Have you heard? Mortal Kombat 11 is coming soon! The powerful franchise came out of its lull after a reboot in 2011, and it has been smooth sailing ever since. In fact, it could be argued that the series is currently at its creative peak, with superb gameplay and an interesting story. Basically, we are super excited for the return of one of the best fighting games around.
When we get excited, we have a tendency to rank things, so this is the perfect moment to explore Mortal Kombat’s rich history. The games have given us iconic characters that have become staples of pop culture, but they also has provided us with some incredible duds that were put aside as soon as they were created. So why not look at both sides of the coin?
The ten characters we picked as the strongest are the best of the best. They are Mortal Kombat elite, either because they are so much fun to play, or because their storyline is so cool that a player would be willing to look past their flaws.
And then, on the flip side, we have the weakest. Once you reach a certain point of mediocrity, it’s hard to know who’s more terrible than their other inept colleagues. Therefore, the order is approximative. The one point that the fifteen weak ones have in common is that they are laughable, either by their design, their backstory, or because they are simply awful to play with.
Your mileage may of course vary depending on your degree of comfort with the games and with each characters’ individual attributes. I am average at best, despite my enthusiasm for the series, so think of this as the common man’s Mortal Kombat fighters rankings.
24 WEAKEST: Kai
Kai suffers from being the eternal backup character. His debut in Mortal Kombat 4 basically only served the purpose of being friends with Liu Kang, a character much more interesting and important than him.
Even his fatalities felt like rip-offs of those of better characters.
When Kai did not prove to be a success, that role was taken over by Kung Lao in the next few games. Kai was thus rendered useless, and did not appear again until Armageddon, which does not really put him in good company.
23 STRONGEST: Liu Kang
Liu Kang was the hero of the first Mortal Kombat and has kept trying to follow the right path in a world full of murderous fiends and bloodthirsty tyrants. As the original Earth Champion, Liu Kang’s design is classic and elegant. Even his weird left turn into zombie territory did not change his brutally efficient fighting style. The reboot has steered the character’s direction to the dark side, but Liu Kang’s deeds are still done in the same powerful yet stylish fashion.
22 WEAKEST: Jarek
Jarek is just too similar to be anything else than a wannabe Kano. If you take him on the value of what he brings to the game’s lore and mechanic, he has absolutely nothing to offer. As Kano’s second in command in the Black Dragon organization, he has nothing special going for him. The fact that he also debuted in Mortal Kombat 4 makes me realize that the game was probably a low point for the series. His backstory is too similar to his mentor’s. His biggest claim to fame is stealing Kano’s moves and doing them less convincingly.
21 STRONGEST: Cassie Cage
Cassie Cage is the daughter of Johnny Cage and Sonya Blade, and as such, she represents the best of both characters. She has their combined athleticism, on top of her mother’s intelligence and her father’s confidence.
The result is an impressive fighter with one of the best finishing moves in the series.
The Selfie Fatality shows that she is from a different generation, but also shows the morbid sense of humor the series is known for. Possibly, she is the best addition to the roster since Mortal Kombat 3.
20 WEAKEST: Shujinko
When we meet him, he is already an old man, but the storyline of Deception makes it clear that Shujinko has been a fool for a long time. As a youngster, he was convinced by a disguised Onaga to go on a lifelong quest to revive him, even though he is a dragon-like demon king. This ranks pretty high on the lost of boneheaded decisions in Mortal Kombat lore. His only selling point is that he spent years of training, and thus, can imitate other fighting styles. All this means is that he steals moves from other, better fighter.
19 WEAKEST: Stryker
Yes, Stryker has evolved and gotten better since the reboot, but for someone who has been playing since the first game, it’s hard to forget the original Stryker. He was the only character with a gun, and he moved so slowly that he could be dominated by any of the other fighters. The weird mullet and the backward cap didn’t help either. He was just so normal. He is like Johnny Cage or Sonya Blade, but without the attitude or the charisma.
18 STRONGEST: Onaga
Clad in a spiffy armor, Onaga is nothing less than the Dragon King. Sure, he was away for a while, but he was still intelligent enough to convince Shujinko to spend his entire life doing his bidding and preparing his comeback.
Once he was finally unleashed, it was basically game over for everyone.
As one of the toughest boss characters in the series, he was even more impressive when you could take control of him. He might not have been the best villain in the entire series, but he’s in the conversation.
17 WEAKEST: Kobra
Kobra might be filling a hole in Mortal Kombat’s roster, but that does not make him a great character. Instead, it just makes him a pale copy of Ken Masters. Looking like the Street Fighter veteran had done the Fusion Dance with the bad guy from Karate Kid. In fact, Kobra is such a chump that his Armageddon ending is basically a long fatality of which he is the victim. In it, he gets figuratively stabbed in the back by Kira, the woman he loves, after he used his own wish to demand her immortality from the Elder Gods. Even when he wins, he loses.
16 STRONGEST: Goro
Goro is the original four-armed dude. He was the character that struck fear in the heart of everyone who played the original Mortal Kombat. After running the gauntlet through the entire roster, facing the ominous Goro was a genuinely stressful moment for many gamers.
His return as a downloadable character in Mortal Kombat X was glorious.
It’s an evolution of the character which kept intact his best attributes and improved on everything else. Plus, he finally got his very own Fatalities, and a series of Brutalities that are not for the squeamish.
15 WEAKEST: Kira
Equally as powerless as Kobra, Kira is just a regular human being with subpar moves. Her one advantage over the rest of the roster is that she is more cunning than Kobra, being the one to take away his life with a kiss once she is made a Goddess in the guy’s own ending. Her moveset is a mix of Kano’s and Sonya, which makes you wonder why they didn’t just add the originals to the roster instead. As is, she was just an uninspired copycat.
14 STRONGEST: Shao Kahn
Goro might have been the original boss, but games after games of added narrative have made it clear that Shao Kahn is the true big bad of the entire series.
Even when he gets taken out, you just know that he’s going to come back somehow.
Sure, he might often feel overpowered, especially in the hands of a skilled adversary, but it’s just too much fun to smash people with that gigantic hammer he carries around. Simply put, it wouldn’t feel like Mortal Kombat without our barbaric overlord.
13 WEAKEST: Bo’ Rai Cho
I was torn on this one. I used to think Bo’ Rai Cho was hilarious, but having grown up along with the games themselves, I now find the character’s one joke to be wearing thin. In fact, I think that the Mortal Kombat development team understood that themselves, fleshing out his character significantly for his return in MKX. Sure, he is Liu Kang’s master, but being someone whose big special move is puking on the ground was a stylistic choice obviously made to appeal to a certain segment of the population.
12 STRONGEST: Kotal Kahn
Now, what if Shao Kahn was just a little less of a jerk? Then you would end up with Kotal Kahn. He is just as powerful, but somehow less eager to use it. He’s not necessarily looking for a fight, but he’ll give you one if that’s what it takes. He is also the opposite of Reiko in that he is rendered even more awesome in the game’s associated comic. In it, he ripped Goro’s arms off, destroyed Rain, and rode a dinosaur into battle. Thankfully, all signs point to more Kotal Kahn in Mortal Kombat 11.
11 WEAKEST: Motaro
Motaro never was the best boss in the series, but what he lacked in efficiency, he more than made up with his interesting design. The centaur really stood out from the pack, being the only 4-legged character in the extended roster, but even that was taken away from him in Armageddon.
The game took away two legs and turned him into a minotaur.
The story says it’s because of a curse, but the developers confirmed that they didn’t want to spend too much time programming a different body type. The reboot got rid of him quickly, because why even bother at this point.
10 WEAKEST: Li Mei
Li Mei did have an interesting backstory, being one of the few regular people to hail from outside of the Earthrealm. Fighting for revenge after her village was destroyed, her cool motivations were kind of undercut by the aesthetics of the time. Obviously, her outfit represented the worst of a certain period of video games history. It didn’t help that her fighting was equally substandard and uninspired. She was forgotten after a few games, but her recent cameo in the latest sequel has hinted at a potential return. At least, her character model seems to have evolved with time.
9 STRONGEST: Ermac
For a character whose story started as a literal glitch in the arcade version of the first game, things sure have improved for Ermac. Originally one of the dreaded palette-swapped ninjas, he was gradually changed into a sorcerer who is a combination of the most powerful souls in Mortal Kombat history. This gives him a varied and surprising move set, including a mastery of telekinesis and one of the most intense Fatalities in the franchise. He’s often the most fun character to play of any game in which he appears.
8 WEAKEST: Tanya
It’s hard to look at Tanya and not see “yellow Kitana/Mileena”. Just like Ermac, Rain, and Chameleon, she suffers from Mortal Kombat’s old tendency to create new color-coded ninjas with every game. Debuting in the dreaded Mortal Kombat 4, she was promptly dumped from the sequel for being so forgettable.
She is basically a serial backstabber who switches allegiances depending on who’s in charge.
Thankfully for her and her fellow “clones”, NetherRealm Studio went through an extensive redesign of the old palette-swap characters. Her return in MKX was a mixed bag, but things are finally looking better for her.
7 STRONGEST: Scorpion
Scorpion has been in there since the original game, and he was an immediate favorite because of his undeniably appealing design. He has the fire, the spear, and the simple fact that he is a crazy skeleton ninja with revenge on the mind. Whether you are spamming the spear or fighting like a pro, his move set is always a blast. There’s a reason why every single kid wanted to be dressed like a Mortal Kombat ninja for Halloween in the 90s.
6 WEAKEST: Reiko
Reiko’s entire career (and it wasn’t a long one) is one big joke. He appeared in Mortal Kombat 4, where his ending was just entering a portal to Shao Kahn’s chamber and putting the helmet on. This could have been a good plot twist, but Midway later confirmed that he just wanted to put it on to feel its power, and that he was not, in fact, Shao Kahn in disguise. Then, he appeared in a comic linked to Mortal Kombat X, where he is killed by Havik in short order. And… that’s it! Better luck next time, Reiko.
5 WEAKEST: Nightwolf
Even if you look past the character’s stereotypical portrayal, there is still plenty to dislike with Nightwolf. His first appearance in Mortal Kombat 3 was a disappointment, as every other character had a better move set than the poor guy. He did get better with time, but it took a complete overhaul in the 2011 reboot to stop him from being a total pushover. Finally, his appearance in the MK: Annihilation movie made him seem even lamer than everyone else, which is quite the feat in a movie where everyone looks bad.
4 STRONGEST: Sub-Zero
As the other main reason for the Mortal Kombat ninja craze, Sub-Zero is the total opposite of his nemesis. I give him the edge for the fact that he has one of the most interesting storyline in the entire series, and because his ice-based offense is consistently one of the most impressive of every game in which he appears. When you stop to think about it, the name “Sub-Zero” is a quite tacky, which makes it even more amazing that he managed to stand out from the crowd anyway.
3 WEAKEST: Mokap
Even if he did not look so normal and bland, Mokap would still be a bad character. Debuting in Deadly Alliance, he was only playable again in Mortal Kombat Armageddon, which is no real merit when the game was specifically about reuniting every single Kombatant ever. As a stunt double responsible for the motion capture of CGI characters in Johnny Cage’s movies, Mokap arrived in the Netherrealm completely by accident. With no real reason to be there and no desire to be in the fight at all, he’s just a lame comedy character with bad moves.
2 WEAKEST: Hsu Hao
Hsu Hao is a complete disaster. Not only does he work for a knock-off of Kano’s big crime organization, he can’t even be the boss of the whole thing! Instead, he does what most “criminal” characters in the series do, and fashions himself after the original.
His big innovation? He has a laser in his heart, unlike Kano, who has one in his eye.
That’s a problem, because since the reboot, Kano has a heart laser too. Hsu Hao has thus been rendered completely useless and redundant. Unless he gets a serious redesign, I can’t see him returning anytime soon.
1 STRONGEST: Raiden
The basically immortal Raiden is one of the best characters the Mortal Kombat team ever designed. His move set keeps evolving, but the basis has stayed stable for a long time because it is so fun and so effective. His story is also basically the narrative backdrop of Mortal Kombat itself, as he is responsible for the reboot and for most of the Earthrealm’s effort against the bad guys. He was also the best character in the first (and only good) Mortal Kombat movie, so Raiden truly excelled any way you look at it.