Mortal Kombat began life as an arcade game released by Midway before Acclaim picked it up for the home console market and released it on the Sega Mega Drive in 1993. It was a beat ‘em up developed as an alternative to the hugely popular Street Fighter 2.
It caused quite a stir at the time with detractors complaining about the realistic depiction of violence. Unlike it’s hugely popular competitor Mortal Kombat rejected a cartoon art style in favour of digitised graphics featuring actors in various poses which were then edited together to give the impression of jerky animation. It was also extremely bloody with fountains of gore spraying the screen when fighters clashed and notorious finishing moves known as fatalities which allowed players to end the fight by brutally slaughtering their opponent. The fatalities were developed further in the sequels but in the original they included moves like ripping out the heart of your opponent, punching their head off or setting them on fire.
The control mechanics for Mortal Kombat were also significantly different from Street Fighter 2. Instead of having a unique set for each character in Mortal Kombat they had the same basic set which comprised high and low punch, high and low kick and block. Attacks were modified according to how close the players were to each other and different characters could do different amounts of damage with the basic moves. In addition Mortal Kombat featured special moves which differentiated the characters and these were easier to pull off than those in Street Fighter 2. Finally each character had their own fatality move which they could perform once their opponent was beaten.
A new concept which was introduced in Mortal Kombat and proved extremely frustrating for anyone on the receiving end was the ability to knock your opponent in the air and if timed correctly continue to hit them until they were dead offering them no opportunity to counter. It took some skill to do this but if pulled off correctly you could have a demented game of keepie-uppie using your opponent as the ball.
Mortal Kombat featured a strange cast of characters including Johnny Cage, Kano, Liu Kang, Raiden, Scorpion, Sonya Blade and Sub-Zero. There were also a few non-playable bosses to defeat as you progressed through the single player. Apparently the original creators of the game wanted Jean Claude Van Damme to star but he declined. They were inspired by his film Bloodsport and Johnny Cage was based on the actor. The game also obviously drew inspiration from the classic Carpenter movie Big Trouble in Little China and the big boss baddie Shang Tsung looked a lot like the villain Lo Pan from the movie.
There were seven different arenas to fight your way through although each was a relatively uninspired 2D backdrop. There was also a strange mini-game between levels which challenged the player to break blocks of increasingly hard substances by mashing buttons like crazy and then hitting the block button at exactly the right moment.
One of the best things about Mortal Kombat was the inclusion of several easter eggs; bizarre little secrets which could be unlocked by certain button combinations performed at the right time. The ultimate easter egg in the original game was undoubtedly the character Reptile who could only be unlocked by fulfilling a frustratingly tricky set of criteria. The easter eggs were a clever marketing ploy which ensured players would waste hours trying to track down and unlock every secret in the game. Before the days of Google this could take a very long time indeed.
The game was released on a variety of consoles including a version for the SNES which had the gore removed but the best version was undoubtedly the blood soaked Sega Mega Drive release. It spawned a series of sequels which are still running and a truly awful film adaptation.
The original Mortal Kombat gained a fan base largely because of the excessive violence which was rare at the time. It isn’t a game that has aged well and as a beat ‘em up it feels incredibly dated today. The game-play was much improved in later iterations but you still have to credit the first game for having the bravery to take on the hugely popular Street Fighter series and for spawning a unique and enjoyable, if extremely cheesy, franchise.
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