During the age of arcades, the fighting games were on top of the totem pole. To earn a special place in nineties gamers’ hearts, the Mortal Kombat series decided to focus their entire game play around as much over-the-top violence as it could. The bloods and guts approach worked, and teens around the United States were enamored by all of it. Covered among the blood are many iconic fighting characters; arguably the two most popular among the series initially started off as simple pallet swaps of one another. In an age when graphics and technology were extremely limited, programmers would change the colour of another existing character in order to create a “new” character and fill out the roster. That is how Scorpion and Sub-Zero were born, as well as their green counterpart Reptile.
While Sub-Zero is certainly also a very important gaming icon in his own right, his spine-ripping fatality was one of the most famous scenes in all of arcades. Scorpion is arguably the series mascot, representing the main titles more so than any other character.
In the lore of the games, Scorpion is a hell spawn that used to be the human ninja name Hanzo Hasashi. Once part of the Shirai Ryu clan, he was killed by Sub-Zero, who was part of the rival clan the Lin Kuei. The rest of the Shirai Ryu clan was later massacred, including Hanzo’s wife and son. Falsely believing Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei to be responsible for the massacre, he was manipulated by the treacherous warlock Quan Chi to be reborn as a reverent of hell. He then enters the first Mortal Kombat tournament to seek revenge on Sub-Zero. He successfully kills Sub-Zero during the events of the first game; the Sub-Zero name would then be passed down to the original Sub-Zero’s brother, who still holds onto the title in the series.
From there he would serve as the series’ resident anti-hero, never completely taking a side in any of the conflicts unless they served his own desires. Due to his hellish origins and sinister design, he is often seen as a servant of evil. However nobility and honor still reside in his heart, leftover during his time as Hanzo. Yet what makes the character compelling is the fact that he would go against the other characters in the games, both good and bad, for the sake of his own selfish desires.
The times when he serves an antagonistic role are during the times he mainly focuses on his revenge. In the 2011 version of Mortal Kombat, which is a retelling of the first three games of the series, Scorpion still chooses to kill Sub-Zero, despite making a deal with Raiden to have his clan revived if he didn’t. In the sequel, Mortal Kombat X, he then gets his revenge on Quan Chi, the real culprit of the Shirai Ryu massacre. Killing Quan Chi puts him at odds with several of the game’s heroes, who were keeping him prisoner.
Likewise, the times he is portrayed as a protagonist are generally parts when he realizes being on the side of good is more beneficial. In Mortal Kombat Deception he was chosen to be the Elder Gods champion; it was up to him to stop the game’s villain, Onaga. In X he even raised Kenshi the blind swordsman’s son and restarts the Shirai Ryu clan.
With one foot on the side of evil, and the other on the side of good, Scorpion is easily one of the more interesting characters in the entire series, which is why gamers have been so fascinated by him since his debut. Even though he is never shown to be the main protagonist in any of the games’ stories, he is still proudly showcased on the covers of many Mortal Kombat games, along with his rival Sub-Zero. Quoted by series co-creator Ed Boon as his favourite character, the yellow ninja has been showered with obvious favoritism in the series for several years now. It may come at the price of overshadowing other great characters in the franchise, especially when it comes to advertising, but it also gives gamers a more captivating character to be invested in. In a series that mostly focuses on the two extremes of good and evil, Scorpion is the one that proudly walks the path in-between.