Finish him... online!
The Mortal Kombat fighting series has a long history in which it once pushed the limits of violence in video games and helped lead to the ESRB ratings system. Ultimate Mortal Kombat takes us back to the earlier days of the franchise, after much of the violence debate had subsided, but before 3-D became the norm. Fighting games have evolved since the days of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, and the gameplay is somewhat dated. Even still, the inclusion of online multiplayer allows fans to relive the arcade experience.
Mortal Kombat 3 was the most complex of the 2-D Kombat games, with a run ability added to the standard punch/kick/block repertoire. One of Mortal Kombat’s weaknesses is that all characters have the same physical abilities and so only their special moves differentiate them. Like any fighter of this style, special moves are performed with a button sequence usually involving pressing several directions and ending with an attack. Similarly-executed Fatalities made Mortal Kombat famous, and each character has multiple finishers at his or her disposal. In its third iteration, the Mortal Kombat franchise took on a less serious flavor, focusing more on having fun rather than a coherent story. This resulted in the addition of sillier finishing moves like the Babality, which transform your opponent into a baby at the end of the match.
The bottom screen shows the gameplay, while the top screen displays a list of moves that your character can do. Alhough this takes away the possibility of experimenting to figure out moves for yourself, it does tend to be useful for pulling off the finishing moves, which often involve a hard-to-remember sequence of button presses.
The main game is somewhat short. Depending on the difficulty level, between six and nine stages must be cleared in succession, each featuring one or more different fighters. Play is extended simply because the AI is made so difficult, which means several retries are necessary to clear a full game. This is actually one of the main shortcomings of the game: 1-player mode isn’t a lot of fun due to the fact that the CPU essentially cheats, which means players must spend time exploiting holes in the enemy A.I. rather than engaging in serious combat.
Online play is included and works well. In most cases, I found the gameplay quick and responsive, which is critical in a fighting game. However, if you haven’t played Mortal Kombat before, or at least in a decade, you’re definitely going to want to work on strategy and timing before attempting to play over Wi-Fi. If you are not prepared, online opponents will quickly hand your ass to you (almost literally, thanks to the gruesome Fatalities).
A second game, Puzzle Kombat, is also included on the game card. Puzzle Kombat was Midway’s answer to the popular Super Puzzle Fighter and was originally included as a bonus in Mortal Kombat: Deception. The game takes place on the bottom screen, while super deformed versions of the Mortal Kombat characters battle each other in rhythm to the pieces, which eventually leads to a Fatality.
In this puzzle game, pieces made up of two colored blocks fall into the field. Whenever a piece featuring the Mortal Kombat dragon logo touches a group of pieces of the same color, all of those pieces disappear. A black Mortal Kombat logo clears all pieces of the same color as the group it touches. Each time pieces are cleared, a power meter gains some charge and junk blocks drop onto the opponents screen based on the number of combos and pieces cleared. Each Kombatant has a special attack, such as scrambling blocks or clearing an opponent's logo pieces, which can be triggered when the meter is filled.
The gameplay is exceedingly boring until the difficulty ramps up in the last couple stages. Opponents in earlier levels are unchallenging enough that simply quickly clearing blocks is enough to ensure victory. This requires no strategy whatsoever. Strategy is finally required in later levels where blocks must be carefully stacked in order to set off chain-reactions. Puzzle Kombat’s gameplay is apparently so uncompelling, I was unable to ever find anybody online to play against.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat keeps a win/loss total as well as maximum win streak count for both Mortal Kombat and Puzzle Kombat in both offline and online modes. Online mode also assigns players a rating, much like other Nintendo Wi-Fi games. Game-affecting Kombat Kodes can be entered before each match, but each player controls half of the code, meaning that some coordination is necessary to input a correct code, yet nearly impossible due to the lack of communication mechanism.
Additions to Mortal Kombat 3 such as uppercutting your opponent through the ceiling and onto another stage were once novel, but have been done so many times since that the shock value is gone. Of course, the little Easter eggs, famous among fans, such as Dan Forden’s Toasty outburst, are still present. The game also includes several unlockable characters in both games as well as some more minor unlockables.
Long-time fans of Mortal Kombat will want to pick up this game for its online multiplayer, but others may be turned off by its dated gameplay and presentation, and poor single-player experience. On the other hand, the DS hasn’t been graced by many fighters, making Ultimate Mortal Kombat potentially the best one available on the platform.