Maybe its cause blue is my favourite color. Maybe it’s cause everyone loves a ninja. Maybe it’s the name. Maybe it’s the spine rip. Maybe its cause when I first played MK1 I got my ass handed to me by him. Maybe it’s cause I hate winter. Whatever it is, there’s no denying it – Sub-Zero is my favorite character of all time.
OK, so I suppose I could start spouting the obvious stuff that you already know – he’s the only character to appear in every MK game, he has become a “poster-boy” for the series blah blah blah. But those are merely facts, they don’t explain why he’s top of my list. And to be honest, that’s kinda hard to explain. Kinda like asking why you and your best friend are just that. For me, it’s the little things that have happened to Sub-Zero over the years.
He started as nothing more than a run of the mill assassin. Granted, an assassin that could you freeze you where you stood, but an assassin, and therefore bad buy, none the less. Yet even at this early stage there was something magical about a guy who could slide across the ground as if it were ice (no pun intended) and at the end of it all, separate your spine from your body. Looking back, one could argue that it was this very fatality that gave MK it’s notoriety in the wider media. Whenever the bleating of the family media types and social do-gooders spoke up, invariably, Sub-Zero’s classic fatality was mentioned with great disdain. And as they say, there’s no such thing as bad publicity. Unless you’re Paris Hilton.
Compared to his other MK1 compatriots, for me, Sub-Zero stood out. Now you might think, how can a Chinese ninja ‘stand out’ amongst a crowd that included a thunder god, a Hollywood movie star, a shape shifting old man and a guy with four arms? Well the fact that he was human for a start. But rather, because his unique skills had a plausible explanation: practice. The art of channeling Chi into a recognizable and physical force is something that has existed throughout history and whilst Scorpion’s teleport punch could be explained by way of him being dead, the explanation behind the ability to channel sheer winter through ones fingers is something more romantic – practice. How Johnny Cage learnt to throw green bolts or how Sonya could fly horizontally through the air is never explained. This is why Sub-Zero stands out.
Regardless of whether the reasons are the same, someone in the Midway team has taken a liking to him as well. Liu Kang has remained fairly unchanged since MKII right through to Armageddon. Oh sorry, that’s right, in MK4 he actually put a shirt on. Wow. Even coming back from the dead didn’t change him that much. In the same time frame, Sub-Zero added several new moves to his repertoire including the Ice Clone, the Ground Freeze, Ice Shower (and it’s two variants), the Cold Shoulder, the Ice Shaker and the Icy Pillar. And that’s not counting the more abstract moves you will find him performing in Shaolin Monks. Now that is a warrior who is pushing the boundaries! It also shows that the design team are willing to experiment with the Grandmaster and his powers.
This same experimentation applies to the other key aspects that make up an MK character: appearance and storyline. Sub-Zero has been given a wide range of looks over the years. His “big suspenders” look was thankfully short lived and his ‘Shredder’ look will go down in history. However it’s the subtle differences that I appreciate. His scar from MK3 was retained in MK4, despite returning to the masked ninja we all missed. The frosted forearms represented a growing of his kori powers that were only increased with the inclusion of the Dragon Medallion. This powerful item also influenced his appearance in the graying of his hair in Deadly Alliance and explained the presence of the Kori Blade. The Shredder getup was a bold new direction, yet it was cleverly tied into his storyline. His alternate ponytail outfit was less successful but still evidence that the team was prepared to tinker with an already winning formula.
The same could be said of his storyline which saw him progress from an assassin to a descendant who was hunted by own corrupted clan. After time in the wilderness, he returned to his ninja roots and rebuilt the clan and claimed the title of Grandmaster. He is also intricately linked to Noob Saibot by blood. The old “Scorpion vs Sub-Zero” plotline seems to have died a natural death but it still stands as one of the classic rivalries of the game. He also has historical ties with Quan Chi thanks to his elder brother. His newly acquired amour also seems to be divinely influenced and is another string in his bow of subplots.
So what else is there to say? Well I think I’ve dibbled on enough, but if after reading all of that, you don’t take away some sort of respect for the Grandmaster of the Lin Kuei, than you need to go back and study Character Design 101. And let’s face it – as long as Mortal Kombat exists, there will be a Sub-Zero of some description. The only question is, what will they come up with next? I’ll let you know when MK8 arrives.
Grail’s Top 15
01. Sub Zero
03. Kung Lao
09. Johnny Cage
11, Shang Tsung
15. Liu Kang