Given that Midway finally appeared to have their Mortal Kombat franchise back upon the rails following some disastrous games, it was only a matter of time before Midway once again decided to try and elaborate upon the MK universe in a game out with the confines of the 1-on-1 Fighter, and given the somewhat impressive nature of the recent Konquest adventure modes in their last 2 fighters, I wasnt at all surprised when Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks was announced, and given that the series always had the potential to step out of the boundaries of the fighting game, I purchased the game as soon as it was released, hoping that the recent (somewhat undeserved) praise lavished upon recent games would rub off on Midway, and the game would prove an improvement upon the companys 2 prior attempts to take MK out of Fighting games, the potential-wasting Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero and the utterly terrible Mortal Kombat Special Forces.
The plot of the game is something that once again cements the fact that Ed Boon actually doesnt actually know the plot of the game series he co-created. For a start, it is set up to be the plot of Mortal Kombat 2, only shown through the perspective of Liu Kang and Kung Lao. Where it falls down immediately, is that it does not revolve around a Martial Arts tournament, as it actually should, and takes an approach that would have been much better suited to imagining the plot of any sequel made after the second game, where tournaments never took place. The game also manages to screw up the first games plot, by having Scorpion on the side of Shang Tsung, Sub Zero seemingly survive, and the tournament basically consisting of everyone in a room fighting. While this makes for a pretty cool cutscene, that isnt how tournaments work guys. Imagine if this years World Cup saw all 32 teams on the same pitch at once. Strumash is the word Im looking for, that is how the tournament is portrayed. Anyway, the plot revolves around Liu Kang and Kung Lao going to Outworld to stop the evil overlord Shao Kahn, who has set his sights upon Earthrealm, of which we are part. Teaming up with allies in Outworld, the two Shaolin Monks must put their personal differences aside to defeat Kahn and save the realm.
The worst thing is, that had Boon actually read up on the plot, or at least got whoever was in charge of that aspect of the game to do so, we could have had an awesome plot that really fleshed out the series. Instead the blatant gaffes that all MK fans will spot grossly outweigh the cool points.
So, if Shaolin Monks isnt a fighting game, then what is it? Well, given that the series is based around martial arts, the only other Genre of game it could easily lend itself to is that of a Beat em Up, and thats exactly the route Midway have taken. While the game does incorporate elements of Platform games, such as puzzles and such, as well as a Role-Playing style ability to level up your character and earn new abilities(although what Action games dont use this feature these days?), the main crux of the gameplay revolves around beating up swarms of enemy troops, before taking on a boss character, who is usually an established series character, in a 3D environment.
To begin with anyway, the game is a joy to play. You get to traverse various locales from the MK universe, from the portals of the Outworld to the bottom of the pit on Shang Tsungs island, the stages have been painfully and lovingly recreated from how they appeared in the first two games, and the enemies consist of the guards and other flunkies that frequented the backgrounds of such stages. When you start out, its fantastic swatting away swarms of these goons in these lush settings from my gaming history, and the fact that the game lets you perform finishing moves, including the famous Fatalities, as well as Brutalities and the new addition for taking on multiple foes, Multalities. Finishers actually work by defeating hordes of enemies and building up a Fatality meter, which, when full, allows you to press the White button to enter the Fatality screen, where you are prompted to enter the correct button combination to dispose of your enemy in a gruesome fashion.
As you would guess, Multalities kill all enemies on screen, and Brutalities are basically boring. What though, you may ask, is the point of these flashy finishers? Well, the idea is that the more flashy you kill your opponent, the more experience you get, the more experience, the more moves. alities score you a lot of experience.
Also in there is Weapon combat, which allows you to pick up certain weapons to use on your foes, or even pick up parts of the scenery to smack them around with. This adds a nice touch to the game, especially given that it leads to some gory finishes to the grunt foes. Come to think of it, those Shao Kahn grunts really have got it bad, in that they can also fall victim to numerous Stage Fatalities AKA interactive scenery that, if knocked into, will hand them another gruesome end. These include catapults, spikes and cliff-edges, and can provide a quick way of disposing with foes.
The game has 2 Gameplay options, Single Player and 2-Player Co-op. It sees players either choosing one of, or both in Co-op, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, and using all of their unique special attacks and skills to dispose of enemies. The controllers 4 face buttons control Jump and the games 3 default attacks, Quick, Launch and Power. Holding down the R trigger and pressing any of these acts as a modifier, unleashing one of the characters special moves for each attack button. For example, with Liu Kang, X+R shoots a Fireball, while B+R performs the flying kick. The White Button is, as I mentioned, use to set up Fatality attacks, the Black is used for throws and the L trigger acts as a Lock-On for when there are multiple enemies.
In general, this control system is easy to learn, and overall a good system to work with. Where it can fall down is the response. On numerous occasions, most notably the finally boss encounter with Shao Kahn, Ive been frustrated by Special attacks not coming out, and downright infuriated by my characters bizarre decision to walk instead of run while Im desperately holding down the analogue stick.
Now, before I get onto the games faults, I do feel that it does have its good points, and Ill talk about them first. For a start, the first while of playing it is fantastically good fun, running around these areas I had only seen in 2D format 10 years ago, smacking up enemies using all sorts of cool Kung Fu before getting into a boss duel with a character I knew. The weapon combat is pretty cool, and in general, I feel that the engine and system the game is trying to push are good.
However, with that said, there are so many things that infuriate me about the game. Its ridiculously bad hit-detection and targeting, made most prominent in the last 3 boss fights, the sometimes appalling camera angles, the short length, the fact that the game basically shoes you into completing the game via the quickest route, forcing you to miss a lot of secrets basically trying to play the game can be unimaginably frustrating if you try to persevere past an hour.
What is worse is that the game squanders some great ideas. It doesnt really squander its wonderful environments and secrets, but essentially does everything to keep them that; secret. Once you complete the game, you can unlock Scorpion and Sub Zero to play the main mode with, however this is marred in that the game simply plays the same plot, just replaces the Liu Kang model for Scorpion and so on. This could have been awesome if they had made this a totally separate plot(cause keep in mind Scorpion actually became Sub Zeros protector in the second game after killing his brother? You do remember? Boon certainly didnt). These flaws arent even counting the ones inflicted upon the MK fans who know the plot and such. Was re-designing all the characters outfits really necessary? Goro shouldnt have appeared after the opening video, he was supposed to be thought dead, and how in the hell can Jade be killed in this game? had these people ever played any games in the series before being hired?.
The game also offers a Versus mode which offers the player around 8 fighters to choose from. The only problem is that you have to unlock them all. Fantastic. Needless to say, after the last couple of MK fighting games, I couldnt talk anyone into playing this with me to try out, the choice of playing as Baraka, Liu Kang or Kung Lao in what isnt even a proper fighter apparently didnt seem that enticing. Im confident it will be a mode dogged by many of the same problems as the main game, bad aiming, less than perfect response etc.
Graphically speaking, the game is very much a mixed bag. While the stages look fantastic, painstakingly recreated and bristling with that wonderful Gothic-meets 70s Kung Fu feel that characterised the series in its early incarnations, I thoroughly applaud this aspect of the game. What Im less happy with is the character models. I mean they arent bad as such, but this is an Xbox, they should be so much better. Were talking first gen-PS2 stuff here, where they look ok, but compare this to most other big titles on the market right now and the game just looks awful with regards to its character models, and as I mentioned, I hate the fact they re-designed every characters costume. Reptile should have still appeared human at that point in the timeline!
The sound in the game carries on the trend of inconsistency. While the music also contributes to the wonderful atmosphere, the same oriental tinged, yet spooky and gothic sounding tracks found in the first two games score the game, but where this falls apart is the voice acting in the cut-scenes, which is laughably bad, most notably Shao Kahns new voice, which lacks any of the grandeur or coolness of the voice he became famous for having.
Overall, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is quite possibly the one of the most disappointing games ever. It is better than the other two attempts to take the franchise out of Fighters, but at the same time, when you consider that Beat em Ups have enjoyed somewhat of a renaissance of late, spearheaded by the rather masterful Ninja Gaiden, and just how short Shaolin Monks comes up is made all too obvious. This game really isnt even necessary for MK fans to play, given that all it does is mess up the story of Mortal Kombat 2, which we really dont need. I guess the game, as with its most recent sister fighting games, do at least show that Midway has the foundations of making a decent game worked out, its just finishing it to a satisfactory degree that seems to be their problem.
As a neat little point, Mortal Kombat 2 is included in the game to unlock, alongside the expected production art and so on. The only thing is, its quite a toughie to unlock, and when you do, you just realise how far the franchise and series has went off the rails. This would almost grant the game an extra star, if not for the fact the game was already included in the Midway Arcade Treasures 2 compilation.
Review also posted on Epinions.com
Name:Mortal Kombat:Shaolin Monks
Developer:Midway Studios LA
Release Date:Sep, 30 2005
Age Rating:18+ for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence and Language
Number Of Players:1-2
In-Game Dolby Digital:Yes
Midway Games are a Chicago-based game manufacturer and have been making video games since it introduced Pong in the late '70s. Their action-based game library includes franchises such as Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, and Gauntlet. Mortal Kombat is not only one of the most controversial fighters in history, but it's also one of the best. Since it exploded onto the arcades in the 90's, Mortal Kombat has been known as one of the most gruesome games around, seeing as it's has massive amounts of blood on it.
The story starts at a somewhat peculiar position in the Mortal Kombat saga. The game starts just after the first tournament and the sorcerer Shang Tsung is trying to escape after his defeat at the tournament. Things start to lose control when the island starts to fall apart. As the 'kombatants' escape the island, Liu Kang and Kung Lao are unlucky and fall into the giant Goro's lair. This is when the game begins.
The controls are responsive, yet simple to learn. Before i go any further a problem i found in previous MK games was that it was extremely hard to pull of Fatalities as you had no clues on how to perform these moves. In this case, the problem has been fixed as once you've unlocked a fatality you can see how to perform it. The main controls are fairly simple, you have your standard jump, punch, kick and block buttons. There are also a few combos to learn as well, and trust me you'll need these combos to survive. You can also unlock moves and combos as you play through the game. They are very responsive and easy to learn as well.
The core game is different from the previous games. Instead of being a one on one fighter, the game has taken a massive change into free-roaming style gameplay. Now in Deception there was a konquest mode where you explore a bit, but most of this was fighting. Now Shaolin Monks is all about free-roaming and melee fighting. This new style of gameplay is pretty fantastic. Liu Kang and Kung Lao both have their own unique moves and combos, and both can be upgraded with your gained experience points. You earn experience by killing enemies, but only if you do so yourself. If you use any of the numerous environmental hazards, you get squat. Experience points can be used to purchase new special moves and combos, and there are a pretty good number of them available throughout the game. There are even a few team moves you can pull off when playing in co-op. Even with the upgrades and combos, the basic combat is pretty simplistic. Apart from the tougher boss fights near the end, all you really need to do is smash your way through enemies, sometimes stopping to block or uppercut a bad guy into a puzzle-based trap from time to time. This doesn't make boss fights bad, just more challenging. Shaolin Monks is a fairly simple beat-'em-up that turns MK moves into one-to-two-button mashes. Most of the basic attacks and combos can be strung together by simple button pressing but there are several moves that require timing and some combinations to succeed. Most of these aren't the typical Liu Kang and Kung Lao special moves, as you need only hold down the right trigger button and press one of the main attack buttons to do any of these, like Kang's fireballs or Lao's tornado hat slice. Fatalities have been simplified as well. You need only build up a meter to its peak point and then hit a single button to pull off a fatality stun move. Once that's done, a series of button presses will appear onscreen. And if you hit the right combo quickly enough, you can pull off those ever-famous fatalities. If you continue building up the meter, you can pull off two higher tiers of fatalities (called multalities, for killing multiple foes and brutalities, to destroy your enemy even harder). All these fatalites are fantastic to watch, easy to pull off and extremely satifsfying.
Unfortunately, at times you'll feel like you're replaying a lot of the same stuff over and over again. The level design in Shaolin Monks involves a lot of backtracking through the same worlds. A most of it makes sense, since so many of the unlockables and areas often can't be accessed until you gain new abilities, but even when you're just trying to go to a new mission, there's an awful lot of backtracking through the same hub worlds and stages. As for other content beyond the story mode, there is a versus fighting mode available, but it is a waste of space, seeing as you only have a handful of fighters to use. There are two basic ways to play Shaolin Monks-in single-player or in co-op. Either option presents you with two initially unlocked characters in Liu Kang and Kung Lao. You have to be careful what you choose, because you'll never get to change your character once you start playing, and you'll never have the option of turning a single-player game into a cooperative one, or the other way around. The two modes are entirely different from each other, which is unfortunate, as a good bit of the game's unlockables comes from the cooperative mode. Unless you've got someone that you can play with for extended periods of time, you might find yourself a bit annoyed at how much of the secret content is hidden in the co-op mode. But if you do have someone else to play with, you'll have the ideal experience the game has to offer. In my opinion the co-op was more fun to play, not only because a chunk of the extras are in the co-op mode, but also because it's was just more intense, exciting and fun too have a friend with you as you kick Tarkatan...
Graphically, Shaolin Monks isn't that impressive. If you look closely at the character models, you will notice some fairly low-resolution faces and costumes, and the animations are occasionally choppy slow. Pretty much every fighting arena from MKII has been re-created here. You'll find yourself wandering through the living forest, uppercutting bad guys into the pit, and navigating the pitfalls of the barren wasteland and that's one of the best things about the graphics as the environment looks fantastic. The character designs are a mix between new and old MK, updating the looks from the old games but without changing too much of the original concepts but unfortunately the designs for the characters that aren't exactly from an MK game aren't nearly as good. Apart from a couple of great looking masked soldiers and the evil shadow priests that just float around in the background, most of the enemies rarely are different from awkward corpses, generic-looking troll creatures, and a lot of faceless agents of the outworld. But they all die fantastically, and cutting and beating them up can be quite satisfying.
Unfortunately the sounds are just as bad as the graphics. The voice acting is exceptionally bad and sometimes absolutely awful. Luckily the rest of the sound is better, but only marginally. Most of the music and many of the sound effects seem to have been taken right out of MKII. With effects like Liu Kang's ridiculous martial arts shrieks the insidious-sounding announcer who says "Excellent" and "Fatality" at the appropriate times and even Dan "Toasty" Forden's voice returns once again to utter the famous line at all the right times. It's strange that the developer would dig the MK vault to actually use so many of these old sound effects and musical tracks, and even many of the new sound effects and tracks still sound like the older stuff. This builds up a lot of atmosphere.
Though the story is quite short, lasting about 6 hours, There's tons and tons to unlock. This game oozes MK. There's a big array of characters featured in this game, with characters from MK 1 and 2, with characters from MK 3 and 4 also showing appearances in the game. Though most of these characters, like Johnny Cage and Sub-Zero, are artificial Intelligence controlled allies in the story mode, many of these characters serve as boss fights and secrets. Even outside of characters, there are so many references to MK all over this game that any serious fan will probably go nuts trying to find them all. There's also the unlockable bonus of the arcade version of MK2 in the game, which is great for MK fans, but not for anyone else as it's so damn hard.
Shaolin Monks is a great game. Though the game's graphics and sound are a little flawed, the game is just so fun and incredibly addictive that you'll have plenty of fun with it, whether you're a MK fan or a Fan of Beat-Em Ups. Unfortunately the game is fairly short but there's a ton of things to unlock. If you like MK then you'll love Shaolin Monks and if you like beat-em ups then you'll also like this.
-(If You Like This I'd Suggest)-
Lord Of The Rings
-(Where You Can Buy It)-
amazon.co.uk for £16.99
game.co.uk for £19.99 but currently out of stock
play.com for £9.99
gamestation.co.uk for £9.99
Mortal Kombat : Shaolin Monks is an Action/Adventure title driven by both intense single and multi-player action. Similar to the recently released Mortal Kombat: Deception background interactions (i.e. acid pits living trees spiked ceilings etc.) multiple new fatalities and action-based puzzles will also play an important role in the player s quest for an outstanding victory. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks will feature an impressive line-up of Mortal Kombat characters as well that make frequent appearances as enemies in boss battles and during several additional in-game interactions.