Mortal Kombat is back in a big way.
The classic fighting franchise was a powerhouse franchise in the ‘90s, but slowly sunk into niche status as the industry moved forward. For a while, it seemed like the franchise’s peak had long since passed. Flash forward to 2021 and the series is thriving as a multimedia franchise between games and movies.
It’s a triumphant moment for fans who have stuck with Mortal Kombat through thick and thin. The series has persevered through waves of controversy and blood to get where it is today. For example, the fact that Mortal Kombat 11 is on Nintendo Switch in all its gory glory is something that’s easy to take for granted. If you’ve yet to play it, it’s a good moment to do so and reflect on how much the series has fought through to get here.
Anyone who knows the name Mortal Kombat likely knows the firestorm it started. When the first game in the series launched in 1992, it sent shockwaves through the world. It crossed over into mainstream news due to its graphic violence (which looks pretty tame next to Mortal Kombat 11’s gruesome fatalities). Paranoid parents saw the game as evidence that video games were corrupting our kids.
What’s particularly funny about the series’ history is its relationship with Nintendo. The company has long been seen as “family-friendly” compared to competitors, but Mortal Kombat proved to be a challenge to that idea. As a result, the SNES release of the game was quite different from other versions. Blood was palette-swapped to look like sweat and some of the game’s more graphic fatalities were watered down. It was an early case of video game censorship that made Nintendo look squeaky clean next to competitors like Sega.
Fast forward to Mortal Kombat 11, and it’s clear how much has changed since then. The fighting game is one of the most violent games on the market today and it runs on Switch without any tweaks. You can rip out an opponent’s brain and then hop into a round of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe without swapping systems.
That speaks volumes to how well Mortal Kombat has managed to fight back controversy over the years, but it also speaks to Nintendo’s own evolution. While the company’s first-party games remain wholesome, Nintendo has loosened its reluctance towards violence on its platforms. That’s helped the Switch stay competitive with Sony and Microsoft by way of third-party heavy-hitters like Doom Eternal being added to its library.
That doesn’t mean that Nintendo itself will drop its wholesome image anytime soon. When asked about the popularity of shooters in a 2020 interview with The New Yorker, legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto emphasized that he wants to see developers challenge the traditional ideas of what’s fun.
“I think humans are wired to experience joy when we throw a ball and hit a target, for example,” Miyamoto said. “But, when it comes to video games, I have some resistance to focusing on this single source of pleasure … I don’t think it’s necessarily bad that there are studios that really home in on that simple mechanic, but it’s not ideal to have everybody doing it just because that kind of game sells well. It would be great if developers found new ways to elicit joy in their players.”
Don’t expect Mario to start ripping out spines anytime soon, but at least you can do that on a Nintendo platform these days with Mortal Kombat 11.