Are the Mortal Kombat 11 Animations Actually Bad?

by in Fighting Games | May, 12th 2021

With Mortal Kombat 11 sitting two years past its release, many people are looking back on it to see if it lived up to fans’ expectations. Many think that with plenty of new characters and a larger number of third-party characters than its previous entry, the gameplay and overall presentation of MK11 are above the expectations set by it. Some fans started pointing out some inconsistencies in MK11, majorly with its animation. So, are Mortal Kombat’s animations bad?

Animating With Body Mass in Mind

While some of MK11’s animations are better than their predecessor, some of the characters feel a little stiff. A wonderful video made by SugarPunch Design World mentions this in his video about MK11 and its animations. 

A lot of the characters outside of the ninjas and martial arts characters have stiff backs, with their movements and attacks not changing their posture during a game. While it’s not that noticeable in gameplay, it feels like they’re refusing to bend forward or change their stance while they’re attacking or kicking. This also goes for weapons, a lot of characters will “stiff arm” their weapons, and even Sub-Zero is part of this problem. 

Characters refuse to bend their elbow or wrist when swinging a weapon. And this is seen when inspecting MK11 a bit closer. Try this out for yourself at home, take a stick or something swingable, and fully extend your arm. With your arm fully extended, swing your arm at something and try to hit it. Then, swing with your shoulder, elbow and wrist. You should notice a significant change in how fast your hand moves by comparison to making the same motion without your elbow. This exact issue plagues MK11’s weapon-wielding fighters when they swing swords, axes, etc.

Certain attacks like Johnny Cage’s roundhouse kick still have cage situated in perfect posture as his whole body and legs twirl around him. While this works from the gameplay perspective, this falls flat as it would not work in real life. As mentioned in the video by SugarPunch, a kick takes the shifting of one’s body mass, meaning that they need to move their back and shoulders to initiate a kick. This creates forward velocity and makes the kick not only harder but more effective. The issue with kicking in Mortal Kombat is that the characters refuse to move their upper bodies, making the kick look less effective. Other fighting games use similar moves to Mortal Kombat. The difference lies within the way that the characters perform their attacks. Street Fighter shows characters arching their back and shifting their whole weight into the move, which makes their kick look stronger than what a similar kick in MK11 looks. 

Consider the character of Chun Li, their whole move set is kicking, and while they throw their kicks around, they also lean back and use their flurry kicks while twisting their body to make their kicks look powerful. Taking a look at something like Jackie Briggs Mach Kick, a similar move to Chun Li’s kicks, you can visually see her standing straight up rather than twisting and leaning backward. This brings about a massive issue in the game’s animations, and this is something many Twitter users have taken note of. 

Terminator’s Kick Animation

In the first batch of DLC for Mortal Kombat 11, the Terminator was added as a character, featuring the likeness of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but not his voice. Fans were happy with the addition of the character as previous third-party characters were usually relegated to horror characters like Jason and the Xenomorph in MKX and Freddy Kruger in MK9. But something about the Terminator’s moveset had people making fun of him, which was his kick animation. 

When the Terminator does a low kick, you can see him lean backward and use his hand as a stop to kick the opponent. But the problem lies entirely in his stance. He drops onto the ground and uses only his right leg and hand to hold himself up while kicking upwards. This not only looks weird to many fans, but it’s near impossible to pull off in real life. Combine this with the Terminator and many other characters not moving their upper bodies to jump. The problem starts to move away from just an issue of animation on one character. Now multiple characters look like their just lifting off of the air with their feet. A Twitter user showcased a still of the Terminator’s animation, showcasing the ridiculous position he’s in. 

Why MK11 Is the Way It Is

To MK11’s credit, it’s made to have a more realistic style while still keeping the violence that makes Mortal Kombat, well… Mortal Kombat. However, the animation for MK11 was done entirely in motion capture, and edits were made to serve the game’s needs. This, in turn, puts MK11 in a bad spot. With the pace of the game being a fighting game, those animations are not going to fit the game’s speed during a match. Some of those animations like Sonya’s down throw are sped-up versions of the motion capture footage, and while this may seem like a good choice on paper, anyone with a closer eye on the game is going to take notice.

This brings us back to the same issue that the previous character has. The moves in MK11, while the effects make them look like they pack a punch, the animations themselves don’t look that way. In a fighting game as brutal as MK11, the characters need to look like they’re throwing down with their opponent. However, their attacks need to convey a sense of velocity and punch. This is done very well with the fatal blows. But the regular fighting moves, especially on some of the more militaristic characters, don’t have that same punch that some moves like Liu Kang’s Nuchucks do. This adds a whole other level of inconsistency to Mortal Kombat’s Roster. And while some stiff animations would work, such as in the case of RoboCop, another fan-favorite character does work, move on characters like Sonya and Jackie Briggs don’t hold up as well, since they’re both motion captured.

But another game like Tekken follows the same principles that Mortal Kombat does, with many of their moves being motion-captured. The difference lies in the fact that Tekken is also animated by others outside of the motion capture studio, which allows for more weight and emphasis on their attacks, making them hit harder and look better in the long run. 

Tekken also does something called “Breaking the Model” this is where a character will contort and twist their body in ways that aren’t natural to sell a specific animation, like a move. Consider Kazuya’s spinning demon kick in Tekken 7. While this is also a motion-captured game, if you slow down Kazuya’s move, the whole top half of his body completely breaks to sell the velocity and spin of those kicks that he does. This is something that the folks at NetherRealm Studios won’t do for their games. None of their characters break model, but this could be fixed as with a fast fighting game like Mortal Kombat, breaking the model seems almost imperative to selling these hard-hitting moves. 

Not to say all of the animations are bad in Mortal Kombat; however, the animations in all of the cutscenes in MK11’s story mode are downright the best in the series, but a lot of the people who purchase MK11 want the game to play it, not watch it. But unfortunately, suffering from bad animations is not just making the gameplay suffer. It also makes the characterization of the Kombatant’s suffer.

Characterization in Animation

The phrase “actions speak louder than words” has not rung more true in this sense. Consider looking at the movesets and stances of characters in MK11. Characters like Jax and Sonya stand in a more battle-ready position. Characters like Shao Kahn and Kotal Kahn tower over their opponents, looking down on them like the massive characters. Even Scorpion and Sub-Zero stand in form, waiting to attack with their signature moves. All of these stances can tell the player a little about the character their playing as. And that same kind of philosophy works with the moves of the character as well. 

Consider Joker, a character who many know, but if you look at just his moves, you can tell what kind of a person Joker is rather than the character himself. From the jack in a box to the hand puppet with a gun inside it, you see a childish trickster with a screw loose. That makes Joker the way he is, and his character can be expanded upon in the way he plays. With stiff animations and animations that are too scared to try and break the models, players are stifled from that same type of character that could be used for every character in the MK11 roster. But the refusal to do so dampened the experience for players who want to see the Mortal Kombat actions just outside of the fatalities. 

Mortal Kombat is not a perfect title. While it did live up to expectations, it certainly had some drawbacks, from the poor leveling system to the need to grind out certain moves for the crypt to multiple other issues plaguing the game’s release, including heavy crunch time. Multiple animators becoming desensitized to violence animating fatalities, it’s no surprise that while it did turn out to be a really good fighting game, it may not have been what the fans had wanted. Unfortunately, the animation of the game is another fatality in the creation of Mortal Kombat. 

But there’s a small ray of hope that MK12 or Injustice 3 could learn from the games’ mistakes before it, and perhaps the next NetherRealm game could be not only animated better but become more than what fans asked for. 


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