Mortal Kombat is a survivor. Back in the early '90s, the fighting series started out in arcades as one of the first viable alternatives to the juggernaut that was Capcom's Street Fighter II. The original game had a distinctly gritty feel that aimed for photo-realism mixed with fantastic scenes of unprecedented gore. Over the years, it became a gigantic mythos, spawning movies, action figures, comic books, cartoons, and even a live-action TV show. But even though the series expanded outside the video game realm, the core product's quality waned. Many people still regard Mortal Kombat II as the pinnacle of the series, though Mortal Kombat 3's faster gameplay and pumped-up combo system certainly added a lot to the series. By the time Mortal Kombat 4 came around, though, the arcade market wasn't in particularly good shape, and the new game's lackluster cookie-cutter gameplay and unimpressive 3D graphics didn't win it many fans. Some attempts were made to spin off characters from the series into their own games, resulting in a decent game based on Sub-Zero and an absolute low point for the series in a game based on Jax. Given the series' somewhat recent failures, it isn't difficult to assume that the latest Mortal Kombat would be another disappointing 3D fighter with a layer of blood splashed on top. But, surprisingly enough, that's far from true.
Mortal Kombat fans should find in Deadly Alliance a surprisingly well done sequel.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance attempts to reinvent the series from the ground up. The subtitle refers to a pact between the series' two most evil playable characters, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi. The duo quickly take over the role of "evil masterminds" and set about on their deadly plan to take over the world. There's definitely more to it than that, though, and the storyline portions of the game are passable, but the exact specifics are better left to FAQ authors and the hardest of the series' hard-core fanbase. It suffices to say that a group of fighters, some good and some evil, have gotten together to duke it out to the death, and the safety of the entire Earth realm is at stake.
While every MK fan will be quick to think of at least one old Mortal Kombat character that should have been included in Deadly Alliance's roster, the characters are a good mix of old and new faces. Returning characters include Johnny Cage, Kano, Sonya, Jax, Cyrax, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Kung Lao, Raiden, Kitana, Quan Chi, Shang Tsung, and Reptile. For the most part, the new characters fit in to the universe really well. Frost, a sort of female version of Sub-Zero, is probably the strongest addition. Kenshi is a blind tai chi master who uses telekinetic powers, including Ermac's telekinetic slam from Ultimate MK3. Li Mei is a female fighter who seems as though she was taken directly out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Mavado has the hook swords of MK3's Kabal and grappling ropes that let him move around the arena quickly. Drahmin is a decomposing demon that attracts flies wherever he goes. Hsu Hao is involved in Kano's neck of the Mortal Kombat universe, and he looks like some sort of zombie cop with a radar display--which is actually his cybernetic heart--implanted in his chest. Nitara is a winged female vampire. Bo Rai Cho is a fat drunken master who can puke on command--his vomit acts like Sub-Zero's ground ice from Mortal Kombat II, causing foes to slip around uncontrollably.
The fighting system has been given a pretty extreme overhaul, to the point where you might initially think this game has little in common with previous Mortal Kombat games. But over time, it gets easier and easier to see the ties to previous installments in the series. Mortal Kombat 4 introduced weapons, and Deadly Alliance takes this concept one step further: Each character has two unarmed fighting stances and one weapon stance. You can cycle from stance to stance at the touch of a button, and the game's longer combos actually have style changes built right into them. Most of the game's fighting stances are actually from real martial arts, some of them very obscure, which is a cool little touch.
The fatalities are as grisly as ever.
Meanwhile, the game ditches the uppercut move that has been one of the series' hallmarks since its inception. The combo system instead incorporates uppercut-style launchers into the fighters' attacks. Some fighters have multiple launchers, but everyone has at least one launcher and a string of moves that will lead up to that launcher. This lets you accomplish combos that are highly reminiscent of those of Mortal Kombat 4. You can combo up to a launcher, juggle by repeating the launcher, and finish it by connecting with a special move before the victim hits the ground. While the game's combo system focuses on the same sort of dial-a-combo gameplay that's been seen in the Tekken and Capcom Versus series for years, it does it in a way that gives the gameplay a distinct Mortal Kombat style, with plenty of blood and groaning thrown in to make things look exaggerated and painful. But the game is also strong enough on its own to appeal to people who haven't enjoyed previous games in the series.
Adding to the odd twists that longtime fans of the series will have to get used to is the drastically changed moves list. Characters haven't been entirely redesigned from the ground up or anything--Scorpion still has his spear, Sub-Zero shoots ice, Kung Lao throws his hat, and so on--but many other signature moves have been changed or removed. For instance, Scorpion can't teleport, Sub-Zero's slide and Raiden's torpedo have been replaced by more generic-looking shoulder charges, and Reptile can't even turn invisible. Also, some characters have more special moves than others. This fact doesn't ever make the game feel unbalanced, though, as the focus is weighted toward the combo system rather than centering on the relatively small number of special moves in the game.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance to some extent takes on a more serious tone this time around, eliminating all the purely silly-looking finishing moves that crept into the series over the years. But that isn't to say that the game is completely humorless. The fatalities still have that same ludicrous sense about them as the best ones in the series have had, where you'd see far more blood and bones come out of an exploding body than would ever be possible. The little minigame from the original MK, "test your might," has returned, and it's just as much of a button-mashing festival as it was in the original. Test your might is also joined by "test your sight," which is actually an updated take on the "keep your eye on the can" bonus stages found in Midway's classic beer-pouring sim, Tapper. There are some nice little touches to be found throughout the game, such as how you can see Kenshi, the blind fighter, listening intently during the "test your sight" sequences.
The roster contains more than 20 new and returning characters in all.