The Definitive Ranking of the Mortal Kombat Palette-Swapped Ninjas
I’m going to say this right now to get it out of the way and establish it in stone for posterity: If I ever start a band, the band name is going to be “Palette-Swapped Ninjas”. I’ve been sitting on that one for awhile, so don’t steal it. And it’s a great lead into today’s topic: definitively ranking the palette-swapped Ninjas from Mortal Kombat. You know’em, you love’em, so let’s take a look at’em!
Mortal Kombat 11 comes out this week and features a couple of these characters. For reasons I can barely explain, I am deeply invested in the Mortal Kombat lore. I love the characters. I love the story. And I especially love every single palette-swapped ninja, no matter the crazy weird back story. As such, we’re going to have some fun ranking and discussing all of those kolorful kooks!
Join me after the jump for the definitive ranking! And if I messed up somewhere, please share your own thoughts in the comments!
First things first, there’s more than just the traditional male palette-swapped ninjas. It worked so well the first time that Mortal Kombat copied themselves twice more, with women and cyborgs! So let’s rank those too!
It should be noted that I’m not ranking these characters based on their movesets or their worth as combatants. This list is purely based on character coolness and my own flawed and heavily biased opinion.
Sektor is the red-headed step-child of the Lin Kuei cyborgs. Of the three cyborgs, he’s the one that has never bothered to rediscover his human self and just spends his time being an evil robot. How boring. He was evil and red and never accomplished anything with his life.
The yellow cyborg got a little better shake then his red counterpart. Both in the original timeline and I think in the new timeline, Cyrax would sometimes fight for the good guys. He’d get reprogrammed a bunch of times, bouncing back and forth, but would largely fight for the side of right! This earned him a spot in Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance over Sektor, so good for him! Plus, he was a black guy fighting with an Asian martial arts society. That’s pretty cool, too!
Smoke makes the entire Lin Kuei storyline work, and is easily the coolest of the cyborgs. Best friends with Sub-Zero, Smoke was a noble hero forced into a being a robot against his will. While Sektor and Cyrax were just evil robots, Smoke was constantly fighting to reclaim his human soul, doing what he could to recapture his life. That’s pretty damn cool. The guy put in the effort, worked hard, often got ignored, but he remains top robot! If only his color scheme was a bit more distinct from the black accent coloring. That’s my only gripe.
Have you ever even heard of Khameleon? She’s real and she’s weird! She started out as a hidden character who would randomly transform into the other lady ninjas. Then she went and got her own character design and back story. Apparently she’s one of Reptile’s race, which is neat. But she remains a hidden, rarely used figure, and that takes her to the bottom of the ladies list!
Oh Jade, always a bridesmaid and never the bride. The green woman ninja has only ever been a supporting character with not much story of her own. Sometimes she’s good, sometimes she’s vaguely evil. She only ever usually gets to be Kitana’s handmaiden. For some reason, Jade is really popular in the cosplaying community, despite her low key importance to the overall lore. Weird, but people can do what they want. Oh, she’s also got a bo staff, which definitely adds a couple of cool points!
Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah; Kitana isn’t first on the list. She’s fine, as a major figure in the lore and a princess, but she’s not the coolest. What has Kitana ever done that’s cool? She’s only ever second fiddle to Liu Kang or subservient to Shao Kahn. Kitana needs to step up her game if she thinks she’s gonna be cool. The bladed fans are a pretty neat gimmick, but they’re not enough.
Mileena is where it’s at! She’s an evil clone of Kitana and that gives her far far more personality and agency than Kitana. Mileena gets to do what she wants, often trying to be queen in her own right. She shakes off alliances like clothing, killing and winning left and right. And that big, awesome mouth of scary teeth is gorgeous! And it will never not be hilarious that time they redesigned her big scary teeth to make sure she had kissable lips in the middle.
That is just plain funny. I’d love to know how that conversation went, when the developers decided Mileena needed to be be made slightly more kissable.
Along with there being the female Khameleon, there’s also the male Chameleon, which is dumb. Why are there two characters with the same name? Apparently they each appeared in different ports to different consoles and I’m already bored writing about the male Chameleon. He’s worse than female Khameleon. I didn’t even want to include him on this ranking, but if I didn’t, some fanboy would get mad at me. And my blog needs as many Mortal Kombat fanboy readers as it can get!
I know what you’re thinking: how is Tremor one of the palette-swapped ninjas? For that matter, who the hell is Tremor? The guy has only ever gotten two video game appearances. He was a DLC character in Mortal Kombat X, where he looked like that big hunk of rock I posted above. But Tremor first appeared as a minor villain in the Mortal Kombat: Special Forces game from the days of the original Playstation. I played that turd of a game and was only slightly pleased to see a new ninja…but only after I was annoyed that it wasn’t Scorpion. This is what Tremor originally looked like:
Honestly, I’m shocked that Mortal Kombat ever bothered to bring Tremor back into an actual fighting game. He’s the long lost forgotten ninja, but I suppose even this chump is deserved his due…at the bottom of my list!
Meanwhile, Ermac gets about as much due as is deserved. He started out as just the red one, but Mortal Kombat went and gave him this weird backstory of being composed of souls, along with unique telekinesis powers. So he’s got a unique everything, but he’s still pretty boring. He’s usually just an evil henchman, and being composed of souls means he doesn’t really have a story or personality of his own. Develop your own soul, Ermac!
I love Rain. I love the pun of making a purple palette-swapped ninja and then naming him after the classic Prince song “Purple Rain”. That’s just the sort of creative trivia that makes the world a better place. Mortal Kombat then went one step further and gave Rain a pretty cool back story. He wasn’t just another random henchman of Shao Kahn. Instead, he was royalty from Kitana’s world…who just happened to be a jerk who betrayed her to Shao Kahn. So he’s a bad guy, but he’s an interesting bad guy, and possesses possibly the best pun in all of video gaming.
Considering he was both the first secret character in Mortal Kombat and a really cool lizard monster, Reptile hasn’t amounted to much. He’s only ever just some evil henchman dude. Get some dreams of your own, Reptile! Regardless of that low status, he’s still pretty notable and has been around a lot longer than the four chumps behind him on this list. So you do you, Reptile, whatever that is.
It’s a pretty ballsy move to use black in your palette-swapping color rainbow when the only other color the ninjas wear is black. But it resulted in the totally radical looking Noob Saibot, who has the second best pun in Mortal Kombat. He’s game creator Tobias Boon’s name spelled backwards. Weird but cool. Then Noob Saibot became even cooler when it was revealed he was really the original Sub-Zero from the very first game, now come back as a revenant. That’s some quality storytelling twists right there!
What’s that? Smoke appears on this list twice? You’re damn right he does! Smoke is the best! How great was his first appearance, when you had to hit a special button when that dude shouted Toasty! from the corner of the screen during an uppercut? Remember that Toasty guy?! Why isn’t he in more Mortal Kombat games? Did you know that when Smoke showed up in one of the earlier MK comics, he would only say the word “Toasty”? The world is insane.
Beyond that truly bonkers introduction, Smoke has a great back story. A hero who was always meant to help the good guys, he was the second Sub-Zero’s best pal, but got tortured and turned into the robot from above. That sent him on a quest for redemption to earn back his soul. He was also the star of the best episode of the Mortal Kombat: Defenders of the Realm cartoon. For me, that counts for a lot!
Come at me with your controversy, Scorpion is second best! He’s one gnarly dead guy, with a truly great weapon and story, and he’s earned his spot as one of the coolest and most famous video game characters of all time. There’s a reason NetherRealm Studios uses him as their logo instead of the MK dragon. An honorable man seeking revenge for his dead family, Scorpion deserves to be in every MK game. He deserves to be treated as the hero he is. But he’s not as cool as…
Pun intended, baby! Sub-Zero is the coolest and the real champion of Mortal Kombat! Not only is he a ninja, but he’s got his own inexplicable super-power to blast ice! Where does that even come from? On top of that, he’s got one of the best stories in the game. Younger brother to the original, he was on a search for his family when he had to flee his ninja clan before they turned him into a robot. Now he fights with the forces of good, while defending himself from the Lin Kuei and from an angry Scorpion. Sub-Zero is so cool he got his own spin-off video game that one time!