During a time when fighting games tried to copy Street Fighter 2, one challenger to the fighting game crown chose to go in another direction. Instead of having hard and light attacks, there were high and low attacks; instead of using well-drawn animated characters, there were real-life actors digitized for the small screen. Instead of having moderate depictions of blood and violence, there were extreme depictions of blood and violence. Oh, and once you secured victory, the words "Finish Him/Her" would flash on the screen as your opponent would wobble around in what looked like a drunken stupor. No fighting games previously allowed you to get in a free shot, post victory. Then again, no other fighting games gave you the opportunity to dismember your hapless opponent by separating their head from the rest of their body either.
Warranted or not, Mortal Kombat was one of the original bad boys of video games. Its realistic and accentuated portrayal of gore made plenty of people uneasy. This reviewer in particular remembers feeling particularly uncomfortable when a friend talked about the fatalities in graphic detail during our pre-teen years. Street Fighter 2, this was not. Mortal Kombat became a viable alternative option for gamers to deposit their precious quarters. The franchise has since spawned many sequels including the fabulous Mortal Kombat reboot released earlier this year. While time can only tell how well that particular game will look when viewed many years down the road, the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection allows gamers to relive and revisit their time spent playing Mortal Kombat, Mortal Kombat 2 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in the arcades, for better or worse.
Right after you select the MK game of your choice (which includes a clever graphic of each arcade unit to cycle through), the next screen should be both welcoming and familiar. Once you select your character and actually start playing, you may quickly spawn other less pleasant recollections. These games have not aged gracefully. One area in particular where this is most prominent is the controls. In MK, the controls were tight making it exceedingly difficult to reel of special moves regularly and even execute some basic moves like throws. MK 2 tweaked the controls making them feel less constricted but by UMK 3 (and MK3 before it), the controls became significantly loose. While throwing an opponent became easier, the combination of new gameplay abilities such as the dreaded run function, and increased complexity in executing fatalities made playing UMK 3 either a spam-fest or a button masher for the typical gamer.
Since these are true to their original ports, do not expect any enhancements to the visual or audio because there aren't any. Of the three titles featured in this collection, MK 2 looks and plays the best with the other two titles lagging behind. It is arguably the best MK game before the franchise went 3D and amongst the most popular fighting games of all time. It stabilized the series before the advent of sequels took MK off to the deepest and darkest corners of the Netherrealm.
While this would have been an excellent opportunity for Warner Bros Inc. to make the games in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection more user friendly, what gamers are stuck with is amongst the most unforgiving and cheap AI ever to grace a video game. Granted there is an option to select the difficulty ranging from very easy to very hard, the only difference between each setting is the number of opponents you will be able to handle before your brain becomes catatonic. It may seem unfair to single out UMK3 in particular, but there may be no other fighting game out there where the AI thrives on decimating you in short order. Whether you leave your combatant idle or actually try and give the fight a go, the AI can clean your clock in less than ten seconds. Since this collection offers nothing in the way of a tutorial, gamers who have never played any of these versions of MK either in the arcades or home consoles will have a hard time enjoying the single player experience.
The selling point of this collection is the ability to take the fights online. While it is simple to set up or search for a friendly or ranked match, gameplay is often hampered with slowdowns, freezing and even the occasional disconnection. While this latter issue is relative to one's internet connection or a gamer's decision to leave a fight early, it is truly poignant that the most compelling aspect of the arcade originals did not make the successful transition. Playing online allows gamers to match up against opponents of either similar or random skill level. Based on my experiences looking for matches, the majority of gamers prefer MK2 over the others. Finding and actually completing a full match against someone on MK was a rarity, and UMK3 saw me frequently matched up against a select group of adversaries who either really knew what they were doing, or were in reality just the AI masquerading as gamers.
It may be a tad disconcerting, but perhaps the most welcome feature of this collection is the ability to pause during the actual game. While paused there is a handy move list available to view. This is especially beneficial for UMK3 as it lists not only each character's special movies, fatalities and other finishers, but also provides a few combos ranging from simple to more complex. An annoying aspect of pausing however is that it sometimes results in a slight delay before a fight resumes. If you wanted to double check a particular fatality, do not bother doing it during the finish him/her post bout theatrics because the game will punish you by stalling and cutting your already miniscule window to execute a finishing move to nanosecond proportions. In other words, know the corresponding button combinations beforehand or you can forget about adding injury to insult on your fellow combatant.
What you see is what you get with the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection. This includes the touchy controls and difficult AI. These are pure emulations of the very same arcade games that first arrived on the scene almost two decades ago. These games are worth playing against human opponents if you can handle an online experience that is spotty at best. Gamers who have only played the 3D entries in the franchise should steer clear if they don't want their opinion of MK sullied. For gamers whose first exposure to the world of Mortal Kombat was the reboot, then keep playing it and enjoy. That leaves those gamers who have stuck with or played MK from the very beginning. The titles in the Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection are brimming with nostalgia and are certain to unearth old gaming memories. Unfortunately, this aged collection makes these memories appear better off remaining repressed.