Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the N64 is a significant release for two major reasons. First, it marks the final 2D installment of the MK series (MK4 will be in 3D), and secondly, it marks a lot of firsts for the N64. It is the first fighting game for the N64, the first N64 game to demonstrate the system's 2D power, and the first game to use the N64 controller's D-pad. These are all aspects I¹ll discuss later on in the review, but for now, let¹s talk story...
In the original MK, Shang Tsung and his Outworld minions stood ready to invade the earth if a warrior from our realm could not defeat his champion, prince Goro, and win the Mortal Kombat tournament. A small band of earth's finest fighters rose up to meet the challenge, and in the end the warrior monk Liu Kang was victorious, defeating both Goro and Shang Tsung to become the new MK champion.
But his victory was short lived. Liu Kang and his comrades found themselves lured to compete in a second MK tournament, this time in Shang Tsung's home territory: the Outworld. In MK2 the earth warriors fought against the might of Kintaro and Shao Kahn Shang Tsung's master and even though they were successful, their fight was far from over.
The Outworld MK2 tournament was merely a diversion, a scheme devised by Shao Kahn that would allow him to break the rules set by the elder Gods and resurrect his queen, Sindel, in the earth realm itself. This unholy act would allow Shao Kahn to step through the dimensional gates and reclaim his queen, thus granting him the power to crush earth¹s defenses and take over the planet. Upon hearing this, the earth warriors quickly returned from the Outworld to their native realm and recruited new members, ready to fight their final battle. These are the trilogy of events which comprise the three MK tournaments.
MK Trilogy features a whopping 30 characters taken from all of the MK games; including 26 instantly playable, 2 bosses (playable via a code in the N64 version) and 2 hidden characters: Human Smoke and Khameleon (also playable via a code). New characters to MK Trilogy include: Johnny Cage (new actor), Rayden (MK2 version), Baraka (MK2), Super Sub Zero (MK2 Sub Zero with MK3's human Sub Zero moves) and Khameleon. Khameleon is a transparent female character with all the female Ninja's special moves in one (the PS Khameleon was all the male ninja's moves in one). 30 is the greatest number of characters yet seen in an MK game (not to mention any other fighting game) and learning every character's moves and fatalities should keep MK fans busy for months. Also exclusive to the N64 MK Trilogy, both Motaro and Shao Kahn have fatalities! Even though they use existing animations, they're still pretty cool.
MK Trilogy utilizes the same style game engine as MK3 though with a few significant changes. The gameplay is still composed of a five button control system, run meter and Tekken-style preset memorized combos (blech!), though in Trilogy it's slightly faster than before. The CPU AI is cheesy as ever (fair is obviously not a word in Williams' vocabulary) and I guarantee you'll be throwing your pad around in frustration as the CPU characters react to moves that no human player ever could. The game actually encourages you to find cheesy loops and traps to beat your opponents, and that can¹t be a good thing. Also (as much as I hate to bring it up again), I just can't get used to a block button in a 2D fighter. 3D fighters, maybe, but 2D? It just ain't right!
MK Trilogy introduces a 'new' feature to the MK series: the Aggressor bar. As the player inflicts hits on their opponent the word 'aggressor' slowly builds up at the bottom of the screen (like the Super Combo bar in Street Fighter Alpha) and when the word is fully spelled, the player enters Aggressor mode. Once in Aggressor mode the player's character is followed by a shadow (like SFA2's custom combo shadow), and he/she then inflicts more damage per hit. It may be a blatant rip off of Street Fighter Alpha 2, but is actually a pretty cool feature which adds a sorely needed element of strategy to the proceedings.
The controls take a bit of getting used on the N64 pad. MK Trilogy makes use of both the Nintendo controller's D-pad and analog stick, though neither work satisfactorily. The analog stick may be a Godsend for games that require analog input, but here it makes characters with tap motions a real pain in the butt to control (characters with rolling commands are a little easier). The d-pad is much better better than the PlayStation's diagonally challenged pad but still no way NEAR as comfortable as the old SNES pad used to be. You're forced to position your hands around the side handle bars, and while you do get used it, it still bugs.
Worst of all, though, are the four yellow view keys. Obviously in a fighting game these buttons are absolutely crucial, and the moment you start playing you realize the N64 pad's biggest flaw: they are WAY to small to be accurately differentiated by your thumb. This bodes very badly for future fighting games on the N64 pad, and raises the necessity for a decent 3rd party fighting pad.
Graphically, MK Trilogy on the N64 is much sharper than the PlayStation version. Every detail has been ported from the arcade and, in some cases, improved upon for the home version. The characters are bigger, projectiles now turn transparent when they hit a character and some of the backgrounds have new details (e.g. Shao Khan's cave background now features a glowing floor and background clouds). These improvements are nice, but only nick the surface of the N64's power. With a bit more effort, Williams could have really gone to town on the effects and made this a showcase for the N64's 2D power. As it is, it's the worst looking N64 game so far. I mean, at times there¹s even the old SNES bugaboo: slow down (particularly when two characters are in aggressor mode). Come on! This is supposed to be 64-bit power here!!!
The sound effects in MK Trilogy are arcade perfect. Every sample has been ported directly from the coin-op to the N64 and all of them sound very clear, if a little deep. Unfortunately, MK Trilogy continues in the N64 tradition of having really weak music. If there's one area where N64 has yet to prove itself, it's in the sound. MK Trilogy's music sounds like MK2 on the SNES, though to be honest, it's mostly covered up during Kombat with screams and thuds. Which is just as well really.
That all sounds a bit negative doesn't it? Well it shouldn't. MK Trilogy is by no means a terrible game. I mean look at the positive points. For a start, it's on cartridge, which means NO LOADING TIMES. No loading during random kombat, no loading during Shang Tsung's morphs no loading at all! There are two rows of goodies (Shao Khan's treasure) to choose from when you complete the game versus the PlayStation¹s meager one, and a new three-on-three Kombat mode exclusive to the N64.
N64 MK Trilogy is also the most playable version of MK yet. The CPU AI may be insane, but Williams has removed some of the cheaper moves and traps to make MK Trilogy a far more balanced two player game than its predecessors. Personally, I prefer the Street Fighter series, but there's no denying that MK is fast, brutal, bloody fun. It's the best home version of Mortal Kombat that money can buy, and therefore an essential purchase for MK fans. For the rest of us though, it's just a little disappointing for the first N64 fighting game.