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A History of Violence - Mortal Kombat & Me part 1

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It was late 1992. Probably November. My family and I had recently moved to Redmond, Washington and we were visiting one of Seattle's greatest landmarks, the Space Needle. I roamed from one end of the circular room to the other staring out the windows at the ant-like people bustling in the city below. As I made my way back around to where we started, I heard a voice come from an arcade machine and my attention was immediately torn away from the glorious view to this cabinet that had beckoned me with the statement "FINISH HIM!". This game I had only read about, only ever seen in a magazine, was really real and I could play it. I dug through my pockets as quickly as I could for a pair of quarters and when I found them, I practically threw them into the coin slots. Without hesitation, I highlighted the blue ninja and began to "FIGHT!".

Holy shit. I was playing Mortal Kombat.

It's a funny thing how much I remember about this game. It was so important to me and maybe this whole piece is about figuring out why. For the rest of 1992 and much of 1993, I spent as much of my time at the local Godfather's Pizza or the video game shop that was located directly across the street. In late '93, the video game store would expand its footprint marginally, creating a 15 or so machine arcade but until then, we played at the Pizza place. It didn't matter if I had money or not, I went. I watched, I listened, I learned and most importantly, I made friends. Older, younger, I didn't care. We were all there for the same reason. We were the kids who grew up during the era of action and slasher movies. Mortal Kombat had aspects of the action films we loved, the horror movies we revered and the martial arts movies we "acted" out. 

While Street Fighter 2 had hit the arcades over a year prior and I had spent a great deal of time playing it with my friends, Mortal Kombat was a whole new ball game. There was blood! There were ways to *kill* your opponent (and some of them were gloriously gory). There was the hilariousness of Johnny Cage's nut punch (which, for good reason, did not work on Sonya Blade and we all loved that). There was the awesomeness of freezing the characters in a block of ice so you could nail that perfect uppercut. There was a magician and his 4-armed servant doing their best to stop one of the Three Storms from Big Trouble in Little China. There was the amazing voice-over screaming at your opponent to "GET OVER HERE!" as the demon ninja hurled his chain-spear across the screen, yanking the target directly to him. And of course, there was the voice begging you, DARING YOU, to not let this fight end with a simple knockout. No, this wasn't Street Fighter. This was Mortal Kombat. You had a duty. An obligation to the rest of the arcade. You had to "Finish Him!". The fatalities brought us to the arcade, but the gameplay kept us there. There was no question, Mortal Kombat was THE fighting game for *me*

It's a clear memory to me just how important we felt this game was. It was all we talked about. When a new magazine came out with information on the game, we consumed it voraciously. We passed it around, we talked about it. We cut out articles and pictures. We spent time drawing the characters and because we were more interested in the gameplay, we chose to make up the story as we saw fit (and you better believe Raiden was "Lightning" from Big Trouble in Little China when it came to my story). Mortal Kombat captured our imaginations in a way Street Fighter 2 or Pit Fighter never could and games like Primal Rage or Killer Instinct never would. Those games were fine but they weren't MK! It was THE reason to go into any arcade. Right until September 13th 1993.

Monday, September 13, 1993 aka "Mortal Monday" was the day Mortal Kombat came home. Released simultaneously on both the Super Nintendo and the Sega Genesis, the excitement was palpable but there was also some hesitation. At the time, I only owned a Super Nintendo and before the game had ever been released, we had found out that the blood and gore would be removed from that version of the game. The blood was to be replaced with "sweat" and the gorier fatalities were toned down to fit in with Nintendo's more "family friendly" image. We also knew that the Genesis version would default to the less gory version but would contain a code which would enable the "real" game. So, I saved my money and begged my father to pre-order the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat, which he eventually would do. I knew enough people who had a Genesis so, instead of wasting quarters at the Pizzeria, we'd congregate at somebody's house and play until we were forced to leave. The fact that we held the game in our hands, we could play it whenever we want, it was incredible. Right up until we found out that Mortal Kombat 2 was right around the corner.

When Mortal Kombat 2 showed up in 1994, I was overjoyed. Not only would we end up getting new fatalities, we'd be getting MORE of them. Along with Friendships (Going from uppercutting a head clean off to giving an autographed headshot in place of death was beyond hilarious) and Babalties (Baby Kung Lao with his oversized hat was ever so adorable, especially surrounded by a river of acid and dessicated humanoid corpses), Mortal Kombat 2 straddled the line between over-the-top ridiculous and serious gore, immediately superseding it's progenitor and in a big way. Now it wasn't just the horror and action aspect, it kind of swayed towards the ridiculousness of films like Evil Dead 2 or Dead Alive and it was perfect. In many ways, MK2 WAS the Evil Dead 2 of the video game world. It took most of the qualities that made the original such a hit, removed the wholly serious tone and just let the itself evolve into something greater than the sum of it's parts. The thing that excited me most, though? Reptile.

During my tenure playing the original in the arcades, I'd heard rumour (we all had) that there was a green ninja you could face off against IF specific conditions were met. I only ever got lucky enough to fight him once in his lair underneath "The Pit" but it was a moment I never forgot or let go of so when I found out he was *playable* in Mortal Kombat 2, I nearly shit a brick. Along with Reptile, the cast of "Kharacters" (*groan*) grew. With a diverse new cast consisting of both old favorites (Kano and Sony are the only two originals left off the playable roster but they make a background appearance as prisoners) and new faces, Mortal Kombat 2 was the PERFECT follow up.  It would be turn into my favorite game in the series AND many years later, would be the very first arcade cabinet I would ever purchase for home use.  

If I had spent a lot of time in the arcades playing the original game, I probably doubled that up with Mortal Kombat 2. The original game was still getting a ton of play with friends but mentally we had all moved on. As we played at home we talked about heading back to the arcade. Much like with the first game, our imaginations were completely invested in the fight against a new, stronger foe. We were taken aback that the shape-shifting wizard Shang Tsung was not the ultimate power in Outworld and, in fact, WE could actually control Shang Tsung!? And what was the deal with the question mark underneath this new big bad, Shao Kahn? We "killed" Goro in the first game, what the hell was the next? 

Mortal Kombat 2 also introduced an interesting concept to my friends and I, which was the power struggle between Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn. We began to wonder if maybe the devil we knew was better than the devil we don't and our stories, conspiracies, thoughts and ideas ran wild wondering what would happen if Tsung were to win the Mortal Kombat tournament. Of course, most of my stories ended with everybody eventually falling to the Saurian, Reptile. 

Almost exactly a full year after "Mortal Monday", the uniquely titled "Mortal Tuesday" would bring Mortal Kombat 2 to home consoles on September 13, 1994. This time, Nintendo heard the fans (and saw the hit to the pocket book when the Genesis version outsold the Super Nintendo version) and loosened up in their "family friendly" practices allowing the game to be played in it's full bloody glory. This was fantastic because I was able to actually purchase the game for the console I owned and play it as much as I want! Believe me, I did. I stayed up through the night, perfecting every Fatality, every Friendship, every Babality. I played and played until I saw all the secret characters which I found out about through a variety of video game magazines. When I wasn't at school or playing sports, I was playing Mortal Kombat 2. By myself or alone, I didn't care. It was bliss.

It was also bittersweet.


I hope you've enjoyed part 1 of the dive into my history with Mortal Kombat. If you're ready for the exciting conclusion, make your way over HERE and enjoy!