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MKK: Quan Chi

This is going to be difficult to explain to people in the year of our Raiden 2019, but Mortal Kombat went through the strangest metamorphosis between its initial release and the finale of Mortal Kombat 3 four years later. At launch, Mortal Kombat (1) was a revelation that not only lit the arcades ablaze like a thousand flaming skulls, but also was featured nigh-nightly on the evening news during segments that warned us all of “mature content” and the vicious seduction of our innocent children. Mortal Kombat was an arcade smash and the scariest goddamned thing in the world. Contrast this with 1996, when Mortal Kombat Trilogy was hitting home consoles. At this point, we had…

He's on fire!

• Mortal Kombat cameos across the board
• The wildly successful Mortal Kombat movie
• Various Mortal Kombat comics, some directly from the franchise creators
• Mortal Kombat being the featured game on roughly every game/cheat magazine every other month
• The Mortal Kombat animated series, Defenders of the Realm
• Mortal Kombat action figure lines, including one set that was meant to scale with contemporary GI Joes
• And, of course, freaking events that accompanied every Mortal Kombat console release. It’s arguable that the release of the original Mortal Kombat on consoles, “Mortal Monday”, introduced a generation to the very concept of videogames having release dates (as opposed to weird hunks of plastic that were clearly just teleported into stores randomly from the future)

In short, Mortal Kombat went from being some dingy tech demo fighting game to the root of all evil to, eventually, a mainstay at toy stores across the country. Mortal Kombat had become arguably the face of gaming by 1996.

So you’ll forgive the curators of Mortal Kombat for believing they could do no wrong. You’ll have to forgive them for Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero.

On paper, this could have been a thing of beauty. The concept was simple: Mortal Kombat has a robust kast with interesting and complex “mythologies”, so why not produce some games that focus on non-fighting tournament based events? Not every problem can be solved by a round robin round of roundhouses, after all. And while we’re at it, let’s see if this “mythology” can tie into the inevitably convoluted backstory for the next “real” Mortal Kombat title. How much better would Shao Kahn be if you knew his whole deal before he popped out of nowhere in Mortal Kombat 2? So much better! One would assume! (Incorrectly!)

Unfortunately, MKM:S was not to be a beautiful unicorn, but more of a three-legged donkey that has been rolling in shit all day while another, fatter donkey stood there shouting MAGA slogans and various homophobic slurs. The gameplay of MKM:S was predominantly based on “what if exactly the same controls as a fighting game”, which could have worked for more of a beat ‘em up, but was absolutely abhorrent in what is essentially a 2-D platformer. Frankly, any game where you need to press a button to turn around should be fired directly into the sun (looking at you, Guilty Gear: Isuka). And couple the general stiffness that already exists in Mortal Kombat with a nigh-infinite gauntlet of instant kill traps, and the whole experience just…

That sucked

Falls flat.

And in further ill-advised developments, the good folks behind Mortal Kombat decided to go a step further past digitized human actor sprites, and hire for-real human actors to act out the important plot beats of Mythology. Regrettably, this created a sort of reverse uncanny valley effect. When you see Sub-Zero as a little digitized fighter, that’s cool, there’s Sub-Zero, he’s going to take someone’s head off, and it’s going to work out. When you see that “same” Sub-Zero as a real-life FMV person in a cutscene… uh… what am I looking at here? That’s not Sub-Zero! That’s just some dumpy dude wearing a Sub-Zero costume! And I don’t think I need to tell anyone that Playstation 1-era videogame actors were maybe not the best at selling a story. In short, in a time when “immersion” was starting to become gaming’s latest buzzword, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero did its level best to practically insult the player for investing in Mortal Kombat (mythologies).

And amid all this, this is how we were introduced to Quan Chi.

This jerk

First of all, of all the kharacters introduced after Mortal Kombat 3, Quan Chi looks to be the most relevant and reoccurring. This seems to indicate that someone in the Mortal Kombatorium (where all Mortal Kombat games are made) really likes the guy. Maybe a member of the KISS Army saved Ed Boon’s life? I don’t know. Whatever the case, Quan Chi was the marquee fighter for Mortal Kombat 4, the star of MK:MS, and a frequently recurring antagonist in nearly every following Mortal Kombat title. He was slated to be DLC (with Harley Quinn!) in MK vs. DC, and he even technically premiered not in Mythologies, but as a guest villain on the animated series. He was a little off model (albeit like every MK: Defenders of Realm character), and he had a Megatronian plan to infect all the heroes with a rage virus or something to make them all fight for no reason (like… every Mortal Kombat… huh), but he was still essentially the “evil wizard” Quan Chi right from the get-go. Quan Chi is somebody’s favorite fighter in the franchise.

But you wouldn’t know that from watching MK:MS. Again, on paper, we’ve got a pretty cool customer. Quan Chi was a wizard, and, like most wizards, he needed some magical doodads for, I dunno, turning someone into a toad or whatever. Wizards are a naturally lazy bunch (you ever seen a wizard mowing the lawn?), so he hired a pair of rival ninja(esque) guilds to go and find his trinkets. Sub-Zero of the Lin Kuei not only completed the assigned task, but also murdered his rival along the way. As an extra special thank you for a job well done, Quan Chi completely obliterated the rival ninja clan, and maybe picked up a spare vengeance skeleton along the way. So, to be clear for future retkons: the final answer here is that Quan Chi murdered Scorpion’s family, and Sub-Zero only kinda inspired it. Please get your retribution right, Scorpion.

Anywho, Sub-Zero wound up with Quan Chi’s ultimate goal, a magical amulet, and dutifully handed it over to the wizard. At this point, the chalk-white wizard with freaking spikes growing out of his shoulders revealed that, gasp, he’s totally an evil wizard, and Sub-Zero was tricked into helping Quan Chi revive an ancient evil god known as Shinnok. Quan Chi escaped to Hell, and Sub-Zero followed after Raiden explained that an ancient evil god running around would be a terrible thing for the assassination business. People would be getting murdered for nothing!

So, naturally, Sub-Zero ventured down to the Netherrealm, eventually defeated Quan Chi and the divine Shinnok, and saved the day. How could an evil god empowered by his extra-special magical amulet be defeated by a mere ice ninja? Simple! Quan Chi kept the real magical amulet for himself! Oh, that rascally Quan Chi! He’ll be the death of us all!

Anywho, this cool and calculating wizard was played by the same dude as Kano, so maybe his real cunning didn’t exactly come across in his initial premiere…

This jerk

And then that brought us up to Mortal Kombat 4. Nobody liked Mortal Kombat 4.

Again, Mortal Kombat as a brand was riding high after the release of Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Unfortunately, this was also the era when games “had to” upgrade to 3-D. The old days of 2-D were dead and gone, and the mere concept that 2-D games could exist alongside their pointy colleagues was insane. Virtua Fighter, Tekken, and Battle Arena Toshinden (of all things!) were defining what fighting games could be, and Mortal Kombat wanted a piece of that sweet, polygonal pie. Thus, Mortal Kombat 4 forsook the realistic 2-D models of the olden days, and elevated the whole kast to the third dimension.

Unfortunately, nobody had a damn clue how to translate the actual Mortal Kombat gameplay to 3-D, so… woof, man. Just woof.

As previously noted, Quan Chi was the marquee kharacter of Mortal Kombat 4, as he was featured in all advertising and was plastered over the side of every Mortal Kombat 4 arcade machine. Oddly, though, he didn’t have much to actually do in Mortal Kombat 4. Shinnok was the final boss, and Goro popped up again as the sub-boss. Quan Chi was just kind of… there. He did feature prominently in a few endings, though, like when Scorpion discovered ol’ Quan was responsible for killing his family, or when Quan Chi stood over a defeated Shinnok and finally revealed that he had been holding on to the real, actually useful magical amulet this whole time. You’d think that last reveal would just be an excuse to explain why the toady defeated the master in a completely fantastical ending, but, nope, that winds up being kanon for the rest of the franchise. The finale of MK4 sees Shinnok and Quan Chi failing, but Quan Chi does manage to hold onto an amulet of unimaginable/ill-defined power. Score!

Unfortunately, unlike Quan Chi, Mortal Kombat as a cultural juggernaut could not survive its failures. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero killed some good will. Mortal Kombat 4 killed even more. Mortal Kombat: Annihilation was a movie made specifically for fans of the convoluted Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but, give or take some horse punching, it was an abject failure for all but the most dedicated of ninja enthusiasts. The next attempted “Mythologies” title, Mortal Kombat: Special Forces: Starring Jax and Only Jax, was the final nail in the Mortal Kombat coffin (koffin). The Mortal Kombat franchise not only never saw a release on the Playstation/N64 console generation again, it also saw John Tobias, co-creator of MK and godfather to Noob Saibot, leave the franchise. Mortal Kombat as we knew it was gone. Mortal Kombat could return, but it would be a different animal. It would have to be.

And then Mortal Kombat returned in a totally new form on the Playstation 2 as Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance. And, as if to tell us that nothing had ever been learned, there was Quan Chi with his bone-licking grin, smiling back at us as the final boss. You crash the entire franchise (twice!), and you get promoted! Clearly, Quan Chi is the whitest of the MK fighters.

This jerk

At least Quan Chi suffered a little for participating in some horrible titles. Scorpion’s MK4 ending turned out to be kanon, and he dragged Quan Chi to Hell for a substantial torture session. Given Scorpion isn’t all that great at psychological torment (he’s more of a zoning guy), you kind of have to assume this punishment involved a lot of uppercuts. A lot. Eventually, Quan Chi remembered, duh, he’s got an amulet of unspeakable power, and, with the aid of a pair of oni, he escaped the Netherrealm to discover the Tomb of the Dragon King. Thus, Quan Chi recruited Shang Tsung, formed the Deadly Alliance, and successfully killed Liu Kang, Shao Kahn (sorta), Kung Lao, Kitana, Sonya Blade, Jax, and probably severely wounded Stryker with an errant flaming skull. Having won literally everything, the Deadly Alliance inevitably fell apart when Shang Tsung gave Quan Chi the side-eye for like a second, and thus a big ol’ wizard fight broke out. Quan Chi emerged victorious, and likely would have ruled the realms had the Dragon King not shown up and wiped the floor with the survivors (who were not survivors for very much longer). Quan Chi himself saw Raiden powering up for an apocalyptic suicide blast, and decided to hightail it out of there to realms unknown. As a result, Quan Chi did not participate in Mortal Kombat: Deception, though in-game data shows that he was intended for the title, but must have been cut at the last moment. Someone finally acknowledged that we all needed a break from Quan Chi.

Quan Chi makes a comeback in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, though, and is responsible for the networking mixer that eventually pulls all the final bosses across MK onto the same side (though everyone was disappointed that Goro only brought a cheese plate). This, of course, leads to every villain betraying every other villain simultaneously, and Shao Kahn is the ultimate victor of that “alliance”. And, as we all know, this leads to everyone being dead, and the universe being rebooted again. (Though with a brief sojourn in the DC Universe, where, despite not being a playable kharacter, Quan Chi still manages to have a significant impact on the plot.)

This jerk

Mortal Kombat 9 was a reboot of the original Mortal Kombat Trilogy, so you might think we’d be free of Quan Chi, who did not appear during that time. And you’d be wrong! Quan Chi is the only (non DLC) fighter to appear in MK9 that was not in the original trilogy. Despite there being no explanation for such a shift in the timeline, Quan Chi has now been retkonned into being right there from the start, appearing as undead Scorpion’s manager in the original tournament. Yes, Quan Chi was apparently the Don King to Scorpion’s Mike Tyson. And when Scorpion has second thoughts about biting off Sub-Zero’s ear, Quan Chi is there to show Scorpion a PowerPoint presentation about how Subs called Scorpion’s mama fat. Thus, Quan Chi gains an undead Sub-Zero as his newest Noob, and everything is going according to plan, bwa ha ha and whatnot.

Quan Chi generally hangs around Shao Kahn’s posse, and is even responsible for reviving Shao Kahn and Sindel at the finale of nu-MK2. And then, during MK3, his big plan is finally revealed: he just wants to see the world burn. Or die. Apparently if you die in Mortal Kombat, you become a member of Quan Chi’s undead army, because QC set up a net on life’s drain or something. Quan Chi is thus now the leader of an army that includes practically everyone that died in the three Mortal Kombat tournaments… which, in this timeline, is practically everyone. Except Motaro. Motaro is dead, and he is going to stay dead. Forever.

At the point that he has literally won everything he ever wanted, Quan Chi bows out of Mortal Kombat 9, and a very lonely Raiden is left to deal with Shao Kahn. So Quan Chi returns in Mortal Kombat 10 for a redux of Mortal Kombat 4: Shinnok and Quan Chi are invading the realms, and the only hero left to oppose their tyranny is… Johnny Cage. Huh. But he (inexplicably) wins! Shinnok is beaten back into his own magical amulet during the opening of MK10, and Quan Chi is stuck (once again) trying to find a way to revive his master. At least he still has like 60% of his undead army to keep him company.

This jerk

Unfortunately for Quan Chi (I love typing that), it’s not easy being a masterless evil wizard. Quan Chi is soundly beaten by Sonya in a random raid, and loses control of (undead) Scorpion, Sub-Zero, and Jax. Then, he has to recruit a gross bug lady to sneak around Outworld and steal back his (kinda his) super amulet. Then he’s captured by the Special Forces, and it’s revealed that Quan Chi is now less “evil wizard” and is closer to “marginally magical hobo”. And then it’s all over when (currently alive) Scorpion gets wind of the fact that the dude that killed his family is locked up in a cell, and decapitates the sorcerer on sight. But! Gross Bug Lady did manage to get the amulet to Quan Chi just in the nick of time, and Shinnok is revived before QC completely loses his head. Quan Chi dies as he lived, wholly and unwaveringly dedicated to Shinnok. Which is only, ya know, the complete opposite of his personality in the other timeline. Maybe he read a particularly engrossing Shinnok Tract in this timeline?

Regardless, Quan Chi is dead and buried for Mortal Kombat 11, so he’s apparently not coming back. Good riddance to bad rubbish, you franchise-killing monster. Inevitably see you next game!

This jerk


Next time: Netherrealm politics

MKK: Kintaro & Shao Kahn

Never follow a dog act with a cat.

Feisty cat

Kintaro was intended to be Goro #2, and it seems literally everyone involved regretted this choice immediately. Kintaro was initially intended to be some manner of saber-tooth tiger creature-man, but this proved to be too difficult, so that “version” of Kintaro was tossed over to Primal Rage 2 (“There was a Primal Rage 2?” “Exactly”), and we basically got “Goro, but kind of like a cat?”. Tiger Goro wound up an incredibly cheap boss in Mortal Kombat 2, which, yeah, that’s par for the course with Mortal Kombat bosses. Basically, aside from being Goro’s fursona, Kintaro has no real defining features.

And then everyone forgot he existed for years.

Kintaro appeared in the Playstation version of Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but that was more of a dream match (for Kintaro) than anything. His next kanon appearance was in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, a game that featured (nearly) every MK fighter. Kintaro’s story in Annihilation… doesn’t exist. He’s just kind of there. Like in Mortal Kombat 2! He’s consistent! But at least… uh… his ending sees him earning magical swords. That’s… kind of something?

Ouch!

Kintaro returns for the reboot of Mortal Kombat 9, and he is defeated by Kung Lao moments after his introduction. This would be akin to being nominated for an Emmy, but then losing the prize to a kid in Mrs. Eckerson’s drama club. Kintaro did get to return for a rad endurance match with Goro against Sub-Zero, though, so his appearance wasn’t a complete waste.

And that’s about it for Kintaro. For a final denouement, he appeared in the kanonically dubious Mortal Kombat X komics, and had his head torn off by a magically-possessed Sonya Blade. It was meant to be a noble death for the Shokan warrior, but, like everything else in his cursed life, it didn’t quite land.
Kintaro, congratulations on being the first of many “forgotten” kombatants.

KAAAAAAAAHN!

But here’s a guy that no one is ever going to forget.

Not unlike over in the Street Fighter universe, the boss of the second title appears to be the one that stuck around the most. Shao Kahn isn’t always the final boss of the franchise, but he holds that honor most often. And he’s got a cool hat, too. That probably helps.

Despite being such a popular character, Shao Kahn’s origins are kind of murky. Apparently, he was originally a lesser deity of Outworld (like how Raiden is described before he ascended over the course of the series) back in the day when Onaga, the Dragon King, ruled Outworld. Shao Kahn grew jealous of the simplicity of being an interdimensional despot, though, and decided to take out Onaga with a healthy dosage of poison. Shao Kahn thus became the god-emperor of Outworld, and went on to conquer other realms. Edenia , the home universe of Kitana, was one of the earliest to fall, and Shao Kahn murdered Edenia’s king before taking the queen as his own. Queen Sindel didn’t last very long, however, as she offed herself after seeing her own prenup. This led to a germ of a plan that would eventually come to fruition a few centuries later, but, in the meanwhile, Shao Kahn primarily set his sights on Earth. Shang Tsung and Goro were dispatched to win ten generations of Mortal Kombat, and they came thiiiiiis close before Liu Kang cocked up the whole enterprise. This left Shao Kahn feeling rather lonely (he was really looking forward to marrying The Queen of Earth), so he invited the kombatants and all his closest friends to Outworld for a big party. It went… poorly.

The Mortal Kombat 2 tournament may have ended badly for Shao Kahn, but it did wonders for his reputation. Shang Tsung was a fun end boss for MK1, but he is most remembered for being a whole cast in one fight, and little more than a fireball-slinger otherwise. Shao Kahn, meanwhile, was much more in the vein of Goro: a huge, imposing monster man that was going to keep you floored. And he was an even bigger jerk than Goro, too. Shao Kahn would repeatedly taunt his prey, and hurl any number of insults that were significantly bolstered by Kahn revealing he had been the omnipresent announcer all along. Beating the hidden kharacters of MK2 offered very few pride points, but eventually triumphing and beating down the final boss and literal voice of Mortal Kombat 2 was thrilling.

He has green power, too!

And I guess defeating Shao Kahn means you saved two different dimensions? That’s pretty okay, too.

But! Defeating Shao Kahn did not save any universes at all. Shao Kahn was immediately revived after his MK2 defeat (MK9 seemed to imply that Quan Chi was involved), and he decided to cheat the universe at large by reviving his Queen Sindel on Earth. This apparently granted Shao Kahn carte blanche to set foot on Earth and reclaim his bride. And since Shao was on Earth anyway, he may as well use dark magic to merge the realms, suck up the soul of literally everyone on the planet, and dispatch centaur death squads to round up any survivors. This was perhaps not in the spirit of the original “just swing by and pick up your zombie wife” plan, but it wound up working out for Earth, as Liu Kang again challenged and defeated Shao Kahn. This pulled a big ol’ CTRL+Z on Shao Kahn’s invasion, and everything went back to normal for a solid couple of minutes. Shao Kahn also managed to survive his encounter with Liu Kang, and skulked back to Outworld to chill for the entirety of Mortal Kombat 4.

Shao Kahn was on something of a losing streak, what with personally losing two MK tournaments and Sindel/Kitana liberating Edenia and turning the Shokan and other Outworld tribes against him, so it kind of made sense when Shang Tsung and Quan Chi killed Shao Kahn to kick off their Deadly Alliance. But it was all a trick! Shao Kahn was never dumb enough to just hang out and get murdered on his own throne, and it was just an after-image, ha ha, you fools, Shao Kahn lives. Thus, Shao Kahn and the similarly presumed dead Goro teamed up for the Gamecube version of Mortal Kombat: Deception. They marched on the Dragon King… but didn’t make it in time to re-kill Shao Kahn’s revived predecessor. As a consolation prize, Shao Kahn decided to take back his old castle, so Shao ‘n Goro reconquered Outworld, and started Mortal Kombat: Armageddon in the literal seat of power.

STILL KAAAAAAAHN

And then, in a surprise turnaround for the series, Shao Kahn won MK:A. He defeated everybody! He beat Blaze, earned nigh-omnipotent power, and the only other warrior left standing was the divine (and also recently resurrected) Raiden. Shao Kahn was on the cusp of conquering the whole of the universe (which, according to his MK:A ending, would eventually bore him to literal insanity), but that wily Raiden sent a message back in time, and Shao Kahn was forced to forget his greatest triumph in a rebooted universe. Boo.

The rebooted Mortal Kombat 1-3 of Mortal Kombat 9 is basically all the same for Shao Kahn. He gets a clean kill on Kung Lao and a powered-up demon wife, but, other than that, it’s pretty much more of the same for ol’ Shao. Damn that Liu Kang! Well, until Liu Kang is literally damned by Raiden accidentally barbecuing the would-be hero. This leaves Raiden to battle Shao Kahn alone, but (future) Raiden actually comes up with a pretty great idea. Remember how that whole “Shao Kahn conquers Earth while picking up his wife” plan sounded like a major slight against the rules of Mortal Kombat? Well it was! And all it took for the Elder Gods to notice was Raiden getting the thunder kicked out of him. Thus, for transgressions against the spirit of Mortal Kombat (or something), Shao Kahn was instantly dragged to Hell by the all-powerful gods of the universe. So Shao Kahn does not survive past Mortal Kombat 3 (redux), and can never go on to achieve his supreme victory during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Of course, a redux of Armageddon would likely go differently anyway, as Shao Kahn killed pretty much everybody over the course of MK9. C’est la vie.

Green is awesome

Being obliterated by divinity kept Shao Kahn down for Mortal Kombat X, but he returned for Mortal Kombat 11. In this tale, the Shao Kahn of MK2’s finale is sucked through a time portal to the present (incidentally thanks to one of those gods that eradicated him a few decades earlier), when Kotal Kahn has ascended to the throne. Shao Kahn is having none of that, so he decides, once again, to conquer Outworld all over again. He recruits some time-displaced Tarkatans (Barakas), and starts tearing up the place in a manner appropriate to a kahn. Unfortunately, this Shao Kahn kind of comes off as a stooge, as he’s distinctly working for a nigh-omnipotent time goddess, and he is eventually defeated by Kitana, who is one of those “assassins” that is only ever capable of killing like one person (and it was her own clone, so that was arguably more suicide than assassination). By the finale of MK11, Shao Kahn is left alive and still out-of-time, but blinded by Kitana’s vengeful fan swiping. A crippled, convalescing Shao Kahn might be an interesting next step for the tyrant, but the universe ends with MK11, so we’re unlikely to see the next phase in Shao’s life. But whatever happens next in the Mortal Kombat universe, you can bet this dork with a hammer will be there!

Love the hammer

Next time: Mortal Kombat 3! Let’s start the parade of forgettable kharacters!

MKK: Smoke & Blaze

Here’s your ninja cowboy robot demon cyborg for the franchise.

He's human!

Smoke was introduced as Hidden Ninja Male #2. Like Reptile, he was intended to be little more than a playground rumor, and could be battled by pressing down + start on both controllers when the digitized head of Dan “Toasty” Forden appeared on the screen (a random occurrence usually prompted by an uppercut). –Look, it was the 90’s. There was weirder stuff in NBA Jam. It had Hilary Clinton.– Anywho, Smoke was simply a gray palette-swap of Scorpion, and his defining trait was that he was enveloped in the “smoke” graphical effect that was usually reserved for a few toasty fatalities. Like when his fellow hidden characters initially appeared, there was no real explanation for Smoke’s existence.

And then things got real complicated, real fast.

It was revealed that Smoke, like Sub-Zero, was a member of the Lin Kuei assassin’s guild. And, like Sub-Zero, he was bumming around Mortal Kombat 2 to complete a hit on Shang Tsung. But, as everyone noticed Shang Tsung continued to be alive after two separate tournaments, the Lin Kuei started to lose face on account of their blemished kill count. Lin Kuei leadership decided that robots were the answer, and, after “cyberizing” two willing participants, Smoke and Sub-Zero were next on the chopping (off flesh) block. Smoke and Sub-Zero attempted to escape, but only Sub-Zero was successful. Smoke was captured, and transformed into a vaguely blue-gray robot in need of a decent muffler.

He's a robot!

Smoke was different from the other metal boys, though. Smoke, unlike Cyrax and Sector, retained his soul and some level of autonomy. He was still programmed to hunt and kill Sub-Zero the (fleshy) traitor, but, upon finding his former blood brother, he broke free of Lin Kuei control, and officially joined the forces of good. Hooray! Unfortunately, Smoke was still kind of a crappy ninja-robot, and he was defeated by Shao Kahn’s hordes somewhere along the way. He was dragged back to Outworld (maybe as a trophy, or maybe so Kano could have a new robot buddy), and Sub-Zero… kinda forgot Smoke ever existed. Maybe he just assumed the poor ‘bot exploded while no one was looking? I don’t know. Point is that Smoke was deactivated and left in Shao Kahn’s tower for a solid number of games.

While Smoke’s robot brothers saw a few more adventures over the course of the franchise, Smoke himself did not return until Mortal Kombat: Deception (basically MK6). By this point, Noob Saibot (the original Sub-Zero and another hidden character of Mortal Kombat 2) was unemployed and looking for a new startup opportunity. He decided robots were the future, and stumbled upon the deactivated Smoke. Noob decided he was going to start his own robot ninja army, and chose to revive Smoke with a new, demonic upgrade. What is the kanon explanation for how the undead ninja transformed and resurrected a long-dead cyborg? I think you know!

NANOMACHINES!

So Cyborg-Ninja-Demon Smoke was reborn as Noob’s slave, and the duo became a tag team that wound up dominating the coveted “sub boss” rung on the ladder of Mortal Kombat: Deception. However, technically, they had nothing to do with the big bad of that adventure (The Dragon King), and, aside from generally menacing Sub-Zero (II), they didn’t really do much together. They returned as separate characters with similar goals in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, and Smoke started to regrow his own conscience/consciousness when Sub-Zero once again appealed to his cyber-humanity. Smoke was theoretically free of Noob’s influence by the end of MK:A… but then the universe reset, so it didn’t matter a puff.
He's a demon robot!

Mortal Kombat 9 was “only” a modified retelling of Mortal Kombat 1-3, but the title also decided to provide a complete backstory for Smoke. Smoke has always had smoke-based magic, and, like Sub-Zero’s ice or Liu Kang’s fire, it was always kind of assumed this was just some special power, and, who cares how he got it? I saw a yogi breathe fire once, it doesn’t matter if it was because he ate too much curry or was blessed by a god. But, for whatever reason, Smoke was granted a backstory that apparently went back to his infancy. Smoke was once a wee baby named Tom, but was abducted by a cult (it’s the MK Universe, so we’re going to assume this was a cult of ninja), and sacrificed to some generic demon. Tommy Boy died, but his physical form returned as an enenra (a “real” Japanese mythical creature/yōkai), a sort of smoke monster. The enenra killed everyone in the room, and then returned to simply being baby Tomas. Some Lin Kuei were in the next apartment over, heard the carnage caused by one hell of a baby, and decided to adopt and raise the demon child. Couple in some random amnesia that was caused by the whole situation, and Tomas grew up believing he was simply a normal boy ninja that incidentally possessed magical smoke powers.

He's human!  Kinda!

So, to be clear, Smoke has apparently been an undead smoke demon from day one. This will be important in a minute.

Back to what actually happens during Mortal Kombat 9. During this iteration of Mortal Kombat 2/3, Sub-Zero is captured by the Lin Kuei, and Smoke escapes (mostly thanks to Raiden attempting to stymy the annoying unlock conditions for Cyber Smoke). So, on the surface level, their roles are reversed: a human Smoke revives the humanity within a Cyber Sub-Zero. Cool! Then, just when things are looking up for Smoke (for once!), he gets his fool ass killed in a battle with Sindel, Queen of the Banshees. Like all of the other defeated heroes, Smoke is revived by Quan-Chi as an undead servant in his armies.

But… wait.

Smoke was already an undead demon, he just happened to possess a human form thanks to what appeared to be an unholy clerical error. And we can’t even claim this was some kind of unintended retkon, as this whole “undead” thing happened in the very title where his demonic origins were introduced. And, while Smoke is not a playable character in Mortal Kombat X, he returns during story mode just long enough to claim he will no longer be known as “Smoke”, but is now “Enenra” (dude is not great at coming up with interesting codenames). So the Mortal Kombat writers are leaning completely into this “revelation”.

He's demon human!

What does this mean? Basically, Smoke is a former-robot ninja undead smoke demon that died and came back as a double-undead demon from hell.

He’s one of Mortal Kombat’s more straightforward kharacters.

Next time: We’ll cover the four-armed subboss of… Wait. There’s another hidden character? No, that can’t be right. We just covered Jade and Smoke, and Noob Saibot appeared during the Sub-Zero I rundown. There’s another one? Can I get a picture?

Look closer...

No. We already covered those doofs. What? Zoom in and enhance?

There he is!

Oh! Right! It’s 4:20 somewhere, let’s cover Blaze.

Blaze’s backstory goes way back to the beginning of the MK Universe, and we’ll cover the finer details of that story when we cover Edenia’s two large adult sons in a few game’s time. For right now, we’ll look at the basics: Blaze is a fire elemental (shocking, I know), and it was his job to be involved in the single stupidest idea the gods of the MK Universe (who already base dimensional conquest on fighting tournaments) ever devised. When the time was right, Blaze was destined to “awaken” and battle some random dudes to determine the fate of the universe as we know it.

Unfortunately, Blaze got kidnapped like seven seconds into this plan, and, geez, you’d really think someone would have made sure that wouldn’t happen. Come on, gods, could you guys have set up like one firewall for your firedude?

Toasty!

Anyway, Blaze got brainwashed, and was forced to guard the egg of the Dragon King, the only way for Onaga to revive after his untimely death of being poisoned and smacked around with a hammer by Shao Kahn for a solid two days. Blaze was stuck hanging around some lava and guarding the egg, but he did get a brief sabbatical during Mortal Kombat 2 to go out and play in the background of the Pit II stage. Incidentally, some versions of Blaze’s story claim that he was kidnapped after that fight in Mortal Kombat 2, but MK: Armageddon clearly states that Blaze got stuck guarding the egg hundreds of years ago (when the antagonist of that tale awakens and founds the Red Dragons), and MK Kontinuity would never have such a glaring error. It just isn’t done!

Onaga’s Egg becomes a plot point during MK: Deadly Alliance, and Blaze becomes an actual playable (though extremely hidden) kharacter. This was all meant to be a lead-up to the finale of the PS2-era MK trilogy, and certainly wasn’t an excuse for Boon to once again introduce a hidden kharacter that he could claim was “there all along”. Blaze is distinctly introduced as an amnesiac, and, having been freed from his egg-duty by completely failing to guard the egg against a vampire, lizard, and robot, Blaze was free to roam the countryside and beat up random kombatants. He also returned for MK: Deception’s PSP-based revision, Unchained, and, since the plot of MK: Annihilation was starting to coalesce, Blaze finally remembered it was his job to fight dudes to find the dudest of them all. Sweet! He’s been kind of doing his job all along!

He's fiery!

Blaze became the final boss of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation when he happened to remember that he had nigh-infinite, literally godly power. Blaze was only supposed to test the mettle of a pair of cranky brothers, but, since he had spent the previous two games getting pistol-whipped by the likes of Kano and Kobra, Blaze decided to invite literally everybody in the Mortal Kombat universe to his special fighting ziggurat. Everybody killed everybody else for the glory of finally battling Blaze, and, in the end, Shao Kahn managed to win the tournament after nearly killing Raiden. This would have led to Shao Kahn gaining Blaze’s nigh-omnipotent (though apparently easily forgotten) power, so Raiden called a do-over on the whole universe.

He's tiny!

Now Blaze is back to hanging out in Pit backgrounds and guarding dragon eggs in the “new” Mortal Kombat universe. Sorry, you not-so-human torch.

Next time: The boss(es) of the place.

MKK: Reptile

Secret Ninja

There was some confusion regarding Kingdom Hearts Explained and my general tone, so I feel like I should state this plainly: I love the story of Mortal Kombat. I love that, over twelve or so games, some very clearly crazy people have decided to foist a remotely coherent tale upon a group of murderers that occasionally (and seemingly incidentally) save the universe(s). Your Harry Potters and Songs of Ice of Fires all written by one author with one artistic vision are fine and all, but, for my money, give me a story where you have to account for how the last chapter included an undead skeleton from Hell that killed your ice magician and now you have to invent a new ice magician little brother that has to fight the previous ice magician that has become a magical shadow man ruled by a member of the KISS army from an incidental spin-off. It’s completely bonkers from top to bottom, and a minor miracle that it works at all, left alone as well as it does.

Which neatly brings us to Reptile. As nearly everyone already knows (not my mom. My mom does not know about Reptile), Reptile was introduced in Mortal Kombat I as the first hidden character in the series (if not the first hidden character ever in a fighting game). Reptile was not a selectable fighter under any (intended) circumstances, but could be fought as a hidden opponent if the most ridiculous of qualifications were met. It had to be at The Pit stage. You had to score a double flawless victory (aka never get hit). You had to never block. You had to perform a fatality. And, finally, a random shadow had to go across the moon in the background, thus adding just the tiniest touch of “playground rumor” to the proceedings. Assuming all of these conditions were met, you could fight Reptile, a green ninja that moved exceedingly quickly and used special moves belonging to both Sub-Zero and Scorpion. If you beat Reptile, you earned a crapton of points, and possessed bragging rights at your local arcade until the end of time.

Now, what’s interesting here is that the initial creation of Reptile apparently took seven seconds. While his “unlock conditions” were labyrinthine, Reptile was a green ninja with the abilities of the blue and yellow ninja. Blue + Yellow = Green. He was an afterthought. He was a random creation by a programmer that got bored and wanted to add a little extra fun to his game. Boon has literally stated that he thought of Reptile on a lunch break commute.

Kisses!

And then, because Mortal Kombat and Reptile in particular became so popular, someone had to actually do something with a character that existed thanks to a kindergartener’s understanding of color mixing.

So, for Mortal Kombat 2 and 3, the fans didn’t need very much. Reptile was explained (retconned) to be Shang Tsung/Shao Kahn’s personal bodyguard (presumably in the employ of Shao Kahn, but loaned to Shang Tsung as necessary), and any fights during Mortal Kombat I were obviously a toady’s attempt to squash any fighters capable of those flawless victories. Reptile was also revealed to be a lizard man in camouflage, capable of removing his human flesh disguise in much the same manner that Scorpion would pull off his “head” to reveal his shiny skull. Oh, and his new, unique special moves all seemed to play off his original status as a secret palette swap, as his orb projectile was a weird modification of Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s stun abilities, while his other skills, like spitting acid or turning invisible, lined up with his stealthy, reptilian origins. Reptile really was an interesting spin on “graduating” a hidden, mysterious character to the proper playable roster.

And then things got weird.

Ugh

Mortal Kombat 4 went full polygons, and dropped the motion capture graphics forever. As a result, the “recolor” ninja (of which there were… eight at that point) were afforded opportunities for a little more graphical variety. Thus, Reptile maintained roughly the same silhouette, but gained scales over most of his body. This was kind of an odd change, as it had previously been established that Reptile was hiding the head of a green (Jurassic Park style) velociraptor under his mask, and this “unmasked” Reptile just looked like a dude with a particularly Batmanian skin condition. Mortal Kombat 4 wasn’t offering any answers (aside from “everyone looks like ass in this game, deal with it”), so fans were left to wonder what the hell was going on with Reptile.

Dinosaur!

Deadly Alliance decided to go full dinosaur with Reptile, and offered an explanation: Reptile was bad at his job. Apparently, Reptile belongs to a human-dinosaur race that was naturally dinosaur-looking, but could affect human-esque disguises with a little concentration. When Deadly Alliance starts, Shao Kahn is (thought) killed, and personal bodyguard Reptile is a little distraught that he failed so phenomenally that his master is straight up dead. Thus, we discover how Reptiles grieve: by turning into spikey lizard monster men and palling around with vampires. Look… he was going through some stuff, okay? And then that previously mentioned vampire tricks Reptile into reviving the Dragon King, who immediately possesses Reptile’s body, so Reptile spends the entirety of MK: Deception kinda-dead, kinda-the final boss. It was a rough time for everybody.

Reptile!

Somehow, Reptile and the Dragon King are separate entities in Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, and it could theoretically be explained by Nightwolf separating Reptile’s soul while sending the ol’ Dragon King to Hell, but, whatever the case, Reptile returns with a more ninja-y form. Given Annihilation was a celebration of Mortal Kombats that came before, this “retro” version was basically a glow-up of Mortal Kombat 4 Reptile, though now with a proper head. There isn’t much of a kanon explanation for Reptile’s presence or purpose during this time, but, hey, here’s that reboot again, so nobody really has to worry about it.

Like some of the other villains, Reptile just gets a repeat of his Mortal Kombat 1-3 status during Mortal Kombat 9. This time, he looks a little more modern dinosaur/avian, but he’s otherwise back to his “green ninja” status. Here’s a lovely picture of him about to kiss Shang Tsung:

Kisses!


Mortal Kombat X then presents a Reptile that has gone to the spikey side of dinosaur-person land. This makes sense, as Shao Kahn is dead again by this time, and his new master, Kotal Kahn, just doesn’t do it for him like in the good old days. Reptile basically continues to be a professional minion throughout that adventure… which is all he’s ever done in the series. Reptile, disappointingly, does not return for Mortal Kombat 11, even though Kotal Kahn and the majority of the rest of his entourage is present. This marks the first Mortal Kombat title without Reptile appearing (give or take an initial MK3 version or whether or not you qualify The Dragon King “as” Reptile), which is kind of a shame. Reptile has been through a pile of permutations since his first appearance, and he’s a fine metaphor for the series itself. He’s wildly inconsistent, can apparently change his blood color based on his mood, and ping pongs around allegiances while somehow maintaining the exact same stooge status. He’s all over the place, and, sometimes, that’s just how we like it.

Kisses!
Such a looker

Next time: Hat Man