Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks
Wipe the awful taste of Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero and Mortal Kombat Special Forces from your mouth. Thereís finally a good action game in the franchise. MK: Shaolin Monks may not return the series to its 16-bit golden age, but it manages to provide decent co-op gameplay with plenty of nostalgic touches.
Taking place immediately after the original arcade game, Liu Kang of the Earthrealm has just won the Mortal Kombat tournament. The shape-shifting Shao Tsung has retreated and is defying the Gods for his own nefarious gains. Raiden sends Liu Kang and Kung Lao (AKA the guy with the lethal hat) to the Outworld to put an end to the evil.
The many cutscenes seem to be channeling both cheesy kung fu movies and bad buddy cop films. There are plenty of hilarious lines about honor and such. The bickering between Liu Kang and Kung Lao is equally funny. Iím not sure if it was intentional or not, but either way itís entertaining. One of the reasons the cutscenes are tolerable is because itís great seeing so many familiar characters actually talk more than a phrase or two, even if the voice acting is so campy. Scorpion, Reptile, Goro, Smoke, Sonya and others are present in varyingly important roles. Even that smartass Johnny Cage pops up now and then.
The many characters are fun to see, but the numerous references to the first two games (which are also the best two) are a nostalgic treat. Many of the stages are familiar, such as the Living Forest and Dead Pool. Fatalities are here in a big way (more on those later) and even the notorious ďTOASTYĒ is present. Other familiar sound effects include that guy screaming ďMORTAL KOMBATĒ and Liu Kangís strange grunts. Itís too bad the techno song from the movie didnít make the cut.
Whatís even better than the numerous authentic touches is that the gameplay is actually decent. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is somewhat similar to the Devil May Cry series. Thereís a bit of exploration, some backtracking, and lots and lots of action. What sets this game apart is the cooperative play. This cranks up the difficulty level, but double-teaming the enemies is more fun than going solo. The only problem is that you canít switch between co-op and solo play after starting. It would have great to alternate between the modes as you see fit.
On either mode itís easy to see that the combat system is fast and fierce. Both Kung Lao and Liu Kang have different attacks at their disposal, but neither has the clear advantage over the other. Kung Laoís teleportation may be helpful in some situations, but Liu Kangís legendary bicycle kick is a great fast attack. During the final boss things are a bit easier for Kung Lao, but both characters are balanced well when considering their different specialties.
One of the best parts of Shaolin Monks is the multi-directional combat, which makes it easy to attack while being surrounded. Simply hitting a directional button while attacking makes the character strike in that direction. Multi-hit juggles are easy to pull off, yet they still remain satisfying. This system is somewhat similar to the one in Rise to Honor, but here it has been perfected. Throws are also an effective technique, and itís especially fun lobbing an enemy into some of his buddies. All of the moves are executed responsively without the complex inputs needed in the fighting games.
Itís a good thing that the multi-directional combat and busting out moves is so fluid and responsive because performing lengthy combos is the best way to gain experience points. For every enemy killed or 10 hits, a multiplier is added, and racking up the points isnít frustrating since the controls are excellent. Experience nets you with helpful combos and improved special moves. By the end of the game I found I had more experience points than I could possibly spend, but thatís probably because Iím so awesome.
Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks wouldnít be worthy of its name if it didnít contain obscene amounts of gore. Fortunately, itís not only incredibly violent, but the blood and guts actually improve the gameplay. The stages contain numerous traps that immediately take out an enemy if you hit them into it. These traps include, but arenít limited to; spikes, bottomless pits, man-eating trees, and pools of acid.
The fatalities are also a great to toy around with, especially since the fatality meter fills up quickly. Executing a sequence of buttons (which can be checked by pausing the game) not only takes out the enemy in a disturbing manner, but certain ones net you with experience or multiple kills. Fatalities are also required to defeat bosses. When their health is depleted itís necessary to tap the buttons as they show up on the screen. It can be difficult at times, and if you mess up the boss regains some health. Fortunately, the satisfying death animations make the extra challenge worthwhile.
The only problem with the boss battles is how inconsistent they are. Some of the fights are truly memorable, but others were disappointing. The battle with Baraka was particularly intense. Even after a sword is thrown into his head he still comes after you. It took me several tries to defeat him and my health was desperately low by the end of the battle, yet I was never frustrated or bored. A couple of the other fights left me disappointed. There just wasnít any challenge or excitement in these, like in the anti-climactic fight with Goro.
Another problem with Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is the repetition. Granted, itís predominantly an action game, but the attempts to break up the monotony fall short. The few puzzles are far too simplistic. Every one of them involves hitting a certain amount of baddies into an object. There are also some segments where you have to hammer the X button repeatedly. Cramping my fingers probably wasnít the developersí intention, but thatís all I got out of it.
Since the game is so short, itís hard to ever become really bored. The whole thing can be beaten in a disappointing six hours. At least there are some nice unlockables that add to the replay value. Thereís plenty of the standard concept art and videos, but those are fairly boring. The real excitement lies in the two hidden characters for the story mode and a complete version of Mortal Kombat II. It takes some work, but itís definitely worth it if you donít already own the game
What you get out of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks depends on your familiarity with the series. The more you know, the more youíll like. Iím a big fan of the series, so of course I enjoyed this game. Even if you take away the Mortal Kombat youíll still be left with a decent action-adventure game. It may be short and occasionally repetitive, but the fierce fighting and intense co-op play makes Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks a worthwhile experience. ďToastyĒ indeed.
Eight out of ten