It’s hard to say what anybody wanted out of Mortal Kombat 4.
Like, okay, yes, everybody wanted a successful videogame. Nobody got one, but you have to assume someone wanted Mortal Kombat 4 to make the same impact as literally every previous Mortal Kombat. MK4 was the first Mortal Kombat was entering the third dimension, and it would have been nice if that produced a game that was, ya know, enjoyable, too. But gameplay aside, who made it into the roster? Who was going to represent Mortal Kombat in this brand new generation of gaming? Well, we’ve got some of the best of the established roster like Goro, Jax, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Raiden, Reptile, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion. That is (almost) the entire MK1 roster, plus Jax, who was originally intended for that adventure anyway. Then we’ve got Shinnok and Quan Chi, who are the new big bads, and were just established in MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero (which, at the time of MK4’s production, was probably assumed to be successful, too). Fujin was also added from Mythologies, and interviews with developers have stated that he was there for further MK:M synergy. What more could players ask for?
Well, how about a little originality? Shinnok, Quan Chi, and Fujin may technically be new fighters, but they’re all from another Mortal Kombat game. Drop that trio, and you’ve just got MK1 + A Few Extra Dudes (and, let’s be real here, Shinnok in MK4 is a discount Shang Tsung already). So the producers could include other popular fighters like Kano, Noob Saibot, and Kitana… but why not make a few changes to those kharacters, and produce all new, all different kharacters! Brand new fighters designed to entice old players! What could possibly go wrong?
Jarek is exactly what could go wrong.
Jarek is a Black Dragon thief on the run from Sonya Blade and Jackson “Jax” Briggs. He is little more than a petty criminal, but is caught up in a magical fighting tournament when an evil sorcerer decides to try to invade Earth. Jarek chooses to fight not necessarily for his home planet, but to maybe earn his freedom and a few bucks along the way. And if this sounds like Kano’s Mortal Kombat 1 story, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. Jarek is a clone of Kano in all but physical similarities. He’s got the knife throw. He’s got the cannonball roll. He’s even got the laser eye fatality, which is significant, as he doesn’t even have a cybernetic eye.
It was pretty clear, even to the uninformed, generally brain-dead Mortal Kombat fans of 1997 (I have such a low opinion of myself) that Jarek was just a “reskin” of Kano. He was a hastily assembled substitute for a kharacter we already liked (or at least begrudgingly tolerated). What’s more, he wasn’t even an interesting substitute. You replace a thief that is about two degrees removed from being a T-1000, you maybe try to add a little visual flair more exciting than a freaking goatee. Jarek’s signature item is a boring vest, which is less a combat accessory and more something you pick up at The Gap.
Me and the boys looking for trouble
Though, speaking of gaps, Jarek was thrown off a mountain in Jax’s MK4 ending, and that wound up being his kanon ending. Nobody wanted to see Jarek again, and the storymasters of Mortal Kombat were happy to oblige (save an appearance as a generic boss in MK: Special Forces aka the game that killed the franchise). Jarek resurfaced (along with everybody) for MK: Armageddon, where it was revealed that he barely survived his cliff diving (likely because he played enough Tekken to know the trick), and was nursed back to health exclusively by his thirst for vengeance. He became the only officially official serial killer in the MK universe (all the other serial killers are just doing their jobs in a bloody tournament), and returned to fighting wielding a bloody cleaver and his own (marginally) unique special moves. Of course, he fails to get any confirmed kills, and then dies, because nobody cares about Jarek. After the reboot, he appears in the Mortal Kombat X comic as a generic Black Dragon mook, and is last seen rotting in a dungeon with Kano (as you do). Kano escapes. Jarek is missing and presumed boring.
Jarek wound up the most obvious loser clone in the MK4 roster, but Reiko had similar origins. Noob Saibot, a confirmed member of Shinnok/Quan Chi’s Brotherhood of Shadow and secretly the titular star of MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, was initially supposed to be on the default MK4 roster. However, it was decided that his slot would be given to another, newer fighter, and Reiko was born. Reiko basically looked like an unmasked Ermac (that is to say, “red ninja”), but with Brotherhood of Shadow-style facial tattoos (see also Sareena). His special moves were a mix of Noob’s shadow moves and a new, unique shuriken toss. Aside from that, he was pretty unremarkable, and was inevitably heading for the Jarek pile.
In the original arcade version of MK4 (and the N64 version, for whatever reason), Reiko’s ending was a pretty “we had thirty seconds to make something” affair, featuring only Reiko enigmatically entering a portal. Where is he going? What is he doing? Nobody knows! Like, literally, as the designers have commented they didn’t have anything in mind for poor Reiko. But! The Playstation version of MK4, and the Champion Edition of MK4, Mortal Kombat Gold, modified that ending just a little bit. In the new version, Reiko steps through the portal, and arrives… in Shao Kahn’s throne room. And then he wears Shao Kahn’s helmet! Holy $&$*! Reiko is secretly Shao Kahn! The Gameboy Color version of MK4 even added narration alluding to Reiko wanting to conquer Earth! Oh man!
Except it was all bullshit. The developers eventually noted that this whole thing was just done “to be funny”, and, since they didn’t really have anything in mind for Reiko in MK4, tying him to Shao Kahn (at the time, presumed dead) seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t intended as some sort of secret identity situation, simply a way to humorously add a slight bit of depth to a character that is otherwise little more than another ninja.
But that didn’t stop the fan community from speculating for years. Reiko was the orangutan in the fandom for quite a while, until, finally, in Mortal Kombat Deception, Shao Kahn made reference to one of his generals wearing/stealing the good (bad) emperor’s helmet. And thus was a controversy put to rest by a one-off gag line.
Of course, MK loves sniffing its own butt, so Reiko returned in MK: Armageddon as a character that completely ditched the Brotherhood of Shadow, and is now Shao Kahn’s Number #1 Fanboy. He’s got the shoulder pads, his own giant hammer, and can even perform Shao Kahn’s dash (complete with a magical little Shao Kahn helmet appearing during the attack). His ending features Reiko literally becoming Shao Kahn. But that wasn’t kanon. Kanon is that Reiko died with everybody else.
Reiko hasn’t returned for the new timeline, but he was at least mentioned in MK9 as a dude fighting Kenshi off-screen during nuMK2. He was also practically the star of the Mortal Kombat X comic series, but his whole stupid quest to become a god to rival Shao Kahn turns out to be trickery provided by another god, and Reiko winds up destroyed by Shinnok’s amulet. So even when he’s featured in a Mortal Kombat adventure, Reiko can’t win. But at least he isn’t Shao Kahn!
Our final “clone” character in MK4 is the most successful of the lot… and that might not be an accident. Tanya was originally going to be Kitana, but blue ninja girl was modified into yellow ninja girl in an effort to see more original characters. Unlike Reiko and Jarek, though, this switch apparently happened very early in development, so Tanya wound up with a wholly unique moveset. Tanya has her own fireballs, a drill kick, and even the most powerful of all videogame weapons: the boomerang. Tanya was her own woman in a way Reiko and Jarek couldn’t even touch, and the fact that she resurfaced for later titles seemed to reinforce her status as one of the few gems of the MK4 lineup.
And her general storyline wasn’t bad, either. Actually, scratch that, Tanya’s story is good for general storytelling, but terrible for Tanya herself. Simple rule: Tanya always backs the loser. Always. Right from the start, she’s presented as the daughter of an Edenian ambassador, and she was involved in accidentally allowing Shinnok into Edenia and whoopsie poopsie starting an interdimensional war. However, her ending reveals that she deliberately allowed Shinnok to enter the realm, and was always working with the baddies because… I guess that’s what she does. Shinnok loses, and then she gets a new job with Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, the Deadly Alliance. Then they fail, and she winds up working for the Dragon King, because Baraka said so. This allows her to participate in Mortal Kombat: Deception, and she continues to be the ambassador of evil in MK: Armageddon. She dies a bad guy, but at least she died on the same team as every other bad guy she served before.
Tanya returns in Mortal Kombat X, and is now serving Mileena. Mileena ran for empress on a platform that she would release Edenia from Outworld’s rule, so Tanya battles on her behalf against Kotal Kahn, who wants to make Outworld great again by never breaking up the band. Tanya is featured on Team Mileena during story mode, and returns as a playable kharacter through DLC. Thus, Tanya winds up with a kanon ending that notes she betrayed fellow Mileena acolyte Rain, got his fool ass killed, and is currently chilling in Kotal Kahn’s dungeon. Considering her ending’s only sanguinity comes in the form of “at least I’m not dead”, it seems the current Tanya might have a general idea where a few decades of only serving bad guys gets her. Now I just want to see another MK vs. DC where Tanya winds up hanging out with Harley Quinn and Mercy.
But at least we got one decent recurring kharacter out of the three “clone” characters. Jarek and Reiko might have been complete duds, but Tanya is always a fun time. 33% accuracy ain’t bad. So let’s give Mortal Kombat 4 a healthy review score of 33%. That sounds about right.
Next time: The one completely original Mortal Kombat 4 fighter!