Mortal Kombat series
Retro Coin Op Synopsis
Since the beginning of the arcade, concerned citizens have been claiming that video games corrupt the minds of the young. In 1992, they got a little more ammo. Midway’s Mortal Kombat was one of the bloodiest, goriest, most gruesomely violent games to hit the market up to that time. It was also one of the most popular, a worldwide phenomenon that has so far led to over seven games, two feature films, a cartoon and a live-action syndicated TV series. Take that, concerned citizens.
Street Fighter II started the boom of one-on-one, side-view fighting games back in 1990, but Mortal Kombat sent the genre into the stratosphere. One of the key elements of the game’s success was its lush, dark look. Co-designers Ed Boon and John Tobias used digitized footage of real actors as a basis for its seven playable warriors—Hollywood star Johnny Cage, metal-faced mercenary Kano, ice-wielding ninja Sub-Zero, U.S. special forces soldier Sonya Blade, thunder god Raiden, masked ninja Scorpion and White Lotus Society warrior Liu Kang.
These mortal kombatants were all fighting in the annual Shaolin Tournament, held by the evil master Shang Tsung. In a bout of three rounds, players had to win two matches to move on to the next opponent, pummeling their foes into submission with kicks, punches, combos and special moves. As players worked their way up the ladder of competition, they were challenged with between-round “Test Your Might” contests, “Mirror Matches” against their own doppelgangers, and “Endurance Rounds,” which pitted them against two kombatants in succession.
At the top of the tournament table was its reigning champion, Goro, a four-armed giant with a ponytail and a chip on each of his four broad shoulders. And beyond Goro stood Shang Tsung himself, a crafty warrior who could transform himself into other characters.
Digitized graphics and one-on-one battle were enough to make Mortal Kombat a success, but a few programming secrets turned the game into a living legend. The most famous—and controversial—of these secrets were the players’ “fatalities.” Once an opponent had been beaten twice, an on-screen message and a booming voice urged you to “Finish Him!” With a series of button and joystick moves, your kombatant would do just that—punching the foe’s head off his body, ripping out his spine, causing his head to explode, ripping out his heart, charring his body, etc. Once word of the graphic violence spread, players flocked to the machines to learn and practice, or just to gawk.
Despite the inevitable outcry (or perhaps because of it), Mortal Kombat became the hottest game in the arcade. Players demanded home versions, and on a day appropriately dubbed “Mortal Monday,” they got them. Nintendo removed the game’s more gruesome content for it Super Nintendo version (blood was turned to white sweat, and the fatalities were eliminated), while Sega’s Genesis version left the gore intact. Not surprisingly, the Genesis game clobbered the SNES version in the marketplace. The blood-hungry masses had spoken.
Mortal Kombat II, released in 1993, took the kombatants into the “Outworld” for another fight to the death. Like any good sequel, MKII took everything that made the first game a success, then made it bigger, louder, bloodier and faster. New characters were introduced (including a younger, playable Shang Tsung), and each had multiple fatalities. As a cheeky wink to those who had complained about the first game’s violence, the programmers also included “Friendships” as finishing moves. These combos caused the kombatants to make rainbows, cut paper dolls, offer presents and perform other random acts of kindness.
Both Mortal Kombat games (as well as all future sequels) also included a handful of hidden characters. If players performed special tasks (winning matches without throwing a punch, executing combos on the right stage, etc.), they were taken into battle against special characters, including a shadow warrior named “Noob Saibot” (the co-creators’ names spelled backward).
Mortal Kombat II was in every way a worthy sequel, and Midway continued to offer new versions through the rest of the decade. Mortal Kombat 3, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and Mortal Kombat 4 (the first 3-D Mortal Kombat) all hit the arcades between 1995 and 97, and further versions were developed for home systems. The title even branched out into action/adventure games on these home consoles, starting with Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero in 1997.
Don’t expect the bloodlust to be quenched anytime soon. Mortal Kombat 5 is scheduled to hit the arcades at the end of 2000, and Mortal Kombat Special Forces continues the adventure-based line with Sonya and fellow special forces fighter Jax (a regular since MKII). As long as kids love violence, the Mortal Kombat line will always hold a special place in their hearts (at least until Kano rips those hearts out, still beating and oozing blood).
Arcade Machine Release History1992 - Mortal Kombat
1993 - Mortal Kombat II
1995 - Mortal Kombat 3
1995 - Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3
1997 - Mortal Kombat 4