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Mortal Kombat Advance

Score: 60%
ESRB: Mature
Publisher: Midway
Developer: Virtucraft
Media: Cart/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Fighting

Graphics & Sound:

It may have taken a while, but Midway's Mortal Kombat series has finally returned to the portable scene on Game Boy Advance. Falling in direct competition with Super Street Fighter II Turbo Revival and the forthcoming Tekken and King of Fighters EX, this off-key title had a defining opportunity to reclaim its position in fighting history with proper presentation and rock-solid gameplay. But then again, has there ever been a decent MK port on a handheld system?

Nope -- and this installment doesn't carry enough substance to break the trend. In fact, tolerable graphics and impeccable sound are the only factors that Mortal Kombat Advance has going for it. At first glance, level designs and fighter animations seem fluid enough to get the job done (and they are), yet a few glaring flaws become apparent as the game progresses. Backgrounds could've received a bit more detail in the art department, missing character frames constantly detract from the intended arcade experience, and, well, too many areas should've clearly been touched up before shipping. The slightly-better-than-mediocre visuals don't necessarily hurt the game so much that it's unplayable, though -- that's what the controls are for.

At least the design team had enough sense to go the distance when carrying over original tunes and sound effects to the small screen. Without a doubt, MKA stays true to the arcade with loud, perfectly clear samples that we all grew to love ('Get over here!' and 'Flawless Victory' sound as wonderful as they did so many years ago), and the music brings back plenty of memories. Not once did this reviewer cringe at anything coming through the headphones while playing this game, which is infinitely more than can be said for the gameplay.


Gameplay:

Arrrrgh. It's a sad, sad day when I can recall having more fun with the first Mortal Kombat for Game Boy than with the newest edition on the world's most powerful handheld game system. As much as it tries to emulate the look and feel of its coin-op counterpart, Mortal Kombat Advance just isn't enjoyable. It's an almost-direct port of 1996's disappointing Ultimate MK3 (despite pre-production speculations that it would encompass all previous episodes of the series), and it simply doesn't deliver what it should.

The premise stays the same -- beat every character you come in contact with, face an Endurance match and Motaro near the end, and defeat Shao Kahn to regain Earth's existence from the Outworld, yada yada yada -- but hardly anything during battle feels familiar. Controls have been narrowed down to two attack buttons (B punches, A kicks), while L runs and R blocks. This would've been simple enough, but certain essential moves like sweeps and throws are now almost impossible to pull off. Input from the directional pad doesn't register as quickly as one would expect, so now instead of rolling your thumb from down to forward for Sub-Zero's freeze attack, you'll have to tap down, then forward a fraction of a second later, then punch to perform the move. It takes forever to adjust to this for every character, but if you want to have any fun at all with this title, you're going to work for it.

Each character's been stripped down to having one Fatality and one Friendship, and several of the special move sequences have been changed to adapt to the GBA's limited control scheme. Fair enough, I suppose, but the developers really could've gone the extra mile and thrown in one more Fatality/Animality/Babality per fighter. Nintendo's newest portable powerhouse can surely handle more than this.


Difficulty:

Five settings are available in the Options menu (Easiest, Easy, Medium, Hard, and Hardest), while the player chooses from Novice, Warrior, Master, and Grand Master at the initial column select screen. On Easiest, computer opponents block almost everything thrown at them and rarely whip out big, damaging combos. On Medium, the computer will tear you up unless you know exactly what you're doing. On Hardest, you'll never get a chance to move, much less attempt to win a round against your aggressors. The challenge only builds when special moves and blocks never seem to come out when they're supposed to.

Game Mechanics:

With screwy controls also comes an even screwier combo system. Many things you'll see the computer magically perform against you are nowhere to be found in previous games, and truly have no place in this version either. For instance, Scorpion can apparently now chain two teleport-punches, one spear, and a four-hit combo that never existed before, all before you get the chance to block and retaliate. Motaro, Shao Kahn's personal guardian, can link two of his huge fireballs (which coincidentally deal huge damage at 25 percent a pop) in one combo, ripping away half of a life bar in less than a second. Crappy hit detection and sloppy code make these things possible, and it damn near kills the game.

Certain AI patterns are too easily defeated by simple, repeated attacks as well. Since fighters take damage by blocking normal attacks (more so than special moves, if that makes any sense), almost any computer character can be taken out by quickly performing around 20 jump kicks so that the opponent has no choice but to block each time. This and similar methods can get any newbie through the game's toughest challenges, and that's just not right. Again... sloppy, sloppy code.

There simply aren't enough good qualities about this game to warrant a purchase. If you're an MK nut who just has to play something until the series' fifth addition graces consoles later this year, go for it. Be warned, though -- it may be the GBA's first title to garner a 'Mature' rating, but all the guts and gore in the world can't save this stinker.


-Ben Monkey, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ben Lewis

Nintendo GameBoy Advance King of Fighters EX: Neoblood Nintendo GameBoy Advance Spyro 2: Season of Flame

 
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