Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks Impressions

We take a look at Midway's next Mortal Kombat game.

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LAS VEGAS--Today at Midway's winter 2005 press event, the company showed off a substantive noninteractive demo of Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks, the upcoming action adventure set in the grisly fighting game universe. In development at Paradox, the game's particulars have been shrouded in secrecy since its announcement. That is, until today, when Midway gave out a lot of new details on the story, setting, and gameplay of Shaolin Monks. If Paradox can nail the feel of the core fighting, the game looks to have plenty of nostalgic appeal for fans of the long-running fighting franchise.

We've noticed from previous screenshots that Shaolin Monks contains a surprising number of backgrounds from Mortal Kombat II, the famous second (and in many fans' opinions, best) installment in the MK series. We discovered today from a lengthy computer-generated trailer, and also during the verbal presentation, that Shaolin Monks will, in fact, be set during the MKII time period and within its storyline as well. You'll play as that game's two monks, Liu Kang and Kung Lao, as they're sucked into Outworld and forced to battle against Shao Kahn's most vicious minions. Fortunately, they'll be aided by some of the most powerful fighters on the side of good, such as Johnny Cage and Raiden.

According to the presentation, the game itself looks to be a fairly standard scrolling beat-'em-up that will have you playing as either Liu Kang or Kung Lao in the single-player game, though whether you'll be able to choose characters or merely be assigned one based on the level you're playing wasn't mentioned. Shaolin Monks will also feature two-player cooperative play that will feature both characters. The fighting system will be similar to what we've seen in past Mortal Kombat fighters, though it will be tweaked so you can attack multiple enemies simultaneously, though without becoming overwhelmed. You'll be able to essentially pull off "unlimited combos," in the words of series creator Ed Boon, by changing attack direction and chaining moves between enemies. The fighting has been further tweaked to let you take your combos in to the air, juggling enemies and then smashing them back down to the ground. You'll also be able to take hold of enemies and use them as shields or beat them mercilessly, in some cases. Finally, the dynamic duo will have some moves that will let them interact with the background, such as a wall-run maneuver for crossing large gaps or the ability to swing gymnast-style from one bar to another.

Fortunately, Liu Kang and Kung Lao will have full command of their MKII-era special moves, such as the fireball, flying kick, and bicycle kick for Kang, and the hat throw, dive kick, and spin attack for Lao. As you play through the game, you'll be able to upgrade these moves to perform more-useful functions. For instance, Kung Lao's upgraded hat throw lets him throw his hat in a circular pattern to strike multiple enemies, while Liu Kang will eventually be able to throw fireballs in the air. You'll also be able to activate a tag-team special move at certain times in the cooperative mode that will switch to a cinematic camera angle and require both players to hit the right buttons quickly to keep the combo generating heavy damage.

As big fans of Mortal Kombat II, we found the backgrounds and characters in Shaolin Monks to be pretty accurate in re-creating that venerable old fighter. Areas ranging from the original Pit to the Portal and, of course, the Living Forest were all on display, and we were shown a few clips from various boss fights involving Goro, Baraka, Reptile, Ermac, and one climactic battle that pits you against Kitana, Mileena, and Jade...all at once. The backgrounds will contain a lot of interactive elements, from weapons (like swords and hooks) that you can pick up and wield, to puzzles that will make you interact with elements in the world to proceed. One example of this required the player to knock enemies into a giant spinning blade until it jammed up, creating a platform that could be jumped upon.

There's one important element of Mortal Kombat we haven't mentioned yet: fatalities. Luckily, these will be included in full force in Shaolin Monks, as each character will boast at least 10 unique finishing moves, though how or when you'll be able to unleash them wasn't mentioned. In addition to classic fatalities, such as Kung Lao's vertical hat slice (one of our own personal favorites), original fatalities will appear, including one in which Liu Kang breaks what seems like every major bone in his victim's body. Other finishing moves termed brutalities and "mutalities" will appear in later levels, but no word is available yet on what these will entail.

Admittedly, the history of nonfighting Mortal Kombat games is a little spotty, but hopefully Paradox will be able to craft a new action adventure in Shaolin Monks that will help bitter nostalgists get over any lingering bad tastes left by Mythologies or Special Forces. We'll find out for sure how the game turns out in September, but you can definitely expect to see more on Shaolin Monks before then.

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