Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance Review

The Mortal Kombat series has been around for a while - for over ten years now.  While the series met with early success and even inspired a movie at one point, the franchise has spent a lot of time riding the coattails of its early successes, relegating it to a second-tier fighting franchise.  Mortal Kombat: Deadly Alliance aims to end that trend and bring the franchise back to its former glory by redesigning the fighting system, adding new fighters, and introducing new elements such as fighting styles.  The result of this redesign is for the most part quite successful, and marks an impressive debut for the series on the Xbox.

Johnny Cage does a little foot juggling.

First of all, let's get the story out of the way for those of you who pay attention to these things.  Two evil sorcerers, Shang Tsung and Quan Chi, have joined forces to revive the lost army of the Dragon King.  It is up to the heroes of Earth to stop this "Deadly Alliance" by besting the warriors of evil in the Mortal Kombat tournament.  OK, makes sense, but then again fighting games don't really need a story.  In fact, the story doesn't really come into play unless you play the game in Konquest mode, and only marginally at that.

In Konquest mode (Mortal Kombat replaces every "C" it can find with a "K") you select a fighter and are taken through a series of matches and challenges that begin with training and then move on to full-fledged fights.  Interspersed between the matches are occasional mini games that either test your "sight" or your "might".  The former plays like Three Card Monte and the latter requires you to tap a button quickly to build up enough strength to break an object.  Completing challenges or mini games will reward you with "koins", the currency used to unlock game features, but more on that later.

The Konquest mode is great when you are learning to play the game or want to practice the moves of a new character.  Each character has a set number of training sessions and then match challenges, and you can switch to a new character at any time without losing the progress that you made with the previous character.  The training matches aren't difficult as your opponent does little to fight back, but they allow you to learn the various attacks and combos in a fighter's arsenal.  Once you move on to the challenges things quickly become more difficult as you will be required to perform strings of combos in a set time limit and with your opponent free to attack you.  The biggest problem at this point is that the game does not always recognize your combo.  The button sequence will be displayed on screen, but you'll often think that you hit the sequence perfectly only to find that the combo is not initiated.  Some of these combos are tougher than others, and you may find yourself giving up on a character for which you just can't perform the five required combos in a row.  Since Konquest mode is really just an elaborate tutorial mode, it is hard to stick through it to the end for every character, although your reward for doing so is unlocking a couple of fighters.

So where does the story come into play?  Between the levels in Konquest mode the game switches to a screen with a monk making a trek between the places that serve as the locations for the matches.  When he reaches the next location, text is displayed describing the rivalry or relationship between your current fighter and the fighter featured in the upcoming challenge.  This text is extensive, but can at times read like a soap opera and it takes some concentration to keep everything straight.  You might eat this sort of thing up, or you might completely ignore it.  It really has no bearing on the game itself so you are free to do either.

The game's other two modes are Arcade and Versus.  In Arcade mode you select a fighter and are taken through a series of progressively more difficult fights against the computer.  Each victory will earn you a koins prize, and if you progress far enough you'll eventually take on Shang Tsung and Quan Chi.  Versus mode is the mode in which you can play against another human.  Xbox Live support would have been a great addition to the game, but unfortunately online play is not supported.