Reviewed: November 12, 2006
Released: October 22, 2006
When the Mortal Kombat hit the arcades, I was just hitting that phase in college where choice between spending ten bucks hunched over an arcade machine or spending the same ten bucks on beer was a pretty simple. As a result, I missed out on a lot of the hype and excitement surrounding this over-the-top fighting series.
By today’s standards, the Mortal Kombat games are tame compared to the likes of well, everything. But at the time of their initial release – the early-to-mid 1990’s – giving children full control over doling out extreme violence, blood, and gore on a series of digitized human characters was two steps away from recruiting them to Satanism.
But society has changed a lot – just like the preachers, teachers, lawyers, and parents claimed it would – and a decade later, the games have gotten much more violent, way bloodier, and a ton gorier than we ever could have guessed. As a result, those old games like Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 end up looking like campy caricatures of days gone by.
Regardless, in the infinite wisdom of Midway and Microsoft, they have released Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for the Xbox Live Arcade for the mid-range arcade price of $10. And while my first impression was not very favorable, the more and more I play Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 the more and more fun I find myself having – even if it is frustrating as hell.
I probably do not need to go into a whole lot of detail describing the gameplay mechanics of one of the original, most basic, and most famous fighting franchises to ever hit the arcades. And this 360 port is a picture-perfect representation of the original arcade coding. But for the benefit of those readers who have been holed up in hiding for the past decade and a half – here goes:
At its core, the Mortal Kombat series follows the basic rules of all the mid-nineties 2D fighting games – a unique cast of characters squares off in hand-to-hand arena-style bouts, with each character having his or her own set of exclusive special moves. Where the Mortal Kombat series really differs is that the game has a very dark, ominous feel to it which is book-ended with the famous “Fatality” finishing moves – in which defeated characters can have their spines ripped out of their backs, hearts ripped from their chests, or worse. The series later added “Babalities” (in which the defeated character is turned into a baby) and “Animalities” (in which the winner morphs into an animal and finishes off the defeated foe).
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was widely considered the best of the arcade Mortal Kombat games, mostly because of the addition of a two-on-two challenge mode and an 8 person tournament. While these additions might not sound like that a big deal by today’s home console standards, considering that the game came out in late 1995 and the only place to play it was in the arcades, being able to set up 8 man tournaments would undoubtedly result in a cheering crowd of onlookers and challengers.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 features a cast of 20 fighters (with two unlockables, for a total of 22 in all) and each has their own characteristic move set and unique fatalities. The game features a dozen or so darker-themed environments, some with multiple combat layers, which can be accessed by breaking through certain areas of the scenery (similar to what we see in the Dead Or Alive series).
As mentioned, everything about the 360 version is identical to the original arcade game, including the incredibly difficult AI. And I don’t mean difficult in the sense that they are incredibly smart, I mean difficult in the sense of completely unbalanced, often unfair, and borderline cheating. There are many, many, many times in playing Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 when the game will face you up against an opponent, or worse a pair of opponents, who just cannot be beat no matter how hard you try – even on the easiest level.
While this unfair play may seem horrible by today’s home console standards, during the glory days of the arcade (and the infancy of the high-end 8 and 16 bit consoles) this really was the status quo. Gamers just knew in those days that games cheated, and they would spend quarter after quarter figuring out how to defend against the cheating AI. Thankfully, this 360 version does not require you to drop a quarter in the slot every time the game unfairly beats you down – and better yet, the unlimited single-sitting continues at least keeps you from having to replay the earlier levels (which often can be harder than the latter ones).
Probably the biggest strike against the gameplay of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is the Xbox 360 controller, with its imprecise D-pad and loose analog stick, the thing is great for pretty much everything except fighting games. And if your stock wireless controller has aged or uncharged batteries, you might as well forget it. Just as with Dead or Alive 4, I found that I had to plug in my play-and-charge adaptor whenever I played Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, as it seemed to speed up the response time.
Still, even with the poor response of the controls and the cheating AI, I found myself coming back over and over trying to get just one more level, just one more Achievement (the game doles out Achievement Points at a fairly steady pace).
But the real enjoyment can be found online, because nothing is better than challenging an honest-to-goodness human opponent to a bout of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. There are a few bugs to be worked out in the online realm – there is a fair amount of lag at times, and the matchmaking is not as seamless as it should be – but it really is cool to square up against someone who doesn’t have the game cheating in their favor every round.
As with most of these retro Xbox Live Arcade games, at first glance they do not fare so well in the visuals department. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 looks particularly strange given the very dated look of the digitized sprites used for the characters.
For those who do not know what I mean by “digitized sprites”, the game characters are actually made of a series of digital “photographs” of humans in a series of poses that can be sewn together with computer generated sprites giving the very realistic look as if the gamer is really in charge of a human character.
When I say realistic though, it is realistic circa 1995 – when even the best digital cameras were probably about a tenth of the resolution of the one on you cell phone today. The faces are blocky, the movements are choppy – but that’s the way it was and that’s how we liked it. And while Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 might look a bit less impressive than Dead or Alive 4, it is not a whole lot worse than one of the SNK or Guilty Gear 2D fighters that reviewers have been raving about these past two years.
The sound is well maintained from the arcade, with characters shouting their signature calls, passable sound effects, and the metal-tinged soundtrack.
At $10, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 falls in the middle of the Xbox Live Arcade pricing structure. But while the game does have serious replay value, I am not so sure it is really worth the full $10 price of admission when most of the other “retro” games are falling in around the $5 range.
I realize that fighting a real live human in a mano-a-mano bout is way better than simply comparing scores in Pac Man. But when you can pick up a true 3D version of Mortal Kombat Deception, which also features online play (with backwards compatibility on the 360) for anywhere from $10 to $20, it is a bit more difficult to justify dropping the points on this one.
Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is frenzied, frustrating and infuriating – but it is also addicting as hell. And while it might not be worth the full asking price of $10, it is a decent port of a solid fighting game from days gone by.
Go ahead, download the demo and give Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 a try. If you really like what you see, $10 is not the end of the world – especially when it lets you play against a friend. But if you even have a moment of doubt within the demo, I would suggest picking up a Platinum Hits version of Deception, or go all-in and get yourself Dead or Alive 4 – they would be better investments all the way around.