Mortal Kombat is an absolute classic.
It’s pinned as one of the first fighting games to use live-action recording techniques and one of the titles that contributed towards today’s video game rating system. We all loved the violence, the blood, the fatalities. Everything that made the game as controversial and loved as it is still today.
Without doubt, the most notable highlights of the game, are the MK fatality secrets. Before YouTube, cheat codes and guidebooks, the youth of the day would call a hotline to find out how to work through dungeons in games like Zelda—racking up huge phone bills in the pursuit of tips and tricks. However, unlike other games, MK thrived on one of the most effective forms of advertising to share these secrets, Word of Mouth.
The programmers expected nobody to find out how to do them. With rumours of Johnny Cage uppercutting his opponent’s head off, word quickly spread. Before long, the hunt for hidden features had caught on, with every gamer wanting more.
Midway (at the time, now NetherRealm studios) decided to satisfy the teenage bloodlust with the discovery of Sub-Zero’s infamous spine rip fatality. But what was next? An urban myth within the community of the 90’s era, told a tale of a character in Street Fighter II, named Sheng Long. The word was, if you got a “perfect” each round until M.Bison, without being hit for ten rounds, you’d unlock Sheng as a fightable character.
However, it was in fact, FAKE NEWS!
‘Capcom’ – the game’s creators – took note, eventually trading that porky pie for lore. Sheng Long was then written into the story of Street Fighter, as Ryu and Ken’s original mentor!
Meanwhile, ‘Midway’ had their own plans.
In the V3 arcade update of Mortal Kombat 1, a mysterious green ninja started appearing randomly after matches, accompanied by various text lines such as FATALITY IS THE KEY and BLOCKING WILL GET YOU NOWHERE. When word broke, arcades went into a frenzy, and Midway started racking in the cash.
With a secret character on the horizon, people constantly played to figure out how to reach him. If you successfully met the mysterious character’s demands by finishing a round in the ‘Pit’ stage, where a flying silhouette passes the moon, you were transported to the bottom of the pit, to battle against the green ninja.
Featuring Scorpion’s name above his life bar, the green ninja was far from a just hidden character. He had move sets from both Scorpion and Sub-Zero, with almost double the speed, and was incredibly difficult to beat. If you did beat him, you banked 10 million points! That number of points almost guaranteed you’d top the list of high scorers.
And it didn’t end there, with news about secrets being so prevalent in MK, people started talking even more, and pushing more coins into those machines. Some of the notable ones included:
⦁ Noob Saibot: The shadow ninja first appeared in MK2 as a fightable character after winning 50 matchups, back-to-back.
⦁ Ermac: “Waiting in the shadows” since MK1. Error Macro was eventually released in Ultimate MK3 with a unique code.
⦁ Jade: To unlock the palette swap version of Kitana, you had to win the match before Shang Tsung in arcade mode, using ONLY low kicks. No blocking, just one button!
So, with all these secrets, you’d expect the concept of the fighting game to stay secret right?
Of course not! One of the things we loved about Mortal Kombat, was their transition from industry confidants, to breaking the magician’s code.
MK11 was one of the first AAA fighting games to actively create a game experience more akin to the past. With a choice of modes and a tower system providing us with ever-evolving challenges, to the infamous Krypt (complete with jump scares!).
NetherRealm (the current Mortal Kombat developers) did the unthinkable in recent times. Creating a tutorial system that not only teaches the basics of the game (kick, punch, block etc.) but also introduced new members of the Fighting Game Community to concepts that were originally learnt through the games’ master players.
From understanding ‘frames’, cancelling throws and performing punishes. Mortal Kombat developers created a system that taught newcomers advanced moves, helping to build skillsets, improving overall technique. Free of charge. Straight out of the box. No questions asked.
A concept often overlooked by other developers, allowing fans to move from button basher to martial arts master!
This might not seem too revolutionary these days. But back then, the only way to improve was to learn from peers or those more skilled than you were. In-person. In arcades, for hours on end. Tekken legend Ryan Hart travelled to Japan, on a mission to learn from the pros in arcades! The days of booking flights halfway across the world are a thing of the past – thankfully!
From being the grand confidants of the best secrets in fighting games, to ultimately, the wise sages of the FGC. MK founders, Ed Boon and John Tobias, put one thing ahead of everything else. The need and want, to create games that their fans adored. Games that attract and retain the interest of newcomers as well as veterans. Maybe, one day, we’ll see other developers doing the same.
Here’s to more button mashing, and more strategic button tapping.
You’ll find me at TIP EHT FO MOTTOB!