Circuits in a racing game, songs in a music game and characters in a fighting game. The one thing they have in common is the more, the better. Variety goes a long way in prolonging the lifespan of these types of games, and the latest Mortal Kombat game is definitely not an exception to the rule. Midway is pulling no punches in that regard, because the variety on offer here is apparent the moment you start the game.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon has 63 characters.
Think about that for a moment. The original MK only had seven characters, which is the fewest to ever grace a major arcade fighter. Six entries later, the series now has the fighting game with the largest roster ever seen (unofficial mash-ups notwithstanding). Included is every single kombatant known to the realms, with a few more created for the new game. If you can name 'em, they're in there, be they series favorites, one-hit wonders, previously killed off, boss characters, hidden characters, joke characters, or characters you had absolutely no idea existed (what game was Sareena in?). Many of the fighters are carbon copies of each other because of how new characters replaced old ones along the line. That dilutes the fighting action a little bit, but the sheer number available to choose from completely overrides any sense of redundancy.
There's actually another character to choose from, but it won't be available until you make it. Midway included a very robust create-a-fighter mode where you can select from a broad assortment of clothing, accessories, hair styles, facial features and fighting stances. Beyond that, attacks can be assigned by going through each button combination and choosing among as many as nine different attack types, and then one of the attack animations within that subset. There are blatant rip-offs of the looks and moves of other fighting game characters to choose from; I made Akuma and Cammy from Street Fighter, and I even found some copy-cat special moves and applied them to my creation. The bummer here is that there is only one spot to save your character within your profile, but that's solved easily enough by making a new profile.
Once you make up your mind and choose a character, you can jump into a match. The fighting system has a few new additions to complement the already existing dial-a-combo and combo breaker techniques. Making a comeback from previous MK games is the air combo, which lets you deal multi-hit damage after a pop-up or mid-air confrontation. Perhaps taking a cue from other fighting games, you can also parry incoming attacks and feint a fall. These improvements still don't take Mortal Kombat to the level of Street Fighter or Soul Calibur, but they do make Armageddon more strategic than previous titles. Then again, you can't uppercut someone into the insides of a large bell, kick someone into a subway train, or “splat-a-pult" someone into the side of a burning tower in Soul Calibur, now can you? The interactive arenas will always keep you on your toes, and they will make you laugh and/or wince if someone gets a little too close to the danger zones. It's bloody fun to play the game because of them.
The Wii version of Armageddon includes the obligatory Wii-specific motion controls. They are not very good. The lack of accessible buttons on the Wii remote and nunchuk combo doesn't leave room for the seven functions the game requires—block, throw, style change and the four attacks—so some sacrifices had to be made to accommodate the layout. The big one is that the attack buttons are located on the D-Pad. It's less than ideal for a genre where we're used to tapping away at a standard button layout to attack. Another issue comes with player movement, which is done with the analog stick on the nunchuk. You'll find that you can't always move in exactly the way you want, something which D-Pad control would be able to pull off quite easily.
The motion sensors of the Wii remote come into play when you want to do a special move; you'll need to hold the B Trigger and perform a simple remote motion. Most special move trajectories match up with how to wave the remote, which make them easy to learn. For instance, a teleport uppercut requires a down-up motion, and a fireball can be done with a “half circle forward" motion that you'd normally perform with a joystick, except you're now doing it with your entire arm from one side to the other. The gestures work surprisingly well, as long as you're careful about it. The downside to this is that there is no way to perform them using the traditional input commands while using the Wii remote, which some people may have preferred.
Overall, the Wii control scheme is as good as it could have been given the nature of the Wii controller and the nature of Mortal Kombat. It is, however, still not very good. The upside is you can play the game with GameCube or Wii classic controllers. Things are much better that way, but that highlights a larger problem with the game. The things that set the Wii version apart from the PS2/Xbox versions are motion controls and an exclusive character, the female Khameleon. Since using a traditional controller is better to play the game, and getting one more character isn't that big of a deal with 62 others to choose from, what's the point of the Wii version, especially when it doesn't have online play like the other versions do? (Granted, the lack of online isn't Midway's fault; Nintendo didn't make online development tools available to developers soon enough to make it into MKA.) Anyone who held out on picking up Armageddon when it came out more than six months ago, thinking that the Wii version would be better, will be sorely disappointed.
The other parts and features of the game are hit-and-miss. The create-a-fatality feature is fun at first, but after a while it's a chore to link together ten different blows at the end of a match, especially when you consider all the potential permutations you need to remember for it to have any worth. (It's much easier to do each step with the motion controls, however.) The system also comes at the expense of the traditional fatality system, so there are no preset finishers. Konquest mode is much shorter and more linear than in previous years, though you can do some crazy stuff with the new action/fighting hybrid gameplay. And the extra fun mode, Motor Kombat, plays great with friends, but it feels a little tacked-on and isolated from everything else. In all game modes, you can earn koins good toward the purchase of krypt unlockables and create-a-fighter items. Koins are abundant, so you'll usually have enough money to get anything you want.
In the end, Mortal Kombat is a fighting game at its heart, and the fighting in Mortal Kombat Armageddon is still good and still fun. The problem with the game is that it doesn't have as much support to the one-on-one fighting that previous games in the series has had. Worse for the Wii version, the Wii-exclusive features that could have justified a $50 purchase aren't very worthwhile. And there's no way in justifying that price when the online-enabled PS2 version currently retails at $20. As such, this one's hard to recommend. But should you find yourself in possession of the game, be it the Wii version or otherwise, you'll have good fun with it.