If you liked Mortal Kombat 3 back when it was originally released, chances are that you're going to like this now. See, this is basically an exact port/perfect emulation of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 from the 16-bit days (right down to the still-funny “Toastyyy!” pop-up when you execute a particularly well-timed uppercut), which means you get debatably the best 2D Mortal Kombat to carry around in your pocket. There's a massive roster of characters, even though quite a few of them are cloned sprites of others, so there's plenty of variety for you to pick from, and it's just as violent and over the top as ever. As decisions go when it came to bringing Mortal Kombat to a handheld, this was a good one.
Rather than using any inadvisable touch screen usage, Midway have wisely stuck with solid button controls and used only the DS features that made sense. The upper screen use doesn't seem that great at first in its constant display of your current characters' special moves/fatalities/etc., but it soon becomes an invaluable resource as you learn to use your favourite fighters. It certainly beats having to dig around in manuals or pausing the action to check a button combination – instead you can just take quick glances at the top screen to help you along when your mind goes blank. The other DS feature used is that of an online mode, which works surprisingly well. There's absolutely no lag whatsoever, it's fairly easy to find a game and it's a lot more interesting than playing against the AI. You can also play wirelessly with a friend, and nicely there's even the option to play in this way if only one of you owns the game – the full range of features aren't available unless you both have a cartridge, but it's a nice thought all the same. More developers should take note.
As an extra Midway have also included Puzzle Kombat, a block dropping game with elements of Tetris and Columns that has you exploding blocks to send them over to your opponents screen to try and fill it up and beat them – you know the drill. On the top screen chibified versions of some Mortal Kombat characters fight. It's a nice distraction and we're not knocking it as an extra, but it does get very boring, especially since it expects you to play it in rounds as you would with a beat 'em up match – you have to win two rounds out of three to get the victory. Personally we thought one round was enough.
However, the fact remains that if you never liked Mortal Kombat 3 back in the day, you will still not warm to it now, in all likelihood. At its heart, Ultimate Mortal Kombat is still a button masher sort of fighting game, a fact that frustrated us once we realised a little way in. The series has never been known for its complexity in the way that other 2D beat 'em up games have, but we still found it hugely disappointing to find that you're practically forced to use cheap tactics to win in some circumstances against the computer.
It seemed to start out so well, as we felt that we actually had to be learning moves to beat earlier AI foes. Soon we were pulling off combos of moves to be proud of, thanks to the move list on the top screen, and wiping out enemies in a timely manner. Then we got to the bosses. The ridiculously over-powered bosses that can wipe out a third of your health with a single punch to the face. The bosses that can teleport all over the arena, send your projectiles back at you without even blinking, block most of your moves or just smash you over the head with a hammer and leave you stunned and unable to defend yourself. It felt to us that you're really required to learn the moves to get through the game, but then when you get to the crucial final levels you're practically forced to forget everything and just use basic moves and lots of annoying jumping about to win, as your special moves become ineffective. Jump at boss, kick in head, jump back, crouch, wait for opportunity, uppercut, repeat until death. We don't like resorting to cheapness in games, especially after we've mastered the 'proper' ways to win, but when the odds are stacked against you in such an overblown fashion we resignedly did so.
It's a good job there's a decent online mode in there to keep us coming back, where people don't (usually) repeat the same moves over and over again, allowing you to get proper fights going on. It's the online play that proves to be the feature that stands out above the rest, and the feature that makes Ultimate Mortal Kombat worth a look if you're after a fairly good fighting game and don't mind a bit of button mashing.