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MKK: The New MK Universe & Skarlet

In the beginning there was Midway, and it was good. In seven days and seven nights (or maybe, like, thirty years), Midway produced some of the most amazing arcade titles on the planet. Midway distributed Space Invaders. Midway distributed Pac-Man. I’m moderately certain Spy Hunter was somewhere in there. Tapper. Gorf. Smash TV. Journey: Not the Journey You’re Thinking Of. Let’s skip ahead to NBA Jam. NFL Blitz. Revolution X: Music is the Weapon. War Gods. Happy Feet for Nintendo DS. Ozzy & Drix for the Gameboy Advance. And, of course, through it all, Midway was responsible for Mortal Kombat and its many, many sequels.

Get 'em George
Happier Times

Unfortunately, Midway blew all its development money on Ozzy & Drix, and they went bankrupt in 2009. This, as you may expect, impacted the Mortal Kombat series. Specifically, this whole “goin’ bankrupt” thing started back around when Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe was happening, so planned DLC for the game, Harley Quinn and Quan Chi, got cancelled due to a complete lack of interest in Quan Chi (and the bankruptcy thing, too, I guess). But! Possibly because Midway Chicago was already working with Warner Bros. Interactive, the WB purchased the remains of Midway Chicago and its IPs. This meant that, finally, Yakko, Wakko, and Dot could cross over with the lucrative The Suffering franchise. It also meant that Mortal Kombat and its kast of kharacters that once uppercutted Superman are now the property of the same dudes that owned Superman, so… hooray? Go ahead and add Sub-Zero to the Arrowverse Multiverse map, nerds.

Watch your nethers

But, crossover opportunities aside, the important result of the end of Midway was NetherRealm Studios. NetherRealm Studios technically started its WB time as WB Games Chicago, but, before that, this team was basically Midway Games Chicago. And who has been the consistent lead of this team? Ed Boon, one of the original four men that created Mortal Kombat. And why is it “NetherRealm Studios”? Well, because NRS predominantly only makes Mortal Kombat games (featuring Scorpion, popular denizen of the NetherRealm). They’ve also got the Injustice franchise, but that is, at its core, MK with a Batman skin. Beyond that, NetherRealm Studios has only ever produced one mobile WWE game and a mobile Batman Arkham City spin-off. The point here? We now have an entire videogame developer devoted to Mortal Kombat, and it doesn’t have to waste resources on maintaining the CarnEvil extended universe.

This is a great situation for Mortal Kombat! Finally, its team can take some time, breathe, and get back to designing the new legends of the Mortal Kombat franchise. We went through some lean, Hotaru-based years back there, and now we’re ready for the titans of a whole new generation. Show us this year’s Sub-Zero, NetherRealm Studios!

DESTROY

Oh, snap, he’s a robot? …. Didn’t you already do that? No? But, didn’t you already do all of this?

Mortal Kombat 9 (officially titled simply “Mortal Kombat”) was the first game produced by NetherRealm Studios (then officially titled WB Games Chicago). At its core, it is little more than a Star Trek 2009-esque reboot of the franchise. As a result, it introduced exactly zero new kharacters (until DLC, where we got one), and the best anyone could hope for was seeing some cyborgs take off their robot suits. From the perspective of someone expecting to make some new friends (and then roundhouse them), Mortal Kombat 9 was a complete disappointment.

On the other hand, Mortal Kombat 9, appropriately enough, was a return to form for the Mortal Kombat franchise. Did you enjoy all of the fighting styles of the previous three (non crossover) Mortal Kombat titles? They’re gone now! Back to four-button face-punching (or kicking). 3-D? Not in this timeline! Back to two dimensions! And do you like fatalities? Because the design team apparently put a premium on its finishers for the first time in the franchise’s history. After two games of “Heroic Brutalities” and supremely generic finishers, we’ve got some really specific buckets of blood being tossed around. There’s also a stage that contains a literal blood fountain! And it has nothing to do with Johnny Cage slashing an artery!

And, while the cast is wholly familiar, the story is appropriately Mortal Kombat bonkers, so we scored another goal there.

Mortal Kombat 9 has been tangentially referenced in the other recaps, but, because your stupid ape brain can only quantify events in a linear fashion, and all future kharacter spotlights will be firmly in this new timeline, let’s review how Mortal Kombat 9 went down.

So, to be clear, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (MK7) happened. And the end result was that literally everyone died except Raiden and Shao Kahn. And, frankly, Raiden wasn’t doing so great against a now mystically-empowered Kahn. So Raiden came up with the bright idea to send a magical text message back to his past self, and the general assumption was that Past-Raiden would be able to instantly understand Future-Raiden because, hey, they’re the same guy, right? And he’s got god-level knowledge, too! Raiden is the guardian of the entire realm of Earth, of course he’s going to be smart enough to figure out a message from his future self.

Unfortunately, Raiden is a blithering idiot. Both of ‘em.

Look out!
Granted, most MK kharacters have had brain injuries at this point

Raiden told Raiden that “He must win.” Raiden assumed that a pronoun would work, but, other than completely disqualifying Sonya Blade, it didn’t exactly help the situation. In fact, Past Raiden following the “He must win” mantra nearly got everybody killed (including a good number of “he”’s). And it all turned out to be some stupid riddle to begin with, and the only explanation for that is that apparently at least one Raiden involved here is suicidal.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s what you need to know about the brand new Mortal Kombat universe:

• “Past Raiden” starts at the top of Mortal Kombat 1. Given he is involved in a fighting tournament featuring almost exclusively men, “He must win” isn’t exactly helpful. And, since Raiden doesn’t have any further future information, he assumes that Liu Kang must win Mortal Kombat. Given that is how MK happened the first time, very little changes at this point in the timeline.

• However, there are a few inconsequential retcons. For instance, Baraka, Nightwolf, and (the human versions of) Cyrax & Sektor participate. Also, Quan Chi, who previously did not appear until MK4, is part of Shao Kahn’s general entourage. He’s currently acting like Scorpion’s manager, and it’s never not weird that mundane karate man Liu Kang has to deal with King Goth of Gothania pirouetting around.

• Also, Raiden tries to bribe Scorpion into not killing Sub-Zero I. But, Raiden? My man? Scorpion is an unstoppable vengeance demon fueled only by his desire to avenge himself upon nebulously blue, ninja-shaped life forms. You would have had an easier time bribing the Kool-Aid man into dodging brick walls.

• Liu Kang wins MK1 like normal, but things start going south during the second Mortal Kombat tournament. For one thing, Jax is slightly more gung-ho about rescuing Sonya in this timeline, so Ermac meets Jax’s enthusiasm by tearing the guy’s arms off.

• Also, Raiden sees a vision of Smoke being captured and transformed into a robot, and rescues Smoke from his cybernetic fate. However, this leaves Sub-Zero II vulnerable, and he’s captured by Lin Kuei forces. So now we have a whole new robot to deal with!

Kitana discovers the dark secret of Mileena (she never got braces), but Kitana does not kill Mileena. In the original timeline, Mileena had to be magically revived to participate in every title past MK2, and Kitana was being pursued by Shao Kahn for her murder. Kitana’s hands are clean in this timeline, but she still winds up on Shao Kahn’s shitlist for being a general nuisance.

Mime!
Obviously, Johnny Cage’s seminal Ninja Mime still happened.

• Oh, and quite crucially, Raiden interprets “he must win” as a call for the brash Kung Lao, not Liu Kang, to win Mortal Kombat 2. Kung Lao does pretty well until Shao Kahn realizes he’s wholly in charge of the tournament, and, when you make the rules, you can break the rules. So Shao Kahn breaks Kung Lao’s neck. Kung Lao becomes the first “real” casualty of the rebooted universe.

• Liu Kang kills Shao Kahn in retribution, and, like before, wins Mortal Kombat 2. However, Shao Kahn is revived about seven seconds later thanks to the ever-pesky Quan Chi. Quan Chi also kicks off MK3 by reviving Sindel. In the original timeline, there was never an exact explanation for how Shao Kahn survived MK2 and revived Sindel for MK3 (a wizard did it… seriously!), so Quan Chi’s presence here is only marginally a retcon.

• MK3 is fast and furious with the retcons and timeline changes. Kabal is now a cop (!) and Stryker’s partner (!). Like before, Kabal is BBQed in the early days of the Outworld invasion, but now it is confirmed that his cybernetics and magical speed powers are the results of Kano and Shang Tsung.

• Raiden screws the pooch by killing the horse. Motaro was Shao Kahn’s dragon du jour for MK3, but Raiden receives a vision of Motaro killing Johnny Cage, so Raiden kills Motaro first. Johnny is saved, but in the absence of his beloved centaur, Shao Kahn decides to kill Shang Tsung, drain his soul bowl, and transform Queen Sindel into her super saiyan form. Queen Sindel is now a boss-class monster (for story purposes, she’s still pretty lousy in actual gameplay).

• Sub-Zero, now a robot, seemingly kills Noob Saibot, who was already dead. It was confusing. But what’s important is that now Noob Saibot is going to have to take a game off to recover. Robot Sub-Zero never gets around to “freeing” his robot brethren like in the original timeline.

• And, since it looks like the good guys are actually winning this war against Shao Kahn, Queen Sindel gets sent to take out Team Good. And she does! Sindel leads an assault on Earthrealm that leaves… let’s see here… Nightwolf, Sub-Zero, Jax, Stryker, Smoke, Kabal, and… probably some other guys… all dead. Oh! Kitana! She’s dead. So is Sindel, in the end. This leaves us with only Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya surviving into the fourth quarter.

• This all made Raiden really frustrated with the situation, one thing led to another, and, blah blah blah, Raiden may have killed Liu Kang and left him a particularly well done corpse.

Sorry!
“Sorry about that.”

• But that gives Raiden an idea: why not just give up? “He must win” is revealed to mean that Shao Kahn must win specifically Mortal Kombat 3, because the fights of Mortal Kombat 3 are not an officially sanctioned tournament presented by Mortal Kombat Korp., and, when Shao Kahn “wins”, the Elder Gods call foul, and Shao Kahn is obliterated on a technicality. Shao Kahn is gone forever (thus he can never go on to win Mortal Kombat 7), and Raiden has won Mortal Kombat 3 by the two sweetest words in the English language: default.

• But everybody is still dead, and, thanks to Netherrealm (the realm, not the company) contract negotiations, enslaved by Quan Chi. Only Sonya Blade and Johnny Cage are left standing to represent Team Good.

• And that’s why Mortal Kombat 4 starts with a full-blown Netherrealm invasion featuring Shinnok, Quan Chi, and an army of undead fighters. But that’s a story for next time.

Anywho, what does it all mean? Well, to use up my last few bullet points (I got them on sale at Target, and I want to use them all before they expire):

• Most of the Mortal Kombat old guard is dead. This does not stop them from participating in future titles, but they’re going to be angrier when they do.

• To be completely clear, Shao Kahn, is totally dead. So is Shang Tsung. So they’re not coming back for future titles like in the good ol’ days (or at least not for a whole one game).

• This means that Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, featuring Shang Tsung killing Liu Kang, will never happen in this timeline. And given those events immediately led to MK: Deception and MK: Armageddon, Mortal Kombat 5-7 will not “reboot”, and are not remembered by anyone.

• However, Mortal Kombat 9-11 have confirmed that events from the “old games” could happen again under different circumstances, and any kharacters introduced in those titles are still legitimate… they’re just not participating right now. Hotaru is still out there living his best life.

• And, of course, the timeline veering off into this new direction means there will be all new kharacters introduced in these (mostly) all new storylines.

So get ready for new, never before seen kharacters! … You just have to wait a game for ‘em, because there was nobody new in Mortal Kombat 9.

Blood!

… Well, except Skarlet. She was DLC, and didn’t actually impact the storyline proper, but Mortal Kombat 9 did technically have one original kharacter.

Skarlet is the “red female ninja” to match Ermac (the red boy ninja). Like Ermac, she originally existed as the rumored “fourth female ninja” in Mortal Kombat 2 that could only be accessed by glitching out the Sega Genesis version while licking a dog’s nose and chanting the entirety of Yellow Submarine backwards. Unfortunately, this was only a rumor, and, if a certain dog still looks at me funny when I pick up a Genesis controller, that’s a coincidence. Given (real) Skarlet was introduced well past the point that color-swaps were all the rage in MK, she was designed from the start to merely “evoke” the concept of being another ninja twin, and is not intended to actually be another literal sister to Kitana and Mileena. She’s still one of Shao Kahn’s assassin women, though, so she at least has the same job as the other ladies.

As far as her history, Skarlet was a starving street urchin that was “rescued” by Shao Kahn, and transformed into a blood-mage assassin. Yes, “blood” is a magical element in the Mortal Kombat universe, and, frankly, that makes a whole lotta sense (in the MK universe, people are 80% blood by volume). Skarlet is not a vampire (that would be Nitara), but she does gain unsubstantiated power through drinking blood. But, again, not a vampire, so she presumably eats a balanced diet of fruits and vegetables when she’s not empowering herself with the blood of her enemies. She can also telekinetically manipulate blood, and transform it into projectiles, swords, and balloon doggies (though that last one rarely comes up).

Skarlet also has “bloodhound”-like tracking abilities, and, while you may think this trait would grant her some manner of bounty-hunting-based task for her premiere in Mortal Kombat 9, her official job was keeping track of Quan Chi and determining whether or not he was up to anything untoward. Fun fact: she failed. But her boss was dead by the time MK9 concluded, so she didn’t have to worry about a poor performance review. Skarlet does not appear in Mortal Kombat 10, but she teams up with Reiko in service of Havik for the MKX comics, and her ultimate reward is Milenna chopping off her legs (!) and leaving her for dead. And then she died.

Like most dead people, Skarlet returns as a playable fighter in Mortal Kombat 11. In this case, “future” Skarlet appears to still be dead, but a Skarlet from roughly Mortal Kombat 2 (MK9) steps through a time portal to serve Shao Kahn in her usual bloody manner. But, in a more Avengers manner, she just winds up being “the henchwoman”, and is forced to fight (good, time-displaced) Kitana and Jade a couple of times. She loses every time, and winds up impacting the plot at large slightly less than Baraka. Hell, if she didn’t show up for MK11, she could have been replaced by Reptile, and literally nothing would change.

But at least she came back for one game, thus legitimizing the one original fighter from Mortal Kombat 9. This makes a certain amount of sense though, as it appears the MK franchise had been stockpiling all of its kreative juices for Mortal Kombat 10…

Tasty!
Speaking of creative juices…

Next time: Kill the franchise before it breeds!

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: Shujinko & Onaga

Transition!

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance revived the Mortal Kombat franchise, but it was still a game lost in time. Fighting games never truly went away (Tekken bore the burden of an entire genre longer than anyone would have ever expected from a game featuring a panda), but there’s a reason the Playstation 2 era of gaming is known for so many one-player experiences. You couldn’t heart a kingdom or cry up a devil with a buddy, and that was just fine by the public at large. The very concept of an arcade had withered and died, and online play was still a generation away from being stable on consoles (and never mind the internet connections available to most players). In short, multiplayer experiences in MK: DA’s generation were few and far between, and, while there were a few obvious outliers (come and join the Melee!), you couldn’t expect a 2-player fighting game to survive on the meager premise of humans competing.

Make no mistake, the following MK title, Mortal Kombat: Deception is a fighting game through and through. The producers looked at Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, kept what worked (fighting styles, general gameplay, Kenshi), made some tweaks to the formula (added uppercuts across the board, dropped boring arena barriers for death traps, gave Raiden a new hat), and added a few fresh features to keep things interesting (combo breakers and the sensational kharacter find of 2004, Havik). MK: Deception is, of course, a new Mortal Kombat fighting game.

It’s also the game that includes Puzzle Kombat and Chess Kombat.

Look out!

I’m not going to pretend to know what Mortal Kombat’s curators were thinking during the creation of Mortal Kombat: Deception, but it sure seems like the plan was “We’ve got one of the most popular IPs of the last decade, but it’s tied to a genre that is currently dead. Can we try… everything?” Thus, Mortal Kombat incidentally included a puzzle game. Thus, Mortal Kombat incidentally included a strategy game. And, thus, Mortal Kombat included an entire “adventure mode” that could have been a whole game onto itself.

“Konquest Mode” seems like a loose combination of two of the most popular genres of the PS2 era. On one hand, it’s basically a JRPG, seeing the player steer a chosen one through multiple towns and realms, on an epic quest where “random battles” are swapped for the occasional fighting match. On the other hand, it’s a Grand Theft Auto 3-style clone, with a huge, open world begging to be explored and maybe you can punch a random townsperson in the face for no reason. And, in PS2-era Mortal Kombat fashion, it’s in this mode that you unlock half of the roster and many of the alternate costumes (and other goodies), because you can’t spell “Mortal Kombat” without “You’re going to need a FAQ for these unlockables”.

But if you’re going to have an epic Konquest Mode, you’re going to need an epic story to go along with it. You’re going to need a battle between good and evil the likes of which the Mortal Kombat universe has never seen. You don’t need just a hero, you need the hero. And to match said hero, you’re going to need a villain so incredible, so immense, he’s apparently been hiding in the logo since the first Mortal Kombat tournament.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Onaga, the Dragon King.

Roar

Now, to be clear, all of this kanon was retconned just in time for Mortal Kombat: Deception, but these changes have become “permanent” in the (mostly rebooted) Mortal Kombat universe, so let’s all just accept this story like it’s been there since Mortal Kombat 1. Remember Shao Kahn? The biggest bad of Mortal Kombat that has been a threat to Earthrealm again and again? Well, turns out Shao Kahn is clownshoes. In a time long forgotten, Shao Kahn was merely a minor deity of Outworld, and Onaga ruled the realm. We know it was eventually Shao Kahn that conquered Kitana/Sindel’s home realm of Edenia, but it turns out Onaga was the biggest bruiser in the realms, and many of the universes that were conquered and folded into Outworld were Onaga’s conquests. What’s more, Onaga is a literal dragon, and dragons in the MK universe are literally magic incarnate. As a result, Onaga could regenerate any damaged body parts, and, more importantly, he had the innate ability to revive literally anyone from death. So, Onaga had an army, and that army was literally immortal, because he could just CTRL+Z a bloody battlefield, and all his mans would be alive again. Onaga was an invincible warlord that played on Casual Mode and thus could not be stopped.

Well, until Shao Kahn poisoned him and stole all his stuff.

But Onaga had foreseen that being the most hated person in the universe might lead to an untimely end. As such, he set up something of a contingency plan: the last dragon egg in existence could potentially revive a dead dragon man, so Onaga got a cult together to protect said egg in a lava cave (Shao Kahn famously hates diving in lava [it’s bad for his skin]). Additionally, said cult mummified the Dragon King’s entire army, freeze-dried ‘em in a hidden temple, and basically kept the Dragon King’s seat warm for a few centuries. Onaga was coming back to menace the realms once more, it was just a matter of when…

Toasty!

And when Onaga did return, he would be more powerful than ever (yes, even more powerful than an already unstoppable reptile that can revive the dead). Onaga had learned of the Kamidogu, six (or seven) mystical trinkets that existed in the six main (i.e. plot relevant) realms of the MK universe. If one were to collect all of the Kamidogu, they would be able to go Super Sonic summon Shenron go to the moon finally release Mega Man Legends 3 conquer the whole of the universe and become a god among gods. And, since death is more or less a general inconvenience in the Mortal Kombat universe, Dead-Onaga was now free to flutter about the realms and locate the Kamidogus. Spirit Onaga couldn’t physically do anything, but that could be easily rectified by finding the right kind of idiot to do his dirty work.

And that idiot is the protagonist of Mortal Kombat Deception and its Konquest Mode, Shujinko.

protag!

Wait, crap, I shouldn’t say “protagonist”, because Shujinko literally translates to “protagonist”. I should have saved that trivia/wordplay for later! Dammit!

Okay, as you can likely tell by the name, Shujinko was intended to be the “new” lead of the Mortal Kombat franchise. Liu Kang died last game, Kung Lao, Kitana, and Raiden bit it during the finale of Deadly Alliance, and MK was left without a hero. Shujinko was created to fill that spot, and be a true Mortal Kombat protagonist (dammit): the entire point of the story of Deception was that we would see how Shujinko was not the pure and unerringly good Liu Kang, he was a man that trained all his life to be a martial artist, and he meant to do good, but he was also tainted by a literal lifetime of making hard, “evil” choices in the name of what he believed to be a greater good. By the finale of Deception, Shujinko would be a champion appropriate for the dark Mortal Kombat universe: a man that has nearly brought the world to destruction thanks to his own pride, but one now trying to atone (with uppercuts).

Unfortunately, it didn’t work out quite that way, because the whole of Mortal Kombat: Deception makes Shujinko look like an idiot.

Which is fine! Shujinko is an idiot! Konquest Mode is a broad, sweeping story of the Mortal Kombat universe that starts when Shujinko is just an overeager boy anxious to be the next MK Champion, and it ends when Shujinko is old and gray (or white). In that time, Shujinko ventures across the realms, battles untold horrors, and learns the fighting styles of many different heroes and villains. But you know what he doesn’t do? Go to goddamn school. Shujinko has, at best, like a third grade education, and then he spends the rest of his life learning how to effectively punch skeletons. And, don’t get me wrong, it is great to know how to properly palm a skull after tearing out an opponent’s spine, but it’s not something that is going to impress college admissions (at most schools). And, of course, it’s not something that is going to teach you that you’ve spent literally your entire lifetime being deceived by a disembodied lizard king.

The protagonist!

So here’s the soup to nuts story of Mortal Kombat: Deception: Konquest Mode. Shujinko was a young monk with big dreams and no other defining features. He lived in a small, pastoral village of other aspiring MK NPCs. One day, a spirit calling itself Damashi visited Shujinko, and claimed that Shujinko was now tasked by the very gods themselves to collect the Kamidogu of the six realms. To aid him in his quest, Shujinko was granted the magical ability to be able to instantly copy any special move that the programmers decided to grant him. Score. This also meant that Shujinko never really had to train or put any effort into anything. Double score!

Shujinko has a generally bad time on his quest. The whole thing kicks off with him being expelled from his idyllic community when he uses a mystical sword to battle a gigantic mantis. Or something. Then he winds up joining a group of assassins just so he can steal the kamiwhatsit of Earthrealm. Then he ventures through Chaos Realm and winds up stuck in some stupid hedge maze for like a decade. Then he literally goes to Hell, and you would think that would require years of therapy, but it just means he has to visit a friendly magical Native American to get his taint removed. And then there was some nonsense where he kinda started a war between Outworld, Edenia, and Order Realm, but it all worked out well (aside from the part where Shujinko spent many of his autumn years in jail). In the end, it wound up being a big, stupid quest that took nearly a century, about twenty game hours, and somehow involved literally every fighter that had ever appeared in Mortal Kombat up to that point (except the Chameleon/Khamelon twins, because we have enough lizards in this plot, thank you). Fun times for everybody! And Shujinko did wind up collecting the kamidoggies, so the Elder Gods are going to be so pleased when he shows up with…

Oh no! This whole quest where Shujinko repeatedly chose the darkest path available on a mission from “god” turns out to have been a ruse all along. Undeterred by the sheer number of orphanages that had to be burned down on his way to collecting magical objects of abject power, Shujinko never suspected that this whole adventure was a sham. A deception! There never was a “Damashi” at all, it was the Dragon King all along! And Dr. Robotnik is really trying to steal the Chaos Emeralds for himself! Who could have foreseen this eventuality!?

The protagonist!

Shujinko hands the sacred items over to “Damashi”, who reveals himself as Onaga, and is all of five seconds away from turning Shujinko into Shujerky when -simultaneous action- Nitara revives the physical Dragon King by accidentally hatching the baby dragon egg and transferring Onaga’s spirit into Reptile’s body. Yes, I know that sounds kind of confusing, but that’s what happens when you weld the ending from one game onto the “new” story of the next game. So now Onaga is physically alive again (thanks to Nitara, not Shujinko), and he (I guess) walks over to where Shujinko stowed all the Kamidogus, grabs ‘em, and then decides to steal the secret seventh Kamidogu, which turns out to be Quan Chi/Shinnok’s amulet. Onaga stomps over to the Deadly Alliance, kills ‘em all (more or less), and kicks off Mortal Kombat Deception: Proper Arcade Mode wielding all seven god gems.

(And, just for funsies, he revives the good guys that were killed by the Deadly Alliance, and reboots his undead army with a few extra warriors. Quan Chi thought this was a great idea.)

So, with the Story Mode of MK: D done, the “real” story of MK: D is that Shujinko gathered all the dorks that he ran into during Konquest Mode, got them all in one loosely defined tournament, and then pulled off one actually smart move: Shujinko has the ability to absorb the powers (and soundbites) of fighters. If you got, like, every fighter all in one room, he could absorb the power of every fighter. So, basically, the tournament that is Mortal Kombat: Deception was all an excuse to power up Shujinko to the point that he could manifest some kind of glowy, rainbow fist, shatter the Kamidogu that were empowering Onaga (you can just… break divine objects?), and then literally punch the soul right out of Onaga’s body. This frees Reptile to just be Reptile again, and Shujinko is now the once and future protagonist of Mortal Kombat. He might have endangered the whole of existence, but at least he fixed it (eventually).

Look out!

And what did our proud protagonist go on to do after his victory over his former patron? Well, Shujinko was still an idiot, so he got tossed in a dungeon by Mileena posing as Princess Kitana. Shujinko claimed that he was doing this to spy on Mileena and the revived Shao Kahn, but all evidence points to Shujinko absolutely not pulling off such a ruse. Shujinko was released in time for the final battle of MK: Armageddon, but, despite every warrior in history being there for the absorbin’, Shujinko still managed to bite it with everybody else. Shujinko was not to be revived for the rebooted universe (give or take a very out-of-character comic appearance), but he was killed in one ending from Mortal Kombat X, and was then again claimed to be killed by an entirely separate kharacter in Mortal Kombat 11. The message is clear: Shujinko is not the protagonist you are looking for.

And what of Onaga? Well, after his defeat, he was revived almost immediately by Shinnok. The “new” Onaga was now inhabiting his revived, “old” body, which was simultaneously a wonderful way to free up Reptile and explain why Onaga was now only super powerful, as opposed to godly powerful. Onaga fought with the official Forces of Evil at the battle of Armageddon… and died with everybody else. You’d think his magical reviving powers would have come in handy there, but, hey, guess his old body just wasn’t quite up to reviving shape. That’s one less cold-blooded emperor Edelgard has to worry about.

Ouch
Double Ouch
Nobody survives the reboot universe

Onaga is referenced repeatedly in the rebooted universe, but doesn’t actually make an appearance. The writers seem to be sowing some interesting plot beats with implications that Shao Kahn and Liu Kang are both using portions of Onaga’s legendary power (whether they know it or not), but the big guy hasn’t popped up yet. This makes sense, as Onaga’s revival was only thanks to basically the accidents of Shujinko and Nitara doing exactly what they were supposed to do exactly when they were supposed to do it, and asking for Shujinko to be successful in two different universes stretches credibility a bit much. Presumably, Onaga is still sleeping under the hill, waiting for the time of Mortal Kombat’s greatest need.

And if anyone else from Mortal Kombat: Deception shows up in future MK games, you know the franchise is in desperate need…

Next time: I will give you $20 if you can tell me who Dairou and Darrius are right now. (offer void in Earthrealm)

MKK: Jarek & Reiko & Tanya

It’s hard to say what anybody wanted out of Mortal Kombat 4.

Friendly dude

Like, okay, yes, everybody wanted a successful videogame. Nobody got one, but you have to assume someone wanted Mortal Kombat 4 to make the same impact as literally every previous Mortal Kombat. MK4 was the first Mortal Kombat was entering the third dimension, and it would have been nice if that produced a game that was, ya know, enjoyable, too. But gameplay aside, who made it into the roster? Who was going to represent Mortal Kombat in this brand new generation of gaming? Well, we’ve got some of the best of the established roster like Goro, Jax, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, Liu Kang, Raiden, Reptile, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion. That is (almost) the entire MK1 roster, plus Jax, who was originally intended for that adventure anyway. Then we’ve got Shinnok and Quan Chi, who are the new big bads, and were just established in MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero (which, at the time of MK4’s production, was probably assumed to be successful, too). Fujin was also added from Mythologies, and interviews with developers have stated that he was there for further MK:M synergy. What more could players ask for?

Well, how about a little originality? Shinnok, Quan Chi, and Fujin may technically be new fighters, but they’re all from another Mortal Kombat game. Drop that trio, and you’ve just got MK1 + A Few Extra Dudes (and, let’s be real here, Shinnok in MK4 is a discount Shang Tsung already). So the producers could include other popular fighters like Kano, Noob Saibot, and Kitana… but why not make a few changes to those kharacters, and produce all new, all different kharacters! Brand new fighters designed to entice old players! What could possibly go wrong?

Jarek is exactly what could go wrong.

Friendly dude

Jarek is a Black Dragon thief on the run from Sonya Blade and Jackson “Jax” Briggs. He is little more than a petty criminal, but is caught up in a magical fighting tournament when an evil sorcerer decides to try to invade Earth. Jarek chooses to fight not necessarily for his home planet, but to maybe earn his freedom and a few bucks along the way. And if this sounds like Kano’s Mortal Kombat 1 story, that’s because that’s exactly what it is. Jarek is a clone of Kano in all but physical similarities. He’s got the knife throw. He’s got the cannonball roll. He’s even got the laser eye fatality, which is significant, as he doesn’t even have a cybernetic eye.

It was pretty clear, even to the uninformed, generally brain-dead Mortal Kombat fans of 1997 (I have such a low opinion of myself) that Jarek was just a “reskin” of Kano. He was a hastily assembled substitute for a kharacter we already liked (or at least begrudgingly tolerated). What’s more, he wasn’t even an interesting substitute. You replace a thief that is about two degrees removed from being a T-1000, you maybe try to add a little visual flair more exciting than a freaking goatee. Jarek’s signature item is a boring vest, which is less a combat accessory and more something you pick up at The Gap.

Stomping around
Me and the boys looking for trouble

Though, speaking of gaps, Jarek was thrown off a mountain in Jax’s MK4 ending, and that wound up being his kanon ending. Nobody wanted to see Jarek again, and the storymasters of Mortal Kombat were happy to oblige (save an appearance as a generic boss in MK: Special Forces aka the game that killed the franchise). Jarek resurfaced (along with everybody) for MK: Armageddon, where it was revealed that he barely survived his cliff diving (likely because he played enough Tekken to know the trick), and was nursed back to health exclusively by his thirst for vengeance. He became the only officially official serial killer in the MK universe (all the other serial killers are just doing their jobs in a bloody tournament), and returned to fighting wielding a bloody cleaver and his own (marginally) unique special moves. Of course, he fails to get any confirmed kills, and then dies, because nobody cares about Jarek. After the reboot, he appears in the Mortal Kombat X comic as a generic Black Dragon mook, and is last seen rotting in a dungeon with Kano (as you do). Kano escapes. Jarek is missing and presumed boring.

STARS!

Jarek wound up the most obvious loser clone in the MK4 roster, but Reiko had similar origins. Noob Saibot, a confirmed member of Shinnok/Quan Chi’s Brotherhood of Shadow and secretly the titular star of MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero, was initially supposed to be on the default MK4 roster. However, it was decided that his slot would be given to another, newer fighter, and Reiko was born. Reiko basically looked like an unmasked Ermac (that is to say, “red ninja”), but with Brotherhood of Shadow-style facial tattoos (see also Sareena). His special moves were a mix of Noob’s shadow moves and a new, unique shuriken toss. Aside from that, he was pretty unremarkable, and was inevitably heading for the Jarek pile.

Except…

In the original arcade version of MK4 (and the N64 version, for whatever reason), Reiko’s ending was a pretty “we had thirty seconds to make something” affair, featuring only Reiko enigmatically entering a portal. Where is he going? What is he doing? Nobody knows! Like, literally, as the designers have commented they didn’t have anything in mind for poor Reiko. But! The Playstation version of MK4, and the Champion Edition of MK4, Mortal Kombat Gold, modified that ending just a little bit. In the new version, Reiko steps through the portal, and arrives… in Shao Kahn’s throne room. And then he wears Shao Kahn’s helmet! Holy $&$*! Reiko is secretly Shao Kahn! The Gameboy Color version of MK4 even added narration alluding to Reiko wanting to conquer Earth! Oh man!

STARS!

Except it was all bullshit. The developers eventually noted that this whole thing was just done “to be funny”, and, since they didn’t really have anything in mind for Reiko in MK4, tying him to Shao Kahn (at the time, presumed dead) seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t intended as some sort of secret identity situation, simply a way to humorously add a slight bit of depth to a character that is otherwise little more than another ninja.

But that didn’t stop the fan community from speculating for years. Reiko was the orangutan in the fandom for quite a while, until, finally, in Mortal Kombat Deception, Shao Kahn made reference to one of his generals wearing/stealing the good (bad) emperor’s helmet. And thus was a controversy put to rest by a one-off gag line.

Of course, MK loves sniffing its own butt, so Reiko returned in MK: Armageddon as a character that completely ditched the Brotherhood of Shadow, and is now Shao Kahn’s Number #1 Fanboy. He’s got the shoulder pads, his own giant hammer, and can even perform Shao Kahn’s dash (complete with a magical little Shao Kahn helmet appearing during the attack). His ending features Reiko literally becoming Shao Kahn. But that wasn’t kanon. Kanon is that Reiko died with everybody else.

Reiko hasn’t returned for the new timeline, but he was at least mentioned in MK9 as a dude fighting Kenshi off-screen during nuMK2. He was also practically the star of the Mortal Kombat X comic series, but his whole stupid quest to become a god to rival Shao Kahn turns out to be trickery provided by another god, and Reiko winds up destroyed by Shinnok’s amulet. So even when he’s featured in a Mortal Kombat adventure, Reiko can’t win. But at least he isn’t Shao Kahn!

Ambassador of Boomerangs

Our final “clone” character in MK4 is the most successful of the lot… and that might not be an accident. Tanya was originally going to be Kitana, but blue ninja girl was modified into yellow ninja girl in an effort to see more original characters. Unlike Reiko and Jarek, though, this switch apparently happened very early in development, so Tanya wound up with a wholly unique moveset. Tanya has her own fireballs, a drill kick, and even the most powerful of all videogame weapons: the boomerang. Tanya was her own woman in a way Reiko and Jarek couldn’t even touch, and the fact that she resurfaced for later titles seemed to reinforce her status as one of the few gems of the MK4 lineup.

And her general storyline wasn’t bad, either. Actually, scratch that, Tanya’s story is good for general storytelling, but terrible for Tanya herself. Simple rule: Tanya always backs the loser. Always. Right from the start, she’s presented as the daughter of an Edenian ambassador, and she was involved in accidentally allowing Shinnok into Edenia and whoopsie poopsie starting an interdimensional war. However, her ending reveals that she deliberately allowed Shinnok to enter the realm, and was always working with the baddies because… I guess that’s what she does. Shinnok loses, and then she gets a new job with Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, the Deadly Alliance. Then they fail, and she winds up working for the Dragon King, because Baraka said so. This allows her to participate in Mortal Kombat: Deception, and she continues to be the ambassador of evil in MK: Armageddon. She dies a bad guy, but at least she died on the same team as every other bad guy she served before.

Such a friendly lady

Tanya returns in Mortal Kombat X, and is now serving Mileena. Mileena ran for empress on a platform that she would release Edenia from Outworld’s rule, so Tanya battles on her behalf against Kotal Kahn, who wants to make Outworld great again by never breaking up the band. Tanya is featured on Team Mileena during story mode, and returns as a playable kharacter through DLC. Thus, Tanya winds up with a kanon ending that notes she betrayed fellow Mileena acolyte Rain, got his fool ass killed, and is currently chilling in Kotal Kahn’s dungeon. Considering her ending’s only sanguinity comes in the form of “at least I’m not dead”, it seems the current Tanya might have a general idea where a few decades of only serving bad guys gets her. Now I just want to see another MK vs. DC where Tanya winds up hanging out with Harley Quinn and Mercy.

But at least we got one decent recurring kharacter out of the three “clone” characters. Jarek and Reiko might have been complete duds, but Tanya is always a fun time. 33% accuracy ain’t bad. So let’s give Mortal Kombat 4 a healthy review score of 33%. That sounds about right.

Such a friendly lady

Next time: The one completely original Mortal Kombat 4 fighter!