Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks Review

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Graphics: 6.5
Sound : 7.5
Gameplay : 6.5
Multiplayer : 7.5
Overall : 7.0
Review by John K.
After previous failed attempts by Midway to successfully bring the Mortal Kombat franchise to the action-adventure genre, many people were somewhat skeptical about the announcement of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks. Mortal Kombat Mythologies and Mortal Kombat Special Forces were definitely the worst games in the series and Midway took an undoubted chance making Shaolin Monks as an action-adventure game. Have they succeeded this time you ask? Read on and judge for yourself.

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks starts off with an impressive cut scene from the fight at the climax of the original Mortal Kombat game. All the characters of the first Mortal Kombat are present in the fight and after a while MKII’s Kung Lao also joins in. With Shang Tsung’s forces losing the battle, he creates an escape portal to ‘Outworld’—and all the evil forces duly escape. Shortly afterwards, the building where the fight was taking place begins to collapse and everyone remaining gets out just in time, except for Liu Kang and Kung Lao. This is where the player takes control of the character(s) and the game truly begins.

The story mode in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks isn’t especially long, but the developers have endeavored to stretch it out by making players backtrack at times in order to access previously unreachable places—because an unattained skill was needed for advancement. This is a reasonable way to increase the game’s longevity, but can sometimes provoke player frustration due to the necessity of defeating the same enemies again just to progress a little further. The difficulty in the game fluctuates and swings from laughably easy to reasonably hard. On the default difficulty setting, most enemies can be defeated by simply mashing the attack buttons, while other enemies require a little more strategic thinking. A more balanced range of opponents would have been a welcome feature in Shaolin Monks, and promoted a better balance to the game.

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks can be played in single-player mode or in so called ‘Ko-Op’. In single-player mode, the player can choose to play with either Liu Kang or Kung Lao and play through the game by himself. In Ko-Op, two players can team up to play through the story mode with the initial two characters and later the other two. The level design is pretty much the same in single-player mode and Ko-Op, which is rather unfortunate because there are a lot of hidden passages that can only be unlocked with two players. Secrets being a big part of the game’s replay value make the uniform level design an unnecessary flaw—not least because not everyone has a buddy to play with all the time. Another unfortunate ‘feature’ of the game is that players cannot switch from Ko-Op to single-player mode—or vice versa—at will. A new game will have to be started each time a second player comes in to play or leaves again. This is quite disappointing, since the storyline can last about 4-6 hours, which usually isn’t the average time gamers will spend on a game at any one time.

Ko-Op isn’t the only multiplayer mode in Shaolin Monks however; there is also a Versus Mode that lets players battle it out in the new Shaolin Monks style. As an added feature, Midway has also included a demo of The Suffering: Ties That Bind and the full version of Mortal Kombat II as unlockable features.

The controls in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks are basically simplified versions of the Mortal Kombat and MKII games. The ‘X’ button is used to perform a jump, the ‘square’ button is used to attack, ‘triangle’ is used for uppercut maneuvers, and the ‘circle’ button is used for special attacks. The ‘R1’ trigger lets players execute a special attack in combination with any of the four attack buttons. Special attacks like Liu Kang’s fireball or Kung Lao’s spinning hat are included in ‘R1’ moves. The ‘R2’ trigger is used to grab enemies, be it on the ground or in the air. The ‘L2’ trigger blocks any incoming enemy attacks and ‘L1’ is used for various actions. The ‘R2’ button also lets players interact with certain objects or get a hint about what to do with an object.

An annoying selection of buttons is the one chosen to exit a given area. After you are done in an area, you can move up the road that leads to the next area and press the ‘X’ button to move on. Being the open game that it is, you will find yourself more often than not fighting against enemies and landing near the edge of the area. If you want to perform a jump at this point, you abruptly exit the area and this can be quite annoying if in the middle of a good fight.

The fun part in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is the ability to upgrade your fighter with several moves. Much like an RPG, fighters gather experience points from defeating enemies. These experience points can be spent buying new moves in the Pause menu to upgrade the fighter. After some play time, players learn how to execute a fatality; an orb has to fill up with blood by beating up enemies and once this orb is full, the ‘L1’ trigger puts the enemy in a fatality stun and players can then execute a fatality within a time limit. After a player successfully enters a fatality combination, a cut scene is shown to correspond with the executed fatality. Later in the game, players also learn ‘multalities’—which are fatalities for multiple enemies and brutalities. Extra experience points are given when a player uses a fatality, but not for the execution of multalities or brutalities.

The Pause menu also offers a map for all the locations in the game where the player has been, although it is not a very detailed because you don’t see exactly where you are located, just the general area. The move list in the Pause menu offers the ability to upgrade moves or view the moves that have already been purchased or were active from the beginning. This is a nice addition if players forget how to execute that fatality or combo move they so desperately want to use.

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks definitely is a fan-based game, because many of the game’s secrets and hidden features are stuff that fans thought possible in MKI/MKII. Back then players thought that opponents could be knocked into mouths of the living trees for instance, which is possible in this game. A lot of these little secrets are hidden within the game, and true Mortal Kombat fans will enjoy seeing these unfulfilled fantasies resolved in this game. All of the characters of Mortal Kombat and MKII are represented in Shaolin Monks, either as allies or enemies. Legends like Johnny Cage, Reptile, Sonya Blade, Scorpion, and Sub-Zero are all in the game with their own special moves and attitude. The story in Shaolin Monks certainly isn’t top-class material, but it will be entertaining enough to satisfy gamers.

Graphically, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks isn’t the best of games, but the graphics won’t downgrade the gameplay experience either. The models are fairly simplistic and animations can be a bit basic at times, but Mortal Kombat has never been about realistic graphics. The game contains a lot of gore effects and the expected exaggerated blood flow that makes Mortal Kombat what it is. The cut scenes are very well put together and while they are not Final Fantasy Advent Children quality, they are certainly enjoyable. The levels are all designed to represent a stage in MKI/II and are detailed enough to satisfy a lot of hardcore Mortal Kombat fans.

The soundtrack in Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is well implemented and fits the Mortal Kombat legacy. The sound effects are true to Mortal Kombat II and all of the shrieks and war cries arrive intact. Even the announcer comes into play when executing a fatality or a long combo streak. The voice acting isn’t anything to write home about and at times is somewhat saddening, but fortunately there isn’t much talking in the game.

In the end Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is definitely an enjoyable Mortal Kombat title, but for those not particularly impressed with the Mortal Kombat franchise, Shaolin Monks will be a below par action-adventure game. Fans of the series will be satisfied by the amount of secrets and unlockable features in the game, but for the non-fans, this might be worth a rental instead of a purchase.