The history of Mortal Kombat

The aftermath

It should go without saying the vast popularity of Mortal Kombat wasn’t its deep fighting engine… or lack thereof. No, it was because when Shang Tsung commanded you to “FINISH HIM!” you had access to a whole other move not possible in the rest of the game. For several rounds we’d wonder what those words even meant, then randomly the computer AI would tear our head off and everyone in the arcade lost their shit – how happen??

Even the arcade game cards (which showed moves for each character) didn’t explain how to perform the fatalities. It was a total mystery, on top of the whole Reptile business and then the stop-motion dragon-thing as a boss.

Above: The famous words we all remember. This isn’t kids stuff anymore 

It may have been a gimmick, but it worked. Perhaps too well, as once it came time to bring this macabre experience to Sega and Nintendo consoles, the fervor peaked and suddenly parents realized what their kids were doing in those dimly lit arcades. And then the politicians caught wind – specifically Senator Joe Lieberman, who claimed Mortal Kombat, along with other violent video games, were corrupting young minds and needed to be regulated.

Above: Though to be fair, the arcade flyers DID show the kombatants assaulting kids… 

The actual hearings remain some of the stupidest moments in game history. Ignorant leaders spoke about a topic they didn’t understand as Sega and Nintendo both tried to bury the other with accusations or misleading information; not our finest hour by a long shot.

This all, eventually, led to the creation of the ESRB, though that wouldn’t take effect until 1994. In the meantime, Sega began its own rating system, ranging from GA (General Audiences) to MA-17 (Mature audiences only). Oddly, the Genesis version of MK only received an MA-13 rating. All that fuss over a game that didn’t even hit the max rating? Surely senators had something better to do in 1993…

Above: The Sega Genesis version of MK, complete with its pre-ESRB MA-13 rating 

Nintendo, on the other hand, aggressively censored its version of Mortal Kombat, demanding new (less fatal?) fatalities be added and the blood removed. This single move spoke volumes about Nintendo’s ‘80s and early ‘90s practices (a whole other topic we can’t even begin to hit here), but it also led to a perception that Nintendo wasn’t “cool” – Sega had blood, Nintendo didn’t. Lame.

Above: Sure it’s less bloody, but is shattering a frozen corpse any less violent? 

All this over one little fighting game! Its legacy is mixed; it’s often remembered as a clumsy, rushed fighter tossed out to capitalize on Street Fighter, yet no one can deny its far-reaching effects. The ESRB exists largely because of this one game, and the fighting boom of the ‘90s was no doubt extended and perpetuated by the amount of cash both SF and MK were pulling in on a weekly basis.

Above: The commercial for the SNES/Genesis release, which was so highly anticipated it was billed as “Mortal Monday” and promoted with this lengthy ad

Moving to today, is there anything the new MK pulls directly from the original? In a way, everything – all the classic moves that we know (spear, ice ball, uppercut etc) are back, and every character returns as well. The fighting system has been drastically improved though, so don’t think the new MK will be as reliant on the gore to get people to play. Hell, even the second Mortal Kombat learned a lot of lessons and improved on the original. Speaking of which, let’s touch on the other two games before we wrap this up…




  • 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?!

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