Mortal Kombat is a part of my childhood. The hours in the arcades playing MK2 shaped much of who I am today. Yes it’s cheesy, yes it’s cliché, but hanging out in the arcades with some friends, and many other folks I didn’t know were some of the best times I had playing games as a kid. Because of this I have a soft spot in my heart for the MK series. This is MK’s second journey into adventure game territory, a change from the normal fighting genre which it’s been known for. The first attempt, Mortal Kombat Mythologies was a horrible failure. Shaolin Monks is not only a much better game than Mythologies, but it’s much better than many of the games I’ve played in recent memories.
Shaolin Monks takes place in the time between MK1 and MK2. The intro cinema keeps up the great tradition that MK Deadly Alliance, and Deception laid the groundwork for. Right off the bat I got goose bumps because Paradox nailed the MK1 and 2 flavors. The game made me feel like I was a little kid again. Everything looked familiar, but it was all given a new coating of sheen and newness.
The game is an adventure game with some puzzle solving (although not very difficult), some jumping/platformer stuff, some leveling and experience, and a HEALTHY dose of beat-em-up fighting in the vein of Double Dragon, or even Gauntlet. You can play single player, co-op, or the fighting game portion of the game. In the story-mode, you select between Kung Lao (the guy w/ the hat), or Liu Kang (the shirtless, noisy guy). You will travel all over the place, including MANY familiar locations such as Outworld, Goro’s Pit, the Portal Room, the Living Forest, and many other familiar stages. The enemies in the game are also familiar. You fight against some of the standards like Baraka, Scorpion, Reptile, etc. You even fight some characters who were in the backgrounds of the stages in MK1 and 2.
The fighting is accomplished using an excellent control scheme. You have health and energy. As you get damaged, you obviously lose health. It’s worth mentioning briefly that in co-op mode, you both share one health bar. As you perform special moves (such as the hat throw, fireballs, bicycle kicks, and other staples) you use your energy. The system works surprisingly well because the specials are easy to pull off, but there is balance because you can’t constantly rely on the special attacks. You can just focus on combat, and not have to worry about how to do the moves. It’s great because with the co-op modes, you can have your wife or girlfriend play the game and not be frustrated because she doesn’t know how to do any of the moves.
As you defeat enemies you gain experience points. You can use this experience at any time to purchase new combos, special moves, throws, and fatalities. Yes, I said fatalities. As you build up your combo meter you can unleash a fatality opportunity. The screen goes dark and you have to input the move sequence for the fatality - just like the MK fighting games. Some of these fatalities are decent, some are great, and all are bloody and violent. Parents shield your children’s eyes. In addition to the fatalities you can get mutalities (kills several enemies at once), and brutalities (makes you superhuman, liked the Berserk Powerup in Doom, or the Rage mode in God of War).
We had a blast playing the versus mode. You can use any of the characters you unlock (we’ll get to that in a minute), and the game plays out in a large arena complete with obstacles, traps, and weapons. It reminded me a little bit of the old Dreamcast game Power Stone. This mode was almost more fun than the story mode because of the control scheme, anyone could compete.
The game is long enough that I can’t really complain about its length, although a little longer would be nice. The nice part, however, is that there’s TONS of replay value. As you beat the game you unlock new characters to use in any of the games mode. You also gain little ying-yang symbols that unlock new hidden items, including a fully featured version of Mortal Kombat 2.
So I’ve been all positive thus far. No game is perfect, what are the issues? Well the game can get a bit old. The stages and enemies are pretty varied, but it’s a beat-em-up-game, so by its very nature the game is repetitive. The graphics are a little on the low-poly side, but ample. There was some slowdown in the co-op version when there were many enemies on the screen. The cut scenes had some horrible transparency issues. It also had problems because they showed both characters in all the cut scenes, even if you didn’t have a partner playing with you at the time. I mentioned the length could be a slight detriment to the game.
So the good is great - especially for a MK fan boy like me. The bad is well, tolerable. I think the co-op and versus modes steal the show. The length is made up for by the unlockables and replay value. I think this is a must-buy if you like MK games, or beat-em-ups. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks should be rented if you are not a fan of the series, but you may be pleasantly surprised.
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