Mortal Kombat 4 featured exactly one fighter that was not previously seen in MK: Mythologies and was not originally intended to be another, more established kharacter. Kai, thus, is technically the most original choice on the MK4 roster.
And he’s not even all that original.
Kai’s backstory explains that he is a member of the White Lotus Society, just like Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Unfortunately, Kai showed up late on the day they were handing out razor hats, so he merely went through typical fireball training. This means that a number of his special moves are “like Liu Kang, but weird”, like his fireballs that shoot diagonally. Couple this with his basic backstory of “he’s a monk that wants to do good and seeks self-improvement”, and it seems like Kai was intended as a Kung Lao replacement for MK4 (as Kung Lao was missing and assumed dead for the initial release), and was little more than the Luigi to Liu Kang’s Mario.
But Kai did have one original trait: he could do a handstand. And that was pretty cool!
And the AI has no idea what to do with that
Developer interviews reveal that Kai was created with a specific goal in mind: there aren’t any nimble black guys in fighting games, and there should be! Practically every African American in the genre at the time was a bruiser type, including “strongest man in the world” Jax of Mortal Kombat. Some franchises have fed this weird stereotyping for decades (is Sean the single dude of color in Street Fighter without boxing gloves?), but MK decided to do something back in 1997. Thus, Kai was presented as a thoughtful, lithe guy that carries a staff (one of the more friendly weapons out there) and incidentally knows kung-fu. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar studied under Bruce Lee, people! There’s a precedent!
Of course, this noble goal was completely forgotten ten seconds later. Like many of his MK4 contemporaries, Kai only returned in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Here, his handstand attacks were not implemented at all, and his “light” bo staff was replaced with a comically disproportionate spiked club. And, while his backstory of seeking enlightenment is still there in his bio and ending, his general look and abilities in battle… make him another African American bruiser character. And then he never appeared in the franchise again in any capacity.
Uh… good try guys. Going to try to do that again with another, new black character? No? Okay then. Moving on.
Mortal Kombat 4 seemed to be a return to Mortal Kombat 1’s roots: all of the finisher cruft that had accumulated over the years was dropped, and only Fatalities remained. Babalities, Friendships, and Animalities were all dropped in favor of simple, gory death. Mortal Kombat wasn’t going to entertain its bizarre brand of “humor” anymore; this is a serious game for serious fighters.
… And that lasted until Mortal Kombat 4 V. 3. Meet Meat.
Meat was an unlockable kharacter in later versions of arcade Mortal Kombat 4, and all versions of the home ports (well, maybe not Gameboy Color). He was a reward for clearing Group Mode (which meant you had to beat literally everybody on the roster), but also little more than a model swap. Meat could technically be any fighter, just when you selected your fighter, he or she would have their normal model replaced with that of a bloody skeleton. Thus, Meat was little more than what today would be known as a “skin”, and we wouldn’t even have a name for the dude if Ed Boon wasn’t posting “Meat Lives!” on his website back in the 90’s.
But, like everybody else in MK4, Meat returned in MK: Armageddon. And this time he was a complete kharacter with a backstory and everything! Meat is apparently a Shang Tsung experiment originating from The Flesh Pits (aw, that’s where Mileena was born!), and… that’s about it. This Meat is now a bloody, muscular body as opposed to simply a bloody skeleton, but he’s otherwise the same “person”. He does now have some unique special moves (like rolling his head at an opponent, or sliding across a blood trail) and his own signature weapon in the form of a pair of meat cleavers (oh, I just got that). He doesn’t have anything to actually do in the story, but he certainly makes an impression when you have to fight a dude barely holding onto his eyeball.
Unfortunately, he only cameos in the reboot MK universe. … Which, sadly, is still more than Kai got.
And that’s it for Mortal Kombat 4 kharacters! But before we move on to the new generation of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, we have to address one more Playstation 1 Mortal Kombat game…
As was mentioned during Jax’s biography, Mortal Kombat Special Forces was a terrible, terrible game that saw Major Jackson Briggs battling Kano and the Black Dragons. This was a prequel, so it would have made sense to include a pre-MK3, unscarred Kabal… but nobody felt like figuring out how to render such a creature, so Kabal did not appear. Dropping everyone’s favorite sand nomad meant that Kano and Jarek were the only Black Dragons already established in the kanon. So we need more Black Dragons! In an effort to see Jax punch new and interesting people, Kano recruited a few new (to the MK universe) henchmen:
- No-Face, a pyromaniac with no ears, hair, or nose. How does he smell? Terrible!
- Tasia, a dual-wielding ninja swordswoman. She’s clearly cut from the same cloth as Batman’s Talia Al Ghul, but Talia wouldn’t be caught dead hanging out in a sewer level.
- Tremor, an incredibly lackluster brown color swap of Scorpion. Tremor is appropriately named, as his only two special moves are a generic fireball (everybody gets one of those), and the ability to shake the ground with a punch.
MK: Special Forces had a very troubled development, and its limited roster of new characters meant we were spared… I don’t know… A turd-colored version of Cyrax named Net Guy. And, since Special Forces was such a phenomenal dud, the original characters of SF never appeared again.
… Until eleven years later.
Likely as little more than an amusing easter egg (Mortal Kombat loves those things), Tremor appeared in the Vita version of Mortal Kombat 9. Tremor was simply a “brown ninja”, but he technically had his own moveset with his signature ground pound, fireball, and now an air throw borrowed from Jax. He wasn’t available on the regular roster, but could be controlled in Challenge Tower, a mode that featured various weird situations and challenges. This Tremor was clearly a late addition (even his portrait is just a quicky recolor of Noob Saibot, and his “voice” is an exact match for Scorpion), but, hey, Tremor is back for some reason.
And then he returned for realsie reals in Mortal Kombat X as an inexplicable DLC choice. Welcome home, Tremor! (?)
But what’s the deal with this former Kano henchman? Well, he’s basically the anime movie villain of the Mortal Kombat universe. Tremor previously simply shook the ground with his fist because, I dunno, he’s stronk or something. Mortal Kombat X steers Tremor into full-on elemental mode, with whacky earth/sand powers that recall Marvel’s Sandman or President Q of Street Fighter. Additionally, at some point, Kano sent Tremor on a random mission to pick up a magical bomb in the Dream Realm (first I’ve heard of it), where Tremor gained the additional powers of a lesser god. So he’s basically Fujin’s opposite number. And practically every fighter acknowledges it during battles, with pre-fight dialogue that goes something like “Tremor, you here to destroy every one and every thing today?” or “Oh no, it’s Tremor! Oh lawd he comin’!” Tremor doesn’t even seem to like Kano anymore (probably a spat over Kano borrowing Tremor’s handcuffs), and there’s this unmistakable air that Tremor is going to conquer the universe about seven seconds after MKX wraps up.
But MK11 chose to not include Tremor, so an interdimensional criminal running around with the powers of a god is never mentioned again. The universe got destroyed regardless, though, so I guess it all worked out okay in the end.
Oh, and as for Tremor’s other Special Forces pals? No-Face is briefly mentioned in an item description in MK11, and Tasia appears in the MKX comics. It’s kanon that she’s currently rotting in the same dungeon as Jarek. So that’s two more Black Dragons no one ever has to think about again. And let’s all do the same, and move on…
Next time: Put down that sword, you’ll poke an eye out.