"Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks" is the next stage of evolution for the revolutionary "Mortal Kombat" fighting game franchise. As envisioned by ko-kreators/programmers Ed Boon and John Tobias during the early 1990s, "Mortal Kombat" took the world of martial arts video-gaming by storm. As a fan of "Mortal Kombat" since 1993, "Shaolin Monks" has a fascinating premise behind it not evident before in any "Kombat" game, but unfortunately it's also marred by some harsh excesses in the gameplay and other problems.
I feel a brief recap should suffice: the first "Mortal Kombat" was released in 1992, and it took gaming a step further than most would have ever dared to take it. Praised for its hardcore martial arts action and gratuitous bloodshed, it also received the biting end of much controversy, due to the latter. But that didn't stop people from going crazy on their friends in simulated kombative environments.
"Mortal Kombat II" and "Mortal Kombat 3" continued the koncept established by the first game, while adding new characters and sets. 1997's "Mortal Kombat 4" introduced two new elements to make the fighting experience even more revolutionary - the addition of weapons, and all-out arena fighting; kombatants were no longer confined to 2D kombat where two fighters fought on a narrow walkway on the screen.
But that game endured a poor reception from fans and critics who felt this once-great franchise was wearing out its welcome. So, Boon and Tobias and their kreators went to work to give their most prized pet project a long overdue image overhaul. Their first, 2002's "Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance," had crisp graphics, introduced new and old characters, and carried over the koncept laid out in "4." Kombatants were now masters of three fighting styles (two fighting styles and one weapon style) and kombat was at its peak in the beautifully designed arenas and brutal bouts of action.
Last year's nostalgic "Mortal Kombat: Deception" took another step by basically continuing the same koncepts but introduced the "Konquest mode" and the "Puzzle" and "Chess" modes, which made for addictive gameplay outside arcade kombat while still remaining true to the title. During this time, two feature length films were also produced. Now, we're at this year's "Shaolin Monks." Whew.
Set shortly after the events of the first game, demon sorcerer Shang Tsung and his minions have retreated to Outworld and Mortal Kombat champion Liu Kang and fellow Shaolin monk Kung Lao are enlisted by the thunder god Rayden to track him down and defeat him. Thus, the two warriors embark on a journey that will carry them from realm to realm, from their home base of Wushi Academy to the hellish Outworld. Along the way, they'll encounter their fair share of supernatural nasties, many of whom will be hastily and brutally dispatched by the two with an array of impressive moves.
I must say I am quite impressed with this entry. The adventure has been taken out of the arenas this time and has been replaced with straight-up brawling in a free-for-all RPG-style adventure. One kombatant can take up to as many as six adversaries in a single confrontation. You can play as either Liu Kang or Kung Lao (or both if you opt for the ko-op feature) or you can duke it out with a friend (no CPU this time, sorry) in versus mode.
The levels are complex and the animation looks great, and the actual battles are as brutal and wild as they have ever been; the interactive environments also add to the fun. The player must also learn various platform abilities (like wall run, swinging, double jumps, FIST OF RUIN!) to access impossible or hard-to-reach areas, and you must also be on the lookout for various secrets hidden in the game. In addition to that, the traditional special moves and fatalities of Liu Kang and Kung Lao are there too. Speaking of fatalities, we've also been introduced to multalities (being able to kill multiple enemies at once) and brutalities, which only heightens the battle-related carnage.
Unfortunately, however, in these moments of joy, it's also marred by a few problems that tend to get in the way of the gameplay. One thing, and this was the biggest for me, is the lousy camera system. Views can be changed but not by much. If you're trying to get an idea of the layout of an area, you can only change the camera's position so far, which is usually not enough in most cases. This makes seeing around corners or what's ahead of you nearly impossible so you can't prepare yourself.
Next, are the boss battles. Very often, kombat is confined to a very small area and if you're facing Reptile or Baraka, you can only go but so far, especially when the action shifts from toe-to-toe action to the use of projectiles; it can be very frustrating (even with the new lock-on feature) because very seldom you are able to get a clean shot.
Lastly, why only Liu Kang and Kung Lao? Sure, if you're able to successfully beat the game with either character you can unlock two other fighters (Sub-Zero and Scorpion), but what about everybody else? Scorpion is my personal favorite, but why couldn't HE be one of the fighters to pick out first? All the other characters, familiars like Johnny Cage, Kitana, and Baraka have to be unlocked during the process of actually playing the game, which can be maddening if you only want to beat the crap out of a friend.
But when all is said and done, "Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks" ranks as the most revolutionary entry this franchise has seen yet, aside from issues I've listed here. It's a must for die-hards though others may be turned away. Maybe next time, though, Ed Boon, John Tobias, and their team will really hit the money-maker and unleash the title to end them all...
2 of 5 people found this review helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?