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REVIEW: MORTAL KOMBAT KLASSIC CYBER-NINJAS THREE-PACK
By Thomas Wheeler

I believe it would be more than fair to say that the two most popular fighting-style video game concepts of all time are Street Fighter, and Mortal Kombat. Both concepts have had numerous video games. Both have even had crossovers with other pop culture concepts -- Street Fighter with Marvel Comics, Mortal Kombat with DC Comics. Both have enjoyed a level of popularity that has allowed them a presence beyond their video game origins -- animation, television series, live-action movies -- and action figures.

As of this writing, both concepts have action figure lines being produced by the same company -- JazWares. This hasn't happened since the mid-1990's, when both concepts saw video game lines produced by Hasbro.

Hasbro's Mortal Kombat line, like its Street Fighter line, used the body molds of their 3-3/4" G.I. Joe figures for the most part, especially figures from the Ninja Force special team, which featured built-in spring-action gimmicks. In fairness, despite using existing molds for many of the figures, the line came across superbly well, the figures were more than capable likenesses of their video game counterparts, and it was pretty cool to be able to put them up against the Street Fighter characters, something that certainly wasn't going to happen anywhere else. Additionally, to date, the Hasbro line is the only one to have produced a figure of the popular four-armed warrior, Goro.

However, Hasbro's Mortal Kombat line was somewhat limited. The figures they produced were solely from the first game, and a second assortment of figures, loosely based on the live-action movie, was also produced, but still did not do any characters not in the first game. Even at the time, the second video game was already setting records in arcades, introducing a host of new characters.

When I learned of a new line of 4" scale Mortal Kombat figures, I was certainly interested. My one concern was with the company producing them -- JazWares. A number of years ago, JazWares turned out a line of 6" scale Mortal Kombat figures, and in fact there is also a new line of 6" Mortal Kombat figures, along with the 4" line. At that time, I picked up a couple of the 6" Mortal Kombat figures. They looked great. The detail was intricate and precise, the paintwork was for the most part excellent, and they were very agreeably articulated.

However, despite all of this, overall quality was -- distinctly less than impressive. The figures felt horribly lightweight, as if they were hollow, and they were very fragile. You could snap parts off just trying to move the figure along one of its designated articulation points.

Needless to say, I was more than a little skeptical when I learned of JazWares new line of Mortal Kombat figures. But -- I decided to give it a chance, and when I discovered a three-pack of figures featuring the three cyber-ninjas -- Cyrax, Sektor, and Smoke -- figures that had never been made in this scale before. I decided that these figures would be a good addition to my collection, as well as a good way to determine if JazWares had improved its quality.

Let's consider a bit of history of the Mortal Kombat concept, and of these three characters in particular.

Mortal Kombat was created by Ed Boon and John Tobias. The first four renditions and their updates were developed by Midway Games and initially released on arcade machines. The arcade titles were later picked up by Acclaim Entertainment for the home console conversions. Beginning with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, Midway Games exclusively created home versions of Mortal Kombat up until Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe. Following Midway's bankruptcy, the franchise was picked up by Warner Bros. in July 2009 and became a part of the Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment Branch. On September 29, 2011 New Line Cinema and Warner Bros announced that Kevin Tancharoen has signed on to direct a new big-screen adaptation of Mortal Kombat from a screenplay written by Oren Uziel.

Personally, I really enjoyed the first Mortal Kombat movie. The second one wasn't bad, but -- well, we'll see what this new one brings if it reaches production.

The original three games and their updates, Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II, Mortal Kombat 3, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy, were styled in a 2-D fighting fashion, especially noted for its realistic digitized characters, based on live-action footage, which differentiated it from its contemporaries' hand-drawn characters. Mortal Kombat 4 brought the series into 3D, replacing the digitized fighters of previous games with polygon models.

Mortal Kombat started development in 1991 with only four people: Ed Boon, John Tobias, John Vogel, and Dan Forden. As Ed Boon stated in an interview with Major Nelson "The first Mortal Kombat game was 4 guys, literally, one programmer, myself (Boon), two graphics guys (Tobias and Vogel), and a sound guy (Forden) was the entire team, literally"

Originally, Boon and Tobias wanted to create a video game starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, with a digitized version of the action star fighting villains. Ed Boon stated for six out of the eight months while they were in production of Mortal Kombat, "...nobody could come up with a name nobody didn't hate." Some of the names suggested were "Kumite", "Dragon Attack", "Death Blow", and even at one point, "Fatality". Someone had written down "combat" on the drawing board for the names in Ed Boon's office and someone wrote a K over the C, according to Ed Boon, "...just to be kind of weird..." Steve Ritchie, a pinball designer at that time, was sitting in Ed Boon's office and saw the word "Kombat" and said to Ed Boon, 'Why don't you name it Mortal Kombat?' and according to Ed Boon, that name "just stuck."The series itself commonly uses the letter "K" in place of "C" for words containing the hard C sound, thus misspelling them. According to Ed Boon, during game development they usually spell the words correctly and change them later when the developers recognize an opportunity.

The team switched from digitized actors to motion capture technology: "To make the characters in video games more realistic, actors are being recruited to serve as models. Midway, the video-game company that made Mortal Kombat, has created a special 'motion capture studio' for this purpose. A martial-arts expert with as many as 100 electronic sensors taped to his body sends precise readings to a camera as he goes through his moves—running, jumping, kicking, punching. The action is captured, digitized and synthesized into a 'naked' wire-frame model stored in a computer. Those models can then be 'dressed' with clothing, facial expressions and other characteristics by means of a computer technique called texture mapping."

Mortal Kombat title was released for Arcade during October 1992, having since been ported to over ten consoles. The sequel, Mortal Kombat II was released for arcades in 1993, featuring an increased roster and improved graphics; it was rereleased in 2007 for the PlayStation 3. Mortal Kombat 3 followed in 1995 in both arcade and console versions, later getting two updates which expanded the number of characters and other features from the game: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, published in the same year, and Mortal Kombat Trilogy the next one. The following game, Mortal Kombat 4, was released in 1997, and ported to the PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and PC, while an update named Mortal Kombat Gold was released exclusively for the Dreamcast in 1999.

While to this point, Mortal Kombat games were only titled with their installment number, starting with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance, the series' naming scheme changed to favor the use of sub-titles instead of the previously usual numbering. It was also at this point that the series started being targeted at consoles only, with Mortal Kombat 4 being the last Mortal Kombat game to ever be released for the arcades and PC. Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance was thus released in 2002 for the Xbox, PlayStation 2 (PS2), and GameCube. Two ports for the Game Boy Advance were also released under the name of Mortal Kombat: Tournament Edition and another port called Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance during 2003. The sequel from Deadly Alliance is Mortal Kombat: Deception developed in 2004 for the PS2, Xbox and GameCube.

A port for the PlayStation Portable, Mortal Kombat: Unchained, was released in 2006 by Just Games Interactive. Mortal Kombat: Armageddon was published in the same year for the PS2, Xbox, and in 2007 on the Wii. On September 29, 2008, Midway released the Mortal Kombat Kollection, an anthology of the 3 most recent titles to the main franchise: Mortal Kombat: Deception, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, and Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. The eighth MK fighting game is Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe, a crossover between the MK franchise and DC Universe released in 2008 for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

A ninth main game in the series, a reboot known as simply Mortal Kombat was released on April 19, 2011 by Warner Bros. Games' Chicago studio, formerly Midway Games Chicago, now known as NetherRealm Studios. Personally, I hate reboots, and from what I read about this one -- I mean, come on, is it that hard to come up with a continuation instead, people?

Besides the fighting games, there are three action titles that work as spin-offs from the MK storyline. Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero was released in 1997 for the PlayStation and Nintendo 64. The story is focused on the first incarnation character of Sub-Zero and is focused in the timeline of before the first Mortal Kombat game. The next action game is Mortal Kombat: Special Forces released in 2000 for the PlayStation. It is an action game starring Major Jackson Briggs in his mission to destroy the Black Dragon. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks was released in 2005 for the PS2 and the Xbox. The game stars Liu Kang and Kung Lao. It tells an alternate version of the events between the first and second Mortal Kombat tournaments.

The Mortal Kombat series takes place in a universe that consists of six surviving realms which, according to in-game backstories, were created by the Elder Gods. The Mortal Kombat: Deception manual described the six realms as: "Earthrealm, home to such legendary heroes as Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Sonya Blade, Johnny Cage, and Jax, and also under the protection of the Thunder God Raiden; Netherrealm, which fiery depths are inhospitable to but the most vile, a realm of demons and shadowy warriors; Outworld, a realm of constant strife and where Emperor Shao Kahn claims this realm as his own; Seido, The Realm of Order, whose inhabitants prize structure and order above all else; The Realm of Chaos, whose inhabitants do not abide by any rules whatsoever, where constant turmoil and change are worshipped here; and Edenia, which is known for its beauty, artistic expression, and longevity of its inhabitants." The Elder Gods decreed that the denizens of one realm could only conquer another realm by defeating the defending realm's greatest warriors in ten consecutive Mortal Kombat tournaments.

The first Mortal Kombat game takes place in Earthrealm where seven different warriors with their own reasons for entering participated in the tournament with the eventual prize being the continued freedom of Earthrealm. Among the established warriors were Liu Kang, Johnny Cage, and Sonya Blade With the help of the Thunder God Raiden, the Earthrealm warriors were victorious and Liu Kang becomes the new champion of Mortal Kombat.

In Mortal Kombat II, unable to deal with Shang Tsung's failure, Outworld Emperor Shao Kahn lures the Earthrealm warriors to the Outworld where the Earthrealm warriors eventually defeat Shao Kahn. By Mortal Kombat 3, Shao Kahn revives Edenia's (now a part of his Outworld domain) former queen Sindel in Earthrealm, combining it with Outworld as well. He then attempts to invade Earthrealm but is ultimately defeated by the Earthrealm warriors again.

And I could get into a lot more, but beyond this, the Mortal Kombat universe becomes very complicated, and doesn't really apply to these three characters in the set.

Who who are Cyrax, Sektor, and Smoke? CYRAX is a cyborg ninja who used to be human until he was automated, along with Sektor and Smoke.

In Mortal Kombat 3, Cyrax was working for the Lin Kuei. He appeared alongside his partners Sektor and Smoke in order to track down and kill a renegade member of the Lin Kuei clan, the younger Sub-Zero. This Sub-Zero had disagreed with the decision to convert all its members into cyborgs and left the clan. He was thus marked for death by the grandmasters.

During the invasion of Earthrealm by Shao Kahn and his minions, Sub-Zero defeated Cyrax and reprogrammed him with orders to destroy Shao Kahn. However, Kahn was defeated by the other Earthrealm warriors before Cyrax had a chance to do so. As a result of his reprogramming, he awaited new orders. When these never came, he malfunctioned and wandered until becoming mired in the middle of a vast desert. In Mortal Kombat Gold, Cyrax was recovered and repaired by the Lin Kuei. However, he appeared somehow different than when first constructed. The short-handed clan again sent Cyrax into battle with his fellow cyborg Sektor assigned to monitor him.

As for SEKTOR, throughout the various Mortal Kombat games he was involved in, Sektor has grown into an ever more menacing mechanized warrior. He represents the closest thing to evil a cyborg can be, and combines traits of both a stealthy ninja and a ruthless killing machine fit for modern warfare. In contrast to his counterpart Cyrax, Sektor never bothered to rediscover his human side. He is capable of independent thought and action like Cyrax and Smoke, but unlike them, shows no sign of emotion.

When the Lin Kuei clan decided to automate their ninja in the events leading up to Mortal Kombat 3, Sektor, out of loyalty, was their first member to volunteer to undergo the process, and would later appear to be their most successful creation yet. Designated unit LK-9T9, he was sent to find and kill the rogue clansman Sub-Zero during MK3 and Mortal Kombat Gold, but was unsuccessful both times. Events would leave him as the only active cyborg remaining of the three created, with Smoke having been captured and shut down in an Outworld prison, and Cyrax having become a member of the Outer World Investigation Agency after his soul was restored.

During his many violent battles against Outworld forces, Sektor's program became corrupted. He believed the Lin Kuei Grandmaster to be inferior, and set his new objective to eliminate him and take control of the clan. Sektor successfully slew the Grandmaster, but was stopped from claiming the Dragon Medallion, the proof of the clan's leadership, by a returning Sub-Zero. Sub-Zero defeated Sektor in battle and claimed the title of Grandmaster. After his defeat, Sektor fled to Japan and formed the Tekunin, his own clan of cyborg ninja warriors.

Finally, there's SMOKE. First appearing as a hidden unplayable opponent in Mortal Kombat II, Smoke makes his playable debut in Mortal Kombat 3 as an unlockable character. While Smoke is human in MK2, he becomes a cyborg in MK3, alongside Cyrax and Sektor. As his name suggests, he always has smoke flowing through his body.

Smoke started out as a Lin Kuei assassin. He was a friend and ally of the younger Sub-Zero, and had gone with him to Outworld on his mission to kill Shang Tsung. They did not accomplish their mission. When Sub-Zero and Smoke returned to the Lin Kuei, they discovered that their clan had chosen to transform their best warriors into cyborgs, already performing the procedure on Cyrax and Sektor. Smoke and Sub-Zero turned on their clan and fled. Sub-Zero managed to escape, but Smoke was captured and converted into a cybernetic warrior, designated LK-7T2. Under the programming of the Lin Kuei, Smoke was forced to hunt his old friend.

During the events of MK3 and Shao Kahn's invasion of Earth, Smoke's fortunes continued to fail him. Although he discovered, with Sub-Zero's help, that he still retained his soul and was in fact one of Raiden's Chosen warriors and aided Sub-Zero in defeating Cyrax and Sektor, he was captured by Kahn's forces. The inert Smoke was transported to Outworld as a trophy and was locked away in the bowels of Kahn's fortress.

Nearly a decade later, however, he was discovered by Noob Saibot. He reactivated the cyborg, whose nanotechnology set about repairing and improving his systems. Reprogramming Smoke to obey only him, Saibot turned the cyber-ninja into both his ally and template for a future army of cyber-demons that was to rise from the Netherealm.

So, how are the figures? Surprisingly impressive. Now, I should mention that, as the games have developed, the look of many of the characters, including the cyber-ninjas, has of course evolved and advanced. And some of the new action figures from JazWares reflect this. However, one significant branch of JazWares' 4" Mortal Kombat figures are called "Mortal Kombat Klassic", and as such, present figures of the characters as they first appeared and are arguably most traditionally known. This includes the cyber-ninjas.

Here's a little bit of trivia for you. When Mortal Kombat 3, which first introduced us to the cyber-ninjas, was developed, the game creators were still filming live actors performing the various martial arts moves, in costumes reasonably close to their game character counterparts. In the case of the cyber-ninjas, some of their cybernetic armor was actually derived from protective gear used by competitive cyclists.

Anyway, as to the figures, as one might expect, all three figures use the same set of body molds, just with different color schemes. The figures stand very slightly over 4" in height. They are wearing helmets that are silver in color, with a black ridged crevice on the top of the helmet, and a long black tassel hanging down the back, tipped in silver. The helmets have two narrow black slits for eyes, and a sort of muzzle over the lower face, that has some narrow horizontal lines on it.

Each cyber-ninja has his own distinctive color. Cyrax's is yellow, Sektor's is red, and Smoke's is a dark gray-blue. This color appears on the helmets around the eye slits, tapering upwards at an angle, the entire muzzle, and along two ridges on the back of the helmet.

All three ninjas are wearing black body-suits with extensive colored armor. This includes chest plates and back plates. The chest plates have a series of black indentations on them, in the form of assorted narrow lines. They have colored plating strapped to their arms, two on each upper arm, and a longer, ridged piece on each lower arm. They have silver wristbands, and their hands are clenched in fists.

Each ninja is wearing a silver belt, with a sort of ridged, colored tunic draped down the front and back. The tunic sections are outlined in silver.

Their upper legs are unarmored, but they have silver knee pads, and colored boots, with a section of silver ridged armor on the front of the boots, and some black details on the feet, including slightly raised heels. Personally, I'd think it'd be a serious pain trying to pull off martial arts moves in these things. I think I own a pair of dress shoes similar to this.

The sculpted detail on these figures is really excellent. Some of the detailing, especially on the armor plating, is quite intricate, and JazWares has done a really outstanding job in duplicating the detail.

Similarly, the painting is impressive. There's a few minor glitches here and there, but nothing at all serious, and really, for the most part, it's excellent. Take a look at the pictures and realize how difficult it likely was to get the little black lines on the chest and abdominal plates painted neatly, or the silver outlines on the tunic. Look at all those little lines on the face muzzle. They're neatly done on all three ninjas, and this is the sort of thing I could well see getting messed up through bad aim by just about any toy company.

The level of articulation is extremely impressive. These figures are fully poseable at the head, arms, elbows, including a swivel, wrists, mid-torso (and it works well with the armor design), legs, knees, including a swivel, and ankles.

So, has JazWares gotten its act together since their last go-round with Mortal Kombat and finally hit one out of the ball park? Well -- not quite. I do have a few criticisms. One in particular, really.

Although the figures are well-made, feel decently solid, and stand well, and are certainly impressively designed, very well painted, and have a generous amount of articulation, I have to knock off a few points for actual assembly. And it's unfortunate that here is where we have the biggest problem, since if an action figure comes up short in assembly, that's a pretty serious problem.

Most of the assembly is fine. However, anywhere on the figures where the articulation assembly is dependent on a peg, in particular, and this would be the elbows and knees, I discovered instances where the peg was not places all the way through the area, and this resulted in loose, misplaced limbs. Cryax's left elbow is probably the most egregious example of this.

The sad thing is -- it didn't have to happen. The peg is long enough to be placed all the way through. But for some reason -- it wasn't. It's not far enough through on one side, and sticks out a bit on the other. Optimistically speaking, I might be able to fix it -- and a few similar matters on the others -- if I can find a really narrow pair of pliers that won't damage the plastic. But pragmatically speaking, it's not something that I should have to consider doing. These figures should have been properly assembled in the first place.

All three ninjas have slightly odd right lower legs, too. It's like they stick outwards a little more than the left. I don't think this is the fault of assembly, so much as possibly just the result of a slightly quirky sculpt. It's not that serious, and it doesn't keep the figures from standing up well, which they do very well, but it is noticeable. Note to JazWares -- while you're putting all this really impressive detail into your sculpts, think symmetry.

I don't want to ding these figures too much. While I cannot speak for JazWares' new line of 6" Mortal Kombat action figures, these new 4" figures are certainly a vast improvement over JazWares' LAST line of larger Mortal Kombat figures. Conversely, if JazWares wants to step up and be on the same playing field as the big boys, and bring us figures based on popular pop culture licenses like Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat, and wants those figures to stand side by side with the likes of Star Wars, Halo, Marvel, or whomever else, they need to get their act together just a bit more than they presently have.

One other note -- the figures don't have any accessories. This is not a big deal to me. I don't tend to display any of my action figures with their accessories, and as small as these figures are, accessories at this scale tend to get lost too easily. I'm simply mentioning it here for informational purposes.

So, what's my final word? Honestly, I was far more impressed with these figures than I expected to be. Granted, I wasn't expecting much in the first place. However, they are very cool figures. They have a few problems, more than I generally find acceptable, but they are still vastly, vastly superior than what I got the last time around. If JazWares can deal with these matters, they'll really have something going.

My only real concern about these Mortal Kombat figures, and for that matter the Street Fighter line, is longevity. Both concepts have been around long enough at this point so that each concept has literally dozens of characters. The last major Street Fighter line was from SOTA, and they did a very capable job, and still didn't get around to everybody. And no Mortal Kombat line has even come close. I'd like to think that JazWares will tweak the quality and assembly just a little up the scale, and really turn out some impressive and extensive product. However, to date, I've only seen either line at Toys "R" Us. They might be a tough sell, I don't know. But here's hoping that Mortal Kombat, and for that matter, Street Fighter, might enjoy long and impressive reigns in the action figure world -- finally.

And really, I believe that any fan of Mortal Kombat will be impressed with these cyber-ninjas, I would recommend gentle handling, but they look great, and will certainly make a great Kollectible (sorry -- had to do it at least once) for any Mortal Kombat fan!

The MORTAL KOMBAT KLASSIC 3-PACK featuring CYRAX, SEKTOR, and SMOKE definitely has my most enthusiastic recommendation!