June 14, 2007

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Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, (Wii)
Midway, 2007
By Xander Scott news@hippopress.com

DOnce upon a time, there was a game by the name of Mortal Kombat that managed to scare the bejeezus out of parents and politicians alike with its over-the-top violence and gory, cutting-edge graphics. In a related story, this was the same era in which Vanilla Ice was thought to be edgy and clear Pepsi was thought to be a good idea.

Fast-forward a full 15 years. The Ice-man is long gone, but Kombat is still alive and well, as the recent release of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon on the Wii proves. Armageddon feels like the anniversary edition that it is, with almost every one of the fighting game’s characters that had appeared in the previous six versions playable this time around. That makes for an impressive total roster of 60-plus brawlers. Though the game was released last fall for the Playstation 2 and Xbox systems, the Wii version, as you may expect, differs itself from the earlier releases though the motion-sensitive capabilities of its controller. There is no shadowboxing, a-la Wii Sports Boxing, as punching and kicking are still handled through button mashing. However, each character’s signature moves, the fun stuff like impaling your opponent on a spear or freezing him solid with a ball of ice, are handled though easy-to-learn gesture-based commands. In other words, fireball-throwing isn’t just for the game geeks anymore.

While hardcore gamers probably aren’t going to like having their secret weapons handed out to everyone like this, the new control system makes this version of Mortal Kombat one of the most accessible fighting games of its kind, which is really what the Wii is all about.

The game includes a couple of other play options, including a single-player quest mode and a silly racing game aptly named “Motor Kombat.” Neither mode trumps the beat-’em-up fun of the main event, but the versions offer additional depth, which is something most fighting games lack. The plot, if you want to call it that, has all the B-movie sensibilities we’ve come to expect from the series, with enough ninjas, demons, commandos, and cyborgs thrown in to satisfy your inner 12-year-old. Don’t bother looking for any kind of meaningful story, though. Some of these characters have been killed more often than Kenny over the last decade and a half.

In its seventh itineration, Mortal Kombat no longer generates the political heat it once did, but that doesn’t mean the game is no longer violent. You can still rip people’s spines out through their neck (a trademark since the original) and there’s a comical amount of bloodshed in every battle. The game is for mature audiences, without question, but the overall vibe is much more Nightmare on Elm Street than Hostel. For true controversy, we’ll just have to wait for the inevitable “use the Wii-remote to jam the ice-pick through the guy’s neck” game. You know it’s coming.

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is a fighting game for people who don’t like fighting games, on a video game system designed for people who don’t like video games. It should fill a void nicely on the system for any fan looking to add another strong multiplayer offering to their collection that isn’t yet another collection of mini-games. Kombat delivers exactly what you’d expect from a series that’s managed to remain relevant for 15 years. No more than what you’d expect, but certainly no less. B — Xander Scott