In the beginning there was Midway, and it was good. In seven days and seven nights (or maybe, like, thirty years), Midway produced some of the most amazing arcade titles on the planet. Midway distributed Space Invaders. Midway distributed Pac-Man. I’m moderately certain Spy Hunter was somewhere in there. Tapper. Gorf. Smash TV. Journey: Not the Journey You’re Thinking Of. Let’s skip ahead to NBA Jam. NFL Blitz. Revolution X: Music is the Weapon. War Gods. Happy Feet for Nintendo DS. Ozzy & Drix for the Gameboy Advance. And, of course, through it all, Midway was responsible for Mortal Kombat and its many, many sequels.
Unfortunately, Midway blew all its development money on Ozzy & Drix, and they went bankrupt in 2009. This, as you may expect, impacted the Mortal Kombat series. Specifically, this whole “goin’ bankrupt” thing started back around when Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was happening, so planned DLC for the game, Harley Quinn and Quan Chi, got cancelled due to a complete lack of interest in Quan Chi (and the bankruptcy thing, too, I guess). But! Possibly because Midway Chicago was already working with Warner Bros. Interactive, the WB purchased the remains of Midway Chicago and its IPs. This meant that, finally, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot could cross over with the lucrative The Suffering franchise. It also meant that Mortal Kombat and its kast of kharacters that once uppercutted Superman are now the property of the same dudes that owned Superman, so… hooray? Go ahead and add Sub-Zero to the Arrowverse Multiverse map, nerds.
But, crossover opportunities aside, the important result of the end of Midway was NetherRealm Studios. NetherRealm Studios technically started its WB time as WB Games Chicago, but, before that, this team was basically Midway Games Chicago. And who has been the consistent lead of this team? Ed Boon, one of the original four men that created Mortal Kombat. And why is it “NetherRealm Studios”? Well, because NRS predominantly only makes Mortal Kombat games (featuring Scorpion, popular denizen of the NetherRealm). They’ve also got the Injustice franchise, but that is, at its core, MK with a Batman skin. Beyond that, NetherRealm Studios has only ever produced one mobile WWE game and a mobile Batman Arkham City spin-off. The point here? We now have an entire videogame developer devoted to Mortal Kombat, and it doesn’t have to waste resources on maintaining the CarnEvil extended universe.
This is a great situation for Mortal Kombat! Finally, its team can take some time, breathe, and get back to designing the new legends of the Mortal Kombat franchise. We went through some lean, Hotaru-based years back there, and now we’re ready for the titans of a whole new generation. Show us this year’s Sub-Zero, NetherRealm Studios!
Oh, snap, he’s a robot? …. Didn’t you already do that? No? But, didn’t you already do all of this?
Mortal Kombat 9 (officially titled simply “Mortal Kombat”) was the first game produced by NetherRealm Studios (then officially titled WB Games Chicago). At its core, it is little more than a Star Trek 2009-esque reboot of the franchise. As a result, it introduced exactly zero new kharacters (until DLC, where we got one), and the best anyone could hope for was seeing some cyborgs take off their robot suits. From the perspective of someone expecting to make some new friends (and then roundhouse them), Mortal Kombat 9 was a complete disappointment.
On the other hand, Mortal Kombat 9, appropriately enough, was a return to form for the Mortal Kombat franchise. Did you enjoy all of the fighting styles of the previous three (non crossover) Mortal Kombat titles? They’re gone now! Back to four-button face-punching (or kicking). 3-D? Not in this timeline! Back to two dimensions! And do you like fatalities? Because the design team apparently put a premium on its finishers for the first time in the franchise’s history. After two games of “Heroic Brutalities” and supremely generic finishers, we’ve got some really specific buckets of blood being tossed around. There’s also a stage that contains a literal blood fountain! And it has nothing to do with Johnny Cage slashing an artery!
And, while the cast is wholly familiar, the story is appropriately Mortal Kombat bonkers, so we scored another goal there.
Mortal Kombat 9 has been tangentially referenced in the other recaps, but, because your stupid ape brain can only quantify events in a linear fashion, and all future kharacter spotlights will be firmly in this new timeline, let’s review how Mortal Kombat 9 went down.
So, to be clear, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (MK7) happened. And the end result was that literally everyone died except Raiden and Shao Kahn. And, frankly, Raiden wasn’t doing so great against a now mystically-empowered Kahn. So Raiden came up with the bright idea to send a magical text message back to his past self, and the general assumption was that Past-Raiden would be able to instantly understand Future-Raiden because, hey, they’re the same guy, right? And he’s got god-level knowledge, too! Raiden is the guardian of the entire realm of Earth, of course he’s going to be smart enough to figure out a message from his future self.
Unfortunately, Raiden is a blithering idiot. Both of ‘em.
Granted, most MK kharacters have had brain injuries at this point
Raiden told Raiden that “He must win.” Raiden assumed that a pronoun would work, but, other than completely disqualifying Sonya Blade, it didn’t exactly help the situation. In fact, Past Raiden following the “He must win” mantra nearly got everybody killed (including a good number of “he”’s). And it all turned out to be some stupid riddle to begin with, and the only explanation for that is that apparently at least one Raiden involved here is suicidal.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what you need to know about the brand new Mortal Kombat universe:
• “Past Raiden” starts at the top of Mortal Kombat 1. Given he is involved in a fighting tournament featuring almost exclusively men, “He must win” isn’t exactly helpful. And, since Raiden doesn’t have any further future information, he assumes that Liu Kang must win Mortal Kombat. Given that is how MK happened the first time, very little changes at this point in the timeline.
• However, there are a few inconsequential retcons. For instance, Baraka, Nightwolf, and (the human versions of) Cyrax & Sektor participate. Also, Quan Chi, who previously did not appear until MK4, is part of Shao Kahn’s general entourage. He’s currently acting like Scorpion’s manager, and it’s never not weird that mundane karate man Liu Kang has to deal with King Goth of Gothania pirouetting around.
• Also, Raiden tries to bribe Scorpion into not killing Sub-Zero I. But, Raiden? My man? Scorpion is an unstoppable vengeance demon fueled only by his desire to avenge himself upon nebulously blue, ninja-shaped life forms. You would have had an easier time bribing the Kool-Aid man into dodging brick walls.
• Liu Kang wins MK1 like normal, but things start going south during the second Mortal Kombat tournament. For one thing, Jax is slightly more gung-ho about rescuing Sonya in this timeline, so Ermac meets Jax’s enthusiasm by tearing the guy’s arms off.
• Also, Raiden sees a vision of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, and rescues Smoke from his cybernetic fate. However, this leaves Sub-Zero II vulnerable, and he’s captured by Lin Kuei forces. So now we have a whole new robot to deal with!
• Kitana discovers the dark secret of Mileena (she never got braces), but Kitana does not kill Mileena. In the original timeline, Mileena had to be magically revived to participate in every title past MK2, and Kitana was being pursued by Shao Kahn for her murder. Kitana’s hands are clean in this timeline, but she still winds up on Shao Kahn’s shitlist for being a general nuisance.
Obviously, Johnny Cage’s seminal Ninja Mime still happened.
• Oh, and quite crucially, Raiden interprets “he must win” as a call for the brash Kung Lao, not Liu Kang, to win Mortal Kombat 2. Kung Lao does pretty well until Shao Kahn realizes he’s wholly in charge of the tournament, and, when you make the rules, you can break the rules. So Shao Kahn breaks Kung Lao’s neck. Kung Lao becomes the first “real” casualty of the rebooted universe.
• Liu Kang kills Shao Kahn in retribution, and, like before, wins Mortal Kombat 2. However, Shao Kahn is revived about seven seconds later thanks to the ever-pesky Quan Chi. Quan Chi also kicks off MK3 by reviving Sindel. In the original timeline, there was never an exact explanation for how Shao Kahn survived MK2 and revived Sindel for MK3 (a wizard did it… seriously!), so Quan Chi’s presence here is only marginally a retcon.
• MK3 is fast and furious with the retcons and timeline changes. Kabal is now a cop (!) and Stryker’s partner (!). Like before, Kabal is BBQed in the early days of the Outworld invasion, but now it is confirmed that his cybernetics and magical speed powers are the results of Kano and Shang Tsung.
• Raiden screws the pooch by killing the horse. Motaro was Shao Kahn’s dragon du jour for MK3, but Raiden receives a vision of Motaro killing Johnny Cage, so Raiden kills Motaro first. Johnny is saved, but in the absence of his beloved centaur, Shao Kahn decides to kill Shang Tsung, drain his soul bowl, and transform Queen Sindel into her super saiyan form. Queen Sindel is now a boss-class monster (for story purposes, she’s still pretty lousy in actual gameplay).
• Sub-Zero, now a robot, seemingly kills Noob Saibot, who was already dead. It was confusing. But what’s important is that now Noob Saibot is going to have to take a game off to recover. Robot Sub-Zero never gets around to “freeing” his robot brethren like in the original timeline.
• And, since it looks like the good guys are actually winning this war against Shao Kahn, Queen Sindel gets sent to take out Team Good. And she does! Sindel leads an assault on Earthrealm that leaves… let’s see here… Nightwolf, Sub-Zero, Jax, Stryker, Smoke, Kabal, and… probably some other guys… all dead. Oh! Kitana! She’s dead. So is Sindel, in the end. This leaves us with only Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya surviving into the fourth quarter.
• This all made Raiden really frustrated with the situation, one thing led to another, and, blah blah blah, Raiden may have killed Liu Kang and left him a particularly well done corpse.
“Sorry about that.”
• But that gives Raiden an idea: why not just give up? “He must win” is revealed to mean that Shao Kahn must win specifically Mortal Kombat 3, because the fights of Mortal Kombat 3 are not an officially sanctioned tournament presented by Mortal Kombat Korp., and, when Shao Kahn “wins”, the Elder Gods call foul, and Shao Kahn is obliterated on a technicality. Shao Kahn is gone forever (thus he can never go on to win Mortal Kombat 7), and Raiden has won Mortal Kombat 3 by the two sweetest words in the English language: default.
• But everybody is still dead, and, thanks to Netherrealm (the realm, not the company) contract negotiations, enslaved by Quan Chi. Only Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage are left standing to represent Team Good.
• And that’s why Mortal Kombat 4 starts with a full-blown Netherrealm invasion featuring Shinnok, Quan Chi, and an army of undead fighters. But that’s a story for next time.
Anywho, what does it all mean? Well, to use up my last few bullet points (I got them on sale at Target, and I want to use them all before they expire):
• Most of the Mortal Kombat old guard is dead. This does not stop them from participating in future titles, but they’re going to be angrier when they do.
• To be completely clear, Shao Kahn, is totally dead. So is Shang Tsung. So they’re not coming back for future titles like in the good ol’ days (or at least not for a whole one game).
• This means that Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, featuring Shang Tsung killing Liu Kang, will never happen in this timeline. And given those events immediately led to MK: Deception and MK: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat 5-7 will not “reboot”, and are not remembered by anyone.
• However, Mortal Kombat 9-11 have confirmed that events from the “old games” could happen again under different circumstances, and any kharacters introduced in those titles are still legitimate… they’re just not participating right now. Hotaru is still out there living his best life.
• And, of course, the timeline veering off into this new direction means there will be all new kharacters introduced in these (mostly) all new storylines.
So get ready for new, never before seen kharacters! … You just have to wait a game for ‘em, because there was nobody new in Mortal Kombat 9.
… Well, except Skarlet. She was DLC, and didn’t actually impact the storyline proper, but Mortal Kombat 9 did technically have one original kharacter.
Skarlet is the “red female ninja” to match Ermac (the red boy ninja). Like Ermac, she originally existed as the rumored “fourth female ninja” in Mortal Kombat 2 that could only be accessed by glitching out the Sega Genesis version while licking a dog’s nose and chanting the entirety of Yellow Submarine backwards. Unfortunately, this was only a rumor, and, if a certain dog still looks at me funny when I pick up a Genesis controller, that’s a coincidence. Given (real) Skarlet was introduced well past the point that color-swaps were all the rage in MK, she was designed from the start to merely “evoke” the concept of being another ninja twin, and is not intended to actually be another literal sister to Kitana and Mileena. She’s still one of Shao Kahn’s assassin women, though, so she at least has the same job as the other ladies.
As far as her history, Skarlet was a starving street urchin that was “rescued” by Shao Kahn, and transformed into a blood-mage assassin. Yes, “blood” is a magical element in the Mortal Kombat universe, and, frankly, that makes a whole lotta sense (in the MK universe, people are 80% blood by volume). Skarlet is not a vampire (that would be Nitara), but she does gain unsubstantiated power through drinking blood. But, again, not a vampire, so she presumably eats a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables when she’s not empowering herself with the blood of her enemies. She can also telekinetically manipulate blood, and transform it into projectiles, swords, and balloon doggies (though that last one rarely comes up).
Skarlet also has “bloodhound”-like tracking abilities, and, while you may think this trait would grant her some manner of bounty-hunting-based task for her premiere in Mortal Kombat 9, her official job was keeping track of Quan Chi and determining whether or not he was up to anything untoward. Fun fact: she failed. But her boss was dead by the time MK9 concluded, so she didn’t have to worry about a poor performance review. Skarlet does not appear in Mortal Kombat 10, but she teams up with Reiko in service of Havik for the MKX comics, and her ultimate reward is Milenna chopping off her legs (!) and leaving her for dead. And then she died.
Like most dead people, Skarlet returns as a playable fighter in Mortal Kombat 11. In this case, “future” Skarlet appears to still be dead, but a Skarlet from roughly Mortal Kombat 2 (MK9) steps through a time portal to serve Shao Kahn in her usual bloody manner. But, in a more Avengers manner, she just winds up being “the henchwoman”, and is forced to fight (good, time-displaced) Kitana and Jade a couple of times. She loses every time, and winds up impacting the plot at large slightly less than Baraka. Hell, if she didn’t show up for MK11, she could have been replaced by Reptile, and literally nothing would change.
But at least she came back for one game, thus legitimizing the one original fighter from Mortal Kombat 9. This makes a certain amount of sense though, as it appears the MK franchise had been stockpiling all of its kreative juices for Mortal Kombat 10…
Speaking of creative juices…
Next time: Kill the franchise before it breeds!