Mortal Kombat (1992 video game)
Cover artwork for the home versions
Acclaim Entertainment (Home Versions)
Probe Entertainment (Sega Genesis/Mega Drive)
Sculptured Software (SNES)
|Mode(s)||Up to 2 players|
|Arcade system||Midway Y Unit (Version 1-4)
Midway T Unit (Version 4-5)
|Display||Raster, horizontal orientation|
Mortal Kombat is an arcade fighting game developed and published by Midway Games in 1992 as the first title in the Mortal Kombat series. It was subsequently released by Acclaim Entertainment for nearly every home video game platform of the time.
The game introduced many key aspects of the Mortal Kombat series, including the unique five-button control scheme and gory finishing moves. The game focuses on the journey of the monk Liu Kang to save Earth from the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung, ending with their confrontation in the tournament known as Mortal Kombat.
Mortal Kombat became a best-selling game and remains one of the most popular fighting games in the genre's history, spawning numerous sequels and spin-offs over the following years and decades, beginning with Mortal Kombat II in 1993, and together with the first sequel was the subject of a successful film adaptation in 1995. It also sparked much controversy for its depiction of extreme violence and gore using realistic digitized graphics, resulting in the introduction of age-specific content descriptor ratings for video games.
Mortal Kombat is a fighting game in which players battle opponents in one-on-one matches. The fighter that completely drains the opponent's health bar first wins the round, and the first to win two rounds wins the match. Each round is timed; if both fighters still have health remaining when time runs out, the one with more health wins the round.
Players select one of seven characters. Whereas other fighting games had characters with considerable differences in speed, height, attacks, strength, jumping heights and distances, the playable characters in Mortal Kombat are virtually identical to one another with only minimal differences in their moves' range and speed. The game also distinguished itself from other fighting games of the time with its unique control scheme. The controls consist of five buttons arranged in an "X" pattern: four buttons for high and low punches and kicks with a block button at the center, as well as an eight-way joystick. Attacks can vary depending on the player's distance from the opponent. All player characters have a shared set of attacks performed by holding the joystick in various directions, such as leg sweep and an uppercut; the latter attack knocks the enemy high into the air and causes a large amount of damage.
Mortal Kombat also featured unique ways in which special moves were performed. It was the first game to introduce special moves performed exclusively using the joystick. Most special moves were performed by tapping the joystick, sometimes ending with a button press. Unlike previous one-on-one fighting games, few moves required circular joystick movement. Co-designer Ed Boon later said, "since the beginning, one of the things that's separated us from other fighting games is the crazy moves we've put in it, like fireballs and all the magic moves, so to speak." Another of the game's innovations was the Fatality, a finishing move executed against a defeated opponent to kill them in a gruesome fashion.
The game's blocking system also distinguished itself from other fighting games. Unlike Street Fighter characters take a small amount of damage from regular moves while blocking. However, the dedicated block button allows users to defend against attacks without retreating and blocking characters lose very little ground when struck, thus making counterattacks much easier after a successful block. Mortal Kombat also introduced the concept of "juggling", knocking an opponent into the air and following up with a combination of attacks while the enemy is still airborne and defenseless. The idea became so popular that it has spread to many other games.
In the single-player game, players face each of the seven playable characters in a series of one-on-one matches against computer-controlled opponents, ending in a "Mirror Match" against a duplicate of the player's chosen character. The player must then fight in three endurance matches, each of which involves two opponents; once the first opponent is defeated, the second one immediately enters the arena. After the third endurance match, the player fights the sub-boss Goro, followed by a final match against Shang Tsung.
Two players can start a game together, or a second player can join in during a single player's game to fight against him/her. If a game was in progress at the time, the winner continues it alone; if not, the winner begins a new game.
Between certain levels, players can compete in a minigame called "Test Your Might" for bonus points, breaking blocks of various materials by filling a meter past a certain point through rapid button presses. The first material the player must break is wood, followed by stone, steel, ruby, and finally diamond, with each successive material requiring more of the meter to be filled up and thus awarding more points. Two players can compete in the minigame at once and the last two materials are only accessible through two-player mode. The minigame would return in various forms in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks and Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe.
The game takes place on a fictional island in Earthrealm, where a tournament is being held at Shang Tsung's Island, on which seven of its locations serve as stages in the game. The introduction to Mortal Kombat II explains that Shang Tsung was banished to Earthrealm 500 years ago and, with the help of the monstrous Goro, is able to seize control of the Mortal Kombat tournament in an attempt to doom the realm. For 500 years straight, Goro has never been defeated in the tournament, and now a new generation of warriors must challenge him. The player receives information about the characters in biographies displayed during the attract mode. Additional information about the characters and their motivations for entering the tournament is received upon completion of the game with each character.
The storyline of the first Mortal Kombat was later adapted into Paul W. S. Anderson's film Mortal Kombat, including an animated prequel titled Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins, released direct-to-video. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero was made as a prequel to the first game, focusing mostly on the eponymous character. An alternate climax for the first game would be featured on the action-adventure game Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, which tells an alternate version of the events between the first and second Mortal Kombat tournaments.
Mortal Kombat includes seven playable characters, all of whom would eventually become trademark characters and appear in sequels. The game was developed with digitized sprites based on real actors. The protagonist of the game is the Shaolin martial artist, Liu Kang, played by Ho Sung Pak, who enters the tournament to defeat the sorcerer, Shang Tsung, the main antagonist and final boss (also played by Sung Pak).
Elizabeth Malecki plays the Special Forces agent, Sonya Blade, who is pursuing the Black Dragon mercenary, Kano (played by Richard Divizio). Carlos Pesina plays Raiden, the god of thunder, while his brother Daniel Pesina plays Hollywood movie star Johnny Cage and the Lin Kuei warrior, Sub-Zero, as well as the game's two other ninja characters. The blue color of Sub-Zero's costume was changed to yellow to create the ninja specter, Scorpion, and to green for the game's secret character, Reptile (though the costume used for motion capture was actually red). Mortal Kombat would become famous for these palette swaps, and later games would continue to use the technique to create new characters.
The four-armed Shokan warrior, Goro serves as the sub boss of the game; being a half-human, half-dragon beast, he is much stronger than the other characters, and cannot be affected by some of their attacks. The character's sprites are based on a stop motion model which was created by Curt Chiarelli. When fighting on the Pit stage, the player could qualify to fight the secret character, Reptile, by meeting a special set of conditions. Goro, Shang Tsung, and Reptile were not playable in the original game, but would become playable in sequels. The Masked Guard in the Courtyard stage was portrayed by Mortal Kombat developer John Vogel.
Creators Ed Boon and John Tobias have stated that Midway tasked them with the project of creating a "combat game for release within a year", which the two believed was intended to compete with the popular Street Fighter II. Mortal Kombat was reportedly developed in 10 months from 1991 to 1992, with a test version seeing limited release halfway through the development cycle. In an interview with the Official Nintendo Magazine, Boon stated that the development team initially consisted of four people - himself as programmer, artists John Tobias and John Vogel, and Dan Forden as sound designer. The final arcade game used eight megabytes of graphics data, with each character having 64 colors and around 300 frames of animation.
Originally, creators Boon and Tobias planned to create an action game featuring a digitized version of martial arts film star Jean-Claude Van Damme, but he was already in negotiations with another company for a video game that ultimately was never released. In the end, Van Damme was parodied in the game in the form of Johnny Cage (with whom he shares his name's initials, JC), a narcissistic and arrogant Hollywood movie star who performs a split punch to the groin in a nod to a scene from Bloodsport.
The team had difficulty settling on a name for the game. Boon has stated that for six months during development "nobody could come up with a name nobody didn't hate." Some of the names suggested were Kumite, Dragon Attack, Death Blow and Fatality. One day, someone had written down "combat" on the drawing board for the names in Boon's office and someone wrote a K over the C, according to Boon, "just to be kind of weird." Pinball designer Steve Ritchie was sitting in Boon's office, saw the word "Kombat" and said to him, "Why don't you name it Mortal Kombat?", a name that Boon stated "just stuck." The series itself frequently uses the letter "K" in place of the letter "C" when it has the hard C sound.
The launch of Mortal Kombat for home consoles by Acclaim Entertainment was one of the largest video game launches of the time. A flood of TV commercials heralded the simultaneous release of all four home versions of the game on September 13, 1993, a date dubbed "Mortal Monday". In the same year, an official comic book, Mortal Kombat Collector's Edition, was written and illustrated by the game's designer artist John Tobias and made available through mail order, describing the backstory of the game in a greater detail. The comic book was advertised during the attract mode of the game. The comic book would later be sold normally around the country, although it was quite difficult to get a copy outside of the United States. The entire comic book was later included as a series of unlockable bonuses in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance.
Mortal Kombat: The Album, an album by The Immortals featuring techno songs, was released in May 1994. It features two themes for the game, "Techno Syndrome" and "Hypnotic House", as well as themes written for each character. "Techno Syndrome" was adapted for the 1995 movie soundtrack and incorporated the familiar "Mortal Kombat!" yell from the Mortal Monday commercials. Jeff Rovin also penned a novelization of the first Mortal Kombat game, which was published in June 1995 in order to coincide with the release of the first movie. There were also lines of action figures based on the game's characters.
Four official ports were released in North America as part of the "Mortal Monday" campaign in 1993. The Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis versions were the home console ports, while handheld console ports were released for the Nintendo Game Boy and Sega Game Gear. While the SNES version's visuals and audio were more accurate than those of the Sega Genesis version, it features changes to the gameplay and due to Nintendo's "Family Friendly" policy, replaces the blood with sweat and most of the fatalities with less violent "finishing moves". On the Sega Genesis version, the blood and uncensored fatalities were available via a cheat code, spelled out "ABACABB", a nod to the Abacab album by the band Genesis who shared their name with the North American version of the console. This version was given an MA-13 rating by the Videogame Rating Council.
The Game Boy version was largely cut down from its arcade counterpart. It had laggy controls and a limited button layout. It also omitted Reptile and the bloodier Fatality moves. However, players could play as Goro via a code. Johnny Cage was apparently intended to be a playable character, but was cut out; bits of his character data remain in the data files. The Game Gear version was similar to the Game Boy version, but with major improvements (color, faster gameplay, and tighter control). Like its 16-bit counterpart, the game was censored unless a cheat code (2, 1, 2, Down, Up) had been entered, but lacked Kano and Reptile. A Sega Master System port based on the Game Gear version was released for PAL regions in early 1994. According to Phylene Riggs of Acclaim, an NES port was also planned at one point, but cancelled before it entered the programming stage.
In November 1993 Acclaim announced that they had shipped more than three million copies of Mortal Kombat, counting the SNES, Genesis, Game Boy, and Game Gear versions combined.
Ports for the PC (DOS) and the Amiga were released in 1994. The DOS version is the most accurate port of the arcade version in terms of graphics and gameplay. It came in both floppy disk and CD-ROM format, with the CD-ROM version having the original arcade music and sound effects. The Amiga version was only released in Europe, the controls were limited to either one or two action buttons, and it featured a minimal soundtrack with music arranged by Allister Brimble.
The Sega CD version of the game was released featuring a video intro of the Mortal Monday commercial. This port did not require a code to be entered to access the uncensored content and thus was given an MA-17 rating. While this port was technologically inferior to the better-looking SNES port and had loading times, it resembled the arcade version more faithfully in actual gameplay. It also featured the authentic CD-DA soundtrack, taken directly from the arcade version, but some of the arenas feature the wrong music (such as Courtyard playing the Pit's theme). Several remixes of the Mortal Kombat theme music were included as bonus features, including the remix used later for the film adaptation. The gore could be disabled by entering a code at the main menu. Some copies of this version are incompatible with model 1.1 of the Sega CD; Acclaim offered to replace any such discs that were mailed to their Oyster Bay headquarters with working copies.
Mortal Kombat was later released in Japan for the Game Gear, Super Famicom, Game Boy and Mega Drive as Mortal Kombat: Legend of the Advent God Fist (モータルコンバット 神拳降臨伝説 Mōtaru Konbatto: Shinken Kōrin Densetsu?) and for the Mega-CD as Mortal Kombat: Legend of the Advent God Fist - Extended Edition (モータルコンバット 神拳降臨伝説 完全版 Mōtaru Konbatto: Shinken Kōrin Densetsu - Kanzenhan?) with no major changes from their first release.
With the release of Mortal Kombat: Deception "Premium Pack" in 2004, both the Xbox and PlayStation 2 received ports of the game as bonus content. While it was promoted as "arcade perfect", there were some issues with the sound and gameplay. That year, Jakks Pacific release the game as one of its Plug It in & Play TV Games. This version of the game is similar to the Super NES version but with different music and the original arcade voices. This port lacks flashing text and a scrolling background layer, so moving objects — such as the clouds on The Pit and Palace Gates stages and the monks in the Courtyard — instead remain static. The programmer of this port was Chris Burke, for developer Digital Eclipse.
The game was a part of the 2005 compilation Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play. This port features the same controls, graphics and gore that the original game contained, but like Mortal Kombat: Deception "Premium Pack", it has sound issues and has no bios of the characters. On August 31, 2011, Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment released Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, consisting of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, as a downloadable title for PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Windows.
Electronic Gaming Monthly awarded Mortal Kombat the title of "Most Controversial Game of 1993". In 1995, the Daily News wrote, "the original Mortal Kombat video game debuted in 1992. Its combination of story line, character and mega-violence soon made it a hit worldwide. And the controversy engendered by its blood-gushing special effects only served to boost its popularity." In 2004, readers of Retro Gamer voted Mortal Kombat as the 55th top retro game, with the staff commenting that "future versions would address the limitations of the first game, but this is where it all began." CraveOnline ranked it second of the top ten 2D fighters of all time, and Forbes called Mortal Kombat one of the "most loved arcade games" that was "king of the arcade" in its day, writing that the arcade machines of the original title sell for any price between a few hundred dollars to $2,500. In 2011, Complex ranked the first Mortal Kombat as the 12th best fighting game of all time, while Wirtualna Polska ranked it as the 19th best Amiga game. In 2012, Time named it one of the 100 greatest video games of all time. In 2013, the first Mortal Kombat was ranked as the best arcade game of the 1990s by Complex (the sequel, which "took everything we loved about the original and magnified it by about a million," was given sixth place on the list).
The SNES port of Mortal Kombat was widely criticized by gaming media for censorship issues. In 2006, IGN named it as the eighth worst arcade-to-console conversion. Nintendo's decision to make the game more family friendly was also included on GameSpy's list of the dumbest moments in gaming.
The Sega CD version was even more harshly criticized by gaming media. The reviewers of Electronic Gaming Monthly described it as over-hyped with only minor improvements over the Genesis version, and complained of the lag times. GamePro similarly commented "The original Mortal Kombat is back, this time on CD, and you'd think there'd be some improvements. Think again." They criticized that the load times between fights and lag times during fights "give the game a quirky, out-of-touch feel."
Mortal Kombat was one of many violent video games that came into prominence between 1992 and 1993, generating controversy among parents and public officials. Hearings on video game violence and the corruption of society, headed by Senators Joseph Lieberman and Herb Kohl, were held in late 1992 to 1993. The legislators were especially concerned with the realistic replica of human figures in games, such as Mortal Kombat, Night Trap and Lethal Enforcers, as opposed to cartoonish characters in other violent games such as Eternal Champions, Time Killers, etc. The result of the hearings was that the entertainment software industry was given one year to form a working rating system or the federal government would intervene and create its own system. Eventually, the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) was conceived, requiring all video games to be rated and for these ratings to be placed on the games' packaging.
While many games have been subject to urban legends about secret features and unlockable content, these kinds of myths were particularly rampant among the dedicated fan community of the Mortal Kombat series. The game's creators did little to dispel the rumors, some of which were even made reality in subsequent games. The most notable of these myths spawned from an audit-menu listing titled ERMACS (error macro) on the game's diagnostics screen, which led players to believe that another secret character, a red ninja named Ermac, existed in the game, followed by reports of a glitch where the sprites of either Scorpion or Reptile would flash red during gameplay. While both rumors were false, they proved relevant enough that Midway included the character as a playable in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and subsequent titles. According to UGO.com, it was also rumored that the SNES version of the game had a cheat code to re-enable the blood and gore, but such a code existed only on the Mega Drive/Genesis version.
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