The transition from 2D to 3D didn't go well for a few of our favorite franchises. Some games (like Super Mario) adapted nicely, while others like the Mortal Kombat series went through somewhat of an embarrassing period. Hence Mortal Kombat 4. The game plays the same as old school 2D Mortal Kombat, which is a good thing. The bad thing is that it also pretty much looks the same as well.
To keep with the Mortal Kombat "style," all the characters share the same basic attack animations. So they all have the same punches, kicks, and uppercuts as the 2D games. Problem is that those 2D animations looks a little goofy when translated to 3D. The rapid punching that looked realistic in MK2 and 3 looks funny here, like the guy is tilting his whole body to the side. Also the characters still have the instant-barrel-roll-when-they-jump thing going on that just doesn't look very natural in 3D. The thing about characters made up of 3D motion captured polygons is that you don't need space for thousands of sprites to make up animations, by comparison the motion capture files are a lot smaller. That's why games like Tekken or Virtua fighter can have dozens of moves per person. Here it appears they made the conscious choice to limit their characters to keep the game in the same style as the previous entries, which may have made sense from an artistic viewpoint but falls flat in implementation (or put simply, the characters look completely stupid when they move.)
To make up for the goofy characters some new elements have been added to the playability. Biggest addition is each character can now bust out a weapon at any time to add some damage. You lose your weapon after receiving a good combo, but you can pick it up again at any time. You can also pick up an opponent's dropped weapon and use it as your own. Being able to chop people up into little itt-bitty bits with a sword or something is always nice in a fighting game, but some of the choices for weapons are a little weird. Sonya Blade gets this strange bladed pinwheel thing, which really I think they just made up. You'd think she'd have a shotgun or something. The weapons are also a little unbalanced, Sub Zero's sword freezes you on contact while Fujin gets a crossbow that adds a quick firing projectile which makes him too powerful.
There also isn't any collision detection between weapns going on, as in you can't block or parry your opponent's weapon strike with your own (i.e. no swordfighting,) which makes the weapons merely an extension of your regular moves. It would have been nice to see some sparks flying from the clash of iron-upon-iron. Also the standard special moves look a little silly when your character is holding a weapon. It wouldn't have taken much to make Sub Zero's freeze ball attack use a different animation when he's holding the sword instead of the same one with the sword stuck onto his hand. It just doesn't look right.
Each character also has a bone-crunching type move that visibly cracks somebody's limb in a way which it should not go along with a loud scream, which is of course extremely satisfying. It would have been cool if they would have integrated this feature more into the game a bit (like say break somebody's arm and they can't punch with that arm or something) however these moves are really just glorified throws and the opponent is back to normal in a few seconds. Oh well. You also can still run and deal out autocombos ala MK3, however the addition of weapons upped the damage so much that in order to keep the game "fair" they put a roof on how much damage a combo can do. So now you're kicking ass like crazy until your guy automatically stops and the message "Maximum Kombo!" appears. Unlike MK2 and 3 you'll never get off more than 55% damage at any given time. As in MK3 there is no way to "break" an autocombo (like say in Tekken or Soul Caliber where you can get out of one at key points.) So you get two guys, one who has his favorite auto combo memorized and one who doesn't, and it's no contest. Baloney..
You can also now sidestep at will which adds a lot of strategy to the fights, but also renders projectile weapons pretty much useless unless done at a close distance. Which is to say that most human players will get caught by them but the inhuman computer will always dodge them, run in, and nail you with an auto combo. This seems to be the only use for sidestepping as it's nearly impossible to do at a close distance unless the guy is punching right in front of you. You can also pick up stuff on the ground and throw it at your opponent, like severed heads or rocks. However this seems to be thrown in as an afterthought as really there's no effective way to link it to any combos or strategy.
The game is Mortal Kombat, so it's not completely lame. The choice of characters is pretty good, Sub Zero, Scorpion, Reptile, Lu Kang all play basically the same as in previous versions with new added moves and such. Some of the new guys here look a little generic and don't have the same evil presence that Shang Sung did. As a bonus to this version is the inclusion of Goro, who wasn't in the arcade version and is of course, incredibly hard.
A decent translation of the arcade version, problem is the arcade version wasn't that good to begin with. A game for Mortal Kombat fans only. Everyone else will have a better time with the recent PS2 and Xbox installments of the series.
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