Mortal Kombat Retrospektive #6: Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero (1997)

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Okay, so, I lied. I said I wouldn’t cover this game since I hadn’t played it and wasn’t planning to. Yet, I figured that this retrospective would be incomplete if I didn’t at least give Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero a look, so I went and bought a copy. Now, the thing is, the PlayStation PAL version is rare and costs a small fortune (anything between 80-400 euros), so I was not going to get that one. Neither was I going to get the Nintendo 64 cart, because that lacks the best part of the entire game (the FMV cutscenes).

So, what ended up happening was that I bought the US PSX version as that is more common and therefore cheaper, and played the game on an emulator. A few different emulators, actually, one of which didn’t want to co-operate with Fraps and so I lost a ton of screenshots I thought I had taken.

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Since John Tobias apparently didn’t think Mortal Kombat fans knew what the world “mythology” meant let alone how it was pronounced, the game opens with this helpful dictionary definition.

I remember reading about an upcoming “Mortal Kombat role-playing game” in gaming magazines around 1996. While I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to work in practice, I was pretty interested because hey, Mortal Kombat is cool and I hear RPGs are neat as well! (I had never played one at the time) Mortal Kombat does have all sorts of cool mystical environments and gnarly demons and all that kind of stuff that lends itself well to RPGs, so in theory an RPG spinoff of the series could work. In theory.

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Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero is most definitely not an RPG. Sub-Zero does gain EXP and learn new special moves when he beats up enemies, but that’s about it. This is a side-scrolling beat ’em up/action adventure game with platforming elements. Precision platforming. With strict timing involved. It also controls like Mortal Kombat. You may see a slight problem forming here.

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How do you jump in Mortal Kombat? Obviously, you press up on the d-pad or joystick. Now imagine doing any sort of platforming like that, let alone something that requires you to avoid instant death traps with precision. Once you’ve stopped screaming, imagine that you need to push a dedicated button to turn around during a round of Mortal Kombat. This is how Mortal Kombat Mythologies: Sub-Zero plays. It’s not pretty. Prepare to die a lot.

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Speaking of dying, I highly advise anyone playing Mythologies to use the password for infinite lives (GTTBHR on the PSX version). This game is brutal enough without limited lives and continues being thrown into the mix, with the enemy AI being the usual MK level of difficult and all the levels being littered with death traps. Oh, and if you’re playing on easy, you can only finish the first four levels and have to play on a harder difficulty to see the ending. I hate when games do that.

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Storyline-wise, Mythologies is a prequel, set some time before the first Mortal Kombat game. Sub-Zero is hired by the sorcerer Quan Chi to go to the Temple of Elements to retrieve an amulet hidden inside and guarded by four elemental guardians, and later ends up fighting against both Quan Chi and the fallen Elder God, Shinnok. The story is told mostly through comically bad FMV cutscenes, which feature some of the worst acting this side of the 3DO.

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CHARACTERS:

Sub-Zero (John Turk)

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Since this is a prequel, the Sub-Zero we’re playing as is Bi-Han, the original guy from MK1 and elder brother of the current Sub-Zero. In this game, Sub-Zero has to learn all of his special moves; he doesn’t even have his trademark freeze blast at the beginning of the game.

Once Sub has found the amulet and given it to Quan Chi, Raiden appears, tells him he fucked up and sends him to defeat the sorcerer and the fallen Elder God. Raiden also tells Bi-Han that he should probably try being less of a dick and leave the Lin Kuei (who are described as corrupted and evil) behind or he might meet a horrible fate later.

While Sub-Zero does become a bit more heroic towards the end, he also remains loyal to the Lin Kuei grandmaster and we all know what happens in MK1. The ending also shows Shang Tsung being buddies with the grandmaster and personally inviting Sub-Zero to fight in the Mortal Kombat tournament. So much for the original “joined the tournament to assassinate Shang Tsung” storyline. Since the younger Sub-Zero was sent to complete that task after Bi-Han was killed by Scorpion, I guess that part of his storyline also gets thrown out. Stupid retcons.

Quan Chi (Richard Divizio)

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Quan Chi was originally introduced in, of all things, the Defenders of the Realm cartoon. I don’t know how he survived that and became a real character that keeps appearing in MK games to this day, but he did. Basically, Quan Chi is a demon from the Netherrealm who somehow gained human form and became a powerful sorcerer and necromancer. He helped Shinnok take over the Netherrealm and was rewarded with even more power, and now he serves Shinnok while plotting his own nefarious schemes on the side.

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In Mythologies, Quan Chi is the guy who hires the Lin Kuei and Sub-Zero to do his dirty work and sets the plot in motion by being an evil manipulative jerk. When he’s not dealing with Sub-Zero and the Lin Kuei grandmaster or pretending to follow Shinnok, he sits on his ridiculous-looking throne in a mostly empty chamber and gives orders to his trio of scantily clad lady assassins.

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The best thing about Quan Chi is the fact Richard Divizio chews every single bit of scenery he can find, in every cutscene he shows up in. He’s clearly having a blast, and it’s glorious.

Scorpion (John Turk in gameplay, Sal Divita in cutscenes, voiced by Ed Boon)

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Hanzo Hasashi, codename Scorpion, is a member of the Shirai Ryu ninja clan from Japan. When Quan Chi initially hires Sub-Zero to steal the map of the elements from the Shaolin temple in China, he also hires Hasashi for the same task. If Sub-Zero fails, then Hasashi can retrieve the map, or vice versa. The Shirai Ryu and Lin Kuei are, of course, mortal enemies, and the two warriors end up fighting for the map with Sub-Zero proving victorious. Defeated, Hasashi begs Sub-Zero to spare his life.

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Sub-Zero is a raging dickhead, so Hasashi gets his head and spine ripped off. Not only that, but Quan Chi murders the rest of the Shirai Ryu in return for the Lin Kuei’s services. Scorpion is resurrected as the vengeful spectre we all know and love, and returns when Sub-Zero is imprisoned in the Prison of Souls in the Netherrealm.

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In the first fight, he is a palette swap of Sub-Zero with no special attacks, and switches to his UMK3 sprites and special moves when he reappears.

Sareena (Lia Montelongo)

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Sareena is one of Quan Chi’s assassins, along with Jataaka and Kia. She is actually a demon from the Netherrealm like Quan Chi, given human form by his sorceries. She doesn’t really care for Quan Chi very much, but since his power is the only thing keeping her from turning back into a horrible demon, she keeps serving him.

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When Sub-Zero comes to the Netherrealm, the three assassins are sent to kill him before he reaches Quan Chi. Of course, they’re defeated. For some reason (possibly because the player messed up the fatality input), Sub-Zero spares Sareena’s life, and she later helps him out against Quan Chi and wishes to leave Netherrealm with him.

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She then gets shot in the back with a spell by Shinnok and killed. Well, kind of. Only her human form is destroyed and she is sent back to the lower levels of Netherrealm, but that’s a retcon they did later. I think Sareena’s “death” was meant to be a touching scene, but it’s really quite hard to care about her storyline and relationship with Sub-Zero since it all happens in the span of fifteen minutes or so.

Fujin (Anthony Marquez)

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Fujin, or simply Wind God, mainly gets a mention here because he also appears in Mortal Kombat 4 as a playable character. In Mythologies, he is the boss of the Wind Shrine and summons a tornado that will kill Sub-Zero unless the player knows to grab onto a railing on the opposite side and hold on. Afterwards, he explodes. I suppose he got better later.

Shinnok (Gary Wingert)

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The fallen Elder God and final boss of Mythologies (as well as MK4, but more on that later). Shinnok was cast down from the heavens for being an evil, power-hungry jerk who wanted to conquer Earthrealm, and eventually became the ruler of the Netherrealm. If this story sounds familiar, it should probably be mentioned that the guy in charge of the Netherrealm before him was someone named Lucifer. No wonder he looks so smug.

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Anyway, when Shinnok wasn’t able to enter Earthrealm due to his status as an Elder God, he focused all his power in an amulet and went to war against his fellow gods. Raiden did succeed in banishing him to the Netherrealm, but the Saurian race (that inhabited Earth at the time) was all but destroyed in the process when the worlds got all messed up for a while. Good job, Raiden, you killed the dinosaurs. (To be fair, it was either that or let Shinnok rule Earthrealm. Would you give Earth to a guy who looks like that?)

Shinnok’s amulet was taken from him and hidden in the Temple of Elements, and this is the same amulet Quan Chi sends Sub-Zero to retrieve. When the sorcerer finally gets his hands on the amulet, he makes an exact copy of it and gives that to Shinnok, keeping the original for himself. After Sub-Zero and Sareena defeat Quan Chi, Shinnok shows up and takes out Sareena, which sets the stage for the final boss fight. Sub-Zero manages to beat Shinnok and take the (fake) amulet, which causes Shinnok to turn into a stupid-looking monster.

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At this point, the game gives you the option of either fighting the demon form of Shinnok or running into the portal that appears. Sub-Zero escaping is the canon ending, but if you beat demon Shinnok you get to see an outtakes video after the end credits.

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As I mentioned earlier, the gameplay of Mythologies is far from great and the constant deathtraps and bullshit AI get frustrating pretty quickly. There are some new additions to the controls, as Sub-Zero has a bit more control in the air now and is able to grab onto ledges, but other than that Mythologies just plays like a side-scrolling Mortal Kombat. Which wouldn’t be that bad (hell, it would be great) if it wasn’t for all the godawful platforming.

To make the game feel a bit more like an RPG, Sub-Zero has an MP gauge that depletes when he uses his special moves and slowly regenerates, and there is also an inventory screen where you can use health and MP potions. You can also combine healing items to create more potent versions that restore more energy.

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Inventory space is, unfortunately, limited, and key items you find in the levels are placed right in there with your potions so you’ll need to do some management every once in a while.

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The graphics are a mix of digitized sprites and polygonal environments (and the occasional polygonal boss) and aren’t too amazing in general — some areas look quite nice, but a good chunk of the game just recycles the same bland corridors over and over and over again until you get lost or stop playing out of sheer boredom. Sub-Zero’s rope climbing animation is quite amusing at least, as he never uses his legs. The sound is forgettable for the most part, although the hits still sound appropriately meaty.

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The enemy designs aren’t particularly interesting either, as the first couple of levels pit you up against Baraka with sticks, Baraka with swords, Baraka with a quarterstaff, Baraka without weapons and so on. Those basic enemies are actually played by Tony Marquez instead of Richard Divizio (and none of them have the teeth) so calling them Baraka is a bit inaccurate, but just look at these fuckers:

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Later, you run into members of the Brotherhood of Shadow and other Netherrealm creatures, which are still obviously guys in suits but at least they look a bit more interesting than the baldies from the earlier levels. The non-human bosses are probably the most exciting enemies in the game and include robots, rock golems and a knight riding a T-rex.

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Mythologies was not particularly well received when it came out in 1997, receiving bad to mediocre reviews. Most of the vitriol was aimed at the Nintendo 64 version — N64 Magazine in the UK gave the game a score of 9 out of 100 and stated that the only way it could be less enjoyable was if it squirted sulphuric acid in your face. The price was listed as “£Too much” and later they also gave out this protip which is, frankly, a good description of one’s first time playing Mythologies: “Creep along in that sideways spider fashion and then GET CRUSHED BY A PILLAR. Place your fist into TV screen.”

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Not all reviews were quite as savage as the N64 Magazine’s. Most scores hovered around 40-50, and Jeff Gerstmann actually praised the game and gave it a 7.5 out of 10 in his Gamespot review: “Mythologies is a pretty amazing meld of fighting and platform jumping and is sure to please fans of Mortal Kombat and platform games alike.” I’m not sure what he was smoking the day he wrote that, but I kinda want some.

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In general, Mythologies is considered one of the worst games in the Mortal Kombat franchise and seen as one of the reasons MK lost its way in the late 90s. It’s not unplayably bad once you get used to the strange mechanics and the story is worth seeing once, but I’d recommend just watching a longplay or something. That way you get to see the ridiculous cutscenes and bosses without actually having to play the game.

Next: The polygon ceiling has spikes

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