Since 1992, the Mortal Kombat series has allowed gamers around the world to rip out spines and tear opponents. Across 10 main games, Mortal Kombat has become a worldwide phenomenon, amassing legions of fans, movies, cartoons, and plenty of merchandise. But as Mortal Kombat has built its legacy on stomach-churning gore, the series has been a perpetual target of controversy. From concerned parents to worried congressmen, Mortal Kombat has had plenty of vocal critics over the years. While the Mortal Kombat franchise has been able to continue despite ample contention, there have been plenty of controversies over the years that came close to destroying the beloved fighting game series.
The series has endured bans, censoring, and even judicial hearings. But it isn’t just outside forces that have come close to sinking the franchise; over the years, Mortal Kombat has encountered plenty of internal issues that threatened to stop the series dead. As fans continue to beat, batter, pound, and pummel their opponents into bloody pulps, join CBR as we take a look back at the hurdles that almost destroyed the ultra violent fighting game franchise we all know and love. These are 15 kontroversies that almost broke Mortal Kombat!
SPECIAL FORCES DECLARED ONE OF THE WORST GAMES EVER
Since debuting in 1992, Mortal Kombat has become a hugely popular phenomenon. Of course, with popularity comes the inevitable franchise milking, which means spin-offs. While MK’s first spin-off, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, was released to tepid reviews, the next MK spin-off, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, wasn’t lucky enough to land even something so middling; instead, the game was declared one of the worst games ever.
Released for the PlayStation in 2000, Special Forces was an action-adventure game following the metal-armed Jax as he fought the villainous Black Dragon Clan. Unfortunately, the game was released with a smorgasbord of issues, ranging from busted controls to awful gameplay, receiving a jaw dropping 2.1 out of 10 from IGN and earning itself the 41st spot on GameRadar’s list of the worst games ever. Midway would not release another MK spin-off for five years, which, for a popular franchise like Mortal Kombat, certainly didn’t reflect well on the series.
REIKO REVEALED TO BE MORTAL KOMBAT (EXCEPT HE ISN’T)
Sure, Mortal Kombat might be about inter-dimensional ninjas fighting robots and gods, but this is a series that takes its story seriously. But one particularly egregious lore slip-up in Mortal Kombat 4 almost proved disastrous for the story that the franchise had spent years building.
In MK4’s home release, the arcade’s character endings were expanded upon. For the shuriken-throwing kombatant Reiko, an ending was added which showed the new character stepping onto the fearsome Shao Khan’s throne and having the iconic skull mask of the ruthless konqueror lowered onto his head, implying that Reiko and Shao Khan were one and the same. Debate among fans over whether the ending was canon was fierce, eventually forcing series creator Ed Boon to clarify that Reiko and Shao Khan were not the same character. While Mortal Kombat has gone on to make light of the controversy, this odd situation left many hardcore fans fuming.
THOSE TERRIBLE MALIBU COMICS
During the height of Mortal Kombat’s success, everyone was looking to hop on that spine-ripping money train, leading to all sorts of licensing deals being signed by Midway. Among these was a deal with the burgeoning Malibu Comics, which quickly set to work on a Mortal Kombat comic. Problem is, the resulting comic was completely insane and terrible, which did not sit well with fans.
Across a surprising number of issues, Shao Khan tried to marry Sonya, who fought her evil doppelgänger Aynos (yes, really), a Chaos God with the unfortunate name of Zaggot became a primary antagonist, Goro wielding a gun, and the characters were forced to fight a warrior named Kombatant. The Malibu comic was so widely mocked, Midway would not allow another Mortal Kombat comic to be made for 21 years. Legendary in its awfulness, the comic remains a point of contention among MK fans to this day.
BRITAIN CONDEMNS MORTAL KOMBAT: SHAOLIN MONKS AD
When the cornerstone of your series is good, old fashioned ultra violence, it’s not shocking that the ads promoting said series might feature some of that violence. While the Mortal Kombat has received plenty of tame ads over the years, one in particular earned the series an official condemnation from a government organization.
In 2005, a TV ad was released in the UK to promote the Mortal Kombat action-adventure spin-off Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. The ad, entitled “Blood On The Carpet, featured a mysterious troubleshooter named Mr. Lin visiting a boardroom meeting, instructing a pair of businessmen to fight, and ultimately ordering the winner of the fight to “Finish him,” leading to the victorious fighter eating the heart of his opponent. The Advertising Standards Authority publicly lambasted the ad, stating that it glorified violence. The ASA instructed publisher Midway to pull the ad, and advised the company to consult with them before submitting another commercial in the UK.
THE CARTOON IS CONDEMNED BY CONCERNED PARENTS
When your game features a man having his spine ripped out of his body, it’s safe to assume that the series definitely isn’t for the kiddos. But with its ninjas, robots, and graphic violence, children flocked to Mortal Kombat. Sensing an opportunity to cash in, toys, clothes, and merchandise a-plenty aimed squarely at the young fans were quickly green-lit. This culminated in Mortal Kombat: Defenders Of The Realm, perhaps the only cartoon based on a game that lets you rip a man’s still beating heart out of his chest.
Debuting in 1996, Defenders Of The Realm followed the heroes of Earthrealm as they fought the evil forces of the Netherrealm. The show featured little fighting and occasionally shoehorned in morals and lessons, but concerned parents condemned its connection with a violent video game. Defenders Of The Realm was canceled after a single season, thanks to a mix of poor ratings and ample controversy.
MORTAL KOMBAT 2011’s GRAPHIC FATALITIES
The Mortal Kombat franchise has built its legacy on ultra-violence, cementing itself as one of the most controversial games of all time. But as the world continued to turn, MK’s fatalities went from shocking and graphic to almost quaint; after all, with violent shows like Game Of Thrones drawing thousands of viewers, a 16-bit heart rip barely elicited a reaction. But Netherworld Studios definitely ratcheted up the violence for 2011’s Mortal Kombat, and the resulting controversy almost doomed the franchise.
When MK made the jump to the seventh generation of consoles, Netherworld Studios pulled no punches when it came to fatalities. Characters were skinned, dragged through buzzsaws, and even pulled apart like wishbones. The graphic violence drew protests and outrage, leading to the game being banned outright in several countries. While Netherworld certainly didn’t tone down the violence for the ensuing sequel, Mortal Kombat X, the criticism the game received almost proved disastrous for the series.
ASIAN AMERICAN ADVOCACY GROUP LABELS MK II RACIST
With a roster consisting of ninjas and shaolin warriors, Mortal Kombat is a series that wears its kung-fu movie inspirations on its sleeve. While NetherRealm Studios has always contended that the over-the-top characters of Mortal Kombat are all a good natured homage to the martial arts movies of yore, one Asian American advocacy group didn’t see things in quite the same way.
When Mortal Kombat II released in 1994, the Media Action Network for Asian Americans labeled the game racist, with MANAA president Guy Aoki condemning the title for perpetuating stereotypes that Asians are martial arts experts. Acclaim, the game’s publisher, took the accusation seriously, releasing a response that read: “This is a fantasy game, with all different characters. This is a martial arts game which comes from Asia. The game was not created to foster stereotypes.” Accusations of racism are never good for a burgeoning series, and these very nearly spelled the end of Mortal Kombat.
SWEAT INSTEAD OF BLOOD
Mortal Kombat took the world by storm in 1992. Gamers eagerly flocked to their local arcades to gather around the cabinet and watch as Sub-Zero yanked out Scorpion’s spine. So when it came time to bring Mortal Kombat to home consoles, Nintendo and Sega found themselves with a question: should the game be released as-is, with blood and all? Or should the game be sanitized for the home market? While Sega opted to keep the game as-is, Nintendo opted for the latter.
When MK released for the SNES, gamers found that the blood had been recolored into gray “sweat.” Additionally, the game’s fatalities were heavily altered to remove all the blood and guts fans knew and loved. Sure, blood could be unlocked with a “blood code,” but it didn’t matter, as fans flocked for the bloody Genesis port. Nintendo allowed the blood to stay for Mortal Kombat II, but it very nearly ruined MK’s home release.
Sure, the buckets of blood and gore made Mortal Kombat famous, but it was the characters that kept fans coming back. Characters such as Sub-Zero and Johnny Cage quickly became fan favorites, with new characters joining the fray with every new release. While Mortal Kombat has introduced plenty of popular characters over the years, one game is responsible for spawning some of the most despised characters in the franchises history: Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance.
For the series’ first outing on the sixth generation of consoles, gameplay was changed up significantly and new characters were introduced. Unfortunately, with the departure of John Tobias, who had served as lead character designer since the original Mortal Kombat, Midway was forced to utilize new character designers, who subsequently churned out a mish-mash of oddball characters that quickly drew the ire of fans. Despised characters such as Kobra and Hsu Hao quickly dropped off the face of the Earth, and NetherRealm Studios seemingly intends to keep it that way.
ACTORS SUE MIDWAY
When Mortal Kombat became a runaway hit in the arcades, discussion of a home release quickly followed. While publisher Midway worked quickly to ensure that the game could release to home consoles quickly to satisfy consumer demand, this home release came as a surprise to the actors who had helped bring the kombatants of Mortal Kombat to life. It came as such as a surprise to some of the performers, in fact, that it landed Midway in court.
In 1997, actors Philip Ahn (Shang Tsung), Elizabeth Malecki (Sonya Blade), and Katalin Zamiar (Kitana, Mileena, and Jade) jointly sued Midway over unauthorized usage of their likenesses. The trio contended that they had only signed on for the use of their likeness in arcades, and that the subsequent home release of the Mortal Kombat games was a breach of contract. Ultimately, the court sided with Midway, ruling that the captured footage of the actors could be used however Midway saw fit, including home releases.
JOHNNY CAGE JUMPS SHIP
When you lay eyes on the original Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet, there is one aspect that is impossible to miss: the giant picture of Johnny Cage, mid-jump kick, emblazoned on the side. As such, Cage’s mug became one of the most recognizable in gaming. Interestingly, though, the actor who portrayed Cage, Daniel Pesina, would go on to ditch Mortal Kombat to promote a competing fighting game.
Portraying Cage in Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II, Pesina would part ways with Midway over undisclosed issues concerning royalty checks. Subsequently, Pesina would appear in a print ad for the arcade fighter Bloodstorm, in which Pesina is credited for his role in the MK franchise. The ad would land Pesina in hot legal water, but the stunt was a success, making the popular Mortal Kombat series look weak for losing one of its star performers to the competition.
MIDWAY IS SUED FOR MURDER BY A MOTHER
When tragedy strikes, people will often scramble to find a way to place blame. Such was the case in the murder of thirteen-year-old Noah Wilson, who was stabbed by fellow thirteen-year-old Yancy Salazar. In the wake of this devastating loss, Wilson’s mother, Andrea Wilson, placed the blame on Midway games and Mortal Kombat and took the game company to court.
Andrea alleged that Salazar was obsessed with Mortal Kombat and was driven to kill due to this obsession. Andrea further alleged that Salazar believed himself to be the Mortal Kombat character Cyrax, and that Salazar killed Wilson by recreating a fatality found in Mortal Kombat. Ultimately, after a lengthy court case, it was proven that the alleged fatality did not exist and that the accusation had no basis. Subsequently, the case was dismissed. Mortal Kombat is no stranger to controversy, but being proven to be the basis for the murder of a child would have destroyed the series.
2011 MORTAL KOMBAT BANNED IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES
2011’s Mortal Kombat served as a fresh start for the long-running franchise, rebooting the game’s story and refining the fighter’s mechanics. The game was seemingly built on the concept of “bigger and better,” which was certainly reflected in the fatalities. While previous MK’s had featured some truly violent finishers, Mortal Kombat ratcheted up the violence significantly, introducing new graphic and shocking fatalities. While fans old and new responded positively to the new fatalities, politicians were less than thrilled over the violence, leading to Mortal Kombat being outright banned in three countries.
When Mortal Kombat released in 2011, the Australian Classification Board refused to rate the game, citing the title’s “explicit depictions of dismemberment, decapitation, disembowelment and other brutal forms of slaughter,” effectively banning the game in the country. South Korea and Germany followed suit, placing country-wide bans on the violent fighter. Controversy is one thing, but being banned in three major countries almost sank the Mortal Kombat franchise
JOHN TOBIAS LEAVES MORTAL KOMBAT
While Ed Boon may be the face of the Mortal Kombat franchise, illustrator John Tobias was the heart and soul. Originally a designer for Midway, Tobias was instrumental in the shaping of Mortal Kombat and, along with Boon, is considered one of the fathers of Mortal Kombat. That made Tobias’ departure from the series all the more painful for fans and the franchise.
Tobias was responsible for crafting the original story of Mortal Kombat, and would serve as lead character designer on the first four MK games, creating beloved characters such as Sub-Zero, Raiden, and Goro. After Mortal Kombat 4, Tobias opted to leave the series he helped create to found his own game studio, Studio Gigante. The departure left the Mortal Kombat team scrambling, forcing new story writers and character designers to step up to the plate. Since leaving MK, Tobias’ importance has been downplayed by NetherRealm, but John Tobias gave fans the Mortal Kombat they know and love, and his absence nearly broke the series.
MORTAL KOMBAT IS BROUGHT BEFORE CONGRESS
With M-Rated games cluttering the shelf these days, it can be easy to forget just how shocking Mortal Kombat was when it released. The game’s graphic violence grabbed headlines, and the ramifications of violent video games quickly became a topic of national discussion. Eventually, the conversation over violent video games reached the U.S. Congress, and Mortal Kombat was in the hot seat.
Senators argued that violent video games such as Mortal Kombat were a threat to the youth of America and warranted government regulation. During the hearing, Professor Eugene F. Provenzo was called to speak on the matter, and he quickly labeled Mortal Kombat “overwhelmingly violent, sexist, and racist.” The blow back from the national attention on Mortal Kombat was so intense that Sega Spain canceled the release of the game in the country, fearing further controversy. The hearing had far reaching ramifications, including the modern ESRB rating system, and very nearly destroyed the Mortal Kombat franchise.
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