Becoming one of the biggest video game franchises of all time, Mortal Kombat was initially created as a video game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme. Due to licensing issues, the game eventually fell through so the creators of the game adapted the story to their own and changed the characters accordingly.
The original game spawned many sequels on a variety of platforms including games, films TV shows, comic books, card games and even a live action tour. Standing as one of the most successful fighting games to date, the first game gained media attention rapidly due to the violent and bloody in-game content; eventually leading to the ERSB rating system.
The first three games (and subsequent upgrades) were in 2D and the first two appeared in arcades. The arcade instalments of the series were controlled via a joystick and 5 buttons which were: high kick, low kick, high punch, low punch and block. In these games, the male ninja characters were the same, with elements such as colours of attire, fighting stances and special techniques differentiated them. Overtime and game development this has become very different and each character now has their own unique look.
One of the more famous aspects of the game are the fatalities. These gave gamers a free hit at the end of the fight and were usually violent and bloody in nature. In later games these adapted to be more comical with examples such as Animalities (which turned the victor into an animal to violently kill the opponent), Brutalites (smashed opponent into pieces through a series of moves), Friendship Moves (a comical response to the backlash of violent content from MK, these were non-violent) and Babality (which turned the opponent into a baby).
Mortal Kombat games are known for their extensive plots, taking place in a fictional universe which has 18 surviving realms created by Elder Gods. A handful of these realms include the Earthrealm (Earth, with characters such as Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage and Jax coming from here), the Netherrealm (with characters such as Quanchi and Noob Saibot coming from here), Outworld (with characters such as Shao Khan coming from here), the Realm of Order, The Realm of Chaos and Ethenia.
The first instalment of the series took place in Earthrealm, the playable characters have been entered into a tournament with the eventual prize of the continued freedom of their realm who were threatened by Outworld takeover. With the help of Raiden (the Thunder God), the Earthrealm was victorious.
For development of the first game, there was only a team of four people. One programmer, two people working on the graphics and one sounds-man. The creators have said that their inspirations for the plot and characters include Chinese Mythology and specifically the Shaolin Monks.
Hidden content is a popular attribute of the series, which stems from characters to mini-games. In Mortal Kombat II there are hidden games of Pong and in Mortal Kombat III a hidden game of Galaga.
After initial launch of the first game in arcades (1992), the series has spanned across many platforms. The first two arcade instalments were subsequently ported to the consoles of their era, as well as adapted into comic books.
Two motion pictures were also created (Mortal Kombat -1995 and Mortal Kombat: Annihilation – 1997). Interestingly, the first film wasn’t screened the critics prior to release and post this was given very mixed reviews and is better known for gaining a cult following. Despite this situation, the film gained $23 million in its first weekend and grossed at over $122 million worldwide. In more recent times, a reboot of the franchise has been in development since 2012. There have been many hindrances to the film and many writers and directors walked away from the project. In 2016, it was announced that the long-delayed film should be expected in the next couple of years.
Mortal Kombat comic books and literature have been readily created for the series. Official Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II comics were made by one of the team members from the 1st two games. Furthermore, in 1994, Malibu comics launched a comic book series that lasted for two runs and ended in 1995.
Mortal Kombat the album was a techno based CD made as a tie-in for the first game. One of the original songs from this was used as the theme for both films.
Two known television series were created, one animated called ‘Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm’ and one live action named ‘Mortal Kombat: Conquest’.
Other media includes an animated prequel to the first movie (Mortal Kombat: The Journey Begins) which was a straight to video release in 1995. A live show was toured around America in 1995 and lasted to 1996. Mortal Kombat the Kard game was also launched in 1996.