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FGC #499 Ballz

BALLZ!In the early 90s (practically the infancy of gaming as we know it) there was a tremendous controversy over videogames, sex, and violence. There were concerns that, since videogames had progressed past being red dot versus blue dot and now featured tremendously less abstract decapitations, videogames were profane and poisoning the poor kiddies playing them, and, please, won’t someone do something to protect us all? In a move that certainly wasn’t just a shortcut to placating the masses, the Entertainment Software Rating Board was founded in 1994. It was thus to be the job of the ESRB to rate games according to their content, and clearly label every release with information denoting it as “E for Everybody” to “M for Mature”. However, a year earlier, Sega of America introduced the Videogame Rating Council, a slightly more primitive version of the ESRB that had much the same goal (pacifying Karen). In this case, we had three ratings: GA for general audiences, and two version of MA (mature audiences) with two different ages: 13 and 17. Games that earned a MA-17 rating included Lethal Enforcers and Mortal Kombat 2, while MA-13 went to the likes of Super Street Fighter 2, Mortal Kombat (1), and Lunar: The Silver Star Story.

And Ballz. Ballz is for mature 13-year olds only.

In a lot of ways, Ballz was improbably ahead of its time. For one thing, it’s a 3-D fighting game released about seven seconds before the era where that was the only fighting game style available. Shortly before the release of Tekken or Battle Arena Toshinden, here was a fighter taking place on a “real” 3-D plane where you could just as easily side-step around a fireball as jump. There are even techniques involved here that would become standard within the genre, like dodge rolling away from a fallen position, or grappling with an opponent in a manner that is impossible (or at least boring) in 2-D titles. And there are some systems that never caught on that could be very interesting in the right hands. Every character can morph into every other character. Could you imagine that in a more robust fighting game engine? You’re fighting the entire roster at once every time! High level play in such an environment could be amazing! Counter pick after counter pick until the timer runs out!

Bad dino!But one feature that was certainly adopted by Ballz’s fighting game descendants is the overt bombast of a seemingly average fight. The fighting game genre has always been “loud”, and anyone that spent ten seconds in an arcade in the early 90s could tell you exactly how many sonic booms were tossed by Guile in an afternoon (the answer is infinity plus one). But, as fighting games evolved in graphics, they too evolved in piercing presentation. Possibly as a result of copying real-world, “real” sports, fighting games went on to adopt cinematic staging by standardizing features like replays, wrestling-esque taunts, and announcers. As a result, the average fighting game nowadays is chattier than your average JRPG, and we’re never allowed to forget that the soul still burns. Whether or not this makes things better is up to the player, but it’s pretty clear that if you play a Japanese fighting game, and it doesn’t have seven different settings for “announcer”, toss on your hazmat suit, because you’re handling toxic garbage.

Ballz has its own announcer. Its announcer is just a little more… silent than the modern incarnations.

Ballz’s designers knew the game had to drip attitude, and that that wasn’t going to be properly conveyed by a simple fight between a ballerina and a rhino. No, they needed something more. Silent protagonists were not going to cut it, and primitive 16-bit cartridges weren’t going to support the literary magnum opus required of Ballz. What Ballz needed was special. Ballz needed a damn Jumbotron ™. Ballz decided to screw subtlety to the sticking-place, and just ram a gigantic television screen into the background. Maybe even a couple! And this screen could display taunts, announcements, and a comprehensive running fight commentary in the background. So, during each and every fight, you’ve got a background that is expounding such complicated thoughts as “administer smackies” while a few lesser screens display what appears to be an animated GIF of fireworks before displaying the game’s logo. Is it distracting? Of course! But does it convey exactly what Ballz is all about? Also yes! While it is always confusing who the hell is “talking” through the Get 'emvarious screens (some are clearly statements by the combatants, but there seems to be an omniscient “narrator” somewhere in there, too. And then there’s some random malcontent that really wants you to “taunt the ostrich”…), all of the statements stick to the basic theme and attitude of Ballz. It’s irreverent! It’s anti-establishment! In a world of sober Fatalities and Cinekills, Ballz is juvenile and insolent. Ryu is seriously trying to test his serious skills in a very serious tournament, but Yoko the Ballz Monkey is seriously going to fart in his face. This whole game is a synonym for testicles! Get it!?

And it is for this reason that I must compliment the Videogame Rating Council on a job well done.

Initially, it seemed ridiculous that this title would be rated MA-13. It’s silly! It’s a “violent” videogame, but all the characters are made of multi-colored balls. They are barely human shaped, and the idea that this title could be taken seriously in any legitimate way seems as ridiculous as a sumo wrestler tackling a kangaroo (which, to be clear, can happen in Ballz). Ballz being rated MA-13 literally puts it on the same level as the infamous Mortal Kombat, and, unless there’s some missable stage hidden around here, there is absolutely no one that has their still-beating heart ripped out of their ribs. Mortal Kombat defined videogame violence for an entire generation, while Ballz is roughly as vicious as the Pixar logo. Did you see what that desk lamp did to that letter? I am amazed children are allowed to view such a thing.

But Ballz does warrant its rating. Not because it is a violent videogame, but because only a thirteen year old would enjoy this. Ballz has a tone that matches the way a young teenager farts in the general direction of authority. This isn’t high satire, this is a game precisely designed for someone that is just mature enough to be thirteen.

BUTT STUFF

And everybody behind Ballz knew it.

So thank you, gentle members of the Videogame Rating Council in 1994, for knowing that, too. You truly thought of the children.

FGC #499 Ballz

  • System: Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo initially, and then a “director’s cut” for the 3DO. There’s a system seller!
  • Number of players: Two fighters comprised of ever so many balls.
  • This sucksPort differences: This game was very obviously designed for the Sega Genesis (the three button control scheme gives it away), but it looks so much better on the SNES. However, Nintendo did not have its own ratings board, and demanded that Ballz remove its more risqué elements. There’s no almost naked butt to be found on the SNES version, and instead of starting with “you gotta have… Ballz!” the intro reads “you’ve got to play… Ballz!” One little change makes all the difference, apparently.
  • Favorite Fighter: Crusher the Rhino-Man is exactly the kind of Spider-Man villain that I want to see appear in more games.
  • Favorite Boss: There are five separate bosses randomly sprinkled across the single player campaign. The first three are all animals, and obviously follow the traditional threat graduation schema of ostrich -> kangaroo -> tyrannosaurus. From there, you’ve got an opponent that is a blue genie that transforms into other animals, but is not actually an animal. And then the final boss is a murder clown.
  • So there’s a clown factor? Boomer the circus clown is a regular fighter, and The Jester is the final boss, organizer of this tournament, and theoretical announcer. That’s two scary clowns in one game! There should be a videogame council that exists to protect children from that.
  • Did you know? Lamprey the Genie is so named because of the general pun on the phrase “Genie’s Lamp”. He has nothing to do with eels. Thank God.
  • Would I play again: Nope. There are so many other fighting game options that are actually, ya know, good. Maybe find me a version of Ballz where everyone doesn’t feel like they’re scooting around on rollerblades, and we’ll talk.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Bah. It’s #500. Let’s keep it a surprise. Tune in Friday for something or other. I’m sure it will be nice. Please look forward to it!

Nevermind...

MKK: Jacqui & Takeda & Kung Jin

These dorks

Mortal Kombat X was the first Mortal Kombat title to feature a woman in the leading role. MKX is Cassie Cage’s story, and that’s the first (and so far, only) time in the franchise when a woman was the one saving the world(s). It was long overdue for the franchise (particularly one that had ditched Sonya entirely for a game that should have been her featured title), and seems like the exact kind of thing that I, Super Woke Goggle Bob (universal arbiter of all that is good and pure), should be excited about. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat X didn’t exactly sate my social justice wendigo cravings, as, well, let’s look at the races of the last few MK protagonists:

  • MK1: Asian Dude
  • MK2: Asian Dude
  • MK3: Asian Dude
  • MK Mythologies: Asian Dude
  • MK4: Asian Dude
  • MK Special Forces: Black Dude
  • MK5: (New) Asian Dude and Asian (kinda) Lady
  • MK6: (Newer) Asian Dude
  • MK7: Unknown Race Dude (another dimension dude/godling)
  • MK8: Asian God / Kryptonian
  • MK9: Asian God
  • MK10: Pretty Blonde Lady

So we got a woman in the lead after ten (or so) games, but she’s also the official first lily white protagonist in 20 years of Mortal Kombat. And, while it’s been noted that the MK franchise leans heavily into the “non-white cultures = mystic” side of stereotypes, at least the storytellers of Mortal Kombat avoided the old trope of having the white savior step into the leading role the minute mystical kung fu dudes fail. Well… until Mortal Kombat X. In fact, give or take an already immortal god, the only survivors of Mortal Kombat 9 were a pair of white people. The copious Asian population of MK all died, the sole Native American leader was vaporized, and the pair of African American (well, at least one was African-Edenian) fighters all bit the big one. But I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that pretty white lady and muscular white man survived to sire another pretty white lady. Happens all the time.

And, honestly, it wouldn’t be as noticeable if Mortal Kombat X wasn’t so much a “team” story. After MK vs. DC Universe, Mortal Kombat (9), and Injustice, Netherrealm Studios seemed pretty confident in their “story mode” style storytelling. So, since they could now eschew the common fighting game trope of “every fighter for themselves”, the new roster of MKX pretty quickly coalesced into a trio of teams. On one side, you have Team Shinnok, consisting of all the bad guys trying to revive/serve Shinnok and destroy the world. Then you’ve got team Kotal Kahn, featuring the new emperor of Outworld and his entourage. And, finally, you have the Special Forces, the good guys, which put the parents in management roles, and the new generation with boots on the ground. And, to review the MK Kids Club’s roster…

  • Pretty White Lady is the leader
  • Black Lady is second in command
  • Asian dude is on support
  • Other Asian dude is also on support

Damn dirty alien

And they’ve all got their roles and skills, but it’s pretty clear that white is right, and everybody else better get in line behind her.

It’s… a little disturbing once you notice that trend.

And a big reason this trend is so noticeable is Jacqueline Sonya "Jacqui" Briggs.

Jacqui Briggs kicks ass. She was a junior Olympian, a professional kickboxer, and, against her father’s wishes, she ran away to join the Special Forces. She has technical skills beyond the rest of the gang, she can pilot aircraft without issue, and she even has rad, mechanical gauntlets that augment her strength beyond normal capabilities. She’s also the only member of the “new” Special Forces to join up without any kind of supernatural abilities, which officially marks her as more heroic than Cassie and her ill-defined green powers. Jacqui is the exact kind of woman you want on your team when the going gets rough.

… And that’s about it. What does she actually do during Mortal Kombat X? Nothing much, unfortunately. She’s there to be a sounding board for the pretty white lady that is leading the story, and, aside from a few situations where she actively punched her way out of problems, she doesn’t really do anything. Does she grow and learn over the course of the story? I guess. Like… I guess she meets a cute boy, and maybe that’s a part of advancing as a human? Oh, and she avenges her father’s exploded arms by beating on Ermac. But is that dealing with her own stuff, or just her father’s baggage? Beyond that, she really doesn’t do anything for herself, and her complicated relationship with her father is barely even mentioned beyond, “Cassie, I know how it is.”

Jacqui is there to support Cassie. And, incidentally, the race dynamics of that situation are pretty odious.

She's good with computers

But Netherrealm did show improvement in Mortal Kombat 11! While the status quo seems to be maintained at the start of MK11, Jacqui eventually peels off from Cassie to grab a macguffin with her time displaced daddy. Jax died during MK9, became a vengeful zombie, and was then revived in MKX as a man that wanted to retire from a life of skeleton-smacking. He wanted the same for his daughter, but Jacqui followed in his potentially disastrous footsteps regardless. So, apparently by the time of MK11, Old Man Jax has so totally lost this argument with Jacqui that he decides to team up with an evil time goddess so he can rewrite all of history so Jacqui majors in ballet or something. And this leads to a disagreement that includes far more metal hands launching missiles than you might expect when Old Man Jax tries to hamper the actions of Jacqui and Much Younger Jax. And, while this is primarily a battle between Jaxs young and old, it is at least all about Jacqui and her own choices, so we finally have some kind of specific payoff for a woman that was previously simply Cassie’s black best friend. It’s still all about one of the new kids and her relationship with her parents (well, at least her dad), but it’s about Jacqui, not Cassie, for a change. Yay!

My rope!

Unfortunately, the rest of the new class doesn’t fair as well. Takeda Takahashi is Kenshi’s son, but he was raised by noted murder ghost Scorpion, who was revived at the same time as Jacqui’s fullmetal dad. And, considering Takeda was initially named “Spider”, attacks predominantly with rope-y bladed whips, and evokes the general style of Scorpion much more than Kenshi, you can’t tell me Takeda wasn’t originally conceived as Scorpion’s revived son. Luckily, someone realized giving Scorpion back his (real, original) family would be one of those dumbass retcon moves akin to reviving Gwen Stacy or Bucky Barnes, so Takeda was designated as Kenshi’s son… even if it is kanon that Kenshi had next to nothing to do with raising the poor boy. Takeda’s mother hid the boy’s existence until he was eight, when Kenshi discovered the kid shortly after her murder. Then Kenshi decided vengeance was more important than child-rearing, so he dropped Takeda off with Scorpion. Scorps already got one child killed on his watch a solid decade earlier, so what were the odds that would happen again? In Kenshi’s absence, Takeda initially had a very rocky relationship with his “new dad” (“But I don’t wanna teleport to school! I want to ride the bus like everybody else! And stop saying ‘toasty’! That’s so old!”), but they eventually came to an understanding, and Takeda is now an official and dedicated member of Scorpion’s Shirai Ryu ninja clan (other notable members include absolutely no one). Takeda joins Cassie’s Special Forces squad because all the cool kids were doing it.

Takeda, like the rest of the squad, is basically there just to support Cassie, but he does get a smidgen of a story in the form of slightly different daddy issues. As one might expect, he has a bit of resentment reserved for the father that left him with a reformed skeleton, so their relationship is strained. This is further exasperated by father and son possessing a telepathic link, and Kenshi having a blind spot for boundaries or tact. Do you know how many times Kenshi has barged into Takeda’s mind at inopportune moments? Kenshi now has more knowledge of Kingdom Hearts fanfic than he ever expected. Other than that, Takeda seems to simply be “the funny one” in the gang, and caps off the story by earning an uneasy sort of truce with his dad via combating revenant hordes. And then neither of ‘em appear in MK11, so who cares?

This couple

Oh, and Jacqui and Takeda apparently fall in love over the course of MKX, and are engaged by the time of MK11. There is not a trace of an excuse across the plot for why the hell this happens, but it’s not like this franchise is called Mortal Kissing. Fill in your own romantic blanks!

No hat...

And speaking of romantic blanks, the last of the new kids is Kung Jin. Kung Jin is notable for being the first (and, apparently, only) homosexual in the whole of Mortal Kombat. Of course, while this has been stated to be kanon by his creators, it is only obliquely referenced in Mortal Kombat X by a brief conversation with Raiden regarding how the White Lotus society “won’t accept him” (which, incidentally, they do), and Kung Jin rebuffing Tanya’s sexual advances (him literally stating, “barking up the wrong tree, sister”). Again, Kung Jin preferring Kangs over Kitanas is stated externally to be kanon, but we’re definitely dealing with some Marvel-esque plausible deniability here, and I’m sure that has nothing to do with a history of people yelling particular slurs at each other over Mortal Kombat arcade cabinets…

But Mortal Kombat X doesn’t care about Kung Jin’s sexuality, and neither should you (there is no part of me that believes this sentence)! Like the rest of his buddies, Kung Jin has a more interesting backstory than his present: Kung Jin is Kung Lao’s cousin, and, when Kung Lao was murdered by Shao Kahn, his family lost its fortune and standing. Now, this raises all sorts of questions, as it seems to imply that Shaolin Monks operate like… what? Victorian Royalty? And, on top of that, somehow Kung Lao losing to an interdimensional despot that led an invasion of the entire planet and was eventually only stopped by the actions of a literal god is considered some black mark against the family, when the Kung Lao family would only have standing in the first place because their exalted ancestor won Mortal Kombat once before being murdered by the flunky of that same interdimensional warlord. But whatever, just roll with it, Kung Jin had to grow up on the mean streets because Kung Lao whiffed it in one fighting tournament. Kung Jin eventually grew to be a (vaguely magical) thief, and, five years before Mortal Kombat X, he attempted to steal a mystical stick from Raiden. Raiden caught the kid, and, after Raiden sat down and talked some “fresh truths” with his “homey”, Kung Jin went on the straight and narrow with the White Lotus Society (which had previously featured Liu Kang and Kung Lao). And, by MKX, he officially qualifies to join Cassie’s team of MK descendants, even if he only snuck in on a technicality.

This other couple

Kung Jin seems to make the biggest impact in Cassie’s crew. Not because he actually does anything, mind you, but simply because his “street smart” background means he’s the only squirt that isn’t a total babe in the woods. You can count on Kung Jin to be… well, he by no means knows what he’s doing, but he is the guy that at least acknowledges that sneaking around another dimension with lizard people and literal ogres walking around could maybe go very south very quickly. And he starts fights for naively optimistic reasons, but at least he isn’t doing it for some nebulous “for the good of the universe!” reason like the rest of the crew. And he’s carrying around a bow and arrow in a franchise that is obviously based on close-range combat, so that gets some bonus points, too. Whether or not he ever works out with a salmon ladder is unfortunately never revealed.

Kung Jin is missing and presumed irrelevant during Mortal Kombat 11.

And that’s the Cassie Cage Crew. Only Jacqui ever gets an encore, and the rest just have to hope they’ll return in MK12 with Wheels, I./Q., and Kid Vid.

Next time: There are no other kharacters, there is only Kahn.

MKK: DC Universe and Guests (Part 1)

I’ve been writing about these krazy kombatants for the last six months or so, and, in all that time, you may have noticed I frequently reference nearly all the titles from Mortal Kombat 1-11. But you know what title is continually skipped? Mortal Kombat 8. And you know why? Because Lex Luthor stole it. And that’s terrible.

Let’s talk about Mortal Kombat 8, aka Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe.

Right in the kisser

Mortal Kombat Armageddon was the end of the line for the “PS2 era” of Mortal Kombat titles. After years of fighting styles, questionable character creation, and Chess Kombat, the stewards of Mortal Kombat decided it was time to get back to basics. 3-D? Well, you might be able to dodge sideways, but we’re going to stick to two dimensions moving forward. Multiple fighting styles? Naw, we’re going back to one basic set with plentiful special moves for each fighter. And speaking of fighters, it’s time to pare Mortal Kombat down to the titans that made this franchise famous in the first place, so wave good-bye to Daegon, Chaos Realm, and all the cruft that had accumulated over the previous six years. We are here for Kano uppercutting Raiden, and that’s what we’re going to get.

And, as if offering a guide on enticing fans new and old with gameplay that would otherwise be labeled as regressive, it was decided that the gruesome and violent Mortal Kombat universe would crossover with the world of sunshine and rainbows that is the DC Universe. Superman lives there! And people only have limbs ripped off, like, once or twice a year!

So, from a strictly plot perspective, nothing that happened in Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe actually happens. It’s a hoax! An imaginary story! And, frankly, there isn’t much story there to speak of, anyway. Shao Kahn was defeated in one universe at the exact same time Darkseid was defeated in another, and, since some whacky transporter accident was involved, the two villains were merged into the game’s only unique (“unique”) kharacter, Dark Kahn.

Really hot stuff

Dark Kahn… isn’t really anything. He doesn’t have a personality to speak of (he is, like, double evil), and his nefarious plan is the typical “conquer the universes” shtick. However, his mere existence threatens both of his home universes, which, thanks to dubious magical physics, are merging into one universe. This allows for whacky “first encounters”, like Scorpion mistaking Batman for Sub-Zero (dude, get some glasses), or Kano getting jobbed by The Flash (and, unfortunately, not teaming up with Ragdoll). There’s also a “Rage Virus” going around as a result of the realms merging, which serves the dual purpose of pushing some normally pacifistic fighters (wait a minute…) into battling, and evens out everyone’s power levels so Goku can fight Joker on an even keel. It all leads to a pile of crossover battles that culminate with “oh, what am I doing?”, and, in the end, Raiden and Superman team up to separate Dark Kahn into his component pieces. Grand finale: each interdimensional despot winds up imprisoned in the opposite, permanently separated universe. Shao Kahn is trapped in the Phantom Zone, and Darkseid is left to rot in MK’s Netherrealm. … He’ll be ruling the place within a week.

But, again, none of it really “happens”, because it doesn’t have an ongoing impact on either universe. The DC Universe doesn’t particularly note that time Sonya Blade stopped by (and it’s not like The New Gods lost Darkseid to another universe), and Jax isn’t staying up late chatting on pan-universal Skype with Cyborg. Neither universe was actually influenced by the events of the crossover.

Right in the balls

Which is unfortunate, because it’s clear that Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe dramatically influenced the next few Mortal Kombat and DC Universe titles. Midway died, Netherrealm Studios was born of the ashes, and, though it all, the next few MK titles would resemble MKvDCU a lot more than literally anything that had come before. This is the title that rebooted Shao Kahn’s career as the big bad of the franchise (for the first time since MK3), and set Raiden (not Liu Kang) as the big hero. This is where the Mortal Kombat 1 & 2 kast was cemented as the “real” MK roster (of the MK fighters in MKvDCU, only the villainous Shang Tsung and Shao Kahn were not represented in some way in every forthcoming MK title, and that was only for one game). And roughly 90% of the gameplay of MKvDCU went on to be the standard style for not only the Mortal Kombat franchise, but also the DC Universe-based fighting game Injustice. Basically, two whole franchises spawned from this one game that “never happened”.

So, in the grand tradition of the game that never happened being one of the most important titles in the franchise, let’s skip ahead a lil’ and look at every guest fighter in the Mortal Kombat universe. None of these fights happened. Or did they? (They didn’t.)

Hot stuff

We’ve already covered how Mortal Kombat didn’t really cross over with The DC Universe, but it’s worth noting that various MK fighters occasionally wind up in the Injustice universe. Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Raiden have all guested in that franchise. If you’re curious what they were up to in that universe:

• Scorpion of roughly MK2 was summoned to the Injustice DC Universe by Trigon, the demonic father of Teen Titan Raven. Trigon runs his own hell-universe (though, to be clear, not DC Universe’s Hell, a place that is so delightfully complicated I could write an epic poem about its ridiculous mythology), and summoned Scorpion to join his army. This went poorly, as Scorpion defeated Trigon and took his realm for his own.

Sub-Zero of Mortal Kombat X bopped into the Injustice 2 universe by some cosmic accident, and fought against Brainiac because Sub-Zero hates nerds (even though, secret truth, Sub-Zero has a comp sci degree). Sub-Zero then chilled in the Injustice universe training the next generation of DC Heroes (to be… assassins?), and eventually wound up fighting alongside the good guys when there was a Phantom Zone jailbreak.

Raiden of Mortal Kombat X deliberately travels to the Injustice 2 Universe to defeat Brainiac, because some stupid robot alien dude is apparently a greater threat to the universes than the friggen’ God of Evil. Raiden decides to stick around this universe when Kent Nelson, aka Fate, dies, and reveals that The Lords of Order are trying to destroy everything. So Raiden joins Justice League Dark. He smells better than John Constantine and Swamp Thing, so the team is happy to have him.

During Injustice 2, Sub-Zero and Raiden make distinct references to knowing the DC Heroes, and how “Dark Kahn” was once a threat. This has led some to postulate that the Injustice Universe, a world where Superman went marginally insane and became a super-fascist after the death of his wife and unborn child, is actually the DC Universe that MK crossed-over with in DC Vs., and the reason that the Injustice Universe is doomed to be a fighting game universe full of misery is that the MK fighters tainted this “version” of the DC Universe. However, this hypothesis is absurd, as Injustice 1 clearly establishes that its Lex Luthor and Superman were best friends from their first meeting until the events of Injustice, so the Injustice Universe is entirely incompatible with the Vs. Universe that established that Lex Luthor was always his usual cuss of a self. On a related note, I am a giant, pedantic nerd, and Sub-Zero is coming for me.

Anywho, let’s just assume these MK fighters exist in some sort of micro-continuity where Shao Kahn was trapped in, and then eventually escaped, the Phantom Zone. Also worth noting that Sub-Zero and Raiden have at least one conversation in Mortal Kombat 11 that claims they mutually dreamed of a “strange and unjust world”. So… it was all a dream? Yeah, and Liu Kang is just a butterfly dreaming he’s a karate man.

BANG!

The Joker is the first DC “Hero” to cross back over and fight in the Mortal Kombat universe again. First of all, this isn’t The Joker from the Injustice Universe, because that Joker was killed shortly after tricking Superman into killing his wife and unborn child (man, that universe sucks). And the in-game bio for Joker confirms “he killed Robin and crippled Batgirl”, and… is that canon in any DC Universe at this point? Post-Crisis, Pre-Final-Crisis Joker? No matter. What’s important is that this Joker is distinct from Injustice Joker (another dimension hopper) from a gameplay and origin perspective, so… ugh… Does this mean he was in DC vs.? This gets confusing. What is important is that Joker was apparently used as a gateway to include, via his ending, Havik, Hotaru, and Hsu Hao…

He's back!

So I guess he has a thing for H’s? Is that a Joker trait? Bah! At least this is his first appearance in MK or MK-adjacent materials where he really gets to enjoy the fatalities.
Left handed?

Injustice crossed over with a few other comicbook franchises, and if Sub-Zero can punch ‘em, I’m countin’ ‘em. So let’s take a quick look at Hellboy. Hellboy is the creation of Mike Mignola, and (long story short) the Prince of Hell that abdicated his throne in favor of pancakes. In his home universe, he’s a member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, which basically means that he would gladly beat down the majority of the supernatural MK kast any day of the week. Hellboy’s charm point is his Right Hand of Doom, which is not often used to dispense hugs. His official reason for existence in Injustice 2 is that Brainiac pulled him there from his own universe. That ended poorly for Brainiac. Hellboy then returned home, but got bored with that, too, and decided to go to Africa. This… uh… doesn’t have much to do with Mortal Kombat, but it’s good to know Hellboy could take a thunder god in any universe.

Toitles

Also guesting in the Injustice Universe are the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. The turtles distinctly hail from another dimension, too, and were accidentally delivered to Injustice Town by Krang. But which continuity of Turtles actually fought against Sub-Zero and Superman? Who the heck knows. There’s definitely some heavy influence from the original animated series here (they gain additional super powers from a pizza provided by Harley Quinn), but Krang is noted as an Utromian, so these are not the hero turtles of Turtles in Time (booo). Whatever the case, the way the individual turtles are all selectable as different “styles” is very similar to the main conceit of Mortal Kombat X (and particularly its DLC fighter, Triborg), so there seems to be more than a little MK DNA in this TMNT appearance. Oh? And their ending? They get super powers from their time in Injustice, return home, and then toss Shredder into a dumpster. Cowabunga.

But the fighters of Mortal Kombat weren’t limited to simply comic book crossovers. Next time, we’ll look at all the other guests in the Mortal Kombat universe. You know, all the ones that didn’t ever have to fight Green Lantern.

Next time: I just said the next time! Geez! Pay attention!

MKK: Shinnok

You ever think back on old 80’s cartoons where there was some unstoppable evil force (think Cobra Commander, Megatron, Skeletor, or Ronald Reagan), but they got routinely trounced every week, so why were you afraid of them, again? Like Gargamel was a malevolent antagonist that was attempting genocide for monetary gain, but he was also routinely thwarted by a pack of brownies with names like “Happy Smurf”. Why was he at all threatening? He failed every single time! There was no stopping stopping him! He would always fail!

And here’s a villain cut from the same cloth.

BABY HANDS

Shinnok was an Elder God. The dedicated theology of Mortal Kombat is ever mutable and confusing on a good day, but we do have a general god hierarchy. There are gods of individual realms, and they seem to be based on elements and such. And then there are Elder Gods, who are gods that got promoted to the City Council of the Gods. However, what Elder Gods actually do is nebulous and unclear. We think they’re supposed to protect the realms? Probably? Well, whatever the case, Shinnok was a proud member of the God Squad, but then got demoted back in prehistory when he attempted to take the whole of Earthrealm (that’s our realm!) for himself. Raiden, (regular) god of Earth, led his own squad o’ gods against Shinnok, and eventually saved the day through a massive attack that unfortunately leveled nearly all life on Earth. In your primitive, human science, you refer to this event as the start of the Ice Age.

So, yes, it is Mortal Kombat kanon that a war between Shinnok and Raiden is what killed the dinosaurs. That’s f%#&ing metal.

Shinnok was punished for his transgression by being damned from the heavens to forever dwell in the Netherrealm, aka the Hell of the Mortal Kombat universe. Now, you might be thinking at this point that this whole mythology is kind of clever, and is arguably a retelling of the popular Christian interpretation of Lucifer/Satan, the fallen angel, waging war in Heaven and then being damned to Hell for his hubris. And that would be cool if not for the fact that “Lucifer” is already ruling in Hell. Yes, it is kanon that Shinnok was damned to Hell and then punished and tormented by the ruler of the Netherrealm, Lucifer. So, apparently, this kind of “fallen divine being” thing routinely happens in the Mortal Kombat universe.

BABY HANDS

Lucifer tortured Shinnok for a few thousand years, but eventually Shinnok made a pact with a demon-wizard, Quan Chi. Quan Chi would aid Shinnok in overthrowing Lucifer, but, in exchange, Shinnok would have to go out for ice cream with Quan Chi at least once every two weeks. Shinnok, ever the scheming god, managed to negotiate this down to once a month, but only because he convinced the vain Quan Chi that too many treats would make him “kinda paunchy”, which is not a good look for a bald guy. And so the two demon bros overthrew Lucifer, and Shinnok became the uncontested god of the underworld (and Quan Chi got Lucifer’s stash of black lipstick).

But Shinnok still wanted to rule Earthrealm, so he hatched a plan to eventually reclaim what he saw as his birthright. Back when Shinnok was still living it up as an Elder God, he transferred the bulk of his power to a magical amulet. Why did he do this? Why did he willingly concede his own power to a trinket that could be removed or stolen? Well, obviously, if we knew the answer to that, then we’d be as smart as Elder Gods, right? And do I see you ruling any mystical realms filled with multi-armed weirdos? No! So shut-up and just deal with the fact that there’s a magical amulet out there possessing all of Shinnok’s powers, and he managed to drop it on his way down to Hell. And Raiden nabbed this amulet, and, as one does, sealed its power in four elemental dungeons guarded by four elemental bosses. And, worst of all, Raiden didn’t tell Shinnok where any of those elemental temples were! Is the fire one in a volcano? But which one? Earth has so many! This left good ol’ Quan Chi to align himself with Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung, and set up a little tit-for-tat for the information Shang Tsung had gained from devouring a million or so souls over the years. Quan Chi discovered the location of the amulet, Shao Kahn gained the ability to revive his dead wife at the time and dimension of his choosing, and everybody was happy. Quan Chi eventually used this information to hire Sub-Zero, reclaim the amulet, and nearly free Shinnok from Hell… but Shinnok decided to chill and wait for a little bit when Sub-Zero fought back. Soon, my pet, soon we’ll have all the failure we can carry in our wee, skeletal baby hands…

BABY HANDS

Shinnok’s big day finally came after Mortal Kombat 3. Shao Kahn’s attempted merging of the realms was just enough to weaken everyone’s defenses, and Shinnok started his invasion with… Edenia, for some reason. In what must have been the first infernal invasion based on a Benny Hill sketch, Shinnok and his buddies disguised themselves as helpless refugees, snuck into Kitana’s home realm, and took over the place inside of an hour. Edenians are really good at being conquered. Then Shinnok turned his divine eyes on Earthrealm, and kicked off Mortal Kombat 4 with a fighting tournament (as this is how things are done). Unfortunately, things went south for Shinnok almost immediately. For one thing, Shinnok was only “empowered” during this time because of Quan Chi, who had stolen the real super amulet, and was kind of making a point of standing next to Shinnok at all times, letting the old god soak up ambient amulet rays, and hoping he wouldn’t notice the ruse. This plan fell apart when Scorpion dragged Quan Chi right back to Hell (which, come to think of it, wouldn’t it have been easier for Scorpion to get his revenge while everyone was already in Hell?), and Shinnok was left fairly defenseless against the combined might of the Earthrealm warriors. As ever, Liu Kang delivered the final jump kick to that dollar-store Shang Tsung, and Shinnok was sent right back down to where the goblins go.
BABY HANDS

Absolutely no one begged for the return of Shinnok, so he spent some quality time with his remaining infernal minions until Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Shinnok was one of the many supporting villains in that tale, and he spent a little time allying himself with the protagonist of that adventure’s (literal) evil twin. But, in the end, Shao Kahn won that battle anyway, so Shinnok was left dead on the ground… which kind of shouldn’t be possible, but I’ll allow it, because it means there is one less Shinnok in the universe.

Take 2 on this story. When the Mortal Kombat kontinuity rebooted, it rebooted at the restore point of Mortal Kombat 1, so all of Shinnok’s complicated mythology remained firmly in place. However, this universe featured a Quan Chi that, thanks to a coin flip that went a different way, got two scoops of Scorpion Flamin’ Hot Crunch, and not Stryker’s Sundae Best. As a result, Quan Chi was in a much better mood in time for Mortal Kombat 4, and decided to give Shinnok the real amulet for this go round. Well, either that, or since Quan Chi had gained an entire army of superpowered undead karate wizards, he decided he didn’t need the stupid amulet anyway. Whatever the case, Shinnok kicked off nu-MK4 completely flush with power, and forsook his whole “Edenian refugees plan” for just flying in on an army of winged demons. Less evil masterminding, more shock and awe. But! Bad news for ol’ Shinnok again, just when the big bad was going to conquer the planet, Johnny Cage stepped up to the plate and magic-kicked Shinnok into next week. And next week is precisely when Raiden figured he could seal Shinnok within his own stupid amulet. So rebooted MK4 is over before it begins thanks to Raiden having not ever once played a JRPG featuring an ancient, evil god sealed into mystical jewelry (which, come to think of it, is every JRPG).

BABY HANDS

So the proper story of Mortal Kombat 10 is that, about twenty years after MK4*, most of the planet seems to be in a mad scramble to either release or permanently seal Shinnok from/to his amulet. As must inevitably happen in such a narrative, Shinnok escapes his bonds again, and… is immediately defeated by a teenage girl. Before Shinnok is Kim Possible’d into defeat, though, he does manage to obtain some kind of “devil form” by welding that amulet onto his tummy. Makes for a dude that at least looks like a decent final boss (finally!). But then Raiden chops off the former Elder God’s head. Shinnok is thus theoretically alive for the rest of eternity, but left as little more than a sputtering skull.

Shinnok isn’t technically consciously involved in Mortal Kombat 11 (some of his old zombie pals use his head as a mystical set of AAs), but his mom does show up, who turns out to be the Goddess/Titan of Time. And it’s revealed that Shinnok’s sister is also the Goddess of Good & Life, recontextualizing Shinnok as distinctly her opposite number, the God of Evil & Death. This really makes you wonder how Shinnok got a seat in the pantheon before his fall… but I guess it’s all about who you know, even when you’re a god of repeated failures.

NO MORE BABY HANDS

Next time: Some more gods and demons.