Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance
Mortal Kombat! Mortal Kombat! Scorpion versus Sub Zero… Fight!
Ha! Yah! Ha Ha! Whack! Hadoken! Err no, not hadoken, that’s the other game…
Um anyway, FINISH HIM! Scorpion wins… Flawless Victory (oh yeah!)
Crane stance, Karate Kid style
I remember back to when Mortal Kombat first reared it’s ugly, almost photo-realistic head back in the early nineties, as perhaps then the only real alternative to the all conquering Street Fighter II that you had. It’s no surprise that it was so popular since there was definitely space for it down your local arcade as the two games were so different. If Street Fighter was the King of the hill, Mortal Kombat was like the poorer cousin; the one that lived downtown in the rough area where people nick your tyres, and ask you for a light, and there’s loads of graffiti and kebab shops. Whereas Street Fighter was smooth and elegant in it’s conception, Mortal Kombat was gritty, brutal, nastier, and provided an all round more immediate fix. I always remember the fights being faster and noisier and the kids hanging round the SFII turbo arcade cabinet would sneer at you and look down on you for playing what they considered to be the lesser game.
Well despite it’s simplicity, it’s gimmicky use of gore and all the legendary dodgy digitising of characters, Mortal Kombat is an important lesson in video game history. The game was simply marketed so well it was unbelievable. Tie in movies, action figures, comic books, and even a TV show. Astounding. Also, we should not forget that this spawned the first big console fighting game rivalry with the release of Mortal Kombat II and Street Fighter II turbo on both Mega Drive and Super Nintendo simultaneously. Magazines had a field day and this was years before your Virtua Fighters and your Tekkens. It got to the point where you had to be hot stuff at a couple of characters in each game so you never looked bad round at mates’ houses.
Hang on, Scorpion’s got a tentacle arm!
Inevitably though, cracks began to show. While the merchandising bandwagon was in full swing, the core product was suffering. All the incarnations after MK II were lacklustre and often felt like rehashes. The game was stooping so low, in fact, it actually decided to add a new button to spice up the game play. That struck a lot of us as desperate, and we all left MK to gather dust. It was all feeling like we’d been there and done that. Adios muchachos.
When I caught wind of Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance however, I was quite excited. All the early screen shots looked good, the buzz was you could switch stances, even mid combo, and we were promised a true 3D game. But was this enough? Could Mortal Kombat rise from the ashes as a new game and rekindle in us that fondness we once had?
Well, it’s your same old kooky plot. Some good guys, some bad guys, blah, save the earth, blah; you know the stuff. I was surprised to find out Lui Kang has already been wasted by the opening credits; a bit lame considering he’s survived four tournaments and probably won a couple of them. I guess the key to killing shaolin monks really is creeping up on them while they’re meditating. Maybe that’s what happened to Brude Lee, eh? Well, maybe.
If you’re going to get kicked in the face, you might as well make it one of Kitana’s high kicks.
Anyway, it all starts off very Mortal Kombat, right down to the ching! every time you pick a menu option. The character select screen allows you to set up your own profile by entering a button code (a bit like the old turbo cheat of SF II turbo) and you use this to earn Koins through the arcade and the training mode. The basic idea is to the get as many Koins as you can and spend them in the Krypt to unlock extra levels, Kharacters and behind the scenes goodies (klever use of the letter K, eh?) This is a nice enough idea for longevity, but the fact that the arcade levels are simply average arcade levels, and the training levels are all quite samey and very text heavy, means that you’ll only be playing this if the actual game engine is worth the effort. Unfortunately this is where Mortal Kombat is let down.
One of the selling points of MK:DA is the fact that all the characters had three stances, two hand-to-hand and one with weapons. The concept of branching combos through stances sounds really promising, but in truth the fighting stances are not in themselves that spectacular. Each stance has around a dozen moves and a handful of dial-a-combos. This gives you around thirty-five or so moves, but you have to remember to associate moves with stances; not all that when most moves are commands like “square!” or “forward and square!”. The game also has limited and predictable jugglers and blatantly encourages turtles; a stage of fighting game evolution I thought we’d left behind.
Uh oh, watch you don’t step in those blood spills there.
Let’s recap on those terms. Mortal Kombat allows characters to perform dial-a-combos, or combinations that are guaranteed after the first hit connects and cannot be blocked. This encourages players to boringly memorise lengthy patterns to pull out of the bag whenever needed. The game has no counters or combo breakers either, so you have to take all the hits or catch the first with a block and wait until they finish. Yes, games really can degenerate into taking it in turns to knockout the longest, most damaging combo you know.
So why do a three-hit combo when you can do a longer string for more damage? Well, in a lot of 3D fighters today the answer is to juggle, i.e. keep you opponent in the air to bag a few safe knocks before they land and can fight back. In some games this can be spectacularly damaging and intimidating, not so in MK:DA. Character here sometimes have eight-hit juggle combos which don’t do as much damage as standing five-hitters, Scorpion that was I think, so why bother with juggles?
The combo branching is poor too and feels like an after thought. The possibility of creating your own branching chains would be cool but it was not to be. I think you get one change over combo per stance, then you have to try and remember which moves list you’ve moved into before the action hots up again.
Who does he think he is, Bruce Campbell?
Lastly turtles. Turtles are players which get away with sitting back and blocking a lot. How do you beat a turtle? Well, it should be obvious. If they block constantly just walk up and throw them, right? Wrong, in MK:DA you can block throws. Yes, you heard, block throws. Turtles, sheesh…
I suppose it’s not all doom and gloom, though. While not being the best I’ve ever seen, the graphics are still pretty good. While not being the best I’ve ever heard, the sound is all pretty good too. Actually, if you get a few of you who know a few moves and learn a few finishing moves, you can have good crack for a while. You can muddle round the stance thing, and the characters all have a couple of signature special moves which cross stances, although sadly some of the trade mark moves for the older characters have been ditched (like Scorpion’s teleport punch and Raiden’s torpedo) and you kind of miss them.
Oh, but the finishing moves, I forgot to mention those. Gone are all the crazy ones and back with a vengeance is the gore. If you can press all the buttons fast enough and not be instantly intimidated by the thundering ‘Finish Him!’ (don’t get me started…) you are rewarded with some gruesome deaths. Scorpion tosses his spear through his victim’s head and rips it clean off, Kano goes for the heart and rips it out of his opponents head and Raiden shocks his enemy until they explode, to name but a few. All good wholesome fun.
Ultimately though, MK:DA is just not a great game. It’s a shame too because you play it and think that the whole deal could have been so much better. In the end though, it’s just another average fighter. Again the game engine is behind the pace and we’re left looking for the next best thing. I wonder whether Capcom Fighting All Stars will do any better, or whether those old school fighters really have had their day.