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Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub Zero Review

Publisher - Midway Home Entertainment
Developer - Midway Home Entertainment
Platform - N64
Type - Fighting
Score - 6/10

Mortal Kombat was your basic fighting game: short on plot, big on blood. With each successive Mortal Kombat game, Midway has garnished the original story with another layer of fat. Mythologies breaks from the standard fighting game history of Mortal Kombat and it throws us more plot and background info than any other MK game to date.

I'm not going to try to explain the plot of this game in detail. There are many, many more people added in this installment to the already overcrowded Mortal Kombat pantheon. This game takes place before the first MK game. Sub-Zero has to fight his way through several perilous levels to recover items and artifacts for his master and a mysterious sorcerer. Along the way he beats up lots of people... and... well he beats up a LOT of people.

A sidescrolling action game is an interesting idea for a MK cart, but it's not anything new. Fighting games grew out of side scrollers like Double Dragon, Kung Fu, and Karateka. This is a return to fighting game roots and it's a cool direction to take.

The Mortal Kombat fighting engine fits well in this new idiom without any modifications. While this is true, I wish that they had tweaked the engine a bit because it still has all the problems of recent 2D MK games (see the Mortal Kombat Trilogy review). The combo system is lame. Period. It's hard to control and it doesn't add anything to the game. It encourages you to burst headlong into every situation and button-crush your way through trouble. Another problem is the run button. Get rid of this thing! Midway got running correct with War Gods. I don't see why they don't incorporate the improvements in War Gods back into the Mortal Kombat system. The run button is horribly unnatural and it has to take up one of the shoulder buttons on the controller. I've tried mapping run to the A, B, and C buttons, but having it there makes it difficult to charge and attack at the same time. The new insult, which is found only in this game, is the turn button. Mythologies does not automatically turn Sub-Zero to face opponents. You have to handle your facing in addition to all the normal duties of combat. There's nothing wrong with adding more freedom of movement and greater control to a character, but it's not worth it if the change increases the complexity of control. The run and turn buttons make MK Mythologies a study in frustration.

Unlike MK Trilogy, Mythologies does not do everything wrong. Mythologies incorporates some of the basics of sidescrollers: jumping on moving and static platforms, climbing, and the constant fear that you'll fall off something. In this new adventure, Sub-Zero has to earn his cold-based superpowers and can gather power-ups along the way. Most of the items are heath boosts, but there are also notes that guide Sub-Zero through the game. You use the Z trigger to see a menu of all your items, all your stats, and what powers you have access to. Once you gain access to a power, you use it in the same way that you'd use Sub-Zero in the standard MK fighters.

I have to say that Mythologies is a compelling game to play, but there are aspects to the game that do nothing but annoy me. Unless you play on the "very easy" difficulty, there are no clues as to what is the correct way to proceed. This becomes a problem because the correct path is not always obvious, and making a wrong move usually results in instant death. In the second level, you have to jump from platform to platform. Some jumps need the assistance of strong updrafts. You have no way of knowing which is which until it's too late; so you may walk off into space hoping for wind... and... nothing. The first level has a similar problem. The end of the first half requires that you balance on a balcony wall and drop onto an awning. This is hard to figure out because you can't see the awning until long after you jump. If you jump the wrong way, you die. The very easy level has a note that tells you this. On the harder levels, you have to know before hand or you'll have to keep trying until you do it by accident.

That's another problem with Mythologies; there are way too many instant death traps. Most sidescrollers are littered with instant death traps (pits, falling ceilings, bombs, etc.), but Mythologies doesn't give you a chance to see them or react to them. On the first level, giant columns fall from the ceiling and crush you. This you can see coming before hand. What you can't see is the guy just off frame who will kick you into them before you have a chance to see him. The only way to counteract this is to strike before the danger actually appears. This means that no matter how skillful a player you are, you have to play levels endlessly and memorize all the death traps so you have a chance of avoiding them. That makes the game excruciatingly frustrating and redundant.

One big way that Mythologies surpasses MK Trilogy is in it's presentation. There are still too few frames of animation in the character movement, but the backgrounds are much better. There is a flat background image, but all the action happens on simple 3D models. The characters are still flat, and there is a noticeable schism between character and environment, but the overall effect looks cooler than the simple areas in MK Trilogy. The sound is also better, but it's nothing outstanding.

I would like to take a moment to complain about the setting of this game. Bear in mind that the following rant has no bearing on gameplay.

The creators and writers of Mortal Kombat have really outdone themselves. The first game had no plot and we loved it. Now they're trying to expand a story that could barely keep one game afloat to encompass some sort of epic tale. It ain't working guys. Listen to me- we don't play MK for the story. We want blood and violence and women wearing next to nothing. You've got all of that! Don't justify it! We DON'T CARE! What you end up with is 10 pounds of story in a 4 pound bag. Enough already. We dig Sub-Zero and we'll play your game. Don't explain anything, K?

Another thing, why is ancient China inhabited by a bunch of white guys? I don't think Caucasians were the primary inhabitants of East Asia at any point in history. AND, the reality that MK exists in seems to be composed of unrelated aggregates of several belief systems. There's nothing wrong with taking a little something from different cultures, but at least TRY to get your references right, and PLEASE make things a little more coherent! MK mixes Chinese philosophy, Taoist theology, Japaneese Gods, European (not East Asian) elemental systems, and leave us not forget the Christian concept of the soul. Did you even try to make these elements work together or are YOU TRYING TO CONFUSE THE HECK OUT OF EVERYTHING!?!?!

OK. The rant's over. Like I said before I started, this has no bearing on gameplay. I'm just venting is all.

In spite of all the problems, new and old, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero proves to be more fun than MK Trilogy. MK fans and action-sidescroller advocates will probably get some fun out of this game.