They always sound good, don't they?
Announcements for handheld fighting games, especially those in the Mortal Kombat series, have rarely been worth getting excited over. In fact, I can only think of a few instances in which a handheld Mortal Kombat received a positive review… nope, just this one! A lot of this is because, until now, there hasn’t been a portable system with enough buttons, let alone the technical power, to make Mortal Kombat work on-the-go. As such, I went into Ultimate Mortal Kombat DS with the same old cautious optimism as I would have going on a blind date with a sexy phone voice and a great personality. At best, i imagined it could be “decent, considering its limitations”, and probably not worth seeing more than once. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am… now get out of my DS.
[image1]Another rendition of an old classic about cyber-ninjas battling scantily clad vixen warriors, a dude with metal arms, and another with a half-metal face all in an alternate but tied-to-Earth universe seemed unnecessary. What I slowly discovered is that Ultimate Mortal Kombat isn’t just good for a portable fighting game, it’s just plain good – no stipulations. Well, okay, there’s one stipulation: Without human competition, Ultimate Mortal Kombat isn’t much fun at all, and you can chalk this up to what must be the most notoriously horrid artificial intelligence in any fighting game, ever.
Starting out, computer-controlled opponents don’t put up much of a fight. They poke, throw a few uppercuts, and mostly just goof off while you practice special moves on them. And then, after a few matches, they become indestructible monsters. You take a step forward; they take a step back. You throw a roundhouse; they sweep you off your feet. You hold the block button; they throw you across the screen. Dodge, duck, dip, dive, or dodge, you really can’t seem to do anything right. Beating the AI boils down to employing un-tactics that would never work against a living opponent, and it’s far more frustrating than fun.
[image2]Luckily, Ultimate Mortal Kombat supports local multiplayer, as well as online multiplayer with Nintendo’s Wi-Fi service, and these options totally make up for what the single player element lacks. This is largely because this version of Mortal Kombat is the only one that’s taken seriously by the fighting game elite. That’s not to say it’s especially deep as far as fighting games go, but it’s got enough depth, variety, and balance to reasonably satisfy casual and hardcore crowds alike.
The best thing of all is that this game runs as smooth as butter online, so not a single frame of the gameplay suffers as long as each player has a semi-good connection. You’ve got to work around the usual obstacles that go along with playing DS games online, like exchanging friend codes and finding an alternative means of communicating in between matches, but by now, that’s to be expected.
The absence of a bona-fide practice mode, though, hurts pretty badly. During matches, the top screen displays your character’s special moves, fatalities, and so on, but there’s no in-game tutorial on how to pull of the coolest com…er… “kombos”. Granted, you don’t need to do the big dial-a-kombos to win at Ultimate Mortal Kombat, but they’re part of what gives this game its identity. So, if your old routines weren’t seared into your memory some time many years ago, you’ll either have to experiment to relearn them or hunt them down on the internet.
[image3]As a bonus, Ultimate Mortal Kombat features the full version of Puzzle Kombat, the competitive puzzle game first seen as a bonus in Mortal Kombat: Deception. Similar to Capcom’s smash hit, Puzzle Fighter, it’s a solid mini-game that puzzle enthusiasts will definitely enjoy. The differences between the two games are minimal, and pointing them out would be like listening to Vanilla Ice explain how his most popular hit was different from Queen and David Bowie's song: “It totally has an extra ding!” Still, it improves the value of the overall package, rather than just an irrelevant extra.
Playing Ultimate Mortal Kombat makes me wish I could travel back in time and show it to the thirteen-year-old me. Once upon a time, my friends and I predicted that one day, there would be a home console that would look and sound even better than the arcade machines… and you wouldn’t have to blow into the game cartridge to make them work. Well, we’re there. We’re in the future. We don’t have to go to the mall or swap our dollar bills for quarters. Ultimate Mortal Kombat is the real deal, and it’s mind-blowing to think that I can not only play it at home, like I used to daydream about, but it fits snugly right in my pocket.