As much as I think Mortal Kombat was/is a pretty shitty fighting game, it deserves our attention. For those of us in the Capcom or SNK school of fighting games Mortal Kombat always seemed pretty stripped down. Every character had identical regular moves and were only differentiated by their specials and fatalities. Out of 7 total characters, two of them even looked identical. I’ll get to the fatalities in a bit, but mostly Mortal Kombat made for a pretty shallow fighting game compared to its competition. And, I guess, what’s even more striking about Mortal Kombat is that the franchise stayed this way for some time but maintained a level of popularity that is more or less completely incongruent with most other Acclaim/Midway titles. I don’t know many gamers who would consider the Midway logo as much more than a seal of mediocrity. Sort of like the Nintendo Seal of Quality today (burn).
The original Mortal Kombat for SNES was a big deal, though. I remember crowding around the TV the first time a friend rented this game. I would have been in grade 4 or 5. There were so many rumors about the game floating around in our tiny, misinformed heads:
“I hear this game is SUPER GORY“.
“Yeah, but Nintendo are a bunch of pussies and made the blood look like sweat! Pussies!”
“I hear on Sega you can see Sonya’s boobies!”
“Oh yeah? I heard that in the arcade version you can do sex with her!”
“Cool!!!” (awkward boners abound)
“I heard that there’s a code to make it even more bloody!”
“Chris’ brother heard from a magazine that if your parents split up they’ll each buy you this game to prove that they love you!”
I actually wrote a completely different review before thinking about the ways that Mortal Kombat has been influential. Just think about your life with Video Games at the age of 10. If you were a console kid like I was, you probably had your Ninja Turtles, Double Dragon, Mario, Ninja Gaiden, Tetris… I dunno. Ducktails? For many of us Mortal Kombat was the first Hyperviolent game we ever played. Everything before this was cartoony. Even though the greyish-brown bio-chunks that flew out of fighters in the Super Nintendo version didn’t look like blood, our imagination certainly filled in the gaps just fine. But here were people, digitally rendered and motion captured, being impaled by spikes, set on fire, having their spinal cords ripped out. And it was happening in our living room. Even if you were from a family with a computer, Wolfenstein came out the same year as Mortal Kombat. Doom came out in 1993. Sure, some PC games had covered serious subjects like rape and brutal violence before, but few games were as accessible to enterprising kids as this holy trinity of gore.
Certainly, by today’s standards, Mortal Kombat is pretty tame. After playing games like Soldier of Fortune where each body part has a number of articulation points for having limbs sawn off, it almost seems as cartoony as those older games. Fallout 3 had hilarious limbular explosions in HD slow-motion! But Mortal Kombat was likely one of the first games that you or someone you know wasn’t allowed to play. It was a precursor to the congressman-based fervor of Grand Theft Auto. It played a leading role in the eventual development of the ESRB. Sure, a lot of parents ignore ESRB ratings even today, but they cried out for a rating system in the first place largely thanks to kids bringing Mortal Kombat home.
It’s other “legacy” is the more dubious one of ridiculous announcers. Fatality, Babality, Finish Him, Toasty… they all lead to the Headshot, Multikill, Double Kill, Running Riot, Killamanjaro, and Unstoppables of today. I could actually do without these though, so thanks Mortal Kombat.
So yeah, it’s a shitty fighting game, but it might very well have changed the landscape of gaming as we know it. That’s pretty neat. And with the demise of Midway and the sale of the Mortal Kombat IP to Warner Brothers, I’m not sure we’ll see a return of the shock-value tuned, mediocre experience that so defined the series. Who knows, someone make even take the initiative to turn it into something worth playing again.