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‘Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3’ Review – An Updated Version of the Arcade Classic

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Given the incredible success of Street Fighter IV [$9.99] since its release on the App Store, I’ve always wondered if its 90s arcade competitor Mortal Kombat would ever grace our touch screens. Just a few days ago, it was confirmed that indeed an iOS version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 was in the works from the folks at EA Mobile. And just like that, yesterday Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 [$6.99] was released in the App Store.

I’m a diehard Mortal Kombat fan, going back to the very first release in arcades almost two decades ago. I’ve since owned just about every version of every Mortal Kombat game for every console over the years. I even bought and suffered through the abomination that is Mortal Kombat Advance on the GBA, so I can definitely recognize a terrible MK game when I see it. And Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 for iOS is far from terrible, and in fact it’s pretty good. It gets a lot of things right, and even does some interesting new things, but some of the changes will alienate longtime fans who are looking for a trip down nostalgia road, and the poor execution of the controls can make the game difficult to enjoy.

The most significant thing to notice about Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is that despite its name this is in no way a direct port of the arcade game. The biggest change is that the game is completely rendered in 3D. Purists will likely cry foul at this design choice, but I have a more positive feeling towards it. The characters are comprised of fairly basic 3D models but they look like their originals for the most part, and this also allows them to appear extra crisp, especially on the Retina Display. I can’t imagine the old digitized sprites looking especially great on iOS screens, and the many frames needed to animate them would likely cause performance issues. Because of these points, I understand and accept the decision to go 3D.

One huge disappointment though is the lack of available characters. Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 in the arcades boasted a healthy roster of 22+ fighters, whereas the iOS version only has a selection of 11 including two unlockable characters, and I believe the two bosses are playable though I have yet to verify that myself. Hopefully they take a page out of Street Fighter IV‘s playbook and offer frequent updates with new characters, because as it is now the roster feels lacking.

The best part about the game being in 3D is that the redone backgrounds look downright gorgeous. Again there is only a selection of 10 stages from the original arcade game’s 16 or so, but the ones chosen here are the best of the bunch and contain all of the levels with stage fatalities. There’s really nothing like knocking someone in front of a subway train or into a pit of spikes in 3D. On that note, all of the fatalities, babalities, friendships, and animalities are included for each of the characters. Some of these look better in 3D, and some I would prefer the original, but either way it’s still hugely satisfying to pull off a finishing move on a defeated opponent, and that’s what’s important.

Regardless of your feelings about the graphics, none of it would matter anyway if the game didn’t control well. Here is where Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 slips up the most. It offers two control schemes and the ability to move the buttons for each wherever you want on the screen. The joystick remains fixed, but it’s in a pretty good default position anyway.

The first “pro” control scheme has all 6 buttons of the original arcade game, and all the moves are performed just like in the original. This is my preferred way to play because it’s what I know, but it also makes it difficult to pull of moves that require multiple buttons to be held down at the same time, like Sub-Zero’s slide for example. The second “easy” control setup features only 5 buttons – punch, kick, block, run, and special. This scheme changes all the special moves and fatalities into simple combinations of the special button and joystick directions. Both setups have their strengths and weaknesses, and neither is completely ideal, but they are both competent enough to get the job done.

The real problem with the controls has to do with the responsiveness. It’s a strange phenomenon, really, because at the beginning of the match they work just fine. But as the match prolongs they stop responding as well. Button presses have a way of getting bunched up, and moves that you were trying to perform will play out much later than you intended. There’s no way to stop this from happening either, so you’ll just have to sit there until the string of button presses is completed before you can focus back on the action of the current moment. It doesn’t render the game unplayable, but it’s a frustrating problem that definitely needs to be addressed.

Content-wise, Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 contains an arcade mode with 4 tiers of difficulty, a local multiplayer mode over WiFi or Bluetooth (complete with the 6 symbol code entry functionality of the arcade game), a survival mode, and a Shao Karnage mode. Shao Karnage mode is brand new, and is actually pretty neat. It pits you against Shao Kahn using the character of your choice, sans health bars for either character, to see how many points worth of damage you can do to him in 99 seconds. There are supposedly online leaderboards for both survival and Shao Karnage modes, but for some reason I have yet to get them working.

Initially I was turned off by Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, but I stuck with it and the game grew on me by leaps and bounds. I’ve had a lot of fun playing it, and there’s all sorts of potential here for it to be a stellar Mortal Kombat game. Assuming you can get past the lack of characters and the new look of the graphics, the only actual problem with the game is the laggy controls. They’re workable now, but I’d really like to see them improved in the future. Of course, adding more characters couldn’t hurt either. For being the first Mortal Kombat game on the App Store, I ended up being pretty impressed, and there’s a lot of positive impressions of the game in our forums as well.

If you’re a fan of Mortal Kombat then you’ll likely get enough enjoyment out of this version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 to justify the purchase, but if you’re looking for a comparable fighting experience to the iOS version of Street Fighter IV then you may want to hold off and see how this game evolves over time.

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