When Mortal Kombat was released in 1994 for the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis, a huge firestorm occurred. Parents were shocked to find that Johnny was playing a game full of blood. Around this time, a certain enemy to the gaming industry threatened with governmental regulations if the video game industry didn't clean up its act, leading to the eventual creation of the ESRB later that year. Nintendo, wishing to retain its family-friendly image, censored the SNES version of Mortal Kombat. The blood was coloured white, leading to wide confusion. Were the characters sweating? Less severe fatalities - which was the original focus of the outrage - were substituted. For example, Sub Zero simply froze his opponents and broke them into ice cubes. Kano simply kept his hand in the opponent's chest instead of ripping it out. Raiden zapped his opponent into a pile of ash.

The Sega Genesis version, however, had no such censorship. The only thing keeping a gamer from enabling bucketloads of blood was a simple code, which was conveniently made available by Acclaim's special hint line. For posterity, the code is:

A B A C A B B

Sales for Sega Genesis consoles rose, reflecting the demands of the gaming population. Nintendo realized their mistake and ordered an uncensored version of the game, but by then it was too late; Sega Genesis was unquestionably the superior choice for the Mortal Kombat gamer.

The game itself was fairly unremarkable, aside from the gory fatalities. The story is that there's some sort of tournament going on and your character decides to enter. The characters themselves are digitized actors with stiff movements. Characters were:

  • Goro: big four-armed guy, not playable - he was a sub-boss.
  • Raiden: 'lightning god' who zapped lightning bolts. Hours of fun can be had by infuriating the opponent with Raiden's teleportation move.
  • Sub-Zero: The only character worth playing; he had the highly annoying ability of freezing an opponent.
  • Scorpion: Pallet swap of Sub Zero; he pulls opponents toward him a la Link's Hookshot with the not-so-memorable phrase "GET OVER HERE!"
  • Sonya: Obligatory fighting game bimbo
  • Reptile: Pallet swap of Sub Zero - he was not playable in the original Mortal Kombat. Had the uncanny ability of possessing both Sub-Zero's and Scorpion's special moves. To reach him, the player had to fulfill a number of ridiculous requirements:
    • The stage had to be the pit stage
    • Shadows had to be across the moon in the background; this happened every sixth game
    • No blocking was allowed, except for certain fatalities
    • Fatalities had to be performed - both rounds
    • The player must NOT be hurt
    • One player game only - a second player could not have joined in
  • Shang Tsung: Highly annoying end-game boss, he had the uncanny ability of completely ignoring lower leg sweeps. Unfortunately, he gained his legs back in Mortal Kombat II.
  • Kano: Random criminal who just happens to be caught in the Tournament
  • Johnny Cage: Martial-arts superstar who enters the tournament for kicks.

The arcade versions went through several minor revisions - more blood, Reptile giving clues on how to find him, etc. Subject of endless MK vs Street Fighter debates.

Quite simply, the game that changed the gaming industry.

Mortal Kombat was first released in 1992, a time when the differences between Nintendo and Sega were that one had Mario, the other had Sonic, and some multi-platform games were better on one system than they were on the other, though neither had a monopoly on the best versions. A time when violence in video games came in two forms: stomping the enemy into a cartoonish pancake or shooting them with balls of light until they became a cartoonish explosion. This time was gone the minute Mortal Kombat hit the arcades and the consoles. It introduced bloody, horrific violence into video games, including ripping people's heads off and presenting their skull and spine to the player, punching people in the balls, turning into dragons and chomping their heads off, and impaling them in spikes... and all of it done with characters more photo realistic than any that had been seen before, as well as more blood that had ever been seen in any video game, especially in the censor-friendly United States.

But beyond introducing blood, gore, and plenty of sadistic fun to the world of video games, Mortal Kombat began a chain of events that would reshape the gaming industry forever. This chain began with a backlash against the gaming industry headed up by several parental groups and many grandstanding politicians like Senator Joseph Lieberman. They wanted to censor the gaming industry and legally force it to remain a kiddie friendly medium. This first event had several repercussions. The first was that it forced Nintendo and Sega to decide whether or not they would insist that the versions of Mortal Kombat that would be ported to the Super Nintendo and the Genesis (respectively) be censored. Nintendo, which had fostered somewhat of a wholesome image and wanted to keep and nurture that image, censored the game. Sega, which really lacked any kind of a definite image in the mainstream media or even among gamers, made the bold decision to censor the blood on the surface, but leave EVERYTHING available via a simple code. This created the first real division between the two consoles, as well as between all consoles that would come to the market in the future. Nintendo became a family friendly company that insisted on having family friendly games on its consoles. Sega, on the other hand, gained the image of the sexy, violent bad boy of the gamin industry, and it got a huge shot in the arm from that. Wave after wave of violent, bloody action games arrived on the Genesis, and all of them were staying as Genesis exclusives with no plans for being ported to the Super Nintendo, which started pumping out more and more family friendly games in the vein of Yoshi's Story and Super Mario RPG. The release of Mortal Kombat led to consoles having IDENTITIES, tailored to different age groups and parts of the population. This new trend would go on to shape the consoles of the future, with the family friendly Nintendo 64 going up against the schizophrenic PlayStation that had something for everyone (including the teenagers that discovered the "survival horror" genre in Resident Evil), and now the three way battle between the family friendly GameCube, the equally schizophrenic PlayStation 2, and neophyte X-Box that's hoping to foster the same violent, sexy image for itself that the Genesis had in its glory days.

The second major repercussion was the ongoing legal battles and political threats that the gaming industry has had to put up. With the political backlash that resulted from Mortal Kombat's release led to the ESRB, a voluntary industry rating system that rates the content of games in order to better educate parents on what their kids are playing, as well as to avoid legal threats from politicians and the sue-happy victims of teenage violence (regardless of its relation to video games). The legal threats, however, did not stop, and now they have led to legislation. At the time of this writeup, laws are being passed in several cities that force would make it illegal to sell or rent violent video games to minors. And not only are these laws basing the illegality of specific games on the "Mature" ratings assigned by the ratings board that was created by Mortal Kombat (the ESRB), but the law was upheld by a District Judge in Missouri after he reviewed four violent games, among them Mortal Kombat. The ruling by this judge also declared that video games are not free speech (not "not protected speech", but instead fully "NOT FREE SPEECH"), which is a declaration that is already being referenced in anti-gaming bills in the US Congress. And perhaps just as importantly, the laws that are currently being upheld may be the final nail in the coffin of the arcade industry in the United States, because they would force arcade owners to throw out most of their most lucrative games, many of which will probably not have paid back their investment at the time that they are thrown out. So not only has Mortal Kombat contributed to the ESRB, several laws against violent video games, and a possible federal law against violent video games, but this writeup may be appended in the future to attribute the death of the arcade industry to one of its most successful games ---- Mortal Kombat.

The last change in the game industry that was caused by Mortal Kombat was the inclusion of violent video games as a legitimate form of gaming, which necessitated the creation of several new genres of games. Infamously violent PC games like Wolfenstein 3D came long before Mortal Kombat, but none managed to bring attention to violent video games and show that they could sell extremely well regardless of the platform that they were on. Mortal Kombat's success led to Japanese video games generally being less censored in the United States, such as in the case of the Castlevania series. It also arguably led to the creation of video game genres that are primarily focused on blood, gore, and extreme violence, such as the Survival Horror genre that has produced great games like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, as well as the Crime genre that has brought us the best selling game of 2001: Grand Theft Auto 3.

It could be argued that Mortal Kombat led to games growing up and having the freedom to be as dark and serious as other popular mediums, such as television and movies, but I wouldn't go quite that far. But without Mortal Kombat, the gaming industry would definitely be in a completely different form than the one it has today. Mortal Kombat, quite simply, changed the gaming industry.

Mortal Kombat was released in coin-op form in 1992 by Midway. It was an evolution on the earlier game Pit-Fighter (again using digitised photographs as the basis of its sprites), with a game style that was heavily influenced by Street Fighter II. Fundamentally, MK was a cash-in on SF2's popularity, which strove to differentiate itself from its illustrious rival by being extremely gory (a feature which went some way to distracting many players from the amateurishness of the rest of the product). You may get the impression that I think that the game is shit (I do) but I concede that many people love it although I doubt that many would go as far as calling it a classic.

To claim that Mortal Kombat was "the game that changed the games industry" is laughable. The gore gimmick had been done to death already by this point (The Immortal, Moonstone, Barbarian, Wolfenstein 3-D, etc.) although seldom within such a high-profile game. The claim that it drove a wedge between Sega and Nintendo's home console offerings is suspect as well, as although the game sold in large numbers, it was dwarfed by many other titles on each machine and was basically a routine arcade port (although again riding on the coat-tails of SF2).

Going on to cleave the games industry into two camps from this point fails to work, although to be fair it is a common misconception often repeated in the media that 'all Nintendo games are for kids' and that only their rivals can offer so-called 'mature' content (and therefore only they can hold any interest to older gamers- as anyone who owned a SNES or N64 -home of brightly coloured yet extremely deep games- as well as a -tough, sexy, but ultimately vapid- Playstation can easily refute). Sega and Nintendo were always complex and highly different beasts, their different handling of MK is a very minor footnote to this.

As for the political/scandal/censorship side of the story, while one that was documented extensively at the time, is also a bit of a non-event. Games have been the subject of sensationalist witch-hunts almost from their inception (indeed a motion was tabled to ban Space Invaders on its release in the UK- luckily unsuccessfully). This had no detrimental repercussions in law, and only short-term ones in society, as far as I am concerned.

Mortal Kombat does nothing to legitimise the inclusion of 'mature' content in games. It was an inane, exploitative venture at every stage of its life. If anything, it was quite harmful to the general public's perception of video games (as was Tomb Raider). Incidentally, DooM and its sequels sold comparable numbers to MK, and led to exponentially greater innovation in content and technology. (Whereas MK led to... more MK. Hmm.)

MK responsible for survival horror? Seeing as Alone in The Dark predates MK, and MK is not even remotely a 'survival horror' game, I think we can dismiss that claim without further discussion. Ditto for 'crime' (if you can call a setting/subject matter a 'genre'). Video games became more targetted to older players because the people who play them got older. It really is that simple.

To suggest that the death of arcade gaming is being brought about by censorship laws is purely fantasy. Arcade games are dying because of over-reliance on a few genres (racing, shooting, fighting), but mainly because of the ubiquity of powerful consoles and PCs. Incidentally, Midway have pulled out of the coinop sector because all their subsequent games were Pure Shit, and their tired, extremely dated technology was deeply unattractive to the player. (And anyway, the arcade sector will probably never completely dry up, as long as a few developers are able to make money from it- witness Namco's collaboration with Nintendo regarding the Tri-Force board).

Mortal Kombat spawned several sequels as well as two feature films and a TV series. The best of the sequels is probably Mortal Kombat II, which was excellently ported to the 16-bit consoles by Probe ("Toasty!"). It was enormously commercially successful, but in my opinion you would be hard pressed to glean much enjoyment from playing it today.

The characters for the first 3 games and which they were present in. "boss" and "enemy" mean you could only play against the character, not as them. Counts Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 the same as plain Mortal Kombat 3:

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