Arcade1Up is making a Mortal Kombat arcade cabinet meant to look like the original one that came to arcades back in 1992. However, there’s one major difference between the 30th anniversary cabinet Arcade1Up is selling and the one that graced arcades three decades ago: it won’t feature the likeness of Johnny Cage, played by Daniel Pesina, on the side.
We reached out to Arcade1UP and Pesina to ask about the situation, and Pesina says that there were talks about having his character on the cabinet, but it was blocked by a third party: Mortal Kombat publisher Warner Bros.
“Yes, the owner and I spoke about licensing my image on the side of the cabinet but at that time WB blocked the deal,” Pesina told Fanbyte in an email.
After receiving Pesina’s response, Fanbyte emailed Arcade1Up again asking about Warner Bros. alleged involvement and did not receive a response by publication time. We also reached out to Warner Bros. asking about Pesina’s claims, but received no response as of this writing.
For those not in the know, the original Mortal Kombat used digitized sprites based on real actors, including Pesina, who was the face of fan favorite fighter Johnny Cage in the original game. However, Pesina had a disagreement with original developer Midway regarding pay disputes as the series began to take off on home console, which eventually led to a lawsuit in which Pesina claimed his likeness was used in Nintendo and Genesis ports without authorization, thus was infringing on his right of publicity. The court ended up ruling in Midway’s favor, but Johnny Cage wasn’t portrayed by another actor in Mortal Kombat 3, because he wasn’t a playable character in the game to begin with.
The lawsuit created a divide between Pesina and Midway, so his likeness wasn’t used in the Mortal Kombat franchise again. So now that Arcade1Up is revisiting the series’ roots, Johnny Cage and Pesina’s likeness is a noticeable absence on the side of the the arcade cabinet.
Even without Pesina’s likeness, Arcade1Up’s recreation of the original cabinet isn’t a 1:1 recreation. The original black and red buttons are now different colors (likely for accessibility reasons as this helps distinguish each button at a glance), and Midway’s logo has been removed from the sides. The company closed down in 2010, but most of its assets were purchased by Warner Bros., which led to the Midway Chicago team becoming part of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, then subsequently rebranded as NetherRealm Studios.
Since the rebranding in 2010, the team has still been working on the Mortal Kombat series, including the 2011 soft reboot, Mortal Kombat X, and Mortal Kombat 11. Between these games, the studio also released DC Comics fighting games Injustice: Gods Among Us and Injustice 2. Though there were hints the superhero series was returning in some way back in 2020, the only thing we’ve gotten since was an animated adaptation that was real bad.