Review by blueninja4444
"Co-op Ninja Killing Perfection"
Mortal Kombat has always been and always will be! - Raiden.
Ok, I won't go over the history of Mortal Kombat and pretend like you don't know what it is, because we all know what Mortal Kombat is, it's been a household name and gamer favorite since 1992, along with some of it's staple characters like Sub-Zero, Scorpion, and Liu Kang. So here we are, over a decade later, with this game called Shaolin Monks. What is Shaolin Monks? Well the technology of the early 90's didn't let Mortal Kombat pull a whole lot off, it was a 2D fighter with digitized actors. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is an adventure game (not a one on one fighting game like most other MKs) that targets some of the die hard MK fans by bringing back old memories in the new systems with 3D graphics, familiar faces and stages, and everything you would want in an MK flashback based on the Mortal Kombat game and it's sequel, Mortal Kombat II.
This is a late review, I must admit, and if you are reading it, it may be because one of the newest MK games got you back into MK fever. With a Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe game announced around the time of this writing, it doesn't surprise me that you may opt out for this much cheaper and older Shaolin Monks if you've never played it. So how does Shaolin Monks fare as a game on it's own? After all, wasn't there a side-scrolling adventure or two based on Sub-Zero and then one on Jax? Weren't they poorly reviewed? Let's take a look at the newest attempt....
Shaolin Monks takes classic characters and stages from the 2D era of Mortal Kombat and turns them into beautifully rendered 3D models. Now this has been done before with the resurrection of classic characters like Kabal and classic stages like the Pit in Mortal Kombat: Deception and if you have played those, and liked the nostalgic feel, then you'll love Shaolin Monks as it gives you the 3D experience you never even dreamed of when you were uppercutting Johnny Cage into the pit of spikes in Mortal Kombat in the early 1990's.
The camera is usually pretty far away from you at any given time, and it's in a fixed position, like God of War, but in a good way. The character models of you and your bosses are all very beautiful and very detailed. You can see all sorts of little details like the medallion on Sub-Zero's belt, or the spikes on Scorpion's gauntlets. Heck, the character models are so great, it inspired a Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks line of action figures based on the four playable characters in this game, that's telling you something.
The game splits it's cut scenes up... Some are FMVs which look very nicely done, and the others are done with the in game graphics (including fatalities) which also come along nicely. The joy of seeing old tricks in 3D graphics, like Sub-Zero grabbing his opponent's spine and ripping it right out of their body in the most gruesome way imaginable is unparalleled by any Mortal Kombat experience, and this game won't let you down in the graphics, but it does have some collision detection issues, but nothing that would lower the score to anything less than a nine out of ten.
Does TOASTY!! ring a bell? If it does then you are in for a treat. Just as nostalgic as the characters and locations are the sound effects and BGM of this game. Everything you love from classic MK is here from GET OVER HERE!! to MKII's Dead Pool music to Liu Kang's turkey-like martial arts sound effects, there isn't a single complaint here. The voice acting is exceptionally well done for characters like Shao Kahn and every line in game is spoken aloud, no text reading for you. There's nothing more you could ask for here, even the sound of crushed skulls and leaking blood is a work of art in this game.
Shaolin Monks is out for both the PlayStation 2 and Xbox home consoles, and it just feels right in the palm of your hands. There isn't anything to complain about in the controls department, everything is simple and easy to remember, even if looks extremely complex on the screen. You can string together a 20 hit combo on 3 different enemies simply by pressing the three attack buttons in a semi-random order and moving the left analog stick in the direction of whichever enemy you wish to attack next. Shaolin Monks was designed to be fast, simple, and easy to learn and it's pretty obvious. You may even notice a few classic fatality commands for some characters such as right, right, right, right and then punch for Johnny Cage's classic MK1 fatality.
Mortal Kombat and story never really belonged in the same sentence, but yet the creators of MK still insisted on putting a semi-in-depth story in the early games, and as a result Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, being based on MKI and MKII takes those semi-in-depth stories and explains them in a new and much more sophisticated way. If you know anything about early MK you know you're in for a twisted story about dead ninja's brothers coming back, old guys turning young again, and a muscular dude ready to take over the world with nothing but a sledge hammer and the most intimidating presence in the history of video games. Think you can save Earthrealm?
This is a nostalgic game, yikes! So if you just throw the Mortal Kombat logo and name on the cover of the box, throw in a few beautifully rendered 3D models of favorites like Sub-Zero and Reptile, and include such classic stages as The Pit with the spikey demise below, do you think the developers of this game would even bother to make the gameplay worth while? After all, it already sells itself! Well, I guess the perfect 10 out of 10 score gave away the truth, but in a nutshell the game play is solid, solid, solid!
You should know that this game does support two player offline co-op, as well as single player play. There is no drop-in/ drop-out, which means you'll have to have two separate saves if you want to play alone and with a buddy. The co-op mode is pretty solid and a huge selling point for this game. It is not split screen, instead you two must stay close to each other, which is good and let's you watch each other's backs as well as juggle the enemies for super combos.
The game does have a throwback to classic 1 on 1 MK fighting with a versus mode, which has eight playable characters, and the campaign / story mode which has two main playable characters and two hidden characters. Even though Liu Kang and Kung Lao are the main characters of the game (Shaolin Monks, get it?) the two hidden characters were revealed before the game even came out, making it less of spoiler than you might think, so I'll just come out and say the entire story mode can be played with Sub-Zero and / or Scorpion which is very exciting stuff and adds even more variety to the gameplay!
All theatrics aside, Shaolin Monks is a beat em up game with a large emphasis on hand to hand combat and stringing together large combos, including aerial combat and aerial combos. You can also pay tribute to classic MK with special moves like Liu Kang's bicycle kick, and Sub-Zero's floor freeze, and even activate one kill fatalities to the non-bosses and special boss-only fatalities when you finish off bosses like Baraka. For good measure you also have access to many, many stage hazards just like in the classic games. Uppercutting enemies off the stage into a set of spikes will never get old, and looks awesome!
There are also some very minor RPG elements such as using experience to unlock new moves and combos, and twists on old moves. By playing as Scorpion you not only get access to his trademark COME HERE!! spear, but you can level it up into another move where he twirls the spear around hitting many enemies and becoming invincible for a short period of time. I don't know what's left to say about gameplay, other than it's fast, fun and flawless.
Replay Value: 10/10
Shaolin Monks won't have you bored any time soon! Heck! It even includes (in North America) a bonus, unlockable arcade version of Mortal Kombat II from the Midway Arcade Treasures series. Doesn't that add to the replay value alone?
The game isn't terribly long, but you will be able to squeeze around 8 or 9 or 10 hours or so out of your first play through, but there's more to keep you coming back for an extra flythrough or two including the cooperative play mode, and 4 playable characters, you could blast through the main story mode two or three more times like I did, assuming you love Mortal Kombat.
I should point out that even though Shaolin Monks has four playable characters the hidden characters do not get a special story or missions. They are merely character swaps. Though Sub-Zero and Scorpion do get their own moves, appearances, fatalities, brutalities, etc. they still have Liu Kang and Kung Lao's voices in cut scenes and are still called Shaolin Monks by Raiden, among others. But it doesn't detract from the experience much. I'd rather take Sub-Zero and Scorpion as playable characters with lame cut scenes than be forced to play as goody-two-shoes Liu Kang.
And if a solid campaign mode and a legendary game like Mortal Kombat II isn't enough for you, and you already beat the story co-op style with your best bro, you can even face off against each other in a Shaolin Monks versus mode with around eight playable characters and the campaign engine, and see who truly dominated the Outworld in the campaign. And then you can check out concept art and videos. Any doubts about Shaolin Monks and it's replayability can officially be put to rest.
In the end, Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is a near perfect game on the last-gen systems for a Mortal Kombat fan or otherwise, that unfortunately gets some bad light shed on it from negative fans. Instead of appreciating a game like this for what it is, you may see die-hard Mortal Kombat fans complain that the story doesn't match the 1990's comic books they read, or that Noob Saibot has a cameo instead of being a boss, but it's all just whining. Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks has crisp graphics, nostalgic sound, addicting gameplay, comfortable controls, extreme replayability, a co-op mode, a versus mode, a lot of ninjas, Shao Kahn and a copy of the classic Mortal Kombat II. Really what more can a game like this give you? MK fan or not, you'll love it! A flawless victory! 10 out of 10.....!
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 05/19/08
Game Release: Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks (US, 09/16/05)
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