Players in arcades nationwide heard those words for the first time, echoing from a game unlike any they’d seen before. Drawn to the colorful art on the cabinet, they witnessed digitized images of actors fighting each other, bloody uppercuts, and fatal finishing moves.
This era was the rise of the fighting games, and Mortal Kombat was poised to take its place in the genre. Street Fighter had already been on the scene and was well into its sequel, but the cartoon graphics and special moves only went so far.
Suddenly you could see “real” people fighting tearing each other’s spines out or falling to their death onto spikes. The setting went from streets to a tournament island with precarious bridges and dungeon-like lairs.
In fact, this precisely is what drew me away as a teenager from Capcom’s brightly-colored anime-like game.
I’m not saying this was the only reason people loved the game. Something was fascinating about the story and characters, too. Ancient gods, demonic sorcerers, tales of vengeance, and a tournament for the fate of the world.
Mortal Kombat was like playing a violent American take on Asian myths and culture, which isn’t too far from the truth. The game not only started as a Jean-Claude Van Damme homage but also took significant inspiration from Big Trouble in Little China. Not to mention, the use of legitimate actors in their motion capture added to the cinematic feel.
Maybe this is why the game found such great success, hitting home consoles only a year after its release with a major advertisement campaign.
Although October 8th marked the 25th anniversary of the original arcade game, this was also the beginning of a wildly successful franchise. While Capcom still reigns supreme, and there have been other challengers since, Mortal Kombat has maintained its place in the history of gaming.
Quotes like “Fatality,” “Finish Him,” and “Get Over Here” have become staples of pop culture lingo (one of the PCU writers even has some of these as notification tones on his phone). The 90’s saw two movies, a cartoon series, a TV show, and comic books. Characters like Scorpion and Sub-Zero have become as iconic as Freddy and Jason. Let’s not forget when Lords of Acid members created a side project for an entire album.
That’s not bad for an arcade game that was created by only four people.
We’re not saying the ride has been perfect – Mortal Kombat has undoubtedly had its pitfalls. Questionable films and even worse games have brought a lot of critiques. Not to mention the graphic violence drew the ire of politicians and led to the formation of the ESRB. The franchise has learned to adapt, however, moving from arcades to consoles, taking mechanics from other series, and creating new series of fighting games.
While eSports grow and people become obsessed with the latest Capcom (or similar) fighting game, Mortal Kombat will continue to hold a special place in our hearts. Even when Kano rips it out of our chest and holds it still-beating to the sky.
Happy 25th anniversary, Mortal Kombat.