|When Boon and Tobias brought their now trademark blend
of martial arts mayhem and hyperbolic gore into the world 10 or so years ago, it signaled
a coup in the gaming industry. Mortal Kombat was sanctioned by parents,
citizens groups, and media critics everywhere for its unrepentant glamorization of
spine extractions, dismemberments, and other acts deemed for some reason inappropriate for
children. Instantly and perhaps inevitably, it established itself as a common ground for
adolescent boys the world over.
And now, the MK juggernaut rolls on in the form of MK Gold, although it rolls with considerably less inertia then it did in the past. The fact that it is a Dreamcast launch title is economically understandable and maybe even forgivable, but the game should only be purchased by the DC owner who is fully aware of the specific gaming niche it occupies. It is an excellent game for what it is, but will undoubtedly enrage a casual buyer lured in by its floridly self-congratulatory packaging.
Engine wise, MKG is a direct port of the MK4 arcade version, complete with generally flawless 60fps movement, brilliant light-sourcing, and excellent sound. The console version departs from its arcade relative in a few, minor ways. Most noticeably, it includes five additional old guard members of the MK canon: Mileena, Kitana, Baraka, Kung Lao, and everyones favorite robot ninja, Cyrax. Sektor, Goro, and Noob Saibot are also available through the Hidden character menu. The game includes the now standard Endurance (read: Survival) and Practice modes as well, which add a slight bit of depth to the familiar Acade/Team/Time Attack setup of the previous titles. Unlike the Playstation version of MK Trilogy that sometimes bogged down in the middle of Shang Tsungs morphs and some of the characters combos, MKGold uses almost no load time whatsoever. To do anything. It features better character animations, and runs in higher (640 x 480) resolution, making it the most technically complete MK to date, as one would expect of a title this late in the series.
Also of note is the fact that the game ends with fully rendered cut-scenes for each character that look as least as nice as the other DC titles, and better than a number of them. After years of having to read press-release type blurbs over a still shot of your character, you actually get to see them express some sort of personality. Well, maybe thats stretching it but they do look nice. The Fatalities, Finalities, etc. are all back as well, and although a few are pretty awkward looking, the majority are pretty impressive and definitely entertaining. The arenas look incredible, and include classic scenes from MK2 and 3 that add to the whole nostalgia of the thing.
But the nostalgia issue reminds me of where I was going originallythere are a lot of things about this game that are just unsatisfying. Simply put, the Mortal Kombat series hasnt evolved very much ever. Yes, the graphics got better. Yes, they added a run button and some combos. Yes, they finally got some robots. But all in all the things that really count just dont do it here. The gameplay is still basic and two-dimensional. The moves are limited and get tedious in short order. The combo system is pretty much the same as ever, which means that every character has the HK HK HP HP LP combo, or a slight variation on it. The fact that you can select and use weapons seems like a great idea when you read it, but in practice it works more like a party trick than a strategy. It takes forever to pull it out, for one thingmore than enough time for any ten year old with fair eyesight and two opposable thumbs to beat the hell out of you. The weapons also look kind of blocky and unnatural, like they were unwillingly grafted onto the game.
I am not here to claim that MK should be punished for its lack of depth alone. It never has been a series to base its appeal in anything as crazy as intricacy. But the simple fact is that its shallowness becomes rather stark by contrast to other DC fighters. Unless you are for some reason totally obsessed with Mortal Kombat as an idea and a way of life it would be insane to buy this game in place of truly groundbreaking and spectacular titles like Soul Calibur, VFIIITB, or PowerStone. Even Ready to Rumble Boxing is a more pioneering and complex endeavor. While Mortal Kombat Gold will satisfy any fan of fighters for at least a few hours, its lack of game options coupled with the previously mentioned tepid gameplay, will not sustain interest for much longer than that. In an era where Mission modes are almost expected, MKG seems like a relic. Even the modes it does include have their problems. In the Arcade mode the CPU is practically impossible on higher levels, unless you use the same cheap move over and over again (remember the foot sweep?). The Practice mode, which in other games can provide hours of, well, practice, simply makes it obvious how limited the fighting engine is.
Another problem is that seemingly without reason the game doesnt support the VMU. At all. For anything. It doesnt even say Mortal Kombat on the LCD screen.
In case you do buy the game, the infamous cheat menu can be reached from the first screen (MK symbol on a black background). Yes, its the good old Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Left, Right, Right until you hear laughter and "Outstanding." Beware, you must enter this code really fast. Push start to get to the character select screen and then hold down both trigger buttons. The cheat menu has Quick Endings, 1 Button Fatalities, and a place to enter Kombat Kodes. For me, the fact that there were no mini-games was almost too painful to take. MK3s Galaxian was almost better then the game itself, and Trilogys Pong wasnt too bad either. But unless its hidden somewhere I havent found yet, I think this edition is without its most important feature. Sigh.
I am going to put this game away now and do something more worthwhile. So in closing: MKG is an excellent port of the arcade game, and an accomplished piece of work. However, it will probably only be a sure hit with hardcore MK fans, nostalgia buffs, and fighting gamers with little sense or vast disposable incomes. If none of these categories apply to you, for gods sake buy Soul Calibur.