I will readily concede that the Mortal Kombat games are not masterpieces. Never have they had anything going for them like the fluid gameplay of Street Fighter, the quasi-realistic combat of Tekken, or the interactive environments of Super Smash Bros. The characters are similar to one another, cheap tricks are all too common, and even the gameplay itself could use some work. About the only things that has kept this series successful are the blood and Fatalities.
But however shallow it may seem, maybe those two things are enough. The gruesome kills that require a button combination from the winner when a fight is over are spectacular things to see even if the violence is not for everyone. So this series is still quite likable if not lovable.
Despite its shortcomings, I have always liked MK for the reason I stated above and the fact that its story is as good as they get in this genre (extremely hollow praise, I confess). That is partly why Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero is quite possibly the most disappointing video game I have ever played. Sure, there have been worse, but most of those were awful concepts made by amateurs. This is a game made to broaden its franchise’s horizons. How far can a gore fighting franchise go? The answer is more than twenty years, but Midway was probably thinking too rationally to realize that. We have an attempt at a platformer with one of the series’ most popular characters, Sub-Zero. It could have created a new possibilities for MK. Instead, Midway recycled the old formula despite trying something new and screwed up in many ways beyond that. As a result, we have a piece of crap that, despite its name, is remembered by few.
Plot: 4 out of 10
Set before the original MK, this game is about Sub-Zero being recruited by Quan Chi to gather magical objects, though Quan Chi doesn’t say what he wants with them. These objects will enable the evil sorcerer to free his master, a desgraced elder god named Shinnok who is trapped in The Netherealm. After Sub-Zero does this, he is informed of what he is done by Raiden and sent to The Netherealm to stop Quan Chi and Shinnok.
While it’s not the most badly conceived and executed plot, it is sunk by the fact that Sub-Zero is either being manipulated or bullied all the way through. Not only does this make him look like a gullible pushover, who would want to play such a character? Also, Sub-Zero vs. Scorpion, arguably the famous of all the MK rivalries, isn’t really a big part of the game. Sub-Zero kills Scorpion in the very first level. That’s all the buildup there is to Scorpion’s death before he comes back as a vengeful spectre. I would have built the whole game around their clan feud, but that’s just me.
Graphics: 3 out of 10
You can tell how little work was put into this game by how mediocre the graphics look at first glance. Come the second level, they go from OK to awful because of the backgrounds that don’t go with the characters and even graphics making gameplay difficult at times because it’s hard tell what’s just the background and what isn’t.
Sound: 4 out of 10
On the Nintendo 64, you’ve just got so-so music. But I played the Playstation version. As a disc-based console, it has cutscenes. These cutscenes feature absolutely horrendous voice acting. In particular, Sub-Zero seems not so much like a ruthless ninja as a drunken boxer who’s had too much brain damage. Voice acting in games generally sucked in the 1990s… but not this bad.
Gameplay: 1 out of 10
Despite this being a platformer, the control scheme from the three versions of Mortal Kombat 3 is recycled. This may have been fine for a fighting game, but here it makes it easy to overshoot your jumps into an enemy’s attack or off a cliff. That Sub-Zero seems much clumsier than in other games doesn’t help one bit. For instance, you’re always too far to one side when moving around, leaving you little time to react to enemies who enter the screen.
I’m just getting started. For some reason, Midway thought it would be a good idea to have L2 cause Sub-Zero to turn around instead of just having him turn by moving in the opposite direction. It also takes a moment to turn, during which you are vulnerable. How could this pass inspection? Weren’t the platformer-unfriendly movement and jumping enough to forgive? Again, my conclusion is that Midway wanted this game finished as soon as possible.
Challenge: 2 out of 10
This game is harder than Hell. Not in a challenging way, though. it’s hard because gameplay is a goddamn nightmare. To go along with that, cheap, NES style insta-kills lurk around every corner. For instance, the second boss, upon losing all his life, creates a hurricane attack that will automatically kill you unless you thought to move all the way to one side of the large (more than a screen long) platform and hug the edge so Sub-Zero will hold on to keep from getting sucked in by the hurricane. To be fair, this isn’t quite as bad as it would once have been, since the game was (barely) released in the days when you can look online for solutions.
It’s still far from the hardest game ever, and I can see myself beating it with practice. But why would I? It’s not fun. At all.
Overall: 2 out of 10
So this attempt at creating a new frontier for MK failed miserably. The series would mostly stick to the fighting genre rarely suck, although as noted in the opening paragraph, still be ripe for criticism.
Still, there were a couple other attempts at taking these games beyond fighters. Special Forces was really bad, but still quite a bit better than this shit. Shaolin Monks is a game I’ve not played in a decade, but my memories are quite good. So I’m not saying that taking MK into a new genre was a bad idea. It’s just that if you’re going to do it, do it. Don’t half-ass it. Of course, that is true of anything you attempt in life.