Mortal Kombat Shaolin MonksThe Mortal Kombat tournament is nearing its end and with Shang Tsung’s imminent loss, the mysterious island fortress somewhere in the Lost Sea begins to shake and quiver as the very island on which it stands threatens to disappear beneath the waves. The combatants flee but Kung Lao and Liu Kang find themselves trapped in Goro’s lair as the ground gives way beneath them.

However, a quick escape leads them to the Wu Shi Academy where the victorious Earth warriors celebrate their victory and the subsequent saving of the Earth Realm. However, peace never reigns for long as Baraka and the Tarkatan launch a surprise attack on the academy and capture one of the warriors, forcing Liu Kang and Kung Lao to follow in pursuit – and thereby fall in Shang Tsung’s trap as he tries once again to take over the Earth Realm, but this time without following the rules.

But then, Shang Tsung is not the only demon that the warriors of Earth should be wary of…

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is the ninth game in Midway’s extremely popular Mortal Kombat franchise and was released in 2005 on the PlayStation 2 and Xbox consoles.

To start things off, one has to say that finally Midway has come up with a game that not only breaks out of the successful fighting genre which birthed the original Mortal Kombat, they’ve also managed to come up with the first outside genre game that is actually damn enjoyable to play. Forget about the flawed Mortal Kombat – Mythologies: Sub-Zero or the atrocious Mortal Kombat: Special Forces, no Midway have finally got it right in producing a top quality adventure game that is fun to play and happens to squeeze in so much classic MK and MKII lore that any person who professes to be a Mortal Kombat fan will walk away absolutely beaming with fanboy delight.

At the heart of the game, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is a simple brawler action/adventure game that has you initially controlling either Kung Lao or Liu Kang and stepping forth to beat up on foe after foe and then take out some memorable MK fighters as the level bosses.

The action game mechanics aren’t too challenging and you have a basic quick attack, launch attack and power attack, as well as a jump/evade button and a simple throw trigger. These can all be combined in various ways to perform the basic attacks of the game. Added to these are your upgradeable special attacks, all of which are moves harvested from the original games (like Kung Lao’s hat toss and Liu Kang’s multiple ‘bicycle’ kicks), just simplified to a single button press or two.

Defeating opponents builds up your fatality bar and once the bar is full you can then try and strike your enemy with the fatality trigger which then freezes the game and allows you to input a button sequence which if correct, launches the associated fatality animation and rewards you with points which you can later use to upgrade your abilities and combos. Initially the game gifts you with a single fatality sequence to start you off with, but as for the rest, you need to figure them out – just as you would do in classic Mortal Kombat style. The boss fights end off on a similar fatality note, but in these cases you need to follow a predetermined sequence which then launches what is usually quite a spectacular fatality finishing animation.

The game’s level design is not all that expansive and big, and unfortunately the designers chose to pad the relatively short game out a little by including a lot of backtracking, but this isn’t necessarily such a bad thing as all the levels are very faithful reproductions of famous battle arenas pulled straight out of the original games, making it a delight for any MK fans who will recognise their favourable arena realised in a full level design. The levels themselves are also all well-designed and feature a number of puzzles and locked secrets, adding to the replay value particularly if you can chain down a friend to sit down and play through the game with you.

Talking about that, Mortal Kombat’s co-op and single play campaigns are completely exclusive of one another, meaning that should you choose either one of the two, you can’t switch between them half way through the game. And while the single player campaign is certainly polished and enjoyable enough, it is pretty easy to see that this game was designed with two players in mind, as the majority of unlockables can in fact only be released in ‘ko-op’ mode!

The game itself is particularly short and will only take a handful of hours to complete, but it does provide a fairly satisfying storyline with a lot of good boss battles in between, before ending off on one mother of a fight that is particularly cheap as it pits you against three boss characters all in a row and without a save point or health replenishment spot in between! Actually, that is another one of this title’s drawbacks – its difficulty level is all over the place, with some sections, puzzles and bosses being ridiculously hard and then others being so simple that you can employ your baby brother to press the buttons for you. There is no real learning curve so to speak and this hurts the playability of the game just that little.

Visually Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is a bit on the disappointing side as characters, character models and environments don’t really hold up well to closer inspection, with most of the textures being pretty rough and unpolished. And while the character animations certainly aren’t bad, the decision to use the in game graphics engine for the cut-scenes hurts the overall visual presentation quite a bit thanks to these poor character models that look so bad from up close. Still, all the detail that makes Outworld ‘Outworld’ is there and fans should certainly have no problem recognising their favourite battle arenas from the games or even the very battle opponents themselves.

And of course, if you are talking Mortal Kombat visuals, then rest assured that this game is as bloody and graphic as what any other Mortal Kombat game ever has been. Fatalities and all.

Honestly, the sound affects and music is a little spotty in places, and the omission of original Techno Syndrome by The Immortals (known as the Mortal Kombat theme song) hurts the experience a little, but the rest of the music composition isn’t all that bad and the music does blend in with the various locations and sequences quite well. On the voice acting side, it must be said that some of the voices and dialogue are downright painful to listen to, but if you are a Mortal Kombat fan then you can probably overlook this slight hang-up.

Simply put, if you are a fan of the Mortal Kombat franchise and have been a fan right from the very first release, then Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is without a doubt for you. To any other gamer this game presents a decent action/adventure brawler that does has its niggles but still manages to entertain but it is truly only those who are familiar with all the characters, locations and dialogue that will get the most out of the fantastic homage to all things Mortal Kombat. A solid action game that is the best attempt yet at moving Mortal Kombat out of the fighter genre and is most certainly worth adding to your gaming collection.

Unless of course you happen to be more of a The Sims kind of person…

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