The Mortal Kombat franchise has seen its ups and downs over the years. From the largely successful Mortal Kombat 2 to the ill-fated Special Forces this series certainly has seen both sides of the spectrum. Thankfully this time around Midway has taken great care to make sure it’s franchise only gets the best treatment. It’s been a while since we had a solid beat ’em up that was actually fun to play through, add that to the fact that it takes place in the MK realm and you have an extremely well built game that has plenty of things to keep you coming back for more. Let us dive into the world of Shaolin Monks and find out why this is one of the better titles to grace your Xbox this September.
The storyline of Shaolin Monks takes place immediately following the events at the end of the first tournament. Shang Tsung has lost and is not ready to admit defeat. So in traditional bad guy style he finds a way to escape his inevitable fate and begins the destruction of his island. Before they are able to escape Liu Kang and Kung Lao are trapped inside Goro’s Lair and the story begins. You will basically fight your way across the island, back to Earthrealm, and eventually end up in Outworld where the final showdown takes place. The story progresses all the way through the second MK game so you can expect several cameos from familiar faces such as Reptile, Smoke, and even Jade & Mileena.
The visuals in the game are extremely slick and blaze by you at an incredible frame rate. The environments are ripped directly from the first two MK games, it’s an absolute thrill for such a large MK fan as myself to finally see these places rendered in glorious 3D. From the infamous Acid Pit to the depths of the Netherealm this game is a Mortal Kombat fan’s wet dream. I found myself more often than not simply in awe of how many references to the past games were thrown in. For instance there was always rumors of being able to perform a stage fatality in the Acid Pit where you could knock your opponent onto the hooks hanging from the ceiling, in Shaolin Monks you actually can.
The fighting animations are also extremely well done, fighting multiple enemies never looks awkward or out of place and the environments are littered with interactive items such as the trees in the Living Forest. Shaolin Monks also avoids the problem most games in its genre suffer from, repetitive enemies. Thankfully there is just enough diversity that traveling the game’s terrain you are never forced to fight one kind of enemy too often. The only complaint I have is that most environments in the game only have one set path with little to no room for exploration, also you can get lost in some areas because of some questionable camera angles, but in the grand scheme of things this game does just about everything right in the visuals department.
With Dan “Toasty” Forden at the helm in the sound department did you doubt its greatness? Classic MK themes are redone for Monks and new tracks mesh perfectly with the game. The effects are also spot on with some classic thrown in for good measure. It simply would not be an MK title without the over zealous grunts and screams, and of course the infamous sounds of “Toasty!”. The rest of the audio is pretty standard fare with nothing to get too excited about, weapons make the sounds you would expect and the fighting sounds just like it was ripped from the MK games.
Now it’s time to cut down into the nitty gritty, the game play. The best part about Shaolin Monks is the fact that the characters play so damn well, controlling them is actually fun. You are never wrestling with the controls trying to figure out combos, they simply come natural. Monks also introduces multi-directional combat, simply tilt your analog stick towards the enemy you want to attack and land your combos, this makes for some insane combat when surrounded by multiple enemies. You also have a bevy of special moves at your disposal, for instance as Kung Lao you can perform all of your moves from MK2 including the hat throw and teleport moves. These are done by sampling holding down the right trigger while pressing the standard attack buttons. These can be combined with regular moves from some truly insane combo attacks.
You also gain experience for performing combos and other tasks, this can be used to upgrade all of your special attacks and even purchase new combos. Overall there is so much depth to the combat system in Monks yet anyone can pull off some impressive looking combos with little to no effort. It’s as if the developers have found the perfect balance between depth and fun. Finally what would an MK game be without fatalities? Monks is chock full of them, including Brutalities and even a new style called Multalities. You can find some but others are gained the old fashioned way, simply discovering them with experimenting button combinations. Multalities are basically used for killing several enemies at once and a Brutality will give you the ability to kill anyone in the vicinity for a certain period of time.
Monks is also not short on unlockable goodies, finding them all will take some time. Each section in the game contains at least one secret to find possibly more. There is also a set of missions to perform for Smoke that will unlock the original arcade version of MK2, completely playable. You can also discover some secret boss battle including the elusive Ermac and even Kano. Needless to say this game is certainly not short on things to do, but the main quest can be completed in less than five hours. Thankfully there are two main characters to play through as, and even two unlockable characters for story mode. Add all of this to a versus mode that plays a lot like Powerstone and you have a lot of bang for your buck.
With tons of unlockables, great control, and a story that MK fans have been waiting to see this game is truly a treat for fans of the series. Will it satisfy you if you are not a fan? Perhaps, but the short length may turn you off if you don’t plan on trying to unlock all the secrets that can be found. Personally this game is a must buy for me simply because it’s fun, it has a co-op mode, and you simply are not going to find a better reason to beat someone to death with a rabbit this year. Definitely check out this game, I guarantee you will have fun with MK Shaolin Monks, even if you are not a fan of the series.