The evolution of Shang Tsung and Reptile

Much as we love Mortal Kombat, it feels like the series has had a progressively lamer cast of villains with every installment. Shao Kahn? When you get right down to it, he’s just a big, half-naked dude with a hammer and a super-cheap fighting style. Shinnok’s a pale old man in a stupid hat, Onaga’s the kind of villain a 12-year-old would draw on a binder, and Blaze is just another beefy guy made of fire. And don’t even get us started on their henchmen. Drahmin? Moloch? Quan Chi? Motaro? What an ugly bunch of sadsacks.

As far as we’re concerned, Mortal Kombat still hasn’t topped its original villains: the millennia-old shapeshifter Shang Tsung, the four-armed nightmare named Goro, and Shang Tsung’s creepy little helper-ninja, Reptile. And as luck would have it, all three are about to be shoved back into the limelight next week, when the new Mortal Kombat rewinds the series’ clock back to its beginning. Before that happens, however, let’s take a look at the ways those characters have evolved and changed since their first appearances 19 years ago.

Except Goro. Goro never changes.

Mortal Kombat (1992)

When Mortal Kombat first began, Shang Tsung was presented as the consummately evil, soul-stealing grandmaster of the Mortal Kombat martial arts tournament. Sort of like Han from Enter the Dragon, but with magical powers. He was unique among fighting-game bosses at the time, in that he showed up not only at the end of the game, but also in a couple of backgrounds, making him a near-constant presence throughout the game.

Above: In his throne room, he’d even clap for the winner

Once the champion of the tournament, Shang Tsung had lost his title some 500 years previous to a warrior known as the Great Kung Lao – only to regain it after getting his four-armed monstrosity, Goro, to enter the tournament and kill Lao on his behalf. As the story later went, Shang Tsung and company were just one win away from making Earth vulnerable to invasion by Outworld, but at the time of the first game’s release, his motives weren’t entirely clear. Liu Kang’s quest to stop him seemed like an attempt at vengeance more than anything else, seeing as Lao was Kang’s ancestor.

Whatever his motives, after you’d finally pushed through Goro to face him, he just sort of looked like an old man in a bathrobe.

He was a floating old man, sure, but an old man nonetheless. However, he could do this, which made him kind of a pain in the ass.

Of course, every MK fan knows that skull-fireballs are the least of Tsung’s talents. His real power is everyone else’s power, which is to say he can shift into any other character instantaneously and use all their abilities. Not only was this like fighting every other character in the game (including Goro), but the unpredictability of the shifts was enough to keep most players on their toes.

Those who managed to defeat him got to see the sad results of all his years of soul-stealing: he’d freak out in place, as ghost images of himself would flake off and morph into other fighters who would fall down, defeated. This went on for what felt like several minutes.

Also, while it’s well known that the early MK games loved to double up on actors – martial artist Daniel Pesina, for example, played not only Johnny Cage but also all of the ninjas in the first two games – it’s less well-known that the actor who played Tsung was none other than Ho-Sung Pak, who also played Liu Kang.

As tough as Tsung was, though, he was obvious; you fought him just by going through the game. His henchman Reptile was another story.

Above: Hoo boy

While finding Reptile was made much easier in the console versions, MK’s first-ever secret character was a bastard to find in the arcade, and would occasionally drop down before the beginning of a match with some cryptic hint, like “Alone is how to find me” or “Perfection is the key.” The real key, however, was playing on the infamous Pit stage when a shadow (which could look like a witch, blimp or UFO, among other things) flew in front of the moon. This would only happen after all the stages had cycled in full a certain number of times (we got it to happen after five cycles).

Once you’d seen the shadow, all you needed to do was finish the match with a Double Flawless victory, perform your Fatality at the end and not touch the block button during the entire match unless it was necessary to said Fatality. If you could do all that, then you got to go to the bottom of the Pit and get your ass kicked right the hell off.

Above: For some reason, he was wrongly called “Scorpion” in the arcade version’s life bar

Originally, Reptile wasn’t a reptilian creature at all, but a mashup of ninjas Scorpion and Sub-Zero. The name Reptile was given to him simply because combining yellow and blue made green. Lizard or no, he was wicked fast, and was able to throw not only Scorpion’s harpoon…

… but also Sub-Zero’s ice ball, which gave him both high and low stun attacks, and made dodging him difficult.

If you lost to him – which was pretty likely – you’d learn that he could do both Scorpion and Sub-Zero’s Fatalities, as well.

As enigmatic and malevolent as they were, Shang Tsung and Reptile wouldn’t stay cloaked in mystery for long. In fact, when the next game came along, they’d become downright accessible.


  • Meleedragon27 - April 18, 2011 4:12 a.m.

    Am I the only person who really liked Reptile's lizard-man design from Deadly Alliance? Yeah, I thought the head a bit small for his body, but I thought it was a cool design for him. Though I guess his current incarnation is cool, too... Really loved this special and the Sub-Zero/Scorpion one. Shame Kombat Week is pretty much over, these specials got me all excited in the game again, and I'm not even a fighting game fan.
  • AntistasMetroid - April 17, 2011 11:07 p.m.

    WIKI! YOU DID ANOTHER ONE!? Clearly your beard has given you the endurance of a god! Love these things man. Got me all pumped for Tuesday. Thank you for this awesome week of kontent! You are no mere mortal my friend. These two evolution features must have taken a while and i appreciate all of it. Fantastic work.
  • Siion - April 17, 2011 4:17 p.m.

    Mortal Kombat was a franchise i skipped but i am finding myself reading these articles none the less, its interesting to hear the history. Keep up the good work.
  • TheElephantManchurianCandidate - April 16, 2011 2:32 p.m.

    Awesome article! For some reason these two have been my favorite characters for like ever. Can't wait to play them as a tag team together in the new MK
  • SilentTee - April 16, 2011 11:52 a.m.

    @MikelReparaz I do hope you guys find the time to do more these. I think I would like it for any of the characters honestly.
  • marioman50 - April 16, 2011 5:01 a.m.

    I'm really liking these "evolution" features, Mikel. I didn't even know about Reptile's secretive origins, or the boss battle with Shang Tsung in MK1, as I've honestly only played MK3 and Deadly Alliance.
  • GamesRadarMikelReparaz - April 15, 2011 11:40 p.m.

    @SilentTee: Cool, glad you're liking them so far. Kung Lao was one I strongly considered, along with Raiden, since they've been through a lot of changes as well. Unfortunately, there wasn't enough time this week to do a third evolution feature. Johnny Cage, though... apart from his moves and the actors playing him, I think that would just be me going, "Uh, in this one, he wore these pants and sunglasses... and in the next game, he had slightly DIFFERENT pants and sunglasses, and also bigger hair."
  • philipshaw - April 15, 2011 2:18 p.m.

    Another great retrospective Mikel
  • NightCrawler_358 - April 15, 2011 12:18 p.m.

    Reptile looks cool in the new MK, but I liked Shang Tsung's PS2 era look. not the alternate outfit one though... Hope to see profiles for the rest of the characters. *cough*Baraka*cough*
  • jmcgrotty - April 15, 2011 9:29 a.m.

    "Sort of like Han from Enter the Dragon" Dumbasses! Han was in the Star Wars movies. (Relax, folks. I'm kidding.) Seeing all of these iterations of Reptile, I am torn. I like his original ninja appearance but absolutely hate when they acknowledged that he was a real reptile species by making him look like a reptile. I guess the latest version works for me, where it is apparent that he is still sort of a reptile (but not over the top), but that it's hidden behind significant ninja properties. I know I am in the minority with this, but I actually loved it when they kept adding more and more finishing moves. Except for babalities. Didn't like that one. Of course, Mortal Kombat doesn't hold a candle to Tattoo Assassins, which has 2,196 fatalities. Seriously. SilentTee: "I thought it was Henry Rollins not Hank... but I could be wrong". You're kinda both right and wrong. Most people call him Henry Rollins, but Hank is a shortened form of Henry. Isn't used often, though, and is more of a nickname. So, Henry Rollins = Hank Rollins. Much like how John F. Kennedy = Jack Kennedy.
  • cyclone306 - April 15, 2011 9:25 a.m.

    so awesome! Fuck recaptcha.
  • SilentTee - April 15, 2011 9:07 a.m.

    I'm loving all this Kombat week content! It's great! 1. I thought it was Henry Rollins not Hank... but I could be wrong. 2. Hoping for another one of these evolution features on maybe Johnny Cage or Kung Lao.
  • paganpoet - April 15, 2011 5:16 a.m.

    @rottenpiggypie, err, they did an article on Scorpion and Sub-Zero yesterday.
  • rottenpiggypie - April 15, 2011 4:30 a.m.

    I understand that Shang Tsung and Reptile have had a very strange history of evolution, but seriously GR....You couldn't have picked two more...uh...recognized characters for this subject matter??? *Cough-Scorpion & Sub-zero-Cough*
  • MrSuitMan - April 15, 2011 4:29 a.m.

    Lovin these retrospective guys. Reptiles was always one of my favorite MK kharacters.
  • XLGirthMan - April 15, 2011 3:58 a.m.

    I'm pretty excited because I preordered from Amazon, so I get Reptile's original appearance and fatality
  • TheWebSwinger - April 15, 2011 3:28 a.m.

    1st: These two characters are AWESOME for another "Evolution of" Feature. Especially reptile. 2nd: "Wizard and Lizard". Nice. 3rd: I much much preferred Reptile when he was just a pallette swapped Sub Zero. I hate the more lizard-y costumes.
  • Synchronatic - April 15, 2011 3:16 a.m.

    I've gotta say, I preferred Reptile when his reptilian nature was more hidden. The mysterious green ninja kicked ass! Anywho, great article! I can't wait to see more! Kombat Week!!!!!
  • FETALJUICE - April 15, 2011 3 a.m.

    Reptile has always been a complete badass in my book.
  • thedonut - April 15, 2011 12:38 a.m.

    I want to play as old guy Tsung from the first. He looks more awesome. :/

Showing 1-20 of 23 comments

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