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The history of Mortal Kombat

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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…

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34 comments

  • usedforglue - April 14, 2011 12:54 a.m.

    Honestly guys, what is with all the MK stuff this week. The Mortal Kombat games were never that good and they probably never will be that good. Isn't there something better to report on. No but seriously, I love you guys and the articles are still fun to read!
  • Yaro - April 14, 2011 12:57 a.m.

    Prepare yourself! We examine the original arkade hit that korrupted minds and led to the kreation of the ESRB. Fix'd
  • Rubberducky - April 14, 2011 1:16 a.m.

    Kan you guys do me a favor and do a "history of" on the Legend of Zelda? I haven't played it since probably the N64 days... PS I kept this post on topic by using the K on can. Clever eh, eh?? sigh
  • Zeokroe - April 14, 2011 1:56 a.m.

    @usedforglue: Dude, it's the week before the newest MK. I'm an MK fan to the end. I really enjoyed the old games. I thought they were very fun. The second MK I have on my PS3, and I've preordered/bought the newest one already. They aren't deep in move sets, but they do take strategy. I believe them to be good, but maybe that isn't saying much. I'm totally loving GR this week for Kombat week. This is great.
  • usedforglue - April 14, 2011 2:02 a.m.

    @Zeokroe: I'll have to admit that the new MK game actually looks pretty good. I also played the games as a kid and enjoyed them at the time. The series is just so easy to rip on. I don't make a very good troll! Here's to the new MK game! Make it Kount guys!
  • Nonstop17 - April 14, 2011 2:08 a.m.

    ahhh MK2 that was one f the first games i ever played...good times good times
  • Heyexclamationpoint - April 14, 2011 2:30 a.m.

    "Above: The Ultimate MK3 roster, which added cyber ninjas, a lady-Goro and the pitiful Stryker" Actually the cyber ninjas were already in the original MK3. Ultimate added the regular ninjas.
  • elchetos - April 14, 2011 2:33 a.m.

    This is the kind of article that keeps me coming back for more every day. I sucked at MK back in the day, but I'm really intrigued by the new one, maybe it will pull me back to the fighting games. I still remember my little 8 years old mind being blown the first time I saw sub zero's fatality, that'll be a moment that will be engraved in my twisted memory.
  • NinjaJamez - April 14, 2011 2:42 a.m.

    i would like to know why kano didnt appear on MKII, and why scorpion and johnny cage didnt appear on MK3... is there any plot point that clarifies those absences
  • AntistasMetroid - April 14, 2011 2:50 a.m.

    Yes! Keep the MK content flowing! This is all speaking directly to my nostalgia and i cant get enough. just pre-ordered my copy of the new one adn im gettin pumped!
  • xombiesarelove - April 14, 2011 2:54 a.m.

    I'm loving all the MK articles and can't wait to hear what GamesRadar has to say about the series. Plus what child of the 80's/90's doesn't remember that awesome MORTAL KOMBAT! commercial?
  • ThePigHostage - April 14, 2011 4:07 a.m.

    @NinjaJamez - Kano was supposed to be captured in MK2 (you can see him chained up alongside Sonya in one of the levels) - Johnny Cage was supposed to be dead in MK3 I don't know why Scorpion was originally left out of MK3.
  • XLGirthMan - April 14, 2011 4:59 a.m.

    Honestly I never got to play any MK games before. But I'm still psyched for the new one and have preordered it for the PS3 (KRATOS!!!). All this MK history stuff is making me so much more anxious!
  • bloodyshadow - April 14, 2011 5:21 a.m.

    Kombat Week has my pants moist and I'm very impressed with the research you guys are doing and the little trivia you're all spewing AND getting right. Amazing... ... even if most of the article's content is making fun of the series. :/ Beggers can't be choosers.
  • 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?!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • JohnnyBlackburn - April 14, 2011 10:59 a.m.

    Kano- 'A fallen angle' Really???
  • 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...

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