== Nixon Computer ==

GAME CLEAR No. 158 -- Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks

video games game clear midway mortal kombat xbox

Mortal Kombat: Shaolin Monks (2005, PS2/Xbox)

Developer: Midway Studios Los Angeles
Publisher: Midway
Clear Platform: Xbox
Clear Date: 2/24/24

Excellent. Outstanding. Superb.

This one has been a long time coming. As a teen, I had a Shaolin Monks demo that I loved, and I so wanted to play this game. Despite that, I reckon I didn’t have any money around the time it came out, so I never did buy it. Plus, I didn’t have any friends that were enthusiastically into Mortal Kombat and/or couch co-op at the time, so that was a problem too.

Fortunately, since becoming an adult, I have gotten a job. I have also made friends that enjoy both Mortal Kombat and playing video games in person with me. So all I had to do was pick this game up from my local used game store and wait for the time to be right.

See, a key difference between Shaolin Monks and other co-op beat ’em ups I’ve enjoyed and praised here on Nixon dot Computer is that it’s about 5-6 hours long, which is just a bit too long to comfortably finish in one sitting. Certainly it would be doable, but it’s not something I wanted to ask someone else to do. So the plan that ultimately formed was to make a weekend of it. Start the game on Friday night and finish it before the weekend was up. Very doable, and now done.

And man, it was a blast. Shaolin Monks is a terrific co-op brawler that plays great with a friend. You can play it alone, but it’s so obvious that it was built from its conception for its “ko-op” mode that I can’t imagine why you would. The game stars two well-established homies from the series as they punch, kick, and fatality their way through the many realms of the series’s universe. It’s a perfect concept and well executed.

The events of the game follow directly after Mortal Kombat. Uhh, the 1992 one, not the 2011 one. And also not Mortal Kombat 1 (2023). It’s a bit of a retcon and/or creative retelling of the events of Mortal Kombat II. Liu Kang has just defeated the evil sorcerer Shang Tsung in the Mortal Kombat tournament, ending the threat from Outworld, who would have otherwise been free to invade and take over Earthrealm following their tenth consecutive victory therein (these are the rules for some reason). Just as the warriors of Earthrealm are celebrating, their Elder God Raiden warns that the Outworlders are pissed and are basically gonna try to invade anyway, rules be damned.

So, Liu Kang and his bestie Kung Lao set off to stop Shang Tsung and his co-conspirators. What follows story wise is pretty predictable. The bad guys try to drive the two bros apart by picking at the younger and less mature Kung Lao’s insecurities. Shang Tsung uses his shape-shifting abilities to imimtate people the two trust to trick them into doing his bidding. Ultimately, though, their trust in each other prevails, and of course they beat the bad guys with a little help from their Earthrealm friends.

The plot may be nothing to write home about, but the action is superb. Beating up bad guys feels nice and punchy, and comboing them is super easy and satisfying. More surprising and delighting, though, is that doing team combos with your buddy is also easy and fun. That’s what a co-op brawler should be all about! It just feels great to jump up and start wailing on a guy your teammate launched into the air. Or to kick a bad guy straight into your friend’s grab. Or to stun a boss right before he’s about to fuck up your pal. It’s so good, and frankly it’s easier and more natural to team up on bad guys than it is in some co-op beat ’em ups that are much better remembered and regarded.

At other times, it’s the relative strengths of each protagonist that offer some asymmetrical satisfaction. Liu Kang, for example, has a great flying kick for knocking individual enemies into instant-kill hazards. Kung Lao, meanwhile, excels at crowd control with his razor hat. Maybe it’s a bit silly, and it’s not strictly true anyway, but it’s fun that in this way, the game feels like it couldn’t be cleared without both players unique contributions.

It’s not always perfect. Some bosses feel a bit cheap at times, and the platforming bits are sometimes made more difficult by having a friend along, but most of the time the game hums along quite nicely and with minimal frustration.

All told, it’s exactly what I wanted out of the experience: a bloody, hand-to-hand tour through the world of Mortal Kombat with a friend who also appreciates its stupid B-movie charms. To get to do that over the course of two nights huddled around a CRT with my old childhood Xbox was a treat. And not in a cloying, nostalgic “those were the days” sort of way. These are the days! You can still just hang out with your friends and play a video game!

If you do, tell me which one so I can also play it with mine.