Monday, November 27, 2023

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks (Playstation 2, 2005)


The third and last side-game in the series focusing on specific characters. This one actually gets it right, unlike the Sub-Zero and Jax games, by simply being a great game. Retelling the MK2 story that already worked instead of making up something new was a brilliant touch and made the game instantly compelling.

I may have missed a whole bunch of the main series back in the day, but I did return for this game. It was the only MK that I played in-era after MK3 and before MK9. Yep, just ignored the rest, but they did such a good job with this game that I couldn't miss it.

We get two MCs for this game, Liu Kang and Kung Lao. IIRC, on the original drawing board Raiden was supposed to be the MC. In the final product he's sort of the third hero, but he isn't playable normally. I TELL YOU ONE AND ONE MAKES THREE-HEEE!

This game dropped in the PS2 era, right in the middle of that trilogy. So it's got the sweet cutscenes. The intro shows the original Mortal Kombat's events...or a weird version of them where everyone is fighting at once in a big schmozz of a brawl.

Kung Lao turns out to have been in disguise as one of Shang Tsung's masked guards. I always thought Kung Lao was conspicuous by his absence in the first game. If they ever remake the first game as a simple HD port type deal, they should add playable Kung Lao and Reptile. Maybe Goro too as an unlock.

And no, MK1 is not a remake of the first game and has basically nothing to do with it. Not sure why they even called it that. Could have been MK12 and been more accurate. Or even just "Mortal Kombat" again. Just not "1". MK9 is more of a remake of the first game than MK1 is. MK1 does restart the timeline (as MK9 did) but if anything it only remakes the events of Deadly Alliance and Armageddon.

In any case, this cutscene brawl has everyone rumbling it out and the masked guards swinging mean kwondos.

Liu Kang battles Shang Tsung!

Goro gets payback on Johnny for that nut-punch in the movie. tickling his ribs, apparently. "GOOCHY GOOCHY GOO" says Goro when reached for comment.

The game itself starts out right after Shang Tsung and co are defeated and retreat. An earthquake hits the tournament grounds and our heroes find themselves stranded in Goro's Lair. It's kinda too bad the game just glossed over MK1 (...the first one) because I'd love to see that remade in this context. Still, giving us MK2 remade is cool enough.

The game itself is a brawler where you punch your way through hordes of bad guys. It really shines in two-player, where both characters share one big life-meter. This kind of couch co-op game is so rare now.

This game has an experience system. Basically you spend EXP on skill upgrades. Each character has 3 special attacks that can be upgraded several times into better versions. It's one of those games where you want to spend your points as soon as you can to stay ahead of the enemy power curve.

As for the special attacks, they've got:

Kung Lao - Hat Throw, Spin Attack, Teleport.

Liu Kang - Fireball, Flying Kick, Uppercut.

What's really weird is that the Bicycle Kick isn't Liu Kang's third move like it is in MK2. Instead, Bicycle Kick is the upgraded form of Flying Kick. Weird. Uppercut being a special move is also weird. Just not sure why they did it that way. Kung Lao having Teleport instead of a third attack is also a little odd. Best thing to do here is upgrade their projectile attacks early and often, as those are the best moves to use against the tougher bosses.

The Bridge stage from the first game, in all its new 3D glory. Down below you've got the spike room too. Worth noting that you can pick up weapons dropped by foes and use them for a bit, in true beat 'em up style.

Also, no platforming in this game. It really learned the lessons of Mythologies: Sub-Zero.

Save points are here and there and integral. The stages kinda have a God of War vibe, and are all interconnected.

First real boss is this giant cave troll guy. The game isn't hard at all with two people and you can just blitz it. One person holds off adds while the other keeps the boss occupied.

As a kid I really liked these masked guards from the first game and wished they'd do more / that it was possible to fight them. This game answers that wish by throwing them at our heroes en masse.

After escaping the tournament grounds, our heroes go to check on their Shaolin temple, only to find that it was ransacked by Tarkatans (Baraka's race). This was something alluded to in the backstory of MK2.

Sonya (w/ Lita-esque thong) shows up here to help fend off the Tarkatans, only to be taken prisoner by Shao Kahn's forces.

Well, safe to say the aftermath of the first game isn't going well for our heroes at all. I always thought there was a bit of a time gap between it and the sequel, but here we just go from one right into the next.

The bane of my existence returns, Test Your Might minigames. And now they're QTEs, which is even worse!

As I struggle with that, Shang Tsung looks on creepily before fleeing to Outworld.

"Oh yeahhhhh. Nice."

In Outworld, Raiden shows up and shows off his SSJ2 electricity while he tells our heroes how dire the situation is.

"Your friend Sonya has been kidnapped and will probably be executed! Heh heh heh! Er, sorry."

Basically, they have to find Shao Kahn and save Outworld, while also rescuing Sonya. If they fail, nothing is stopping Shao Kahn from marching through the portals and invading Earthrealm. Because of a loophole with like, Sindel's corpse being in that plane. Gross.

From here, the rest is all Outworld and we'll see some familiar sights from the second game. And the second game is my favorite in the series, still, so I'm all about this.

Next is the shadow priest room, and like the masked guards, I always kinda wanted to fight these guys as a kid. Well, now you can.

Kitana shows up and debuts the devastating fan lift! This move is strong enough to take Kintaro off his feet, and was the only reason I beat MK2 as a kid. Regardless, she quickly realizes our heroes are the good guys and they call a truce.

But wait! Jade and Mileena show up, and they're not so eager for a truce. This game was what I needed in 2005 as an MK fan who had fallen off with the last few main series games. THIS is what I think of when I think of the series. Outworld and the prowling menace of the first two games. Not Quan-Chi and Shinnok and that dragon king weirdo.

They don't get boss life meters for some reason, but rest assured, they're a boss fight. This is where having a second player really helps.

Next section is one of MK2's more iconic locations, the Living Forest.

"Moaaaan" say the trees when reached for comment.

A giant serpent attacks in a nearby monastery. This leads to a double boss fight, first with this thing, then...

...Reptile, who is fully bad guy in this. In the modern games he's this complex character whose family is being held hostage by the villains and doesn't MEAN to be bad. In the early games (and this) he's just Shang Tsung's vicious bodyguard. Simple and to the point. Unfortunately he doesn't have his tremendous theme from the movie.

We need to find a heal, quick. This hub area leads around to a bunch of other locations. Outworld seems to really function on teleportation portals.

Being able to explore some of Outworld might be this game's biggest claim to fame from a story perspective. At the time we'd never gotten to do such a thing in any game.

It being such a fun multiplayer game is what makes it still hold up even today though.

In the Soul Tombs, our heroes find Shang Tsung doing weird magic rituals. Now that he's back in Outworld, he can transform back into...

...his normal, younger form. I guess his old form was only a temporary curse inflicted on him by Shao Kahn. Not sure why there was a need to curse him, because he was really successful for the last few tournaments in defeating Earthrealm. Or maybe he only aged on Earth. Whatever, it's just a Big Trouble In Little China reference more than anything else.

Next, our heroes tangle with...THE BALROG.

Sub-Zero...but is he friend or foe?

He's just glad to be allowed back into another spinoff game after what happened with Mythologies, and freezes the holes in this nearby boat so we can travel downriver.

This chill boat ride leads us to the Outworld lair of...

...Goro, the beast himself. Man, this game is just nonstop surprises and great moments. Goro was absent from MK2 and theoretically dead, but we're retconning a little to have him here in Outworld during MK2.

Much like I'd add Kung Lao to MK1 in a perfect world, I'd add Goro to MK2.

The best way to slay him is to keep a distance and fire projectiles. Hopefully they're upgraded, because this is gonna be the case for the last few bosses too.

Johnny Cage swoops in and steals the victory, shadow-kicking him into oblivion as payback for the Tickle Incident earlier.

Next we fight Scorpion...IN HELL. This is a two-part boss fight, and for the second part he embraces his full dead-ness to become...

...Inferno Scorpion, who is basically the same except with a flaming skull.

I kinda like that they had Scorpion be the evil threat and Sub-Zero the helpful ally in this game, considering that in the original game Sub-Zero is the bad one. The Sub-Zero of the original and the Sub-Zero of MKII are two different guys, so in theory this was their first meeting with New Sub-Zero. And of course, SZ 2.0 is a good guy, so it makes sense. They could have gone with either one at this point in time.

As we approach the end of the game, we free Sonya and Kano from Shao Kahn's prison. Kano of course turns on the Monks immediately and is our next boss fight. They made sure to give him a devastating! Cannonball!

Jax gets Sonya to safety, leaving Liu Kang and Kung Lao to head up to Shao Kahn's Arena. Wait, does this mean...

...yep, it's the notorious final battle grounds of MK2. Many quarters have been spent in this place and many swears have been uttered.

Shao Kahn Himself is here and he's Cena Nuff of our heroes.

Shang Tsung is tasked with slaying them. Right now he's not in Kahn's good graces due to his failures, so he better win.

This fight is fast and furious, the toughest boss up to this point. If this were the only fight here it'd still be a worthy stage ending. But nope, it's just the beginning.

Shao Kahn asks the crowd what they want, and the answer comes quickly:


That's right, if you thought you were getting a break to go save and whatnot after the last fight... you're not.

Kintaro, who I'll eternally maintain is bigger and badder than Goro, absolutely mauls the Monks.

Kahn meanwhile is thrilled with all of this, of course.

The only way to get through this is to RUN AWAY and pelt him with ranged attacks.

With his pet tiger defeated, Shao Kahn will have to deal with this himself.

That's right, a THIRD boss fight in a row.

"You weak, pathetic fools!"

Halfway through the fight he breaks out his vicious hammer. Again we run the hell away and stick to range attacks.

After Kahn is defeated, Raiden teleports in and blasts him with Sith Lightning. This causes Kahn's helmet to fall off and it's really embarrassing. Like when Hollywood Hogan's bandana falls off.

After Kahn turns to stone and blows up, Outworld is saved. Kitana agrees to be the new queen.

Also...Liu Kang notices Kitana. As a monk, he hasn't actually seen many women up close.

As the crowd gathers to look at the new queen, this one priest finds part of the chest amulet Kahn was wearing, and it's implied that there's some sort of power there that Quan-Chi will now inherit.

This goes nowhere though because the game didn't get any kind of sequel. While this is a retelling of MK2's story, it does take a lot of liberties and restructure things. They really need to remaster this game and re-release it, but I doubt that'll happen now with the current rebooting.

Final verdict on this game? It's S-tier, and possibly the best game in the series. It isn't a fighting game though, not in the pure sense. For pure Kombat games I'd say MK2 is still the top of the list. Take that with a grain of salt and nostalgia glasses however.

There are a ton of secrets to find in this game. The Arcade version of Mortal Kombat II can be unlocked by entering a code or doing certain sidequests. Also Sub-Zero and Scorpion are both playable through the main campaign with codes. Not sure about other characters. Even that though... imagine playing through this with Scorpion and Sub-Zero and how cool that'd be. Alas I gotta move on to the next thing.

Other Mortal Kombat Posts

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