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Mortal Kombat: Unchained

For: PSP

Not your typical fighting fest. And that's a good thing

Product: Mortal Kombat: Unchained | Developer: Climax | Publisher: Midway Games Ltd | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Fighting | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Mortal Kombat: Unchained PSP, thumbnail 1
When you're looking to buy, say, a car, you don't expect to see coffee-making or joke-telling listed as a feature. They wouldn't be unwelcome additions, certainly, just unexpected.

Similarly, if you are tempted by the idea of slotting a beat 'em up into your PSP's UMD slot, your list of considerations is unlikely to include chess and puzzle games as part of the fighting package. And yet, that is exactly what you'll find in Mortal Kombat: Unchained.

Of course, the core of the MK experience is one-on-one combat – sorry, kombat – and as such there's standard Arcade, Endurance and Practice modes available. Select any of these and you're immediately (well, after a considerable loading period anyway), in typical MK territory. If you're not familiar with the franchise (this is in effect a conversion of a previously released iteration), expect fast, brutal action, and plenty of gore – heavy hits are accompanied by buckets of blood. The series was also renowned for its 'fatality' moves, ensuring winners of the best-of-two-bouts encounters could further impose their dominance by terminating their vanquished, helpless opponent in a variety of imaginative, fiercely vicious ways. Think of pulling someone's head off so that the spine comes out still attached and work on from there.

The combo moves are more straightforward than those of some rival series, focusing on face button and limited D-pad input, though that's not to say the 30-odd fighters suffer from a limited repertoire. Not least because, in addition to individual 'power move' capabilities, each pugilist offers the chance to swap between three styles of combat with a simple press of the L trigger.

Further adding to the ways you can dispose of adversaries are the environments, which offer plenty of 'death trap' opportunities – essentially ways of ending the fight early, by, for instance, knocking an opponent into a giant mincing machine, or kicking them off the side of a cliff with only a sizeable, spine-loving spike to cushion their fall. Part of the morbid satisfaction is in discovering these for the first time so we won't spoil any further surprises but they're mentioned because they add a modest tactical element to the proceedings.

But if it's strategy you seek, then Chess Kombat is for you. The fundamentals of the age-old board game are retained, but with pieces now replaced by MK characters it shouldn't surprise you to learn that pieces are 'taken' (or not, as the case may be) through one-on-one combat. A further twist is the ability to use resurrection, imprisonment, assassination and healing spells to help you hunt down your opponent's king (leader) piece.

Even with having to put up with the laborious nature of loading in and out of fights, it's a mode that proves very compelling – the mix of action and careful, considered thinking works beautifully. In fact, along with the Kombat options, this is Unchained's finest accomplishment.

A little less convincing is Puzzle Kombat, a variant on the many colour-based block puzzler titles now so familiar. It works reasonably well, if a little more lethargic and clunky than dedicated rivals such as Super Puzzle Fighter II, say. Still, it's nevertheless a decent addition to the package.

Which isn't something you can say about the final mode, Konquest. The dynamic of building up a character through what is effective a three-dimensional adventure construction within the MK mythology is intriguing, sure. Yet the implementation is so awkwardly realised, the structure so mind-numbingly uninspiring, and the camera system so odious that most players are unlikely to progress beyond the (many) tutorial levels.

However, as hard as this blow is, it's not enough to keep Unchained from getting back up on its feet. The other modes are not without their flaws – Kombat suffers from a lack of precision from the D-pad or analogue nub, making certain moves difficult, for instance – and on their own they fail to outclass their direct competition, but in unison they provide a platform stable enough to support a proficient, enjoyable and pleasingly different beat 'em up.
Mortal Kombat: Unchained
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 1 December 2006
Fast, furious and typically fierce, MK: Unchained is an accomplished fighter made all the more interesting by the addition of unusual play modes
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