Friday, February 28, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "DLC Quest"

You wanna pick up a sword, get on a horse and go save the princess, huh?  Hope you’re ready to break out a little more dough…because just buying the game is just not enough anymore…

DLC Quest is an offering from developer Going Loud Studios and is quite obviously a parody of the trend in gaming nowadays involving micro transactions that give us – what else? – DLC.  The story is the most basic in all of gaming history:  there’s a princess that has been captured, go save her!  Unfortunately, upon joining our hero…we find that he can’t jump.  Or, indeed, do anything but move in one direction!  What a conundrum!  Luckily, our local salesman is more than happy to assist in exchange for coins that are found scattered about the world.  As the game is kind enough to mention, no actual currency is used in the transactions in this game.

And really, the game doesn’t get much more complicated beyond that.  You collect the coins and you buy DLC for things that seem so very commonplace in most games of the kind nowadays – such being able to move in more than one direction, jumping, and even simple noise.  Not just music, though that is also up for sale, but noise – and play the game.  It’s by no means a long adventure, but it’s definitely a rather amusing one and it’s a parody done very well.
Don't do it! It's a trap!!!!

…as well as being a rather chilling example of what games could be in the future…if the major gaming companies have their way…

Now, while I don’t think that developers will ever get that lazy (then again, I have actually played Aliens:  Colonial Marines), this game is – if nothing else – a cute aside into the worst case scenario with DLC and micro transactions, if in the most hilarious of ways.  The game takes this opportunity to poke fun at some of the more maligned or beloved jokes spawned by this business practice as well, such as Oblivion’s “Horse Armor” (which, believe it or not, features into the resolution) and Valve’s bizarre fixation with Hats in their games.

It’s not a long game, but an enjoyable one and a pretty good parody.  Definitely enjoyable if you just happen to have a half hour or so to kill.  Very enjoyable, just long enough to feel of substance and get it’s point across, and short enough to not have to slug through it.

DLC Quest is available for Xbox 360, PC, and Mac from Going Loud Studios.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, February 17, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Mortal Kombat: Annihilation (1997)"
The Earth…was created in six days…so too…shall it be DESTROYED!

So sayeth the Emperor of Outworld, Shao Khan (Brian Thompson) in the beginning of Mortal Kombat:  Annihilation, an inevitable sequel brought to us by New Line Cinemas and Threshold Entertainment.  Ironically the same studio that would be producing the Lord of the Rings films just four years after this brings us a film that’s poorly acted, poorly written, and poorly designed.  “But MadCap,” I hear you all protest from your far corners of the internet, “is it really fair to judge a video game movie for poor choices that ended up making it every bit the box office bomb that it was destined to be?”

I reply, “Yes…yes, it is.”

So, our film begins with Raiden giving a brief recap of the events of the first film, careful only to show clips of Liu Kang (Robin Shou) and Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto) in order to hide a crippling and terrifying truth from people who cannot read movie posters.

They’re the only members of the original cast still here!!!

Everyone else of the original remaining cast after the first Kombat film have taken their leave, leading to Raiden (James Remar), Johnny Cage (Chris Conrad), and Sonya Blade (Sandra Hess) all to be recast.  But they all fill the roles they’ve been handed pretty admirably…considering.  That is to say, except for Johnny…but I’m getting ahead of myself.  The Champion of Mortal Kombat and his leading lady, along with their three new friends, return to Earth and a joyous celebration hosted by children jamming to the bizarrely upbeat music from the beginning of Hackers.  All of this being interrupted by the arrival of Shao Khan of Outworld and his generals.  And, already, we start to see the problems.
Scorpion's back...somehow...
The costumes for Sub Zero and Scorpion in the first film were actually pretty decent and looked a lot like their character sprites.  Several of them appear in a similar style in this movie, chiefly among Khan’s generals, and they look like the producers had gone out and gotten the adult sized Halloween costumes and simply gotten them recolored.  For a budget that was nearly double that of the original, a lot of work really wasn’t put into the costuming at all.  And no more apparent is this than in the outfit of our main nemesis, Shao Khan.
THE FACE OF EVIL!!!! Available for $6.99 at Wal-Mart.
His outfit is basically some black leggings with metal suspenders.  They did, at the very least, get his mask looking at least somewhat similar to how it does in the games.  This too, however, suffers from what I’m going to term “Adult Halloween Costume Syndrome.”  Really, in the first few opening scenes, Khan would fail to even be intimidating if it weren’t for Thompson’s rather menacing performance overall...if he weren't hamming it up and chewing the scenery, of course.  But then all the villains are doing that (to a near literal example near the end).

But the beginning of this film is one of several reveals, firstly that Kitana’s mother Syndel (Musetta Vander) is not quite dead and that the Earthrealm and Outworld have begun to merge due to Khan keeping the portals open in spite of the rules of Mortal Kombat.  After some of what could generously be called “fight scenes” – really, the CG here is actually worse than the first movie, if that can be believed – Khan traps the once-more completely useless Sonya and kills Johnny without even having the decency to break his five hundred dollar sunglasses...


The group manages to escape, forced to leave Johnny’s remains behind as Khan’s forces threaten to overwhelm them.  And thus begins a trip to set right what has gone wrong, live through Raiden being completely an utterly useless in varying ways, and bizarre existential dread from Liu Kang about being inadequate at fighting the Judge in spite of the fact he just killed the pirate king from The Phantom.  The two teams split up, Liu and Kitana heading to seek out the warrior known only as Night Wolf (Litefoot) and Raiden and Sonya going to seek out Sonya’s old partner, Jax (Lynn “Red” Williams).  A few asides are had into Outworld - in Khan’s palace which seems to have been created from the plans for H.R. Giger’s Candy Factory – are also had, introducing us to Shinnok (Reiner Schöne), the father of Khan and apparently the true mastermind behind Annihilation.
Raiden used Thunderbolt!
I’m not going to lie here, if the production design is bad, the acting is actually even worse than the previous film.  James Remar, while a great actor in many a production, doesn’t bring even half the gravitas that Christopher Lambert brought to it.  Of course, with his bizarre speech patterns and his rather stern demeanor, one could be forgiven for thinking that Lambert actually is a god of some kind or another, something that Remar really just doesn’t bring to the table.  It really just feels like it's just another paycheck to him.

More than that, though, his version of Raiden is completely different from Lambert’s.  I’ll be the first to admit that Raiden is kind of an odd-ball in the first one, but he acts as a mentor character to the three main protagonists and mostly dispensed advice that was useful to them and their end goals.  Here, Raiden only exists to be breathtakingly useless, state the obvious and give completely useless advice that seems like wisdom but isn't, be constricted by rules that make no actual sense when you stop and think about them, and all but completely wait on the sidelines until the final act…when he gets killed by Khan.

Oh, stop looking at the screen like that. He gets better later…somehow.

Actually, a lot of people get better later…somehow.  It’s not well explained, and by the end of it you won’t care.  I mean, really.  If you actually manage to survive the final fight and the disturbingly horrendous CGI therein, you’ll just be happy that it’s over.  It’s clear that they were proud of it, too, which is the worst part.  It’s prominently featured in fights and even static scenes, and it does nothing to help with any sort of immersion that the film is going for.
Yeah, before you bring this up, I don't know what they were thinking here...
This film also suffers from being extremely lore heavy to the franchise.  Where with the first film you could expect general audiences to get into it, certain things that happen in Annihilation don’t make sense even if you’ve seen the first film.  Why does Shao Khan, the dark sorcerer-god of Outworld, have robot assassins working for him when in the last film all that Outworld seemed to be compromised of was mystical creatures? Who are Cabal and Stryker?  Why exactly did Night Wolf impale Liu Kang with an axe to start a bizarre dream training sequence?  You’d know if you’d played the games…maybe.  This also wasn’t a time when people could just get on the internet and look up a wiki to find out things.

Not that this practice is excusable even now, filmmakers.

And this film isn’t really acceptable even now.  Whereas the first one could just be written off as a cheesy action flick, this one is poorly set up, poorly executed, too proud of CG that would have been laughed out of the post-production department of Sliders, and is actually too wound up in – rather than too divorced from - the lore of the original medium, unlike many video game movies.

Really, it’s depressing when your Hollywood movie with a thirty million dollar plus budget is outdone by an eight minute long trailer.  However, the franchise did manage to get saved by that very trailer, otherwise known as Mortal Kombat:  Rebirth, and the Mortal Kombat:  Legacy web series, both of which are far, far better than this movie and I would definitely recommend this over either of those any day.  As for Annihilation itself…well, I’m sure there’s a cold, dark place in Outworld waiting just for it.

Mortal Kombat:  Annihilation is owned by Threshold Entertainment and New Line Cinemas and is available wherever movies are sold.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Friday, February 14, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Pokémon X and Y"

People who are regular readers of my blog are definitely not unaware of my love of the Pokémon franchise.  It was a fundamental part of my childhood alongside the Mario games and were one of the first games I ever played.  And now, sixteen years since the days where I’d put in a copy of Pokémon Red to forget the troubles my seven year old brain had to endure (ever so taxing, I’m sure) and escape to the fantastic and distant world of ten year old children going out to prove their manhood (or womanhood) by enslaving a bunch of animals in tiny plastic balls. all seriousness, though, the Pokémon games had brought me into a world unlike any other I had yet seen or have seen since in video games. Sure, I don’t rate them as highly as I do some others I’ve played, but Pokémon has and always will hold a special place in my heart.  Never was this made clearer to me than in the latest additions to be rolled out from Nintendo and Game Freak – Pokémon X and Y.  An interesting change from colors and minerals, but it is pretty much everything that one would expect from a Pokémon game and even more!

Really, there is so much ground to cover about the changes that have been made in everything from the designs to the music and beyond.  Not the battle system, which remains effectively the same - of course (Rotation and Triple battles join Single and Double battles, but the former two are not as common as the latter two) - though the changes in aesthetics (something which I don’t normally praise) have all been for the better and have helped bring the series fully into the modern era. It’s time to face some hard, cold facts, children – the original Pokémon games were revolutionary and brought about the phenomenon that we all know and love to varying degrees, but looking back on it it’s almost painful to look at now. 

It’s kind of like looking back in the high school yearbook at the girl you had a crush on and going “I thought she was hot?”

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I love the old games.  A lot.  But you have to admit as far as looks went, they didn’t look all that impressive when they were newX and Y don’t have that problem.  The sprites look great and the environments really do as well.  After having played Black & White beforehand, it is interesting to see where the changes have come in the last four years.  If this weren’t at its core still a Pokémon game, I’d almost think I was playing something entirely different.

Some of the non-combat aspects of the game have changed as well.  X and Y, more than any other game that I’ve played before it, has a higher emphasis on the monetary system in the game.  Unlike the original Red and Blue – where Kanto had little in the way of entertainment beyond the Celadon Game Corner and – X and Y are filled with shops of various kinds beyond the simple Poké Mart or Department Store.  Clothing shops in particular can be found in almost every settlement and have a rotating selection of – what else? – Clothing! For the first time, your character doesn’t have to look like you just rummaged around blind in the closet of some athletic person.  Now you can look like you rummaged around blind in my closet…minus the fedoras, obviously.

Restaurants are also a thing in Lumiose City – basically the Celadon City of X and Y – though they come with timed battle events for each course.  This does help add to the immersion a bit, much like the economy taking more prominence beyond just buying items for battles and so on.

Okay, now down to the nitty-gritty.  There is a major change in Pokémon types that seems to have everyone’s panties in a bunch: the addition of the Fairy type.  This introduction has apparently unleashed a massive flustercuck within the fanbase.  Now, my job is to remain entirely unbiased and give a fair and complete review…so I’m going to ignore that first part and claim that we didn’t really need an extra type, we had Ice types to balance out Dragons, and I don’t really care either way because my Umbreon knows Iron Tail and will smack your Clefable in the face until it dies.  Ha! Take that, Serena, you smug-

…uh, yeah, so…let’s get into the plot.

Like every Pokémon game, you leave your hometown with a starter and a dream to be the best like no one ever was.  Like every Pokémon game, you travel around the world to battle at Pokémon Gyms in order to battle Gym Leaders and win Badges.  Like every Pokémon game, eventually you climb the steps to the Pokémon League and beat the Elite Four into a finely ground dust. And, of course, like every Pokémon game, you battle a criminal organization along the way.  That last one in particular has almost always added a different tone and variety to each game.  Team Rocket wanted to make profit off of Pokémon at all costs, Team Plasma wanted to be a gigantic PETA parody, so what might the current team – the rather not-so-dumbly named when you think about it – Team Flare want?

To kill everyone in the whole world.
That’s a bit of an overstatement.  In reality, Team Flare has the goal of making a “beautiful and better world”.  Their leader, Lysandre, is actually one of the more interesting antagonists of the series thus far.  Some might even call his goal very admirable – wanting to create a pure and clean world for everyone to enjoy – but it’s his method that really muddies it up.  He wants nothing to change, for beauty never to fade, and thus decides to dig up an ancient weapon that uses the power of a legendary deer or dragon Pokémon to wipe out everything.  Really, why doesn’t everybody just want to jump onboard with this plan?  It seems so sane.

But really, Lysandre is also arguably one of the more tragic antagonists as well.  In the endgame, you can encounter an NPC that mentions being a friend of Lysandre who was convinced of his noble intentions, just that Lysandre was unable to reconcile what he felt in his heart with what he perceived as humanity’s selfishness and stupidity and his own inability to see any other way to help bring it to an end.  Unlike other somewhat misguided antagonists, such as Giovanni and N, Lysandre does not receive some enlightenment from his interactions with the protagonist and isn’t left much to consider anything…because he dies.

Yeah, the games been out since October of 2013, so it doesn’t really count as a spoiler.  I suppose it’s possible that he survived, but if not this is the most literal case of “Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies” that I've ever seen.
Still don't get the reason for this outfit. Just throwing it out there...
Beyond the plot and beyond even the main game itself are the many online features of the game.  And, yes, for the first time I am actually going over the online features of a game.  Don’t expect it to become a recurring thing.  The Player Search System allows for players to connect over the internet for battling and trades.  Long gone are the olden days of two friends with their Game Boys putting to use the Link Cable (really, did any other game use that?) for battles and trades.  Now, all you need is an internet connection and the friend code from your friend’s 3DS and you can trade, battle, and so on.

Of course, you also have the Passerby feature, which brings up a random list of people with which you can do the same thing.  Just battling or trading with someone else puts them on your “Acquaintances” list and they can be picked once again for battles or trades.

And, because I know I’m going to be asked about it, the Wonder Trade has been heavily summed up in my Twitter feed, back in December.  But if you’re still wondering my opinion:
Not that it’s bad, but it’s flooded with nonsense 'Mons that no one actually wants because people are jerks to other people and actually want something other than people making more angry memes about the GTS.

And for those wanting comment on the GTS, you’re adorable.

Other features include the much touted Pokémon-Amie, which brings trainers closer to their pocket monsters than ever before.  You can pet them, feed them, and play mini-games with them.  And, with some of them, this can help with evolutions and the like.  Besides helping the immersion a bit, it also feeds back into the base gameplay, which is a big plus for me.

Mega Evolutions come into play for certain 'Mons, and they're pretty awesome.  There are some that didn't receive them that I think really should have, but who knows? Maybe Nintendo and Game Freak will deign to give those up in "Z" or in DLC.  We'll just have to wait and see.

In summation, however, Pokémon has gone on since 1998 and has barely changed at all.  It found its strong points early on and knew just what to change up and when as the need to do so became apparent, and X and Y continue that tradition.  The game has plenty of nostalgia trips for the older players as well, such as myself; hearing an old, familiar battle tune from days gone by when faced by Mewtwo in the Unknown Cave or against an Articuno that surprised me when I came upon it rummaging through the tall grass leveling.

While Black and White felt to me like a very alien world in comparison to the old games – brand new region and route numbering, and brand new Pokémon – this game feels like coming home again.  Yeah, the world is new and there’s even a few new Pokémon in the Kalos region, and yet it feels so familiar...and yet it feels so much more developed than you remembered it being.  It’s a game for kids, yes, but it’s clearly grown beyond the simple pixels on a screen that my generation grew up with.  It's come very far from its comparatively simple beginnings. 

And y’know what? That’s pretty good.

Pokémon X and Y is now available on Nintendo 3DS from Nintendo and Game Freak.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin

Friday, February 7, 2014

MadCap's Game Reviews - "Batman: Arkham Origins"

…no, wait, seriously?

You really want me to do this?  I mean, everyone and their mother has pretty much said all there is to say about Batman:  Arkham Origins.  I’ve joked about it, but sitting it down here to type it I really do wonder how I’m supposed to stretch “Batman hunts down criminals and makes them eat their own kneecaps, repeat” into a full review.  Because, really, it’s what we’ve come to expect from the Arkham series of games.  The only real difference being that, while Arkham City improved on Arkham Asylum quite a bit, Arkham Origins feels…well, almost kind of lazy in a few ways.
Bat-Foot Odor was a shortlived weapon from Batman's early days...
To summarize the plot, we have Batman still in the infant stages of his crime fighting career finding out that the criminal overlord Black Mask has hired some of the greatest bounty hunters in the DC Universe…and a bunch of second, third, and fourth stringers that you’ll won’t know without some Google searches…to bring him in, dead or alive.  With such a bounty on his head, one would expect even the Caped Crusader to err on the side of caution and stay in for the night-Nope!  He’s going out to feed the criminal element its own kneecaps and put Black Mask in his place.  However, as he investigating the whereabouts of the man who is clearly is archfoe, Batman begins to pick up clues referring to a mysterious and enigmatic individual that will no doubt be a game changer and…yeah, alright, it’s the Joker, but were you really surprised?

I have to admit, I actually was when I heard the announcement that Mark Hamill would be retiring from voicing the Joker followed by the announcement that he would indeed be in Origins.  That being said, however, I do really like Troy Baker’s voice work for him and he is definitely a worry successor to Hamill (who I see as the definitive Joker).  That being said, I’m not really fond of all the advertising for the game being set up around Black Mask and his plot to kill Batman…only to have the Joker come in and be the Spotlight Stealing Squad.

I completely understand why this happened, but I really wish they could have taken a Batman Begins approach to the game and perhaps tease the Joker’s first appearance on the scene, rather than actually have him be the main villain and focus of the game.  Particularly after the shocking ending to Arkham City, which I won’t reveal despite the fact everyone and their mother knows it by now, I thought it a bit of disservice to have him be brought up again and featured so prominently.
"I wonder if Clark's tights ever ride up like this..."

Also, being a prequel – much like Devil May Cry 3 – I have the same problem with Batman even more so than I did with Dante, primarily concerning the Dark Knight’s gear.  Now detective vision has a brand new (old) feature that sees him with an ability to analyze a crime scene and then fast forward and rewind through a simulation of the events that led up to the event in question that Batman is investigating.  This allows him to run through and freeze the simulation at certain points to better analyze them and perhaps pick up clues to aid him in his investigations.  Really something one would expect the Greatest Detective in the DC Universe to have at his disposal for his later endeavors.  So, it’s kind of shocking that it doesn’t show up in Asylum or City at all.

I know, it’s the third game, but it just feels rather lame especially considering that this is a prequel.
And I will say, I was entertained by some of the boss fights.  Particularly of note being the one against the Electrocutioner (which gets a spot as one of the most hilariously easy boss fights in the history of ever) and the fight against Deathstroke (fun amount of challenge and a fight I actually wanted to see happen – yes, I’m aware they’ve fought elsewhere as well).

Unfortunately I have to get now to where the game disappoints where its predecessors did not.  Namely, Gotham itself is bigger than it was in City, for obvious reasons, but the areas that exist from there have been copy/pasted and given a cleaner look.  I suppose this does make sense, but it feels almost lazy in a way.  And, of course, there are some areas in the game that retain some nod to such things – such as some cat claw marks under Catwoman’s apartment window – but on the whole it just feels kind of like they just cleaned up Gotham a bit from City and called it a day.  Largely even more weird and obvious because the original developers of City and Asylum did not do work on Origins, almost all of it being done by WB Games.  Needless to say, this makes this aspect and others to follow that much worse.

Even the weather is the same, being that Origins takes place on Christmas Eve.  Hence, snow.  Oh, goodie, snow.  Because we very well didn’t have enough of that in City at all.

Another gripe is the city of Gotham itself.  While it is nice to have free roaming to the point of insanity through the second-worst city in the DC universe (Nightwing would like a word with you if you think otherwise), the city as it stands feels very empty beyond the criminal element running around for Batman to feed their kneecaps to.  The game tries to explain this off by having a curfew on due to criminal activity, which I suppose helps to solve the problem from a storyline standpoint, but are you honestly telling me there are no people on the streets besides roving gangs of criminals and the occasion plot related NPC? Really?

As it stands, however, if you enjoy the first two games, you’ll very likely enjoy Arkham Origins, at least to an extent.  Though some people have been complaining about how it’s simply more of the same with no real improvements to it, which I can understand to a degree.  Mind you, of course, I’m not really sure what people were expecting?  Arkham City was about the closest that someone could ever come to actually being Batman without having the tragic backstory, training, and money, and that seemed to be what everyone really wanted.  Hence, more of it, you would assume people would enjoy more.
Christian Bale Batman asks "WHY AREN'T YOU VOICED BY RON PERLMAN?!"
Still, much like the Caped Crusader himself, there’s something to be said for novelty value.  Of course, like his Marvel counterpart Wolverine, Batman doesn’t actually have any.

In summation, not a bad game, though if you go in expecting anything other than more of the same kind of seamless combat and gadgets that make Batman who he is in the Arkham series, then you really have nobody to blame but yourself.  And the developers for running it into the ground.  Maybe put a little more work in next time, guys? Seriously, it’s not even bad, just…try?

Batman:  Arkham Origins is now available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii U, and Microsoft Windows from Warner Bros. Games and Warner Bros. Interactive.

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin

Monday, February 3, 2014

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Mortal Kombat (1995)"!Mortal_Kombat_movie_poster_1995.jpg
No one can doubt the tremendous influence that Mortal Kombat has had on video games, not just in its own genre, but across the board.  Known for its high levels of bloody, hilariously unrealistic violent, the early games were a centerpiece of the argument about the levels of violence and content in games.  Looking back on the older games, it’s really rather silly that anyone made such a fuss over it, but back in the franchise’s heydey, it was a big deal and a hot button issue among the Morally Obligated and Really Offended Nitwits (or M.O.R.O.Ns™).  Even now, there is controversy about violence in video games that gets brought up whenever the media needs to incorrectly connect a shooting or some other tragedy to them, just for the sake of having a scapegoat.  Mortal Kombat may not have been the game that started that trend, but it is certainly one of it leading contributors.

However, the game did revitalize the 2-D fighter genre, as well as appeal to a massive new audience.  So, in 1995 - which has to make this the faster to film adaptation of a game I’ve ever seen, since the first Mortal Kombat came out in 1992 - New Line Cinemas got a script written by Kevin Droney (the screenwriter behind such cinematic classics as the Wing Commander movie and...well, this) and a director in the form of then-newcomer Paul W.S. Anderson.  Much to New Line’s pleasure, no doubt, the movie was a big hit; earning nearly one hundred and twenty five million dollars on a budget of only eighteen million.  But was that because of the extreme popularity of the game franchise? Or is this movie just another stinking festering pile of dung served up among the many film adaptations of games?  Let’s test our might.

The intro depicts the symbol of Mortal Kombat - a dragon wreathed in flames, complete with a heavy techno theme that - to the film’s credit - gets you pumped up almost immediately.  Seriously, I dare anyone to listen to it and not get the sudden urge to want to go punch something in the face.  It’s not even possible.  And the film uses it to great effect in several of the fights, further cranking up the badass meter and making even cheesy moments (such as when they all strike a pose after defeating several enemies) seem at the absolute height of all that is awesome.
"...did I leave the iron on?"
After the credits, we get introduced to our three heroes.  The first is Liu Kang (Robin Shou), a martial artist who has a prophetic dream about the death of his brother - Chan (Steven Ho) - being killed by the evil sorcerer and recurring Mortal Kombat antagonist Shang Tsung (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa), after which he receives a telegram from his grandfather telling him to come home.

Our second protagonist comes in the form of Sonya Blade (Bridgette Wilson), a Special Forces officer who - with her partner Jax (Gregory McKinney) - trying to capture a criminal and mercenary by the name of Kano (Trevor Goddard).  Immediately, with her second and third line of dialogue, we are shown that Sonya is a complete and total badass.  A strong independent woman who don’t need no man...who proceeds to need to be rescued in the final act of the film.  Because this is totally what Ed Boon and John Tobias had in mind when they brought the character into the games.

And the third and final hero of the film comes in the form of Johnny Cage (Linden Ashby), a martial artist and actor who is struggling in his career because the media believes him to be a fake.  All three of them, in one way or another, are manipulated into joining the Mortal Kombat tournament by Shang Tsung - Liu through the death of his brother, Sonya by her desire to capture Kano, and Johnny by the promise of revitalizing his career.

We also get an additional set up scene for Liu in which he returns to the Shaolin temple that he once called home, announcing his intent to join in the tournament to avenge Chan’s death.  He is immediately chewed out by Raiden (Christopher Lambert), who is for some reason a white guy who is worshipped as a Chinese, yeah, kind of racist.  But not to be dissuaded from his vengeance, Liu leaves for the tournament.
"There can be only one...victor..."
In Hong Kong; we learn that Liu Kang is a dick to other people’s luggage, Sonya Blade doesn’t believe in back up (except when she needs it later on in the film), and that Sub-Zero (François Petit)  and Scorpion (Chris Casamassa) are mind-controlled cronies of Shang Tsung in this film rather than active characters in spite of their immense popularity within the fanbase. And I have to say, that is a bit of a real misstep.  Of course, with a film so packed with characters, one could expect that some things would get cut...even though the animosity between those two particular characters could fill a movie all its own.

Then, on a boat ride to Shang Tsung private island in...Hell? An alternate dimension? It’s not well explained...Raiden exposits on what the Mortal Kombat tournament really is and the stakes that are involved in it:  Shang Tsung and his warriors have managed to win nine straight victories in Mortal Kombat, a tournament held once a generation.  If they win this tournament, the tenth, then the Earth will be conquered and enslaved by the demonic forces of Outworld.  Raiden has also looked into their souls, and determined that one of them will be the one to decide the fate of the entire world.

Gee, considering who won the first canonical Mortal Kombat tournament, I wonder who that could be…

The rest of the film plays out its parts with wins (for the three protaganists) and losses, as well as the introduction of another main character - Princess Kitana (Talisa Soto), Liu Kang’s love interest both here and in some of the games.  Her motivations are not entirely clear at the beginning, but it becomes apparent soon that she resents both Shang Tsung and her adoptive father, the Emperor of Outworld, assisting the Earth fighters and eventually joining their side against Shang Tsung.

Eventually all the fighting and killing pays off as, in the end, Liu Kang learns the true meaning of Christmas...or something, and defeats Shang Tsung in the final battle of the Tournament to release all the souls he had enslaved to his power.  And they return home to the Earth realm (during a celebration where the opening song from Hackers is playing) secure in the knowledge that they’ve stopped the evil machinations of Outworld and have saved the Earth for another generation…
"Mine, your souls are..."


Alas, not quite it seems as Fred from Scooby-Doo decides to make the monster grow and shows up giant-sized to the Shaolin Temple.  Actually, it’s Shao Khan (Frank Welker), who has come for their souls.  Raiden denies him and the fighters strike a pose for the trailer as the film comes to an end with enough sequel bait to catch a pond full of fish.

I will say that they knew where their strengths were with this movie:  the fight scenes.  Almost all of them are done in a very adequate manner, and show a lot of work in the choreography.  Some of them do get a bit implausible at points (Johnny Cage’s strange ability to find any item he needs in piles of bones during his fight with Scorpion comes to mind), but for the most part you can chalk any particularly cheesy moments to Rule of Awesome. Why does Sub-Zero take so long to freeze Liu Kang after clearly showing he could easily do it in a second? What exactly was the deal with Reptile? Why exactly aren’t the rules of Mortal Kombat clear despite everyone saying that they are?  Totally doesn’t matter…

Okay, that last one matters, but it’s semantics that you don’t really need to care about for the film.

The acting isn’t terrible, but besides Tagawa (who is the definitive Shang Tsung, and I know many would agree), there’s really nothing to write home about.  Linden Ashby’s turn as Johnny Cage can be a bit grating at times, mostly because his character is comic relief in spite of his main character status and so he gets saddled with the snarky quips and jokes.  Not that that’s a bad thing, it just really depends upon the material being presented and he really wasn’t given the best material to work with.  Of course, I know we are all still mourning the loss of his five hundred dollar sunglasses…

I will say that the - what I think is an - attempted romance between Cage and Sonya comes off as...bizarre, really.  They have the bickering and arguing that comes with any polar opposite romantic couple in films, but one scene where Johnny expresses his desire to fight Goro (Kevin Michael Richardson) so that he won’t pick them off all one by one and claims he couldn’t stand to see what happened to extra character of the day happen to Sonya.  It’s clearly set up to be a sincere moment, but there is just no chemistry between the two actors.  Both of them sound very hollow in their performance.  Luckily, though - much like Liu and Kitana’s relationship - this gets glossed over to make room for what the film is actually good at, namely the fight scenes.  And there are other scenes where it’s either the dialogue or the performance or perhaps the direction that just makes it come off as strange or out of place.,_Johnny_Cage_%26_Sonya_Blade.jpg
"Let's do it, guys! IT'S MORPHIN' TIME!"

Like Resident Evil from a few weeks ago, I can’t really rag on this film too much.  When you get down to it, this is one of the good video game movies.  It’s doesn’t really differentiate from the games all that much so far as I can tell.  And I really do enjoy it.  It’s a popcorn movie, something you just pop in whenever you happen to be in the mood for it.  Yes, it’s dumb and yes, you really aren’t supposed to think that much about it.  But let’s face it, for a live action adaptation of a game like Mortal Kombat, you really can’t get much better than this.  Get together with a couple of your friends, laugh at the cheesier moments, and revel in its awesome moments (and awesomely cheesy moments).

Of course, with this film came success.  So, naturally, New Line wanted to make a sequel.  It’s not remotely as well regarded by the fanbase as the first, and was met with even harsher criticisms by critics who critically criticize.  Is it all that bad? What changed between this film and its sequel? Next time, we’re going to find out as we face Annihilation
...and let’s just say, I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

Mortal Kombat is owned by New Line Cinema and Threshold Entertainment, and is based on the game series created by Ed Boon and John Tobias and currently owned by Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment.

“Mortal Kombat” is available wherever movies are sold.

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