Every major brawler out there has left its mark on history one way or another. Capcom’s Street Fighter series, for example, is widely considered by beat-em-up aficionados’ as the pinnacle of 2D-based brawlers for its intricate combo system and fast-paced gameplay. Virtua Fighter on the other hand, is renowned for its flurry of meticulously-timed attacks and precision blows. Then of course there are those franchises that are remembered for stamping a more, shall we say, irreverent mark in the history books – Dead or Alive’s relentless parade of tits and arse certainly springs to mind in that respect. Unsurprisingly, this is also where Mortal Kombat fits in. For all its capabilities as a competent brawler, the franchise has, since its inception in the early 90s been remembered for one thing – blood. Well, that’s an understatement; buckets of blood, dismemberment and grisly fatalities would be more accurate.
Let’s face it, controversy sells like hot cakes, and Mortal Kombat oozes the stuff like a freshly decapitated cadaver gushes copious amounts of blood. Back in the 90s, we’d never seen anything like it before, and parents were understandably up in arms over the fact their ‘little angel’ was about to tear some poor sod’s head off. And we loved it. Of course, with the series’ brilliant reboot still fresh in our minds, developer Other Ocean Interactive has decided the time is ripe to jog our memories of Mortal Kombat’s illustrious career, churning out a three-game bundle for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live.
As you’d expect, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection does exactly what it says on the tin. You get Mortal Kombat I, II and Ultimate MK III in their arcade incarnations, complete with the added bonus of online play, Trophies and a few other bits and bobs thrown into the mix. For anyone who hasn’t played these games before, the premise is decidedly simple: select a character, batter the hell out your opponent and finish him/her either by lamping them round the face with a swift kick or punch, or performing a Fatality or other special finishing technique. The bread-and-butter mechanics of Mortal Kombat aren’t as nearly as comprehensive as you’ll find in Street Fighter or other 2D brawler, though they still afford a satisfying punch up. Projectiles, grapples, kicks, punches and specials all play a part in the proceedings as with many games of MK’s calibre, though the finishing moves are undeniable a highlight. In fact, I think it’s fair to say that in every match, I’m subconsciously endeavouring to duff up my opponent that bit quicker just so I can drop an arcade machine on his head. Fatality!
Beneath the game’s relatively simple bread-and-butter mechanics lies decent combo system, which many players have learned to exploit to remarkable levels over the years. Some attacks will launch your adversary skyward, allowing you to chip away at their health juggle-style. Mastering what attacks to use and when (such as locking your opponent against the end of the screen) is instrumental in gaining the upper hand, and stringing these attacks together will ensure you drain a substantial chunk of your foe’s health bar in the process. And, while not offering as comprehensive line-up of special moves as its contemporaries, Mortal Kombat certainly isn’t lacking diversity in terms of characters. Each brawler has their own unique attacks on top of the assortment of rudimentary punches and kicks, there’s a certain satisfaction to be had when you get to grips with your preferred combatant, allowing you to unleash coordinated hell down upon your victim.
Visually the games are showing plenty of wrinkles thanks to the passing of time, though artistically the backgrounds still possess heaps of charm and personality, whether it is the gloominess of Goro’s lair, the moonlit mountains of the Pit II or the wind-swept city streets of earth realm. Plus, you can iron out a few creases thanks to the various filters on offer, helping to stamp down on any fuzzy graphics. While on the subject, I found it refreshing that the games are mostly spared of any visual obfuscation you’d typically get from exaggerated hit animations found in other beat-em-ups, rendering battles more clean and less of an eyesore. Meanwhile, the controls migrate pretty well to the DualShock/SixAxis d-pad, though it probably helps that MK’s is hardly the most complicated of fighters out there in terms of command input.
Gameplay wise, the trio is faithful to the arcade originals. The eponymous original is here in all its uncut gory glory, though is admittedly pretty sluggish compared to the other games, and indeed modern iterations. Still, it’s worth a punt if you can get past the slower-paced battles, especially in two-player mode (this is where the real fun lies for all three titles), and the ‘Test Your Might; mini-game is always fun to do. MKII ups the ante in just about every conceivable aspect however, offering more characters, better moves, and nudges the battles into a more tactical playground. The improvements are palpable, and the additional Finishing Moves such as Friendships and Babalities are a good laugh to boot. Ultimate MKIII is unequivocally the best of the bunch however, offering some of the meatiest overhauls the series has seen to date.
Aside from a plethora of fresh faces (including four-armed freak Sheeva and masked-man Kabal), the core gameplay has been beefed up considerably, featuring a run button, the ability to show Mercy, and execute proximity-based chain combos. For example, Scorpion likes to hack his opponent up with an axe before booting them in the face with some fancy footwork, while Kabal whips out a couple of razor-sharp hooks. This combined with the series’ standard juggles makes for some satisfying, fast-paced bouts, adding a more strategic edge to the proceedings and greatly changing the overall dynamic of battle. Various aesthetical tweaks are also noticeable, including new actors portraying the characters, more animated backgrounds and improved particle effects, with the ubiquitous blood and gore now more pronounced than ever.
At the end of the day, all three MKs are barebones ports, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing; The PSN release also offers Trophies, encouraging you to try out some finishing moves and go for the double flawless victory among others, which is a nice incentive to better yourself. There’s also a few neat touches like being able to change the display to an arcade-style presentation. Having said that, the ports aren’t nearly as polished as they could have been; Ultimate MKIII for example isn’t a patch on the Sega Saturn version in my opinion, and suffers from some egregious sound issues to boot. For example, various voice snippets – such as Scorpion’s iconic “Get over here!” – are conspicuously and unceremoniously cut off mid-speech, and some stage music stops completely before starting up again. MKI & II aren’t as bad, though the original game is let down by some fuzzy effects and jittery background music.
More alarming however is the online component, which sadly, proves to be a botched affair for all three titles. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a match you’ll experience horrendous lag or get booted out of the bout altogether, putting a damper on what should be an enjoyable scrap. I did a couple of games online with Ultimate MKIII (I couldn’t even get into a match with MKI &II), and the lag was so appalling that it was virtually impossible time my attacks efficiently, forcing me to rely on sheer luck for the most part to do any damage. I poured scorn over Namco for Tekken 6’s poor online code when the game launched back in October 2009, but this is far worse than anything I experienced before. Hopefully the developers will see fit to offer a remedy in the form of a patch in the near future, because in all honesty these classic would prove great fun in the online space.
The set-up is rudimentary by today’s standards, but offers everything you need; there’s Ranked matches for those of you who want to flex your Kombat skills via the online leaderboards, or ‘Friendly Kombat’ for those who just want to get down and dirty as quickly as possible. At the time of writing however, the online mode is almost a non-entity, and in my experience provided nothing but frustration. Unless you have a mate who loves a bit of classic MK, you’ll have to rely on the single-player battles for all three games to get your retro fix, which suffer from some hair-pulling difficulty spikes.
Overall, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is a decent investment, offering three of the most prolific 2D brawlers of the 90s for an affordable price. However, there’s no denying the lack of extra content comes as a disappointment, and the unforgivably messy online component coupled with patchy audio work makes me a little gutted that these classic games didn’t get the digital re-release they thoroughly deserved.