It was all over for Scorpion. My Shadow Somersault left him in a daze, forcing him to watch in horror as I closed in and…paused to bring up the command list because I forgot how to do Johnny Cage's fatality?
I eventually learned the command to decapitate the yellow ninja in the demo for next month's Mortal Kombat, but the fight's conclusion would have been boring even at the hands of a pro. That's because nearly 20 years have passed since the original Mortal Kombat shocked players with its over-the-top violence. It takes more than blood and gore to surprise us in 2011, but Mortal Kombat still uses its iconic fatalities as nothing more than drawn-out victory poses.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. Mortal Kombat can still use violence to surprise us like it's 1992 all over again.
Imagine you're nearing the end of a heated match. You and a friend trade blows back and forth. Both life bars indicate the fight will be over any second. Your buddy commands Scorpion to leap through the air with a flying jump kick, but you counter with Johnny Cage's Shadow Somersault. Instead of just knocking Scorpion to the ground, though, your kick rips him in half — straight down the middle, showering Cage in blood. Your friend just stares at the screen, stunned.
Mortal Kombat needs to copy pages from Guilty Gear's and Soul Calibur 4's books and implement sudden death moves in the midst of battle, not after a player has already won. Today, there's no shock value in disecting your opponent when he's a sitting duck and the game literally tells you to do so. The key now lies in making fatalities a nearly constant threat.
The new Mortal Kombat features a meter that builds as you land and sustain attacks, similar to the one Street Fighter 4 uses. At certain increments, you gain access to different abilities like enhanced versions of special techniques, powerful counter-attacks, and brutal X-ray combos. The latter combine the gruesome spectacle of fatalities with Street Fighter's super combos, but they only deal damage. I think Mortal Kombat could recapture some of the series' early shock value if, instead of breaking a few bones and stealing a chunk of health, X-ray attacks ended in a sudden and violent death.
Of course, it would help if the ability was harder to execute and the meter illustrating how close you are to accessing it wasn't broadcasted for all to see. I'm sure developer NetherRealm Studios could think of an elegant solution, but a quick fix could be as simple as using the controller's rumble feature to silently clue the player to when he's nearing a fatality. By making the meter an invisible resource capable of ending the fight in an instant, Mortal Kombat could be more shocking than ever.
NetherRealm could tie unique fatalities to each special attack in a character's arsenal. In addition to halving foes with his Shadow Somersault, Johnny Cage could melt faces with his Green Orb, skewer torsos with a Shadow Kick, and neuter poor bastards with a Nut Breaker.
It would be a challenge to balance such a change, and we would lose the classic "Finish him!" line, but at least we would have a Mortal Kombat that made violence new again.