Can you believe that the release of the first Mortal Kombat for home consoles took place in September 1993? That was also 28 years ago. The early 90s was an interesting era for video games as popular arcade games were being released on home consoles. Because popular systems such as Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo had emerged into the 16-bit arena, the hardware had become strong enough to adapt arcade games. No, the graphics and sound were not as good as the arcade yet but I believe that these home releases were beginning to signal the end of the arcades as we had known it throughout the 1980s. Mortal Kombat coming to home systems was a significant event in gaming history.
The moment Mortal Kombat arrived in arcades in 1992, gamers knew right away that it was a different type of beast from the other fighting games that came before it. The digitized-looking title had gained acclaim not only as an alternative to Street Fighter II (and its enhanced editions) but also gained notoriety due to the level of violence. Blood would splatter out of the characters when they were hit. You were able to perform a “fatality” to kill your opponent when you won two rounds. Hence, the “Mortal” in Mortal Kombat. The violence raised concern among some parents and even congressmen. Check out the major controversies surrounding the Mortal Kombat series HERE.
Even though I still played the game as a teen, I could see why many adults were not in favor of this game. I believe the more realistic graphics played a huge role in what made the content so disturbing. The violence and killing were more than enough to put a person off. But the characters looked so real (actors/actresses did motion capture for the game), especially in the arcade versions, that it felt like a line was being crossed. So when it was announced that Mortal Kombat was coming home, it raised the ire of many people.
As a result of growing concerns over the game’s content coming to home consoles, the vanilla games for both the SNES and Genesis contained no blood. Fatalities were still included but significantly toned down. The Genesis version did have a code that players could enter to restore the original gore. This was an unprecedented situation for the time. Today, we have all sorts of games that are ultra-violent and even overtly sexual. But in the early 90s, games like Mortal Kombat were breaking new ground in terms of how far the envelope could be pushed. It’s a fascinating case to study because Mortal Kombat is such a gaming staple today that many forget the controversy surrounding the game in its infancy.
When Mortal Kombat II and III came to home consoles, the games included all the blood and gore of their arcade counterparts. By that point, the games were also rated “M” for Mature and game stores started requiring parents to be present if underage kids were going to purchase games with that rating. Despite the controversies surrounding the brand, Mortal Kombat’s popularity grew. I believe its success paved the way to ultra-violent games with realistic-looking graphics being more acceptable. No doubt about it, Mortal Kombat was a gamechanger for the types of games that people now played at home.
Mortal Kombat still continues to this day, just as bloody and gory as ever. Yet what I believe has helped the game avoid the controversy it once had is that the game doesn’t take itself as seriously as it once did. The standards of violence within gaming are also different in 2021 compared to the early 1990s. In the first game, I believe because of the digitized characters and the moves seeming so lifelike, it raised a lot of questions as to what is reality and what is fiction. While the game’s abundance of violence will be what stays imprinted on many people’s minds when it comes to Mortal Kombat (and rightfully so), the franchise’s fighting mechanics, characters, and story rank among the very best in the genre. By the way, how crazy is it that neither Midway or Acclaim exist anymore?