Mortal Kombat is a 2D fighting game developed and released by Midway in 1992 for arcades. The game was controversial due to the combination of excessive gore and violence (including post-battle execution moves known as Fatalities) and fully-digitized character graphics, two concepts that were introduced to the fighting game genre by Mortal Kombat. Originally designed as a video game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme (whose likeness can be seen in the character Johnny Cage), the game introduced a monstrous franchise that spawned a multitude of sequels, a series of comic books, music CDs, a live tour, two television shows, and two major motion pictures (Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat Annihilation).
The game revolves around the brutal Mortal Kombat tournament held in a hidden island ruled by the evil sorceror Shang Tsung (whose half-dragon, half-human bodyguard, Goro, remains the undefeated champion of the tournament). Each of the seven playable characters enter the tournament for different reasons (some for revenge, while others for glory). The main protagonist is Liu Kang, a Shaolin Monk of the White Lotus society who wants to bring honor back to the Mortal Kombat tournament. The main storyline was expanded through comics and sequels, involving the evil forces of Outworld, who use the tournament in order to take over Earth (known as Earthrealm).
Mortal Kombat plays like a traditional 2D fighting game. The 5-button layout was laid out in an "X" pattern and featured High Punch and Low Punch on the left, High Kick and Low Kick on the right, and a dedicated Block button (a first for 2D fighting games) in the middle. Depending on the distance and joystick position, players can perform uppercuts, roundhouse kicks, backhand punches, and leg sweeps. The game introduced special moves that do not require circular joystick movement or holding the joystick in a certain direction. Scorpion's trademark Spear Throw for instance is performed by tapping away from the opponent on the joystick twice, then pressing the low punch button. The game also introduced special moves that do not require any button presses, such as Raiden's Flying Torpedo, performed by tapping away from the opponent on the joystick twice, then tapping towards the opponent on the joystick once.
This is the only fighting game in the franchise to include a scoring system (using points) for its high score table. Players earn points by damaging other players, winning a round, and winning the Test Your Might mini-game. The amount of points for winning the round is based on time, amount of damage taken (taking no damage in a round results in a Flawless Victory bonus, while taking no damage in the second round results in a Double Flawless bonus of 500,000 points), and whether or not the player performs a Fatality (which earns the player 100,000 points).
One key feature of the fighting game genre made possible (and famous) by Mortal Kombat is the Fatality, which serves as a glorified finishing move that can only be performed upon a losing player at the end of the final round. Fatalities are special button and joystick combinations that are time-restricted. Failing to perform one usually results in the opponent falling unceremoniously to the ground, with the only penalty being a loss of the Fatality bonus. Goro, Shang Tsung, and Reptile do not perform Fatalities, and likewise players can not perform a Fatality on Goro or Shang Tsung. Other than The Pit Stage Fatality, performing a Fatality earns the player 100,000 points. In some home versions, Fatalities are referred to as "Finishing Moves".
Simply performing an uppercut (or performing Liu Kang's Fatality) on The Pit will knock the opponent over the side of the bridge, who will then be impaled through the spikes below. This is not available in the Sega Genesis (without the Blood Code activated), Game Boy, Sega Game Gear, or Sega Master System versions.
Test Your Might
Every three matches against the CPU opponent or every five matches against human opponents brings the player(s) to a mini-game called " Test Your Might", which requires each player to repeatedly tap certain buttons to build up a yellow bar (which quickly decreases). Once the bar reaches a certain point, the player presses another button to attempt to chop the object placed in front of them. The required point of breakage and points awarded for a successful chop is increased for each level. (100,000 points for Wood, 200,000 points for Stone, 500,000 points for Steel, 750,000 points for Ruby, and 1,000,000 points for Diamond)
The game includes seven playable characters and two bosses. After choosing a character, the player progresses through the game by defeating all seven combatants (including a mirror match), then progress through three "endurance matches" (in which players must defeat two opponents consecutively to win a round), and then battle the two bosses: Goro and Shang Tsung.
Introduced in later versions of the arcade (and the home console ports) is the unplayable Reptile, the third ninja palette swap with moves of both Scorpion and Sub-Zero. He randomly appears before matches to provide clues on how to reach him. If the player can decipher these hints, they will know that Reptile can be fought by performing a Fatality on The Pit stage without taking damage or blocking in the final round, and even then he will only show himself if a shadow appears over the moon in the background at some point during the match. Defeating him earns the player 10,000,000 points.
| (not available in the Game Boy version)|
Actor: Daniel Pesina
- Green Bolt - Throws a pale green fireball at the opponent.
- Shadow Kick - Throws a mid-kick while quickly moving towards the opponent, trailing pale green shadows behind him.
- Ball Breaker - Performs a split (a la Jean-Claude Van Damme) and punches his opponent's groin, temporarily stunning them.
- Uppercut Decapitation - Johnny Cage performs a simple uppercut that punches the opponent's head clean off. In the Super Nintendo version, he impales his foot into his opponent's chest (which is later parodied in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks). In the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and Sega Master System versions (without the Blood Code enabled), he just performs a simple Shadow Kick. In the Arcade version, it was possible to reset his Fatality, causing him to knock two heads off his opponent (which is somewhat parodied in Mortal Kombat II).
| (not available in the Game Gear and Sega Master System versions)|
Actor: Richard Divizio
- Knife Throw - Throws a knife (that glows blue) at his opponent.
- Cannonball - Rolls up into a ball in mid-air and charges towards his opponent.
- Heart Rip - Kano shoves his hand into his opponent's chest and rips out the still-beating heart, which he displays in admiration. In the Super Nintendo version and Sega Genesis version (without the Blood Code activated), he just impales his opponent's chest with his fist. In the Game Boy version, he just glides towards his opponent with a kick.
| (known as Rayden in the SNES, Game Boy, Game Gear, Sega Master System, and PC versions)|
Actor: Carlos Pesina
- Lightning Blast - Throws a bolt of lightning at his opponent.
- Torpedo - Charges his opponent like a torpedo, chanting nonsensically.
- Teleport - Phases into the ground and reappears on the other side of the screen.
- Electrified Head Pop - Raiden sends jolts of electricity through the opponent's body until the head explodes. In the Super Nintendo version, the opponent is instead electrocuted into a skeleton, which quickly dissolves. In the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and Sega Master System versions (without the Blood Code activated), the electrocution doesn't do anything special to the opponent. In the Game Boy version, Raiden just turns into a pile of electricity and glides towards his opponent.
|Actor: Ho Sung Pak|
- Fireball - Throws a red fireball at his opponent.
- Flying Kick - Performs a quick air kick that launches towards his opponent.
- Cartwheel Uppercut - Liu Kang performs a cartwheel that ends with a powerful uppercut, sending the opponent flying. Because the developers wanted Liu Kang to be the "hero" character, his Fatality is not considered lethal. (However, it would be lethal on The Pit, as it knocks the opponent over the side of the bridge towards the spikes). In the Arcade and PC versions, it's possible to whiff the cartwheel if the player executes it from a full screen away from their opponent. When this happens, they're free to hit their opponent in any way they see fit, including executing the Fatality a second time. (In the SNES version, however, executing the cartwheel from a full screen away simply causes Liu Kang to cover more distance and come in contact with the victim.)
|Actor: Daniel Pesina|
- Spear - Throws a spear at his opponent. If it hits (and the opponent doesn't block), he shouts "COME HERE!" and drags his opponent towards him, temporarily stunning the opponent.
- Teleport Punch - Launches himself off one side of the screen and reappears in the other (while throwing a punch).
- Hellfire - Scorpion takes out his mask, revealing a skull, and breathes fire onto his opponent, who turns into a charred skeleton.
|Actor: Daniel Pesina|
- Freeze Ball - Throws a ball of ice at his opponent. If it hits (and the opponent doesn't block), his opponent will freeze in a block of ice temporarily, open for another attack. If he attempts to freeze a frozen opponent, this will trigger a "double freeze", in which his opponent thaws instantly and Sub-Zero himself is temporarily frozen.
- Slide Kick - Glides towards his opponent, performing a very low kick.
- Spine Rip - Sub-Zero grabs his opponent's head, rips it off (spine attached), and displays it towards the camera. In the Super Nintendo version, he jumps back, performs a more potent freeze on the opponent, jumps forward, and punches the opponent, who dissolves into chunks. (This is later improved on in Mortal Kombat II) In the Sega Genesis, Game Gear, and Sega Master System versions (without the Blood Code activated), Sub-Zero just performs a more powerful uppercut. In the Game Boy version, Sub-Zero just glides towards his opponent with a punch.
|Actor: Elizabeth Malecki|
- Ring Toss - Throws a fireball consisting of three purple rings at her opponent.
- Leg Grab - Performs a handstand and attempts to grab her opponent with her legs. If it hits (and the opponent doesn't block), she throws her opponent over her with her legs.
- Square Wave Punch - Jumps straight up, then glides along the air while throwing a punch. (Similar to a square waveform)
- Kiss of Death - Sonya blows a kiss, which ends up being a fireball that turns the opponent into a charred skeleton.
| (sub-boss, only playable in the Game Boy version with a cheat code)|
- Fireball - Throws a powerful green fireball at his opponent.
- Leaping Stomp - Jumps off the top of the screen and lands on his opponent.
- Chest Pound - Grabs his opponent with his lower arms and wails against the body with his upper arms before throwing the opponent over his shoulder.
| (final boss, unplayable)|
Actor: Ho Sung Pak
- Flaming Skull - Throws a series of flaming skulls at his opponent.
- Morph - Temporarily transforms to one of the other seven playable characters. In some occasions, he even transforms into Goro.
| (secret opponent, unplayable, not available in early Arcade versions, as well as the Game Boy, Game Gear, and Sega Master System versions)|
Actor: Daniel Pesina
There are six playable stages (seven if the bottom of The Pit for the battle against Reptile is included), which are built into a simple, looping rotation. However, Goro's Lair is always the stage for Endurance 3, Goro, and Shang Tsung matches. The Pit is the only stage that includes a Stage Fatality, which is performed by a simple uppercut.
Versions and Ports
The original arcade release of Mortal Kombat went through five revisions on two arcade boards (the Midway Y-Unit and then the Midway T-Unit). Some additions to the versions include the ability for players to play a mirror match, advertisements for promotional material, more blood, increased opponent AI, and Reptile.
Almost a year later, Mortal Kombat was ported to various consoles (mainly Nintendo and Sega consoles), published by Acclaim. To hype the game's original release on home and handheld consoles, Acclaim launched a marketing blitz that labeled the game's September 13, 1993 release as " Mortal Monday", featuring the iconic Mortal Kombat theme song (known as "Techno Syndrome (Mortal Kombat)") in advertisements and promotional material.
The original arcade release was later bundled with the special edition of Mortal Kombat: Deception for the Xbox and PlayStation 2 and was part of Midway Arcade Treasures: Extended Play for the PlayStation Portable, Midway Arcade Treasures Deluxe Edition for the PC, and Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection for the Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade), PlayStation 3 (via PlayStation Network), and PC (via Steam).
Super Nintendo Entertainment System
The SNES version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Sculptured Software and released by Acclaim on "Mortal Monday". This version was infamous as it did not contain any violence or gore (not even as a secret cheat code), due to the fact that Nintendo preferred family-friendly games for its consoles. The blood was replaced by a mist-like sweat and most Fatalities (known as Finishing Moves) were heavily censored. Anything involving decapitations or organ removal was significantly altered, although Scorpion, Sonya, and Liu Kang did not have any of their finishers censored.
Despite the censorship, the game featured better graphics, sound, and music than most of the other console ports. Details such as the character size relative to the screen, the placement of their names within the life bars, and the composition and usage of the score were faithful to the arcade (even though the instrumentation from the SNES audio chip could not be as crisp as provided through the arcade version's sound chips).
However, the gameplay was hampered significantly. Control felt relatively stiff, and it was very difficult to pull off basic combos (such as Liu Kang's jump kick into Flying Kick). In some cases, it felt like there was a slight but noticeable lag between a D-pad press and the resulting move on the screen. If you tapped the d-pad too quickly, it was possible to actually attempt multiple inputs without ever seeing a response on the screen (but it also made it possible to do Scorpion's fatality--up, up--without having to hold Block).
The Sega Genesis version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Probe Entertainment and released by Acclaim on "Mortal Monday". It also featured censorship of violence and gore (with Fatalities even more censored than the SNES version). However, the game had a famous Blood Code (ABACABB, a nod to the album Abacab by the band Genesis) that, when entered at the right time, would disable all censorship.
Despite being the more popular version due to the addition of the Blood Code, the game featured weak graphics and sound, including missing animations and heavily modified music.
On the graphics front, Sub-Zero's idle and walking animations were a palette swap of Scorpion's sprites. Although Sub-Zero and Scorpion were palette swap characters to begin with, in the arcade and SNES versions they still had distinct stances between the two of them: originally, Scorpion keeps his fist raised by his head (as shown in the screenshot above), while Sub-Zero keeps an open palm by his chest.
The "Fight!" and "Finish Him!" marquees just appear on screen, instead of scaling in and out as it does in the Arcade version.
Musically, there are stage-specific songs that are used in the wrong stages (and this seems to be something that occurs in most versions ported by Probe, including the PC version). For instance, in the "Palace Gates" stage, which is second in the stage rotation, the music that plays is nothing like what is heard in the original or SNES versions, but in fact sounds like a remixed version of the Continue Screen music. The "Palace" stage music does exist in this version, but is instead used in the "Warrior Shrine" stage (the next stage over).
Curiously, not only is "The Pit" stage music completely wrong, it is also the same track that Probe used for the "Palace Gates" stage in the PC floppy disk port.
In addition, this version is missing the ominous chime when a Fatality is performed successfully; instead, the stage music continues to play until the animation is over. (The voiceover for "____ Wins" and "Fatality" is also missing.)
The Game Boy version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Probe Entertainment and released by Acclaim on "Mortal Monday". Due to technical issues, this version of the game is considered the worst due to poor controls and timing issues. The game also lacked Johnny Cage and Reptile, and was censored to contain no blood or gore. However, this is the only version where Goro is made playable through a cheat code.
Sega Game Gear
The Sega Game Gear version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Probe Entertainment and released by Acclaim on "Mortal Monday". It resembles much like an improved Game Boy version, featuring faster gameplay, color, and tighter controls. Like the Sega Genesis version, the game was censored until the player enters a hidden Blood Code. Kano and Reptile were absent from the game.
Sega Master System
Released exclusively in Europe, the Sega Master System version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Probe Entertainment and released by Acclaim in 1993. The game is the same as the Sega Game Gear version, only with more screen visibility.
The Sega CD version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Probe Entertainment and released by Acclaim in mid-1994, featuring an improved Sega Genesis version (with no censorship and better graphics, music and sound). The game also features video from the "Mortal Monday" advertisements and some tracks from the music CD as bonus content. However, due to the nature of CD-based games, the game suffered from load times (even during endurance matches and the Shang Tsung match). The manual for the Sega CD version also included tidbits from the comic book series.
The PC version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Midway and Probe, and released by Acclaim in mid-1994 and is considered the most faithful port in terms of graphics and gameplay. For the floppy disk version, the synthesized music and sounds via Sound Blaster cards were less than ideal; it suffered from melodic inconsistencies similar in nature to the Genesis version. The CD version, however, featured authentic music and sounds and is considered the best home version for its time.
The Amiga version of Mortal Kombat was developed by Probe Software and released by Virgin Interactive in 1994. The game plays similar to the Sega Genesis version, complete with censorship that can be bypassed with the Blood Code. Due to the limited controls on the Amiga, all moves can be performed with the joystick and one punch button. (Though a second button can be used as a kick button) The game suffered from loading times and a sub-par arranged soundtrack.
Plug It In & Play TV Games
In 2004, JAKKS Pacific released Mortal Kombat as part of their Plug It In & Play TV Games lineup. The port, developed by Digital Eclipse, is a slightly watered-down version of the Arcade version, including cheap MIDI music and lack of scrolling backgrounds and flashing text. The joypad itself resembled a modified Sega Genesis controller with the classic Mortal Kombat 5-button layout. The only way to play two player battles was to connect another copy of the joypad to the first joypad.