One of the most controversial video games of the 1990s made its way into arcades 25 years ago this week. Do you know what game it is?
Mortal Kombat arrived in arcades on October 8, 1992, before being ported to a number of systems (including the Super Nintendo, Game Gear, Sega Genesis and more) beginning the following year. The 2D fighting game was the inaugural title in what has since become a long-running franchise. Mortal Kombat was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias, who were told by publisher Midway to create a combat-oriented fighting game to compete with the already-popular Street Fighter II. The game saw a speedy development process – just 10 months – before releasing.
The game’s story followed seven different playable characters who have been tasked with defeating Shang Tsung, who was banished to an island in Earthrealm. Shang Tsung partnered with the demonic Goro to doom the realm itself, and the characters seek to take them on to prevent their plans from coming to fruition.
The playable characters in Mortal Kombat included martial artist Liu Kang, special agent Sonya Blade, mercenary Kano, god of thunder Raiden, movie star Johnny Cage, and the ninjas Sub-Zero and Scorpion. A third ninja, Reptile, was also playable if unlocked under special circumstances.
Mortal Kombat featured some unique elements for a 2D fighter, especially for the time, such as a five-button control scheme and special move execution. Of course, the game is best-known gameplay-wise for the “Fatality” feature, a finishing move used against the opponent which killed them in a bloody, graphic fashion (such as ripping their spine out).
It was the Fatality system, in addition to the game’s more lifelike graphics, that led to some serious controversy – especially when the system made its way to home consoles. The Nintendo ports of the game censored out basically all of the blood seen in the game to abide by the company standards; Sega’s version kept it in, and was more commercially successful because of it. Mortal Kombat, in addition to horror game Night Trap, were particularly focused on during the Congressional hearings of the early ’90s that eventually led to the creation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The game was later brought up in censorship discussions around the world regarding video games, as well as how violent video games can impact the people who play them.
Whether due to the controversies or the fun-if-gory gameplay itself, Mortal Kombat has cemented its legacy in video gaming for good. Two and a half decades after its debut, gamers worldwide still know what to do when they hear “Finish Him!”