Mortal Kombat Gold – Dreamcast
Release Date (NA): September 9th, 1999
Nerd Rating: 3.5 out of 10
Mortal Kombat Gold might just be the most lonely and derided member of the MK family, alongside Special Forces, snubbed by even the other red-headed step-children on Thanksgiving, like Mortal Kombat 4 and MK Mythologies: Sub-Zero. The Dreamcast has achieved some noteworthy acceptance during its second life as a retro console, but its champions sometimes forget the very real issues that brought the Dreamcast to its knees relatively quickly in the first place. As a launch title, Mortal Kombat Gold ought to have been a standout title on what was the first 6th generation system. Instead, it was not only mediocre game, but suffered mounds of technical problems related to the Dreamcast as well.
Mortal Kombat Gold is an update to MK4, exclusive to the Dreamcast. It adds 5 new regular characters to MK4’s rather spartan roster: Kitana, Mileena, Baraka, Cyrax, and Kung Lao, as well as an additional playable secret character, Sektor. It also features some slightly more complicated methodology to unlock the questionable “Meat.” Otherwise, it’s identical to MK4 in every single way, and as such is plagued by the issues that made MK4 a dud in most people’s eyes as well.
First there’s the useless weapons systems. Midway had a chance to update this poorly received facet of the original and I have no idea why they opted not to. It was a cool idea but executed very poorly. Each character has a button sequence for drawing his or her weapon, much like a special move. But of course, they’re different for every character. Inputting this sequence in again will cause the player to throw the weapon. If the weapon is dropped it can be picked up easily enough (Down + Run, I believe), even by another player. The real trouble is trying to hang on to the weapon long enough to do anything with it. Drawing it takes a good second or two in which time the opponent can easily knock it out of his or hands. If you do manage to successfully draw it, you’re better off immediately throwing it because anything aside from a simple punch will knock it right out of your hands.
Also weird was the choice of weapons for each character, often having absolutely no relation to the characters themselves. Why doesn’t Kitana draw a fan? Why does Raiden have a warhammer? A few of them make sense, but not many. And let’s not forget about Fujin’s crossbow, which, if you can actually draw it and manage to hang on to it, ends up being the most grossly overpowered object in the entire game.
Another problem with MK4 is the weird graphics. It was the series’ first foray into 3D and while the models looked ok, they didn’t look great, especially the more human ones such as Sonya and Jax. They had oddly prominent necks and stiff, unnatural hair. In certain situations, they could appear extremely blocky as well. MK Gold did smooth out the graphics a little though, and while they were still inferior to arcade ports, it was a small step up from MK4.
The backgrounds were also somewhat flat, and it’s hard to believe that they couldn’t do any better with the Dreamcast’s architecture. The FMV sequences during the cutscenes are somewhat hit or miss. Some of them look pretty good, while others have a washed out, and again flat and lifeless appearance. Characters move strangely in these scenes too, with their shoulders back and chests out and arms that don’t seem to fall naturally by their sides. Overall I don’t mind the graphics in MK4, but I don’t understand why the Dreamcast version couldn’t improve upon them dramatically.
Certain attacks were very easy to spam as well, particularly the throws and breakers. With a little bit of practice, one could continually run up to a rising opponent and execute throw (or breaker) after throw (or breaker) without any resistance. MK Gold adds to this problem rather than fixing it, with moves like Sektor’s Teleport Uppercut (his missile too, for that matter) can be used over and over, or at least up until the game’s built in combo breaker that announces “Maximum Damage” breaks things up. Even so, it’s not that hard to get things going again, and “Maximum Damage” doesn’t kick in until something like 41% damage has been dealt.
Most of this is somewhat forgivable – after all, MK4 itself isn’t really a bad game – but MK Gold makes a huge mess of things. There’s really no way to describe these issues as anything other than game-breaking glitches. One such problem arises with the game’s audio channels. I’ve read that this can vary not only from disc to disc but also from Dreamcast to Dreamcast. I have 2 actual copies of the game plus a burned copy, and they all act differently, but all of them will at times drop either one channel or the other or sometimes even both. This can happen when the game is booted, after the start/title screen cycles through, or even after a fatality, but inevitably, it happens. Most of the time this involves either the sound and music dropping out or the channel with all the voices and sound effects. It’s pretty annoying either way, but I can at least tolerate MKG without the music. When the sound effects drop, I either reset or switch copies.
The other glitches are pretty random. Sometimes there will be a small delay before a fatality, and then the game will move on to the next match right in the middle of the fatality. Other times names are garbled up. Many of the other glitches bring the game to a standstill, usually happening when one tries to exit the opening FMV sequence, but they can happen any time the game tries to load. Other weird errors like stuck background elements are prone to happen as well. It’s a real crap shoot with MKG. Supposedly a revised version was released with a red disc (I don’t have one of these yet) that was supposed to fix some of this instability. Strangely enough, my burned copy seems to be the most stable, but I haven’t been able to tell whether it was sourced from a newer red version or not. And I’m still prepared to accept that the Dreamcast itself is at the root of some of these problems. A few years ago when NerdBerry’s own Dreamcast was in my possession for a few years, my initial copy of MKG worked with very few hiccups.
Perhaps the most egregious error in this alleged upgrade is the difficulty in performing one of the new motions that was integral to this new 3D gameplay – sidestepping! In a spirited attempt to make MK4’s 3D environment functional as such, the sidestep feature was introduced. By simply pressing a single button on the PlayStation and N64 versions (L2 or R2 and L or R, respectively), the player could either step into the foreground or background to avoid attacks or make their way to unused objects and/or weapons nearby. Unfortunately, even though it was a 6th gen system, the Dreamcast only had 6 buttons – 4 face buttons and 2 triggers. Once High Punch, Low Punch, High Kick, Low Kick, Block, and Run were all accounted for, there was no room for a “Sidestep In” and “Sidestep Out” button. Instead, the console used a very strange set up: to Sidestep Out, the player has to quickly tap Run twice. Sidestepping In requires the player to hold Down while tapping Run twice. It seems simple enough, but rarely could I execute sidestepping with the same precision as I could in MK4. Sometimes I would swear that my button presses weren’t registering at all.
What they should’ve done, in my opinion, was give the player the option of using either the Dreamcast’s D-pad or analog stick for control, and relegate whichever one wasn’t being used to sidestepping using Up and Down. It wouldn’t have been as convenient as a simple press of L2 or R2 on the PS1, but it would’ve been preferable to all the holding and tapping.
Mortal Kombat 4 did take the series in a few interesting new directions, which I’ll get into in more detail later during a proper review of MK4. It actually isn’t that terrible of a game; one of the things I really like about it is the return to a darker, more austere atmosphere. Most of the issues with Mortal Kombat Gold stem from its status as a Dreamcast port rather than the gameplay itself, though I would’ve liked to have seen more improvements to the core gameplay rather than just throwing a few more characters into the mix. At its worst, it’s a game that’s almost unplayable, but at its best it’s a reasonable expansion to MK4; at least they picked fun existing characters to add to the line-up, though I wouldn’t have minded seeing an all new kombatant pop up as a Dreamcast exclusive.
If you’re a fan of MK4 you’ll probably like Mortal Kombat Gold as long as you don’t expect too much from it. It’s a fun chance to play around with the cyberninjas and Baraka, especially after the lackluster reception towards many of the new fighters. Dreamcast games aren’t terribly easy to find, though MKG is one of the few I see pop up more than others. But unless you’re an MK fanatic like me, you can opt to burn it much more cheaply and not feel too cheated when the audio starts dropping out and you can’t make it through more than 2 towers without a reset!
Reviewed by The Cubist
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