The fervor surrounding Mortal Kombat 11 has reached an almost unprecedented level of anticipation, excitement perhaps best exemplified by the rise of the “Ultra Instinct Shaggy” meme, depicting Scooby-Doo’s Shaggy as an all-powerful Dragon Ball-style character. Both fandoms united, and the end result was a Change.org petition to add Shaggy to Mortal Kombat 11, which amassed over 100,000 signatures in less than 24 hours and, as of this writing, stands at over 357K.
Alas, what could have been a celebration of fans coming together to play as a character who would never otherwise get a real chance in a fighting game has instead come to a sad end. Though NetherRealm heard the outcry from fans, it fell on deaf ears; during the first KombatKast event for Mortal Kombat 11, NetherRealm Studios Community Manager Tyler Lansdown definitively shut down the possibility of Shaggy appearing in the game.
“Shaggy will not be in the game, at all, ever,” Lansdown said emphatically. “ Sorry. Dead meme.”
It’s not a surprising comment given the super violent aspect of the franchise, but that doesn’t necessarily mesh with the history of Mortal Kombat. The series was once regarded for being insanely over the top with its then-vivd depiction of death and violence, a combination that led to Mortal Kombat blowing up in popularity as soon as it hit arcades in 1992. Since being rebooted in 2011, NetherRealm Studios has taken the games more seriously, dialing back on much of the humor in favor of a darker tone, with a focus on cinematic storytelling and some of the best bone-breaking fighting mechanics to come from an American developer.
But the hard shutdown of the Shaggy meme highlights a potential problem: A disconnect between NetherRealm and their fan base.
A character who gives the player a laugh is instantly memorable, no matter the context, and these characters have been missing from Mortal Kombat for a while. While it's fun to have your roster populated with the greatest fighters in the world, a collection of dead-serious bruisers who can take as much as they dish out, the joke character has long been a tradition as well. Look no further than Dan from Street Fighter, or Mortal Kombat’s MoKap, a fighter who was literally Johnny Cage’s motion capture artist.
Mortal Kombat was once a series regarded for its sense of self-aware humor as much as its over the top gore. The graphic violence and (for the time) unsettling Fatalities caught the attention of fans, as well as parents. Mortal Kombat was front and center for discussions on video games violence, which led to goofier elements in later games. Mortal Kombat II introduced Friendships as a direct response to the controversy, while Mortal Kombat 3 would steer in the other direction, with Brutalities that generated rib cages and pillars of gore spewing from an opponent’s body.
Mortal Kombat seemed to lean into these more comedic elements, with short videos like “Cooking with Scorpion” or the proposed gag character Zebron, an anthropomorphic zebra who was also a game show host, being included as Easter eggs. They played with new concepts and additional modes, including a Tetris clone, Puzzle Kombat, and a Mario Kart clone, Motor Kombat.
But that sense of humor appears to now be gone.