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Why I love Mortal Kombat

Arcade veteran Michael Gapper relives the guts and glory of Midway's controversial badass brawler

Mortal Kombat was a bit rubbish really, wasn't it? When the first MK was ported to consoles in 1993, there was no playground debate about whether it was better than Street Fighter II, because it wasn't, and everyone knew it. Street Fighter was deep (though we didn't really know what that meant) and Street Fighter was balanced (which was another word for better).

But we loved Mortal Kombat anyway. Mortal Kombat isn't about depth or balance. We didn't play Mortal Kombat because it was good; we played it because it was violent. It was a game where a convict with a bionic eye would rip the heart out of a living god's chest. Where a slammin' soldier girl would incinerate a guy who was, like, totally from hell. Where an ice-chucking ninja would rip out Jean-Claude Van Damme's spine. There were thrones of skulls and cyborg ninjas and rivers of acid and pits of spikes.

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There were sexy dominatrix assassins and mystical Native Americans and ancient kung fu clans and a bloke who does the splits and punches people in the balls. Mortal Kombat was like the whole of Image Comics got into a fistfight with an Iron Maiden concert and someone turned it into a game where reptilian ninjas vomit acid down the throats of quadruple-H chested cannibal porn stars while Bruce Lee morphs into a dragon and eats a guy in an Oddjob hat.

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And it was awesome. Kids in '93 were still high from Burton's Batman and Universal Soldier. Comic books were selling in the millions, and Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane were taking tits and violence to the comic book mainstream as if they were the first to discover tits and violence. Mortal Kombat was every trashy comic book and shitty movie brought to life and made even more violent than the scrapyard scene from Robocop. It was a supposedly adult game, played almost exclusively by 13-year-olds, and it hit every last thing the greasy-faced audience already adored.

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Almost two decades later, 13 year-old kids don't care about Mortal Kombat. First-person shooters killed fighting games, The Dark Knight replaced Tim Burton fantasy Batman with a brutal and realistic take on the Caped Crusader, and the biggest-selling superhero comic books are being written by guys like Grant Morrison about how cape-wearers deal with psychotic monsters who survived their own abortions and grew up to be genocidal mass-murderers.

Violence to modern media-comsuming kids isn't Arnie tugging Michael Ironside's arms off on a Martian elevator; it's a skinny dude with cancer making a girl jump into a swimming pool filled with hypodermic needles and a freak who sews a bloke's mouth to someone else's bumhole.

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