More noise than signal

Mortal Kombat Advance — Gameboy Advance

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Eeugh. Mortal Kombat games have been at absolute best mediocre, and hadn’t managed to reach those dizzying heights with its 2-D incarnations of late. Even so, this is a particularly awful translation that seems to have been either rushed out the door without playtesting or programmed by someone who hasn’t played a fighting game before.The basic formula has remained unchanged for years, with you taking control of a warrior to go up against the domination schemes of some evil entity, normally Shao Khan. For the purposes of this review, lets pretend that the recent Mortal Kombat : Deadly Alliance doesn’t exist, on the basis that that’s actually a pretty decent game but I’ve no inclination to go into the differences at the moment.

MK:Advance is one of the earlier titles, but we’ve seen that the machine can ably pull off SNES translations so this shouldn’t have been an impossible job to pull off. This is essentially a version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, which instantly limits its appeal. MK always worked best as a simple, uncomplicated fighter and reached its peak with Mortal Kombat 2, in my opinion anyway (and it’s a not uncommon one). The versions of MK3, and eventually MK Trilogy tried bolting on various additions like a ‘Run’ button and combos that required seven hands to attempt, making the whole thing seem even more clumsy and unwieldy than it already was in stark contrast with the balanced simplicity of its eternal rival Street Fighter 2, which was a damn sight easier to control yet still allowed for complex combos.

So if it wasn’t enough of a handicap to be based on one of the lesser versions, codemonkeys Virtucraft did themselves no additional favours by utterly breaking the game in conversion. It’s actively unplayable. I’ll get round to the bugs in a moment, but even if these weren’t there you still could not get any slight element of joy from this mess. I like to delude myself I’m decent at 2D fighters. After all, I’ve been playing the damn things for years. I started this baby up in its default normal difficulty and decided to have a quick blast on the shorter, novice tree of opponents to warm up. A computer controlled Scorpion quickly boxed me into a corner and panelled me to death in ten seconds.

Flustered, I changed the difficulty down and started again, to a similar CPU inflicted humiliation. It just was not possible to land a hit, let alone a combo on the computer. Being a stubborn old fool I persevered but any tactics used in any version of any fighter I tried failed, leaving my poor controlled character in a pool of blood. Now, I’m a veteran of these games stretching back to IK+ and the Speccy versions of Street Fighter 1,Human Killing Machine and Yie Ar Kung Fu. I can play these games well. When I’m struggling to get past the first character on the easiest difficulty levels it’s reasonable to assume that something’s broken.

The most obvious example to point at is the one which got me on that first ill-fated round. If you end up backed into a corner, the CPU can simply walk up to you and barrage you with a variety of attacks. Blocking these is easy enough but it only prolongs the inevitable, as the chip damage quickly drops that energy bar sliver after interminable sliver. In most sane games that have allusions to playability in this situation blocking an attack pushes your opponent away from you, allowing a chance to counter attack and get the hell out of this corner of death. MKA doesn’t. At least in this case, the attack animations should have some pause in the animation to allow a well timed counter attack? Well, you’d think so, but noooooo, not for MKA, no sir. The sloppy and sluggish controls ensure that you simply have no escape apart from the off switch and a swift lob of this cartridge out the window, hopefully to be eaten by a passing animal ending back in the bowels amongst its ilk.

It’s not all bad, if the difficulty is set low enough you can pull of the same trick to the computer for a few cheap, hollow, joyless victories. If that’s not your scene, why not take advantage of some of the most horrifying bugs ever witnessed on a console? Virtucraft have missed some of the most baffling bugs in collision detection, gameplay mechanics and A.I. yet seen. Want to quickly get through to the last boss? Pick Liu Kang and throw high fireballs continually, all the while marvelling at the CPU characters unfailing ability to run into them at full pelt. Want an exercise in randomness? Why not select Scorpion and marvel at the phase shifting spear that has a fifty/fifty chance of passing through an unblocking opponent leaving him unscathed.

A few other characters projectiles have similar issues, mainly when used close in. I suppose in some way it makes up for Scorpion’s ability to otherwise just keep on hitting you with his spear after one initial success, while in all proper versions he’s stopped by some inexplicable force called playability from throwing another one until you’re un-stunned. Watch in awe after defeating a character in the endurance round to have the graphics immediately and jarringly glitch to the next opponent, rather than the usual slicker method of the vanquished foe exploding and the fresh meat somersaulting in from off-screen.

Virtucraft can’t have spent any time playtesting it, but they must have spent a reasonable amount on the graphics and sounds. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 wasn’t exactly a thing of great graphical beauty but it’s survived the translation well, the backgrounds becoming a trifle fuzzy but the combatants remaining as distinct as they can be, given the series propensity for palette swaps. The sound is admittedly as good as it could have been. The GBA music chip does a pretty good impersonation of every other version and while the tunes themselves are a touch spartan they fit the bleak backdrops well. All of the speech samples seem to have made the transition well, with Shao Kahn’s booming ‘Excellent’, Scorpion’s trademarked ‘Get over here’ and Liu Kang’s wailing all present and correct.

23 characters are selectable from the outset with another two apparently unlockable, although quite why you’d want to select any of them is beyond me. It would, after all, doom you to another round of this joyless mess. Thankfully a quick scout about some other reviews detail the same ludicrous difficulty problems so if I’m just being inept I’m in good company. I suppose I should give some consideration to the fact that it’s a port when marking it, and it does do a few things well. It’s a great shame that it has made such an utter balls up of the only reasons you’d want to play it.MKA is easily the worst version of Mortal Kombat there has ever been and stands a sporting chance at being the worst 2D fighter ever seen. I’d rather get arse cancer than play this game again. Avoid.