The Good: MKII universe, solid combat system, lots of content, Ko-op mode is fun, gory galore
The Bad: Terrible voice acting, sad story, sad graphics, sub-par sounds, shallow combat system, hidden content is a pain to find
Side game have been very poor when it comes to Mortal Kombat. Shaolin Monks is probably the first good one, but still isn't perfect and has many flaws. You play as either Kung-Lao or Liu-Kang and the game is set in the Mortal Kombat II universe. The two champions run around different worlds such as the Living Forest, The Wastelands, The Wu-Shi Academy, and even the Soul Tombs. They are trying to stop Shao-Kahn, but the story is pretty stretched out and not very good even for MK fans. You come across fan favorites such as Baraka, Mileena, Kitana, and even Scorpion.
The game is an action-adventure and has a pretty solid fighting system. There are light attacks, heavy attacks, power attacks, and special attacks. Each character has their signature power attacks such as Kang's flying side kick, bicycle kick, and fireballs. Lao has his hat toss and many others. The combat system is responsive and quick and is pretty fun to use. You can accomplish some big combos in the or on the ground. There is the option to unlock new moves via points that you get from killing enemies, and yes don't worry, fatalities are present. These are performed by performing combos and building your fatality meter. One full orb lets you do a fatality, two lets you perform a mutality, and three lets you perform a brutality. Fatalities can be unlocked by finding hidden red coins (trust me they are a pain to find without the strategy guide). New fatalities are obtained by finding those red coins and unlocking "Fatality Images" which are viewed in the concept art area. This can be a bit of a pain and loading and saving is slow and tedious.
The game has combat puzzles that involve using your abilities. This involves knocking enemies is viscous death traps, or Test Your Might strength puzzles (MK fans will love this). Each level has different death traps such as in The Living Forest you must feed the trees bodies before passing, and in The Soul Tombs, knocking enemies into spiked ceilings, or iron maidens. The game is brutal like MK is known for and that will satisfy fans. Even the fatalities are awesome, but unlocking the best takes a lot of hunting for those red coins.
Getting through the game has kind of a Metroid feel since you must find certain abilities to reach different parts of the game like double jump, pole swinging, wall run, and fists of ruin. This, unfortunately, makes back tracking tiresome. What makes that worse is some coins aren't reachable until you get said ability and this could be really far into the game and you might forget to go back. This is just one of many flaws the game has. The combat system may be solid, but it's a bit shallow and could have used some more depth. Most of the flaws revolve around the graphics. They aren't that great. Even when the game came about in 2005 they weren't showing the PS2's true potential and this is sad. The game is full of low res textures and models, and it looks worse than the franchises' staple fighting games. There are collision detection issues, and complete hang ups that require system restarts. Save points are scarce, and you don't even have to kill enemies to progress. What's up with that? There are only a few times where you must kill enemies to progress, but most of the time you can just pass them, and what I truly hate is the fact that they can respawn.
The sounds in the game are ok but they could have been better. All the MKII sounds are used, so nostalgia sets in, but I would have liked some richer sounds. The voice acting is also terrible, but MK is known for that. The game doesn't look high budget even though Midway (RIP) gives the MK team endless amounts of money to make these. This disappointed me more than anything along with the super short length. 4-6 is the completion time, and some hardcore players could finish this in one or two sittings. What makes up for some of the short comings is the Ko-op mode, however, but this also makes those damn red coins more of a pain to obtain since some can only be obtained via Ko-op.
The game has fun boss fights, lots of secrets, tons of MKII references, and using that universe will make fans happy. If you can see past the short comings underneath is a solid MK side game that I hope sees a sequel with a bigger budget. You can find this game for less than $10 in most places so it's bargain bin price point is just more of a reason for people to play this game.