In the dim distant past, before the mass adoption of home consoles, if you wanted to get your dose of gaming fun you would have to venture down to your local “Arcade”, a large noisey gaming mecca that was full of video games set up in a wide variety of brightly coloured boxes called “Arcade Cabinets” that wanted nothing more than to consume as many 10p pieces as possible.
One of the most popular type of arcade games was the beat ‘em up. Their key tactic in their efforts to deprive you of your petty cash was to lure you in with brightly coloured graphics and mesmeric sound effect, and then ruthlessly pulverise you in to a fine paste before goading you in to spending another one of your precious coins, only to repeat the whole process over and over again… and again… and again. Fortunately with the advent of the home consoles this practice has seemingly died the death, but there are those out there that long for the “good old days”.
Enter the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, recently released on Xbox Live and the Playstation Network. This contains “arcade perfect” ports of Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat 2, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, some of the most famous fighting games of all time. These games were notorious in the early 1990s due to their (what was thought to be) excessive realistic violence; looking at them now it is very hard to see what the fuss is about, considering how over the top and cartoony the violence is.
This collection takes you from the series’ humble beginnings in Mortal Kombat, in which the roster consisted of about half a dozen characters with one fatality each, all the way through the frantic over the top action of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, with its large roster of characters, each with two fatalities, a babality, animality, brutality, and a friendship. As the series progresses the fighting system becomes more and more complex, introducing multiple special moves, and lengthy combos.
As these are “arcade perfect” ports, and arcade games were designed to do little more than rob you of your small change, there is a steep difficulty curve. Only Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 has changeable difficulty settings, and even then the lowest difficulty is painfully difficult. It took just over an hour for me to complete all ten stages of the original Mortal Kombat, with the vast majority of my time being spent trying to defeat Goro and Shang Tsung, who established the Mortal Kombat tradition of being horrible cheating bastards.
A more diplomatic way of describing these games’ difficulty would be to say that the A.I exploits the system – your enemies will be able to perform blocks with lighting speed, while your blocks seem to take forever to activate, and in a number of cases they are able to grab you without their character actually performing the full animation. Then there are the boss characters; some can cancel performing their special moves if it looks like you might be able to avoid their attack and hit them, while others, such as Shao Khan, spam devastating special moves over and over again.
Fortunately if you stick at it eventually they start to block less frequently, or take more chances in their offence, and it is entirely possible to win. However, make no mistake, the key to winning at these games is perseverance, not skill. Comparing these games to the most recent Mortal Kombat game it is clear to see how flawed they are, relying on cheap tricks and exploits, rather than having the characters use clear patterns that you must learn to overcome. That’s not to say that there is not some satisfaction to be found in finally defeating your opponent, but it is my view that it is not worth the stress and frustration. It would be one thing if you lost on account of your own mistakes, but more often than not losses occur on account of cheap tricks and downright cheating.
Whilst part of me admires their determination and desire to recreate that old arcade experience, the fact remains that they will not be getting any more money out of users once they have purchased the full game, and as such the old system seems completely cruel and redundant. How hard would it have been to include the more forgiving Sega Megadrive/Super Nintendo versions of these games?
As such I do not recommend these games for their single player experience. It is fortunate then that the series’ fantastic multiplayer modes remain intact, playing against a real person is always better than playing against the computer controlled characters. Each game is fully playable online, however as of writing the online mutliplayer is patchy at best, and downright broken at worst. Matchmaking seems to do a poor job at creating lobbies, and on the rare occasion that you do get in to a game the lag renders the game almost unplayable. This is a shame because the multiplayer is the main selling point of this game. You can still play locally, as god intended, but it is disappointing that the online mode does not work.
Another aspect of this pure arcade conversion comes in the form of a distinct lack of major graphical upgrades. There are a number of basic filters that do little more than smooth out the imperfections, making the character models appear to be little more than vaguely man-shaped blobs, and there is an ever present grey border surrounding the screen, which is disappointing and contributes towards an overall feeling that this was a rush job.
Another peculiar decision is the choice to map the pause button to the Xbox’s back button, as opposed to using the start button. This has lead to a number of frustrating moments where I would instinctively press the start button expecting it to pause the game, only to leave me open and exposed for a few seconds while I fumble around trying to remember how to bring up the menu. Another issue is that shortly after unpausing you are unable to move for a few seconds, leaving you at your opponent’s mercy.
Other little glitches include the background music cutting out, sound effects not working, and achievements failing to unlock – a cardinal sin as far as I am concerned.
Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection is one of those digital re-releases that takes you by the hand on the premise of going on a cheerful stroll down memory lane, only to drag you down a back alley and wind up punching your teeth in to remind you that, despite what that people may say on the internet, things were not better in their day, they were cruel, archaic, and sadistic.
Graphics – 2/5 : The graphics, complete with the digitally mapped actors portraying the characters, are “arcade perfect”, so perfect in fact that they have not upgraded them at all. An ugly grey border surrounds the screen at all times, and the basic filters they provide do little to improve the visuals.
Sound – 2/5: When they aren’t randomly cutting out the sound effects and music are actually quite good for tinny MIDI music.
Gameplay – 2/5: One of the benefits of this package is that you can track the evolution of the franchise, from the basic “hammer the punch button, then do a sweep kick” tactics of MK1 through to the more advanced dial-a-combo fighting system of Ultimate MK3. However all of this is undermined by cheap tricks used by the A.I, which makes this a test of persistence rather than a test of skill, and a number of annoying glitches.
Longevity – 3/5: Thanks in no small part to the poor sportsmanship of the arcade modes’ enemies, it will take several hours to complete all three Mortal Kombat games. The online multiplayer is currently patchy at best, but once that is working it could very easily extend the life of this game. In the meantime there is still the local multiplayer, which is as great as Mortal Kombat multiplayer has ever been.
Overall: 2.5 out of 5
If you are the sort of person that loves a challenge and can put up with a few imperfections then the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection may be the game for you. Fans of the franchise will also surely want to give this a spin. However if you have never played any of the games included in the collection, or have a low tolerance for cheap exploits and annoying glitches then steer clear of this game. If you fancy trying your hand at a Mortal Kombat game avoid this collection and pick up the latest Mortal Kombat retail release instead.
- Luke Mears