Xbox 360 owners LOVE playing the classic games on their consoles and developers are doing an excellent job of porting the games with their original characteristics. Case in point is the latest release to XBLA, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (UMK3) from Midway and Digital Eclipse.
While hardcore fans of the series may have bemoaned the supposed downhill trek of recent versions, UMK3 dips into some 1995 mojo and brings back the glory days of the fatality.
UMK3 has some of the best visuals of any "classic" coin-ops that have been brought to XBLA. Part of that has to due with more advanced graphics in the mid-90's, but Digital Eclipse has done an excellent job with the re-make so that the backdrops for each fight stand out. The audio is also very good, mixed into surround with both background music and sound effects.
The single-player mode is typical of the original Arcade version of UMK3, with head-to-head, 4 person two-on-two and an 8-player tournament modes. One nice option is that the original codes still work, so players can dial in their favorite codes to enhance the play.
Unfortunately, one thing that made it in was the original AI. You remember, the counter moves out of this air and attacks to come back from the brink of death to win being the norm. It makes you wish for a special move allowing your fighter to whip an Xbox 360 Wireless Controller at the CPU's character to slice it's head off for an instant fatality. If you are going to overcome the "cheating", you will have to earn it. Although playing through single player can be tedious at times due to the AI and continuations, I much prefer the game be re-created with its original game play with any flaws intact.
Where UMK3 really makes its mark is the online multi-player. Hitting Xbox Live opens up a whole new world, as players from around the world gather to face each other. The only issues involved the perpetual lag found online, and the matchmaking process. While not encountering it too often (mainly in the menu screens) lag will probably always be present. Unless it slows the game to unplayable levels, my attitude is to just roll with it. The matchmaking process was a bit different.
I found it difficult to find matches using the "Quick Match" feature, as I was only able to conenct to an actual match one out of every five times. I finally decided to just host a match, and quickly decided this was my best course of action. I was matched up almost immediately in every instance I hosted. My favorite online mode is the "Versus Challenger" which is a four-player option with alternating turns. The winner stays, and the other two challengers can sit back and watch the match unfold, scouting the moves and tendencies of the fighters.
The 12 achievements are attained through a combination of single player and online play. For a game that is best online, but still entertaining (and frustrating!) in single player, the balance is welcomed. For single player, the achievements for combos, Flawless and Match level can be reached by playing smart and using the proper character (Smoke is one of my favorites). The online ones will be a little more difficult, as they actually require some time and a little skill to win 100 matches on Live.
Overall, the game was enjoyable to play both in single player and online multiplayer. With so many fighters, finishing moves and secrets to choose from, the replay value is very high. The few negatives I did find were typical of most classic XBLA titles (no Joystick, lag and matchmaking issues online) and do not take away much from the overall experience. The real gem though, is the online play.
While lagging occasionally, the ability to challenge players with different fighting styles and skill levels from around the world takes the replay value through the roof. The addition of a move list and someone (Microsoft..cough...cough) creating an industrial grade wireless Joystick would make this game almost perfect.
"Finish Him!" The battle cry for yet another successful retro title brought to Xbox Live Arcade. Although the AI is still a cheating SOB, it only takes 40 quarters and about 2 minutes of download time to make the game yours.
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