As much as any video game in the '90s, 'Mortal Kombat' was the one that parental groups and campaigners went nuts over.
It's easy to see why. It was outrageously violent and seemed to revel in it. You could drive a flying spike through your opponent's head, drag them across the screen, and then uppercut them back across it. Punctuating some of these moments was a man appearing out of the bottom right-hand side of the screen and pronouncing, in a joyous falsetto voice, that your actions were "toasty!" This was Dan Forden, the sound programmer and music producer for the 'Mortal Kombat' franchise.
By Forden's own admission in an interview around the release of the rebooted 'Mortal Kombat' in 2011, it wasn't his idea to add his trademark catchphrase to the game. The origins of "toasty!" were so clearly of the decade, where something trivial was thrown in purely because it sounded funny. "It wasn't my idea, but I went along with it because it's hilarious," he explained. As Forden tells it, he'd taunt Ed Boon - the co-creator of 'Mortal Kombat' - during matches of American football simulator 'Super High Impact' with his catchphrase during a scrimmage. Someone suggested they put it into the game, and sure enough, it was added.
That was it. All it took was a simple suggestion and, sure enough, it became a reality. There was no focus-group testing, no marketing analysis and nothing else needed to make it happen. Yet, anyone who's played 'Mortal Kombat' instantly recognises it. It's one of those million-to-one ideas that's so stupid when explained out loud, but only works in the (no pun intended) execution.
For a game that truly is dark, and features the kind of violence that'd have a born-again Christian reaching for a placard, "toasty!" was the offset. It was the counterbalance to the unspeakable horror present on screen and let players know that this was too ridiculous to take seriously. After all, how could anyone take it seriously? There were ninjas dressed in bright-green, a Shaolin monk who drew his razor-sharp hat at people, and some random person diving out of the screen and singing "toasty!" whenever you landed an uppercut.
That it featured in every 'Mortal Kombat' since 1991's 'Mortal Kombat 2' is a testament not only to its popularity but also speaks to why the franchise has survived for this long. Like the reboot of 'Doom', 'Mortal Kombat' itself lost some of its popularity and came back to its roots by embracing its weird and goofy nature. 'Doom', for example, features tiny action figures that players can find depicting the Doomguy / Doom Slayer. He'll give them a little fist bump before he pockets them.
While 'Mortal Kombat' may not be as cute as this, it's amazing how much "toasty!" takes the edge off a hard-fought match. It's impossible not to laugh or even smile when it pops up on screen, reminding you that this is not only supposed to be fun, but you're supposed to be having fun - even if you are getting an uppercut that sends blood flying everywhere and throws you halfway across the screen.