Fighting games are great fun to play in the arcade, partly because those big cabinets offer all the joystick-swinging, button-smashing precision you could ever want. On the iPhone, however, a device with no physical buttons, fighting games are a much tougher sell. They can work, as Capcom proved with Street Fighter IV, but usually they fail. So does Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 have what it takes to give Street Fighter IV a run for its money?
In a word, no.
First off, this version of Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 doesn’t have the digitized graphics of the original. So instead of the photo-realistic characters we know and love, it has character art made from polygons. Don’t get us wrong– it looks good, but it’s disappointing that they didn’t spring for the original graphics. And instead of giving you the huge cast of characters from the original, you only get 13 here. Most of the popular ones are accounted for, but the roster certainly doesn’t feel as ultimate as it could.
PLEASE STEP THIS WAY!
Of course, the meat of the game is the fighting. Four modes are included: Arcade, Local Multiplayer, Survival, and Shao Karnage. Arcade mode has you choose from four difficulty levels and fight your way up a totem pole of enemies. Local multiplayer lets you battle against a buddy either over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. Survival throws one enemy after another at you until you lose one health meter’s worth of energy. Shao Karnage has you rack up as many points as you can when fighting against the final boss for a limited amount of time. Arcade mode is the one you’ll spend most of your time with, and it’s also the most problematic.
Also, the controls are serviceable but not great. Mortal Kombat has always had stiffer controls than the Street Fighter series, but here the touchscreen buttons make things extra tough. The d-pad works, but there’s no wiggle room, meaning that if you miss the onscreen d-pad, or if your thumb slides off, your touch doesn’t register. The d-pad is also fairly small, so hitting one specific direction instead of the two surrounding it is never a sure thing.
By default, you get buttons for punching, kicking, blocking, and running, plus a special move button that lets you pull off your character’s standard special attack easily. This is great, but purists might prefer the arcade set-up, which is also available. In another thoughtful addition, you can pull up your character’s move list at any time.
What big muscles you have.
Unfortunately, the computer’s AI isn’t quite up to snuff, either. Enemies almost never block some special attacks, like Sub Zero’s ice moves, making it easy to cheat your way though the game. But the difficulty is all over the place, so sometimes you’ll find yourself so busy blocking and dodging that you won’t be able to get a hit in edgewise, no matter what difficulty setting you’re playing on.
The game is also somewhat glitch-prone. Motaro, the second-to-last enemy in Arcade mode, teleports almost constantly, in a way that doesn’t look intentional. When he stands still long enough for you to hit him, your attacks rarely connect, even when they appear to. You get unlimited ‘kontinues,’ but how many times will you try before giving up? On the plus side, the game saves every time you leave the app, so you can always start where you left off.
So Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3 is a mixed bag. It’s not a totally botched attempt at bringing the classic fighting series to the iPhone, but its quirky AI and clunky controls should be enough to give you pause before purchasing it. With luck, it will receive the same kind of attention Capcom has given Street Fighter IV, and updates will improve the game’s playability. Until then, you’re better off sticking with Street Fighter.