.
Mortal Kombat 4 saw a handful of revisions in its arcade lifetime.
The first incarnation of the game was toured around America to hype the game’s official release. The game was noticeably incomplete, featuring many bugs and a relatively small selection of playable characters. The selectable characters were comprised of Shinnok, Fujin, Scorpion, Raiden, Sonya, Liu Kang, Sub-Zero(masked but missing his scar), Quan Chi and Noob Saibot, along with 6 “?” character slots. Each character had a weapon and one Fatality.
The first version of the game to officially enter arcades was Revision 2. In this version, Noob Saibot was completely removed, but Kai, Reptile, Jarek and Tanya were added to the selectable characters while retaining 3 “?” character slots. This version was later modified (though still referred to as Revision 2), bringing back Johnny Cage and Jax while introducing Reiko, as well as editing Sub-Zero’s appearance to include his scar and changing his 2p outfit to a look resembling his MK3 appearance. Several characters receive new weapons, such as Sub-Zero’s Ice Scepter.
The final version of MK4 to appear in arcades was Revision 3. Revision 3 added a new second Fatality for every character, further fixed existing bugs left over in Revision 2, changed more character weapons and added the secret character Meat as an alternate skin to the selectable characters. This version also introduced several new costumes for the existing playable characters.
Early on, the development team at Midway decided to make a 3D Mortal Kombat to capitalize on the rising popularity of 3D games at the time. However, Midway decided to develop its own hardware (named “Zeus”) from scratch, resulting in development delays (a large amount of the game was tested on two dimensional hardware using pre-rendered characters).
As revealed in later interviews, programmer Ed Boon was particularly concerned with maintaining the gameplay feel of a 2D game but with 3D graphics. He at first was worried that there was some intrinsic property of 3D graphics that would make this impossible. Essentially, the major gameplay difference between 2D and 3D fighting games of the time, was that up to that point all 3D fighting games had attempted to somewhat simulate realistic martial arts. One of the reasons this was done was to take advantage of the fluid keyframed and motion captured animation that was now possible using 3D models. For example, in Virtua Fighter, a real martial artist was filmed performing the moves, and this movement was imposed on the 3D model in the game. Thus, while a punch in a 2D game might be a rapidly responding move with two frames of animation, a punch in a 3D game might have a delay between when the button was pressed and when the opponent was hit, owing to the realistic animation.
This delay however fundamentally changed the gameplay experience. Boon eventually decided to use the non realistic 2D rates of animation and movement, simply imposed onto 3D graphics. Thus the gameplay experience is nearly identical to the 2D versions of Mortal Kombat. While this was attempted before with the Street Fighter EX series, that series used more complex animation which did change the gameplay somewhat. Some critics however, were disappointed that Mortal Kombat 4 did not play like other popular 3D games of the time.