Thursday, October 5, 2023

MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero + MK Mythologies: Special Forces (N64 and PS1, 1997 and 2000)


They should have called both games MK ULTRA because they're torture. Not sure how far I'll be getting with either of these but I sure won't be finishing either.

That's right, it's the infamous side-games where you play as specific characters, fleshing out their story a bit. I think they were planning a whole series of these, but the idea bombed out quickly and only really got revisited with the Liu Kang / Kung Lao driven Shaolin Monks years and years later. That game is actually good, probably because Ed Boon took command on it unlike these two disasters.

In said disasters you're playing as Sub-Zero and Jax respectively. Special Forces was supposed to also center around Sonya, which would have added a lot to the game (and let them knock out another character from their no doubt long list of side games they'd have to do if this "do a game starring each character" madness continued). After some development hell, playable Sonya was left out of the game. Originally you chose one of the two characters at the outset and played as them throughout, with the second character appearing to offer assists or show up in cutscenes. Well, far as I can tell Sonya was totally removed.

I don't know how many characters they were planning to do games for, but it appears that it was at least the original cast. Mythologies: Sub-Zero has the titular character and Scorpion, while Special Forces was supposed to star Jax and Sonya going aganst Kano. That leaves Raiden and Liu Kang, who were...the next planned games. However they also had a Baraka game on the drawing board so they may have extended into MK2's roster. The Baraka and Liu Kang games were cancelled, while the concepts for the Raiden game were retooled into aforementioned "only good spinoff" Shaolin Monks with Liu Kang and Kung Lao. (Edit: I forgot Johnny Cage lol...but so did they)

Fun Fact: While both are prequels to the main series, Special Forces is canonically the first game in the entire MK-verse, taking place before any of the others.

I remember how excited people were for this in 1997. The series hadn't learned to count to 4 yet, but it still had some legs to it and the hype level for a new one was still high.

I think this played a large role in the fall, and the series going through a long dark period where there wasn't a ton of fan interest. Time to find out why!

Note: Playing this with an actual N64 controller. The controls are already weird enough with that controller, but at least it's playable. Try to emulate this with any other controller, even a modern PS5 controller, and it's gonna be pretty hard to control. So you really need the N64 controller.

First thing you see: Scorpion is lurking in this Shaolin temple, and has a quick face-off with our hero.

This controls just like a regular MK game, except you fight jobber foes like in a brawler. In concept, this works pretty well, except you have to press a button to turn around. Not sure why it couldn't have you automatically face your foe if there's only one foe on screen (which is how it usually is).

Spent a lot of time having to turn around to attack a foe, or accidentally pressing the "turn around button" because they made it the B button.


This is kind of cool, there's an inventory screen where you can use heal items. It drops a lot of items on you too. Can also gain levels by defeating foes. Like I said, some really good concepts at work here and part of me wants to actually finish the entire game just to see what it's about.

Problems start arising pretty much immediately after the first fight though. This game is DARK. Not just dark, but also really unappealing to look at. MK has always been great at creating atmospheric, interesting environments. What happened?

Anyway, after I beat that one enemy, there weren't any others to fight and a big empty hallway, so I just sorta continued until


Yes, the infamous "ceiling pillars" of MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero. We meet at last.

I try baiting them to fall with high kicks, but...get this, the pillar-fall actually damages you if it contacts your foot. And I have to get this close to trigger the damn thing!


I try getting as close as possible to trigger it, then run under. It seems that the first fall won't actually hit you if you're next to it, but every other fall after that will. So you have one chance to trigger it and run under before it becomes impossible. None of this makes any sense! None of the falls should damage you if you're next to it.

I discover that the analog stick makes you run much faster than the D-Pad, which is the key to getting under the pillar. That and taking advantage of that first non-damaging fall when you trigger it.

But wait! There's another falling pillar RIGHT AFTER IT so you have to slam on the brakes once you get through. Which isn't easy when you're doing a full sprint to clear the first one.



At last I reach the halfway point of the first stage...which is at the end of the first hallway. At least I get a pretty nice view here.

Next fight, I make sure to knee my foe in the neussen. Basically the second half of the stage is more or less the same as the first, except going left this time.

MORE PILLARS. Now even closer together! So you sprint under the first, immediately get whacked by the second, which knocks you back into death-range of the first.


You know, this game may be stiff, dark, and bland. Yet, it has all the tools to still be a pretty enjoyable game. The fights control well, and the RPG elements are intriguing. The problem is that the designers couldn't get out of their own way! These pillars in level 1 probably caused more day one store returns than anything this side of Superman 64. Then later in the game, from what I hear, there are 2.5D platform sections that are similarly atrocious and difficult to play since you can never really tell when the platforms actually line up.

After more pillar deaths, I arrive at the stage boss, Scorpion. After what I've been subjected to getting here, this is the easy part.


Like I said, the fights are fine. You can do the freeze and slide too, if you know the button combinations.

I beat him with trips, which are over-effective like the first two games in the series.

Kinda surprised Scorpion is the first boss. I figured he'd be the final boss. Looks like the final boss is actually Quan-Chi, making his debut here ahead of MK4 where he plays a larger role as the sub-boss.

The first stage doesn't just end and go to the next area. No, no, that's too simple. Instead a scroll appears that you have to pick up to continue. Except it won't let you pick it up. I tried pressing every button on the N64 controller and nothing works. So I guess this run's over.

Terrible game. Now to cleanse the palate with...

My God. Look at how they massacred my boy.

This one centers around Jax versus Kano. Again, needed Sonya.

We get this flashy, probably drug-fueled intro movie where Jax is pointing guns in various directions while trippy backgrounds roll by and funky music plays.

It's Kano, the villain of the game. Kinda glad the Black Dragon Syndicate got to be villains in a game.

This whole intro is like something out of a 1970's movie. Get ready for an extreme close-up of Kano:


The devs probably thought this would be bad-ass.

Here's Tremor, the earth-elemental ninja with brown gi. It makes sense to make an earth-based character since that was never really covered in MK. Except that Jax can cause earthquakes in MKII. Hey, maybe he learns that power from the fight with this guy? Would be pretty cool.

Tremor is probably the one good thing to come out of this game, and makes an appearance or two in late main series MKs.

Very Metal Gear Solid title screen here. This released in 2000 and Solid Snake was all the rage so I shouldn't be surprised.

This shot of a wanted poster flashes by way too fast for anyone to actually read it, so I grabbed a screencap. Nothing really interesting here, but at least he didn't fill out the wrong form on his taxes or appraise his own property or something really bad like that.

Codec call! Yes, like MGS. Kano and his goon squad (Tremor and a few others...including Jarek from MK4) escaped from prison and are now on the loose. Your job is to track them down!

This codec call just goes on and on, and I can see this is gonna be a thing in this game.

In any case, we start in an abandoned warehouse and have to find these guys.

Time to find out how this plays. Will it be a fighting game? A side-scrolling beatemup hybrid like the previous game?


Yeah so basically it's an MGS clone. I did NOT see that coming!

You run around with an overhead viewpoint and punch goons who have tons of HP. Their life meters are those tiny, barely-visible lines in the top right. The lines may be tiny, but it takes forever to defeat anybody.

I also quickly discover that you can totally stunlock enemies by just spamming quick punch. Over...and over...and over.

You can gain levels in this one too. It unlocks new combos that sometimes work, maybe, if you're lucky.

I accused the previous game of being dull, but what we have right here is DULL. The environments are so insanely un-interesting that the hard part is staying awake.

And these overhead, way-too-close camera views are also a problem. This warehouse is sprawling and everything looks the same, so once I clear all the enemies (with barely a scratch) I'm just roaming around lost.

Alright, this elevator needs power. Gotta find the power room.

Alright, here's the power room. Gotta flip the switch, then remember where the HFIL the elevator was.

Alright, back at the elevator. Now I have access to all floors of the warehouse, so I can be even more confused because I've been to several of them already. Also picked up a machine gun that can torch a foe, maybe two if you're lucky, but runs out of bullets almost immediately.

Annnnd more roaming around lost. This game is so incredibly unappealing. At least the Sub-Zero game had some appeal and felt like MK. This is a very uninspired MGS clone that feels like it got rushed through development in a week after they spent several years using the game budget to party on cocaine.


....that happened. I might die at any given moment so I can't logically justify trying to figure this game out.

The sad thing is, while some of those portable MKs were just really, really bad... these two games had the potential to be good. They handle fine, they have some solid ideas (no pun intended). Neither could get out of its own way though. Remove the pillars and platforming from the first game and remove the sprawling "lost without a clue" environments of the second and just give it normal levels, and both would be substantially improved. It wouldn't take much.

1 comment:

  1. "Look at me and my kick ass metal arms! Wait, I don't need these metal arms after all, metal arms are for suckers! Crap, I guess I need metal arms after all, come to papa!" -Jax, probably.