When it comes to fighting games, not many are as iconic as Mortal Kombat. The series, which got its start in 1992, has maintained a prominent presence for decades. You’d be hardpressed to find a gamer that doesn’t know where the phrase “Finish him!” comes from. But do you know the story of how Mortal Kombat came into existence?

On top of that, have you spent time with all of the classic games in the series, or are you more familiar with the newer entries? The old-school games were innovators of their time and introduced mechanics still found in video games today.

Today, we’re going to take a trip down memory lane as we look at the iconic fighting game’s humble beginnings, some of the inspirations for the game, and dive into the classic Mortal Kombat games that the series is built upon.

Looking back at the first Mortal Kombat games

The original Mortal Kombat was made in 1992. It was developed and published by Midway. The 2D fighter was created for the arcade but eventually found itself on basically every platform of the time.

The game was based on an idea from developer Ed Boon and designer John Tobias. That idea was to put legendary action star Jean-Claude Van Damme in a video game. Sadly, that idea fell through, but Van Damme’s legacy lives on through the in-game character Johnny Cage.

Besides Johnny Cage, the original game had six other characters players could choose from. Interestingly enough, all the characters played the same. The only difference was their finishing moves.

These finishing moves, more loving known as Fatalities, have grown to be one of the classic Mortal Kombat features. These ridiculous, over-the-top moves were grotesque for the time and a shock to many. There are a ton to choose from throughout the years, but one of our favorites is still Sub-Zero’s iconic spine-ripping Fatality. 

In addition to Fatalities, Mortal Kombat featured an easy-to-learn, hard-to-master control scheme that involved basic punches and kicks. Added complexity came in the form of high and low versions of each. This made combat more dynamic across the board as players wove together combos.

Finally, the original can be credited for another staple of the fighting genre – the secret fighter. Players could fight the secret Reptile (a color swap of Sub-Zero and Scorpion) if they complete a very specific set of difficult tasks. 

Word of mouth helped spread the character’s legend, with some rumors leading players to believe they could unlock Reptile as a playable character. Sadly, those rumors were not true, but the character became playable in the second game and is now a staple of the series.

Mortal Kombat 2 (1993) and Mortal Kombat 3 (1995) built upon the first game. These games introduced new characters, new mechanics, and new stories. Mortal Kombat 4, on the other hand, introduced 3D to the series.

The vast world of Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat is best known for its over-the-top combat. But veterans of the series know that Midway created an entire world for players.

The original game takes place on what is known as Earthrealm (our world). Created by the Elder Gods, Earthrealm is one of many different realms, each with its own characteristics. As part of their ruling, the Elder Gods hosted Mortal Kombat, which gave realms a chance to conquer another through a fighting tournament.

Back on Earth, fighters like Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, and the aforementioned Johnny Cage take part in a fight for earth’s survival in the Mortal Kombat tournament. If they lose, Earth becomes the domain of Outworld. Outworld is a hostile realm run by Emperor Shao Kahn.

Thankfully, Liu Kang (with the help of the thunder god Raiden) eventually wins the tournament and saves Earthrealm.

What follows through the Mortal Kombat series is a ton of twists and turns. Many of the early titles are centered around Earthrealm’s fight against Outworld and Shao Kahn. In Mortal Kombat II, Earth’s fighters head to Outworld, where once again, Liu Kang defeats Shao Kahn.

Then, in the third installment, Shao Kahn overtakes another realm and attempts to use his new strength to overpower Earthrealm. And, once again, Liu Kang is there to put a stop to the whole thing. 

From there, things go off the rails. There are dragons, fallen elder gods, architects of time, and much much more.

Looking past the games

In addition to many, many games, Mortal Kombat has also found itself in other forms of media. And it makes sense! The developers created a vast world, and this gave them the perfect way to build on the universe.

In the mid-90s, both Midway and Malibu Comics launched comic book series. Designer John Tobias helped lead the vision of the Midway comics, which retold the story of the first few games.

Malibu Comics, on the other hand, created comics that told “what if” stories and dove into alternate realities within the series’ lore.

In addition to the comics, an animated series was also created in the mid-90s. Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm followed the iconic characters from the video games.

In the show, characters like Liu Kang, Sonya Blade, Sub-Zero, and Nightwolf work together to stop bad guys from entering Earthrealm from other dimensions. 

All of this is great, but when talking about Mortal Kombat outside of video games, the movies come to mind for most people.

The first movie, released in 1995, follows the game’s original story and adds some elements from Mortal Kombat II. The movie was met with mixed reviews from critics. But fans loved it, and the film quickly rose to cult classic status.

On top of that, the movie helped launch the career of Paul W. S. Anderson, who served as the film’s director. Anderson would go on to direct many of the Resident Evil movies.

Then, in 1997 Mortal Kombat: Annihilation released. Sadly, it didn’t resonate with fans very well and ended up missing the mark of the series.

Most recently, Mortal Kombat saw a revival in the form of the self-titled 2021 movie. This movie introduced a new plot, new characters, and over-the-top visuals and fight scenes. While it has received mixed reviews, the film is a lot of fun. It’s definitely worth checking out for die-hard and casual fans alike.

The Mortal Kombat Trilogy is the ultimate experience for fans

If you are new to the series or a grizzled veteran, the Mortal Kombat Trilogy is one of the purest ways to experience the world Midway created.

The first three games help set the path for the series. They also featured some of the most beloved characters from the franchise (over 30 in total). With the Trilogy, you get that, plus new mechanics that keep the fighting fresh.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy also adds a new form of Fatality, called Brutality. This new finishing move required a quick 11-button combo that would result in your opponent literally exploding.

At the end of the day, Mortal Kombat is one of the most beloved fighting series of all time. If you have been on the lookout for some good old classic fighting, the Mortal Kombat Trilogy is where to start.

Now, get out there, pick your favorite character, master their Fatality, and FINISH HIM.

Looking for some more pop culturally significant games? Read our articles about Blade Runner and the Bioshock series.