The First Time I Ever Played Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat is my favorite fighting series of all time. Period. Street Fighter is a very close second, but I’ve participated in Shao Khan’s bloody tournament more times than I can remember and the amount of blood I’ve spilled could probably fill the Grand Canyon. I’ve beaten every game numerous times. I saw the live action film on opening day and endured its terrible sequel. Goro used to give me nightmares and I had to buy a new heart after witnessing Liu Kang’s death. But how did I become so enamored with this wonderful series?
When I was around 5 or 6 years old, my mother used to take me to a local flea market. It was a dingy place filled with numerous stores offering cheap, likely ill-gotten products. I hated it there. I was always bored out of my skull and whenever I complained, my mom would simply tell me to hush and behave. The only escape from the torture was a tiny arcade they had tucked in one of the far corners of the building.
The arcade was nothing special, but was an oasis in a desert of dullness. There was a Pac-Man/Galaga arcade cabinet, a prize claw that never worked, and a couple of generic shooters and beat em ups. My mom had no problem leaving me at the arcade whenever she shopped nearby and if I was really lucky, I’d even squeeze some quarters off of her. On one faithful trip to the arcade, there was a new game that seized my attention and never let go.
The cabinet had a fierce-looking man wearing what looked like a fortune cookie on his head with bright, glowing eyes. He had his arm raised in triumph with bolts of lightning dancing at his fingertips. Mortal Kombat, the game was called. I looked at the screen and couldn’t believe what I was seeing. There were what appeared to be real people fighting each other to the death. I was well into Street Fighter II at the time, but to see real-looking people beating the tar out of each other impressed me more than animated sprites ever could. It was like watching an old Bruce Lee movie. As much as the digitized actors amazed me, what really captivated me was the blood. So. Much. Blood. I’d never seen blood in a game at that point and it was spilling in copious amounts here.
The demo fight pitted a blue ninja named Sub-Zero against the fortune cookie hat guy on the cabinet. Turned out his name was Raiden. Raiden impressed me greatly with his lightning attacks and hilariously incoherent battle cries. Sub-Zero was getting his ass kicked but managed to fire an ice ball and froze Raiden in place for a free hit. I’d never seen a move like that in a fighting game. Pardon the pun, but it was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. The mysterious ice ninja then went on to defeat Raiden and the words FINISH HIM roared on screen. Next thing I knew, the screen faded to black, Sub-Zero grabbed Raiden’s head and PULLED HIS HEAD AND SPINE OUT OF HIS BODY. My jaw was on the floor. Never before had I seen something so gory, so disgusting in a video game.
And it was AWESOME. I didn’t even wait to watch another demo, I was immediately sold. I frantically located my mother in one of the stores and begged her for quarters, rambling about what I’d just witnessed. She was in one of her stingy moods but after cranking the whining up to about 11, she gave me a full dollar in quarters. Enough for two rounds. Sweet. I rushed back, put in my money and embarked on my first trip to Outworld. The characters on the select screen all looked really cool, but I had already decided on the ice throwing, spine-ripping Sub-Zero. In my first bout, I desperately mashed the buttons trying to figure out the controls and how to shoot the ice missile from the demo. I got lucky and managed to fire one off and it was exhilarating to get that free hit. As I said earlier, I was way into Street Fighter at the time so it didn’t take long for me to realize that the ice ball was the same button input as Ryu’s hadoken, which I found amazing. I managed to win my first fight but got absolutely wrecked in my next battle. Fifty cents later, and I’m staring at the game over screen.
I pleaded with my mom for more quarters but she was unwavering this time around. On the trip home I couldn’t stop talking about the game with the blue ice ninja who freezes people and rips their spines out. My mom was stunned at what she was hearing, but never stopped me from playing it, thankfully. On every visit to the flea market since then, I would run straight to the arcade to play Mortal Kombat. I kept picking Sub-Zero for a little while; that is until Scorpion impaled me with his spear and yelled at me to get over there. And just like that, Scorpion was my new favorite character and has been since. I played for months, getting better and better until I even managed to reach Goro and subsequently crapped my pants at the mere sight of him. He was ridiculously difficult and as hard as I tried, I could never topple the four-armed behemoth.
Then on one glorious day, my mom surprised me with the Genesis version of the game. Ecstatic, I popped it in right away and played all day until my bed time. Now that I had unlimited access to the game, I began to experiment with the other characters and found new favorites. And after playing for weeks, I was finally good enough to conquer Goro. I then went on to defeat Shang Tsung to become Mortal Kombat champion for the first time. It was one of the defining moments of my childhood.
I’d continue to be blown away until MK II came along to rocket my brain into Jupiter’s orbit. I owned every game until the lackluster MK 4 and craptacular Sub-Zero mythologies games caused my interest in the series to wane. MK: Deadly Alliance reignited my passion for the series and I’ve been an avid fan since. But I’ll never forget the first time I saw the ice ninja clash with the fortune cookie man at the arcade all those years ago and the sheer amount of wonderment I was in.
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