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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Xbox Live Arcade
Digital Eclipse
GENRE: Fighting
PLAYERS:   1-2
October 22, 2006
Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

Ultimate Mortal Kombat

More in this Series
 Written by Glenn Wigmore  on November 01, 2006

Review: With Street Fighter II Hyper Fighting previously hitting the Xbox Live Arcade and stubbing its toe, how does the release of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 fare?

One of the most compelling reasons to get retro Live Arcade games on the Xbox 360's Marketplace is for the (usually) added online support. Smash TV and Gauntlet made fun use of online co-op, and even stuff like Joust added adversarial elements to try and justify the five bucks someone might want to throw down for the game. Street Fighter II' Hyper Fighting was an appealing prospect to many people because not only are online fighting games not that common, but also because gamers would ? on paper ? be able to take one of the best ?competitive? action titles of this generation against worldwide opponents. Then again, when a company like Capcom decides to outsource the XBLA version of SFII': HF to a virtually unknown company, you get a mediocre port of the game itself, and you also get some hideous lag and online issues. All hope is not lost for online retro fighting, though, as Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 provides a reason to believe that good ports can be achieved. While Mortal Kombat doesn't carry as much weight in some gamers' minds, the series still hit some home runs, and UMK3 was probably one of the best.

The title comes to the Xbox Live Marketplace for the price of 800 MS Points ($10). The presentation is fairly comparable to that of other games done by Digital Eclipse (Smash TV, Gauntlet, etc.) in that you will have a fairly standard menu interface that leads you to the title's various modes (most of these games being arcade ports means that none of them had true ?front ends? in the first place). In UMK3, you'll be able to take on the various ?Kombatants? from the previous MK titles, and each of them will be thrown at you in one of the four ladders (representing four difficulties). There is also a two-on-two ?kombat? mode, as well as an eight-player tournament offering.

The game still plays fairly tough, and spamming the same basic moves (uppercuts, projectiles, teleports) will only get you so far. The game's bosses ? Motaro and Shao Kahn ? will certainly give you some bumps and bruises, and each of them reaches a higher level of challenge than the roster of immediately selectable fighters. All of the usual MK stalwarts are present and accounted for (Sub Zero, Scorpion, Shang Tsung), as well as the more contemporary fighters (Stryker, Cyrax, Sheeva). Unlockable characters are still a part of the game as well, and you'll be able to locate the classic Sub Zero, a Human version of Smoke, and the Scorpion/Sub-Zero tweener, Ermac.

The AI does a decent job of keeping you on your toes as you start rattling off matches in UMK3. The usual quirks of move repetition and specific countering do come up when dealing with some foes (especially those who teleport or who have devastating counter charges and combos), but at least the fighters don't just sit there and take it. You'll be able to control the on-screen action with relatively decent precision, but like SFII': HF, the d-pad is a marginally serviceable input, and the thumbstick slightly more passable (no support for joysticks, here). Being able to run was always fun in UMK3 and that can still be done here, plus you'll have to sink your teeth back into a fighting game that requires a button press for blocking. The main attacks, throws and special moves all perform as remembered, and you'll be able to get a decent rhythm with the 360 controller's face buttons. The only main gripe on the control side of the game comes from the complete absence of practice modes or move lists; not only is this mean-spirited for those looking to make their first steps into the game, but it requires almost anyone ? veteran or novice ? to trek onto the Internet in search of the best FAQ/move list. SFII': HF did the same thing, but it still doesn't make it acceptable, here.

When it comes down to it, though, most people aren't playing this game for the AI fighters; people are playing for the challenge of online competition. Well, for those of you that struggled with the buggy and laggy Street Fighter II, you won't have to worry, as UMK3 performs admirably online. Quite honestly, almost all of the matches online were totally smooth, almost seeming directly comparable to the offline experience. Certain twitch gamers or purists may spot a brief pause or delay here or there, but the game plays very, very clean online, to be sure. Matches can be played in ranked and unranked fashion, and you can join a match straight up or create a room yourself. The ?Quarter? match style from SFII': HF makes a return for this game, and it can provide some fun if you want to involve more than two fighters (not at the same time, of course). The leaderboards also track the various stats accrued by fighters, and they will get good use since you'll likely be able to rattle off quite a few matches in short periods of time. Any way you look at it, the online portion plays well and has some features, and it easily validates a purchase of the UMK3 on its own merits.

UMK3 had a pretty good visual and audio package back in the day, and it still holds up well, even now. In fact, some areas of the presentation seem almost (gulp!)? enhanced. Most of the retro titles have advertised improved sound and sharpened visuals, but some of the offerings have left many observers scratching their heads and wondering what code base was used for the games, as well as what shanty they were re-dubbing the sound in. The visuals in UMK3 look good because of the upscaling for high-def resolutions, but some of the credit definitely has to be given to the game's original visuals that used digital actors to help with the animation of the characters. These still hold up reasonably well, and they give the action a decidedly different weight and feel than something like SFII': HF. Of course, MK has always been known for its copious amounts of blood, and UMK3 certainly doesn't hold back. The fatalities still provide the most carnage, but pints of blood will fly from devastating roundhouses and uppercuts, nevertheless. The sound is also quite good, with the same familiar announcer chiming in to declare fatalities and ?danger,? as well as some great moody music pieces for some of the dungeon-like locations. The sound effects are still totally over-the-top, but they still manage to have a certain level of comedy that makes them enjoyable to listen to ? check out Liu Kang's painful scream after being hit from Shao Kahn's mallet attack? comedy gold.

Unlockable achievements are put to decent use in UMK3, and you'll have to make your way through a ?Konquest? ladder, execute 5-ht combos, and play a serious number of games online before you have them all. Many can be gained fairly quickly, but the large number of online matches necessary for one of them will bar you from getting 200 points in a just one or two sittings. It would have been nice to encourage people to play the game a bit differently (only kicks to win, consecutively performing fatalities, etc.) in order to provide a bit more longevity, but the achievements are still fun as they are.

UMK3 for Live Arcade ultimately succeeds because it has online play that works very well. There are several ways to get playing online, achievements to drive you, and leaderboards to keep you coming back. The absence of lag in most matches is great news, and you'll be able to get your combo-hits on with the game's plentiful roster of characters. Offline is solid enough, and it succeeds based on the game's decent balance and surprisingly good presentation. If you're remotely interested in this one and have some points to spare, don't hesitate to take a look.

Bottom Line
An over-the-top bloodbath classic comes back and delivers great online play, as well as good presentation for a retro title. ?Get over here!?

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