Few fighting game franchises have been quite as all-out bonkers
as Mortal Kombat.
Since Midway Games debuted the first Mortal Kombat offering
in 1992, players have traversed dimensions and time on a regular basis as the
series’ colourful characters and their ever-changing stories have played out across
a whopping 24 games and counting. Even the most ardent of MK fans will likely be surprised to
know the initial roots of this beloved franchise, though.
While many may be aware that franchise favourite Johnny Cage
was loosely based on Jean-Claude Van Damme, did you know that Mortal Kombat
began life as a video game adaptation of one of JCVD’s most iconic of movies?
In its early stages, what became known as Mortal Kombat was
planned to be a straight-up gaming adaptation of Universal Soldier – complete with
Van Damme reprising his role as Luc Deveraux.
Despite taking a decent box office return of $80 million from the
film’s $23 million budget, Universal Soldier was panned by critics upon its
July ’92 release. As such, Van Damme decided to back away from the Universal
Soldier video game for fear of further damaging his reputation.
Developers Midway then had the idea of using other established
pop culture characters for their new fighting game. Unfortunately, licensing
issues prevented that being the case, and thus major changes were made to
Mortal Kombat – for instance, plans for The Terminator’s T-800 were changed to
Kano, Big Trouble in Little China’s Lo Pan and Lightning became Shang Tsung and
Raiden, Bruce Lee became Liu Kang, and characters from 1985’s American Ninja
became Sub-Zero and Scorpion.
The Mortal Kombat property would go on to become hugely
successful, and licensing has since not been an issue as the video game series has
featured guest appearances from notable pop culture figures such as Freddy Krueger,
Jason Voorhees, the Xenomorph, Leatherface, a who’s who of DC Comics, and yes,
that pesky T-800 that alluded the franchise during the early years.
And to think how different the video game landscape would've been had Universal Soldier been warmly received by fans and critics alike during its initial cinema run.