The end is here. Not the end of this retrospective, of course, but the end of the Mortal Kombat of old. By the end of 2006, the sixth generation of video game consoles was nearly done — the Xbox 360 had been released about a year before, and the PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii were only weeks away from launch. Mortal Kombat was not quite prepared to leave the PS2 and original Xbox behind yet, though, not without one last hurrah. This was to be the end of Mortal Kombat as we knew it, the farewell to all the characters and storylines. When MK would inevitably go HD, it would be something completely different.
Mortal Kombat: Armageddon is another “dream match” type game like MK Trilogy, featuring a roster of 62 characters on the PS2 and Xbox versions. That is everyone who has ever appeared in a Mortal Kombat fighting game, except for Khameleon who only appears in the Wii version (released in May 2007 and including waggle controls).
No matter how minor or unpopular a character, they’re here and you can play as them. Anyone that was dead got better. All the bosses are here too. Even Motaro made it, although he’s been turned from a centaur into a minotaur. Getting his horse butt to work in the game proved to be too much trouble, so the options were to take out his rear legs or not include him at all. The change is explained as a curse cast on the Centaurs by the Shokan.
Now, one might wonder how on earth Midway Chicago were able to balance the gameplay and make every character distinct. The answer is that they really weren’t. While some characters are objectively better than others, most of the cast has precious little to differentiate them from each other. Everyone now has only one unarmed fighting style and weapon style, which is a welcome streamlining of the system, but many of the old fighting styles have been transferred wholesale to the new characters so there is a definite sense of deja vu to be felt here. On the plus side, everyone now has a decent number of special moves, so even Hsu Hao and Mavado aren’t completely worthless anymore, only mostly so.
The fighting system has been tweaked based on feedback from Deception players. You can now do air combos and breakers, parry attacks by pressing back+block at the right moment, and pull off wakeup attacks. Somehow, I never noticed before that MK did not have wakeups even though they’re an important part of fighting game gameplay. You don’t even need to get knocked down, as you can go prone on the ground and attack from there at any point. The AI seems to love doing this for whatever reason.
Unique fatalities are gone, and in their place is the new Kreate-A-Fatality system. Kreate-A-Fatality lets you chain together up to ten fatality moves (heart rip, brain rip, arm rip, etc.) and end with a finisher (torso rip, neck snap, spine rip, stuff like that). Since everyone basically has the same finishing moves, Kreate-A-Fatalities get old rather quickly. If you happen to screw up the actual finisher, the fatality doesn’t count for some reason, which is a bit silly considering that just about every move in the fatality chain would have been a finisher in any of the previous games.
From what I understand, everyone on the roster was originally meant to have unique fatalities, but time and/or budget constraints forced Kreate-A-Fatality on all characters instead of just the custom characters as was the original plan. Wait, custom characters? Oh yes. Armageddon has a Kreate-A-Fighter mode too.
Kreate-A-Fighter allows you to create one custom character per player profile. The options aren’t nearly as extensive as the ones you’d see in the WWE Smackdown vs. RAW games, for example, but there are enough costume options, body types and face sliders to allow for some fairly unique creations. For the purposes of this article, I just created a kunoichi with purple clothing because I’m boring, but you definitely can make Tarkatans and Saurians and green-skinned old ladies with bat wings, metal claw hands and viking helmets. All the cool custom parts cost Koins, so you’re gonna have to earn some of those before you can really unleash your creativity.
You get to choose and name your fighting styles and assign all your basic attacks and special moves, most of which are borrowed from other kombatants. If you want your green demon viking grandma to use Scorpion’s spear or shoot missiles out of her chest like Sektor, you can do that. In the biography section, you can even write an ending for your kombatant, so your self-insert original character (do not steal) can marry all the female fighters and live happily ever after.
The storyline this time around is all about the battle of Armageddon, the climactic final showdown between the warriors of light and darkness. Poor Mokap, he was just a motion capture actor and now he’s fighting in the final battle between good and evil. The Mortal Kombat fighters have apparently gotten so powerful and numerous that their mere existence threatens the safety of the realms, and something has to be done before all the realms are destroyed.
While the kombatants are fighting each other in a valley somewhere in Edenia, a gigantic pyramid rises from the ground and the fighters try to get to the top. This is the Pyramid of Argus, the Elder Gods’ final safeguard against Armageddon, and atop the structure is where the fire elemental Blaze awaits. Blaze’s job is to destroy as many kombatants as he possibly can in order to prevent Armageddon and save the realms. If anyone were to defeat Blaze, they would attain the power of a god.
As there are 63 playable characters in this game and most of them were brought back with little to no explanation as to why they’re there (in fact, the game shipped without any character bios, and only a few were made available on Midway’s website later), I’m not going to write bios for everybody either. Instead, I’ll just talk about the characters who have something to do with the actual plot about preventing Armageddon.
One of the two sons of the Edenian god Argus and sorceress Delia, and the protagonist of this game’s Konquest mode. Centuries ago, Argus put Taven and his brother Daegon to sleep and encased them in stone somewhere in Earthrealm, to be awakened by Blaze when Armageddon threatens the realms — the brothers are meant to be the only ones able to stop the end from happening. At the end of Konquest, Taven defeats Blaze and becomes a true god, but it only makes the kombatants more powerful. This ending and his arcade mode ending would later turn out to be non-canon, as it turns out both Taven and Daegon fall in the battle of Armageddon and Shao Kahn is the one who defeats Blaze.
Taven is a powerful fighter with control over fire, apparently inherited from his mother Delia who is known as the Lady of Flame. He fights with a drakesword left to him by his father, one of the artifacts he must retrieve in order to supposedly be able to defeat Blaze (the other object is the armor his mother left him). He’s also not very interesting in general, but his dialogue in Konquest can be kind of amusing at times as he has absolutely no patience or time for the MK characters’ bullshit and lets them know that.
In case you can’t tell from the render, Taven’s brother is kind of evil. Daegon awakened prematurely because his guardian dragon fucked up, and went a bit crazy as a result. He was then manipulated by Shinnok into killing his parents, and once he got the information he needed from them he formed the Red Dragon clan. Daegon also got the swords and armor left by Argus and Delia, and eventually fights his brother for the right to face Blaze but is defeated.
Like his brother, Daegon uses fire powers in kombat. He is even more generic than Taven, and the most interesting thing about him is that his names in pre-release builds included “Bob” and “Doug”.
Created long ago by Delia, the fire elemental is the final boss of Mortal Kombat: Armageddon. Blaze awaits at the top of the Pyramid of Argus for Taven to destroy him, but of course that never comes to pass and even if it had, the kombatants would’ve simply gotten more powerful.
As is expected by now, Blaze is a rather tough boss and is more than capable of beating you into submission even on the lowest difficulty. When you beat him, he explodes (of course he does) and you’re treated to a… fairly underwhelming ending scene. Due to time constraints, the MK team weren’t able to create full ending slides for every character, so now you just get a bit of narration while the camera pans around your character doing a kata at the top of the pyramid.
The endings in general are rather disappointing, and it’s obvious that the writers had problems coming up with satisfying conclusions to the characters’ storylines. Pretty much all of them follow the formula of “character gets Blaze’s power and something weird and/or stupid happens”, and of course none of them is canon except part of Shao Kahn’s. Along with the usual arcade ladder and versus gameplay, there is an endurance mode which… is exactly what it says on the tin, really. I’m not that into endurance modes in general.
Konquest is quite fun this time around. No longer the glorified tutorial and walking simulator it was in Deception, the mode is now basically a poor man’s Shaolin Monks. The gameplay is not as tight as Shaolin Monks, Taven can’t jump, and there are far too many death traps, but beating up groups of enemies is entertaining enough. There are environmental hazards you can knock enemies into, and sometimes Taven picks up a weapon and cuts through hordes of bad guys. Really satisfying.
The basic enemies are no match for Taven’s special moves. His fireball cuts right through a whole bunch of guys and kills them instantly, and the ground pound knocks everyone on their asses while doing a massive amount of damage. You can also perform a fatality on stunned enemies, although I’m not entirely sure if it serves any purpose besides looking cool.
Taven runs into several Mortal Kombat characters on his quest. Just about all of them end up challenging him to fights, even if they turn out to be friendly to him later. Konquest is really the only part of Armageddon that sheds some light into the characters’ storylines, as you get to see what guys like Scorpion and Sub-Zero are up to. (Scorpion is kind of pissed at the Elder Gods after they resurrected his clan as spectres, and Sub-Zero is attempting to cleanse Noob Saibot’s soul of corruption).
Konquest is decently lengthy for a brawler, and there are plenty of collectibles to be found. The usual treasure chests are there, containing things such as stages and alternate outfits. In addition, 60 relics are scattered around the levels, and finding all of them unlocks everything in the Krypt.
Unlike Deception, you don’t actually have to find all the chests, as the only things you can’t unlock without playing Konquest are characters (Meat, Taven, Daegon and Blaze). All the rest of the stuff can be bought with Koins, although you may want to save some cash for Kreate-A-Fighter parts and moves.
Yes, that is indeed a screenshot of a Mortal Kombat kart racer. Armageddon’s obligatory silly minigame is Motor Kombat, an extremely mediocre Mario Kart ripoff where super-deformed MK characters drive around in their personalized vehicles and blast each other with unique special attacks (although some of them just have a shield or extra boost, which is kind of shitty).
The tracks are beyond bland compared to Mario Kart or Crash Team Racing, but you can at least knock opponents into various death traps. There’s also a four-player splitscreen mode (only two players on the PS2 version, though) if for some reason you want to play that. Motor Kombat was also playable online, except of course on the Wii version which omitted online play altogether. Honestly, Armageddon could’ve used more effort in other areas, so they should’ve focused more on the main game and just kept Puzzle Kombat and/or Chess Kombat if they wanted minigames.
While the MK team clearly wanted Armageddon to be the grand finale of Mortal Kombat as we knew it, the end result unfortunately does fall a bit flat. While there are tons of characters, most of them are just padding out the roster and are basically indistinguishable from each other. No one has an in-game bio, none were created by the time the game came out. Kreate-A-Fatality is a poor substitute for each character’s unique fatalities. The endings are lackluster. The entire game feels strangely rushed, and for good reason.
By 2006, Midway Games was having serious financial troubles and absolutely hemorrhaging money, so the budget for Armageddon was obviously tight. Mortal Kombat was Midway’s best-selling series and the only one that could maybe stem the bleeding a little, and there must have been a ton of pressure to get Armageddon out for the 2006 holiday season in a vaguely functioning state. Which, to their credit, Ed Boon‘s team managed to do, even if it meant cutting back on certain features and releasing a very lackluster product. The Xbox version was never released in PAL territories, probably because of budget concerns.
Armageddon got fairly mediocre reviews upon launch (Official PlayStation Magazine went as low as 3/10) and is not remembered fondly, although it did receive the “Best original Xbox game of 2006” award from Official Xbox Magazine. The original Xbox was basically killed by Microsoft the instant the 360 launched so there wasn’t a lot of competition, but in 2006 there were still some occasional decent games coming out such as Marvel Ultimate Alliance, TOCA Race Driver 3, the surprisingly good Scarface: The World Is Yours, Black, Tomb Raider: Legend, and especially OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast. I have no idea how Armageddon was chosen over any of those, as even if you discard the games that were also released on the 360 you still have Race Driver, Scarface, Black, and OutRun.
Armageddon also managed to win “Best Fighting Game of 2006” at the “highly esteemed” Spike Video Game Awards. Unfortunately I don’t remember off the top of my head what other fighting games came out in 2006, so I can’t be properly outraged. Let’s see here…. oh, some minor release named Virtua Fighter 5 came out in Japanese arcades that year, but that wouldn’t hit the west until 2007. Then there was the console port of 2004’s The King of Fighters NeoWave, which isn’t the best-regarded KoF game and reviewed rather poorly as it brought nothing new to the series, but even then it should be approximately a million times better as a fighting game than MK Armageddon. But hey, The Game Awards. You can’t expect much from them.
Around 2007, Ed Boon started dropping hints about the next Mortal Kombat game. This was to be a complete reimagining, a darker, grittier and more serious take on Mortal Kombat, apparently inspired by the style of Gears of War. There were also some rumors floating around that Scorpion and Sub-Zero would be the only returning characters, although at the moment I can’t find anything confirming that Ed Boon or someone else on the MK team actually said that. Mortal Kombat would return with its first foray into HD in 2008, but it would most definitely not be anything like what Boon had hinted at earlier.
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