As gamers prepare once again for Mortal Kombat, in the form of the upcoming back-to-basics title from NetherRealm Studios and Warner Bros. Interactive, we compiled a list of our favorite classic kombatants to make the character select screen a little less daunting when players finally get their hands on the new title.
We’re currently hard at work on our review of the latest Mortal Kombat (spoiler alert: it’s fun) but, since the Mortal Kombat 9 storyline itself centers on a reimagining of the events from Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, and Mortal Kombat 3, we thought it’d be fun to take a look back at some of the coolest characters to ever stand toe-to-toe in the original 2D tournament trilogy.
A few rules before we get started:
- Characters must be playable in the original three titles - i.e. none of the bosses from Mortal Kombat Trilogy or any new additions from the 3D model games (Mortal Kombat 4 and forward).
- Characters had to be intentional roster entries — i.e. no “glitch” characters such as the Lady in Red from Mortal Kombat II.
At the point the franchise made the jump to 3D environments for Mortal Kombat 4, Ed Boon and Co. had already created over 25 playable characters in the series — very few of which were duds (we’re look at you Stryker). As a result, narrowing the list down to our ten favorite kombatants was not easy — meaning several fan-favorites failed to make the cut.
While we certainly appreciate series protagonist Liu Kang for his years of sticking it to Shang Tsung, the Shaolin Monk pales in comparison to some of the other more intriguing characters from the franchise. Outworld Princess Kitana shared a similar fate, aside from possessing one of the cooler weapons in the game (razor blade fans), she lacks the entertaining/alluring oddity of her Tarkatan clone, Mileena. Reptile hit his stride in Mortal Kombat II but, even though he was a cool entry, in a room full of over-the-top ninja assassins, the character wasn’t nearly as fun to play as his original mystique might have indicated. Lastly, there’s no doubt that Johnny Cage shadow-kicked (and split-punched) his way into our hearts but, aside from being the go-to character for nostalgic gamer girlfriends, with Outworld mutants and an Elder God to choose from, a shirtless Van Damme knock-off in track pants comes off a little too Jersey Shore to be in our top 10.
#10 - Jax:
While the first iteration of Jax wasn’t especially exciting, since the character looked more like a third tier WWE star in tight Lycra pants than a capable kombatant ready to go toe-to-toe with mercenaries and sorcerers alike, The Major returned in MK3 sporting his now iconic bionic arms. Jax, out of all the characters in the series, is by far the most physical — and dangerous at close range with his signature “Gotcha” grab and backbreaker air-counter serving as two of the most satisfying moves from the original trilogy.
#9 - Kung Lao:
Kung Lao was first introduced in Mortal Kombat II and quickly proved to be more than just the hat-wearing Liu Kang clone some gamers might have pegged at first glance. Not only has Kung Lao continually played an integral part in the franchise’s rich fiction. He’s also been privy to a number of entertaining moves, not to mention iconic finishers — with his most recent fatality (featured in the Mortal Kombat trailer) prepared to set a new bar for cringe-inducing video game brutality.
#8 - Baraka:
Despite Outworld’s reputation as a realm full of danger and mysterious enemies, many of the characters from that side of the portal were disappointingly human-looking — Baraka put a non-human face (and bladed arms) to Outworld by introducing players to the indigenous Tarkatan race. Baraka was definitely the weirdest entry in the Mortal Kombat canon (at least up until the inclusion of cyber-ninjas in Mortal Kombat 3). However, what the mutant lacked in good looks, he easily made up for with satisfying moves (like the shredder and blade spark).
#7 - Sonya Blade:
While not nearly as unique as some of the other kombatants on the list, Sonya Blade is integral to some of the more interesting story-threads in the Mortal Kombat universe — such as her pursuit of Kano, which led to her imprisonment in Outworld — and the subsequent introduction of Major Jackson “Jax” Briggs. The first female character to grace the Mortal Kombat game universe, Sonya had no trouble getting many adolescent boys hot under the collar - exemplified in her iconic Kiss of Death fatality.
#6 - Raiden:
Late-to-the-game fans of the Thunder God may not remember that in the original Mortal Kombat, Raiden was a self-centered jerk that, in his non-canon ending, invited other Gods to participate in the tournament — resulting in the end of the world. As Boon and Co. fleshed out the story for MK II, Raiden was rebranded as the protector of the Earth Realm — a role that has played a major part in the canon story going forward. The starring role, coupled with fun moves (the torpedo and shocker) as well as a set of shocking fatalities, solidified Raiden’s place as one of the most memorable kombatants in the series.
#5 - Shang Tsung:
Following the four-armed dragon hybrid Goro, Shang Tsung might have felt like an afterthought in Mortal Kombat — until he transformed into a previously defeated kombatant, stealing all of their signature moves. The choice to give players access to the character as well as his ability to transform in Mortal Kombat II was a bold move and, despite Shang Tsung’s limited arsenal of unique special attacks, the character still provides experienced players with a stylish way to dispatch opponents.
#4 - Mileena
Mileena and Kitana entered the tournament in Mortal Kombat II, doubling the amount of female fighters in the series (since Sonya was tied-up at the time). As mentioned earlier, Kitana’s fan attacks top Mileena’s reliance on the more traditional ninja-sais but what the purple-clad kombatant lacks in moves, she makes up for in disturbing style. Throughout the series, the developers have reveled in Mileena’s Tarkatan/Human pedigree — creating one of the most disgusting-yet alluring fighting-game characters ever created, as exemplified in her upcoming/creepy Mortal Kombat fatality.
#3 - Smoke:
Smoke debuted as a hidden fighter in Mortal Kombat II but it wasn’t until he returned as a Lin Kuei cyborg, not to mention the series’ first post-release unlockable fighter, that the character emerged as an iconic MK staple. Many players will easily recall the satisfaction, and ease, of pulling off the character’s teleport uppercut, harpoon, roundhouse combo in their local arcade. Smoke has gone through a number of questionable transformations in subsequent installments but, no matter what Boon and Co. do to the character, it’ll be hard to unseat Cyber Smoke as one of MK’s best.
#2 - Sub-Zero:
Despite the fact the original Sub-Zero was killed at the hands of Scorpion in the first Mortal Kombat game, his younger brother took up his mantle, aiding in establishing Sub-Zero as one of the most exciting characters in the franchise. Even though the character has undergone numerous physical transformations, he’s always been a consistent and worthy leading-man in the series — and utilizing his cryomancer abilities in kombat (most notably the ice freeze projectile) never gets old.
Not to mention, Sub-Zero remains an anti-censorship staple, with a near two-decade long legacy of not just facing off against Outworld threats, but outraged parent groups as well - as a result of the character’s infamous Spine Rip fatality.
#1 - Scorpion:
The Mortal Kombat franchise has never suffered from a shortage of ninja assassins. Throughout the years, the MK developers have done a good job of explaining the army of masked fighters in the MK universe by weaving an engaging tale of warring ninja clans. Subsequently, it’s easy to forget that originally Scorpion was nothing more than a color variant of Sub-Zero.
However, despite his humble beginnings, Scorpion has not only become the most recognizable character in the series — he also sports some of the most iconic attacks (such as his notorious harpoon/”Get over here” move) as well as fatalities (Toasty!). Throughout the nine Mortal Kombat installments (not to mention movies, comics, and now a webseries), the character has offered some of the most engaging story chapters in the overarching canon.
If you enjoyed our list, don’t miss our choices for the Top 10 Best Mortal Kombat Fatalities.