As we gear up for a reboot that promises to return the series to its glorious, gory roots, we thought it might be nice to cast a nostalgic eye back over the original title and see if it's just as good as we remember it. Suffice to say, we're glad that this year's game isn't going completely back to basics.
I talk quite a lot about Mortal Kombat in the good old days of the early Nineties, and the trouble is, I've realised, that my introduction to the series came with Mortal Kombat II - a game that's so much better than its predecessor. But, of course, all popular gaming series have to start somewhere and so today's Blast From The Past takes us back to 1992, back when Midway were not only still alive and kicking, but were about to define a whole generation of western arcade-visiting kids thanks to two games: NBA Jam and, yep you guessed it, Mortal Kombat.
Released in the arcades in 1992, it would be ported over to home consoles by Acclaim a year later. Instead of using drawn animation, Mortal Kombat incorporated digitised sprites, featuring actors snapped in a wide variation of poses that were then edited together to provide a rather distinctive, if somewhat jerky, visual style. Sub-boss Goro, being a half-human, half-dragon Shokan warrior, was created via a stop motion model.
There were seven playable characters in the original game - Liu Kang, Raiden, Kano, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Sonya and Johnny Cage - with the largely ignorable story involving Liu Kang entering the Mortal Kombat tournament in order to stop evil, bearded sorcerer Shang Tsung. Strangely, for a fighting game, they all played exactly the same way, at least in terms of core moves. The were all the same size and build, and there were few discernible differences when it came down to attack speed and strength.
But then, Mortal Kombat was never really about fighting mechanics - at least not in the way near rival Street Fighter had things. Instead of dedicated core moves, pretty much every character had the same basic set of moves: high and low kicks and punches and a block function. The run move would later be introduced in Mortal Kombat 3. Attack modifiers depended upon proximity more than anything else, and sweeps and roundhouse kicks involved pressing away from you opponent along with the relevant attack input. It was a relatively awful core system, one that also allowed for infinite juggling if you were canny enough, meaning that if you timed it right you could keep kicking your adversaries into the air again and again until they were a lifeless bloody pulp.
But we weren't there for the fighting mechanics. Not really. It wasn't the deep and complex strategies that kept us coming back for more. let's be honest about this. There were no real substitutes for this. Mortal Kombat let us rip out people's spines.
There's no huge amount of justification for this. I've spoken out a fair amount on this site on how it would be nice for the games industry to really try exploring other modes of interaction than simply opting for violence at every turn, but that discussion just doesn't hold up when it comes to Mortal Kombat. It was designed to be over the top from the start.
Everyone can remember the first time they saw Sub Zero yank out someone's spine, or watched Scorpion rip of his mask and bathe his opponent in fire, or gasped as Kano shoved his hand into his adversary's chest and ripped out their heart, all the while accompanied by a deep, rumbling voice that chuckled drily and muttered 'Fatality'. It was brilliantly simple - the ultimate in on-screen smacktalk. No longer did fighting fans simply have to be satisfied with the knowledge of victory, marked by the extinguished life bar of their challengers. Now we had a satisfying reward for our button-mashing travails, and we didn't even have to utter a single word.
There were stage fatalities too. Knocking someone off of the stone bridge hovering above The Pit paved the way for some genius locales in later games from the Dead Pool to the Subway to, the ultimate in stage-based ignominious demises, the Bell Tower.
Of course, Mortal Kombat wasn't all fun and games. Not for everybody. Cue waves of concerned parents, video games were in the tabloids once more. As TIME put it back in 1993 had video games gone too far this time? There were no real studies to refer to, although 'experts' and 'enthusiasts' from all sides waded in on the subject. The controversy extended into the judicial system, though, and hearings on the relationship between violent video games and perceived corruption of society were brought to federal court, headed up by Senator Joe Lieberman. Hearings that later led to the formation of the Entertainment Software Rating Board as the industry was given twelve months to implement a working rating system or else have one forced upon them by federal government.
But they made the most of it, growing a profile so big that it spawned several awful movies, several not-too-bad cartoon series, some kickass sequels, a range of action figures, and now a pretty damn cool webisode miniseries. We can't wait to Test Our Might next week.