ScreenCritics Groot takes a look back at the original controversial fighting game – 1992’s exceptionally great ‘Mortal Kombat’.
Ah the arcade – the perfect place to spend a quality afternoon while your mom goes shopping at the local mall. Everywhere I went as a little kid I could stumble upon one of these gigantic cabinets, I would pop in a few coins and play to my heart’s content, or in these case until my mom wasn’t finished with her shopping. I’d spend countless hours playing beat ’em ups, racing games and most of all fighting games. Yet it took the arrival of one gaming series to really set things on fire, delivering a grace of violence and excessive gore that hadn’t been seen in the industry before. A game that made waves, caused outrage yet was fun as heck to play. That game was Mortal Kombat.
In 1991, Capcom released what was then known as the best fighting game for the arcade, Street Fighter II. A small development studio lead by Ed Boon and John Tobias, decided to try and best the competition. The idea was to create a fighting game, within a year that would appose Capcom’s greatest title. Thus Midway Studio was born and Boon stated in an interview that the team consisted of only four people at the beginning. The game began development and was originally intended to be based of the famous movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme, however through time the idea was dropped and Boon began to work on a story about gods, realms and a tournament.
When it came to the title of the game the development team was near completion of their product, yet they still didn’t know how to title the game. Boon and Tobias stated that one day one of their employees wrote in Boon’s office the word “combat”. Later that day another employee added a “k” instead of a “c”, and Boon decided to stick with the name to the end adding only “mortal”. And thus Mortal Kombat was released on October 8, 1992, in the arcades while the console versions were planed somewhere in a nearby future. The following year, the game was commercialized across the globe and it garnered so much popularity that when the game was released on September 13, 1993 on home consoles (SNES, Sega Genesis, Mega-CD) the date was dubbed “Mortal Monday“.
Mortal Kombat, unlike its rivals, took a different approach to the fighting game. On first sight the game looks like any other typical fighting game, but scratch the surface and there’s more than meets-the-eye. One of the main points of the game was the feature of fatalities, brutally violent finishing moves that at the time, only players who had the stomach to watch could have pulled them off. Even though the younger audience didn’t have anything against it, their parents didn’t agree with the idea of people ripping other people’s heads, and committing acts of violent nature. Parents soon filled a petition and asked that the game be removed and the matter was soon brought to court. Even though Midway didn’t suffer any loses, the government soon reacted to this controversy and the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) was created, with a goal to register and rate all violent games at the time.
The plot takes place on earth were a sorcerer plans to invade and enslave all of mankind. In order to stop this from happening, the gods, or in this case the Elder Gods create a tournament with multiple rules. If the sorcerer wins nine times in a row, earth is his to conquer, but if an earth warrior beats him he must return to his realm. This prompts warriors from multiple locations and realms to fight in this bloody game of death. From then on the fate of the entire universe is in the player’s hand. The story was later brought-on to the silver screen with the release of the titular movie in 1995.
As for the characters Mortal Kombat go, there aren’t that many to choose from. Instead of drawing sprites, Midway hired real actors to dress up as there respected characters, and would take multiple shoots and compare, edit them as sprites. The main protagonist of the story is considered to me Liu Kang (portrayed by Ho Sung Pak), a shaolin warrior representing “Earthrealm“. Interesting fact; Ho was supposed to play a true shaolin monk, but refused to shave his head and the studio ran with the idea that his character left the monks prior to the tournament. Ho also played the antagonist and final boss, sorcerer Shang Tsung. Other notable characters are Raiden (Carlos Pesina), a god of thunder, Kano ( Richard Divizio), Sonya Blade (Elizabeth Malecki) and Johnny Cage (Daniel Pesina) who was initially supposed to be Jean-Claude Van Damme. Daniel also portrays the iconic blue and yellow ninjas that have become a staple of the franchise, Sub-Zero and Scorpion. Midway would use pallet swap characters in later titles.
When it comes to the actual gaming mechanics I can simple say that the game is easy to pick up but hard to master. After the player picks their character, they are challenged to climb all the way to the final boss. They will fight through the entire rooster including a mirror projection of the player’s character, but the game doesn’t stop there and continues to push the player with harder obstacles, making him face multiple tag battles. After all of this the character is given a moment to recover from his previous battle with smaller challenges such as “test your might”, where the player must break items by taping the same button. When the bonus stage is over the final two battles are placed before the protagonist. Even though the Shang Tsung provided an interesting fight, with his ability to shape shift into any character, it was the giant behemoth know as Goro that was considered the real boss of the game. With his four arms this Goliath crushed all that stood in its way leaving many to come back to the arcade just to test themselves against this foe.
One of the first reasons why Mortal Kombat is known in the world is because of its gruesome fatalities. The biggest impact on the global community was Sub-Zero’s, which saw the character rip the head of his opponent along with the spine. Other great fatalities include Scorpions so-called “Toasty“, where he would remove his mask to reveal a flaming skull and proceed to burn the enemy. Besides the gruesome blood and finishing moves, the players can dish out multiple combos that take time and practice to fully master. There are your standard high and low kicks and punches while others include throwing fire balls, thunder and Scorpions iconic rope-dart alongside his famous quote “Get Over Here“. Some console versions removed the feature of too much violence, blood and fatalities in order to please the parents. However multiple gaming communities soon discovered cheats and where able to bring back these elements in the game. The most popular console release was on the SNES in terms of quality, sound and gameplay, while the Mega-CD was arguably the worst. In the end though nothing beats the arcade. There was no better feeling then two people duke it out on one cabinet just to see who can get the highest score, for me pure satisfaction.
On top of all of this Mortal Kombat holds a few secrets for any extreme players. There was a rumor that in the game there was a way to access to a secret battle with a third green ninja named ,Reptile. In order to unlock this the player must win a double flawless victory, in a certain area and perform a fatality. Another secret was rumored but was never proven. It is stated that there is a fourth red ninja, Ermac, somewhere hidden in the game, but everyone soon discovered that this is not true, however due to the rumor Ed Boon added the character in future installments. Mortal Kombat has gone from a small rival project to a gaming success, and garnered a movie, multiple sequels and one kick-ass soundtrack. Ed Boon would later create Netherrealm Studios, but he would never let go of the franchise that started it all.
Overview: Midway has transformed over the years and so did their greatest franchise. It interesting to see how today the blood, violence and gore is depicted, when back then a few red pixels described and meant a lot more. It’s always amazing to see a new game go back to its roots and pick up the components that the original game planted. An amazing single-player experience and even better when played with a friend, this game is bound to make you enjoy in all that bloodshed, just as long as your parents don’t find out.