Mortal Kombat made a name for itself in the 1990s for its violent gameplay. While the Street Fighter series was winning fans for its technical subtleties and intricate controls, Mortal Kombat won the hearts of teenage boys worldwide by allowing them to rip out a videogame opponent's spinal cord.
There have been several games set in the Mortal Kombat universe since the original hit in 1992, but none have really matched the quality or shock value of the first two titles. Long time fans will be pleased to know that the latest game, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, pays homage to the early days of the series, with plenty of characters and in-jokes to spot. Shaolin Monks also serves up some decent action, although it may not be enough to win over gamers with only a passing interest in the Mortal Kombat universe.
Shaolin Monks dumps the one-on-one fighting of early MK games and instead opts for a 3D action adventure similar to games like God of War or Ninja Gaiden. The game is set directly after the conclusion of the first Mortal Kombat, and has players take on the minions of Outworld's Shao Kahn and Shang Tsung to protect Earth from invasion.
Players will initially be able to select from two characters - Liu Kang and Kung Lao - although two more characters can be unlocked as the game progresses. As well as a single player, Shaolin Monks can also be played in its entirety as a two-player co-op game. In fact, several game secrets and challenges can only be unlocked when playing with a partner. You'll have to make your decision on whether to play solo or not early on, however, as once you start a single player game there's no option for a second to join in.
The game's controls are a breeze to learn, and while there's several combos and special moves that can be pulled off, Shaolin Monks leans more towards button mashing than finesse play. Three types of attacks can be made - light, heavy and power strikes (which can lift an enemy in the air for a combo). Blocking is achieved by pressing L2 on the PS2 controller. Each character also sports their particular special moves from earlier games, such as Liu Kang's fireballs or Kung Lao's hat throw. These can be accessed by holding down R1 and pressing the appropriate attack button.
Combat can be quite frenetic, with your heroes having to face a variety of evil doers who usually attack in groups of three or four. The action is easy to master - gamers will find themselves doing 30 plus hit combos in no time. As well as dishing out damage in the traditional fist to face way, there are plenty of environmental features which can be used to quickly dispel an enemy. These include metal spikes on ceilings, living trees, catapults and more. In fact, many of the game's puzzles usually require players to hit enemies onto specific points to progress forward.
In true Mortal Kombat tradition, the action in Shaolin Monks is brutal and bloody. Players will see their fair share of decapitations, impalings and dismemberment - although it's all done in an extremely over the top way. Making a return is Mortal Kombat's infamous Fatality moves, which in Shaolin Monks has been transformed into one-hit kills which can be performed on most enemies. Once a character's Fatality meter is filled, a player just needs to press the L1 button, input in the appropriate series of joypad and button moves, and voila - much bloodshed ensues.
Shaolin Monks is a veritable museum of Mortal Kombat memorabilia, with the game piling in plenty of characters, locations and secrets from the early games. Long time Mortal Kombat fans will find plenty here to geek over - from hidden characters (like Smoke and Ermac) to audio tidbits like the gravel-voiced announcer of the first few games yelling "Finish Him" on occasion.
With so much detail packed into Shaolin Monks, fans of the series will have no hesitation in playing through multiple times with different characters to unlock everything the game offers. That said, those unfamiliar with Mortal Kombat may find the going a touch more arduous, as Shaolin Monks forces players to backtrack through levels quite often. Seeing the same levels over and over again makes the game rather repetitive.
Shaolin Monks isn't the prettiest game out there, but it does sport some decent character models that only really look bad when viewed too close. Sound is more positive - the various hits and crunches from combat are appropriately meaty.
As well as serving up some decent action, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is a trip down memory lane for long-time fans of the series. The game's repetitiveness, however, may leave newbies wondering what all the fuss is about.
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