Animality!Cinema's fractured white knight Harvey Dent warned, "You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain." It's the perilous reality every long running video game franchise faces, sooner or later. Some series rise to the challenge, enjoying the vigour of reinvention. Others smash face-first into the pounding surf as they descend steeply from their wayward trip across the proverbial shark's back.

This week on Retronauts, the evergreen podcast tackled the subject of When Games Jump The Shark. You'll be shocked and appalled to hear Mortal Kombat among the list - but the Retronauts are taking the good with the bad.

US Gamer's Kat Bailey submits the series for grilling [00:34:38], targeting its first adventure spin-off: Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. The topic sparks a debate about the series' lowest moment, with the excesses of its final digitized instalments battling for dishonors. Fret not - as the Retronauts note: there's a happy ending.

Kat Bailey: ... Specifically, when Mortal Kombat got into the [...] kinda the N64/PlayStation era, and started making Mortal Kombat adventures, starring, like, Sub-Zero.

Bob Mackey: I kinda stopped after 3, uh...

Mikel Reparaz: Shaolin Monks was actually pretty good. I don't know if you ever played that.

KB: I never thought Mortal Kombat was that great, but it was definitely a huge game, and--

MR: I would say it jumped the shark before that. I would say it jumped the shark with 3, where it added the run button, and just introduced a tonne of ridiculous palette swap characters.

KB: ... But, 3 was still recognizably Mortal Kombat, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 came out, and most people seemed to really like that. Uh, but then they started making the spin-offs for the N64 - and then Mortal Kombat 4 came out and it was in 3D, and it was pretty bad!

BM: I'm kind of on Mikel's side, where I feel like Mortal Kombat 3 was self-parody, where it's like, 'there's eighteen different ninja palette swaps! And then there's like, babalities and animalities!'

KB: Mortal Kombat was always self parody!

BM: Uhhh... but they brought it really, they brought it really far with 3, I think.

KB: Well, I think they were exhausting the concept by 3, but the Sub-Zero adventures and all that stuff was, uh, pretty much the shark jumping moment.[Mortal Kombat Mythologies!] It actually sort of came back with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, on the PS2. Because they had an actual kind of good 3D engine.

MR: I think the first reboot.

KB: It brought it back to 'not as bad'. And then there were like three of those. And then finally they rebooted it for real. And now people like it again.

BM: Yeah. Some people like it.

For those who might not know - 'jumping the shark' refers to a phenomenon identified by a 1977 Season 5 episode of TV's Happy Days. When Henry Winkler's icon of cool ("The Fonz") jumped a shark on water skis - the show's ultimate decline was sealed. For this reason, pop culture now views it as the measure of a moment when something has lost its way, forsaking its past strengths with an act of dubious quality.

As noted, Mortal Kombat had started to lose its way by the turn of the century, but bounced back in 2002 with the generational high of Deadly Alliance. If you don't agree that MK3 (1995) or Mythologies: Sub-Zero (1997) took the series into realms of frivolity, then the plagued third-person shooter Mortal Kombat: Special Forces is probably your moment. Abruptly released exclusively to PlayStation in 2000 -- the Jax centric shooter was an indistinct prequel to the first game, following Jax's pursuit of the Black Dragon clan across Earth, and eventually Outworld.

Of course, behind the poorly executed MKSF was a fine idea, which leads Mortal Kombat Online to look later for a 'jump the shark' moment. Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe proved to be Midway's last effort before bankruptcy, concluding with a shallow and unimpressive crossover in the vein of the more memorable Capcom versus Marvel series. 2006's Armageddon may also be remembered for its high stakes, but we have to consider it's follow-up - Mortal Kombat (2011) - as a potential candidate for a clumsy story that rendered the previous mythology dead. A disappointing turn for a fighting game with a uniquely progressing saga.

Listen to the full episode embedded above, or on Retronauts. Register to share your kombat lows (and highs) on the forum! Then jump into the present with all the top stories in the Mortal Kombat X forum!