Mortal Kombat 4 (1997)
By the time Mortal Kombat finally went 3D, Sub-Zero had decided the whole exhibitionism thing wasn’t really working out, and went back to wearing his mask in public. Scorpion, meanwhile, had opted to get a much cooler, skull-faced mask, a toned-down version of which was worn by an uncharacteristically heavyset actor in the game’s commercial/ PSOne-version intro movie.
Neither of them had to keep their masks on, though. This being the first 3D Mortal Kombat, alternate costumes were easy to pull off with minor changes to the character models. By switching over, Sub-Zero could again go unmasked (although he kept his shirt on this time), or take on an icy-limbed appearance was similar to his look in later games. Scorpion, meanwhile, could wear a red costume like Ermac’s, or just do away with all pretense of not being a skullfaced hellspawn.
Scorpion also got some new special moves this time around. In addition to his classic harpoon and teleporting punch, he could (finally!) yank off his hood to breathe fire in the middle of a match.
Also, MK4 gave every character an optional weapon. Instead of keeping his sweet axe from MK3, however, Scorpion’s new blade of choice was a lame, stiff longsword that was arguably better for throwing than it was for executing combos.
Meanwhile, MK4 was Sub-Zero’s turn to look resistant to change: while he retained his standard ice blast, ice clone and slide abilities, he didn’t come equipped with any new ones. He did, however, get to tote this stupid-looking club around.
Also, the developers decided that two ninjas fighting would be much cooler than two ninjas being friends, so Scorpion’s feud with Sub-Zero was temporarily revived. Bald, white-faced sorcerer Quan Chi somehow convinced Scorpion that the younger Sub-Zero had played a role in the extermination of his clan. Scorpion once again declared the vendetta over by the end of the game, but relations between the two would never again be quite so amicable as they had before.
Of course, the two rivals had plenty of ways to kill each other in the meantime. The roster of finishers was hugely simplified after the ridiculous excess of MK3, but Sub-Zero once again busted out his big brother’s spine-rip (which caused an eruption of giant, almond-shaped blood drops), and Scorpion could now transform into an actual giant scorpion, making up for his weird penguin Animality in MK3.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance (2002)
Given that MK4 was widely seen as one of the worst games in the series, proof that Mortal Kombat was in decline, etc., it wasn’t all that surprising that the next MK sequel took a good five years to surface. And when Deadly Alliance finally arrived, it was nothing less than a complete reinvention of the series. Where MK had always been fast, silly and over-the-top, the new game was bloodier, less jumping-friendly and had a slower, heavier feel to it. Never mind that it still spelled everything with a “K” and had a character whose special moves involved puking and farting – this was a “serious” fighter, where manly supermen steeled their jaws at manly angles and tore each other apart with manly punchings.
Above: GRRRRRR HRRRRRRNNGH
Few characters emphasized this newfound masculinity better than Sub-Zero. While he’d been put back into his ridiculous giant suspenders/lifejacket ensemble from MK3, it somehow looked less absurd when paired with his frost-covered forearms, greatly aged appearance and now-bluish eye scar.
Above: The dry-ice breath only added to the intensity
Appearance aside, this new Sub-Zero was just as overhauled as the rest of the game was. While his old ice ball was still kept as a concession to fans, he’d lost most of his other moves – including the ice clone, which was replaced with this odd standing-freeze move:
His iconic slide was gone as well, replaced with a more punch-centric version that he’d keep through the next couple of games.
Finally, like every other character in Deadly Alliance, Sub-Zero now had three fighting styles to choose from, which affected the strategies and combos available to him. Two were unarmed, but the third let him bust out the Kori Blade, an ice sword that looked a hell of a lot cooler than his stupid club from MK4.
Meanwhile, those who missed Sub-Zero’s old moveset could check out his sideboob-sporting new disciple, Frost, who – like Classic Sub-Zero before her – filled in the gaps with a ground-freeze and a more recognizable slide.
Of course, Scorpion wasn’t left out of the fun. Bigger, buffer and more ninja-like in appearance, he nevertheless had some familiar tricks up his (nonexistent) sleeves – really, would it even be a Mortal Kombat game without his harpoon?
He didn’t stop there, either; his old teleport punch was gone, but it its place was the ability to pull off a fiery flip-kick…
… and flames he could call up from Hell to briefly toast his opponents:
He also carried a ninja sword for use with his weapon style, and while it wasn’t much more impressive than the ugly longsword he carried in MK4, it arguably fit in better with his new appearance. Speaking of new appearances, those who didn’t like the new ones could switch over to a more elaborate version of Sub-Zero’s old costume, or a weird, Ghost Rider-ish alteration to Scorpion’s getup.
As for the classic feud between the two ninjas, it stayed dorman after being laid to rest at the end of MK4. Sub-Zero became grandmaster of his shadowy Lin Kuei clan, and Scorpion continued to pursue his new vendetta against Quan Chi, who he’d since learned was actually responsible for the annihilation of his clan.
Of course, Deadly Alliance had its share of Fatalities, but for some reason cut them back down to one per fighter. (Probably because that’s more “serious.”) In Scorpion’s case, he’d put his harpoon to good use by slamming it through his opponent’s head…
… and then he’d tug on it until it ripped free, splattering his enemy’s brain into chunks in the process.
Meanwhile, Sub-Zero went for a variation on his old spine-rip fatality, this time by plunging a hand into his opponent’s back…
… and pulling out a prize. And by “a prize” we mean “his enemy’s entire bloody skeleton, leaving the boneless mass of a corpse to slump into a disturbing heap of jellied flesh.”