Everyone knows the ninjas are the most iconic characters in the "Mortal Kombat" franchise. What started out with just three in the original game (counting the secret fight with Reptile) wound up exploding into a legion of ninjas representing every color of the rainbow. Now, we have female ninjas, undead ninjas, and ninjas with control over the elements. At this point, they could make up an entire MK game'sroster!
Of course, not all of them have caught on with fans. Recent games have tried to differentiate them more in their appearance and abilities, but the fact is some of them are just duds. So, we decided to look at every ninja fighter in the franchise’s history, and count them down from the ones that just aren’t doing it for us, to the longstanding classics. We’re only counting the masked assassins from the games though. Cyborgs don’t count!
When you see her name, you might initially confuse Khameleon for her male counterpart, Chameleon; but no, they just made two characters with the same gimmick. Whereas Chameleon was a character who could transform into the franchise’s many male ninjas, Khameleon was a female warrior who could transform into any of the franchise’s female ninjas. Just to be clear, the grand total of female ninjas at the time included Jade, Mileena, and Kitana. That’s already a pretty unimpressive gimmick.
What makes Khameleon even worse is that if you can’t remember playing as her, or even seeing her, there’s a reason for that — she was only in two of the franchise’s games, and only in certain ports of those games. For “Mortal Kombat Trilogy,” she was only in the N64 version, while for “Mortal Kombat: Armageddon” she was only featured in the Wii version. So even the developers knew she wasn’t worth going out of their way to include. There’s no doubt that Khameleon was the peak of Mortal Kombat’s ninja overload.
Just because Khameleon is at the bottom of the pile doesn’t make Chameleon much better. We just give the male counterpart the edge since his ability was turning into different male ninjas, meaning he had a lot more characters to choose from. That extra little bit of versatility keeps him out of last place, but he’s still not anyone we’d miss if he never returned to the franchise. Like Khameleon, he’s made obsolete by a better version of his character. Shang Tsung can transform into anyone in the game, period. So if you’re trying to keep your opponent off guard, why would you ever limit yourself by playing Chameleon and his lesser ability?
Another thing Shang Tsung has that Chameleon lacks is a distinct personality. Shang Tsung isn’t just a shapeshifter, but is also a fearsome sorcerer when in his normal state. Even in “Armageddon” where they were forced to give every character a story, his background was so vague and uninteresting. We’re just told he’s been present in the background for all the big events in Mortal Kombat and he has been biding his time to become a true champion. So, with a flat motivation and a move set that’s nothing but a mishmash of better characters, we’re left with little incentive to care about Chameleon.
Rain really marked the point when the different colored ninjas in the franchise began to spin out of control. Perhaps it's because of that reason that a lot of fans aren't that fond of him. Or maybe it's because he's an obvious joke character since he wears purple and his name is Rain, alluding to the song by Prince. Or it could also be that when Rain was first playable he had numerous infinite combos he could lock players in, making him one of the cheapest characters in the franchise.
It's hard to come back from that amount of negativity attached to your name, but Rain actually has become more interesting as the years have gone by. We later learned he was a prince (just to further cement that Purple Rain joke) and his outfit began to reflect his royalty, adding a cape and crown to his ninja attire. The water and lightning powers are cool and everything, but honestly, Fujin has a similar gimmick, and at least with him we're spared the dorky music puns. We really can't blame fans for still not being overly fond of this guy.
After rumors of her inclusion in the series dated all the way back to “Mortal Kombat II,” Skarlet finally made her debut in 2011’s “Mortal Kombat” as a downloadable character. She was one of several fighters who was actually created by Shao Kahn, giving him the most loyal kind of servant there is. But honestly a character who lives in total devotion to a more interesting character is kind of hard to get behind, which may explain why Skarlet didn’t return once “Mortal Kombat X” came out.
It’s not that Skarlet is an awful ninja like some of the earlier entrants, but she didn’t do too much to differentiate herself in her first outing. Maybe she just needs more exposure in the franchise to grow on us. Her powers were certainly unique, with her gaining strength when getting splattered with her enemy’s blood, due to her being composed of blood herself. Still, her personality didn’t shine through very much, and when she became a one-and-done character, not too many fans could muster up a lot of outrage about it.
After Reptile in the original “Mortal Kombat,” the team behind the games had to up the ante on the hidden characters. So “Mortal Kombat II” included three secret characters, all of whom were ninjas. Unfortunately for Smoke, he was probably the least memorable of the bunch simply because this incarnation didn't have long to shine. By “Mortal Kombat 3” when Smoke became a playable character, he had already been converted into a cyborg against his will. And from then on he would disappear until he teamed up with Noob Saibot in “Deception.”
We didn't get to see human Smoke get really fleshed out as a character until 2011's “Mortal Kombat,” where, thanks to some time travel intervention, he was spared being turned into a cyborg while Sub-Zero took his place. This was also the first game where human Smoke got his own unique move set, since the playable version of him in “Trilogy” was almost an exact clone of Scorpion. Unfortunately he already died by the end of the game's story mode, but it was still nice to learn a bit more about him.
For as long as Tremor has been appearing in tangential roles in the series, it certainly took him a long time to finally make his way to being a playable character. His first time being fully playable in all versions of one of the games (unlike his Vita-exclusive playable status in 2011’s “Mortal Kombat”) was in “Mortal Kombat X.” But he’s been hanging around and interacting with the other characters dating all the way back to the events of “Mortal Kombat 4.” So was the wait worth it?
In terms of having cool powers, Tremor checks all the boxes. As his name indicates, his powers hinge on the element of earth and being able to use moves that cause earthquakes and other such effects. The problem comes with his story. For all the time the development team had to assign an intriguing story to this guy, they sure went the generic route. He’s really just a henchman for Kano and the Black Dragon clan. Sure, if you want some muscle, a huge rock dude is the way to go, but we were definitely hoping for something a little more memorable for his big debut.
Sub-Zero’s female protégé is one of the few characters from “Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance” that fans seem to remember positively. Considering that game also gave us the likes of Hsu Hao, who even Mortal Kombat creator Ed Boon despises, that’s a pretty low bar for success honestly. But Frost added some depth to the Lin Kuei clan by showing us another member, and basically playing like an alternative version of Sub-Zero, taking on some of his moves from past games that he wasn’t using anymore. Considering there had already been two versions of Sub-Zero, it’s understandable why the developers felt we didn’t need a third recurring version.
That being said, Frost does have a chance to differentiate herself if she was brought back. In her ending for “Deadly Alliance,” it was revealed she was just using the Lin Kuei for her own selfish purposes and she wound up betraying Sub-Zero. Unfortunately, this wound up with her dying as a result, but that’s hardly stopped the majority of Mortal Kombat characters from returning. We wouldn’t be averse to her returning either, if for nothing else than just to see more of her neat ice hair, but she’d need to shake things up to really be a worthwhile inclusion anymore.
Reptile made a memorable splash into the franchise thanks to the circumstances required to encounter him in the original “Mortal Kombat.” By today’s standards, the secret to getting to the fight against Reptile would have likely been cracked within the first week of the game’s release. But back in the days when you had to rely on word of mouth for your gaming tips, Reptile was an elusive secret that teased players with whether he even actually existed.
Reptile returned in the next game, this time as a playable character with a distinct move set. There was definitely more incentive to care about him by “Mortal Kombat II,” but his character development sort of stalled out here. Even in the newest games, he’s just been the snake ninja who works for one of the big antagonists rather than a major power player. We remember him with some fondness for being such a fun Easter Egg back in the day, but other ninjas got fleshed-out better than him over the years. Plus, it doesn’t help that as he was given a more snake-like appearance, some of his outfits have been downright ugly, like his rather silly “Mortal Kombat 4” look. Reptile is cool, but needs a bit more development to really give anyone a reason to call him one of the best ninjas.
Mortal Kombat's first female secret character was a green palette swap of Kitana and Mileena named Jade. Much like Reptile in the first “Mortal Kombat,” Jade didn't have a distinct move set at this point, and was instead remembered more for the fun of trying to figure out how to face her. It wasn't until “Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3” that she was given more unique traits, like her now signature staff that she uses in combat.
As far as secret characters go, Jade has fared a bit similarly to Reptile in being able to stay relevant outside of her Easter Egg origin. Her significance to the story is definitely stronger, since she is Kitana's most loyal friend, and would even go on to become a general for the army of Edenia. Of “Mortal Kombat II's” trio of female ninjas, she's probably the least remembered, but she's certainly a ninja we'd be open to having a bigger role in the franchise at some point.
6 NOOB SAIBOT
From a game play standpoint, a lot of fans find Noob Saibot to be one of the most annoying Mortal Kombat characters. The first time he was made a playable character in the series, he was given one of the cheapest moves we'd seen. He had rapid fire attacks like his teleport slam, and could even temporarily make all of the opponent's attacks do no damage. Naturally less skilled players loved him, but hardcore fans hated him for giving players easy wins.
In terms of story, Noob Saibot is one of the most intriguing characters in the series. He started out as the original Sub-Zero we know from the first “Mortal Kombat,” who died against Scorpion by the game's end. But, by “Mortal Kombat II,” he had been resurrected in his spiffy new black duds as a member of the Brotherhood of Shadow. Ironically it was Quan Chi who brought him back, the sorcerer who was indirectly responsible for his death in the first place, after lying to Scorpion. Even though Noob has been in a subservient role since his revival, there's still a lot of interest in seeing how he would interact with Scorpion or the new Sub-Zero at this point.
It really is bizarre how many ninjas in the series started out as jokes or rumors, only to be made reality later on. An Error Macro message that appeared in the early days of Mortal Kombat made some people think this was a reference to a character, since in the game the glitch appeared as Ermacs. So, the development team one day decided to make those rumors a reality and gave us the red ninja we know today.
Like Rain, Ermac came at a time when the ninjas were in overabundance, so it's a testament to the team behind Mortal Kombat that they adapted enough to give Ermac a unique personality. Ermac is actually one of the more interesting ninjas now, because he's not just one person, but a legion. He's comprised of the souls of many different warriors, and has a very unique telekinetic fighting style that allows him to grab opponents from afar, and even hover in the air. Of all the ninjas, Ermac really stands out as one who has been handled very well in being separated from the pack.
It’s definitely a subject of fan debate as to whether Mileena or Kitana is the superior female ninja, but we have to go with the original being better in this case. Mileena is a clone, so she’s literally a copy of Kitana and spends much of her life in a reactionary role. In Mileena’s early years, her story was tied to wanting to kill Kitana and steal her identity. It wasn’t until after Kitana was killed in 2011’s “Mortal Kombat” that Mileena got some new material in the form of trying to become Shao Kahn’s successor in “Mortal Kombat X.”
Fortunately, Mileena being a clone didn’t extend to her move set, and makes her a totally distinct fighter in that regard. Of course what immediately caught fans’ attention was that one of her fatalities revealed that she’s actually a Tarkatan like Baraka, meaning she has teeth that would make an alligator proud. Yet, that bizarrely has done little to hurt her sex appeal, with her even being featured in “Playboy” magazine. With a face as scary as Mileena’s, it definitely speaks to her popularity that she can boast about having such an accolade.
Ever since her debut in “Mortal Kombat II,” Kitana immediately struck up a chord among fans and became one of the most popular ninjas in the franchise. It certainly didn’t hurt that her move set in “MKII” allowed for some of the best innovative combos in the game, thanks to her fan lift move that could make an opponent levitate. It always helps when a fighter has an iconic technique tied to their name.
We would give her the edge as the best female ninja over Mileena just because Mileena being a clone pretty much automatically gives her less story. Kitana had one of the more interesting stories early on in the franchise, what with her being lied to about Shao Kahn being her father, as well being deceived that Mileena was her sister. “Mortal Kombat 3” added another wrinkle when Kitana’s mother Sindel was revealed to still be alive, but under the control of Shao Kahn. It was an intriguing start for her character that has helped her endure as not only one of the franchise’s best female characters, but simply one of Mortal Kombat’s greatest characters overall.
A lot of you will probably say Sub-Zero is the best ninja of the bunch, and there’s certainly a good argument for that. He’s the only ninja who can lay claim to having been in every single Mortal Kombat fighting game. Even Scorpion got omitted from the original version of “Mortal Kombat 3” (which admittedly angered quite a lot of fans). Plus, his ice powers instantly made him one of Mortal Kombat’s most unique and recognizable fighters.
Even in terms of his story, Sub-Zero has it pretty good. There’s nothing worse than a character with a bland background, but Sub-Zero has some intense rivalries to keep up the interest. There’s the obvious one he had against Scorpion in his earlier years, but once that was settle, he transitioned into wanting to get vengeance against Quan Chi for lying to him and slandering the Lin Kuei clan. Plus, the current Sub-Zero has reason to feud with his dead brother Noob Saibot, as well as the cyborgs the Lin Kuei created to capture him. It’s never a dull moment for the icy warrior, and it wouldn’t be Mortal Kombat without him.
Sure, having Scorpion be number one is predictable, but we’re not looking to shock you just for the sake of having a surprise. Scorpion tops our list because he really is just that popular and influential. Besides Sub-Zero, what other character on this list is someone that even your non-gaming friends will recognize? Scorpion just has a coolness about him. He was someone that you wanted to dress as for Halloween when you were a kid. He’s someone who has become Mortal Kombat’s mascot, despite not even being the protagonist.
The real debate is whether Scorpion is actually the best even over Sub-Zero. They’re both iconic characters with great move sets, and usually some of the top fighters in each entry of the series. Personal preference will ultimately be the deciding factor, but before the franchise embraced its fully fantastical side, Scorpion stood out on the original roster the most due to being an undead warrior. Getting to play as a hellfire-breathing skeleton who is fueled by vengeance for his slain family is just a story that immediately stands out. Sure, Sub-Zero is cool (no pun intended), but it took him a few games for his backstory to reach the epic proportions that Scorpion’s had right off the bat.
Which Mortal Kombat ninja is your favorite? Do you think any of them are underrated? Share your thoughts in the comments!