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Throwback Thursday - Mortal Kombat (1993)
Post by KostaAndreadis @ 04:54pm 16/04/15 | Comments
Throwback Thursday is a weekly column here on Ausgamers where Kosta opens up the proverbial gaming industry attic, has a poke around, finds dusty copies of games from a different time – and plays them!

Watch Kosta play some Mortal Kombat on both the SNES and Mega Drive

The Game: Mortal Kombat
The Year: 1993
The Developer: Midway/Acclaim Entertainment
The Systems: Super Nintendo, Sega Mega Drive

When it comes to violent video games from the early ‘90s, one of the big names that has stood the test of time, is Mortal Kombat. First released as an arcade game in 1992 and a year later to home consoles, it controversially became the poster child for everything that is wrong with video gaming. And the corrupting influence that comes with pressing buttons to make an on-screen character do bad things. Now, judging by the advanced visual violence fidelity (AVVF) we see today, the Mortal Kombat of 1992 looks pretty tame. Sure, it may feature a man ripping another man’s heart out and lots and lots of blood, but it all looks pretty fake.

If you cast your mind back to the early ‘90s, there was an overall consensus that the violence depicted in the Mortal Kombat series was a big deal. The fact that outside of blood being sprayed every time someone got hit, the game introduced a finishing move at the end of each bout where players were able to pull off a Fatality – a move that essentially killed their opponent in the most inventively gruesome way possible. For many this became the defining aspect of the series, and in a lot of ways it’s what drew the crowds to local video stores, milk bars, and arcades around the country. Any place that had a Mortal Kombat cabinet also had a group of teenagers and kids watching, and playing the game.

"Have you seen this boy?"

"John! There's a cop looking for you! Also, Can I borrow a few bucks to play Mortal Kombat?"

In the United States, this was a time when video games were released without any rating. So there’s that. With the reasoning being that games were made for children so they didn’t really need a rating. Secondly, the technical limitations of console and computing hardware meant that video games weren’t really capable of creating graphics that one would consider realistic. So even violent images, like one of a giant monster smashing into a building and gobbling up people, were fine. Enter Mortal Kombat, a game that crudely used still images of posed actors in costume for all its in-game animation. And this was one of the main factors that put it on the radar of politicians with nothing better to do.

The realness (in the sense that photos were then turned into character sprites) of the violent acts depicted in Mortal Kombat were seen as outrageous. And for a medium that had yet to truly embrace the over-the-top violence of its very nature at a mainstream level, this led to a public awareness that videogames were inherently violent. And needed to be stopped.

Pictured: Lawyers arguing for and against violence in front of a judge and jury

But before it became the fighting game that would become as popular as Capcom’s Street Fighter II, the initial idea that eventually morphed into Mortal Kombat was to take the Jean Claude Van Damme vehicle Bloodsport and turn that into a game. Creators Ed Boon and John Tobias had planned to digitize the muscles from Brussels, and then use that as the basis to build a game from. And probably call it something like Splits: The Splitening. But due to licensing issues this never eventuated, which then opened the door for the duo to create their own fictional fighting tournament. One influenced by both Asian cinema and Eastern mythology.

The end result was Mortal Kombat, a violent fighting game where players picked their fighter and then took them on a blood soaked journey through a martial arts tournament. One that ended with them fighting a four-armed demon. Naturally it became a huge success as an arcade machine, which meant that demand for a console release was astronomical. So much so that when it eventually made its way to shelves in 1993 it did so on “Mortal Monday” -- on both the Super Nintendo and Sega Mega Drive.

Three guys, a girl, and a half cyborg face

At the height of its popularity, Nintendo essentially controlled the home console market. The success of the NES and the SNES meant that the company were in a position to not only dictate how many games a publisher could release per year, but how many cartridges they could produce. So when Nintendo were apprehensive about releasing a controversially violent game on their console, they had the power to make fundamental design changes. For Mortal Kombat this meant the removal of blood and changing the more gruesome Fatalities into something more PG-friendly.

In place of blood the Super Nintendo version of Mortal Kombat has sweat, which works as well as you’d expect. Now although subsequent Mortal Kombat games added depth and variety to the fighting mechanics, the simple fact was that the original Mortal Kombat without any blood, was not a very memorable game. This didn’t stop the Super Nintendo release from becoming a huge hit, but the lack of blood was such an obvious omission that even though it faithfully recreated the visuals and feeling of the arcade game, it felt like a failure. Especially when the other guys had blood.

The red stuff is blood

In the early ‘90s Sega positioned their 16-bit Mega Drive console as the cooler older brother to Nintendo’s kid-friendly NES and SNES. But even so the Mega Drive version of Mortal Kombat shipped without blood. Unless of course, players entered a secret code during one of the loading screens. Based on the popularity of the game this wasn’t exactly a well-kept secret but it reflected the nature of the console business at the time. Without any real ratings system to speak of and no restrictions on who games were being sold too, having the real Mortal Kombat hidden behind a secret code meant that Sega were able to point to the out-of-the-box game as being identical to the Super Nintendo release.

Technically speaking this wasn’t the case, as the Mega Drive had inferior hardware capabilities when compared to the Super Nintendo’s. From the number of sprites it could handle, to the number of colours, and even the number of buttons on the controller, the Mega Drive always had an uphill battle when trying to convince people of its superiority. Which is why the narrative almost always pointed to its mature library of games. So even though the Mega Drive version of Mortal Kombat looks visually inferior to its Nintendo counterpart, it is the better version of the too. Because it has all the blood and Fatalities of the arcade release. Even with three buttons instead of the prerequisite five.

Of course this would all change by the time that Mortal Kombat II hit the shelves. By then a ratings system had been introduced, Nintendo realised that it was mistake to remove blood from a Mortal Kombat game, and Mortal Kombat II would release to both critical acclaim and commercial success. A vastly superior game to the original, which still feels like a good idea that became popular before it was any good.

Throwback Rating:

Best Forgotten /A Trip Down Memory Lane / Timeless

Previous Throwbacks:

Kosta Andreadis remembers a time when in order to get the best out of a console game you had to blow gently into it and whisper sweet nothings like "please work, I’m up to World 8-3, for fudgcicles sake". Situated in Melbourne, Kosta is a freelancer who enjoys playing RPGs, strategy, adventure, and action games. Apart from investing well over 200 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim he’s also an electronic musician with an album recently released.

Find him or follow him on Twitter - @toadovsky, Steam - toadovsky and Xbox Live - Toadovsky.
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Latest Comments
Posted 06:37pm 16/4/15
I remember seeing that for the first time in a backward ally with arcade machines filling it.. Seems dodgy now that I think about.

Anyway, good times. Mortal Kombat movie was terrible, on par with that awful Street Fighter movie.
Posted 06:49pm 16/4/15
I still remember the blood code for the mega drive version. A B A C A B B, really fast on the grey stone looking copyright screen at the start. Back in the days before internets, where if you wanted cheats or help you rang the 1900 number in the manual.
Posted 07:18pm 16/4/15
The old abacabb, i still remember that as well

We were only ever allowed to get mortal kombat out from the video shop on rare occasions because it would usually end up with either me or my brother cracking the s**** and hitting the other because one would keep doing special moves or corner each other
Posted 07:36pm 16/4/15
inferior game compared with sf turbo
Posted 07:48pm 16/4/15
We were only ever allowed to get mortal kombat out from the video shop on rare occasions because it would usually end up with either me or my brother cracking the s**** and hitting the other because one would keep doing special moves or corner each other

Hehe yeah, it often started fights between me and my brother too. Its ones of the few games that still continues as a fierce rivalry between us, even now we've already made plans for him to come over on the weekend and bash away at the new one and we're already smack talking each other
Posted 08:55pm 16/4/15
inferior game compared with sf turbo

Yer, nah
Posted 09:09pm 16/4/15
lolz, gaming newb hanging out for all to see
Reverend Evil
Posted 09:33pm 16/4/15
MK was better even though it didn't have the combo moves. It always felt boring after winning a round on SF2 because that was that. No fatalities, friendships etc. I find that the same with Injustice - Gods Among Us too. It's fun but feels empty with nothing to do after winning the match.
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