Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks takes a step away from the one-on-one arcade fighter and immerses two friends, Kung Lao and Liu Kang in a third person beat’em up for one or two players cooperatively. It still has the blood, fatalities and characters you know and love, but it fleshes out the world a lot more. It takes place just after the first Mortal Kombat tournament ends and the island is collapsing around the heroes, then builds up through the second tournament and fighting emperor Shao Kahn. Instead of just fighting in arenas, you’ll fight to save a burning temple, wander through the living forest and even free Sonya and Kano from captivity.
The controls are pretty easy, you’ve got a a lock on, block, quick attack, launch attack, power attacks and throws. Left stick will move you around, but you don’t have control over the camera. Throws can take out other enemies and walls to reveal secrets or mandatory areas. The quick attack is good for combos and as you collect experience, you can use it to purchase new combos. I like having the unlockable combos, it keeps things interesting later on in the game so you’re not forced to use the same tricks over and over again. To mix things up, there’s a run button to combine with your attacks. You can also use enemies as a shield and then launch them away to release them.
Special attacks are done by holding one of the triggers, and pushing one of the three attack buttons. Its a welcome change from the directional movements found in the Mortal Kombat arcade series. You probably couldn’t do a half circle forward while in a 3D game where enemies are surrounding you. Liu Kang has fireballs, a bicycle kick and a jump kick, Kung Lao can throw his hat, teleport and dive kick. Using these drains your mana meter, but it recharges pretty quick, so you just can’t use them exclusively. Each of these maneuvers can be leveled up with the experience you collect.
There are weapons here and there for you to pick up. It keeps things interesting and dynamic, because each weapon has its own mechanics, a big blade drags against the ground. You’ll also find plenty of death traps like spikes that you can launch enemies into. Its all part of the fun of playing the game. Slicing enemies in half and impaling them to their doom. A few areas require you to feed enemies into grinders.
Like in other epic action adventure games, you have a health and a mana meter, but what makes the game unique is a fatality bar. When its full you can execute one of the game’s many fatalities with a combination of directions and a button at the end. Since there’s such a spotlight on Kung Lao and Liu Kang, they each have several different ones to chose from. These fatalities can take a while to watch and after seeing them a few times, they get old pretty fast. Luckily for the bosses, there’s a unique fatality to take each one out.
Enemies are relegated to factions. You’ll take on oni, tarkatans, red and black dragon clansmen and various other forces like wraiths and ghosts. The foes will even fight amongst themselves, onis will tackle one another, black dragon clansmen will fight red. Its an interesting dynamic the game has going for it. There are tougher enemies that block or catapult themselves when they attack you, so you’ll need to use different tactics to defeat them. Its nothing too out of the ordinary.
The game does an excellent job of recreating each of the arenas from the first two game, but now they’re extended into areas that you can explore. You’ll find out just where Goro’s lair is in coordination to the Pit. Everything is interconnected like one giant Metroid-Vania without the doors. Instead there are portals, roadblocks and other things you’ll need to do to progress.
As you progress through the game, you’ll get extra abilities like wall runs, long jumps, wall jumps and even swinging from pole to pole. All of these help you proceed further. They’re the benchmarks that you’ll learn after defeating bosses.
The bosses are where the game really feels like Mortal Kombat. You’ll fight Baraka, Reptile, Sub-Zero and Scorpion in full 3D. While it can’t match the fast paced intensity of the arcade game, each boss fight feels special. Baraka throws flaming monks at you. Reptile rides in on a giant serpent. You’ll fight Scorpion in the netherealm and he’ll make full use of his chain to swing from. There are even optional battles against Kano and others. You’ll find more than classic characters as bosses, there are giant club dragging oni and various other giants. Everything builds to a final boss trio. All three bosses back to back, Shang Tsung, Kintaro and Shao Kahn. This is where the game gets extremely difficult. Two would be okay, but three is a little much. Especially with Shao Kahn’s screen clearing sledgehammer.
Every death restarts you almost where you were. There are plenty of save points that will also tell you how much of the game you’ve completed and refill your health. Dying from a boss character reveals a special fatality. In a way its like punishment, because it just takes you out of the game and forces you to watch the animation. You do get a hint for every death including one where you’ll find Ermac.
For anyone that needs a challenge, you’ll encounter Smoke in the game and he’ll give you five extra difficult missions to complete. If you get through them, you’ll be rewarded with an arcade perfect version of Mortal Kombat 2. Its worth it as a frill, but these are some tough missions. Of course there’s also a code to unlock it, but I wanted to complete the challenge.
After beating the game, each of the two main characters unlocks a new playable ninja. One unlocks Sub-Zero and the other is Scorpion. Both play so differently and its worth going through the game again just to see how silly it looks with Sub-Zero uttering Liu Kang’s dialog. If you can’t be bothered doing that, there are codes to unlock the extra characters.
There are plenty of extras in the kontent that you’ll unlock as you go through the game. Things like movies from the game to watch, concept art and so on. Some of the movies are amazing to see, especially the introductory cinema with a giant battle between everyone from the first game as Shang Tsung looks on from his throne. Kano appears to attack Sonya, Johnny saves her, before he gets tongue lassoed by Reptile who then gets knocked down by Liu Kang. Shang Tsung and Liu have a longer scuffle, before Kung Lao and Baraka break in. Fatalities get used. Someone’s spine gets torn out. Scorpion tries to incinerate someone and its not much longer before Goro appears and takes everyone out. Its a great way to introduce all the characters and you’ll see their unique gear for the game.
You’ll need to scour the game to find all these extras by collecting red dragon coins. Its more than just collecting the coins, you can also throw enemies into them in order to collect them. There are several coins that you can only get after you’ve progressed well into the game. One of the real downsides to the game is needing a second player to get all of the coins. I just feel denied, but whatever.
While every brawler feels limited and gets boring, this one stays interesting. Its well worth a playthrough, its easy and fun up until the final trio of bosses. I’m into the Mortal Kombat franchise and this game hits all the marks that I want it to.