The evolution of Scorpion and Sub-Zero

Two ninjas, 19 years of Mortal Kombat, and one shared destiny

Mortal Kombat II (1993)

A year after Mortal Kombat shocked parents and rocked arcades, its sequel brought a ton of improvements to the franchise – and to its resident ninjas, as well. No longer a pair of baggy-costumed sadsacks, they were sleeker, more muscular and sported identical facemasks that we’re pretty sure started life as part of a paintball mask.


Above: Yep

Sure, the two were still functionally identical, but nobody at the time really cared. Especially not when they saw how much prettier the new game’s graphics and gore looked, or how much cooler the ninjas’ signature moves were.

Their new incarnations also brought a few fresh special moves with them, with Sub-Zero now able to create slick patches of ice to render attackers helpless.


Above: Not to mention hilarious

Meanwhile, Scorpion had, uh… a new leg-grab.


Above: That’s pretty exciting, I guess

On the plus side, however, he could also now execute his teleport punch in midair, which was kind of funny if you did it while the other guy wasn’t jumping or far enough away.


Above: Ha ha, whoops

Snazzier uniforms and new attacks weren’t the only changes Scorpion and Sub-Zero underwent in the sequel, however. Finishing the game with Sub-Zero, for example, revealed that he wasn’t the warrior fans remembered from the first game. Instead Sub-Zero had been killed by Scorpion, leaving his younger brother (played in the ending by designer/programmer Joshua Y. Tsui) to enter the new tournament in his stead. (The older brother was later revealed to have become shadowy secret character Noob Saibot.)


Not seen: This guy as Sub-Zero, ever again

Interestingly, this fact was not lost on Scorpion, who had a remarkable change of heart regarding cold-powered ninjas.

Regardless of any newfound motivations, the pair had no trouble killing each other, this time with an expanded roster of Fatalities that – in Sub-Zero’s case, anyway – drew a little inspiration from the censored Nintendo version.


Mortal Kombat 3/Ultimate MK3/Mortal Kombat Trilogy (1995/1996)

While Sub-Zero and Scorpion had been largely identical palette-swaps of each other up to this point, the third Mortal Kombat shocked fans by actually making them distinct from each other. Not only that, but it unmasked the previously Chinese Sub-Zero as beefy white actor John Turk, slapping a scar over his eye (which supposedly came from Kung Lao’s hat) for good measure. More puzzling still was the decision to make him shirtless apart from the blue straps of his uniform, which made it look like his spandex dance pants were held up by giant novelty suspenders.

Whatever you thought of his new appearance, though, it was hard to argue with his skills onscreen. Now outfitted with paralyzing dial-a-combos and the heretofore undheard-of ability to run, Sub-Zero lost one of his old special moves – the frozen-puddle “attack” – but replaced it with the slightly more useful ice clone maneuver.

MK3 also added the ice shower, apparently meant to confuse opponents by dumping unpredictable blasts of freon on them from above.

Not everyone liked Sub-Zero’s maskless face and moveset, so to pacify those fans, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 introduced Classic Sub-Zero, an apparent reincarnation of the O.G. Chinese ninja warrior. Essentially just another palette-swapped ninja in a game full of them, Classic borrowed his versus-screen portrait from Reptile…

... and his onscreen stance from Scorpion…

... but otherwise he played a lot like the MKII incarnation of Sub-Zero, complete with the old ice-puddle ability.


Above: Still funny

He also brought his old, spine-ripping Fatality back into the action – or at least, he brought the suggestion of it, since the screen would always black out right after he grabbed his opponent’s head.


Above: LAAAAAAAAAME

CSZ might have appeared to be the Second Coming of the current Sub-Zero’s older brother, although again, MK canon now tells us that was Noob Saibot. So who was this guy, really? According to his ending, he unmasked himself as a warrior who’s “long been absent from Mortal Kombat,” and who would “return in the fourth tournament.” Going by that description and what we know about MK4, our guess is he was really the fighter known as “total bullshit.”

Meanwhile, what amazing new skills did Scorpion bring to counter all these changes in his old rival and new protege? Well, see, he had an axe.

It came out during his combos.

What, you were expecting more?

All right, to be fair, Scorpion did eventually get one new special move: a forward-flying version of his teleporting punch. However, that didn’t happen until the console-only Mortal Kombat Trilogy. Not that he really needed it, though – why bother weighing him down with new attacks when his harpoon is still one of the best special moves in the game?


Above: Still got it

Interestingly, while MK3 preserved the “Scorpion now protects Sub-Zero” business from MKII, it also made Scorpion a bad guy. His ending revealed that he’d eagerly joined forces with villain Shao Kahn for a ticket out of the hell-like Netherrealm, and rebelled only after it became clear that carrying out his orders would mean hurting Sub-Zero.

Of course, there was plenty of newness in the two ninjas’ finishing moves. And given that MK3 sported more than any other game in the series, there were plenty of bizarre new ways to humiliate and dispatch your opponents.


Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (1997)

This wasn’t such a bad idea on paper. Giving one of the most popular characters in a popular fighting franchise his own side-scroller actually made pretty good sense, especially considering that it promised to give the fans who cared about MK’s story a glimpse into the origin of Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s feud. It would also fill in some of the backstory for Mortal Kombat 4, hopefully giving fans a deeper interest in the terrible new characters Quan Chi and Shinnok.

Unfortunately, MKM: Sub-Zero ended up a terrible mess of ugly sprites, cheap deaths and a button you had to hit just to change the direction you were facing, and the less that’s said about it, the better. True, it did seemingly retcon a few things about Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s shared past, establishing that Scorpion had always been a yellow-clad ninja, and that his family and the Shirai Ryu clan – previously implied to be alive in MKII – were dead as well, which is interesting. However, you can learn pretty much everything you need to know about Mythologies, and Sub-Zero and Scorpion’s roles within it, just by watching this video:


Above: DON’T BOTHER WORRYING ABOUT ESCAPE

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.
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