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Mortal Kombat 3 (Arcade) artwork

Mortal Kombat 3 (Arcade) review

"It’d be a bit of an exaggeration to call today’s games bloodthirsty. They’re certainly more than an interactive satisfying of our subconscious, violent fantasies. Still, the prominence of juicy details and the emergence of game engines emulating the body’s reaction to physical abuse of all variations is becoming more the necessary silverware on the table, whereas we at one time gawked at it like the fine cuisine being served. Had it always been this way, Mortal Kombat would’ve been an ..."

It’d be a bit of an exaggeration to call today’s games bloodthirsty. They’re certainly more than an interactive satisfying of our subconscious, violent fantasies. Still, the prominence of juicy details and the emergence of game engines emulating the body’s reaction to physical abuse of all variations is becoming more the necessary silverware on the table, whereas we at one time gawked at it like the fine cuisine being served. Had it always been this way, Mortal Kombat would’ve been an unsung failure. It was saved this fate by its developers being able to see before many others just how much a bit of blood could excite an arcade, coaxing its occupants into dumping more and more quarters into the machines to see Sub-zero rip someone’s spine out one more time.

Fast forward a few years from this original bright idea. The bloody creativity exhibited by Mortal Kombat was powerful enough to warrant a follow-up, which many would say took all the intrigue of the first and molded a game that was as fun to play as gaping at the gallons of blood sloshing around the screen. But by the time the third installment was being unveiled, merely being the bloodiest cabinet in the house simply wouldn’t suffice. Mortal Kombat 3 couldn’t survive on gore to be successful, and because of this its success was limited.

When most people think deep, involving fighters, they probably think of intricate combination systems. From super combos to team combos, almost every fighting game has a method of combining attacks to deal supplemental damage to an opponent, and mastery of these combination attacks is usually the chief difference between an experienced player and a novice. In an attempt to deepen the franchise, Mortal Kombat 3 grabbed the theory of combos by the throat, reworked it, and tossed it to the forefront of gameplay. The brand of combo offered by MK3, often called ''dial in'' or ''button link'' combos, involved linking the game’s primary four attacks: high punch, high kick, low punch, and low kick. But instead of adding the desired depth, these combos merely lessened the gap between those who knew what they were doing and a crazed twelve-year-old jamming the arcade’s buttons as fast as candy- coated, sticky fingers would permit. It proves just about pointless to learn the longer, more elaborate combos when slamming buttons randomly produces a handful of small two or three hit combos, being nearly as effective in the end.

The other primary addition made to MK3 in an attempt to solidify it as a “real” fighting game and not just a blood spectacle was the run button. Unlike the dial in combos, this new member of the MK control scheme didn’t end up a complete disaster. With the ability to flit away from seeking fists and then swoop in for an unexpected offensive bombardment the pace of the action onscreen redoubles. Bodies race around nearly at the speed of the ice blasts and energy projectiles that have been in the series since day one, and recognizing tendencies and reacting quickly when faced with the unexpected becomes more crucial than having memorized the move lists for your favorite fighters.

Speaking of your personal favorites, you might find yourself disappointed to see many of them left on the MK3 cutting room floor. A sizable portion of the fourteen default selectable fighters in MK3 are completely new faces, ranging from the very good to the downright wretched. Those that recall Goro or Kintaro, the four armed menaces from the first two renditions, may be pleased to know that an apparent kin of their is playable, four arms and all. Two of the debuting faces belong to cyborg ninjas with the goal of hunting down and exterminating Sub-zero, who even himself has received quite the physical makeover. The list of unfamiliar visages is rounded out with a criminal, a cop, and Shao Kahn’s mistress. It is an ambitious collection, but some of the characters seem out of place and shallow. That said, only the true Mortal Kombat fanatic will gripe about Kabal’s background lacking the feeling of characters from past games. What the more casual fan will notice is the exclusion of MKII mainstays Rayden, Scorpion, and Johnny Cage from the selection board.

A misconception I may have implied thusfar is that Mortal Kombat 3 is a tame game. Focus has been shifted more towards the fights themselves, and under no lack of pressure from squealing soccer moms and censorship organizations a plenty, Midway did reign in some of the gore. But fatalities are still the identifier of MK3, and with the addition of ''animalities'' (characters transforming into different animals as means of executing foes), its still obvious what MK3 intended to carry it to the plateau its predecessor had reached. Kabal inflates another’s head to the point of explosion, Kung Lao slices and dices with his bladed hat, and Jax swells to monstrous dimensions before quite literally squashing his opposition underfoot. But hidden underneath the gritty surface of these finishers are more peaceful conclusions to a duel such as an impromptu puppet showor roasting of marshmallows. A sparse selection of these amiable finishers are humorous, but their inclusion didn’t do Mortal Kombat’s cruel atmosphere any favors.

The Mortal Kombat family of games had always shown its more choice bits with much gusto, but the rest of the visual presentation left no more than an impression of decency. Mortal Kombat 3 isn’t an exception to this trend, what with backgrounds appearing faded and carrying a generally grainy complexion. The camerawork also draws some unwanted attention to itself, having a bad habit of swinging around needlessly from the more elaborate of fatalities and detracting from the massacre its supposed to be showing. On the plus side though, characters are large and well depicted, each easily recognizable. Crucial points such as dropped frames of animation or chugging movements that have hindered many a fighting game before MK3 generally keep their distance. Small environmental touches such as movement in the distant background or the unseen breeze ruffling papers around the combatants show a bit of imagination, although as previously mentioned, not all of the game’s backdrops came out as well as they could have.

One note about MKII that I personally felt was done very well was the selection of music accompanying the sounds of battle. True, it was dark and sometimes almost brooding, but there was also just enough underlying pulse to remind you that your onscreen personification was fighting for his or her life. All subtlety was lost upon MK3. Most of the score is almost revoltingly jovial, as if it expected the characters to start dancing rather than try to kill each other. Only a few of the more haunting stages received music fitting for their settings, the top of Shao Kahn’s tower by moonlight being the first and best example that springs to mind.

The sounds of combat themselves prove more pleasing. The dull thud of an uppercut hitting its mark and the subsequent smack of flesh hitting the ground is satisfying in the very way the franchise strives for. Even the shrill scream of ice whirring across the screen, or the crackling of Nightwolf’s flaming tomahawk find themselves appropriate nearly every time. Shao Kahn’s rumbling commentary on the matches as they take place can grow repetitive, but until it reaches that recycled stage it adds that final punch Mortal Kombat 3 needs for an effects package that qualifies as above the norm.

When gamers began looking for something more than just another bloody thirty seconds in front of an arcade, Mortal Kombat 3 was exposed. In an attempt to make the game more than a virtual bloodbath, Midway through in a game engine heavily based on the dial in combos and the increased pace of the action provided by the run button. The latter of the two innovations proved minimally positive with its effect on the game, but the combos did little more than give the inexperienced and undisciplined button masher a second chance should he come up against a long time player who he had no business competing against. Yes, some of the Mortal Kombat 3 atmosphere was retained, and yes, it’s still fun to see most of the fatalities at least once. But MK3 is not as refined as MKII, and it lacks the hardened edge that made MKII so appealing. MK3 had to stand on its own, and it stumbled. It didn’t quite fall, but it certainly stumbled.

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Community review by jdog (June 29, 2004)

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