Guest characters and crossovers in fighting games is a tradition almost as old as the genre itself – Ryo Sakazaki was a secret “Dream Match” boss fight in FATAL FURY SPECIAL, Gouki was a secret playable character in X-MEN: CHILDREN OF THE ATOM, and the entire premise of THE KING OF FIGHTERS ’94 was seeing characters from a bunch of different SNK games share the screen with each other. Although the idea mostly started with developers having their characters make unexpected appearances for a goof, with time the concept of guest characters has increasingly become a means of cross-promoting other brands.
You could easily write an entire lexicon of guest characters, crossovers and cameos in video games, but today I wanted to focus on the various guests we’ve seen over the years in MORTAL KOMBAT. While by no means the first, MORTAL KOMBAT kind of ushered in the modern era of bringing in high-profile guest characters, especially as paid DLC – a practice which isn’t always well received by series fans, but unlikely to stop any time soon given that the guests consistently outsell any other character DLC.
My personal standpoint on guest characters in general is that it can be a bit of fun, but also a bit of a bummer for sure. In the case of MORTAL KOMBAT, I’m definitely in the crowd who will always have a ton of legacy MK characters I’d love to see over any potential guests, and I do find it disappointing to see guests making out a full 50% of the DLC lineup in recent MKs. That said, given that it’s inevitable at this point, I don’t find much reason in getting too worked up about it – If we’re getting characters I didn’t ask for, I’ll at least hope they are well done and incorporated well into the game! So as we’re waiting for the latest batch of guests to show up in MK11, I thought I’d take a look back at the last decade of MORTAL KOMBAT guests.
Kratos (MORTAL KOMBAT 9)
MORTAL KOMBAT had of course previously crossed over with other properties in MORTAL KOMBAT VS DC UNIVERSE, but Kratos appearing as a PS3-exclusive playable character in MK9 marked the first time a non-MK character appeared in a mainline series game. And so far, the last time MK has done a console-exclusive character owned by a platform holder (Sony, in this case). Although Kratos was generally quite well done in my opinion, the fact that he was not present in the Xbox or PC versions of the game meant he was immediately doomed to not be given a second look by competitive players.
Still, playing casually Kratos was a pretty neat addition! He had some cool moves including a lot of nods to the GOD OF WAR games, including not just a variety of familiar weapons, but even QTE button prompts. Kratos is also unique in that he even received his own stage, complete with stage fatality!
Overall I think Kratos was a good guest character; he didn’t feel out of place in MK as the tone of the character and his world wasn’t all that different, and he was pretty fun to use. There were a few goofy things like his body proportions not really matching the other characters, and some fatalities being altered when performed on Kratos (lest he be upset about being butchered in certain specific ways, I guess), but overall, not bad.
Freddy Krueger (MORTAL KOMBAT 9)
If Kratos was a fun, goofy touch that felt surprisingly well-developed and faithful to his source material, Freddy was… well, not that. The image above makes immediately apparent the uphill battle that MK9’s Freddy was always gonna have to fight – the game came out on the heels of the much-maligned A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET reboot, meaning this version of Freddy isn’t based on Robert Englund’s iconic performance in the role. Much like in the then-recent movie, Englund’s absence is very much felt.
Granted, likeness rights could have been prohibitively expensive and/or difficult, but one has to imagine the licensor would have put the kibosh on that idea even if Englund himself would’ve been up for it. Either way, what we got feels like a cheap, off-brand version of the character, whose perhaps largest appeal is the charisma of the actor who portrayed him. Oof.
Problems don’t really end there, though. Unlike Kratos, Freddy isn’t really a fighter, so translating him to a fighting game character requires a bit of creative thinking. I do think they did an OK job all things considered, and at least tried to tie in things from the films in his moveset. An unforunate side effect though was that between a bunch of different projectiles, setup moves, and general absurd damage, Freddy was an extremely strong character who wasn’t very fun to play against. Also he had two clawed gloves for some reason? All in all, I wasn’t a huge fan.
Jason Voorhees (MORTAL KOMBAT X)
What could’ve been a one-off became a tradition in MORTAL KOMBAT X, with another iconic horror movie villain making their appearance in MK: Jason Voorhees. It makes sense, people were overall quite happy with Freddy (who at the time had felt like a novel surprise), and from there started fantasizing about what other slasher monsters might cross over.
Jason arguably faces even more of a challenge than Freddy when it comes to fighting game translation; Freddy may not be a martial artist, but at least he’s got the infinite power of dreams and imagination to build a move set from – while Jason is basically a lumbering zombie. Still, I think NRS did an admirable job! Jason definitely looks extremely goofy performing some more agile maneuvers, but for the most part they managed to thread the needle in finding a style that feels faithful to how the character would move in a fight, while still allowing him to do everything the game requires.
The Variation system in MKX also allowed for incorporating a lot of different ideas; aside from the expected moves like command grabs and machete slashes, Jason had super armor buffs, teleports, and even a unique resurrection mechanic (complete with musical sting). Jason was not a character I particularly anticipated, but I remember being really impressed with how much of the character’s style and identity they managed to squeeze into the game version.
Just about the only real missed opportunity I can think of is essentially having only one look for Jason, and that it’s seemingly based on FREDDY VS JASON of all things. Stuff like the baghead look from PART II or Super Jason from JASON X could’ve made for great alternate skins! A minor quibble in the grand scheme of things though – he mostly looks the part, and turned out about as well as you could possibly hope for Jason Voorhees as a fighting game character.
The Predator (MORTAL KOMBAT X)
The second of two guest characters in MKX’s first season of DLC was The Predator. Not exactly a horror icon per se, but well a savagely murderous monster who doesn’t seem entirely out of place in the world of MORTAL KOMBAT. I mean, an alien hunter who travels the universe to kill for sport isn’t really too outlandish a concept compared to some of MK’s roster.
The Predator being more of an agile and athletic creature also helps with a perhaps better fit in a fighting game than Freddy or Jason; it’s still no martial artist we’re talking about here, but the Predator can run, leap, jump and pounce with the best of ’em, and if anything MKX portrays the character in a more lively fashion than the thick rubber suits allowed for in the films. I really like how the Predator moves, and between his imposing presence and the Variation system allowing for a few visual options, I think aesthetically Predator was extremely well done.
Variations again offered a breadth of gameplay options as well, giving the Predator a vast arsenal of spears, discs, lasers, traps, and even self-destruction! Between visuals and playstyles, I think Predator was really satisfying as a well-executed and faithful interpretation of the character, as well as a fun addition to the game. The addition of themed DLC costumes (Carl Weathers as Jax, ‘Dutch’ Johnny Cage, and the groan-worthy ‘Infrared Scorpion’) made the Predator DLC a complete and well-rounded package.
Leatherface (MORTAL KOMBAT XL)
2016 saw a second ‘season’ of DLC for MKX in the form of MORTAL KOMBAT XL, a sizable update to the game that added characters, stages, costumes, balance changes, and more. New DLC of course meant new guest characters, and the roster of classic horror was expanded with The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’s Leatherface.
Leatherface was, perhaps even moreso than Jason, a character that seemed like a bit of a weird fit for a fighting game. As to be expected by this point I do think NRS did a good job of interpreting the character in terms of bringing in a lot of details referencing their origins, and some novel gameplay mechanics to boot. But I’m less sure they really succeeded in getting over the awkwardness of simply seeing this character move around the screen as a fighting game character.
This awkwardness (in addition to me having no attachment to the character or the films, really) made Leatherface a tough sell for me. As mentioned I’m not too hot on the idea of guest characters in MK in general, and I’m certainly not going to be more enthused if it’s a character that A) I don’t care for outside the game, and B) doesn’t really translate super well to a fighting game in the first place.
The one thing I can greatly appreciate is how NRS essentially went to the lengths of giving each of his three Variation a completely different costume, a luxury I wish could’ve been offered to poor Jason. Still, that’s not really enough to elevate Leatherface above being my least favourite guest character in any MK game.
Alien (MORTAL KOMBAT XL)
Many MK fans were irked that Freddy and Jason’s inclusions were spread across two different games, robbing players of the opportunity to re-enact FREDDY VS JASON – but MKXL’s inclsion of the Alien did allow for another beloved(?) crossover, ALIEN VS PREDATOR. It seems to me that this is what fuelled the inclusion of this character, because… it sure is kinda weird? I mean just the idea of this dude facing off in a one-on-one fight just seems patently absurd to me, but then again I do suppose that’s par for the course with MORTAL KOMBAT!
Alien was a somewhat odd inclusion conceptually, and ended up a little goofy in execution too, if you ask me. Just from a visual standpoint, in order to fit in with the standards of the game the character looks far more human in their proportions and stature than we’re used to, kind of making it look like… well, a stunt guy wearing an Alien suit. Whether it was because a shortage of ideas on what to incorporate based on the films, or just a case of “why the hell not?”, this particular Alien is also established as having been born from a member of Baraka’s Tarkatan race – which of course results in it being able to pop out massive blades from its forearms.
So the Alien is just kind of wild all around – and that’s even before we get to how the character plays in the game! MKX was a pretty wild game in general, and perhaps nothing exemplifies this better than Alien; with relentless offense, insane range and a barrage of safe 50/50s, Alien was a clear top-tier character and an absolute nuisance to deal with. For a while at least, Alien mirrors were a common sight in high-level tournament play, making even spectating the game a little more annoying and less fun. Patches eventually toned down the character and their dominance along with it, but Alien still left a bit of a sour taste for many players – myself included.
Terminator T-800 (MORTAL KOMBAT 11)
After two games featuring mainly horror movie monsters, there was always a lot of speculation/wishlisting about who NRS would add next. Pinhead? Michael Myers? Pennywise? Nope! As it turns out MORTAL KOMBAT 11 changes things up with a more eclectic mix of guests than ever, and first out was the Terminator.
The visual fidelity of MK11 is a huge step up from previous games, and this of course extends to guest characters as well – and unlike the unfortunate Freddy Krueger situation, this time they managed to get the likeness rights and as a result we get a legit great Arnold! Well, great with a few caveats.
First, with a recent TERMINATOR movie coming out, we’re naturally saddled with 72-year old bearded Arnold. IE, from the terrible new movie, and not a version of the Terminator from any of the movies people actually like – though we get a decent consolation in the form of younger looking Arnold (circa TERMINATOR 3) as an alternate skin. It’ll do, I guess.
Secondly, although MK11’s Terminator looks the part, NRS were (understandably) unable to get Schwarzenegger into a recording booth to do voiceover, so his voice is delivered by someone doing an Arnold impression… and it’s not a very good one. Goofy voice aside, it’s still probably better than just having him be completely mute like most previous guest characters? Oh well.
Despite some misgivings, I still really like how Terminator ended up in the game. He’s a burly grappler with interesting movement tools (at least in the Variation I prefer), so I actually found him really fun to play, going so far as to using him as my main character at least throughout a season of the Kombat League.
With Joker and Spawn on the horizon, as well as rumors/speculation/hopes for a second year of DLC for MK11, guest characters in MK is sure to be a hotly debated issue for the foreseeable future. While neither of them are characters I much care for (and I’ll never relate to the considerable crowd who have apparently been clamoring for Spawn for like a decade), MK11 so far has a track record of well-executed DLC characters, so I look forward to seeing how they turn out. And if we are getting more characters in 2020, that’ll mean more guests – let’s at least hope that whoever they end up choosing, we’ll get something weird, dumb and memorable!