For years, the Mortal Kombat fanbase was the polar opposite of the fighting game community at large. While most franchises were finding their success in implementing the greater depth and balance that a tournament scene thrives on, Mortal Kombat revelled in its simplicity, targeting a playerbase mostly bewildered by the more technical points of the genre and/or attracted by the spectacle that defined the series from the beginning.
Since the fighting genre boom of 2009 that kicked off with Street Fighter IV, players have become more educated than ever, and even the MK series itself has taken the more technical and refined route with its latest installment. That makes this release, Mortal Kombat Arcade Kollection, quite peculiar in today's landscape. After all, two of the three games in this package – Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II – are the cold-turkey antithesis of today's fighting genre ideals. It's the third game, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, that serves as the main draw and finally gives us an arcade-perfect console iteration that includes button configuration.
What Is It?
Something that should be made clear from the beginning is that this is actually a severe downgrade of a much more ambitious project. MKAK began its life as a PS3-exclusive disc release that would have seen new actors brought in to shoot HD sprites of all the characters, as well as across-the-board rebalancing of all three games and presumably a ton of bonus content. After a long period of radio silence (never a good sign in the context of video game development), the project re-emerged as a simple collection for PlayStation Network and Xbox Live Arcade. This is truly unfortunate. Although the first two games lack the necessary depth needed to make meaningful tweaks barring some serious creativity, UMK3 is a fantastic game that could fit in perfectly with the 21st century's best fighters if granted a similar treatment as Super Street Fighter II Turbo: HD Remix received back in 2008.
As a result, you instead get something that serves best as an example of the fighting genre's early evolution, albeit seen through the unusual lens of the MK series. For example, the first game gives you the impression that combos weren't really part of the plan at all, just like with Street Fighter II. Yes, Raiden can link his torpedo dive after landing a jump kick, and Sub-Zero can tag his opponent with a slide kick after uppercutting them, but virtually all instances of multiple hits in the first MK seem more the result of passing circumstance rather than a conscious product of design. MKII sees the inclusion of more sophisticated and clearly intentional juggling combos, as well as the ability to perform an aerial special move after connecting on a normal jumping attack. UMK3 takes this another step forward by including a run button for faster advances, along with canned strings to further develop offense and distinguish characters from one another.
Why Should I Care?
It's not as if the older Mortal Kombat games have been underrepresented in recent years. The original game was included as a pack-in with the collector's edition of Mortal Kombat Deception, Mortal Kombat II saw a PlayStation Network release in the service's early running, and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 appeared both as a collector's edition bonus in Mortal Kombat Armageddon and as an Xbox Live Arcade download. Going back a little further, the first three games were also included as part of Midway Arcade Treasures Volume 2. The problem was that each of these releases were missing something, whether it was absolute consistency with the arcade versions or the ability to customize your button configuration (especially for players who owned fighting sticks). That is MKAK's contribution to the series, and if you're a fan, that's probably well worth the cost of admission right there.
Of course, the one thing yet to mention in this review is online play, which is included for all three games in this package. There's a reason why it hasn't been brought up as a selling point – put simply, the netcode is rubbish. It's not merely a case of GGPO not being used (in contrast to the recent Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition), it's not even close to the generally-acceptable netcode of Super Street Fighter IV. This online experience is more likely to rekindle that same special feeling you got that first time you took The King of Fighters XII online. If you're going to buy this game, having players in your immediate vicinity to roll with is essential.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
The main reason to buy this game is if you're a nostalgic fan from the early 90s who wants to relive the series' infancy, or someone who has been holding out for that elusive combination of arcade-perfection and button configuration in an Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 release. It seems strange, given how many times these games have been re-released over the last several years, that we're just now getting around to configuration options. The problem is that much of the UMK3 community has simply moved on to MK9, and in the end, you probably should too.