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Retro appeal found in ‘Shaolin Monks’

Mark Bemenderfer | Tuesday, September 27, 2005

For gamers, fighting games often build mythologies around their favorite characters. If asked, a gamer could probably tell you about his favorite character, such as his or her history and fighting style.

But most of that knowledge stems from written texts on the game’s official Web site, or the accompanying information book that comes with the game. Storytelling details in the actual fighting games tend to run on the light side, a trait that “Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks” attempts to address.

Placed between and during the events of “Mortal Kombat” I and II, “Shaolin Monks” attempts to round out the history of most of the combatants in “Mortal Kombat” history. Almost all of the fighters are present in some shape or form, and play contributing roles in the story.

The main story revolves around Liu Kang and Kung Lao, fan favorites of the “Mortal Kombat” series. Liu Kang was the victor of the first “Mortal Kombat,” and now finds himself in charge of pursuing Shang Tsung into Outworld. Kung Lao follows as he attempts to return honor to his family name, and helps Liu Kang in his quest.

Fans of the series will find plenty of unlockable characters and hidden battles to keep their interest. Hidden treats for fans have been a staple of the series, and “Shaolin Monks” is no different.

Players new to the series might find less to pique their interest as they play through the game. Since many of the hidden treats and encounters were created for players who have been with the series since the original, newcomers might feel themselves lost, as if they stepped into the middle of a movie.

The treats and secrets should not be the main draw for the game, however, as they are not. The game itself is a solid action adventure of a type that has not been released for many years. This game hearkens back to the days of “Final Fight” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” A strategic button masher in every sense of the word, “Shaolin Monks” is a nostalgic treat for any gamer who has been playing since the days of the Nintendo Entertainment System, or the days video arcades flourished.

The player is given three basic attacks: a fast attack, an attack that launches enemies into the air and a powerful attack that sends opponents flying. Each of these can be linked effortlessly, essentially eliminating the need to memorize complex button combinations. That doesn’t mean that button combinations have been eliminated, as they still exist. “Shaolin Monks” is simply geared more towards the casual gamer.

In addition to the combatants, the levels themselves are a joy to play. Taking a cue from the previous “Mortal Kombat” games, the levels are highly interactive with background fatalities and interactions being commonplace. If there is something in the environment that looks deadly, it probably is. Exploring the environment isn’t required to pass through the game, but players that breeze through the game will find themselves only 50 percent complete of the full experience on save game screen.

“Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks” probably isn’t for everyone. Some will find it repetitive and others might find it too random and confusing. For fans of the series, however, and for those who yearn for the older, simpler days of video games, this game is perfect. Check it out for a bloody good time.