Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) is a fantasy-themed fighting game franchise originally developed in 1992. In the early 1990’s, the Street Fighter (Capcom 1987) franchise was dominating the market. It’s deep storyline, bright color scheme, and intricate fight sequences were a stark contrast from the games that were already in arcades, starting the transition into a whole new genre of games. In 1992, developers Ed Boon and John Tobias (along with the rest of their team) created Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) as a both competitor to Street Fighter (Capcom 1987) and a huge new franchise. The franchise, as of the year 2000, had generated $5 billion in revenue, making it “one of the highest-grossing media franchises of all time”1. The first games in the series were known for their “realistic digitized sprites (which differentiated it from its contemporaries’ hand-drawn sprites) and an extensive use of palette swapping to create new characters”.1 The first game, which serves as the focus of this post, was played in an arcade with a joystick and several buttons, including high punch, low punch, high kick, low kick, and block. Most of the characters were only differentiated by their fighting styles and nothing else. Some styles were based on actual martial arts while others were completely made-up1. Additionally, the creators of Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992)and Street Fighter (Capcom 1987), respectively, spent the majority of the early 90’s locked in a rivalry. Much was said by both parties, including claims that MK was “cartoonish” in comparison to SF. SF’s creators also vehemently stated that there would be no crossover between the franchises1.
The series takes place in a fictional universe comprised of eighteen “surviving realms”, which were all created by the Elder Gods2. The first game in the franchise takes place in Earthrealm, “where seven different warriors with their own reasons for entering participated in the tournament with the eventual prize being the continued freedom of their realm, threatened with a takeover by Outworld. Among the established warriors were Liu Kang, Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade. With the help of the thunder god Raiden, the Earthrealm warriors were victorious and Liu Kang became the new champion of Mortal Kombat”2. John Tobias, one of the franchise’s creators, stated that his inspiration for the game came largely from Chinese Mythology and stories about the Shaolin Monks1.
The giant, sweeping popularity of the Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) games, particularly among teenage audiences, led to some concern from both parents and legislators. The gory, somewhat violent quality and fighting theme of the game (notably it’s use of Fatalities, or finishing moves) led to the fear that MK was corrupting young minds, and would eventually lead to a spike in violent behavior among youth. People felt that the game needed to be regulated. This reaction eventually led to the creation of the ESRB, which would become effective in 1994. Sega also enacted it’s own rating system which spanned from GA (General audiences) to MA-17 (Mature audiences only)2. After all the issues surrounding the game’s content, it ultimately was awarded an MA-13 rating. So, despite the controversy, Mortal Kombat (Midway 1992) wasn’t even given the harshest rating.
1“Mortal Kombat.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.
2Jasper, Gavin. “The Mortal Kombat Timeline: The Krazy Story Explained.” Den of Geek. N.p., 21 Aug. 2015. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.