FINISH HIM! 25 Years of Mortal Kombat

by James Volpe

James Volpe is going retro with video games and art in this edition of The RetroZap Artist Series.

Twenty-five years ago the world of fighting games was completely changed with the introduction of Mortal Kombat.

I have been a fan of Mortal Kombat from the beginning. I had been a huge fan of Street Fighter II and Kung Fu and martial arts in general. I was the target audience for this game: male, age 13-18 and a comic, sci-fi, horror and video game fan. It hit all the right chords.

One fateful day at Wal-Mart I saw the game. I had never seen anything like it. The characters weren’t pixelated cartoon fighters. They looked real. I could play what looked like a movie. There was more. The characters had weapons and blood was flying everywhere!

Eventually I found out there were ending moves you could do to your opponents if you won the match FATALITIES. Unlike today, the Internet didn’t exist. There was no way to find out the secrets of this game except through word of mouth waiting for the next issue of Electronic Gaming Monthly to come out. Once I learned the moves and fatalities I was part of a club. This was secret knowledge only a few people had at the time. These secret moves were kept in a binder and traded with other gamers.

My friends and I would go to Aladdin’s Castle and line up to play. We could test our skills against other opponents. In the beginning, I got murdered. Then we found out in our small town near by there was a Mortal Kombat machine. Unlike the machine at the mall, it took 50 cents to start and only 25 cents to continue. So it was there I honed my skills and went back to the big arcade to hold my own.

Once I started playing, I was hooked. Obsessed. Playing all the time. Any spare time and money I had, I would play. If you added it up I probably could have bought my own machine.

So, in high school my art projects involved a lot video game art. I did a whole series of Mortal Kombat characters.


My favorite characters were Sub Zero and Scorpion so I did this piece.

Scorpion Lives!

I lived in Illinois at the time and learned something interesting. Midway Games based in Chicago created the game. All the actors used in the game were from Chicago. My best friend found out they were all going to make an appearance at Chicago Comic Con to promote Mortal Monday – the release of the home versions of the game. We were able to go and meet all of them.

I even got my art signed by Daniel Pesina, the actor who played Sub Zero, Scorpion and Johnny Cage. Additionally I got a comic book signed by the whole cast and a Mortal Kombat t-shirt for beating a 9-year old in a match while waiting in line. This experience is still one of my favorite memories of my childhood.

Unfortunately like all collectors, there came the day I had to sell the comic book and no one knows where the t-shirt went. I still have one of the best games ever to play.

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