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Hey there guys and gals and welcome to another review. I have decided that I would write another entry for the latest Blistered Thumbs Community Forums contest. If you remember, this month’s challenge is to write about the most shallow or the deepest game that you have ever played. Last time I talked about two incredibly bad shallow titles. Tonight I will talk about two more shallow titles that happen to be in my little reviews notebook. Oh and this review couldn’t have come at a better time because this series is releasing its big reboot today. Of course I’m talking about Mortal Kombat! Well, Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate MK 3 to be more specific.
Editor’s Note: Please read the article before you begin to flame me. Thank you.
Before I get this review/s started, I think it’s best to give a little history lesson about the start of the franchise. When video game programmer Ed Boon and game designer John Tobias’ plan to utilize digitized graphics to make a realistic fighting game based on action star Jean-Claude Van Damme failed, they decided to change the direction of their project, rather than wasting all of their hard work.
The game would keep its realistic graphical style but rather than having Van Damme battle a cavalcade of stock villain cliches, the duo decided to give the project a much darker edge. The game would eventually center around a Shaolin Monk who enters a tournament in which the greatest martial arts masters (each with their own motives for entering the competition) fight to the death in order to determine the fate of the world and to avenge to the death of his brother.
In 1992, Boon and Tobias’ dream was released, as Mortal Kombat hit the arcades (and home consoles in 1993) and quickly became one of the most popular arcade games of all time and was a best seller when the home console versions hit the market place. However, MK’s success didn’t come without a price. Since players could do things like this:
And of course this:
Not only did Midway come under fire for developing such a violent game but the video game industry as a whole would feel the wrath of politicians like Democratic Senator (and likely closet Republican) Joe Liberman who demanded that the industry either regulate itself by implementing a rating system (like the MPAA) within one year or the government would be doing it for them. As a result of this ultimatum, the ESRB was founded in 1994.
The gaming industry would give parents a helpful purchasing guide from there on out, Mortal Kombat would continue to grow in popularity and the politicians would continue (even to this very day) to complain despite getting what they wanted.
Well I that ends today’s class of Gaming History 101. Make sure to read the reviews below for your homework assignment. There will be a test tomorrow.
Editor’s Note: There will not be a test tomorrow.
Thompson Legal Team assemble!: Mortal Kombat II
Released in the arcades (and then every console known to man) in the Fall of 1993 (same year as the original’s console release), Mortal Kombat II is the sequel to what was then considered to be the most violent and controversial game ever created. Does it deliver in terms of gameplay innovation as well as upgraded pixelized blood and gore?
The plot of Mortal Kombat II takes place one year after the first game, with the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung (the boss from the first game) pleading for his life, after he had failed to take over the Earth. He manages to convince his master Shao Kahn to hold another Mortal Kombat Tournament but instead of holding it on Earth, they would have the fighters compete in their realm known as the Outworld. Knowing that an invitation for Mortal Kombat can not be turned down (for some reason), Shao Kahn sends an invitation to Raiden (God of Thunder) and his warriors of the Earthrealm (that’s Earth of course) to engage in Mortal Kombat. Oh and to make things a little more interesting, Kahn has taken has taken Kano and Sonya Blade (fighters from the first game) prisoner. The fate of the world will once again be decided in Mortal Kombat.
Not only does the story do a fantastic job of expanding upon the Mortal Kombat universe through the game’s main plot but also through the individual sub plots of each of the 12 fighters (which is double the size of the original’s roster). Boon and Tobias put a lot of time and effort to create the mythos of the MK Universe and it defiantly shows in their second effort. As far as a fighting game narrative goes, Mortal Kombat gives you one of the better reasons to pound someone’s face in.
(That's one way to counter the bicycle kick bub)
In terms of audio presentation, MK II is definitely a big step up from its predecessor. The music and voice over work is much clearer this time around. It is definitely nice to hear all of the grunts and groans of the kombatants (see what I did there?) and the play by play coming in clear as a bell without it sounding all static like. Not to mention that Shao Kahn adds a nice bit of humor to his commentating during the fights, rather than just being a voice for the sake of having one in the background. It should also be said that the music not only sounds better this time around but the darker and more maniacal edge to the overall score really does a great job of complimenting the level design when it comes to setting the game’s tone.
Graphically the is game is well, as Shao Kahn would put it, “Superb!” The new and improved graphics card that was used for the MK II arcade cabinet really breathes new life into the series with colors that whether light or dark (mostly dark) are really pleasing to the eye. The character models are also given a nice visual upgrade and thanks to some buffing out of the rougher edges, they look more realistic than in the original. The levels designs are also great, each with its own charm (by which I mean a sense of misery and despair) and some of which even have some fantastic subtle touches like moaning trees, floating monks, and a chained up Kano and Sonya struggling for freedom, that are animated flawlessly. Oh and the pool of blood that drips from the Fatality logo is an awesome visual.
(Sub Zero wants Kung Lao's help in making a pretty ice sculpture)
Gameplay wise, MK II isn’t exactly a huge leap forward when compared to that of the original. Each character still has a few special moves and a projectile attack but for the most part it is still the same slightly slow paced (not as slow as I remember though) fighting engine that was featured in the original. Character’s still stand perfectly still when punching and kicking and blocking still becomes once hit and you will have to wait until you fall back before you can fight back. Seriously, getting punched in the face repeatedly and having to stand perfectly still without being able to fight back is annoying as Hell. Oh and if you don’t know any of the moves, you are basically screwed when it comes to playing the single player campaign, as you will have to rely on jump kicking and upper-cutting your way to victory. This begins to become counter-productive before the mid-way point because opponents begin to spam there counter attacks and specials to the point where you are driven crazy. This is why if you do not have any instructions, you should look them up online so you know your character’s moveset. The game is much more enjoyable that way and it you will have a better chance at getting further in the game. The level of difficulty in the single player mode can be a tad irritating at times, which is why I would say that the game is best enjoyed when playing with a group of friends. That way you can have a few laughs and really enjoy the bloody experience even if it is at your own expense because it’s more likely to end with something great (the CPU rarely does a non-level specific finisher, which is pretty lame).
But are the basic fighting mechanics really the main reason why people play MK to begin with? Of course not. It’s the dark atmosphere, the buckets of blood and the ability to do things like this to show up your buddy on the couch or to punish that aggravating CPU opponent:
Yes. The fabled Fatalities that made the original game such as success have returned and were better than ever thanks to the improved graphics and the variety (each character has two of them from this point on) and creativity of the moves themselves. These moves are awesome sauce and truly make the game worth playing. There are even a couple of new level specific Fatalities, which include the acid pool and the spiked ceiling. There is even a new interpretation of The Pit from the regular game.
However, the duo of Boon and Tobias did add a little bit of gameplay innovation when it comes to the finishers (which was fairly lacking in the core gameplay). Instead of murdering your opponent, you can choose to do something like this:
(I always get a good laugh when I see Blaze on fire. I'm not disturbed. I swear.)
Personally, I have always loved the additions of Friendships and Babalities because they add a great sense of unexpected humor to series. Be it a cynical/satirical counter-balance to all of the complaints about the series’ over the top use of violence, to the ability to further pour salt into the wounds of a sore loser by literally turning them into a crying infant, these additions are absolutely side-splitting in terms of execution and were always my favorites to pull off.
So, MK II is definitely a cut above its predecessor in terms of story, graphics, sound, humor and the amount of blood and guts that splatter across the screen. However, not much is done in terms of innovating the gameplay (well besides the finisher additions) but it is still a fun experience when you know what you’re doing.
Final Score: 7/10
Breathing the air that smells of Kombat!: Ultimate MK 3
In 1995, Boon and Tobias released the third installment in the Mortal Kombat franchise that was said to further expand upon the MK Universe, as well as sport one of the largest rosters in any fighting game up to that point. However, I am not here to talk about that game. I’m here to talk about its 1996 update (a la Street Fighter II Turbo) Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Was Ultimate MK 3 really the ultimate kombat experience?
After failing to take over the Earthrealm, Shao Kahn exacts his revenge by performing a ritual that would not only revive his long dead queen Syndal but would also result in the Outworld and Earthrealm merging together. Not too mention the sacrifice of billions of human souls that were used to revive the queen. With the Earth threatened with eminent destruction, Raiden (although he will be sitting on the sidelines this time) once again enlists Earth’s greatest warriors to fend off Shao Kahn and his Outworld army.
Ultimate MK 3 may use the same storyline as the original version of the game but considering that it adds to the game by taking the already impressive roster of 16 fighters and turning it into an (at the time) unprecedented roster of 23 fighters (not including the two bosses), it means that you have an additional seven subplots to add to the original story. The original story was great and a solid addition to the growing MK story arc and these minor tweaks make it slightly better.
In terms of Audio, since my copy of the game is one of the original console ports (Sega Genesis) it doesn’t sound quite as good as the arcade versions of MK 3 but it does sound close enough. How does it compare to MK II? Well the characters sound about the same, the music is similar and Shao Kahn is still hilarious.
(Get over here! (It's about time I used that joke))
Like the audio, the graphics are not as “stellar” as the arcade version of the game/s but they are still pretty impressive for a 16-bit console. The character models look realistic, the backgrounds are well detailed and fit the dark atmosphere of the plot and even feature some nice subtle touches like a newspaper blowing in the wind or Cyrax sinking in quicksand. I especially like the urban cityscapes that have been engulfed by the hellish darkness of the Outword. I can’t help but find the way these levels manage to combine elements from the Earth and Outworld, ironic since Earth is the setting of the first game and Outworld is the setting of the second.
Gameplay wise, Ultimate MK 3 is basically the exact same experience as the original MK 3 and the other two entries in the original trilogy. However, there are four things that set the two third installments apart from the first two efforts. The first is the addition of a run button. This is definitely a welcome change of pace that allows the actual fighting mechanics in the game to feel less sluggish, which is definitely a plus. The second thing is the fact that you can now do combos! Nothing too fancy mind you. It’s more or less just standing still as you punch and kick your opponent in rapid succession until they are sent flying to the over end of the screen but it is definitely a nice visual and it makes the game feel more like an authentic fighting game. The third thing is the fact that the game is easier. Not only do the CPU opponents not spam their specials as much, they also don’t manage to counter every single jump kick and upper-cut, so it definitely helps to balance out some of the ridiculous difficulty from MK II and it does give you a better chance if you don’t happen to know your characters move set that well. I also like the fact that during the single player mode, you can choose between three different towers (each having a different amount of fighters leading to Shao Kahn) that each have their own difficulty setting. It definitely gives a nice helping hand to those who want the arcade experience but aren’t necessarily going to be winning any tournaments. The fourth thing is the use of Kombat Kodes, which is a series of symbols that show up at the bottom of every versus and continue screen. You use these kodes to unlock a series of hidden Easter Eggs, which are actually pretty keen.
Although it borrows a lot from its predecessor, Ultimate MK 3 did have a few unique twists of its own. For instance, there was the addition of three new game modes. Endurance Kombat (MK’s version of Survival Mode), had players challenging up to three other fighters in one round. This is a solid mode and definitely a good test of skill. 2-on-2 Kombat, which had players facing each other in teams of two, although you couldn’t tag fighters in and out at any point of the fight, you would have to wait for the fighter you are using to get KO’ed before using the second fighter and the first team to have both KO’ed would lose. This is another fine addition to the series but it would have been better if you could tag fighters in and out. The third additional game mode is the Tournament Mode. Now this is some awesomeness right here. You enter eight fighters (CPU or human players) into a tournament bracket, to see who can make it to the finals and be declared the MK champion! This is definitely a lot of fun if you happen to have a group of friends over, since all eight fighters can be controlled by the first or second controller. Just be sure to pass them around.
With all of the added features and slight gameplay improvements, at its heart Ultimate MK 3 is still all about the violence and just like every other game in the series, it delivers that in spades. The Fatalities make their grand return and are plentiful than ever thanks to the larger roster and of course there are new stage specific ones like the subway train or the third version of The Pit.
The Friendships and Babalities make their return as well but some new ultra-violent finishers have been also been added to the mix. Finishers like this:
Oh wait no. These (along with Mercys) were removed from the console ports of this update.
But the game did add in the new finisher style Brutalities (which are more or less glorified combos):
Yeah. Those are kind of lame but at least we get some cool Fatalities like this one:
I almost forgot to mention that the Genesis version of Ultimate MK 3 happens to have one of my all time favorite cheat codes. If enter a special code in the main menu, you gain access to special menus (as well as the sound test) that will give access to some more nifty Easter eggs like a cool shmup game, infinite continues, bio screens and the ability to select one button finishers. That’s right. You can perform Fatalities, Friendships and Babalities by only pressing the last button of each move! Sweet!
And here it is:
Start game/Options press: A, C, Up, B, Up, B, A, Down if the codes works, Shao Kahn will say, “Excellent!”
Since I have them with me, here are some of the SNES codes:
Tournament Mode (why is this a cheat?): at the main menu, hold L and R and press start.
Sound Test: Main Menu press: Left, Down, Y, Y
Kool Stuff: Main Menu press: Right, Up, B, B, A, Down, Up, B, Down, Up, B
Kooler Stuff: Main Menu press: Up, B, A, left, down, Y
Scott’s Stuff: Main menu press: B, A, Down, Down, Left, A, X, B, A, B, Y
Other versions of the game happen to have their own special codes like this one, although they can offer different things.
(Spin me round baby right round baby right round)
So, Ultimate MK 3 was not only a solid improvement over the original MK 3 but (in my mind at least) was the best entry in the series thus far (and one of my all time favorite fighting games) because of its solid array of finishing moves, implementation of a combo system, a faster fighting pace and of course the special features and hidden secrets. If you are a Mortal Kombat fan who has yet to play this one, it is definitely worth seeking out. If you’re a noob, it is a great place to start.
Oh and if you are playing this on the Sega Genesis, I recommend using a six-buttoned controller. You know the one with the X,Y,Z buttons. It makes things a Hell of a lot easier when it comes to pulling off moves.
Final score: 8/10
Before this article draws to a close, I want to address the reason why I said these games are shallow. You see, the majority of the fun that comes from playing them isn’t generated from the gameplay or a deep fighting system but rather the fact that you can murder you’re your opponents in brutal and inventive ways, which is what Boon and Tobias were cashing in on. Granted, there were story, audio and graphical improvements. But still, rather than taking any chances on drastically changing the gameplay, they decided to play it safe and it worked (well before the 3D days anyway).
What can I say? Seeing the blood and guts fly around like this was definitely a unique quality that drew in many fans back in the day and to be honest, the games age well. The gameplay isn’t perfect but they give a great feeling of nostalgia and they are fun to play. Especially when you can decapitate a buddy or two.