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MKK: Ermac & Rain & Chameleon & Khameleon

I enjoy this format of presenting complete biographies for each fighter in (roughly) chronologically introduced order, but it does have its drawbacks. For instance, Scorpion’s biography explains his complete history through every single Mortal Kombat tournament… but fails to note the fairly significant (at the time) issue of Scorpion not appearing in Mortal Kombat 3 proper. Yes, there was a game without Scorpion! Scorpion, Reptile, Kitana, Jade, and Mileena all were left on the cutting room floor between MK2 and MK3, and only returned for MK3’s upgrade, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. You would think the easily color swapped ninja would be first on the roster, but, maybe in an effort to make way for robots, they were all benched until the MK3 revision. And when those ninja came back? They came back with a vengeance.

Ermie

Mortal Kombat 3 featured Sub-Zero out of his traditional uniform. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 added Scorpion and Reptile to the regular roster. And then it added two duplicate hidden kharacters (“klassic” Sub-Zero and “human” Smoke), one sprite-modified hidden fighter (Noob Saibot was a shadow of Kano for vanilla MK3, but was now back to being a ninja), and one completely new, secret ninja. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the one and only Ermac, Mortal Kombat’s greatest lie.

Please tell your cousin Jimmy this simple truth: Ermac does not appear in Mortal Kombat 1. He’s not there. Period. End of story. I don’t care what you read in that one issue of EGM you found in a South Carolina convenience store, he’s not in there at all. However! There is a stat screen on the backend of the arcade version of Mortal Kombat 1, and, just below the statistic for how many times players have fought Reptile, there is an entry for “ErMAC”. This was merely a way to note how many times the game had glitched! It theoretically stood for “Error Macro” (or at least something “error” related), and was not a secret count of how many times a player fought “Ermac”. Ermac is not a red color swap of Scorpion, and there isn’t some secret way to fight him on the home ports.

But! The folks behind Mortal Kombat are complete dicks whacky jokesters. Since people combed over Mortal Kombat 1 to find “ErMAC” in the first place, the producers of Mortal Kombat decided to run with that complete nonsense. In obvious commentary on the situation, defeating Shao Kahn in MK2 could unlock a phrase that, when unscrambled, would read “Ermac does not exist”. Additionally, Jade, the hidden female ninja of MK2, would occasionally pop up and state “Ermac who?” On a more “private” joke level, MK coders would deliberately include statistics in future games meant to mislead enterprising players. “Kano Transformations” was a stat in MK2, a game severely lacking Kano, and Johnny Cage received the same treatment in MK3. And that’s why you can’t trust any code in a Mortal Kombat game to reveal future DLC…

Ermie

But, eventually, someone decided it was time to introduce the “real” Ermac, so (unlockable through a secret code that could be entered after every Game Over) Ermie made the scene. And… well… at least he had his own moveset… err… sorta. A lot of his powers were based on “telekinesis”, which is just a cost-cutting measure for everything from TV shows to videogames that allows you to use special effects without having to add an ounce of visual flair (I think Houdini pioneered that trick). Who needs a fireball when you can just say “I’m hitting you now” with invisible force? And, similarly, Ermac’s backstory was another trick of the eye: he’s a collection of souls merged into one being, and… that’s it. That’s pretty effective for a hidden kharacter, as it allows him to be literally anyone, personality or backstory wise, but it’s also a big, glowing “we’ll figure out his real story later” sign. Amusingly enough, his MK3 ending noted that he would return for MK4… which never happened. Ermac already had plans! He had to go to his sister’s wedding!

Ermac then faded into the background of the MK universe. He was referenced in MK: Deadly Alliance as the friendly fellow that taught Kenshi how to use telekinetic powers (which was likely just an answer for anyone complaining about Kenshi using another fighter’s special moves), but then returned as a playable fighter in Mortal Kombat: Deception. It was at this point that it was noted that Ermac was enslaved by Shao Kahn, but was free upon Kenshi cutting the cord (likely literally). Ermac was now a being made up of a bunch of random souls with a whole lot of opportunities available to them (also, this is where they started using more inclusive pronouns, so I may as well honor that going forward). And they chose to fight for good! The “usual” heroes were all kinda-dead and completely-enslaved by the Dragon King, so Ermac used his magical soul abilities to kick all their asses, and then transfer their (good) souls back into their (bad) bodies. Thus, Ermac basically became the second good wizard in the MK kast, and wound up best friends with Liu Kang’s wandering soul. They’re soul pals!

Then they died during Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. It was the popular thing to do.

Ermie

Ermac gets to actually be a presence in the rebooted version of Mortal Kombat 1. For the record, they are introduced as “Shao Kahn’s latest creation”, so this version, like Mileena, is effectively a very pissed-off child. But who gives a damn, because, like every other Kahn flunky, they mostly exist for the good guys to have someone to clobber every other round. However, they did get a chance to prove their power when telekinetically obliterating Jax’s arms during Mortal Kombat 2. Aside from that, though, Ermac only got a bit of interesting backstory during their (non-kanon) ending that revealed Ermac contained the soul of King Jerrod, Sindel’s deceased husband (and king). Unfortunately, that never comes up, and Kitana has no idea her deadbeat/dead dad is actually that wizard in the tournament tele-slamming her twin sister.
Ermie

So, fun timeline divergence: Ermac was freed from malevolent control in the original universe, but Shao Kahn just plain dies in the reboot, so Ermac winds up sticking to Team Baddy. Ermac initially serves Shao Kahn’s apparent heir, Mileena, but leaves her employ when Reptile (of all people!) reveals that Mileena was just some monster from the flesh pits. As a walking soulnado, you’d think Ermac would find that endearing, but, no, they defect and join team Kotal Kahn for the remainder of the adventure. Unfortunately, this doesn’t lead to any remarkable adventures for Ermac, and they just wind up (yet again) as a lackluster minion. But! Ermac’s ending reveals their soul situation could be a portal for the return of Shang Tsung, and apparently one of Ermac’s “collected” souls is Shao Kahn, so Ermac is basically a walking, talking plot device for reviving notable villains. That could have been really relevant if Mortal Kombat 11 didn’t decide to just use time travel to explain literally everything. Oh well!

Ermac pretty much petered out as a ninja, but did wind up with a complicated life despite starting as nothing more than a joke. That reminds me of another joke…

Risk of Rain

Rain was created with the invasion of other Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 ninja. Kinda. Like Ermac, Rain was another stupid joke from the good folks at Mortal Kombat Enterprises (“We go through more blood before 10 AM than most people do all day”). Rain was a purple ninja that appeared during the attract sequence of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. And that’s the only place he appeared. He was not a real playable or fightable kharacter, he was just there to get your quarters as you desperately searched for how to unlock that one dude from the intro. Not that I’m bitter about this or anything, but this does influence my statement that Mortal Kombat creators are history’s greatest monsters.

Oh, and the name? He’s a purple ninja named “Rain”. Purple. Rain.

And when he finally got a backstory, it was revealed he was a prince.

There isn’t very much to Rain. He was not a “real” kharacter in Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3: Arcade, but did become a real boy in time for the console ports. Sheeva was dropped from the roster on the 16-bit editions, but Rain got his own history and special moves. Rain was noted as an Edenian (like Kitana), but he defected and joined Shao Kahn’s army. MK: Armageddon (four games later) was his next appearance, and that revealed that he was the bastard son of an Edenian god (thus explaining Rain’s ability to summon lightning and, uh, rain), and that was actually relevant, as the twin protagonists of that adventure were Edenian godlings, too. Of course, none of those kharacters actually impacted a damn thing, so Rain was left with little to do in the grand scheme of the MK Universe.

Risk of Rain

Rain did return as DLC for Mortal Kombat 9, though, thus rounding out the roster of “everybody from Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3”. Once again, it was confirmed that Rain was a Prince, a demi-god, and a general jerk to everyone in his immediate area. That’s about it! Mortal Kombat 10 actually features Rain in the main plot… Well, that might be a bit of a stretch. Rain.. uh… participates in Story Mode. He’s one of Mileena’s flunkies (probably because they have similar taste in outfits), and “reveals” that he was going to betray Mileena and steal the throne for himself… but literally everyone working for Mileena already had that plan. He doesn’t succeed, naturally, and fades back into the rich tapestry that is the Mortal Kombat mythos.
Risk of reptile

Speaking of which, it’s time for a song!

You know Scorpion and Noob and Rain and Reptile
Smoke and Ermac and Sub-Zero for a little while
But do you recall
The least famous ninja of all?

Chameleon the multi-colored ninja
Was responsible for a lot of gore
But if you never saw him
You were playing on the N64

All of the other ninja
Had very particular moves
Chameleon had to steal all of ‘em
Even though Scorpion disapproves

But one foggy October Eve
Ed Boon came to say
“Chameleon with your powers so immense
Your ending is going to make zero sense”

So that’s how his creators left him
Without a solid backstory
Chameleon, the multicolored ninja
You’re the worst in history


Risk of reptile

Where was I?

Oh yeah, Chameleon was a male ninja that appeared in Mortal Kombat Trilogy, but only on the Playstation 1/Saturn/PC version. Chameleon has never had a backstory past “Chameleon: he exists”. Khameleon, meanwhile appeared in Mortal Kombat Trilogy for the N64, and she got the tiniest smidgen of a backstory. She apparently is the last remaining female Zaterran, but is not giving Reptile her number, because he is a mess, and she’s not dating anybody without a driver’s license. In fact, Khameleon’s whole deal is that she seems to be the last dinosaur person that has her s$%^ together, as she apparently knows her whole race’s history. … And that’s probably why she rarely participates in Mortal Kombat. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of all the ways her people have been roundhoused into oblivion over the years…

Khameleon made her only other appearance in Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, but exclusively in the Nintendo Wii version. Once again, she confirmed her status as the last living lizard with a brain, and she… died at the end with everyone else. At least both of the Zaterrans went out together. She’s theoretically palling around somewhere in the rebooted Mortal Kombat universe, but she’s only ever been referenced by Bo Rai Cho telling Reptile “there is another…” This is equal parts kanon and a Star Wars gag.

And that’s it! We’re done with all the ninja from the first three Mortal Kombat titles! Finally!

Risk of reptile lady

Next time: A ninja’s mythology. … OH GOD DAMN IT!

MKK: Goro & Shang Tsung

Look out!

Back in the day, Mortal Kombat stirred up a lot of controversy. We were told the “fatalities” were beamed directly to Earth by space aliens in an effort to desensitize our youth, and, just when we had finally gotten over that “controversy”, there was the whole deal with Nintendo and Sega choosing different routes for censoring the home versions. While it seems almost insane to ponder now, ask any “90’s kid” what was the big deal about Mortal Kombat, and they’ll give you one response: the blood.

And somewhere in all of that controversy, people forgot one other important thing about Mortal Kombat 1: it was damn hard. Mortal Kombat 1 is the Dark Souls of fighting games from 1992.

As a quick reminder, beating Mortal Kombat meant you first had to beat the entire roster of fighters, including the iconic Mirror Match. That was followed by three Endurance Matches, which were a completely unfair set of 1 v 2 battles. Assuming you could beat opponents with technically twice as much health as your chosen fighter, the following match would be even more insane. Ladies and gentlemen, Goro lives!

Goro was pretty impressive for the time. In a game featuring motion-captured actors, he was a Claymation powerhouse meant to evoke monsters from the early days of cinema. Four arms, twelve fingers, a confusing number of pectoral muscles, an innate dislike for pants: he was basically The Incredible Hulk crossed with another Incredible Hulk (that had a lower set of arms). And he felt like an impassable brick wall, too. He was stunned very rarely, projectiles bounced right off those amazing abs, and when you got hit by Goro, you got hit by Goro. On paper, his moves were nothing special (a fireball and a jump stomp? Lame), but anyone that ever had a few quarters riding on defeating the half-man, half-dragon Champion of Mortal Kombat knew that all Goro needed was one good punch. Defeating Goro took skill, patience, and maybe a little luck. Goro is the Dark Souls of fighting game sub-bosses.

Unfortunately, Goro went downhill from there almost immediately.

Now he sucks!

Mortal Kombat 1 Goro was mute (save a roar or two), and his biography basically consisted of the fact that he was two millennia old (!) and had been the uncontested champion of Mortal Kombat for 500 years and nine generations (however that works out). He killed Kung Lao back in the day… and that was it. He was nigh immortal, he was going to kick your ass, and there are decent odds he beat your grandpappy’s ass, too. That is all Goro needed! But, when he surfaced for Mortal Kombat 4, he was literally back with a vengeance (for Liu Kang), and wound up being so lame, he lost to (this generation’s) Kung Lao (spiritually Liu Kang’s annoying little brother). Then he returned for Mortal Kombat Deception (or at least the Gamecube version), and there was this whole complicated story about becoming a general in Kitana’s armies, but he was back-attacked by Noob Saibot, and he was left for dead, and he was found by an injured Shao Kahn, and Shao Kahn shared his life force so Goro would live, so Goro decided to rejoin Shao Kahn, but first he had to fake his own death by putting his royal seal on a slain Shokan warrior, and now Goro lives, but in an effort to return Shao Kahn to his throne because he owes him a life debt. Got all that? I don’t mean to insult any wookies that might be floating around the forum, but, seriously, dudes? You made Goro the Unstoppable into friggen Chewbacca. Chewbacca is strong, yes, but he’s a giant teddy bear! Kinda literally! And, surprise, Goro’s return appearances after Mortal Kombat 1 were just about as threatening as fighting a teddy bear. By the time Armageddon rolled around, Goro was officially palling around with Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung again, and his former might was all but a memory…

Look out!  He's got a skull!

But in Mortal Kombat 9, Goro returned as Champion of Mortal Kombat, and he was a generally mute threat again. Hooray! And then he came back in a non-kanon DLC role for Mortal Kombat 10, and he’s just kind of an almost-mute threat, too! And in the Mortal Kombat X tie-in comic, he has some weird redemption arc that goes absolutely nowhere! And in Mortal Kombat 11, he’s dead for some reason! Okay! Whatever! Truly, balancing Goro’s character arc versus his status as a threatening foe is the Dark Souls of plotting.

Meanwhile, Shang Tsung has a pretty significant backstory that goes back before Mortal Kombat even got going. First of all, he started out as a human of Earth, and fought in at least one Mortal Kombat tournament some 500 years back, but cheated through some unknown means. Considering this is a fighting tournament that routinely involves magical skeletons from Hell fighting dudes with four arms wielding four spiked knuckles, I would really like to know what could be considered cheating. Regardless, Shang Tsung was disqualified for being a jerk, but Shao Kahn, Emporer of Outworld, decided to adopt Shangy, because I guess every organization needs a guy who cheats ineffectively. Shao Kahn taught Shang Tsung how to become a sorcerer, and then, in a marginally unrelated incident, Shang Tsung was cursed by the Elder Gods to devour souls whenever he committed homicide. Given how the MK Universe works, this would be akin to being cursed to eat a delicious chocolate cake every time you got a coffee. I guess the Elder Gods were trying to curse Shang Tsung to be fat? Soul fat? It’s a confusing universe.

More skulls!

Anyway, this whole “soul curse” thing spectacularly backfired, as Shang Tsung grew strong by feeding on the souls of his enemies and inheriting their skills and memories. When Shang Tsung showed up for his next Mortal Kombat (possibly under a soul-stolen new shape/identity), he won the whole thing, and Shang Tsung was set to be new Champion of Mortal Kombat on behalf of Shao Kahn and Outworld. But Shang Tsung was defeated by Kung Lao, an ancient warrior and ancestor of Liu Kang. Kung Lao reigned as champion for at least a generation (fun fact: Mortal Kombat Champions do not age, which is a pretty sweet prize for punching people to death), but then Shang Tsung returned with a four-armed monster man. Goro became the official Mortal Kombat Champion for the following 500 years, and, somewhere in there, Shang Tsung, ever the Don King to Goro’s Tyson, built his own magical island for future Mortal Kombat tournaments. In earlier games, this was just a random island where Shang stowed his gold and various monks, but later titles have made the island a magical place with forcefields, zombies, and Shang’s own private Soulnado. It’s a pretty impressive island fortress, and the only drawback is that, thanks to yet another curse by the Elder Gods, Shang Tsung has to do all the landscaping himself.

So, by Mortal Kombat I, Shang Tsung was snug as a bug in an evil island powered by the souls of the dead rug. Liu Kang defeated Goro, though, and Shang Tsung was a last-minute addition to the tournament in an effort to trounce the forces of Earth. Unfortunately, the dude that can transform into any fighter isn’t really much of a threat for the guy that has already defeated every fighter, and Shang Tsung’s reign was ended with a swift kick to the face.

Look out!  The most skulls!

Shang Tsung then becomes the toady-based through line for the next two Mortal Kombat tournaments. First, in a desperate attempt to not be homicidally punished by his boss Shao Kahn for fumbling a five century-long play at the goalpost, Shang Tsung suggested having a better, slightly more purple tournament in Outworld for Mortal Kombat 2. Shao Kahn really liked this idea, so he restored Shang Tsung’s youth. Or he just didn’t want to smell old man Shang Tsung anymore. Whatever the reason, a vibrant Shang Tsung fought as a “normal” participant in Mortal Kombat 2, though he did retain his shape-shifting abilities from Big Boss College (he got a BS in weak point reduction). When that plan inevitably failed, he was instrumental in the revival of Shao Kahn’s undead queen on Earth, so Shang Tsung once again earned a tournament invite for the forces of evil. Unfortunately, he lost, repeatedly, and, by about the time the forces of Outworld were being beat back to their outhouse dimension, Shao Kahn had had enough of the sorcerer’s sass mouth, and Shang Tsung wound up in a dungeon (probably in Kano’s used shackles).

Shang Tsung spent all of Mortal Kombat 4 on the bench, but he returned in Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance to form the… Deadly Alliance. Neat! Quan Chi (the MK2/3 Shang Tsung of Mortal Kombat 4) had a plan to pilfer his boss’s magical amulet, revive the Dragon King’s Army, and conquer all of existence. Unfortunately, in order to reanimate an army of the dead, he needed a decent soulmancer on the payroll. Shang Tsung fit the bill, and, while Shang had had a rough year or so, he had been the king of Mortal Kombat for a solid few centuries. Shang Tsung and Quan Chi thus teamed up, and, first order of business: (kinda) kill Shao Kahn. Then it was off to (really) kill Liu Kang. After that, the duo set up shop at an all-new Soulnado, acquired some local real estate, fought the forces of good, and, in a surprise upset, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi actually won. With Liu Kang dead, the dastardly duo defeated all of Earth’s forces, and actually fulfilled their quest to revive the Dragon King’s Army. Sweet! Unfortunately, they also kinda sorta revived the Dragon King, too, who promptly killed everybody in attendance. So close!

No skulls...

Thus, Shang Tsung didn’t show up for Deception, but he did return for Armageddon, as, apparently, he had pledged his soul to Shao Kahn a few centuries back, and, so long as Shao Kahn lived, he could summon Shang Tsung back to life, too. Good thing Shang Tsung was so bad at killing Shao Kahn two games back! Shang Tsung wound up helping Shao Kahn regain the throne of Outworld, and, since Shao Kahn then went on to win Mortal Kombat Armageddon and thus prompt Raiden to reboot all of reality, Shang Tsung could totally note on his resume that he was partially responsible for the destruction of a universe. You know, if anyone could remember that universe…

Oddly enough, Rebooted Mortal Kombat 9 Shang Tsung had nearly the same Mortal Kombat 1-3 arc, though with one vital difference. When Shao Kahn revived his queen, he sucked all the souls out of Shang Tsung, and gifted them to his lady love. This had the side effect of making Sindel into an unstoppable monster, and making Shang Tsung super-duper dead. And he stayed dead! Mostly! Shang Tsung is Mortal Kombat 11’s first DLC character, and he’s a time-displaced version of his older/younger self. Apparently, it is kanon that the Goddess of Time identified Shang as too damn treacherous for her generally malicious schemes, so he had to be hidden in the DLC department until which time he was willing to play nice. But other than that, Shang Tsung Prime died a good two decades before the end of this universe.

Morphin' Time

WEIRD FACT: Shang Tsung’s ending for Mortal Kombat Armageddon sees Shang gain god-like power, and, when Shao Kahn objects, Shang Tsung transforms his old boss… “into a centaur slave”. Now I’m not going to jump to any conclusions here, but it seems very likely that Shang Tsung belongs to the loyal order of centaurphiliacs, and the writers have just not yet found a way to sneak that information back into the main kanon. Keep an eye out, true believers!

Next time: Cold-blooded ninja.