Mortal Kombat Shaolin Monks Review

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks is the latest in the venerable fighter series, but it is not a fighting game. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fighting in the game, but Shaolin Monks takes the action out of the arenas and into the realm of the third-person action game. The result is pretty good, at least in short doses anyway, but it’s a game that you’ll need to be a Mortal Kombat fan to truly appreciate.

MK breaks out of the arenas and into the world.
Shaolin Monks takes place just after the very first game in the series timeline. The first Mortal Kombat tournament has been completed and Shang Tsung makes his escape while destabilizing the island on which the tournament took place. If you’re into MK, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. If not, here’s the skinny. The Mortal Kombat tournaments are basically fought to protect worlds from invasion. If the champions of your planet can defeat the champions of the trans-dimensional invasion force in question, then your planet is saved. Best not ask too many questions here – remember that this all came about as a background story for a fighting game, a genre not known for meaty storylines.

Shaolin Monks begins as the island is crumbling around you. You choose to play as one of the two Shaolin warriors who appeared in the fighting games, Kung Lao and Liu Kang. The game does support co-op play, but if you’re going to go that route you need to decide so at the start. The game will not let you switch in and out of co-op play during the campaign, nor let you change characters for that matter. This may seem like a minor annoyance at this point, but when you start to play you’ll find that the game is filled with secrets and bonuses that can only be unlocked in co-op play (there are a number of the ubiquitous “stand on two separate switches” puzzles). Further rubbing salt in the wounds of the solo player are constant reminders from the game that “some secrets can only be unlocked in co-op mode”. So if you have the goal of unlocking everything in the game you’re out of luck unless you have a friend with whom you can coordinate schedules on a regular basis. Anyway, so much for that – on to the gameplay…

This is going to come as a shock to you I know, but Shaolin Monks is very heavy on the fighting. Luckily the game’s fight system and its mechanics work quite well. The sheer number and variety of attacks are impressive. Like in fighting games, attack buttons used in concert with a jump button and the directional pad unleashes a number of different attacks on your enemies. If you hold the right trigger while making the attack you can unleash special attacks unique to each character. Furthermore, the game has a full combo system that add more attacks to your arsenal and that are unleashed with certain sequences of button presses. And of course you have the fatalities. Fatalities are brutal finishing moves that let you put an enemy down for good. As you fight and defeat enemies you’ll build up a fatality meter. When full you can select the fatality button when near a foe, press the button sequence for the desired fatality, and then enjoy a mini-cutscene of the gruesome result. In addition to the pain inflicted by your fists you can use the environment itself against your foes. The levels are filled with environmental hazards that will instantly dispose of enemies, from spike traps to catapults. To help you get the enemy to the hazard, the game has a grappling system that allows you to grab and throw a foe.