Mortal Kombat: A Retrospective

Laser Time, Mortal Kombat, Genesis, Sega, Game Boy, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, MKX, Ed Boon, Reptile, Sub Zero, Ermac, retrospective

Hey, Mortal Kombat X is out. Let’s talk about the first one!

Let me start by saying Rambo 3 for the Sega Genesis is not actually my favorite video game of all time. Hard to believe given my pen name, but that mantle belongs to Mortal Kombat — hands down, my favorite video game franchise of all time. I still remember that fateful day at my local bowling alley when I happened upon a Johnny Cage uppercut Fatality, and it forever changed my idea of what a video game could be. For perspective, I was playing games like Super Mario World and James Pond at this time, so seeing a guy uppercutting another guy’s head off was mind-blowing (there’s a pun there somewhere).  Then I saw a four-armed creature called Goro beat the crap out of a guy named Kano, and then celebrate with a “double barrel” pose that would bring Arnold to shame. That sealed the deal; I knew this game was for me.

When MK was released in October of 1992, there was nothing else like it in arcades. Sure, Street Fighter was around, but it used sprites, and once you defeated your opponent, the round was over. What set MK apart was its use of digitized actors and the then unheard of “Fatality.” I credit this game with my ability to respond to crisis situations effectively. Let me explain: every true gamer knows the extreme pressure that comes over him when the words “FINISH HIM” flash on screen and demand a specific combination of buttons in a set amount of time to trigger a fatal final blow (trust me, you don’t want to be that guy who ends a round with an uppercut). To this day, Sub Zero’s spine rip is my favorite gaming moment of all time. I have forgotten most things I learned in college, but I still remember the lyrics to “Gin and Juice” and Sub Zero’s forward, down, forward, high punch combo. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

Laser Time, Mortal Kombat, Genesis, Sega, Game Boy, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, MKX, Ed Boon, Reptile, Sub Zero, Ermac, retrospective

Who could forget?

MK was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, and featured seven playable characters. That seems insane when compared to the most recent Tekken or Capcom Versus game, but it was adequate for its time. As a kid, I preferred MK’s long-range projectiles over Street Fighter’s anyway, due to its more interesting options like a spear, ice ball, or lightning bolt. What is a Sonic Boom exactly? And how is Guile able to produce one?

Street Fighter 2 introduced minigame interludes, then Mortal Kombat introduced their own with “Test Your Might,” which involved frantic button mashing to fill up a gauge that would allow your character to karate chop through an object. Each object would get considerably harder as you progressed through the game, and I am still haunted by my feeble attempts to chop through a diamond and score the coveted 2,000,000 bonus points.

Laser Time, Mortal Kombat, Genesis, Sega, Game Boy, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, MKX, Ed Boon, Reptile, Sub Zero, Ermac, retrospective

Flawless victory.

This game was so huge that when it arrived on home consoles on September 13, 1993, it got its own holiday, dubbed “Mortal Monday.” I’m sure other video games had commercials linked with their respective releases, but the time leading up to Mortal Monday is the first time I can remember seeing one. While the Super Nintendo port had better graphics and sound effects than the Sega Genesis port, it lacked blood, and most Fatality moves had to be censored or changed altogether to adhere to Nintendo’s family friendly polices. Needless to say, I purchased the Genesis version.

Before Gamestop, the only way to “trade in” a game was the schoolyard. I still remember trading a kid at school a Game Gear copy of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for his Game Gear version of MK. It took some clever wheeling and dealing on my part (like mentioning the omission of Kano and Reptile and the toned-down violence), but I was able to seal the deal with a spit handshake — still legally binding in Arkansas. I give full credit to Alec Baldwin’s Blake in Glengarry Glen Ross for teaching me the art of negotiation.

Laser Time, Mortal Kombat, Genesis, Sega, Game Boy, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, MKX, Ed Boon, Reptile, Sub Zero, Ermac, retrospective

Baldwin-spiration.

As most of you reading this know, MK became a target for violence hearings because it was “responsible for the degradation of the youth” (read: selling a lot of copies), spearheaded by senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl. The end result? The Entertainment Software Rating Board, still very much in existence today. Sadly, the days before this system are gone, and kids today won’t ever know the feeling of confidence as they walk out of a game store with a copy of Night Trap in one hand and a Mondo in the other.

Back then, you knew a game was good when people blatantly lied about its content. I still remember my friend telling me about a red ninja named Ermac that could be accessed through some menu within the arcade cabinet. I immediately believed him, then asked “How do you access an arcade menu?” Years later, as a gift to the loyal MK fans and a nod to one of the greatest arcade game rumors of all time, Ermac was included as a playable character. Other rumors like the green ninja named Reptile actually proved to be true, and this would be my first experience with meeting certain criteria to unlock something within a game.

Laser Time, Mortal Kombat, Genesis, Sega, Game Boy, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, MKX, Ed Boon, Reptile, Sub Zero, Ermac, retrospective

Ah, the days before Chamelon…

I fondly remember the Christmas of 1995, when I spent the night at my cousin’s house with the criminally underrated film Trapped in Paradise and MK on his Sega CD, desperately attempting to decipher the various riddles that would ultimately allow us to battle the elusive green ninja. Dense clues such as “look to la luna,” “perfection is the key,” and “alone is how to find me” sent us on quite the quest. Years later, I finally learned what the riddles meant…

According to Wikipedia, to fight Reptile, the player must get a Double Flawless Victory in single player mode on The Pit, and finish the match with a Fatality. There must also be a silhouette flying past the moon, which will occur every sixth game. Speaking of The Pit, I still remember the first time I saw my cousin uppercut Sonya off the stage, and couldn’t believe how fluidly she fell off into the pit of spikes. I had never seen an interactive stage before, another innovation I credit to MK.

Laser Time, Mortal Kombat, Genesis, Sega, Game Boy, Game Gear, Super Nintendo, MKX, Ed Boon, Reptile, Sub Zero, Ermac, retrospective

David Icke would be proud.

There is so much more MK to talk about (like why it’s spelled with a K), but this article is already going a little long, so I think now is a good place to stop. Fine, they supposedly spelled it with a K because one day someone wrote it over the C, and game designer Steve Ritchie told Boon that should be the title. Sounds strange enough to be true mixed with a little Usual Suspects, so I’m going with it.

Article by contributor Moan4Stallone.

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