Mortal Kombat: Deception

I’ve long vented my frustrations and disappointment with the Mortal Kombat series’ move from 2D to 3D. Unfortunately, Mortal Kombat: Deception doesn’t move the needle much for me in the advancement of the series department, as it continued to make MK feel more like an annual update in the vein of John Madden Football or Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater (of course, after they milked the cow too many times!)

Deception really feels like an MK 5.1 and not MK 6 in the lineage of things. Sure, there’s new characters, new arenas, and a new boss (a pretty cool one too, Onaga). But it also features all of the old characters, arenas, and bosses as well.

There’s only so much you can rehash here and I still never got into the weapons-based combat, which has a larger spotlight here and is the “update” to the previously used arenas.

Yes, there’s Konquest Mode, and some other add-ons, but I’ve always felt those were secondary – not even – to the main meat of a fighting game. I suppose the pressure was on after the fall of the arcades and the rise of consoles to make these games more “worthwhile” for a $50-60 purchase, tacking on replay gimmicks. I seldom count them in my own reviews, as single player is where it’s at most of the time.

That would include Chess Kombat and Puzzle Kombat. Say what you will, but I never cared about these features.

No, I cared about some pure fighting and fatalities. MK has always delivered on the violence and usually created unique characters we care about, but aside from the main boss Onaga, this game has no one truly memorable that debuted in this title.

Instead, that came with redesigns of existing characters, many of whom anchored the series since its beginning such as Sub Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang.

While this game sold like hotcakes back in 2004, some reviewers were harsh on it like I was. Actually, some more than others.

I understand the love, especially for the legacy of the MK series, but personally I still feel as if Deadly Alliance and Deception still hadn’t delivered from the game’s transition to three planes.

Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance

The fifth installment of Mortal Kombat was the first to not be released prior in the arcades; a dwindling and almost extinct concept for today’s gamers who didn’t have the theater-to-home experience with gaming as we do with film.

Deadly Alliance takes us on a journey that actually had me depart the series. I grew up on the 2-D motion capture actors and cheesy inspiration of Enter the Dragon and Big Trouble in Little China. When the series moved entirely to 3-D with Mortal Kombat 4, I just found the polygonal artwork to have lost some of the feel that made Mortal Kombat special.

Coming back to this game years later, my feelings haven’t changed so much. Fighting games had become incredibly cliché and Mortal Kombat started to lose steam to true 3-D fighters, such as Soul Blade/Caliber, Tekken, DOA, and others that arrived on the scene.

It felt like Midway was playing catchup and also lost its originality. Fatalities had long been overdone by the time Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was released, for example. Blood and violence were not the same shock value by the early 2000’s, with DOA’s top-heavy divas even getting a volleyball spinoff not even two months after Deadly Alliance released.

As such, we see these subtle differences show up in DA, as the characters bounce or jiggle, I should say, much like the other games noted. And fatalities were now limited to one per fighter.

What is this nonsense? Even MK2 had several ways to finish off opponents including multiple fatalities! Stage fatalities, like the famous iterations of “The Pit” are missing too.

This skewed me away from MK as the gameplay in DA is a lot different than the previous MK games also.

While MK4 had side-stepping, it felt more natural than tacked-on in DA. New fighting styles supplanted picking up any random fighter and just going to town – each character has three styles, one of which includes a weapon, akin to my eyerolling least favorite addition to MK4.

There are some other modes tossed into the fray, including Konquest and The Krypt, which are mainly there to make it see like there’s more to the game than there really is. Fans and completionists will go for it, but it was a nothing burger for me now or then.

However, the one redeeming quality of Mortal Kombat has been the depth of their roster. Nine new characters, as well as two secret ones, round out a total of 11 new combatants – though some of them seem to have had some lack of inspiration. (Frost? Did we really need a third Sub-Zero/female ninja clone or another cyborg/robot warrior?)

Yet, I will admit that the new characters are a huge improvement over the truly uninspiring ones in MK4.

Even Mokap and Blaze, the hidden characters, are somewhat cheesy by this point in the series.

Yet, for those cringey spots, Moloch and Nitara are actually pretty cool.

The returning cast is a decent who’s who of the series, including stalwarts such as Scorpion and Sub-Zero (who the team may never live down removing from MK3) plus more originals such as Reptile, Raiden, Kano, Johnny Cage, Sonya Blade and Shang Tsung.

However… the devs still didn’t learn their lesson from MK3 anyway and left Liu Kang out of Deadly Alliance. (How?!)

In summation, I feel as though the classic game bears little resemblance where it evolved to. That happens with different game series and I’m okay with it – but I don’t have to like it. At the time it felt like MK was trying to compete with other 3-D fighters and sacrificed quite a bit of what made it a cult classic in the process.

Mortal Kombat Gold

I’m aware that this game caught a lot of flack upon its release. For starters, it was on the Dreamcast and looked like an “older game” graphically compared with some of the eye-popping titles like Soul Calibur on that console.

The game also originally released with bugs that didn’t even allow for proper saving to the Dreamcast’s VMU memory cards!

This aside, when benchmarked against its sibling MK4, this is again a definitive version (provided you have the hot/new re-release which corrected the aforementioned bugs). MK Gold added six characters to the MK4 lineup.

Again, MK4/Gold were not my cup of tea. Moving from the 2D plane to the 3D realm to compete with the likes of Soul Calibur, Tekken, DOA, Virtua Fighter and others diminished my interest in this series. The initial appeal was to see how the conversion of motion capture actors to 3D models and how well fatalities would translate in a more “realistic” environment. Instead we got wonky controls that were more akin to the 2D era which didn’t carry over well into the next-generation of console gaming.

Add tacky weapons as an additional in-game gimmick and you can see where the MK series started to derail. It was a nice attempt, but fallout of MK3 and not being able to adapt to the 3D era ultimately hurt the series.

Mortal Kombat 4

MK4 was not my cup of tea.

Moving from the 2D plane to the 3D realm to compete with the likes of Soul Calibur, Tekken, DOA, Virtua Fighter and others diminished my interest in this series. The initial appeal was to see how the conversion of motion capture actors to 3D models and how well fatalities would translate in a more “realistic” environment.

Instead we got wonky controls that were more akin to the 2D era which didn’t carry over well into the next-generation of console gaming.

Now, add to that the N64 controller: I love it, but for fighting games, it made playing MK4 a burden at times. Never had I wanted to throw a controller across the room so badly!

As for the graphics, they were state-of-the-art at the time, but you could clearly tell they were blocky and rudimentary. Reading up on this, apparently Midway had difficulty making this game as it was their first time using 3D graphics. (That explains it!)

I actually dug the new characters and inclusion of series staples as opposed to the departure of using them in MK3. Tacky weapons were also added as an in-game gimmick: simply stated they weren’t good and oftentimes entirely useless in the grand scheme of winning rounds within fights.

Therefore, you can see where the MK series started to derail. It was a nice attempt, but fallout of MK3 and not being able to adapt to the 3D era ultimately hurt the series.

Mortal Kombat Trilogy

The definitive versions of the MK series came in a few forms with the next-gen consoles. First, the 32X version of MK2 was a near perfect arcade translation. PlayStation and N64 both saw a release of MK Trilogy, which included every character, board, etc. from the four 2D fighters: each of those versions varied with strengths and weaknesses of their own.

The biggest takeaway from the two Trilogy games is a hidden ninja fighter called Chameleon or Khameleon. Depending on which console you are playing, it is a male or female ninja. The characters would “flicker” in and out of all of the playable male/female characters during battle, allowing you to use whichever moves of the characters displayed. (Which is both cool and annoying.)

If you read my review on MK3, I didn’t think that game was all that great. UMK3 improved on that, but still had limitations. (Such as removing Sheeva as a playable character in the SNES version due to cartridge space.)

Trilogy combined all of the things those two sequels should’ve had and is a great wrap-up for anyone who hasn’t played the series and wants to “do it all”. In fact, you can even swap versions of characters between the different titles, such as using the MK1 or MK2 versions of Rayden. Every single version of the “Pit” levels is included, almost to a degree where you may play three or four of them in a row!

The N64 version was a bit funky with the “trident” controller, so the PSX version is the one you might want to play if you’re a control freak. However, Sony’s version is hampered by disc loading times between rounds which may damper your enjoyment over the (much) faster loading cartridge from Nintendo.

This felt like an overload of Mortal Kombat which kept the 2D fighter as a money maker well into the next-generation of consoles.

Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3

Months following the fiasco that was Mortal Kombat 3, which stripped out many popular characters from the previous two MK titles, Midway answered their fans with UMK3.

Essentially borrowing everything from MK3, the “ultimate” remake corrected many of the complaints with the standard MK3 title. Scorpion, Reptile and Kitana are playable off the bat, as well as green palette swap female ninja Jade (who was previously a hidden unplayable character in MK2).

UMK3 on SNES also added two console-exclusive playable characters in more male palette swap ninjas Rain and Noob Saibot (who is a silhouette). Yet more palette swapped characters are available. Among them are the “classic” Sub-Zero and Ermac (male ninjas) and the returning Mileena.

The cyborg version of Smoke, an unlockable character in MK3 is now playable by default with his human form also unlockable: making for a total of 7 different colors of the same male ninja! The female ninja template is used three times as is the cyborg, which actually added to the cheese factor that, like it or not, was ingrained as part of MK’s Kung Fu movie-like theme. (Come on, that’s a fair statement! Did we take fatalities all that seriously either?)

To make room for all of the changes, MK3’s Sheeva, who does appear in the arcade version of UMK3, was removed from the SNES version. Some of her data can still be found via a bug in the options menus, allowing you to play with an “invisible” character and utilizing some of her moves. (A bug which I am proud to say I found long before cheats and the like were available via the Internet.)

The SNES version didn’t include the MK3 stages and instead, as part of cartridge limitations, only included the five new arcade levels. Animalities were removed with Brutalities added. Several finishers were altered or changed, particularly with the two console-exclusive ninjas.

In all, you can tell Midway got their act together. This was the definitive 16-bit MK title as it included the most playable characters and features of all those released. The arcade release coincided with MK3’s release on home consoles, so if you were paying attention at the time, you could’ve avoided the regular MK3 and waited for the ultimate (and better) edition to be released!

Mortal Kombat 3

Here’s a game that I get some flack for not liking: Mortal Kombat 3.

Front the get-go we don’t have the Roman numerals in the title and it goes downhill fast from there. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing technically wrong with the game itself. Graphics, audio, etc. are all updates which build on MK2. A run button was added so players couldn’t just sit on the defensive, you could breakthrough ceilings of stages to jump up and into a new area, the dumb but appealing Animalities were introduced as was a “Mercy” option to spare your opponent in lieu of finishing them off right away.

Where this game goes south is from the planning phases. I’m not sure who thought it would be a good idea to totally remove all of the palette swap ninjas, but they did. That meant no more Scorpion, Kitana, Mileena, Baraka or Reptile. Sub-Zero returned without a mask and with a completely different set of moves: a change which was incorporated into a storyline with the follow-up title Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3.

But those weren’t the only players removed or changed. Johnny Cage, and Rayden were also no-shows. MK2 hidden ninja Smoke became a secret playable character who was converted into the third of three palette swapped cyborgs. Of the 15 total playable characters, only Shang Tsung (changed yet again) Liu Kang, Kung Lao and Jax came back from MK2. MK1 originals Sonya and Kato, missing from MK2, returned as well.

That should’ve been enough to get psyched up about, but losing Scorpion, a traditional Sub-Zero and Rayden was a lot to overcome when their replacements were Nightwolf (a Native American inspired warrior), Stryker (a police officer) and Kabal (who or what is Kabal?)

Another major change was substituting “Outworld” levels with playing on Earth. The more realistic stages weren’t bad, but with the removal of the fighters above, the game lost its Kung Fu movie vibe and, in my opinion, felt stale. Both MK2 bosses, Shao Kahn and Motaro also returned, adding to what felt like an overall lack of creative direction.

Again, this isn’t a terrible game in the sense of playing it. Had this been MK1, it may have been a major hit. However, the missing characters and old school ninja movie theme detracted from what could’ve been a solid sequel.

Stay tuned for my review of UMK3, where Midway attempts to make up for these changes and does a decent job doing so.

Mortal Kombat II (32X version)

The 32X peripheral was an oddly positioned add-on for the Sega Genesis. While the company was focusing on a next-generation console (which would become the Sega Saturn) they decided to jump to the front of the line by releasing this poorly supported peripheral. Sega already had a large install base for the Genesis as well as an existing add-on (the Sega CD) so sales of the 32X were poor, not only due to support, but the cost and newer consoles looming on the horizon.

That’s a shame as the 32X gave us some of the best arcade translations, almost all from Midway. One of those is Mortal Kombat II, which is the most authentic translation of the arcade title available on a home console at this time. Everything is here and nothing appears to be scaled down or cutout. The graphics are sharp, the audio is sound and the controls are tight.

As for gameplay, MK2 was a major update over MK1. The roster of playable characters was expanded, as were the number of finishing moves. However, it wasn’t just the amount of fatalities that could be performed by each character, but the addition of “babalities” and “friendships” which increased the appeal of MK2. Former hidden fighter Reptile became another palette swap playable character as did MK1 boss Shang Tsung (who retained his ability o change into other characters!)

A number of series staples such as “Toasty”, more pit/stage fatalities, and a handful of other secrets bring this to the forefront of fighting games. In my opinion, MK2 was the best of the series and still hasn’t been topped since.

Mortal Kombat (Genesis Version)

There was always this thought that Nintendo was the only company to censor the original Mortal Kombat, but that was never the case. The Genesis version of Mortal Kombat was also censored, out of fear of those Congressional video game violence hearings.

Sega’s MK1 had a “blood code” and without it, the game was actually inferior to the SNES version. If the code wasn’t enabled, you’d actually get the “heart rip” fatality without the heart… or the blood.

At least the SNES version didn’t confuse the unknowing gamer and as upfront about being neutered. Yet, it was the Genesis copy which sold better, despite having a lot of animation and sound stripped from it since Sega’s hardware was more limited than the Super Nintendo.

You can have a look at my review of the SNES version here and compare notes: while I didn’t play through the Genesis one further, you can see that by graphic comparisons, several things are different. The Genesis also has less colors and if you were to hear the audio, it’s disappointing too. (Which is odd, as the Genesis actually had some games with great audio: Sports Talk Football speaks to that strength of the console.)

Also, playing with the three-button Genesis controller was a no-go for obvious reasons too.

In the end, I give this one a thumb in the middle. If you were a Genesis owner back in the day, this was your childhood. However, if you had the option of playing one or the other, even without blood, the SNES was the superior version of this game.

Mortal Kombat (Game Boy version)

If you’ve ever played Mortal Kombat and/or Nintendo’s Game Boy, then you instantly know any attempt to port this arcade classic to the small screen would be a bad idea.

My first “blacklisted” game to appear on the website, Mortal Kombat sold over a million copies on the Game Boy. I’m not sure how, but its obvious this was a cash grab that worked by slapping the dragon logo and name on the box.

The first problem, obviously, is the Game Boy’s controls. The console only had two buttons, A and B, aside from the select and start buttons. This altered the game to simply a kick and punch button, rather than high and low versions of each, which were better suited to the 16-bit consoles which had more buttons.

The arcade used a 5th “block” button which was accomplished on the handheld by holding both A and B at the same time.

This created the crap fest that would be MK for Game Boy. From the poor monochrome graphics and tinny sound, ripping half of the moves out of the game as well as censoring the violence like it’s SNES bigger brother, this game is terrible. Add lag in the controls which make it nearly impossible to even complete one fight and you have the makings for one of the worst arcade translations ever.

Avoid this game at all costs. Even if you have a morbid curiosity for awful games like I do, you still can’t fathom how bad this title is without playing it.