Let’s Bring Back Digitized Sprites, if Only for a Moment

I love the look of Mortal Kombat 2 and Mortal Kombat 3. They ooze style and perfection, glossy, bold, and rich in detail. They worked within hardware constraints, and they’ve aged extraordinarily well. Mortal Kombat 4’s polygonal combatants? Not so much.

But, while hand drawn sprites are all the rage in the indie circuit, the digitized sprite, i.e, actual images of people scanned into the game, have yet to see any resurgence. Part of me wonders what a modern day, digitized Mortal Kombat would like with hi-res sprites. Imagine flawless, huge characters wearing goofy costumes filling the screen like say, SNK/Playmore’s recent King of Fighters entries. At 1080p, it could be an eccentric entry into a reborn genre that has all but ditched the idea of digitization.

Maybe it was just a buzz word. It was everywhere back in the 16 and 32-bit era, and everyone tried it. The flood of Mortal Kombat knock-off duds were as prevalent as Street Fighter clones in their time. From Way of the Warrior to the uniqueness of a Primal Rage, there’s a character there, an actual human being. Sure, it could be dopey and exploitative (even cheap; I’m fairly certain Liu Kang is just wearing baggy sweats in the first Mortal Kombat), but with the lessened possibility of hiding things at 1080p, it would restrain the opportunity to cop out. It would also allow more flourishes that could be easily lost as lower resolutions.

I suppose one could say that polygonal models are more flexible, and can exhibit more fidelity with textures, but it’s not the same. With in-studio lighting, the natural glossiness cannot be matched, nor is the appeal the same. It’s part nostalgia and part style. It’s not unlike the Hollywood battle of practical, in-camera special effects and CG. They both have their trappings which make them individualized.

So, come on creative teams. Let’s pitch a fresh digitized fighter. The genre won’t be hotter than it is now, so someone has to be willing to take a chance. We need a new world to explore without the embellishments of traditional animation.