August had the potential to be a very good month for fighting game fans. Two classic franchises hit PSN and XBLA at bargain prices, with Street Fighter III: Third Strike - Online Edition and the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection showing up on both networks. Each boasted upgraded visuals and online play, but unfortunately, only one of these two is worth your time.
Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection brings together the first three Mortal Kombat arcade games in one budget-priced package. For 800 MSP ($10 USD), you get emulated versions of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was previously available on Xbox Live Arcade as a stand-alone title, but was delisted after Midway entered bankruptcy.
Although the first game may seem tame by today's standards, when the original Mortal Kombat debuted in arcades back in 1992, it caused quite a bit of controversy because of its gratuitous depiction of violence. Street Fighter II may have hit arcades first, but Mortal Kombat was the game drawing all the headlines.
Comparatively speaking, the gameplay in Mortal Kombat hasn't held up very well. The version emulated in the Kollection appears to be accurate, but that is both good and bad. Whereas many players today will remember the Genesis and Super NES versions of the game, the arcade original was notorious for featuring rather cheap AI. After all, the whole point was to suck quarters from players. The limited character roster and basic move set means there isn't much to see here, but if you do download the Kollection, it's worth at least a single trip down memory lane.
Mortal Kombat II hit arcades a year after the first game and was an upgrade in more ways than one. The computer AI was still on the cheap side, though character rosters and move sets had greatly increased. Levels are completely redesigned, offering greater interactivity and more options for level-specific fatalities. Characters were also well balanced, making the game quite competitive when facing off against another player. Depending on player preference, some still consider the second installment to be the best of the original trilogy. For the arcade purists out there, the ROM set included in the Kollection appears to be version L3.1.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is an enhanced version of Mortal Kombat 3. It adds a few additional characters, but drops a stage from the original version of the third game. Notable additions here are the inclusion of a tournament mode, the "dial-a-combo" system and the Kombat Kodes, which can be used to modify gameplay. In single-player mode, the Kombat Kodes are used to unlock the three hidden characters (Ermac, Mileena and the original Sub-Zero), but it is in versus mode that they get the most use. By inputting the codes, players can change the basic rules, such as disabling throws or blocking, remove the life bar or even give themselves a handicap.
Unfortunately, the third game is also where some of the more annoying emulation flaws appear. Despite the fact that the Kollection uses the same Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 ROM set (version 1.2) as the previously released XBLA title, the two games do not look or sound alike. Whereas the Midway release had proper gamma levels and deep sound, the Kollection version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is overly bright, resulting in areas with blown-out graphics. Sound effects come through clearly, but the audio mix is improperly leveled, with background music being almost muted throughout.
Another issue with the game has to do with spotty Achievement recording. Most notable is the Achievement for beating the first game. It doesn't always fire, requiring some players to complete the original more than once.
Perhaps the most egregious issue of all, however, is the online play. Given that the Kollection is rather bare-bones, offering just the three arcade games with no extras or unlockable content, one would expect the online play to be rock solid. Sadly, one would be wrong.
No matter which game we took online, gameplay was atrocious. Matches were plagued with input lag as well as low frame rates. The net result wasn't very enjoyable because winning still felt more like luck than skill. Local match-ups are rock solid, but half of the draw here is being able to play online. Not having it work properly is a real shame.
On the amusing side of things is the fact that the game doesn't even load the proper box art in the Xbox 360 dashboard. When viewing your game library, the Kollection displays the box art for last year's Mortal Kombat remake rather than its own box art. It makes you wonder exactly how much QA went into the title before release.
Ultimately, if you're looking for an easy way to get an old-school Mortal Kombat fix, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection does the job, but just barely. Emulation issues mean that Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is actually a step down from the prior release, and the issues with online play render that aspect nigh worthless. Unless a patch appears, don't plan on getting this one for anything other than local match-ups.
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