Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance ReviewDane
Midway's latest addition to the historically great Mortal Kombat franchise has received quite an impressive update for its first round on the next-gen consoles. Packed with crisp graphics, a fast and smooth fighting system, and nearly 700 unlockables, Deadly Alliance manages to do its ancestors justice and be an all-around great GameCube game.
Perhaps more significantly than in any other video game genre, fighting games absolutely need to have a solid gameplay base. While Deadly Alliance definitely looks good, the make-or-break aspect was the fighting mechanics. Sure enough, Midway put together a very effective system that makes for fast-paced action and just plain fun fights. The fighting is pretty much 2D, similar to previous Mortal Kombat games, and moving in the 3D plane is done mostly for quick dodges from enemy attacks. Timing plays a large role in Deadly Alliance, as successful side steps followed by quick attacks are pretty much a necessity for victories. Unfortunately, though, the GameCube's d-pad must be used for movement rather than the analog stick. The relatively small pad works great for the most part, but since jumps are assigned to "up and left" and "up and right" and moving 3D is "up" and "down" for left and right steps, it's a pretty common mistake to perform an unintended action. Usually a self-announced "dang-it" is all that results from these situations, but when its results are a lost fight it can be pretty aggravating.
Aside from that, the d-pad really does work better than you might expect. Most gamers will probably learn to use the GameCube controller for Deadly Alliance successfully without too much trouble, but with time (roughly two hours or more) it's not uncommon to experience a case of the sore thumb. You probably won't notice it during play, but the precision needed for the varying kicks and punches can only be acquired by pressing the directions on the d-pad with your thumb more curved than for other games, at about a 110 degree angle (at the middle joint). If you try pressing the buttons with a flat thumb horizontally on the controller, frustration can set in from accidental button presses. I'm no hand doctor, but from what I can tell the considerably more vertical thumb usage results in...well, pain. Besides the extensive-play sore left thumb, controlling characters in Deadly Alliance is a breeze.
One thing that I don't particularly like about Deadly Alliance's fighting mechanics is the extensive "juggling" of opponents into the air. The designers made it known that they weren't striving for realism in the game, but it's still a little bit disappointing to see Sub-Zero being kicked ten feet into the air and then back up two more times without touching the ground. It's just too unrealistic, and reduces the sense of true action in the fights. This is especially true for sword attacks; seeing a razor-sharp blade strike an opponent at a fast rate of speed and result in the opposition being thrown up into the air instead of being cut isn't very believable. It's also frustrating, as some characters with these attacks continually use them and string together three blows every time you get hit into the air. The combos also can be pretty ridiculous. They're fun to pull off for maximum damage to the other character, but when they start stringing together upwards of fifteen hits without giving you a chance for blocking or moving it's not difficult to get frustrated.
If there's one aspect that Deadly Alliance didn't perform as well as it could have in, it's character selection. There are a good amount of fighters, that's not the problem. What I didn't like was that there aren't any real stand-out fighters, none really have personalities or enough background to make them fun characters to take the role of. (SPOILERS AHEAD) In the game's opening cinema, Liu Kang is killed by Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, so one of the series' coolest characters wasn't added in Deadly Alliance. The others are all right, but for me none really stood out as very likable or unique fighters.
Fatalities have, needless to say, been a huge part of the massive success of the Mortal Kombat games in the past, and as expected the newest addition to the series continues to give gamers their desired blood and gore following fights. However, it's really quite unfortunate that most of the fatalities come across as very unoriginal and unexciting. I'm not sure if there just aren't any good ideas left or if the developers are at fault, but in Deadly Alliance for some reason it's just not as tempting to open up a code book to perform a fatality as it used to be. Almost all of the fatalities involve the character using a weapon or special ability to somehow stun the enemy and then pause for a couple seconds, do a taunt, and then crush the defenseless character into millions of red, bloody pieces. On a personal note, I would have rather seen the fighters use their surroundings a little bit more for fatalities, like in the old games where the opponent would be thrown off buildings and onto spikes below--that kind of thing. Instead, there just isn't enough variety between each character's special move, and as the grand finale of sorts it really should be fun to perform instead of an extra that most will likely ignore for the majority of the game.
The visuals in Deadly Alliance are very well done and are quite fitting for the environments and mood of the game. The extra additions are welcome, such as...uhm...character body physics? Let's just say Midway went the extra mile and made the women fighters look the absolute breast possible. Best! Best possible, that is, I meant best. In other words, for those who remain unsure of what exactly I'm getting at, the graphical touches for the ladies in Deadly Alliance are a uh...big surprise, if you catch my drift. Ah, forget it, their boobs bounce uncontrollably. I'd like to say that it adds to the realism, but in reality I just enjoy performing continual jumps with Frost from time to time just for fun. Either way you look at it, though, it's pretty cool. Also, the surroundings and character models in Deadly Alliance are top-notch, and aside from the occasional odd-looking face after matches (in which bruises look rather out of place and blocky) are nearly flawless.
At first, players might find themselves disappointed with Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance's overall lack of many gameplay modes. Serving as a training mode of sorts, by accessing Konquest mode players can learn the techniques, fighting styles, and combos for each of the characters. Every fighter has three fighting stances, two of which usually are for hand-to-hand combat and the last a weapon-related style. In most cases, you'll probably find one that seems to work the best and stick to it for most of the fights, but usually each has its own advantages and disadvantages. For regular stances, strikes might not be as powerful as with a sword or other weapon, but they're often quicker and more offensive. Weapons usually slow the character down a little and result in more damage taken for the same hits as in normal stances, but the moves are much more powerful and deadly.
After learning the ins and outs of a chosen character's fighting styles, it's time to give Arcade, the main mode in Deadly Alliance, a shot. Its done the same as in old-school Mortal Kombat games, you work your way up from the bottom (and easiest difficulty) to the toughest and eventually the Deadly Alliance (two "bad guys"). I would have really liked to see a standard tournament mode (similar to sports playoffs, Super Smash Bros. Melee's tournaments, etc.) for this rather than the "scroll through the globe" system, especially since Mortal Kombat is essentially a big tournament for fighters. Unfortunately but not all that disappointing, that's again not the case for Deadly Alliance. Because of this, the Arcade is really fun at first, then with more times through gets progressively less exciting and more monotonous.
After every five or so matches in Arcade, special non-fighting mini-games are present, adding a little refreshing variety. These include "Test Your Might" and "Test Your Sight," the first of which is a button-mashing marathon and the second a keep-your-eye-on-the-cup game. In Test Your Might, you have to bash on your controller for as long as it takes to get a power meter to an indicated line and then hit "R". It's more fun than you might expect, but gets repetitive after a couple goes. In Test Your Sight, players have to keep their eye on a previously shown dragon logo, which is placed under an upside down cup and then mixed in with other identical cups and shuffled on the table at varying speeds. The faster-moving ones can set a relatively satisfying challenge but, like Test Your Might, doesn't stay fresh for very long.
If Arcade and Konquest stood alone, Deadly Alliance would be a pretty disappointing game. What really kept me playing was the Krypt, where koins earned in the aforementioned modes can be used to purchase the contents of a total of 676 coffins (26 x 26). It's impossible to tell what lies inside each coffin, but you can usually get a general idea of the quality based on the amount of koins needed. For example, coffins that cost 2000 coins or more are likely to contain new characters, costumes, or arenas, while lesser ones might have concept art or a collectible or something. This mode really helps keep players' attention, and it adds incentive for continual play.
So far, for the most part this review has been about a 50/50 mix of good and bad, and it really shouldn't be that way. Sure, there are faults that need to be pointed out, but in the end Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is a great game that deserves acknowledgement. I always try to play enough of a game to give me a final impression, and for Deadly Alliance it took me three and a half weeks. I played almost every night for an hour or so just trying to decide whether or not it was a good game. After three weeks or so, I realized that I was playing every night for an hour and having a great time doing it. It wasn't just for reviewing purposes; Deadly Alliance is just an all-around very enjoyable game. It's unfortunate that Midway couldn't add a couple cool modes to extend its lifespan, but what was given is presented very well and works great with the type of game that it is.
I was glad to see that Midway put more effort into making the fights as smooth, fun, and deep as possible than creating a sequel with dozens of new features introduced and all just average. Only two modes are really available for play (though multi-player is pretty fun as well), and each can easily be completed in half an hour or less. But, surprisingly, the fighting system and Krypt make for more a more long-lasting game than you'd expect, and should keep most gamers busy for at least a month or so.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.