What do you think would happen if attempted to squeeze one of the biggest, most feature rich fighter in history onto the tiny space of a UMD? You would wind up with Midway’s latest PSP title Mortal Kombat Unchained. Unchained is basically MK Deception crammed into a smaller package with a few enhancements and some longer load times, but even with that this is still one of the best values available on Sony’s handheld.
The storyline, for those that didn’t play Deception, has Shang Tsung and Quan Chi resurrecting the fabled Dragon King army. During the commotion Raiden shows up to break up the fun to no avail and eventually both sorcerers defeat the Thunder God and then turn on each other. During the fight Onaga, the Dragon King himself makes an appearance to thwart their plans. Even with a combined effort from all three of the former enemies they cannot dent the Dragon King. Raiden realizes this and decides to deliver one final suicide attack that doesn’t even manage to harm Onaga which leads to the collection of storylines of each character and their own reason for wanting to defeat the Dragon King.
The story may seem derivative but honestly even after all of these years MK is still the only fighter that even makes an attempt at keeping the lineage going. While the story hasn’t changed Midway has added some great features to this portable brawler that make up for most of its technical issues. The biggest addition is of course a collection of new combatants to choose from. In addition to the already massive roster Midway has added Shao Kahn and Goro, who both appeared in the Gamecube version of Deception. Players are also given a few fan-favorites that were absent from the original in the form of Kitana, Jax, Frost, and Blaze.
Even with the addition of all of these new fighters Unchained still features the multiple fighting styles found in Deception. The weapons also make a return with each character donning their own personal arsenal as well as the weapons scattered about some of the stages. The core fighting system is still here and very similar to its console brethren including the love it or hate dial-a-combos.
Thankfully the developers have left in the new combo breaker introduced in Deception that allows you to interrupt those annoying juggles that advanced players can exploit. Unchained also features all the cool multi-tiered stages from Deception complete with stage fatalities. This of course adds a new dimension to the traditional fighting game and it’s a nice addition to add to the portable version.
For anyone who enjoyed Deception you also know that the boys at Midway love to stuff in tons of extras in their recent MK games. Unchained is packed with all of the same goodies that players found in the console version from 2004. Puzzle Kombat is a nice diversion in the vein of Puzzle Fighter complete with deformed characters. You can also perform special moves and even fatalities. Chess Kombat is a nice spin on the classic game by allowing players to engage in Mortal Kombat for the square. There is also a very nice fleshed out adventure mode called Konquest that unravels more of the story by following the events of a man named Shujinko that ties directly into the main storyline.
The Krypt also makes a return which houses tons of secrets ranging from alternate costumes to simple concept art. If all of that wasn’t enough to make you happy Midway has gone the extra mile and added a new exclusive mode just for the PSP version. You can now fight an endless wave of enemies in the newly added Endurance mode. While it might be a small addition it is nice to see even more features to this already huge package. There is also a multi-player mode, but sadly it is limited to local play. The exclusion of an infrastructure mode really disappoints considering the lack of fighters on the PSP and also considering that MK was already built for online on both the Xbox and PS2. Regardless the addition of WiFi Kombat does add some replay to the overall package.
While all of this may sound too good to be true so far Unchained doesn’t come over without its share of issues. First of all the controls can be frustrating because of the shoddy d-pad and the nub on the PSP. Midway has done an amazing job of crafting the game to work with the nub better than most, but it still isn’t as precise as a traditional gamepad or even a joystick. This is most evident with the new maneuvers such as side-stepping and of course fatalities and hara-kiris.
The second issue comes in the form of load times. It has become almost a cliché that every single PSP game must load constantly and it really makes you wonder if Sony made a mistake by using a disc format for a handheld device. When you are stuck waiting on almost every single action you perform in the game, it can get tedious and really detract from the experience of quick, on-the-go gaming.
As far as the presentation goes this game delivers. From the sharp visuals to the stellar audio MK Unchained delivers the same experience you have come to expect from the series. Character models look great and sport tons of animations with little to no frame rate issues. The music is lifted directly from the console version and the voice-overs, while cheesy, fit the game just as well as they have since the beginning of the series.
In the end I really can not recommend this title enough to owners of the PSP. With such a crappy selection of fighters on the system it is nice to finally see a game that really takes advantage of the portable. If you enjoy the MK series or just fighting games in general you owe it to yourself to give this game a shot. With tons of additional modes, a massive roster of fighters and of course buckets of blood and gore MK Unchained finally gives the series a good name in the handheld market. Perhaps if Midway can add an online mode to the inevitable PSP version of Armageddon it will be gaming nirvana, until then this will most certainly do.