Release Date: February 28, 2005
Another day, another late Gameube port.
Yes, that sentence, only six words long, is impacted with hyperbole and sarcasm. But it's starting to ring true, if just slightly. I've just finished typing up a review for an irrelevant port of Ghost Recon 2, and I've got Johnny-come-lately Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory coming. (I've got high hopes for that one... we'll see.) And a few minutes ago I put down my 'cube controller after a few heated rounds of the brand-new Mortal Kombat: Deception... brand-new for Nintendo-only fans, that is.
But wait! Midway just might be onto something this time! Unlike Ghost Recon 2, which had fewer features than the already lackluster PS2 game from whence it came - making for a port that was a confluence of both tardiness and omissions - Deception's Gamecube release contains some features that might make PS2 and Xbox owners a little jealous, provided they are Mortal Kombat fans.
Of course, the flaws of Deception itself are still fully intact: cheap instant kills, boring dial-a-combos, and uninspired character designs sit completely unchanged, excepting a few balancing issues that have been attended to. And the extras - puzzle kombat, konquest, chess kombat - are all in the same, slightly rough but appreciated status; as the luster wears off these nice additions, their presence is less and less impressive. Despite the lean towards mediocrity, Deception is a full-featured product with great value, and was clearly built to please a fan base that has been cultured over many years. Virtua Figher 4 it is not, but was it ever supposed to be?
We've all played a Mortal Kombat game at one point or another. Hell, even if you think you haven't, you probably have. Like it or not, this notoriously gory fighter, in all its shallow glory, is the defining series of the 1990s. First there was Pong, then there was Pac-Man, then there was Super Mario, and then there was Mortal Kombat. (And now Grand Theft Auto, following the precedent set by Midway's pugilist romp.) The mantra: less gameplay, more violence. Mortal Kombat II, sticking with the "second edition is best" tradition of early '90s fighters, is the best in the series, but it does not touch the depth of any one of SNK's tries at the genre, nor Killer Instinct after it, and unquestionably not Street Fighter II before it, but it sold well. It received masses of attention in the arcade scene; it became representative of the entire youth culture of that decade.
But we're in a different era, now. Two-dimensional fighters are no longer anywhere near the public eye, with the last to garner any sort of attention being Marvel vs. Capcom. The fighting game community is split into two distinct groups: Virtua Figher, Mark of the Wolves, and Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike fans, and Soul Calibur and Tekken fans. Note that Mortal Kombat no longer has a place here. The most popular fighters are no longer the most provocative. Even the simpler Soul Calibur and Tekken games have depth bested only by the technical aptitude of AM2, SNK, and Capcom. Fighting games need to either require great prowess, or allow players to wean themselves from pick-up-and-play fun to a great level of fighting aptitude. Even now, with Deception releasing on the slip fighting game territory of the Gamecube, competition like Soul Calibur and (though to a lesser extent) Capcom vs. SNK 2: EO are still abound. Smartly, Midway instead panders to its own audience.
This means the fighting system in place is not one that can be played with the same finesse in mind as with most other popular fighters. Combos are "dialed in," although not unstoppably set off as in Deadly Alliance, since they can now be canceled. Instead of spending hours finding the proper timing for each combo, thus separating the masters from the "scrubs," as the Street Fighter crowd likes to call 'em, Deception is more about memorizing button presses and activating them during exploitable moments.
Battles take place in multi-tiered arenas clearly designed for shock value. Acid pits, spinning spike-pillars, walls of spears... all of which can lead players to a quick and gruesome death, as a good Mortal Kombat game should. Maybe not a good fighting game, but for this series, this is what should be expected, right? Never mind the complete castration of any probability of this game getting any tournament play, right?
But my, oh, my, what a package this is, even if the fighting is too stiff for serious play. (Fun, but not impressive.) Chess Kombat is an Archon-like board game which takes place on a checkered board. Players move MK fighters with assigned classes around the board until the king is eliminated. Atrocious load times are abound in this one, which kills most of the fun, but it's definitely worth a game or two before ignoring completely.
Konquest Mode is like Shenmue-meets-Morrowind-meets-Mortal Kombat. Long load times are again present, but are few and far in between. Most of the puzzles are simplistic, and quests are of the "go here, do this" variety, but the scope of this mode is impressive, especially for the optional feature that it is. Also, ample opportunities are given to gain points to work towards unlocking one of the hundreds (!!!) of extras buried in this game, which range from the boring (production sketches) to the hilarious (footage from the appallingly terrible/amusingly awesome MK TV show). Konquest really isn't worth completing, surely (that might take upwards of twenty hours), but it does prove to be an addictive diversion, especially as the unlockables are burst open one after the other.
But, alas, this is a Gamecube port of an online enabled game, which means: no online modes to speak of. As with most games with this feature stripped out, nothing is done to alleviate the pain, even if this game is too exploitable to play seriously in the first place... except this version has two of the most famous MK characters of old, Goro and Shao Khan, completely playable! The convoluted storyline this series is known for is at work here, and it isn't worth transcribing here, but they are fully playable, and you know you want to get your hands on these guys. MK die-hards everywhere have locked their wallets to avoid buying a 'cube just to pick its version of Deception up for this reason alone.
Graphical improvements are nowhere to be found, of course. (Typical of Gamecube ports, though the platform lends itself to fantastic upgrades, if the developers would take advantage.) This is a Renderware game, and therefore looks like... a Renderware game. Muddy, slightly primitive textures and simplified geometry. Nothing to see here, especially with the extremely ugly character designs. Come on, how do you make Sub-Zero look uncool? Oh, wait, they did that already when he was without his mask in MK3. Darn. Perhaps the junior high crowd can relate to this one.
The game sounds like... Mortal Kombat. Silly grunts, b-movie fireball sounds, moronic voice acting that takes itself too seriously. The music will make you want to pull out your hair. Sadly, there is little else to say here.
Deception on the Gamecube is Deception minus online play, plus two characters everybody wishes were in the first runs of the game. As usual, it is directed towards MK freaks and bored casuals only. The extra features alone may be worth the price of admission (well, maybe after a price drop or two), especially for fans of older MK titles thanks to Shao Khan and Goro, but the rest of us should give this one a hesitant glance for now, and maybe a rental later. The initial excitement of this awesome package, with all of its fun content, has worn off, and all these months later, it's hard to justify buying a Mortal Kombat game.
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