For over three decades, Mortal Kombat has stood the test of time as the reigning fighting game within the annals of pop culture. Since its earliest installments with 1992’s arcade game, the series has become a treasured pillar in the gaming community, juxtaposing its over-the-top comic book-style universe with its hyper-violent combat and gruesome Fatalities.
Like most long-established video game franchises, Mortal Kombat has grown and changed so much over the years, transforming itself from an arcade novelty into one of the most popular fighting games of the modern era. And yet, despite its massive appeal among current generations of gamers, specific Mortal Kombat titles outdo some others.
From its earliest cabinet arcade games to its most recent additions, see every Mortal Kombat game ranked from best to worst.
Mortal Kombat II (1993)
In its earliest inception, one can describe Mortal Kombat as little more than a standard fighting game – a decent but unremarkable imitation of the hit Street Fighter games. Mortal Kombat II changed all of that for the better, moving the series to new heights and establishing so many conventions associated with the MK name to this day.
Retaining the addictive, easy-to-understand gameplay of the first game, Mortal Kombat II expanded its overall universe, introducing a slew of new fighters complete with their own distinct Fatalities. Such small details outfitted each character with their own personalities, quirks, and idiosyncrasies, allowing players an easier time finding their go-to fighter in its small but prestigious roster.
Mortal Kombat (2011)
A soft reboot of the first Mortal Kombat, 2011’s Mortal Kombat is that rare remake that surpasses the quality of the original. Transposing the arcade classic onto the PS3 and XBox 360, 2011's Mortal Kombat turned out to be a game that exceeded its predecessor in terms of gameplay, visuals, and stomach-churning levels of violence.
More so than most entries on this list, 2011’s Mortal Kombat’s extreme violence and stylized adult subject matter might be a turn-off for most casual gamers out there. As brutal a game as it is, there’s no denying how well it recreates the original, making use of a succinct storyline, impressive visuals, and approachable gameplay mechanics.
Mortal Kombat X (2015)
If 2011’s Mortal Kombat served as a return to form for Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat X went above and beyond in terms of expanding the franchise to untold new boundaries. Retaining the arcade-style gameplay of its predecessor, it weaved in a more realistic visual design, heightening the brutality of each X-Ray Move, Fatality, or new-and-improved Brutality.
While Mortal Kombat X’s gameplay and graphics are worth celebrating, the game’s introduction of new characters and gripping central storyline make it the superior fighting game it is. With a number of new roster additions like Cassie Cage, Kotal Kahn, and Kung Jin, it’s an exciting installment in the recent MK series, akin in many ways to Mortal Kombat II over two decades prior.
Mortal Kombat 1 (2023)
The latest entry in the Mortal Kombat series, Mortal Kombat 1 continues the franchise’s recent wave of successful releases, maintaining the same high level of entertainment as its forerunners. A sequel as fun, gory, and easy to play as anything that came before it, it’s another satisfying chapter in the Mortal Kombat saga.
Despite its horrendous launch for the Switch version of the game, Mortal Kombat 1’s release to other platforms like the PS5 and Xbox Series X/S has met with a far warmer reception from fans and critics alike. With its massive roster, enthralling central narrative, and noteworthy new additions (like its regularly-updated Invasion Mode), it’s a more than adequate follow-up to Mortal Kombat’s recent titles.
Mortal Kombat 11 (2019)
With how well-received 2011’s Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat X turned out to be, Mortal Kombat 11 had a lot to live up to in terms of meeting fans’ expectations. Fortunately, the game not only met players’ highest hopes – it managed to supersede them, ushering in one of the most popular entries in the MK universe thus far.
While players can critique certain aspects of Mortal Kombat 11 (the microtransactions and grinding, in particular), MK 11 continues pushing the narrative lines of the Mortal Kombat games forward. Between its well-rounded storyline, enormous roster, and DLC characters (The Joker, Rambo, Terminator, and RoboCop, to name just a few), it’s another exceptional product from NetherRealms’ increasingly stellar output of games.
Mortal Kombat: Deception (2004)
Like every great sequel, Mortal Kombat: Deception took all of the remarkable aspects of Deadly Alliance and fleshed them in the most affective ways possible. Utilizing the same fundamental gameplay features as Deadly Alliance, Deception brought in a whole wave of innovations that built off of Deadly Alliance, creating a game that every MK fan could pick up and enjoy.
With improved fighting mechanics and an roster split between new and pre-established franchise characters, Deception picked up the ball once left behind by Deadly Alliance and ran with it. Far from being essentially the same game as its predecessor, though, Deception also had plenty of new features for players, including the Chess Kombat and the Puzzle Kombat minigames.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (2002)
After the critical shortcomings of MK 3, Mythologies: Sub-Zero, MK 4, and Special Forces, Deadly Alliance served as a welcome return to the series’ roots. Taking advantage of the next-gen graphics of the PS2, the visuals were far more polished than the previous installments, with MidWay also managing to fine-tune each character’s move-set for greater diversity among its roster.
A game so good that it ensured the Mortal Kombat name lived on for another generation, Deadly Alliance's implementation of numerous features – like the divisive Konquest Mode – also set it apart from other franchise fighting games of the early 2000s.
Mortal Kombat (1992)
The game that started it all, no one can take anything away from Mortal Kombat’s importance, not just on the Mortal Kombat series but on the entirety of the gaming community as a whole. It ranks among the most cherished video games ever made.
Unfortunately, most people’s nostalgic outlook on the original Mortal Kombat leads them to gloss over its flaws. As important as a game, the actual gameplay owes a bit too much to the Street Fighter games it extensively borrows from. Still, by today’s standards, fans will note how far the series has come from its humble beginnings.
Mortal Kombat 3 (1995)
When held up to Mortal Kombat or Mortal Kombat II, it becomes clear that Mortal Kombat 3 ranks as the weakest of the original three MK games. However, one has to compliment MK 3 for its wide range of developments, including the added ability for characters to run in combat and its impressive chain combos.
Of course, most critics of MK 3 tend to single out the game’s handful of prominent issues, such as the absence of notable Mortal Kombat characters forever synonymous with the series. (A valid point – what kind of Mortal Kombat doesn’t have Scorpion or Kitana?) Taking these criticisms to heart, MidWay managed to right some serious wrongs with the reissued Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and The Mortal Kombat Trilogy, both of which reinserted said characters back into the game.
Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks (2005)
Calling Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks the only decent spin-off in the MK series doesn't exaggerate the game's achievement. Learning from their mistakes on the borderline unplayable Mythologies: Sub-Zero and Special Forces games, Shaolin Monks established itself as an engrossing adventure game that moved beyond the established Mortal Kombat continuity.
Focusing on Liu Kang and Kung Lao’s adventures as they protect Earthrealm from the dark forces of Outworld, Shaolin Monks offered players the then-novel idea of either single-player or co-op gameplay options. Such advancements helped draw players to Shaolin Monks, differentiating it from the excessive shortcomings of its sister titles in Mythologies: Sub-Zero and Special Forces.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon (2006)
In its earliest inception, developers had planned for Mortal Kombat: Armageddon to conclude the MK series – an ambitious final chapter in the fighting game fans had fallen in love with since its initial 1992 release. With that in mind, MidWay added numerous features to Armageddon, most of which appealed to players’ wants and interests regarding a standout MK title.
With a gargantuan roster at players’ disposal, every character associated with the MK brand appears in Armageddon, including original staple characters like Scorpion and Johnny Cage. In addition to its expansive line-up of heroes, the game also uses an assortment of customization options, with players able to create their own gruesome Fatality and their very own Fighter (although most critics expressed disappointment over the actual execution of this standout option).
Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe (2008)
While long-time fans of Mortal Kombat have always delighted in seeing which DLC characters will cross over into the MK universe, Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe shows how bad too much of a good thing could be. Though an exciting idea on paper, the DC and Mortal Kombat universes were far too different to work well together, the Teen-cleanliness of DC clashing with the down-and-dirty grit of Mortal Kombat.
A rare Teen entry in the Mortal Kombat franchise, staunch MK supporters maintained an ambivalent response to the lack of violence within Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. An ideal starting point for anyone who dislikes Mortal Kombat’s intense gore and physicality, it did little to sustain gamers’ interest at the time of its release in 2008.
Mortal Kombat 4 (1997)
Today, Mortal Kombat 4 can be seen as an experiment – a failed experiment in many ways, but a bold effort on NetherRealm’s part to do something different in the MK series. Focusing on a more serious story free from the zany comedic elements of the first three MK games, Mortal Kombat 4 emphasized the darker aspects of Mortal Kombat’s universe.
The only problem: the finished game wasn’t all that good. Without Mortal Kombat’s intrinsic humor undercutting its sharp violence, all the developers had left was a self-serious video game that bored players to tears. Added to that were issues involving Mortal Kombat 4’s blocky 3D visuals, flat new characters, and glitchy controls, all of which contributed to its poor critical reception in 1997.
Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (1997)
After the franchise heights of the first three Mortal Kombat games came the questionable 1997 release of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. The first spin-off in the acclaimed fighting series, Mythologies: Sub-Zero follows the title character as he searches for Shinnok's amulet. This quest takes him from dangerous Shaolin temples to the Prison of Souls.
While one can commend Mythologies: Sub-Zero for its ability to take chances (released the same year as Mortal Kombat 4, it acts as a prequel to its sister title), the resulting game is burdened with some glaring issues. The live-action cutscenes are questionable at best, the level progression taxing without actually being fun. All that being said, the final product leaves little wonder as to why there was never another Mythologies title added to this short-lived spin-off series.
Mortal Kombat: Special Forces (2000)
The second spin-off game from the main continuity of the Mortal Kombat series, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces’ problematic production history, no doubt, had a hand in the game’s middling quality. With the departure of MK co-creator John Tobias halfway through its development, the production designers dialed back Special Forces to meet its 2000 deadline, removing entire characters like Sonya Blade to do so.
Given Special Forces’ tumultuous production history, it shouldn’t surprise anyone how poorly the game turned out. Boasting generic gameplay design and missions that feel the same throughout the entire game, it’s the absolute low point of the Mortal Kombat games, containing little to any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Looper, Screen Rant, Fangoria, and Sportskeeda, among many others. He received his BA from The College of New Jersey and has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.
Richard has been an avid consumer of movies, television, books, and pop culture since he was four-years-old. Raised on a diverse mix of Clint Eastwood Westerns, Star Wars, sci-fi and horror films, Alan Moore comics, and Stephen King novels, he eventually turned his various passions into a creative outlet, writing about film, television, literature, comics, and gaming for his high school and college newspapers. A traveling enthusiast, Richard has also managed to create a career out of journeying abroad, venturing to such awe-inspiring places as the Sonoran Desert of Mexico, the rainforests of Costa Rica, and the scenic coastline of Haiti. Upon graduating from TCNJ, Richard set his sights on a career in journalism, writing extensively about the art of traveling and the entertainment medium for various online publications. When he’s not busy making his way through The Criterion Collection, he can be found either reading or planning a trip somewhere (preferably someplace with a scenic hiking trail).