Despite the fact that the PSP is nearly two years old, fans of 3D fighting games have only had a few titles to choose from. So far your selection has been limited to the likes of Tekken: Dark Resurrection and Dragon Ball Z: Shin Budokai, a couple of solid games that show off what the PlayStation Portable is capable of pulling off. If you’ve grown sick of the paltry selection of 3D fighters on the system then you’re in luck, because Midway is ready to reintroduce you to one of the longest running fighting franchises on the planet. I give you Mortal Kombat: Unchained.
Mortal Kombat: Unchained may have a brand new name but it’s actually a slightly updated port of Mortal Kombat: Deception, the 2004 console game released on the PlayStation 2, Xbox and GameCube. This version may be on a smaller disc, but Mortal Kombat: Unchained manages to fit all of the extra characters and modes onto the PSP, along with a few exclusives that are certainly worth checking out.
For those unfamiliar with the original game, Mortal Kombat: Deception was the follow up to Deadly Alliance, the first 3D Mortal Kombat game that managed to get the fighting system right. Deception took everything that was good about Dark Alliance and built on it, ultimately creating a solid fighting game that combined a unique fighting system with all kinds of blood and gore. Mortal Kombat: Unchained manages to recreate that console experience surprisingly well, and although it feels somewhat dated it still makes for a fun time that is just different enough from the rest of the 3D fighting games on the PSP.
Unchained allows you to choose from a sizable roster of interesting characters, including Baraka, Jade, Scorpion, Sub-Zero, Raiden, Liu Kang and Nightwolf. Unchained also comes with a few exclusive characters that weren’t available in the console versions of the game. Now you can fight as Kitana, Jax, Blaze, Frost, Shao Kahn, and a personal favorite of mine, Goro. In all there are 30 different characters, each with their own unique styles, special moves and cool fatalities.
What sets Mortal Kombat: Unchained apart from all the other 3D fighting games is that each of the 30 characters have three distinct fighting styles, including one that gives your character a weapon they can use for maximum damage. Whenever you need to change up your moves all you need to do is push the left trigger button, this cycles you through the three unique styles. With three different fighting styles it can sometimes be a bit much to remember; thankfully you can pause the game and get a quick refresher on what does what and how to perform the various special attacks and combos.
Despite the fact that there are three different fighting styles, Mortal Kombat: Unchained tends to feel a bit dated. If you’re used to games like Tekken: Dark Resurrection then you’ll definitely noticed that the combat does not feel very fluid. The moves, especially punches and kicks, look clumsy at best, the animation lacks any kind of smoothness or finesse, and I’ve never been a fan of the whole dial-a-combo system Midway insists on including in their games. But even with better playing fighters on the market, Unchained manages to feel different; for better or for worse, this plays exactly like a Mortal Kombat game should.
Where Unchained really takes hold is in its amazing level designs. Not only are the stages dark and eerie, but they are also large and full of surprises. Like the Dead or Alive series, many of the levels extend further than just one room. You can break through walls, fall off roofs, and much more. Using the environment to your advantage is a major part in this Mortal Kombat, and is easily one of the most rewarding aspects of the game.
Not only has Midway added a bunch of new levels, but they have also brought back some of the best-loved stages from previous Mortal Kombat games. The acid pool level from Mortal Kombat II is reintroduced for a new generation, except this time you won’t have to wait until the end of the match to kick your opponent into the acid. Each level has a set of unique traps that can literally stop a match dead in its tracks. There is a new pit level, but this time around the stage is doing everything in its power to make you fall to your demise. These traps are especially effective when playing against unsuspecting friends, and they really add to the overall chaos found in Mortal Kombat: Unchained.
Mortal Kombat: Unchained gives you a couple of different ways to get into a fight. There’s the standard Arcade mode, where you pick a character and fight your way from one character to the next until you meet the boss and beat the game. New to Unchained is the Endurance mode. This is where you select a character and go up against as many enemies as you can without dying. This is a welcome addition, if only because it allows you to play a bunch of different characters without dealing with a lot of load time.
Being a Mortal Kombat game you probably expect a great deal of hidden items and extra games, and Unchained will not let you down. The biggest and most fleshed out extra has to be the Konquest mode, an RPG-style game where you run around a large world searching for treasure, picking up Kombat Koins and getting into fights. On paper this is a really great idea for a mini-game, but the execution leaves a lot to be desired. While you will eventually get to fight a few people in this mode, the majority of the time has you training to learn new moves and combos. Even though you are technically learning different characters throughout the course of the Konquest, you’ll quickly find that most of the training situations are nearly identical to each other. For example, every time you enter the training you will have to show that you can perform basic moves, like pushing the square button or the triangle button. And then when that character switches to a different fighting style you will have to demonstrate that you can push the square and triangle buttons again. You will do this for nearly every character in the game.
This Konquest mode does show a lot of promise; it gives you a chance to explore the different worlds where each of the combatants come from. Each of the different worlds looks completely different and are populated by recognizable characters. For the most part I like the idea of the Konquest mode. I found myself having a pretty good time with it after the various tutorials were completed, but I can’t help but notice that there’s some unmet potential here. This mode could have fleshed out the various levels you fight in, or offer some depth into the history of the Mortal Kombat universe, but instead it just feels like a glorified tutorial mode. It’s also somewhat difficult to run around this world on the PSP. Your character runs at a disturbingly fast speed, often to the point where you run off camera or miss where you need to go because it’s too difficult to control. You can turn the camera around by using the left and right triggers, but those seem to go too slow and have a difficult time tracking the action.
Oddly enough, the Konquest mode in this PSP game is exactly how it was on the consoles. Midway didn’t even add new training sections for the six new characters found in Unchained. It used to be that the Konquest mode was the only way to earn extra characters, but since everybody in this PSP game is unlocked from the get-go there’s less incentive for you to actually play this mode. If you’re the type of person that likes to collect everything you may still want to go through this mode and earn all of the new costumes, bios and background music, but none of that impacts the game in quite the same way as earning a new character.
The good thing about Mortal Kombat: Unchained is that when you grow tired of training in the Konquest mode you can always move on to any one of the other slightly out of place extra modes. Puzzle Kombat, for example, is a perfectly good rip-off of Capcom’s Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo. Like Capcom’s puzzler you choose from a limited number of Mortal Kombat characters, which fight at the bottom of the screen while you try to eliminate various blocks and colors. The result is humorous, especially when you see how they’ve adapted the levels, but Puzzle Kombat is not nearly as addictive as the puzzle games it’s playing homage to.
You can also try your hand at Chess Kombat, which combines the game play of classic games like Archon and Battle Chess with the button mashing that is Mortal Kombat Deception. Although not completely original, there’s something fun about playing Chess with Mortal Kombat pieces. There is enough new here to warrant more than a few plays, especially with friends.
One of the best things about the best reasons to play Mortal Kombat: Deception on the consoles was that it offered online support allowing you to play other people from around the world. Unfortunately this online support didn’t make it to the PSP game, which is a real shame because it could have helped differentiate this game from something like Tekken. Thankfully you can still play your friends via a wireless ad hoc mode, but there’s something to be said about being the first portable fighting game to go online.
Even though Mortal Kombat: Unchained is a remake of a two year old game, it still manages to look pretty good. The character models are large and detailed, and the levels have a lot going on that is easy to look at. Some of the animations can be bit jerky and unspectacular, but overall the game manages to shine on the portable system.
It also plays remarkably well. You can use either the D-pad or the analog nub to control your character, and the face buttons are responsive. You never feel like you miss anything by losing the second analog stick or two should buttons, so it feels like this type of game is perfect for the handheld. Considering how well the 2D and 3D fighters have translated to the PSP it’s a shame we don’t see more franchises hitting the system.
While it’s not the best 3D fighting game on the market, Mortal Kombat: Unchained is a great diversion to what is already out there. The control is solid, it has a bunch of memorable characters and there are enough extra modes to keep you busy until the next great fighting game is released. It has its share of faults, but at the end of the day Midway has managed to port one of the better 3D Mortal Kombat games to the PlayStation Portable. It’s a shame that we got a port of this 2004 game and not the brand new Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, but this is better than nothing. Those who have already experienced the console version may want to wait until something better comes along, but if you’ve never played a 3D Mortal Kombat game then this is a perfect place to jump off. Toasty!