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Also in this issue:

Thinking Outside the MUD
Mike Sugarbaker talks to Ludicorp CEO Stewart Butterfield about the Game Neverending.



Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance
for Nintendo GameCube
developer: Midway
publisher: Midway

reviewed by Donald Melanson

May 5, 2003 | games

For all its popularity and notoriety, the Mortal Kombat series never got much respect from fighting game enthusiasts. Most consider it to have reached its peak with the second installment in the series. But even it was not nearly as deep as its primary rival at the time, whatever the latest incarnation of Street Fighter II was. In later years, the Mortal Kombat series never really caught up with the likes Tekken or Virtua Fighter, which offered complex gameplay and great graphics, and real improvements from sequel to sequel.

Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance is Midway's attempt to change the course of their flagship franchise and indeed, compared to the previous games, they've succeeded. But compared to the top-tier fighting games, it still falls a bit short.

The game is significant for a number of reasons. It's the first proper Mortal Kombat game to be released exclusively to console systems. This would have been unheard of even a few years ago, when arcades still had the latest fighting games months before the console version came out. Deadly Alliance is only the latest piece of evidence of the decline of arcades as we've known them. If they lose fighting games, arcades will become even more of an amusement park, focusing on games like Dance Dance Revolution and simlution-type games that can't be replicated on home consoles.

Deadly Alliance also overhauls the Mortal Kombat fighting system, which has been criticized as overly simplistic and unbalanced. While many elements remain from previous Mortal Kombat games, there is now a much greater emphasis placed on combos (long chains of moves, instead of powerful special attacks). Each character also has three different fighting styles to choose from (one with a weapon), similar to the Samurai Showdown or Street Fighter Alpha series, but unlike those games, you can switch between styles during a match.

While Midway took out many of the bad things of previous Mortal Kombat games, they also took out some of the good stuff. Each character now only has one fatality, and there's no "pit fatalities", where you can knock your opponent outside the arena. While the fatalities in previous Mortal Kombat aren't really much more than a gimmick, it seems to me that if you're going to do them at all you need to go all out.

Another addition to Deadly Alliance is the Krypt, a section of the game where you can unlock new characters, alternate outfits, arenas and other bonuses. You buy items using "koins" earned in the single player game, or wagered in two-player mode. While this adds to the replay value, it can be tedious since you don't know what exactly you're buying (though you can guess based on how much it costs). Most gamers will probably end up looking up the codes on the Net to unlock all the good stuff first.

Gameplay-wise, Deadly Alliance is a bit of a mixed bag. I can't quite put my finger on it, but the fighting system seems a little off to me. Maybe I'm just nostalgic for the simple and elegant fighting system of the Street Fighter II series, or SNK's many excellent fighters for the Neo Geo, but MK:DA is sometimes just downright frustrating. In two-player mode, in particular, it often comes down to who can block the other's moves fastest. This is especially annoying against some of the faster characters, who have weaker attacks, but you spend so much time trying to block them you're still at a disadvantage.

Lastly, as most every review has mentioned, the GameCube's controller is really unsuited to this, or any other fighting game. The directional pad, as small as the GameBoy Advance's, makes blocking particularly difficult, sometimes causing you to block down when you mean to block back. The button placement is also a problem, especially when it comes to producing the lengthy combos in the game that require precise timing. There are a number of arcade-style joysticks available for the GameCube that may be the solution, but I unfortunately wasn't able to test any of them for this review. MK:DA is also available for Xbox and PS2 and, while not perfect either, their controllers should be a bit better suited to the game.

All that said, Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance is still the best fighting game for the GameCube, though almost by default since there's so few alternatives. But it should soon face some stiff competition from Namco's Soul Caliber II, due out this summer.

Donald Melanson is the founder and editor-in-chief of Mindjack. He keeps an irregularly updated weblog at:

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