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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

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

MORTAL KOMBATMortal Kombat was one of (if not the) defining games of the 90’s, a time when gaming was just starting to stand on its own two feet. And, for better or worse, it changed gaming forever (M for Mature… or just “Mortal Kombat”? Makes ya think!). Mortal Kombat, with its spine-rips and death kisses, left an undeniable mark on the face of gaming, and whether it’s a rad scar or festering wound is up to the beholder.

But… why was Mortal Kombat popular?

It’s all about Originality

Street Fighter 2 is easy to understand. Street Fighter 2 is a damn fine fighting game with unique characters that can appeal to any (well, probably male) player. Don’t like generic karate guy? Here’s a green beast man, and he plays totally differently. There’s the lithe and nimble woman versus the gigantic, hairy grappler man. There are bosses that are carefully calibrated to drain your credits, but there is also a two player mode that is a significant draw. Take out your favorite sumo for a date with a yoga master, and battle all night long. Learn those special moves! Master one character, and move on to the next! Maybe one day you’ll beat Red Hitler and his stupid scissor kicks!

YOU GOT KANGEDMortal Kombat features four offensive buttons: High Punch, Low Punch, High Kick, and Low Kick. This is two less buttons than Street Fighter 2’s six button layout. If you’ve ever paid attention to Street Fighter 2’s jabs, you’ll note that every single Street Fighter has a different “light punch”. Same for medium. Same for every damn offensive option available. This is absolutely not the case in Mortal Kombat. “High Punch” is exactly the same for Liu Kang as Johnny Cage. Sonya’s got a jump kick, but it may as well belong to Kano. And you better believe Sub-Zero and Scorpion have the exact same animations, because, ya know, they’re the same person.

Ultimately, the only difference between characters in Mortal Kombat is the special moves, and, bad news, they’re all almost exactly the same, too. Liu Kang has a fireball that flies straight and true. Johnny Cage does, too. And Kano. And Sonya. And Raiden. Oh! Sub-Zero’s fireball freezes the opponent in place. And Scorpion’s fireball freezes the opponent and requires less walking. No wonder he’s the most popular character! Now give everybody a special that helps ‘em get across the screen, and… are we done here? There may be a few outliers, but, by and large, all of these unique characters play about as “uniquely” as White Bomberman and Black Bomberman.

Though maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree there. Maybe people are more interested not in what the characters do, but who the characters are. Maybe…

It’s all about the Characters

RAIDEN!Mortal Kombat has produced some very iconic videogame characters. There’s vain but heroic Johnny Cage, inordinately heroic Liu Kang, generally heroic Sonya, and… wait a tick, all those characters are just the same obvious traits plus one tiny quirk. Maybe they’re physically dissimilar? No, Sonya, Liu Kang, and Johnny Cage all just look like regular dudes that showed up in their gym clothes. Johnny and Looey didn’t even remember to pack a shirt. And it’s pretty clear that Sub-Zero and Scorpion totally botched their twin day fashions.

Am I just looking at the superficial? Well, when Mortal Kombat was lighting the arcades and home consoles ablaze, there wasn’t much more than that, anyway. Like with most fighting games, you got a character profile, and an ending, and that was it. There was the accompanying Mortal Kombat comic book, but its razor thin characterization didn’t exactly fill in the blanks on why Kano was a cyborg (eventual answer: why not?) or how Johnny Cage came to participate in this deadly fighting tournament (answer: he got a letter). Sub-Zero hates Scorpion, Sonya hates Kano, and I guess Goro killed Liu Kang’s ancestor. These razor-thin motivations don’t support characters, they simply support reasons for punching.

So, okay, punching is kind of the point, though. So does that mean…

It’s All About the Gameplay

mortal kombatMortal Kombat is a fighting game, so characters don’t matter past how much fun the game is to play. And is Mortal Kombat fun? Of course it is! I just said it was a fighting game! Pay attention! Fighting games are always fun, because punching some other dude in a digital arena is top shelf entertainment. Even the worst fighting games are fun for a little while.

But does the fun of Mortal Kombat last? At all? Well… uh… We already covered how every character is practically the same, so 2-player battles are going to get pretty predictable pretty fast. Maybe one player mode is more interesting? That has some fights against CPU opponents, the always popular mirror match, and then endurance matches. Endurance matches are kind of cool, right? Like, the same fight, but double? Who could say no to double the fighting? Aside from everyone that just finds it grueling and unfair, of course. And while we’re on the topic of unfair, we have Goro, the penultimate boss that in no way plays by the rules, so he absorbs your punches like they’re being thrown by some pasty nerd standing over an arcade cabinet. And the final challenge is just all the other fighters mixed together with a fireball barrage that can bleed off about 75% health.

The gameplay is pretty damn limited. It’s not necessarily bad, but it’s not the kind of gameplay that should make Mortal Kombat a perennial favorite that dominated the arcades and home consoles.

But maybe it was never about actually playing the game at all, maybe…

It’s All About the Blood and Gore

BLOOD!My dear, dead granny knew of Mortal Kombat, and she knew its name for one simple reason: blood. As was reported by a million moms clutching a million pearls, Mortal Kombat was unerringly violent, and a gross, disgusting mess of blood soaked through every interaction in this so-called vidya game. Mortal Kombat was such a blood orgy that the United States Senate had hearings showcasing the uncivilized ferocity on display for a mere half a buck in every arcade across the country! Could this epidemic of violence ever be stopped after Mortal Kombat opened the floodgates?!

Except… Mortal Kombat isn’t all that bloody.

Yes, there is blood (how else would we be able to tell the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ports apart), but is Mortal Kombat inherently violent? Well… yes… but not anymore than any other videogame! Contra saw Bill tearing through a thousand poor dudes with backpacks, but Congress never so much as uttered the word “Contra” in its hallowed halls. And Mario! Think of how many poor goombas he led to the slaughter! Is that game inherently less violent simply because it featured a tubby guy picking on chestnuts? Well, yes, but still! Mortal Kombat might have included a coupon for a few globs of blood with every roundhouse, but was it really the bloody mess described by so many Liebermans? Absolutely not.

THE PITBut what of the infamous fatalities? Yes, the scandalous spine-rip is bloody (awesome), but arguably the most famous fatality in the franchise is Scorpion’s “Toasty” finisher, and there isn’t a speck of blood in that ghastly inferno. Sonya’s heated kiss is on the same level, and Kano’s heart rip is about as bloody as a certain Spielberg movie. And the decapitations of Johnny Cage and Raiden are more “yes, that’s right, you do need a head to live” than anything approaching what you’d see in a horror movie of the time.

We may be looking at Mortal Kombat 1 through the lens of jaded 21st Century gamers (“I just watched Samus Aran drink the blood of her enemies six times this morning”), but the violence of Mortal Kombat was often less “bloody gore” and more a literal joke.

Actually, maybe that was the point of Mortal Kombat, maybe…

It’s All About the Humor

Back in the 90’s, it was hard to claim that Mortal Kombat was “funny”. But let’s be real here: the humor was there all along. Right the start (or maybe a particular revision), there was a certain green hidden character that had unlock conditions that seemed designed to be little more than a playground rumor. If “you have to earn a double flawless victory and perform a fatality and never block all while E.T. flies across the moon” isn’t a joke, then I’m turning in my comedian license (issued and signed by Yakov Smirnoff himself!). Speaking of which, what appears to be Peter Pan, an alien, a witch, and Santa Claus will fly over the moon at certain points. That sounds a bit humorous! And there’s certainly a reason skele-face Scorpion faces the screen with his hollow eyes after every fatality. He’s mugging for a laugh!

This became much more evident in later games, when Mortal Kombat introduced such silliness as babalities, friendships, animalities, and fatalities that were clearly just some random dude on the staff playing with Claymation (see Kabal for more details). But even back at the beginning, the humor was there, even before we saw Toasty Dan pop up to announce it was time to fight Smoke.

But it’s pretty clear that this wasn’t a selling point for the original Mortal Kombat. The humor was there, but nobody was feeding those cabinets quarters just because they wanted a laugh.

So what was the secret to Mortal Kombat’s success? It seems like we’ve ruled everything out, except…

Yeah!

Oh man, we have an answer.

Mortal Kombat was successful because it’s all about the sweet uppercuts.

Yeah!

Yeah, that’s the stuff.

FGC #450 Mortal Kombat

  • System: Arcade first and foremost, but then Mortal Monday came, and we had it on Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Sega Game Gear, and Nintendo Gameboy. Oh boy! Mortal Kombat on a portable!
  • Number of players: 2 kombatants.
  • Preferred System: Genesis might have the blood, but Super Nintendo has graphics that don’t look like the butt end of a butt. And I’m a Nintendo kid, so here we are.
  • Favorite Character: It’s obviously Sub-Zero, as he can freeze his opponent and slide. Amusingly enough, my first “main” for Mortal Kombat was Sonya Blade, but I drifted away from her when I realized she reminded me way too much of Jane Fonda.
  • FIGHT!Did you know? An NES port of Mortal Kombat was planned, but was cancelled fairly quickly (before they even entered the programming phase). For any young’uns out there, this was back when two generations of videogame hardware could be supported by Nintendo simultaneously, and not like today, when the WiiU was publically executed the moment the Switch made the scene.
  • Would I play again: Probably not. Mortal Kombat, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t all that fun nowadays as anything more than a novelty, and is 100% supplicated by its sequels. If you’re getting Mortal Kombat today, it likely comes with Mortal Kombat 2 anyway…

What’s next? It’s Mortal Week! Mortal Kombat sure hit the big time with its release, and it had a number of imitators. We’re going to look at a different wannabe fighting game Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of the next two weeks, and examine how some games did their best to copy the Mortal Kombat formula (and generally still failed). First up on the list: Eternal Champions. Please look forward to it!

MIGHT!

MKK: Scorpion & Sub-Zero(s)

I covered Hanzo “Scorpion” Hasashi’s journey in great detail a couple of years back (man, 2015? Time flies in universes that don’t reboot), so I’ll just cover the highlights here:

Look out!


Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Normal ninja dude that gets murdered by Sub-Zero before the end of the first level.

Mortal Kombat 1: An avenging ghost skeleton from hell that payback-murders Sub-Zero. Mission accomplished!

Mortal Kombat 2: Still an avenging ghost, still trying to kill Sub-Zero, but learns that “this” Sub-Zero is actually OG Sub-Zero’s lil’ bro. Vows to become a protector skeleton for Baby Sub-Zero.

Mortal Kombat 3: An avenging ghost that is accidentally released from Hell. Kind of a free agent, but eventually winds up protecting Baby Sub-Zero.

Mortal Kombat 4: An avenging ghost that completely forgot what he was doing. Tries to kill Baby Sub-Zero again, but backs off when he is informed Quan Chi is responsible for the death of his family. Drags Quan Chi to Hell.

Aw, hell

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance: An avenging ghost that spends a lot of his free time torturing Quan Chi. Eventually, Quan Chi gains the upper hand, and has his new oni buddies toss Scorpion into The Soulnado.

Mortal Kombat Deception: An avenging ghost that is made Defender of the Realms after The Soulnado accidentally spits Scorpion out in Heaven. The Elder Gods are even worse at their job than Raiden, so appointing a murder skeleton the guardian of reality apparently seemed like a good idea.

Mortal Kombat Armageddon: An avenging ghost that is really pissed off. The Elder Gods said they would bring back Scorpion’s family and tribe in exchange for helping out during Deception… but Scorps didn’t read the fine print, and his friends and family were returned to “life” as undead fire skeletons (just like dad!). Scorpion attempted to kill just about everybody in this contract dispute, and, considering the world then wound up in a reboot, he kinda did.

MK v DC: An avenging ghost that thought Batman was Sub-Zero in disguise. This ended… poorly.

Mortal Kombat 9: An avenging ghost that is living MK1-3 again.

They're friends now

Mortal Kombat X: A dad. Thanks to some unusual plot contrivances, Scorpion is revived as a perfectly normal dude who incidentally possesses hellfire-based magical abilities. Score! Scorpion reboots his ninja clan, and even adopts another fighter’s son as his own. And he’s best friends with (baby) Sub-Zero! He still sends Quan Chi to Hell, though, so everything isn’t completely topsy-turvy.

Mortal Kombat 11: A dad and an avenging ghost. Time travel grants us Diet and Original Scorpions, so you’ve got your choice of skeleton man or regular man. Take your pick!

So, tldr, Scorpion is the most popular character, and no one has a damn clue what to do with the damned soul.

And now for a different story…

Once upon a time, there was a man named Bi-Han. Bi-Han was an assassin of the Lin Kuei clan, and was regarded as their best and brightest. So, when an albino wizard with spikes on his neck came calling with a job, Bi-Han was hired. And Bi-Han, like a boss, made his way through some magical temples, killed a rival ninja, and ably completed Quan Chi’s tasks, despite the fact that this all had to be done with the handicap of taking place during Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. Quan Chi then inevitably betrayed Bi-Han, and the two squared off for the fate of the world in the very bowels of Hell. Bi-Han was successful, but he also learned that he was only able to fight in Hell because his soul was tainted by evil. Maybe it was because he worked with an evil sorcerer. Maybe it was because it was literally his job to kill hundreds of people. Maybe it was because he did not delete downloaded roms after 24 hours. Whatever the reason, Bi-Han, aka Sub-Zero, was informed that if he did not change his ways, he would be damned for all of eternity.

Then Mortal Kombat happened, and Scorpion BBQ’ed Sub-Zero but good. Sorry, bud, we don’t all get to have a wonderful life.

That's our Sub-Zero!
This is kanon


But anyone that knows mythology knows that if you are killed by an undead spirit of vengeance, then you will rise again as an undead spirit of vengeance. Or maybe that’s vampires? Whatever, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero was reborn as Bi-Han aka Noob Saibot.

So, a quick word about hidden characters in Mortal Kombat: We’ll talk about this more when we get to the relevant character, but Mortal Kombat more or less created the whole concept of a “hidden fighter” in fighting games when Mortal Kombat 1 V3.0 first unleashed Reptile onto the scene. By the time of Mortal Kombat 2, MK’s adoring public was already expecting crazy hidden fighters with even more ridiculous unlock conditions. A big ol’ question block became part of the game progression, and gray ninja Smoke and green ninja woman Jade were the obvious hidden characters of MK2. There was also Noob Saibot, an even more hidden ninja that was colored entirely black, and was so named because the franchise (and Noob) was created by Boon and Tobias (and read those names backwards if you didn’t catch that bit of wordplay immediately). Fighting Noob Saibot in Mortal Kombat 2 required a single player winning 50 consecutive versus matches. Assuming a credit cost 50¢ at the time, this meant that to even see Noob, at least $25 had to be deposited into a MK2 arcade cabinet.

Shadowy!

What am I getting at? Noob Saibot was trolling the audience from the very beginning.

Back to anti-reality: Bi-Han-now-Noob-Saibot became a nefarious shadow wraith, and the canon explanation (mostly a retcon) for his presence in Mortal Kombat 2-3 was that he was working for Shao Kahn, but secretly spying on everyone on behalf of Quan Chi and Shinnok, whom he was now damned to serve for eternity. He was released from duty when Shinnok was defeated during Mortal Kombat 4, and briefly went back to his old job with Shao Kahn during Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance (or at least the confusingly named GBA port of it, Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition). That ended when Shao Kahn died (or “died”), and Noob Saibot, after years of infernal enslavement, could finally collect his undead unemployment.

The throne of Hell was empty after Shinnok and Quan Chi wound up dead (damned? Vaporized? Just that general incapacitation that occurs to Mortal Kombat kharacters when they’re not directly involved in the plot?), so Noob decided it was time for a promotion. He got his own robot ninja, Smoke, and started a tag-team operation with the ultimate goal of grooming a robot-demon army. To be clear, that is an army of robots that are also demons, and not demons that are incidentally working with robots. Nanomachines are involved. Regardless, Noob and Smoke ambushed Noob’s brother, Other Sub-Zero, but Sub-Zero escaped. Quan Chi decided to resurface then, and Noob, Smoke, and Quan Chi all decided to storm Sub-Zero’s front gates together. It was kind of like The Wizard of Oz, except there wasn’t a Dorothy, and the Tin Man was an undead robot ninja demon that could turn into a gas. That motley crew failed, but Sub-Zero was able to restore Smoke’s consciousness. He attempted to do the same for his brother, but Noob continued to be a jerkass demon. There was some rumbling in Noob’s Annihilation ending that original, compassionate/alive Sub-Zero was going to resurface as a controlling force… but the universe rebooted about seven seconds later.

GHOST MAN!

So, good news, the universe is fresh and new again, and Bi-Han/Sub-Zero is alive and chill again. Bad news though, the world rebooted at about the start of Mortal Kombat 1, so, despite everyone’s best attempts to avoid such a fate, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero is still kanon. This means that when Scorpion inevitably killed Sub-Zero all over again, he became Noob Saibot, again, just like last time. Unlike last time, though, since his big reveal as OG Sub-Zero was already spent back during Deadly Alliance, this Noob Saibot was out and proud, and basically became Quan Chi’s personal bodyguard for much of the story. And then he got tossed into The Soulnado. Whoops.

The Soulnado should have either torn Noob Saibot to pieces or made him Defender of the Realms (there’s precedent!), but it wound up doing exactly nothing. Noob Saibot laid low for the entirety of Mortal Kombat X, and, like in the original timeline, only decided to skulk out of the shadows when his bosses got murdered. In this case, he joined up with the bad gal du jour in exchange for a promised clan of shadow ninja. Every last kharacter in Mortal Kombat 11 fails, though, and the universe gets flushed down the toilet once again. So will Noob resurface as Sub-Zero again, or will he be doomed to be a Noob forever? Time will tell!

So let’s try this story again…

Frosty!


Once upon a time, Bi-Han aka Sub-Zero was a warrior that fought in the first Mortal Kombat, but was fatally defeated by his rival, Scorpion. However, Bi-Han was not the only cryomancer in the Lin Kuei. There was his younger brother, Tundra. There was also his sister, Ice, his other brother, Freezing, his estranged cousin, Frost, his weird uncle, Kinda Cold But I Guess You Could Turn Down The Thermostat If You Want, and his dog, Cool Joe Canine. But this story isn’t about any of them, this is simply the story of Kuai Lang, formerly Tundra, who decided to adopt the title of Sub-Zero upon the immolation of Sub-Zero I.

Sub-Zero the Younger is a very different person from his brother. Well… not technically, as they both looked identical between Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat 2, but, when Sub-Zero decided to avenge his brother by completing Lin Kuei’s contract on Shang Tsung’s head (oh yeah, that’s why Bi-Han showed up for MK1), he made two important choices. One, he brought backup in the form of Smoke, another Lin Kuei assassin who had control over… I don’t know… probably earth or something. Second, Sub-Zero proved himself to be less blood-thirsty than his bro. Despite being in the tournament for the exclusive purpose of murdering a dude, Sub-Zero did not needlessly murder some rando during Mortal Kombat 2 (probably Baraka. He’s always the chump), and this mercy conveyed to Scorpion that Sub-Zero II was certainly not the vicious Sub-Zero I. Never mind that an immortal vengeance creature should probably be able to tell two different people apart for all sorts of other reasons, but I suppose poor perception is one of the drawbacks of being a skeleton without, ya know, eyes. Regardless, Scropion and Sub-Zero became best buddies for a game or two as a result, and everyone went home happy.

Wait, crap, nothing happy ever happens in this franchise. So we had two Mortal Kombats, and a Sub-Zero was supposed to kill Shang Tsung in both of them. And, while the newest Sub-Zero at least survived Mortal Kombat 2, he didn’t actually complete the contract, as Shang Tsung still lived. This meant the Lin Kuei assassins had to make a difficult choice to regain their fallen honor. Options available included:

• Send more assassins to kill Shang Tsung
• Declare the contract null and void, as Shang Tsung proved to be an other-worldly sorcerer
• Find out who the hell kept putting out a hit on Shang Tsung, and offer a refund
• Launch a social media campaign that would convince everyone that killing Shang Tsung was for nerds
• Turn everyone into soulless robots

So the Lin Kuei, naturally, decided to go with the robot option. Look! They were going to try the social media option, but Bi-Han was the only one with their clan’s facebook password. It happens!

He doesn't look Asian...

So Sub-Zero and Smoke were chosen to become soulless robots in the first of a line of robot assassins that clearly wouldn’t attempt to destroy all of humanity immediately. Sub-Zero and Smoke escaped, though. Well… mostly. Smoke was captured and automated, and Sub-Zero got away with a pretty significant (and bitchin’) scar. Then Shao Kahn invaded all of Earth, and Sub-Zero got stuck fighting the forces of Outworld and robot ninja programmed to hunt and kill exclusively him. This is when we all learned that Sub-Zero is not only an expert ninja, but also some kind of computer genius. It’s kanon that, during Mortal Kombat 3, Sub-Zero fought the forces of evil, reprogrammed Cyrax, reprogrammed Smoke and reawaked his soul, and found the time to reawaken the true soul of the Lin Kuei (or something). Basically, in one game, Sub-Zero went from a fledgling fugitive to nearly the leader of his clan. Though I suppose promotion opportunities were ripe as almost everyone else on Earth was effectively dead at the time…

Comparatively, Mortal Kombat 4 was a pretty chill time for Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero decided to fight against Shinnok because he read a plot synopsis of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero, and thought it was time to avenge his brother (or prove he was better than him). Scorpion plum forgot that this Sub-Zero had no input on his death or the death of his family, though, so Sub-Zero did have to deal with an angry skeleton during the battle. In the end, Scorpion and Sub-Zero made up, again, and Sub-Zero went home pretty satisfied when Liu Kang defeated Shinnok. Sure, Sub-Zero failed to kill the final boss again, but you really can’t get upset when Liu Kang saves the world. He’s good at it.

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance presented a much worse time for Sub-Zero. One day, Sektor, the one robot that Sub-Zero decided not to reprogram, showed up, and murdered the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei. Sub-Zero chased Sektor off with a broom, but the Lin Kuei was left without a leader. Sub-Zero, figuring that he was currently the only Lin Kuei member with a backstory and a name, decided to take up the mantel of leader. Literally. The position came with a rad dragon medallion, and, fun fact, it enhanced his ice powers a hundredfold. Sweet! It had the unfortunate drawback of making him look about 50 years old, though. The other assassins told him it made him look “distinguished”, but that was probably just because he wouldn’t stop making ice mirrors and sighing loudly. It was a rough time for Sub-Zero morale.

Sub-Zero then was the first Mortal Kombat kharacter to become a fake dad. Sub-Zero, now Grandmaster, took on a pupil, Frost. Frost was an unruly girl with ice powers just like Sub-Zero, so it only made sense that he would be able to help her to be a better person through training and whatever assassins do when they’re not assassinating people. Unfortunately, Sub-Zero completely failed, and, while everyone was supposed to be saving the world during Deadly Alliance, Frost betrayed Sub-Zero, and stole his rad medallion. This backfired immediately, and Frost was overwhelmed by her own overflowing cryomancy, transforming her into a comatose Frostsicle. Sub-Zero, not really anxious to ever see Frost again, decided to find the deepest ice box in Outworld to stow his treacherous protégé. And, score, he managed to find his family’s ancient land in Outworld, and, apparently, this was when he discovered his ice powers had some kind of origin story, and it wasn’t just a “Guile can throw fireballs because whatever” situation every time he shot snowballs at an opponent. Neat!

Chill Armor

With knowledge comes cool equipment powerups, so Sub-Zero donned the armor of his people in time for Mortal Kombat Deception. So, if you’re curious why Sub-Zero looked like The Shredder for a game or two, there you go. Sub-Zero then became super best friends with Kenshi, a blind swordsman, and the two had whacky adventures in Outworld that really didn’t have much to do with anything. They probably learned something about disabilities and tolerance and killing dudes with swords for arms. Sub-Zero then encountered his long lost brother, Evil Shadow Man, and Sub-Zero barely escaped with his life. He was also reacquainted with Smoke, who was now a robot demon that was none too pleased that Sub-Zero forgot he existed for like three games. Oh, and then Sub-Zero finally got home, only to discover that Frost had reawakened, got home before him, and murdered a healthy portion of his clan. Whoops!

Things only got worse during the events of Mortal Kombat Armageddon, when Smoke and Noob invaded the Lin Kuei temple, and converted anyone that wasn’t already killed by Frost into a robot demon. Sub-Zero technically “won” that battle, but the Lin Kuei were not looking too good by the end of Armageddon. Luckily, this was about when the universe rebooted, so no one had to dig out a manual on demon robot assassin clan maintenance.

DETECTED: Frosty!

The new universe of Mortal Kombat 9 started about the same: Sub-Zero took up the mantle of Sub-Zero after the death of Sub-Zero. But! This time, instead of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, Sub-Zero was captured, and automated into Cyber Sub-Zero. And that was kind of cool! Except he wound up having the same arc as Cyber Smoke (is robot, rediscovers soul, decides to fight for virtue) with the added handicap of being murdered about seven seconds into joining the forces of good. Cyber Sub-Zero then becomes an evil zombie robot, but Quan Chi immediately transformed Zombie Robot Sub-Zero back into simply Zombie, Fleshy Sub-Zero, because there was no way this albino sorcerer was going to deal with a zombie that required update reboots every three days.

So Undead Sub-Zero (but not Noob Saibot, he was already double dead at this point) served Quan Chi and Shinnok for a little bit, until Raiden (maybe accidentally) revived a group of revenants that included our favorite frosty buddy. Alive Sub-Zero then follows his old “destiny” again: he becomes grandmaster of the Lin Kuei, fights off Sektor and his evil robot ninja, and even begins a new friendship with Alive Scorpion. Frost, rather chilly in any timeline, nearly cocks it up, but Sub-Zero bonds with Scorpion over some footage of his entire family being murdered, and all is forgiven.

Great friends!

Mortal Kombat 11 continues the trend of Sub-Zero being vaguely tangential to the plot. The big bad of the game has recruited Frost and some time-displaced Cyber Ninja to her cause, and it naturally comes down to the all-star team of Scorpion and Sub-Zero to squash this threat. Sub-Zero, once again, reprograms Cyrax and more-or-less destroys the Cyber Initiative, thus ending the threat of this army of mooks that weren’t going to be useful in anything but a Musuo game anyway. When the universe is rebooted, Sub-Zero doesn’t distinctly have anything to do with the final victory (no Ice God Sub-Zero for you), and is vaporized having not ever found that sweet armor in this timeline.

Personally, I find that ending for a beloved kharacter to be a little… cold.

Next time: Six arms, two characters.

FGC #285 Mortal Kombat (2011)

FIGHTEverybody wants a do-over.

It’s a pretty standard part of the human experience to wind up with a crushing number of regrets by the age of… oh, let’s say… five? I’m pretty sure my life would be a lot better if my mother had never thrown out my old bunny doll. Yes… that would have made all the difference. Regardless of past traumas, regret is an integral part of being alive, so it’s no surprise that a lot of media has been dedicated to the concept of “What if you had a chance to do it all over again.” In some cases, this leads to a simple “imaginary story” where the hero finds that if the “mistake” they’ve been regretting for the last decade or so was actually avoided, then Galactus would have eaten the planet… or something. And we all learn a valuable lesson about being greater than the sum of our faults/being eaten by space giants. But the more common use of this trope (or at least the one that seems to get a larger audience) involves a despairing adult traveling back to a happier time, and, using knowledge from the future, finally realizing what’s really important, and I guess that’s falling in love with your high school sweetheart, and not taking that high-powered job you worked your entire life to achieve. Oh, and then Galactus devours the planet.

I’ve always been a fan of this kind of storytelling (no, I’m not going to go to TVTropes to find the actual name of this trope), because, like everybody else on Earth, I fantasize about going back and changing the past and righting what once went wrong. However, unlike everybody else, I’m also fascinated by this concept because it terrifies me.

And I’m glad to see Mortal Kombat 9 agrees with me.

FIGHT MOREMortal Kombat Armageddon was a fun game that was, conceptually, a sequel to Mortal Kombat Trilogy. After seven or so Mortal Kombat games, about 90 roster changes, and a million shattered pieces of Boon plot, MK had accumulated a memorable collection of characters (and Stryker). As a sort of love letter to the fans, MKA boasted a roster that contained every Mortal Kombat Kharacter that ever was, and let ‘em duke it out for supremacy. Didn’t matter if a fighter had been dead for years or had appeared in every game (or had been dead for years and appeared in every game, hi Scorps!), everyone got to participate, and, considering this franchise doesn’t feature Kuddles Kombat, there was a vampire’s buffet of blood spilled. Basically, even by the standards of a franchise where every other round ends with a triple decapitation, it was a bloodbath, and when the dust cleared, pretty much everybody was dead.

And they made that canon.

Err… kanon.

So, unless Mortal Kombat wanted to do something stupid like focus on the real heroes’ kids or a cast of dead guys (cough), it was time for a reboot. And, taking a page from Star Trek rather than beloved DC Comics, Mortal Kombat got rebooted with a sort of parallel, “do-over” reality. Raiden, lightning god of Earth Realm, sent some crazy psychic message back to his younger self of before the first (videogame) Mortal Kombat Tournament (or thereabouts). Now, gifted with vague future knowledge, Raiden can redo his life (or the last couple years of it, I mean, he has been around for a while) and avoid the tribulations of a timeline that saw Johnny Cage die like sixteen times. So, simple goal: Raiden knows Shao Kahn is a menace that is not to be trusted (didn’t he already know this?), so stop this nonsense before it begins. Easy-peasy.

GLOWY!Unfortunately, as ever, the issue appears to be that Raiden is an idiot. Despite being a god who has like one job (come to think of it, is some lesser god handling lightning duties during the franchise? Fujin?), Raiden messes up in new and exciting ways throughout the rebooted franchise. I can forgive him missing out on saving a certain frosty individual from a yellow wrath, as we all knew how that was gonna go, but when Raiden saves Smoke from cyberization only to give rise to Cryo-Freeze Sub-Zero… that one is on you, pal. Can you not keep track of two ninja? It’s not that hard! They’re wearing bright colors! And then Raiden trusts Kung Lao to step up to the plate… so naturally Kung Lao gets turned into a fine paste. But he’s not alone, as practically all the Earth heroes wind up dead halfway through Act 3. Whoops! And right around the time that Raiden turns Liu Kang, Hero of Mortal Kombat, into barbecued beef… well, I’m pretty sure someone got the message that Raiden is maybe not cut out for a leadership role. When your champion can best be described as “smoldering”, you’ve done something wrong.

But I can relate, because I’m pretty sure that if I got a do-over on my life, I’d do the exact same thing.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t sauté any beloved allies, but I’m pretty sure I’d ruin any chance of enjoying my re-life. Ultimately, I feel like it comes down to the simple fact that I appreciate my current existence. Yes, there are things about my past that I would absolutely change (about two years ago I started a website that is part catharsis and part addiction, I could definitely cut that out), but I also acknowledge that a lot of good in my life, whether it be regarding career or friendships, stems from happy accidents. And, granted, none of those accidents are the direct result of generational ninja wars (at least to my knowledge), but I feel like if I were to… re-accident some meetings, I would completely destroy the timeline as I know it. … Probably somewhere around when I’m arrested for madly screaming at a woman that we’re destined to be together, so can we get this over with, because I enjoyed dating your best friend a lot more. Look, I can be impatient sometimes.

RARGHAnd I guess that’s the crux of my belief on how life works. We’re the culmination not only of carefully laid plans, but also a big pile of coincidence and chance, some for good, some for ill. Maybe I’d be happier if I had stayed my college girlfriend, or if I hadn’t died fighting against my undead banshee of a mother, but if I changed those important/unhappy events in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am now. And I like where I am now. So, thank you, Mortal Kombat 9, for understanding that a do-over isn’t the secret to happiness. Different choices lead to different mistakes, and not every imagined “what if” has a happy ending.

Oh, and then Galactus ate the Mortal Kombat universe.

FGC #285 Mortal Kombat (2011)

  • System: Playstation 3 and Xbox 360. Oh, also, there was a Vita version. For reasons that I have never really understood, I once bought a new copy of the Vita version at the local Gamestop for zero dollars. There was some kind of sale, or the universe had twisted in on itself, or something.
  • Number of players: Isn’t there a tag mode that can involve four players? Yeah, there totally is, it’s right there on the menu. I’m not sure I’ve ever had four people together in one place that all wanted to play Mortal Kombat.
  • OuchWhat’s in a name? Technically, as a reboot of the franchise both conceptually and gameplay-wise, this game is simply titled “Mortal Kombat”, and is not Mortal Kombat 9. However, its direct sequel is Mortal Kombat X, and Mortal Kombat (1) is a very important game in gaming, so let’s stick to the nine.
  • Favorite Character: This roster brings back all the old favorites (in fact, it’s practically the same collection as Mortal Kombat Trilogy) so I’m going to have to pick Kabal. He’s in full-on Flash mode here, which… I really have no objection to that. Maybe he can dash through time and make this story a little happier.
  • Favorite Fatality: It made it into that silly video I made apropos of nothing, so I’m pretty sure you can guess.
  • Regarding the gameplay: Call me crazy, but I’m one of the few people that actually liked the general feel of the Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance/Deception/Armageddon games. I find the new Netherrealm style kind of clunky by comparison… but it’s still pretty fun. I mean, in the fighting game genre, very few games feel like you’re actually in a fight, and these MK experiences do seem to nail that heavy-hitting feeling. So I guess it evens out?
  • Did you know? Skarlet, original character, do not steal DLC female ninja, has a fatality wherein she drenches herself in the blood of her opponent. Except… all the cyber-robot opponents have oil or coolant for “blood”, so… well… I don’t think this is going to be good for that quasi-vampire’s digestion.
  • Would I play again: I like this game! But it is, by and large, completely unseated by Mortal Kombat X, a game that lets you play as Goro. And that counts for a lot! Eh, maybe I’ll replay 9 again when the inevitable MKHD Kollection arrives.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Sonic Adventure 2 Battle! Ah-ha! Speak of original characters, and he shall appear. Please look forward to it!

Nice sweater, nerd