25 years after Mortal Monday – the home versions of “Mortal Kombat” celebrate silver anniversary
While the arcade version of Mortal Kombat celebrated its silver anniversary last year, today marks the 25th anniversary of Mortal Kombat‘s release on home consoles.
The one-on-one martial arts fighting phenomenon Mortal Kombat landed in stores on September 13, 1993, for the SEGA Genesis, Super Nintendo, Game Boy and Game Gear. Publisher Acclaim spent millions to market their port of the Midway arcade game, giving the release date the name “Mortal Monday“*. While this was one of the earliest simultaneous nationwide releases for a video game, it wasn’t the first. That honor goes to Sonic the Hedgehog 2, which was released on “Sonic 2’sday.”
Few games have reached the same level of cultural influence as Mortal Kombat in the early 1990s. If you didn’t live it, it’s difficult to explain how strong the hype train was for the Mortal Kombat home releases. Now that we’re in the age of digital downloads and streamlined delivery methods, the frenzy of getting a highly anticipated game on day 1 has all but vanished.
Retailers were eager to cash in on the hype, and some offered bonuses to encourage pre-orders, a practice which was not commonplace at the time. I personally received a free Mortal Kombat wristwatch for pre-ordering the Game Gear version at Babbage’s like the one pictured below.
The home release of Mortal Kombat was also a key moment in the raging console war between SEGA and Nintendo. While Nintendo insisted that the Super NES version of Mortal Kombat be free of extreme violence, SEGA allowed for all of the uncensored blood, gore and fatalities via a “Kombat Kode.” (A,B,A,C,A,B,B)
I wasn’t able to find reliable numbers to accurately compare, but the general consensus is that the Genesis version of Mortal Kombat significantly outsold its SNES counterpart. This was likely due in large part to Nintendo’s insistence that the SNES port being “family friendly”, though if you ask me, the controls in the SNES version were also ridiculously stiff.
Either way, the consumers’ wallets had spoken, and even the mighty Nintendo relented, allowing for full levels of gore when Mortal Kombat II was released the following year.
Mortal Kombat was indeed at the center of several debates: SEGA vs. Nintendo, comparisons to Street Fighter II, even hand-drawn art vs. digitized graphics, but the most consequential debate of all was centered around video game violence. Along with other controversial titles like Doom, Night Trap, and (oddly) Lethal Enforcers, Mortal Kombat became a point of contention for U.S. senators to bicker over.
On December 9, 1993, the U.S. Senate convened hearings to discuss violence in video games, and whether government intervention would be necessary to protect children from objectionable content. Described later as a “witch hunt” by one of the affected game developers, the end result was that the video game industry agreed to self-regulate. The Electronic Software Ratings Board (ESRB) was created in 1994, and soon after, age ratings modeled after SEGA’s own ratings system were applied to all video games sold at retail.
There’s little doubt that the release Mortal Kombat – and let’s face it, the guts of SEGA executives – were critical in opening up the home video game market for more mature-themed content. Fans of modern titles including Resident Evil, The Last of Us and Call of Duty owe a sizable debt to those who blazed a trail for them, and one of the most significant first steps on that trail was undoubtedly taken on Mortal Monday, September 13, 1993.
Even after the demise of western arcades, Mortal Kombat has found a permanent place on home consoles. It endures as a beloved fighting franchise built upon a unique storyline, gameplay innovation, well-designed characters, and of course, the trademark amounts of blood by the bucketsful. Love it or hate it, Mortal Kombat had a transformative impact on the gaming industry.
You were warned to “prepare yourself”, after all.
*Subsequent Mortal Kombat games were later released on “Fatal Friday” September 9, 1994 (MK2) and “Mortal Friday” October 13, 1995 (MK3).