By Joey Esposito
"Mortal Kombat" was a rite of passage for many of us that grew up playing video games in the early 90s. On its release in 1992, the game was really the last of its kind in the arcades – a game that drew crowds not just to play, but to watch – yet it is arguably one of the most influential games of the last two decades in terms of how it transformed the industry.
The thing this series is most revered for is its celebration of gratuitous violence –- this was the game that paved the way for the ESRB ratings system for video games –- and for those of us that ingested "Mortal Kombat" as kids, well, it’s fair to say that it shaped us. We had an unquenchable thirst for blood; so much so that any gamer of our generation knows the Sega Genesis “blood code” by heart (A,B,A,C,A,B,B).
Of course, 90% of the game’s truly grotesque violence comes from the innovation known as the Fatality – a finishing move that is ridiculously over the top but nonetheless macabre. With Mortal Kombat X on the horizon, we figured the time was ripe to look at the Fatalities that truly twisted us all as human beings.
The Pit ("Mortal Kombat")
The original pit Fatality was the talk of the playground. There were plenty of rumors floating around about what could be done within "Mortal Kombat" -- rumors of ERMAC, a red-clad ninja (who would later be included in "Mortal Kombat 3" as an in-joke), were prevalent -- but it was The Pit that proved to be true.
Scoring a victory over an opponent in this stage and then delivering a simple uppercut after Tsang Tsung shouts "Finish him!" sends the conquered kombatant careening into a spiky pit of death below, a place already littered with heads and corpses. It was greatly satisfying, as it satisfied the bloodlust of those without the skills required to pull off the more complicated fatalities.
Sub-Zero’s Spine Rip ("Mortal Kombat")
Probably the most brutal Fatality in the original "Mortal Kombat," Sub-Zero tearing off the head of his opponent and showcasing it dangling and bloody with the spine still attached is one of the benchmarks of insane violence in gaming history. It's kind of perturbing that I fondly remember playing "Mortal Kombat" on the playground as a friend gleefully aped ripping my head off and proclaiming "I have your spine!"
Scorpion’s Toasty ("Mortal Kombat")
Scorpion's original Fatality is memorable for a couple of reasons. First, the joy with which we watched our opponent burned alive is notable. It was different from most of the other Fatalities in the game, offering little blood and instead just ashes. Second, it pulled back the curtain on Scorpion -- already a total badass for the spear that shot from his hand ("Get over here!") -- and revealed that he was not just a clone of Sub-Zero, but a terrifying skull-faced warrior.
Kano’s Heart Rip ("Mortal Kombat")
Kano's Fatality was probably the least original, in terms of what he actually does -- tearing out his opponent's heart -- because even as kids, we had seen it done in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. What was disturbing about Kano's Heart Rip is that it let us live out the fantasy of actually performing the action that Mola Ram so viciously delivered to those he wished to sacrifice. And there wasn't even a great fire pit or chanting involved; all you had to do was defeat your opponent, stand close, and hit Block, Block, Low Punch and bam! A still-beating heart rested in your hand.
Raiden’s Electric Decapitation ("Mortal Kombat")
Just like Kano's Heart Rip, Raiden exploding somebody's head was more or less the ability to emulate something we'd seen in the movies -- in this instance, probably Scanners. The end result of Raiden's Fatality wasn't the most appealing part, though, it was how the head exploded in the first place. He would channel who-knows-how-many volts of electricity, Emperor Palpatine style, right into his opponent's head until it burst in a firework of blood and brains.
Kung Lao’s Body Slice ("Mortal Kombat II")
One of my fondest memories is hanging out with a slightly older boy, the son of one of my mom's friends, and playing "Mortal Kombat II." As luck would have it, he had already mastered Kung Lao's move set, and his Body Slice Fatality was the first finishing move from the sequel that my young eyes saw. Kung Lao was already cool because he wore a sweet hat, but knowing that it could literally slice a human right down his or her center? It was love at first blood.
Mileena’s Man Eater ("Mortal Kombat II")
It's obvious that "Mortal Kombat II" added in some more, let's say, sexually suggestive characters in Mileena and Kitana, but the tables were turned once Mileena's Man Eater Fatality was enacted. Tearing off her mask, she reveals a face similar to that of Baraka -- one of the most terrifying kombatants in the series -- with razor sharp teeth and a wide, piercing grin. To top it all off, once her mask was off, she ingests her opponent like a milkshake and spits out their bones.
The Tomb ("Mortal Kombat II")
Like The Pit before it, The Tomb Stage Fatality in Mortal Kombat II was another thrill for players and even more brutal than the game's other Stage Fatalities -- including The Pit II and The Dead Pool. What really made it work was the subtle touch that happens after you uppercut your groggy opponent into the ceiling of spikes. He or she is pierced like a pincushion and then slowly slides off and slams to the ground as you are declared champion. Let's admit it, it feels good to watch injury added to insult. Not the good sportsmanship we were brought up to believe, but hey, real life can't be a flawless victory.
Jax’s Arm Rip ("Mortal Kombat 4")
Jax has had the Arm Rip Fatality since his debut in "Mortal Kombat II," but it was one subtle change for the series' transfer into three dimensions for its fourth installment that made all the difference. Instead of Jax tearing off both arms at once, in "Mortal Kombat 4," he took his time. He ripped off one arm, waited a second to let his enemy bleed out and squirm in pain, and then took the second. It was small but crucial changes like this in "Mortal Kombat 4" that started the series down the path from uber violence to increasingly cruel and torturous finishing moves; moves that continue to shape our lives to this day.