IGN Review of Mortal Kombat: Unchained
Looks like Mortal Kombat escaped the end of days after all -- on the PSP, that is. Consoles experienced the closing of the series on current gen systems with the recent release of MK: Armageddon. Instead of porting the cataclysmic battle over to Sony's handheld, Midway decided to bring over the previous installment of the franchise to the PSP with Mortal Kombat Unchained. However, while having a portable version of MK: Deception with almost every feature from the console is an impressive feat on a UMD, the game's implementation of the title definitely leaves much to be desired.
Unchained's story picks up where MK: Deadly Alliance left off, with Quan Chi and Shang Tsung successfully resurrecting the army of the fabled Dragon King before they turn on each other. Unfortunately for the two treacherous sorcerers, a nasty surprise shows up when Onaga returns to reclaim the throne of Outworld. The combined strength of Shang Tsung, Quan Chi and even Raiden working together isn't enough to dent the Dragon King, and even a desperate suicide attack from Raiden doesn't faze the beast. This, of course, leads to various characters within the MK universe fighting it out, each attempting to eliminate Onaga for their own personal reasons.
While the plot of Unchained hasn't changed since 2004, the roster of the game has been boosted for the PSP version. Along with Goro and Shao Kahn (who were included for the Gamecube version of Deception), players can also choose to fight as Kitana, Jax, Frost or Blaze. Just like the console version of the game, characters have different fighting stances that they can use in battle, as well as weapons that they can break out to cause additional damage. All of your characters have special attacks as well, and players will be able to chain together attacks and even string large combos by switching between stances quickly. Of course, getting continually juggled by an opponent skilled in combos can be extremely frustrating for any fighting fan. Fortunately, the combo breaker system that was included in Deception has been included in Unchained, so you can interrupt long dial-a-combo strings. Unchained also includes the various multi-tiered levels and death traps that made Deception a stand out on the console.
On top of the fighting system, Unchained also brings over the various game modes that were included in Deception. Puzzle Kombat is a mini-game in the vein of Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, complete with deformed characters and special attacks. Chess Kombat, on the other hand, takes the basic concept of a chess game and turns it on its head. Much more like Archon than anything, pieces literally fight each other to determine who takes a square on a chess board. Konquest is a separate adventure mode that tells the history of Shujinko, a young man in the MK Universe whose actions directly influence the plot behind Onaga's return in Unchained. Finally, the Krypt holds a number of archived secrets and bonus materials, ranging from alternate costumes and artwork to movies. This is joined by a new Endurance mode, which pits you against a never-ending stream of enemies.
Sounds like a much more improved version of Deception, right? Well, it would be, if it wasn't for the fact that the translation to the PSP is rife with issues. First of all, the control scheme can leave much to be desired. While the analog nub is okay, it's not as precise as you'd need it to be to accurately pull off some moves. That leaves the directional pad for pulling off sidesteps, inputting special attack commands and other things. Of course, as most PSP owners know, the directional pad can be horrendous without a third party peripheral, especially for fighting games where tight control is a must. If you don't happen to have one, you may be extremely frustrated during gameplay. The same can be said when you're trying to accurately pull off fatalities or hara-kiris, which require accurate key input to trigger the animation.
Another issue comes with the ridiculous load times that are attached to Unchained. You'll commonly suffer your way through twenty to thirty second loads for almost everything, and they happen with just about everything. Whether it's moving from one fight to another, or loading up a new opponent in a mini-game, you're stuck waiting the UMD to load up everything. After a while, this constant grind is extremely frustrating and tedious. What's worse, it makes everything, from the fighting to the mini-games, feel slow and much older than they actually are. Fans of the original title will also be somewhat disappointed to find that the multiplayer options for Unchained have only been relegated to Ad Hoc mode. It would've been much better had it also supported Infrastructure mode, especially considering that was a feature for Deception, but for some reason it's left out entirely.
One other problematic part with Unchained is the flawed camera that crops up in different modes. For one, it's entirely possible to outrun the camera in Konquest mode, leaving it frozen on an environmental object while your character runs around somewhere offscreen. It doesn't make any sense, nor is there a reason for it to work this way in the Konquest mode, but it just makes a sometimes frustrating mode practically unplayable. It can be even worse in a fighting situation, especially if you try to get some distance away from an enemy and the camera pulls all the way out. For some reason, when the camera has zoomed out fully, you can't jump at all, which can be extremely frustrating if you're trying to either jump back towards an opponent or away from an incoming blow. It's even worse when you run into Onaga, whose moves can easily fling you to the other side of the screen and completely hamper your attacks even worse that he did on the console. I won't go into how many times I wanted to smash my PSP because of this flaw.
For the most part, Unchained looks okay, as long as the camera is pulled back to a medium view of a stage. Stages look nice on the PSP, and the various environmental hazards come across particularly well on the system's screen. The same can be said about Fatalities and Hara-kiris, which look particularly harsh. Character models can look relatively good from a distance, although if you watch the camera zoom in tight on a fighter, especially at the end of a match, you'll notice a lot of low resolution textures and a generally bland appearance for many fighters. At least the sound hasn't been impacted with the move from the console to the handheld. Everything from the screams of characters to the environmental sound effects have been recreated without anything being lost, although the poor voiceover work from the Konquest mode is still a bit underwhelming.
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