Ah, Mortal Kombat… What gamer of my generation doesn’t have some fond memories of this franchise? I still recall the excitement and mystery it generated when a Mortal Kombat cabinet appeared one day next to Street Fighter II in the local arcade. It quickly became the one game that always had a line in front of it, with scruffy older kids who probably smoked cigarettes ferociously gloating over their opponents and discussing how to perform Fatalities in conspiratorial whispers. Mortal Kombat was a brand that embodied my nine-year-old’s version of “extreme,” and I was immediately hooked. The year I got Mortal Kombat 1 for Game Gear, I faked being sick the next day so I could stay home and play it. (And I took school pretty seriously. This game was just that important.) The franchise was a big part of my early adolescence. So when Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iOS came out, imagine my delight! However, now that I’ve played it, I can hardly begin to describe my disappointment.
I think I should be upfront: Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 (“UMK3″ from hereon, for the sake of brevity), as it exists in its current form, is one of the most unsatisfying games I’ve played for iOS to date. This is partly because it displays enough potential that one can see that it could have been a really good game with a little more work. Although it displays some good potential, and with the right updates UMK3 could become a top-notch game on iOS, right now it plays like a beta version. There are a few commendable areas: Overall, the gameplay looks fairly good, and the animations are smooth. Each character feels relatively complete, since they each retain most of their special moves, fatalities, babalities, animalities, and all the usual repertoire of Mortal Kombat malarkey that you have come to expect.
And, literally, that’s where my flattery ends. If I didn’t have a journalistic obligation to uphold, I hardly would have even played this title for thirty minutes before deleting it from my device. I can’t help but speculate UMK3 was the product of a very rushed attempt to get something onto the App Store before Apple’s holiday-season game approval deadline. They probably should have just gritted their teeth and finished debugging it.
Graphics: Groan-inducingly enough, one of the few things I can list as a positive aspect of this game has already been a point of contention in how people have received it. Instead of using digitized sprites for the character models, the designers have opted to go for three-dimensional animated character models. Personally, they don’t really bother me and from what I understand this was a necessary concession to keep the game running at a good frame-per-second rate. However, response has been mixed, and I think there are some Mortal Kombat purists out there who consider anything besides a strict two-dimensional layout and digitized-sprite character models to be an unforgivable deviation from the formula.
Ambitiousness: Although the actuality of UMK3 as it exists currently is rather disappointing, I admire the scope of what the developers were trying for. The gameplay doesn’t really work 100%, but to the extent that it does, it’s pretty reminiscent of the original Mortal Kombat 3, which was a good iteration of the series. The characters all have a wide variety of finishing moves, unique special moves, and the usual generic Mortal Kombat arsenal of punches and kicks. There is a good variety of arenas, many of which have arena-specific fatalities, and the general presentation of the game is fairly well-done. It just seems as if for whatever reason, the game was rushed into Apple’s approval process before it was really ready to be released. Which is a shame, because it feels like it could have easily been a much better game than it is.
The Kontrols are Krap: Really, there is just no way to make a good 1-on-1 fighting game without making sure it has adequate controls. And whatever there is good about UMK3, of which there is some, gets completely undermined by the fact that the controls don’t work well enough to actually let the user derive any enjoyment from playing the game.
I would have a lot more sympathy for UMK3 if games like Blades of Fury and Street Fighter IV hadn’t already been out for this platform for quite some time now, proving that fighting games are possible on iOS (and in the case of Street Fighter, very good.) However, especially in comparison to its old rival, the Street Fighter franchise, this version of Mortal Kombat suffers miserably when it comes to the controls. Street Fighter is able to survive the translation to iOS still feeling much like the same game, by limiting the punches and kicks to one button each, as opposed to three for each. Whereas Street Fighter IV for iOS accommodates itself to the limitations of the iPhone’s touch screen by significantly paring down the basic attacks available to each character, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 includes its full repertoire of basic attacks. While this would be a bonus if the controls were sensitive enough, in short, they’re not. The virtual joystick is painfully small and unreceptive (even for someone like myself whose thumbs are definitely not oversized).
There are two configurations of settings for the virtual buttons. The first is the classic six-button arcade configuration, with high kick, low kick, high punch, low punch, block, and run. The other configuration is a five-button setup with one punch, one kick, block, run, and a button to assist the player to pull off special moves more quickly and easily. While this sounds all well and good, each configuration presents unique problems. With the classic six-button approach, some special moves and nearly each and every Fatality can be maddeningly difficult to pull off, thanks in part to the muddy responsiveness of the virtual joystick. However, with the five-button approach, you limit your ability to perform each character’s “cheese combos,” which are already really difficult to pull off anyways but deal so much damage as to be implicitly enticing.
To make matters worse, of course, the AI opponents have no trouble inflicting these massive combos on you. Times are tough in The Outworld, apparently.
Load Times: There’s just a little too much loading between matches for my tastes. This gets to be especially frustrating when you’re playing against Shao Kahn, because it can feel like you spend about ten seconds waiting to select your character, then about ten seconds waiting to fight, and then you lose the match in about twenty-five seconds. Rinse, repeat. It’s not too terrible, and honestly the other problems this game has far overshadow the load times. But it’s a little extra irksomeness on top of all the annoyance that’s already there to be experienced.
Character Selection: Hopefully we can look forward to more characters in future updates (although fix the controls first or don’t even bother.) But for now, the roster feels a little anemic. We’re missing such fan-favorites as Raiden, Johnny Cage, Baraka, Kabal, Kano, etc. Not to mention that some of the characters they’ve chosen to include seem like odd choices which could have been someone cooler. Sheeva and Nightwolf? Really??
Buggier than an Alabama Screen Door in July: As I’ve already mentioned, this game pretty much feels like a beta version. The AI is extremely imbalanced and easily exploited. For example, I’ve found I can effectively spam a computer opponent by running up to them and throwing them ad nauseam for the entire match. On the other hand, if you should try to fight fair, you’ll most likely get that ass whupped on all but the easiest difficulty setting. Again, this is largely because the CPU can, for example, freeze you and then effortlessly perform that six-hit combo that it takes you ten attempts to pull off correctly.
Speaking of buggy AI, fighting the bosses in this game is an excruciating annoyance. Motaro incessantly teleports from one side of the screen to another, in a way that feels less like the AI’s strategy and much more like a programming glitch. Also, he frequently performs his next hit on you when you’re in the middle of your standing-up animation from his last one. Shao Kahn on the other hand, just won’t let you get a hit in edgewise. The only real way I’ve found to beat him so far are really cheaty-faced techniques, like getting a little damage on him and then spamming him with Stryker’s ‘takedown slide’ move. If you just keep performing the move over and over, the clock will run out without him being able to hit you… And that’s not exactly what I call ‘fun.’ But hey, I felt I had an obligation to at least finish the game, mind-numbingly frustrating as the experience became.
In short, I couldn’t recommend this game to anyone right now in good conscience. It really could be terrific if the developers take the time to go back and meticulously fix the controls, and offer us a solid update. I would love to see UMK3 stand tall as a worthy contender among the scarce amount of arcade-style fighting games on the App Store. If we get controls that work, the next thing I would like to see would be more characters added to the roster. But right now, all that is a mighty big if. As it currently stands, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iOS gets low marks indeed, because it doesn’t feel quite ‘finished’ and the sheer frustration of trying to work with the controls precludes any real chance of having fun.