The history of Mortal Kombat


Once all the “mortals” were taken care of, the final kombatant (and reigning MK champion) was a half-human, half-dragon, four-armed monster called Goro. He was a huge, intimidating beast that spewed monstrous noises and could whittle your life bar away in no time. In short, he was a fantastic final boss, one that really sold the idea of Mortal Kombat – fighting for your life, thinking you’ve won and then watch as victory is snatched from your grasp.

Obviously Goro wasn’t a human actor; he was a stop-motion puppet, digitized into the game for a one-of-a-kind boss battle. There was nothing else quite like it at the time – Pit Fighter may have had scanned actors clumsily banging away at each other, but only MK had a creature seemingly plucked from The Nightmare Before Christmas.


Signature move: Goro had few moves period, but each dealt insane amounts of damage. Most notable was his grab, which held you up with two arms and then caved your chest in with the other two. It quickly teaches you a lesson – stay away!

Fatality: Strangely, Goro has no finishing move, nor can you perform one on him. Guess they didn’t want to mess up that fancy puppet?

Above: Trained to fight… to conquer… to RULE!

Shang Tsung

Tsung was once the champion of Mortal Kombat…till Kung Lao put an end to his shindig a few hundred years ago. Pissed, Tsung showed up with Goro a few years later to dominate the tournament and won nine in a row.  It’s suggested if a 10th is won… well then we’ve got problems. Weird alternate dimension invasion problems.

Tsung can morph into any of the other fighters (including Goro) and use their moves against you. It’s a neat effect, one that really sells the idea of fighting a powerful sorcerer, but from a gameplay perspective it’s kind of a cop out – rather than create a true final boss with his own moves, we basically get to fight the same cast all over again.

Above: But he does have this move, at least 

Signature move: Obviously his morphing ability steals the show, but it’s not really a “move.” That honor would have to go to Tsung’s triple fireball attack, which spams the screen with flaming skulls that deal insane damage. Pretty capable for an ancient wizard.

Fatality: As with Goro, Tsung had no fatality. He’s just there to make sure the Earthrealm fighters lose and his master (Shao Kahn) can invade Earth and set the stage for MKII and MK3.

Above: Strangely, Tsung has no theme song. So here’s the generic “Techno Syndrome” we’ve heard nonstop for the past 15 years

While he doesn’t compare to Goro (who really stole the show as “memorable boss fight”), Tsung himself put a worthy cap on the game. Rather than show up out of nowhere like M. Bison at the end like Street Fighter II, Tsung is there from the start, arranging the tournament and shouting “Finish Him!” at the end of every match - and you don’t have to read a character ending to know he’s evil.


Not content with two palette swapped ninjas, the MK team tossed in a third, secret martial artist who was only accessible after certain criteria were met. Meeting Reptile wasn’t easy; you had to wait until a silhouette flew across the moon on the Pit level, and then win two perfect victories, never touch the block button and perform a fatality. All this just to fight a green ninja with moves stolen from Sub-Zero and Scorpion!

Reptile marks another major innovation MK brought to the fighting scene – copious hidden content. Street Fighter II, while immensely popular, had everything laid out from the start. MK, on the other hand, cleverly hid an entire character in plain sight, one who would randomly appear before matches and then vanish. Who was this green ninja, and how do you fight him? Can you play as him? Such mysteries made MK even more compelling, again despite the comparatively shallow gameplay.

Above: A hidden character? Unheard of!

So strong was the allure of being the first to discover the next “hidden” character that rumors would wildly spread from arcade to arcade. Years before the internet or games sites existed, all we had was word of mouth and month-late magazines. Which rumors were true? Which were not? Speculation like this made MK a hot topic for years. Some rumors, like Ermac, become real characters later in the series, so that alone should give you some idea of how ravenous we all were for MK info.

The backgrounds

Like we said before, the first MK felt like a playable martial arts movie. This sensation was furthered by the game’s backdrops, which all reinforced the “tournament” vibe; the image above features stone statues of the MK fighters, suggesting this is indeed an important enough battle to warrant such extravagance; below you’ll see the main theater area, which features Shang Tsung atop a throne surrounded by a sea of onlookers. Definitely felt like a momentous occasion and not just a street fight.

The most popular backdrop was undoubtedly The Pit, which was referenced earlier in the Reptile entry. Here lied yet another secret – instead of performing a fatality, you could uppercut the opponent off the narrow bridge and send them screaming into a spike-ridden ditch, which was itself filled with rotting bodies and severed heads.

Above: The top of the Pit, where you could slightly seen beneath the walkway

Above: The bottom of the Pit, which happens to feature the severed heads of devs Boon, Tobias and John Vogel

On top of being a cool way to end a fight, the Pit (and these other stages) further distanced themselves from the Street Fighter way of doing things. In SF, each fighter had his or her own background, theme song and country of origin. In MK, the tournament is much more organized and official, and all takes place on one island where all the fighters must gather. Again, all these small details come together to create an atmosphere of mystery, violence and impending doom.




  • moan4stalone - April 15, 2011 2:41 p.m.

    Something beter to report on? FINISH HIM JK
  • taterboob - April 14, 2011 10:11 p.m.

    No, no, no. You guys are crazy. Everybody knows that Raiden REALLY says "TIDY BUBBA GAAAAY!!!". I'm glad I could clear that up.
  • sternparez - April 14, 2011 8:37 p.m.

    I'm totally on a nostalgia trip and am definitely going to pick up MK9 but does anyone else wish they'd gone for a more realistic look staying faithful to the originals?
  • Camo335 - April 14, 2011 5:39 p.m.

    Am I the only one who LOVED the PS2 games?! Deadly Alliance, Deception, Armageddon and Shaolin Monks were a LOT of FUN! VS DC did suck, though.
  • TheMonarch - April 14, 2011 5:17 p.m.

    Totally enjoying the recent MK love on Games Radar. I had the fortunate ability to play UMK3 free. My cousin won the actual cabinet from an EGM (I think) contest. He still has the game, it still works and is still fun to play every once and awhile.
  • jmcgrotty - April 14, 2011 3:24 p.m.

    (Only mentioned because someone in another comment asked about it. Not trying to post off-topic with it) Here is the complete history of Zelda: In 1986-87 (Depending on country), Nintendo released The Legend Of Zelda. Following that release, the series went downhill quick, with no other game released being worth playing.
  • mothbanquet - April 14, 2011 3 p.m.

    You know, I never really gave much thought to the new MK but these excellent features have really whipped up my nostalgia real good. I now remember the insane amount of time I used to play MKII with mates after school and the trailers for the new one look pretty sweet. So, as with DNF, you lot are single handedly responsible for selling these games to me...
  • ultimatepunchrod - April 14, 2011 2:11 p.m.

    maybe its just me but the writer seems like a hardcore SF fan. im not saying thats a bad thing, but if youre doing a tribute article for MK maybe you shouldnt bash it continually saying SF was a better game. i know you cant talk about MK's history without talking about SF but still. other than that, good read.
  • philipshaw - April 14, 2011 1:55 p.m.

    I love it when you do these sort of articles, also having the characters music from the MK album was a nice touch
  • JetpackJesus - April 14, 2011 1:45 p.m.

    @NinjaJamez Yeah, Kano and Sonya were both captured in MK2. The true reason Johnny Cage didn't appear was because his MK1 and 2 actor - Daniel Pasina - appeared in an advert for MK rival video game "Bloodstorm" dressed as Johnny Cage and making fun of Mortal Kombat. After he was fired, they decided to write Johnny Cage as dead in the canon storyline before he was revived. As for Scorpion, Daniel Pasina also played all of the ninja's in the first 2 MK's, hence none of the ninja's appeared in MK3, bar Sub-Zero who was replaced by a different actor. As for the storyline, well, I can't remember what it said for Scorpion not appearing in it, but yeah, they were all brought back by Mortal Kombat Trilogy.
  • NightCrawler_358 - April 14, 2011 12:17 p.m.

    this article was... kool. I'm still trying to decide between MK9 or Portal 2 on day one, I'm not sure which one will have more content. At first I was really excited fro P2, but now I'm kinda leaning on the MK side. guess I better "kollect some kash."
  • cyclone306 - April 14, 2011 12:03 p.m.

    P.S. I guess that means these are kickass articles though...what I'd REALLY like to see is more character spotlights...*nudge nudge*
  • cyclone306 - April 14, 2011 noon

    GODDAMN "KOMBAT WEEK". All week of this mortal kombat bullshit. How much is WB or whoever the fuck owns the rights paying you? Now I'm going to go buy this game EVEN THOUGH I DON'T EVEN LIKE FIGHTING GAMES, because I'm extremely susceptible to corporate properganda. This is exactly what happened to me with UMK3 on XBL I was like "oh shit I did have a lot of fun with MK 1 & 2 I should totally buy this." Play it for 10 minutes, lose to the easy computer and haven't played it since.
  • TheElephantManchurianCandidate - April 14, 2011 11:39 a.m.

    Loving MK week don't listen to the haters aka. Portal 2 fanboys
  • CitizenWolfie - April 14, 2011 11:18 a.m.

    It's amazing how popular the series became konsidering it was a bit of a SF ripoff. I loved it as a kid though, even the krappy films and kartoon. There weren't many arkades where I lived but going to a mate's house and playing VS mode for hours was a bit part of my khildhood. I think on the day of release, it should be a National Mortal Kombat Day. The world over should kelebrate by replaking all Cs with a K and shouting gibberish while lunging wildly at eakh other. As you kan see, I'm getting the praktike in for the K thing already...
  • JohnnyBlackburn - April 14, 2011 10:59 a.m.

    Kano- 'A fallen angle' Really???
  • Synchronatic - April 14, 2011 7:19 a.m.

    Fucking fantastic read. Loved every bit of it. I agree with Romination though, a more in depth article on MK II and III would kick ass.
  • Romination - April 14, 2011 6:32 a.m.

    I'd actually hoped for a longer, more in-depth thing on MK II and III. With character bios and whatnot, that was actually really interesting.
  • Spacem0nkey77 - April 14, 2011 6:04 a.m.

    My buddies and I finally agreed that Raiden actually says "Raging balls of hay"...I never heard "your mommas in LA" which is also pretty funny. "I smoke weed all day" was a close second to Raging balls of hay.
  • funkymonk - April 14, 2011 5:36 a.m.

    @ usedforglue YOU READ MY MIND... Please GR, stop with all this Mortal Kombat material. I love MK as much as the next person but damn. Maybe a Good Top 7 or a Music of the day? What happened to those?!

Showing 1-20 of 34 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000