Release Date: September 20, 2005
Mortal Kombat has been one of the longest-running series of games to date, and for good reason. Perhaps the most recognizable fighting game out there, MK has been well known for its brutal fighting style, gallons of blood, and gruesome finishing moves. In the process of making one of the most successful game franchises of all time, Ed Boon and the team at Midway have created a massive universe that serves as a backstory to the games themselves.
For the most part, Mortal Kombat has stuck to its fighting game roots over the years and never really branched off into other genres. Considering the deep story behind the games, there is plenty of material that would translate nicely into an action/adventure or RPG title. We got to see some hints of this in Mortal Kombat: Deception with its puzzle and adventure modes, but now the boys and girls over at Midway are finally going to give what many of the fans of the series have been asking for: a full-blown action/adventure game set in the Mortal Kombat universe.
Entitled Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, this game follows the story of Kung Lau and Liu Kang as they work their way through the events that take place leading up to Mortal Kombat 2. This really brings back some memories, as you see a lot of the old MK cast from the first two games, as well as many of the backgrounds and levels that appeared in both MK 1 and MK 2. The main mode of play is the single-player story mode, which lets you play as either Kung Lau or Liu Kang.
It's definitely worth noting that there are two unlockable characters, complete with their own move sets, which are also playable in single-player mode. I won't give away who they are, but fans of the series will have no problem picking out their silhouettes at the character selection screen. Aside from the single-player game, there are also a versus mode and a two-player ko-op mode that lets you play through a much tougher version of the single-player quest. Additionally, you can unlock the full arcade version of Mortal Kombat 2 so you can relive all of those fond memories of the arcade version.
From a gameplay standpoint, Midway has done a great job translating the classic fighting style and bringing it to a 3D action/adventure title. At its core, Shaolin Monks plays like your standard MK fighting game, with all of the standard moves, but the combat itself has been modified to work with an action/adventure title. You now have to take on far more than just a single opponent, and thankfully, Midway has introduced multi-directional combat to help you kill enemies in style. When you are surrounded by enemies in all directions, you will have no problem laying the smackdown on them without having to target each one. You simply have to press the joystick in the direction of an enemy and tap the "punch" or "kick" button to smack him around.
Overall, you have the ability to perform a range of different combos on enemies by linking together different moves, and you can even do some really sweet air juggles. You start off with a default set of moves, but as you progress, you also can unlock more complex and powerful combos, and the experience points you gain can be used to buy new moves or abilities. While your initial move list is pretty small, there are hundreds of unlockable moves, combos and fatalities. It's easy to be overwhelmed, but a great menu system has been implemented, which lets you quickly look up a combo, special move or fatality.
Speaking of fatalities, this happens to be one of the series' trademarks, and Shaolin Monks does not disappoint the fans here. Each character has upwards of 10 "finishing moves" that they can use at any time during a fight for an instant kill. To do this, a player has to fill up a meter by fighting opponents and then using a stun attack to disable an enemy for a few seconds while punching in the correct key combination. Not only are you treated to a special cut scene of the carnage, but you also gain upwards of 650 XP for each successful fatality. Each of the character's trademark finishers is in the game, as well as many spectacular ones that have never been seen before. You can also perform fatalities that take out multiple enemies at a time, which not only looks cool but also comes in handy during massive battles.
As you work your way through the game, you will encounter many of the classic MK characters, both friend and foe. Oftentimes you will be joined in battle by friendly characters such as Johnny Cage or Raiden, who help move along the storyline via both cheesy cut scenes and CG movies. Slightly detrimental to the game is the inability to have a friend jump into a single-player game and play co-op with you. You would need to quit your single-player game and start a brand new ko-op one in order for both of you to play. If your friend has to leave, you can't simply quit his character and continue playing through the game by yourself, you have to exit out of ko-op mode altogether and load your single-player game again. While this is not a massive problem, it would have made sense for the developers to have added this feature. Another small problem that I ran into is the sudden jump in the level of difficulty. As with most games, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks starts out quite easy and slowly gets more difficult through the first few levels, but after that, the difficulty ramps way up with no warning whatsoever. Again, this is not a huge problem, but this aspect could have used some more balance.
Graphically speaking, Shaolin Monks is colorful, and although they're not amazing, they certainly do a good job of creating a believable world. Most of the characters in the game look good and animate nicely, and while the special effects look good and get the job done, they are not outstanding by any means. The environments vacillate between the extremes: some of the levels look very good, have nice textures and lighting effects and are well-constructed, while other levels sported blurry textures, poor lighting effects, and really crude special effects. Some levels require a bunch of unnecessary backtracking, so I also have some doubts about the level design.
When all was said and done, I had a great time with Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. The combat system is easy to learn but has enough depth that it will take time to master. While the acting and cut scenes are laughable at best, the game does help fill in the gaps between the first and second tournament. The best thing about the game, though, is the great amount of replay value it offers. Aside from having two more unlockable characters in the single-player mode, you also have a full fighting game built in, with all of the characters from MK 1 and some from MK 2. To top that off, you also get the full arcade version of Mortal Kombat 2. Mortal Kombat fans – and those of you who enjoy a good action/adventure game based around fighting – should really check out Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks.
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