Monday, November 03, 2008

Armageddon Intro Video (Midway)
Where: Mortal Kombat: Armageddon When: October 2006
Why: Midway Games How: PS2/XBOX/Wii

Quick Fix...
Two years is a lot of time to find perspective, and for critics of 2006's Mortal Kombat: Armageddon, the release of a new title might just reflect positively on the old.

With Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe already hitting some stores [as of November 13]; facts about the game's minutia are fast coming to light, and to the inevitable dread of some fans, much of this entails very little not already confirmed or assumed prior to release.

From the onset of mainstream internet accessibility in the mid-nineties, Mortal Kombat has been an online staple.
Communities fast took advantage of the interactive opportunity to share their interests in the gaming series, establishing for Midway a strong and vocal fanbase. This online presence has presumably influenced the company's decision to heavily focus it's promotions on an internet audience - something they've done incredibly well. Few brands could be said to tend to their fanbase as successfully as Midway. We discovered this first hand earlier in the year, conducting interviews with MKvsDC writer, Jimmy Palmiotti, and MK producer, Hans Lo.

The importance of drip release details in promotion seems to have backfired on Mortal Kombat more than once. Deadly Alliance and Deception suffered from the cut-off of deadlines, but neither title seemed as damaged to the degree of MKvsDC, which, based on initial reactions, contains few surprises.

The unusually small cast is complimented by only a few character cameos in a storymode far less impressive than the presence of professional comics writers might have suggested. The written voice of characters is hit and miss, but it's the driving skeleton of the mode that falls flat. The result proves surprisingly conventional for a game that seemed all too aware of the conceptual pitfalls of forced confrontation between intercompany rivals. Pseudo-explanations, like the functional RAGE mode, seem to undermine as much as they justify.

A reception like this will seem eerily familiar to fans who've loitered around the series. It echoes Armageddon in particular, albeit with vital exceptions...

Following on from the history of 1995's Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 and it's 1996 Trilogy upgrade; Armageddon faced the shadow of compilation games typified by poorly balanced gameplay and inattentive story. By reproducing so much of the previous two games' content, the expectation that great secrets were being held within original content, set many-a fan up for a fall.

While Armaggedon addressed the stiff and clunky gameplay of Deception, it did so with almost negligable iteration. "Aerial Kombat" - reminiscent of features from the Shaolin Monks adventure spin-off - failed to distract from the lingering disappointment of stop-starting animation sequences that can leave a player waiting their turn to fight. Arbitrary fight styles did nothing to compliment characters, moving ever further away from the triumphant entry into the "3D" arena that was Deadly Alliance (2002).

One would argue that MK's legacy has always been one of average gameplay.
Even in the technologically limited days of competing for 2D dominance with Street Fighter; Mortal Kombat did not instill the sense of individuality and style it's competition had. Digitized graphics wowed an era of cartoon animation, but as series like Virtua Fighter and Tekken demanded more, the only constant MK could bring with it from history was it's dedication to characters and a plot.

Armageddon's saving grace was undoubtedly a Konquest mode that unfurled the details of story that brought the sixty-plus cast together in one game. Expected details, like establishing biographies, were omitted, as were meaningful character endings, but the Konquest mode still managed to at least flesh out many key characters' involvement in the apocalyptic plot.

As often as it feels like Mortal Kombat under represents the concepts that drive the franchise, it is still the story that's kept my interest.
Kart racing mini-games are a lot of fun and command some crucial replay value (as does multi-player modes), but investment in narrative and concept are the currency by which I would measure a release. It is this that leaves me concerned that MKvsDC might be yet another step down for the franchise, despite it's fundraising interaction with the DC universe, and further incrementalizations on the clunky frustrations of it's stiff gameplay.

I would like to believe there's still a chance we might see something amazing come out of MKvsDC, but that's not something we can confirm today. What we can do is have a little fun, initiate the first video game pseudo-review on the site, and honor the wonderful cast of characters from Mortal Kombat!

Like any comic or film review on the site, we intend to inform as thoroughly as possible, entertain if we can, and unveil glimpses of the product in question. Industrious readers will no doubt be able to find Armageddon's video elsewhere on the internet, but for our spotlight, you'll have to settle for dodgy stills.

Traditionally we would not include content from a video game on the site, but MK's association with comics goes right back to the original game. Not only has the series crossed over into the medium, but is also inspired by many iconic tropes and characters from the superhero super-genre.

The Infinite Wars tries to take all mediums into account in formulating reflections of characters. While the canonical value of Armageddon's intro video can be doubted, it remains an animated representation of what the characters are capable of. We will only observe feature encounters from the video, rather than the many inconclusive skirmishes that can be noted in scene backgrounds.

Almost the entire core cast meet in a collision of powers, but the first definitive blow is struck by the new guard of MK heroes! In fact, it's a Seidan Guardsman who strikes the first blow, impaling Li Mei on his staff! Those observant enough to track Hotaru as the camera wobbles it's way through handheld frontline photography will notice the amusing struggle the Seidan undergoes in the background, trying to wrench his staff out of his victim.

I would love to know what kind of process went in to plotting the opening sequence. On the surface it's a big dumb fight sequence, but enough attention has gone into the details to populate the area with background sparring, and character details that emerge even outside the feature moments.

I wonder what gave these characters the edge, in terms of being the first to show a definitive blow. Li Mei debuted in 2002's Deadly Alliance, while Hotaru came out of the Order/Chaos sub-plot introduced in 2004's Deception. Perhaps it was simply a function of having the impact of an impalement. Either way...

Winner: Hotaru (Fatality!)

Two MK veterans take the stage next as classic series villain, Kano, charges in to smack Edenia's princess right in the mouth! Kitana takes another clubbing blow to the head, but retaliates with a couple of kicks, the latter of which sends Kano hurtling off screen!

I suppose if we were to try to rationalize the motivation behind each of these fights, we might perceive the contrast between Hotaru/Li Mei and Kano/Kitana as the different generations of Mortal Kombat. From the four characters' debuts we can draw assumptions of the first two games of the series, and the first two from the (2002) franchise revival. I wouldn't be inclined to read any more into than that, but I suppose it could be observed as a loving acknowledgment of the two eras of the series. Lord knows searching for any more meaning than that will only result in phantom apparitions! Crazy!

Winner: Kitana (Brutality!)

Alas; Kitana's victory is short lived, as with most characters.
Beloved MKII sub-boss and graduate from Kitana's class, Kintaro, sneaks up behind to swat her far into the distance with a Shokan double-fisted uppercut!

I have to admit: I'm a bit of a Kintaro fan!
As much as I would've liked to have seen development in his character beyond snarling and punching, Kintaro's emergence from the dust at the beginning of Armageddon's intro is a classic fanboy moment. He doesn't get a lot of airtime after that, but then, I'm not sure you can really top that!

Winner: Kintaro (Excellent!)

It's a pair of characters that needs no introduction.
Arguably the faces of the franchise, for better or worst, Scorpion and Sub-Zero are two of the best known characters in American gaming. While the characters have clashed in more than one game, Scorpion's famous vendetta was actually with this Sub-Zero's predecessor, his older brother, now Noob Saibot.

Even so, every fan of the duo will no doubt appreciate the clang of swords as the two charge at each other at the centre of the pack. Sub-Zero's kori blade withstands Scorpion's blows, providing an active defense before the Lin Kuei grandmaster turns the tables, fending Scorpion off to finish him with a jumping axe handle slice that topples the spectre.

The alliance of the famous rivals originally caused a stir during test screenings of Paul Anderson's 1995 Mortal Kombat film. Ironically, the debut of the second Sub-Zero in Mortal Kombat II (1993) produced an ending that was poised to set the pair up as allies. While this was never specifically followed up, the renewel of Scorpion's pursuit garnered hidden truths in MK4, where he earned Quan Chi as a new arch-nemesis.

Winner: Sub-Zero (Superb!)

Previously spotted hovering in the sky, Raiden makes his feature arrival plummeting into an unsuspecting Sub-Zero! Shinnok presses the advantage, using the dark magic possessed by a former Elder God to summon giant skeletal hands from the Netherealm! The hands crush Raiden into the ground, but with his arms free, he blasts Shinnok with lightning!

Shinnok's evil was revealed in the 1997 digitized adventure spin-off, Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero. Plots established there and in MK4; where Shinnok rises to strike back at the Gods who expelled him from the heavens; provided threads upon which subsequent storylines have been developed, namely those surrounding the arrival of the Dragon King!

As the chief boss of Mortal Kombat 4, Shinnok went down in infamy for his immediate playability and borrowed movesets from the rest of the cast. Forced onto the bench in subsequent games, the fallen elder god was one of the characters redeemed in his reincarnation for Armageddon. While slightly enfeebled in his role, the character also enjoys a major appearance in Armageddon's Konquest mode, manipulating protagonist, Taven.

Despite lacking gravity in his first appearance in the beat 'em up franchise, the rivalry between Shinnok and Raiden felt sincere. Raiden was crucial to defeating Shinnok during his initial downfall and his MK4 attack on the realms, making this one of the most weighty fan services in the MKA intro!

Winner: Raiden (Outstanding!)

Mortal Kombat: Gold offered Dreamcast players the chance to play MKII and MK3 characters replaced by new additions in the final build of MK4. Despite adding only six characters, the 1999 update produced many details that have continued to inform subsequent entries. The rivalry established for the game between Kung Lao and Baraka hasn't really been one of them, but is appreciated none the less.

Baraka and Kung Lao appear evenly matched as they exchange and avoid acrobatic blows. A kick from the Shaolin Monk puts distance between he and Baraka, who unsheathes the blades from his arms, before taking the battle skyward!

Kung Lao doesn't hesitate, tackling the Tarkata's mutant claws with a blade of his own. The two swing and block in the allusion to aerial kombat before Baraka finally succumbs to an impaling blow. Though he floats out of control as blood gushes from his chest, Baraka is still able to gain balance, firing off a spark of energy that knocks Kung Lao out of the air!

Despite not being well known enemies in the MK canon, their short lived manufactured rivalry might be alluded to here by their airborne battle.
It was Kung Lao who was said to be responsible for a mortal wound that resulted in a new Baraka design in Gold that featured large staples over a scar on his chest. It insinuated something along the lines of Kung Lao's MKII fatality, which sliced opponents in twain with the razor edge of his hat.

Winner: Draw (Ohhh!)

With a flourish of sparks coming from his cybernetic enhancements; Jax charges into battle, confronting the necromancer, Quan Chi! The sorcerer avoids his wild swinging blows, but a couple of close quarters strikes trap him in Jax's grip!
The Major snatches Quan Chi's kick and drives his fist into a vulnerable knee with super-enhanced force!

Despite the immense blow, Quan Chi's snapped leg maintains it's integrity, allowing him to regroup to summon skeleton warriors to do his bidding! Jax shatters the animated skeletons with ease, but does not see the Outworld Emperor, Shao Kahn, looming behind him with a giant war hammer...

While this scene doesn't appear to stem from any specific vendettas; Jax, as a lead protagonist, was one of the many heroes who opposed Quan Chi during Shinnok's invasion in MK4, and fell victim to Quan Chi, as part of the Deadly Alliance. Kitana, Kung Lao, Sonya, and other absent characters in Deception were also fatally wounded by the Deadly Alliance, but it's something.

Winner: Shao Kahn (w/ Quan Chi)

SHAO KAHN versus...
Jax is but the first to fall to the Emperor's war hammer!
He strikes indescriminately at nearby warriors, scoring victorious blows against; Reiko, Johnny Cage, and Darrius! Darrius' trajectory brings him in line with hallowed Edenian ground from which a sacred temple emerges.

The towering structure rises from the dirt to finish at the feet of the Outworld Emperor -- a warrior who once succeeded in conquering the realm and merging it with his own. It is an ominous scene that forecasts the impending doom.

While various deductions could be made, it's amusing that Kahn strikes an almost unnoticable blow to Reiko. For a time; MK4's enduring legacy was the question of whether or not Reiko was actually the previously defeated Shao Kahn!
The theory, reasonably enough, came from an animated ending featuring the mysterious warrior emerging from a portal to assume a helmet and throne.

Winner: Shao Kahn (Toasty!)

Flames emerging from the top of the pyramid signify the coming of Blaze -- a character who appeared as set dressing in MKII, but, as plot would have it turn out, was actually an elemental being created by the Elder God Argus and his wife Delia as a tool to protect the realms from the amassing powers of kombat.

At the foot the pyramid the gathered warriors are all enticed by the presence of the flame. Their gathered stupor is quickly ended as Stryker makes the first move, sucker punching Mileena, before heading up the pyramid!

Winner: Stryker (Brutality!)

The riot cop doesn't get far before Black Dragon survivor, Kabal, makes a dash up the pyramid to challenge. Stryker blocks his kick easily, however, and sends the cybernetically enhanced crook hurtling off the structure.

It's pet peeve time, so the diehards might like to tune out for moment, if they haven't already. In broad terms a baseline logic usually informs the basic abilities and attacks of MK characters, but Kabal, a mortally wounded warrior who survives mutilation with cybernetics, kinda breaks the mould. By MK3 the team might've been running out of broad strokes with which to colour their characters, because Kabal features a range of moves not specifically related to what we can certainly know about his enhancements. One of those was a dash attack that, in the lead-up to MK vs DC, created confusion about whether or not the character was a Flash-styled super speedster.

Throwing the dash move into the MKA intro is a nice enough nod and functional way to initiate the race, but it only feeds that confusion. Granted, the MK team are inclined to canonize odd details, even misconceptions, if they're discussed enough. I would, however, like to think Kabal's respirator doesn't miraculously extend to his legs. Homage to an in-game function is one thing, but as is often the case, it would be nice to see MK invest deeper in the integrity of concepts.

Winner: Stryker (Brutality!)

Kabal's criminal clansman, Kano, follows to stop the cop in his tracks with a beam of energy from his own cybernetics! The red beam puts an end to Stryker's climb and punctuates an edict that has so often differentiated the MK brand from it's contemporaries by giving a glimmer of hope for evil.

Winner: Kano (Toasty!)

Bo' Rai Cho takes the initiative to make his charge up the pyramid, but suffers a knife in the back from the Aussie crook. The violent attack proves insufficient to stop the drunken master from Outworld who turns to put an end to the Black Dragon's campaign, unsticking both Kano and Kobra with a flood of vomit!

The pair tumble down the pyramid's many steps.

Winner: Bo' Rai Cho (Brutality!)

The Shokan warrior charges past the slippery stain of Master Cho's bile to strike viciously with an unforgiving flurry of double-fisted strikes! The master withstands three double-blows before taking a dive down the edge of the pyramid, clearing a path for Sheeva.

As you might have gathered, we've entered a bit of a rush period in the anarchic battle. That said, this almost literal translation of the games' trademark arcade "ladders" is arguably the closest thing we've seen to an actual tournament in the past few games.

I wanted to match the frenetic pace of this section of the video by mapping quickly through the brief encounters, but it's a point we'll likely come back to. As MK struggles to compete with the functional quality of other franchises and it's story spirals outward into bigger ideas, one almost wonders if they shouldn't explore the adventure modes as key releases. Shaolin Monks, despite mixed reactions, proved to be a very fullfilling adventure, even if it struggled with honoring established fact within the period it was placed. Games that move forward, more like Armageddon's Konquest mode, would surely be free to shake off those negatives and take full advantage of all the MKSM positives!

Winner: Sheeva (Brutality!)

Set up as the one to beat, Sheeva takes a spirit arrow to the back from Nightwolf, as the Special Forces cyborg, Cyrax, looks for the double-team! He leaps onto her back, but is easily shrugged off by the powerful Shokan warrior-woman! Her battles with fellow MK3 alumnists is far from done, however...

Winner: Sheeva (Superb!)

Nightwolf follows up his spirit arrow with the aid of the legion-creature, Ermac!
The pair charge Sheeva, unleashing a non-stop combination of punches that are all blocked as she fends off the assault with two arms dedicated to each.
The towering warrior snatches both opponents by the throat, lifting them high into the air! The offensive pays off, sending both tumbling down the pyramid, but leaves Sheeva vulnerable...

Winner: Sheeva (Flawless Victory!)

With Nightwolf and Ermac held in her four-fingered hands, Sheeva's seemingly unstoppable defensive comes to an end as Kenshi drives his expert sword through the exposed torso of the Shokan.

The sword saint spins around his opponent and with a flowing graceful swipe disects her mid-section, seperating her body from her legs with a spray of blood. It's a scene like this - that specifically speaks to the skills that define the character - that makes you long for a more involving and fluid fight mechanic.

For Kenshi to ever live up to his reputation as a master swordsman it would take a major overhaul of the system. This was something we couldn't help but discuss during our Fantasy Fights previews, earlier in the year, where we struggled to justify some characters fight ratings given the limited tangible evidence. It's been surprising how receptive some venues have been to MKvsDC's newest additions, but as reviews of the final game come out, this trademark inadequecy seems to be coming to light.

In interviews it's been suggested that the game deliberately avoids high level gameplay in an effort to endear to players of all skill levels. This latest spin feels more like a marketting exercise than a legitimate claim, particularly given how uninviting and frustrating the now definitive clunky fighting can be.

Winner: Kenshi (Fatality!)

The MK3 kombatants fade away to give wake to the new guard once more!
Quan Chi leaps from lower on the pyramid with twin broadswords drawn, ready for a clash with the master swordsman! He narrowly misses the opportunity to take advantage of Kenshi's assault on Sheeva, but instead finds a worthy opponent.

Kenshi parrys the sorcerer's twin sworded attack, defending each blow with a defensive counter strike of his own. Leaping backward up the pyramid, Kenshi does his best to defend his position on the structure, clutching the top of his sword to create an impenetral steel defensive. A leaping strike briefly turns the tables as Quan Chi is forced to throw both his swords into his counter.

With teeth grit, Quan Chi throws his strength behind individual strikes, looking to chop through Kenshi's defense. With swords crossed over his opponents, Quan Chi is finally able to drive one of his blades through the sword saint's gut!

While only the most general of rivalries occuring between these two characters, they're a hero and villain who are often cited as two of the most promising creations to come from the transitional "3D" period of the series. While only Kenshi emerges from the post-Tobias era, Quan Chi flourished even after his creator was gone, developing into a lead antagonist as half of the 2002 titular Deadly Alliance (with Shang Tsung).

As much as Kenshi's brief appearance honors his unfulfilled status as one of the world's greatest swordsmen, it seems a shame he has to go down to Quan Chi. I might've liked to at least have seen some treacherous magic involved to break the split, which clearly attempts to give Kenshi a fair go, but moves on to other subjects. Granted, undercutting Quan Chi might've been disappointing, but leaving Kenshi to deal with the next fighter might've been a better use of rivalries...

Winner: Quan Chi (Fatality!)

As Quan Chi looms over Kenshi's fallen body with a sword above his head, it appears as though the blind swordsman's greatest ally, Ermac, has returned to his aid. However, after tossing Quan Chi from the mountain with a telekinetic throw, the legion creature leaps into the air to come crashing down on Kenshi's broken body -- revealing himself to be the shape shifting sorcerer with whom Quan Chi was briefly allied -- Shang Tsung!

We've already talked Deadly Alliance, but even though they're the first characters to really take ownership of central title, it fails to really bring home the gravity of their value. As much as Scorpion and Sub-Zero continue to dominate the market face of the series, and Liu Kang the heroic mantle, one might argue Shang Tsung and Quan Chi have come to define the series from within the fiction.

Quan Chi finds his way into a crucial expositional role in the MKvsDC story mode, but was arguably the most surprising omission from MK/MKII centric cast.
The villain was popularly touted for a third feature film, while also playing a role in other cross media adaptations, in both the animated and live-action series.
For a modern generation of fans he is one of the most central villains to the series, well known for his cursed rivalry with the ninja spectre, Scorpion.

While Shang Tsung has remained a mobile piece of the MK puzzle, one could argue Quan Chi was the staying villain that stamped a new era. As we look beyond MKvsDC one can't help but wonder what contributions might be made to the next chapter in the Mortal Kombat saga, and whether they can live up to the generations that came before.

Winner: Shang Tsung (Excellent!)

Of course, as much as an impact as Quan Chi has made, I guess you can't beat the originals. Shang Tsung's a popular fellow in the world of Mortal Kombat!
His treachery has not only earnt rivalries with heroes like Liu Kang, Kitana, and Kenshi, but also ire from other villains such as Shao Kahn, Quan Chi, and Onaga!

As the pack gradually fights it's way toward the top of the pyramid, Shang Tsung turns to unleash a flaming skull that disperses the crowd with it's explosive impact. Of the long list of kombatants caught in the blast, only Shao Kahn is immense enough to resist it's power. He is not known for his forgiveness...

Winner: Shang Tsung (8/9!)

Kahn leaps through the smoke and fire of Shang Tsung's attack, brandishing the hammer that already decimated a great number of fighters. Shang Tsung proves nimble enough to play the avoidance game, leaping free of the Emperor's clubbing drive, and rolling aside to avoid a horizontal strike.

Tsung dares to drive a kick into his former master's chest staggering him back toward the edge of the pyramid, and straight into the clutches of Onaga, the former Dragon King of Outworld! Shao Kahns fate is note made clear as the dragon-creature carries his pray into the Edenian night.

This entire sequence refers to a tradition of betrayal for Outworld's rulers.

Shang Tsung, despite once being the Shao Kahn's emissary in Earthrealm, famously joined Quan Chi in seemingly assassinating the Emperor.
This echoes the betrayal dealt by Shao Kahn, who once served Onaga, but poisoned the Dragon King to usurp the throne. It could be this "alliance" that the narrator refers to, but eagle-eyed fans will have spotted a figure atop the distant mountains at the beginning of the clip. The Konquest storymode not only reveals the arrival of Taven at the emergence of the pyramid, but also a brief pact between the evils of the series, including; Quan Chi, Shang Tsung, Shao Kahn, and Onaga.

As mentioned in the beginning of this entry, it's hard to ascertain exactly how well the intro clip reflects anything from the story. One might recognise it as the events coinciding with the end of the story mode, but it's hard to say. Either way, it's certainly one of the more resonant uses of character association in the clip, perhaps only outdone by the emergence of another rival...

Winner: Onaga (w/ Shang Tsung)

2002's Deadly Alliance did many things right to progress the series into a new generation, but one of it's most impactful contributions was an intro video that started with the unthinkable -- the assassination of the series' lead hero and villain -- Liu Kang and Shao Kahn, respectively.

Later instalments unfortunately undermined the impact of these events, but I think it might still be safe to say that Liu Kang's shuffling emergence from the shadows is the highlight of Armageddon's beginning.

Wearing wrist-bound chains revealed later to be the shackles used by Raiden when reviving him; Liu Kang engages his arch-nemesis with a ferocity uncharacteristic of the character in life. Again, while not particularly frenetic or complicated, the fast paced exchange exceeds anything seen in MK's contemporary gameplay. Liu Kang's chains as in-game absence become all the more notable as Shang Tsung uses them to drag his enemy in, and Kang, to strike back.
Shang Tsung puts an end to the exchange with an uppercut that sends his zombified nemesis into the darkness of the pyramid steps below.

Winner: Shang Tsung

As the sorcerer nears the flaming top of the pyramid, Mileena leaps onto his shoulder, lifting her veil to gnaw with jagged deformed teeth. Shang Tsung shrugs the mutant clone off with ease, awaiting the next impending challenge.

I have to note, Mileena is an interesting character.
Among a small handful of beloved icons from the early games, her absence from MKvsDC has been questioned, as has several others (Reptile, Johnny Cage).

Having begun life as a pinkish palette swap for the royal blue (and purple) Kitana; Mileena has come a long way. Given the self-conscious plot of being Kitana's deformed doppelganger, Mileena has stayed close to that origin, despite expanding outward into a thinly developed rivalry with another mutant, Baraka, and several henchman roles.

MK fans are conditioned to have an odd sort of taste in character and design, but Mileena might just take the cake. Frankly, in a game limited to only ten playable kombatants, one of which is Kitana, the omission of Mileena can be considered one of the positives of the chosen cast. Why we would have any reason for two characters so deliberately similar, I cannot imagine!

There's certainly room for further development, and it's been refreshing to see Mileena develop her own unique trademarks and design, but let's not get carried away!

Winner: Shang Tsung

A simple left hook is all that's required to dismiss a charging Shujinko.
Commentary on the value of Deception's newly introduced protagonist? Quite possibly, but I'd like to think it doesn't forecast the future of the character.

The first hero to make the forray into a dedicated story mode; Shujinko failed to endear himself to fans. While the expansive environments and intertwining story made for a lot of fun, none-too-subtle writing left the manipulated hero looking more like a stone cold idiot than a sympathetic patsy to Onaga's deception.

The character continued his heroic buffoonery in Armageddon, where the new generation of adventure-mode hero, Taven, stumbles upon his predecessor locked in Shao Kahn's dungeons. As appreciated as it was to see the character being utilized, there seems to be an awfully obvious potential for the character now that his journey is established.

Inspired by the legend of the white eyebrowed elder, Bak Mei; Shujinko's design should be familiar to any fans of the Tarantino explosion of fandom, Kill Bill.
His version of the archetypal character - Pai Mei - arguably stands as a ready-made template for Shujinko's future. Having learnt from many icons of the franchise, with a little bit of imagination, Shujinko has every claim to the role of a master of multiple styles. Given his remorse over ushering the return of the tyrannical Onaga, the beginnings of a mythic character become obvious.

We've often talked about the ideal of progressing to a new generation in these fifteen year old fighting series. It feels like it's time to recognise these iconic characters in the same light that legends of the first series were regarded.
The idea of characters progressing to the role of 'boss' has been explored within the series, but the stature of their contemporaries has remained the same. It would be so very refreshing, particularly in light of comments made by series director, Ed Boon, to see a new generation forced to earn their way into encounters with the legends of the last era.

Shujinko, jaded and embittered by experiences, could be the great master who retreated into solitutde. As skilled as he is ill tempered and intolerant, this character's redemption could very well come from a new generation as he is sought out for the wisdom he suffered to learn.

Winner: Shang Tsung

With the power at the top of the pyramid seemingly his to claim, Shang Tsung is tugged backward by two metal hooks hung from chains. Zombie Liu Kang returns to bedevil the man who killed him. As Tsung desperately reaches for the flames of the summit, his youthful facade begins to revert to the aged face of an ancient sorcerer seen in the very first MK.

As Shang Tsung withers, defeated, we can't help but appreciate the way in which Armageddon's intro alludes to a full circle conclusion. Until a new canonical entry is made into the series, we will not know what truly happened at the conclusion of Armageddon, or if the universe as we knew it still exists.

I would like to see characters move on and, as mentioned in regards to Shujinko, take on the role of the new legends. Just as characters like Shinnok and Raiden have manipulated events from larger than life posts, so too should some of these heroes and villains ascend to grand roles.

I look forward to the future of the franchise and hope any criticisms garnered by their recent corporate crossover with the DC Universe can be regarded with some perspective. Mortal Kombat might very well have earnt back a little bit of respect in the broader gaming community, but with this attention comes opportunity.
Deadly Alliance made a strong case for Mortal Kombat in the new generation of gaming, but subsequent entries failed to continue that promise. I hope story, character, and by extention, gameplay function, can take precedence.

I hope from the ashes of Armageddon can rise a strong new base upon which sequels can be built for this peculiar generation of gaming. I look forward!

Winner: Inconclusive/Draw (Game Over)

We're running a little behind schedule, but doubt not! We've got a whole lot more Mortal Kombat and DC Universe action coming to the Infinite Wars in November! Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is available in the three-game MK: Kollection, which also includes Shaolin Monks and Deception! You can find that, as well as Wii versions, via Amazon!

For more on Mortal Kombat versus DC Universe, check out the official website, our Q&A interviews with Jimmy Palmiotti and Hans Lo, and our series of character spotlights and discussions: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, clues special, dark kahn, bonus one, two, three, & four!


Anonymous said...

Excellent review, but just a couple points of contention:

1) Technically, the Kung Lao/Baraka rivalry would have started in MK2, where both he and Liu Kang joined the tournament primarily to avenge the monks Baraka's horde slaughtered.

2) Kabal was one of the "Chosen Ones" who were singled out and protected from losing their souls to Kahn so they could fight off his invasion in MK3, which was how he got scarred and needed the respirator in the first place.

All of the chosen ones have powers except for Stryker, who stands out for specifically that reason.

So it's not illogical to assume super-speed was Kabal's particular talent or chi ability prior to the extermination squad attack.

Mike Haseloff said...

@Anonymous: Cheers!

1. That's a great point!
I would argue that the details of that clash were really only fleshed out in later materials, but that does nothing to discount the value of that rivalry! Well spotted!

2. Some underlying chi-related powers may or may not have been there, but I don't think we've ever had anything communicated to really suggest super-speed -- particularly in the "speedster" sense that would apply to all movements, rather than just running.

As someone also never particularly comfortable with Sonya as a chi-fighter, I find MKvsDC's redesign, which modifies her gloves to account for her 'pink rings blast,' a positive change.

Given the gradious pseudo-philosophy that informs so much of the early MK asthetic, I'd like to think it was more about the moral fibre and integrity of the characters' heart that had them selected. Rather than super-powers, even if they're kinda expected.

As much as MK3 introduced ideas regarding MK vs normalcy, I tend to think guys like Stryker, Nightwolf, and Kabal came more out of trying to come up with special moves that hadn't been done yet -- dash attack, saw blades, guns, batons and swords, and arrows.

I have to say, I remain unconvinced.


Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I can't buy that Kabal is particularly pure of heart or possessing exceptional "moral fibre".

He was a Black Dragon until the scars, and fairly quickly changes his whole worldview from vigilante to ruthless terrorist devoted to anarchy.

Surprisingly poor character judgment from Raiden if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Also, I didn't intend to suggest that Kabal is like The Flash. I don't see him as a true speedster either, I think his dash represents the same sort of sudden burst of speed power we see from many characters such as Johnny Cage's "shadow" moves.

Mike Haseloff said...

@Anonymous: We don't really know what extent his role in the Black Dragon was, but that sort of deep seeded inner light that could shine through is exactly what I would expect of that type of "grandious pseudo-philosophy."
I'm sure you could rattle off as long a list of redeemed villains, as I could.

Aye, I think I'll have to like it, or lump it, as far as Kabal's abilities go. As long as he isn't a "speedster," I'm sure I'll live. ;-P