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My introduction to Mortal Kombat began with a trip a local arcade with a group of friends. It was a weekend tradition for us to go to the arcades and try to bag ourselves a fortune on 2p slot machines. I do remember one arcade machine that was surrounded by a group of teens who took huge interest in this one particular game. We had a peek for ourselves to see what the fuss was about. The first thing that grabbed my attention was how real the fighters looked. I was too used to the cartoony graphics of Street Fighter so this was a breath of fresh air and a welcome alternative. The other thing that caught my attention was the blood. Mortal Kombat was the first video game where I actually saw blood! I remember watching these older kids play and one of them did an uppercut which caused a lot of blood to spill. I turned to my friends and said “oh my god, did you see that?” I was actually legit surprised that they could get away with this!
I later heard about the various “fatalities” you could perform. Some of which included ripping your opponents head off or pulling his heart out from his chest. I also heard about the stage fatalities and one that springs to mind was the spike pit where you could uppercut your opponent off the bridge and he’d fall into a pit of spikes. It sounded gruesome but looked outrageous! The more I heard about it, the more I wanted to play it even though I was pretty terrified by the prospect of it. Finally the day arrived. I still remember which character I was, Sub Zero. I selected him mainly because he looked like a Ninja and I just recently seen “American Ninja” so I knew that Ninjas kicked ass! We had an absolute blast playing it. The problem with playing it in an arcade was that you had to wait in line to play it and there would always be someone hogging the machine so it was difficult to have a good game so I needed to buy the game for the Mega Drive to feed my addiction.
Overtime, Mortal Kombat replaced Street Fighter for me as the “king of the fighters” and that opinion still lasts to this day. It was so intimidating. I mean, what sounds more menacing, someone saying “sonic boom” or a guy saying “get over here!” My favourite characters were Sub-Zero and Raiden. I mastered their moves thanks to a special publication in GamesMaster magazine where all their moves and fatalities were listed. There were other fatalities listed which I knew nothing about such as “Friendship” or “Babalitie” which saw your opponent get transformed into a baby! Hilarious. There were a lot of in-jokes such as the character Noob Saibot whose name was a play on the names of Mk creators Ed Boon and John Tobias which have simply been spelled backwards. On the Sega version, there was a unique fatality called “Fergality” which turned your opponent into Fergus McGovern, one of the game’s programmers and another code which is often referred to as the “Dad’s code”, what that meant was that once you entered the code it will change all the character’s names to those off the classic UK comedy show, Dad’s Army! I can imagine it now, “Private Pike Wins! Flawless Victory…..stupid boy”! The most common in joke and most popular has got to be “Toasty”. It originated as an inside joke between members of the Mortal Kombat development team, and made its way into the game via an image of sound designer Dan Forden appearing in the lower-right corner of the screen, and saying “Toasty!”, when the player performed a particularly vicious uppercut. Toasty was also key to unlocking the character, Smoke. I have no idea what the story is behind Toasty but the first time I heard it (I though he was saying whoopsie) I cracked up. Bastard cost me the fight!
Other rumours which made their rounds on the school playground included a nude mode which saw your characters fight in the buff. I can only imagine Sub Zero has an icicle for a knob. I remember hearing a story about a hidden character called Hornbuggle. In order to unlock him you have to play 2 player mode 250 times a row. Me and my friends fell for it. We organised a sleepover so we could see if this was true. We stayed up till 3 in the morning but nothing happened. What a waste of time!
In 2005, I heard about a competition which was being held where the winner would win an original Mortal Kombat arcade machine. The story behind it was that this fella was emigrating to Australia and the shipping costs for the arcade machine would had been too high so he decided to give it away in a unique “fight to the death Mortal Kombat tournament”, that’s exactly how he advertised it on MySpace (Yes, MySpace. Do people even use MySpace?). At the time, I was living in a flat with a group of friends and we couldn’t help but think “that would look mint in here”. So we decided to sign up for the tournament in hope that we’d come back with the arcade machine. The tournament was open to the first 64 people who paid their £5 entry fee (it was also announced that the money would be added up and shared between the winner & runner up) and we would get a call back informing us when our first heat took place. The guy who set up the tournament hired out a conference room at a local hotel in Sunderland for the heats to take place. How the tournament worked was that the 64 participants were split up in to 8 groups of 8 with the top 2 in each group qualifying for a knockout tournament. The rules were as followed:
Sounds exciting don’t it? I still remember entering the room for my first heat. 4 Mega Drives were set up in a row and the fixture list posted on the wall. I must admit, there was a lot of time and effort put into this but it worked off magnificently in the end. As for the group stage, I managed to top the group only losing one fight in the process. Now it’s onto the KO stages. Needless to say I managed to progress to the final which was going to take place at the same Sunderland Hotel. Myself and everyone else who had participated in the tournament were invited to a private room where the big fight was shown on a giant cinema style screen. Amazing! The night before I was training like a mad man. In my mind, I was Rocky Balboa training for his big fight against Ivan Drago. I was in the zone. I was ready. With all that confidence oozing, the tournament organisers threw a spanner in the works. Remember what I said about using the same character throughout? Well, they decided to make both of us select a character at random. That totally threw me off guard! So as we randomly selected our characters, he got Kano whiles I was lumbered with Johnny Cage, the worst character in the game. As I said, the random fighter select threw me off guard and it affected my performance as I ended up on the losing end. I was gutted. All that hard work for nothing. The £160 runner up prize money felt more like a booby prize. It was a kick in the teeth.
Throughout the years, Mortal Kombat has evolved. Some editions have 3D graphics (“Toasty 3D” anyone?) or had the option to use weapons but it was never as shocking as when the first game came out as other games were starting to use extreme violence, but you can’t take anything away from it. Mortal Kombat is one of the greatest beat ‘em ups of all time and I for one can’t wait for Mortal Kombat