The Mortal Kombat series doesn't exactly have the smoothest track record when it comes to quality, especially on portable systems. The old Game Boy and Game Boy Color games were difficult to play, and Mortal Kombat Advance, which was released in late 2001, is one of the worst games available for the Game Boy Advance. Thankfully, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance breaks this cycle of abuse. It's a very good one-on-one fighting game with plenty of strategy, and it doesn't stray too far from the classic formula of simple fighting moves and extreme gore.
Unlike Mortal Kombat Advance, which was an unresponsive mess, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is easy to play and get the hang of. Punches, kicks, and special attacks are performed with the buttons and directional pad, while the two shoulder buttons allow you to block and change fighting styles. Each character has two distinct fighting styles that you can switch between at will, as well as an assortment of special attacks that you can perform in either stance. There are weapon-based attacks as well, although they're no more powerful than the standard techniques. One of the better enhancements found in Deadly Alliance is the ability to walk freely around the arena, which gives you more opportunities to dodge attacks or sneak behind your opponent.
The characters feature a wide variety of combo attacks and juggles, but the overall gameplay isn't as deep as what you'll find in games like Street Fighter Alpha 3 or Tekken Advance. There are a few cheap juggles, but they don't hurt the game very much, especially since you can literally kill your opponent at the end of a match--this isn't exactly a tournament involving good sportsmanship. Even with all the blood you'll see during a fight, it's the fatality moves that give the Mortal Kombat series its unique edge. Each character in Deadly Alliance has a specific killing move that you can execute after you've defeated your opponent. The button combinations for these moves are really simple and you can perform them at almost any distance--so it doesn't take much effort to actually rip your opponent's lungs out of their quivering bodies, and so forth.
If violent fighting games are your kick, there's certainly a decent amount to do and unlock in Deadly Alliance. The roster includes 12 playable characters, a few of which--such as Sub Zero and Kano--are holdovers from the original Mortal Kombat. Another classic MK character, Shang Tsung, retains his ability to morph into any other character at will, which is great. As you play through the single-player mode, you'll earn coins that you can use to unlock additional costumes, arenas, and outfits. The game also has the usual survival and two-player link modes we've come to expect from fighting games, as well as night vision and psychedelic modes that offer trippy alternate perspectives.
Screenshots don't do justice to how good the game looks. The backgrounds are a little blocky, but they scale and rotate as you move within them. There are a number of minor details to notice, such as shimmering acid pools, lava fountains, and reflective floors. A couple of stages are mired in brown or gray tones, but the rest of the arenas are for the most part colorful and interesting. The characters don't have quite the same richness of color as the backgrounds, so they seem pasted on at times, but this gripe is tempered somewhat by the fact that they move so fluidly. This is especially apparent when you're circling around your opponent and you can watch as the characters scale larger or smaller depending on their position onscreen. As alluded to above, there's plenty of blood and guts in this game. Every hard punch or slice with a weapon sends gobs of bloody goop flying all over the place, and there isn't a single fatality that doesn't have lungs, a heart, or a spine landing on the concrete.
The audio is good as well, although the music is terribly dull. In spots, the tempo is so slow and the volume is so quiet that you'll almost think you were in an elevator. On the other hand, the sound effects are superb and quickly make you forget the dreary music. The variety and amount of digital speech is staggering. Familiar phrases such as "Finish him," "Fatality," and "Test your might" are crisp and macho, as are all the grunts and groans that the fighters articulate.
Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is by no means the biggest or most polished fighting game available for the Game Boy Advance. But that doesn't really matter in the long run, since the aim of the Mortal Kombat series has never been to compete on exactly the same terms as the Street Fighter or Virtua Fighter games. Deadly Alliance has just enough combos and reversals to make it fun, and the real stars of the game are the blood and guts you'll see during and after each match. That said, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance sticks to the spirit of its violent predecessors and is enjoyable on its own merits.