For fighting games, character balance is always key. Months and even years after release, players are howling down the Internet, sending grammatically questionable death threats to the developers because of some OP character or other. It’s a concern, a real concern.
The fact of the matter is, the casts of these titles are designed to be as distinct from each other as possible. You want a good variety of fighting styles, you want the slow-but-powerfuls, the agile-but-weakers. This is why the rosters of Street Fighter, Tekken and the like host fighters from all around the world. A whole range of backgrounds and training styles ensure that every character feels different and that makes the mechanics of keeping everyone on an equal playing field difficult.
Just look at all the patches and updates that hit the average fighter. It’s like a buff/nerf party and everyone’s invited. If the devs aren’t careful, they can whup a previously-broken character with the nerf stick, thus taking them from THE ONLY DAMN GUY EVER PLAYED ONLINE to completely ignored. The opposite is also true. It’s a really delicate balancing act.
Combatants are not created equal. Neither are Kombatants, to use Mortal Kombat’s term (you know what those crazy guys are like, insisting on thrusting Ks where Ks don’t belong). There’s a real disparity between the highlights and lowlights of the roster, which is why we’re here today. Prepare your eyes, ears and vomit reflexes for Mortal Kombat: The 8 Coolest and 7 Lamest Characters in the Series. Coolest first, naturally.
15 Coolest: Freddy Krueger
With the last couple entries, Mortal Kombat has seen more celebrity cameos than The Tonight Show. Among other playable movie icons, we’ve seen Jason Voorhees, The Predator and, of course, everyone’s favourite melty-faced murderer, Freddy Krueger.
For horror fans (the kinds of guys and gals who would be drawn to Mortal Kombat’s evisceration-heavy combat), the addition of Freddy was a real treat. This much-beloved genre icon needs no introduction and translated perfectly into the game. Quite the beast he was too, with his spammable glove projectiles and other spike-related shenanigans. The coolest part about his addition was his movie-authentic fatality, an homage to young Johnny Depp’s (bless him and his eighties hair) death in the original movie.
14 Lamest: Mokap
Fighting games do love their joke characters. Tekken with its boxing kangaroo/velociraptor, Street Fighter’s lovable-yet-hopeless Dan, all these sorts of guys. They’re the comic relief in a genre that’s all too often hyper competitive and unfriendly.
With that said, nothing screams brilliantly-freaking-ridiculous like seeing the original motion capture artist. This completely (and hilariously) ruined the scene in Jurassic World where Chris Pratt gets into the enclosure and talks to his raptors for me, and Mokap did the same for Mortal Kombat matches.
Introduced in Deadly Alliance, this character is, as the name implies, just a dude in a mocap suit. He uses an array of martial arts styles (think Tekken’s Mokujin), none of which can be taken seriously because of the goddamn pingpong balls all over his body.
13 Coolest: Sub-Zero
Sub-Zero, ladies and gents. It doesn’t get any cooler, literally, figuratively or metaphorically, than this guy. The Mr. Freeze of Mortal Kombat, minus Arnold Schwarzenegger’s ballachingly bad puns. I’ve always been a fan, but the problem is, so have many, many other players. There’s a bit of Ryu syndrome about the character because of that, but that’s really not his fault.
Sub-Zero has been a series stalwart since the first release back in 1992. Long-time rival to Scorpion and his fiery ways, this Chinese shoto warrior has it all (as long as ‘it all’ is ice related): He can manifest blades of ice from nowhere, freeze opponents and render them briefly immobile, impale them on shards of flash-frozen spikey pain… What more could you ask for? Nothing, that's what. What an ice-cold stud this guy is.
12 Lamest: Nightwolf
Now, I have no real beef with Nightwolf. Not in terms of game mechanics, anyway. He uses dual tomahawks to decapitate his opponents and that’s the kind of chutzpah you just can’t argue with. What makes Nightwolf lame in my book is the fact that he’s one huge wolf-loinclothed cliché.
Much like Street Fighter’s T. Hawk, this Native American warrior is a spiritual, tree-hugging sort of fella, who has more bluebirds landing on his shoulder than the average Disney princess. He’s a solitary shaman who fights for the forces of good and has done his bit for the warriors of Earthrealm time and again. Which is cool and all, but I can’t help thinking that he could’ve done with being a little more on the undead side. You know, just to fit in.
11 Coolest: Erron Black
Frankly, Erron Black would fit just fine on either side of the cool/lame divide. It just depends who you’re asking. That’s true of any character, of course, but few are quite as divisive as this Texan cowboy.
Sure, there’s something just a little Village People about him. He might spend his spare time dancing provocatively on stage with a construction worker and a policeman, but let’s not be too judgmental. This mercenary was hired by Shang Tsung 150 years before his first playable appearance in Mortal Kombat X, promised that his aging would be slowed down if he murdered one of Khan’s Earthrealm targets. In the game itself, Black’s gunslinging play style sets him apart in a cast of dark magic-wielding monsters and makes him quite a novelty.
10 Lamest: Noob Saibot
The Mortal Kombat franchise is notorious for its palette swaps, as players will know. Back in the day, the only way you could tell Sub-Zero from Scorpion, Kitana from Mileena and so forth was the colour of their outfit. After the palette swaps had their palettes swapped ‘til they could be swapped no more, the team hit on another idea: just remove all colour entirely. And so shadowy cop-out ninja Noob Saibot was born.
Sure, Noob has his place in Mortal Kombat lore, being the reanimated form of the original Sub-Zero. He’s always been quite the beastly character in gameplay terms, too. Honestly, though, is that enough to compensate for the fact that he’s called ‘Noob’? Even if it is the reverse spelling of the name of series co-creator Ed Boon? That’s a no from me, Simon.
9 Coolest: Reptile
Reptile is another character who tends to split the fanbase into love-him-or-hate-him factions. As far as I’m concerned, though, Reptile gets a yes from me every time.
This guy’s roots also go all the way back to the birth of the series. In the 1992 original, he wasn’t playable, appearing only as a hidden boss after certain conditions were met. Back then, he was nothing more than another palette swap (Sub-Zero blue, Scorpion yellow and Reptile green), but he’s come a long way since then. Reptile is now a servant of Shao Khan, working to achieve his ends in the hope that his kind will be resurrected.
Let’s not forget his awesome acid-spraying abilities too. Such a damn beast. One cold-blooded killer not to mess with.
8 Lamest: Bo' Rai Cho
Now, I’m a bit of a genre buff,and I can tell you this for certain: there just isn’t enough weaponized flatulence and vomit in fighting games. There’s a simple reason for this; nobody damn well wants any. Still Tekken 3 brought us Gon, the teeny farting dinosaur, so why shouldn’t Bo' Rai Cho be given a chance too? Spoiler: because he sucks. That’s why.
This snarky stereotype of the old drunken master arrived with Mortal Kombat X’s second DLC pack. A roly-poly guy armed only with a stick, he’s got a fine array of puke projectiles and other tricks to bring the fight to his foes. Bo' Rai Cho was probably a joke too far, getting perhaps the worst reception of all the new Kombatants the tenth game introduced.
7 Coolest: Ferra & Torr
Mortal Kombat X introduced a healthy hunk of new characters and mixed it up with all manner of ghastly-ass creatures while they were about it. Among these, Ferra & Torr was possibly the coolest concept, a symbiotic pairing of two (think Plants vs Zombies’ Gargantuar, only with the little guy permanently welded to the giant’s butt).
Ferra and Torr are Kotal Khan’s bodyguards, so you’d expect them to be pretty damn handy in a fight. If you’ve ever played as this unique pair, you’ll know that’s the case, as they mow foes down with a blend of brute strength and deft scythe-play. They’re a lot of fun to use and bring something new to the roster in the way that quickly shorehorned in characters simply can’t. Great concept, great design.
6 Lamest: Motaro
Ah, Motaro. You, my friend, are lame in a whole different way. You’re just an ass in every sense that one of those horse dudes from Harry Potter can be. That boss fight was super cheap, even for a game that also includes Shao Khan. That’s the kind of benchmark we’re talking here and I think it says it all. Screw you, Motaro. Screw you always and forever.
The Centaurians are allied with Khan, who sent Motaro to Earthrealm to destroy its band of goodly warriors. He’s damn well equipped for the job, too, with that energy blast-launching tail and complete immunity to projectiles. Who thought that was a good idea? I’ll tell you who didn’t: my sorry butt. This dude’s right up there as one of the toughest single player opponents in the series.
5 Coolest: Scorpion
Scorpion, huh? Much like rival and counterpart Sub-Zero, this undead ninja is one of the classic Kombatants. The poster boy for the franchise, really, and you’d better GET OVER HERE and respect that. His sole goal in (un)life is to defeat his frosty foe and avenge his own murder, and that’s more than enough cause for 25 years worth of decapitations, mutilations and disembowelment.
As Sub-Zero wields the power of ice, so Scorpion fights with fire magic. Also like his ninja rival, everything about Scorpion is iconic. His soundbites, his trademark chains, his whole brutal-even-by-Mortal-Kombat-standards combat style… This guy has transcended his own series to become an icon of the fighting genre itself. Which is, whichever way you slice it, pretty good for a dead guy.
4 Lamest: Kobra
Really, there’s no need for Kobra to exist. He is, quite literally, the Ken Masters of Mortal Kombat. During the game’s development, he was referred to as ‘Ben Masters’ for his resemblance to the Street Fighter mainstay. Ken, you probably know, is the rival of the more-or-less-exactly-the-damn-same-albeit-infinitely-cooler Ryu and one Ken is more than enough. So, when the rumor started to circulate that the blond martial artist from New York was going to make a playable cameo in Mortal Kombat, nobody was too happy.
The truth wasn’t much better: Kobra was a slightly different blond martial artist from New York. His bloodlust gets him involved in the Black Dragon syndicate, but nobody’s paying too much attention to what he’s doing because, whichever way you slice it, he’s just ass.
3 Coolest: Mileena
Oh hell, it’s Mileena. Have you ever seen the movie Teeth? That’s totally her, right there.
I don’t know about you, but when it comes to badass females in the Mortal Kombat universe, I’d say that she’s the ultimate. A brutal, dual-sai-wielding assassin, this Kitana palette swap has been subverting stereotypes about women in fighting games for some time now.
Skimpily-dressed lust objects? Mileena’s having none of that. You can keep your most awkward of awkward boners to yourself. Her outfits leave little to the imagination, but her psychotic nature and chew-your-damn-face-off fangs strike a better blow for girl power than the Spice Girls ever did. She’s one of the highest-ranking women in series lore, too, pushing for the Outworld throne as Shao Khan’s heir. An all-round classy, horrifying act.
2 Lamest: Hsu Hao
Now, we all know that universal popularity is impossible. When Justin freaking Bieber releases a new song, and Twitter’s soiling its undercrackers over how ‘perfect’ it is, you can feel like you’re the only sane person left, helplessly drowning in a sea of stupid. But there are always others who feel the same way. And who feel the opposite way, because universal hatred is also impossible. Still, some characters come close and Hsu Hao is one of them.
(Almost) nobody at all likes Hsu Hao, the entirely forgettable Red Dragon assassin. The developers wanted to make his death in Deadly Alliance permanent, but had to resurrect him as part of the next title’s full-cast ensemble. His design’s awful. He’s the ugly duckling of the Mortal Kombat universe, sans the swan part.
1 Coolest: Stryker
I don’t know, maybe this is a little controversial. But hell, you’ve got to admire Stryker’s chutzpah. This guy’s got cajones.
A regular NYPD riot cop, with no magical powers, no ability to launch undead fireballs from his ass or spit corrosive acid or any of that. No real place in Mortal Kombat, I guess you could say, if you’re a glass half empty kind of person. But let’s not be Negative Nancies. Let’s applaud this ordinary dude for being completely unphased, getting in there and ripping spines out with the best of them.
He’s definitely an anomaly, but why not? The odd curveball never did anyone any harm. Who’d bring a stun gun to a dark magic fight? This legend, that’s who. Someone likes you, Stryker.