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Review by: Duane Simer
Published: October 11th, 2005
Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks takes a well known name from a well-known genre and attempts what has in times past been a formula for disaster: switching to a new genre. In the case of Shaolin Monks, however, this crossing over has been successful to the point of an improvement on the series both in gameplay and story, and I don’t think there would have been a better choice available, considering the directions the game could have gone instead. What Midway has come up with is a game that is part platform, part fighting, and in some ways borrows from the typical RPG in the way of leveling and purchasing of new abilities to strengthen one’s character with. This typically takes course in learning specials such as new throwing techniques, fireballs, and sometimes even fatalities, brutalities, or a series first – multalities, which allow a player to devastate and otherwise maim and destroy more than one opponent at a time.
Taking place at the end of the first tournament, Shaolin Monks seems to be telling the story immediately following said events with some major changes from the flow that the movies and even the sequels took by following Liu Kang and Kung Lao through a series of events that land them anywhere from their home village to Outworld itself, and facing off against a host of familiar faces in the process. Guided by Raiden, the God of Thunder and Lightning, the two martial artists are sent on a quest to stop Shang Tsung from breaking the rules of the Mortal Kombat Tournament and invading the despite having lost the contest. Along the way there are plenty of pitfalls, including the kidnapping of Sonya Blade and the evil possession of princess Kitana.
The game is very linear in nature, allowing only the choice between two main characters (after all, there is a specific story being told here), and taking players down a very specific path and requiring the solving of puzzles or completion of specific objectives in order to advance. Many of these puzzles are easy to figure out if one is observant and remembers the tendencies of previous puzzles, and usually involve the impaling of one or more opponents on spikes or some such thing. Most times, puzzles play two parts, including testing a player’s problem solving abilities or otherwise teaching them to more effectively play the game. The majority of the times that a player comes into contact with the latter purpose are after new skills are gained, and the game places the player in a scenario that requires them to use that ability a time or two to get used to it and add it to their common repertoire. In this sense, the game may sound like a never-ending tutorial, but truth be told, it is one of the easiest games to pick up and start playing that I have come across in quite some time.
In addition to its single player mode, Shaolin Monks also offers access to Ko-op mode, which is self-explanatory in design, but is a very welcome feature of the game. As fun as it is in single player, the game calls out loudly for another player to join the fray, as many of the secrets within the game require a second player be present in order to unlock. These puzzles are included in the single player version as well as multiplayer, firmly reminding the player that a second person is required to unlock the secret, which is a rarely used but effective tactic for fueling the desire to get a buddy in there with you. The only drawback to this, however, is that a buddy cannot join in on a game that started as single player, so getting to that point would require starting from scratch. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, however, as once one does get a buddy in there with them, the game is just as fun if not more so than the first time around.
Like most games these days, MK: SM features a series of unlock-able features, including two initially shaded out characters to play through as, concept art, and other such things one would expect to be able to reveal from any game. However, there are quite a few more uncommon unlocks, such as the entire Mortal Kombat 2 game! Most of these things are unlock-able via puzzles in the game, while others come from completion on the various difficulty levels. With such unlock-able content – especially the two additional characters – die-hards will find a lot of value in replaying the single-player portion in search of all the rewards available. Watch out, though, as some of them can be rather difficult to spot. A hint in the right direction, though, is to make sure to try impaling the bodies of your foes on spikes whenever you can, especially if those spikes seem a little more inconspicuous than others. Especially in Outworld, spiked bodies seem to be the national currency, and can yield some interesting returns when placed properly.
Aside from these basic modes, Shaolin Monks has one nice little extra; a demo version of the game The Suffering: Ties that Bind, an upcoming horror FPS. Once all is said and done, this DVD comes packed to the hilt with little extras that make the deal a bit sweeter.
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