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The fighting game. That manly-man, beat ‘em up brawler that dominated arcades. Famous names that come to mind might include Namco’s Tekken series, or more likely Capcom’s outrageous Street Fighter games. But today, I’m going to talk about the bloodiest, most violent of them all: Mortal Kombat. Our story begins, at the small, unimportant Midway Games. Although they had some experience, they soon realized there was a market for arcade fighting games. When development started, the team, led by the legendary Ed Boon, decided that, rather than using the exquisite sprite work of games like Fatal Fury, they would innovate on 16 bit software, similar to what would be used for  Donkey Kong Country in 1994. The original plan, it seems, was to use famous movie star Jean Claude Van Damme, as he appeared in the R-rated film Bloodsport, but, after he declined to use his likeness in arcades, the plan was changed to incorporate original characters instead. And those original characters were a colorful cast. You had Johnny Cage, the shades-wearing Hollywood actor; the assassin Kano; and some outlandish ones–like the electrifying Raiden, based on the Japanese god of thunder!

The game was released in arcades in the year 1992, along with phenomenal advertising focusing on the innovative graphics, culminating in the “So real, it hurts!” campaign. It was so successful that, this being the middle of the console wars, suitors from both Nintendo and Sega came to get exclusive console rights for the game. Bally Midway’s owners, seeing a way to make more money, decided to let both of them get the game–though each company’s mentality and specs would change the final game. At Nintendo, where the demographic was traditionally younger, the fatalities were removed, and the blood replaced with a gray substance dubbed ‘sweat,’ which it was not. Sega, which appealed toward teenagers and 20-somethings, kept the blood, but, as it had less graphic capacity, the music and coloration took a slight hit. But, most importantly, when a civil servant’s son brought home the game one fateful day, his father, appalled by the violence, contacted his superior, Senator Joseph Lieberman, who then started inquiry about violent video games and teens. Both Nintendo and Sega were questioned, and Sega in particular had to bear the brunt of the consequences, but that was part of the allure to buyers. This was something to be shown off on the playground, to tell their friends “My parents let me buy it!”

And, just maybe, that was all it took.

So now, let’s "Finish this!" and come full circle. Thanks to a streamlined design, and most important of all, its hidden features, such as the hidden character Reptile, Mortal Kombat propelled its way to the top. So, the next time you play the original, or its many ilk, remember that it all started with nothing but a dream and Jean Claude Van Damme.

Reader Interactions


  1. This game was legend back in the day, a generation was in awe of it . Those among us who could move their thumbs fast enough to finish us lesser mortals were indeed looked upon with admiration and envy . Excellent work.

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