Mortal Kombat Made Me a Gamer

Mortal Kombat is special to me. And yes, it might sound weird to be affectionate about a game that is most noteworthy for making parents faint from the sheer amount of gore on screen, but there you have it: Mortal Kombat and I are involved. It’s a love affair that blossomed in my youth, and I have stayed faithful. I owe a lot of credit to Mortal Kombat for instilling in me the lighting-quick reflexes, iron constitution, and trash-talking prowess that made me the gamer I am today.

When I was in elementary school, in-between rounds of Skip-It or POGs, my friends and I talked about Mortal Kombat – usually in tight, hunched-over groups, in hushed tones, so nobody heard the intense acts we were describing. In this pre-Internet video era, we had to rely on each other to relay, with giddy bloodlust, the depictions of the intense fighting action we had witnessed that weekend.

Fatalities were what set Mortal Kombat apart from other fighters. It was a novelty then, and it’s still one now. Each character had their own unique way of ending the match for the opponent, be it ripping out their heart, or removing their head and spinal column, or freezing them solid and shattering them into hundreds of pieces. I can still remember the first time I saw Sonya Blade blow a kiss, torching the flesh off my favorite character Sub-Zero’s bones and reducing him to ash. It was the most badass thing I had ever seen.

What Mortal Kombat did was create a spectator sport for arcades and homes that other fighting games have long since tried to capture. Sure, there are more technical fighters out there, though Mortal Kombat’s combo system and fighting stances have expanded the game into a worthy entry into the fighting game pantheon. But more than that, Mortal Kombat was almost as fun to watch as it was to play. If you hung out in an arcade in the mid ‘90s, you remember: A half-dozen people crowded around a cabinet, watching two players battle it out. And as those words flash on the screen, “Finish Him,” a hush fell over the crowd. This was what Mortal Kombat whittled down to. When all was said and done, all that mattered was one thing.

Could you pull off the Fatality?

There’s a fraction of a second, between when a player enters that precise, exact button combination, and the Fatality begins, where you think, “Dang, he didn’t do it.” And what elation it is when that screen darkens, the telltale sign that it’s about to happen. Whether it was a classic head sever, or something as over-the-top as Smoke unleashing enough bombs to blow up the entire planet, getting to watch a Fatality in the arcade was always a special treat.

My gaming taste has matured and expanded since the ‘90s; I discovered platformers, role-playing games, and racing games to try to master much the same way. But there are very few other game series that I’ve spent as much time in, learned every trick and character, obsessed over for weeks. Mortal Kombat stuck with me, throughout its transition from 2D to 3D, then back to 2D. The time they took out Fatalities for customizable Brutalities; those games where a guy in a motion-capture suit was actually a playable fighter, and he was just an accepted thing next to the Shaolin monk zombie and the ninja who lived in Hell. Whatever – I loved it all.

I initially had my doubts about whether bringing it back to its roots and abandoning some of the ridiculousness would work. But I quickly learned never to doubt NetherRealm’s bottomless (or spiked) pit of love for Mortal Kombat. The developer simultaneously managed to streamline the story AND make it all even more insane, leading into the latest sequel, which spans decades and involves multiple characters’ offspring. It’s pretty much a soap opera, but one where occasionally a character literally rips the flesh from another’s bones.

Mortal Kombat X is now available on Xbox One, and I am loving every moment of playing it. It’s another chance to learn every Fatality combo by heart, to find every environmental finisher, and to bask in the utter, epic insanity that is Mortal Kombat.