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After Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat Mythologies Sub Zero, Midway decided it was venture into 3D — which gave rise to Mortal Kombat 4, released in 1997 for the Arcade, Game Boy Color, PC, Play Station, and Nintendo 64.
Thousands of years ago, Raiden waged war against former Elder God Shinnok; this war ended an entire civilization, and Shinnok was later condemned to the Netherrealm. The original Sub-Zero was deceived to free him, and years later, Shinnok allies himself with the villainous Quan Chi. With the help of Edenian traitor Tanya, the evil duo ascended to the Heavens and killing most of the Elder Gods. Raiden and the Wind God Fujin escaped, then gathered Raiden's most trustworthy allies in order to defeat Shinnok and his allies.
The playable characters for this game are Shinnok, Quan Chi, Raiden, Fujin, Sub-Zero, Tanya, Johnny Cage, Jax, Liu Kang, Reptile (with a new design), Scorpion, Sonya Blade, Noob Saibot, and Goro (as sub-boss). The game also introduced Jarek, Kai, Reiko, and Meat.
In order to test its "virgin" 3D engine, Midway released a "test game", War Gods, which was panned by critics and allowed Midway to learn from its mistakes before finalizing MK4. Midway changed the engine to allow only two slow movements on the z-axis (the side steps, which only worked to dodge beam-attacks), which made MK4 similar to previous games (and thus helped it to avoid hitting the Polygon Ceiling). MK4 also introduced the weapon fighting system to the franchise.
Followed by Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance.
The game has the following trope examples:
- Ambidextrous Sprite: Surprisingly for a 3D game with models, they would do this at changing sides.
- Big "Never!": Two of the endings.
- Cap: Subverted, the player could disable it.
- Dummied Out: Quite a few things.
- In the original game old characters were last-minute changed for new ones. Kitana (returning in Gold) in favor of Tanya, Noob Saibot (although he's still playable via a code) in favor of Reiko and Kano in favor of Jarek. This explains why these new characters have moves/fatalities similar to the older ones, particularly noticeable in the case of Jarek, whose second fatalities is shooting an eye-beam when he doesn't have a robotic eye like Kano does.
- There was also a stage called Skull.
- Gold had an unreleased character called Belokk.
- Game Breaking Bug: The initial version, which wasn't technically supposed to get out to the public (it had missing Fatalities, no Combo Limiter, missing characters, no endings...) had a bug where one character could lift his opponent to the top of the screen by using a special move properly. The "lift" wouldn't wear off until the target was hit by something else, and nothing could get up that high, so the game was effectively stuck, especially if the game timer was disabled.
- Revision 3.0 had a bug where performing Reptile's Acid Spit fatality on Scorpion would crash the game.
- It's a Wonderful Failure: Have fun with the Game Over sequence.
- Nostalgia Level: The Living Forest (from 2 and Trilogy) and Goro's Lair (from all three previous games) return, complete with rearrangements of the old BGM.
- Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Delivered to Jarek in Jax's ending, as Jax is holding Jarek by the neck over a cliff.
Jarek: "You have to uphold the law! You to arrest me! Wait! Wait! This is brutality! You can't do it!"